I was sitting on the leather couch, the one I always gravitate to when visiting Tom's house. I was just settling in, as if a stranger to the group, to observe a few of my dearest friends whom I have known, for all intents and purposes, all of my waking days. This is a little game I play. It gives me a different perspective on my life and theirs.
I observe the bantering that comes with the confidence of familiarity. Regardless of the person targeted the verbal wars that flare up over nothing are part of the friendship that has been tested over time. The barbs are thrown out not to hurt, but to probe and find common ground. They are kind of a dependable reference in facing the fact of getting older and while none of us would ever admit it, we take comfort in the fact that we are all aging together. Lately, this seems to be the main underlying theme on our "get-togethers."
I have always gone out of my way to attend Tom's spur of the moment parties when I'm in the Seattle area. He throws these parties to offset the predictable corporate world he has created as head of a major investment firm. He said it helps him escape the day-to-day trap he has made for himself. However, tonight there is a new person Tom has invited to "hang" with us. I suddenly realize it is his uncle or is he his cousin? I was not really paying attention to the introductions. My curiosity was piqued when "Uncle Roger" nodded to me in a prim and proper manner, that of an English gentleman who meets someone for the first time. He sat down on the couch without paying any real interest to the group. As usual they were trying to steal the center of attention by seeing how much they could push the envelope by measuring our new guest's reaction to their antics. I saw this act time and time again. Joy and Amber would act as if they were a "couple," while Larry, Joy's husband of twenty some years, would start a conversation with Amber's spouse, Corbin, head of the National Pilots Association, whom one would think was the most level headed man on the planet if they saw him at the office he governs. Larry, or rather Lawrence as he was called for this bit, would launch into a stereotypic gay fashion diva with hand gestures that should be trademarked. These four have cleared gatherings from PTA to town hall meetings with their little theatrics. They justify these acts as an initiation to "our" group. The reactions range from discomfort to mild amusement. But, not to worry it is all in good fun and in the end everyone has a good giggle.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Uncle Roger's reaction to their antics. His reaction was like mixing water with oil. Some things just don't mix. I either imagined or saw him respond in amusement; as if on cue he knew this was the expected response. When the players felt they had scored the reaction they were seeking, they took it for homage due. They began to introduce themselves and tried to engage Tom's relative into a conversation, but the steel curtain in his eyes said "move on." Seeing they had not made a mental connection, they made a hasty excuse to drift over to another group where they would receive a warmer "well done".
The man sat there not caring of his acceptance by the partygoers. I asked myself just who this person was, as I tried to remember his introduction by Tom.
He turned to me and said, "This setting," making a sweeping gesture of the room, "reminds me of a story."
Without waiting for a cue whether I was receptive to his remark or not, he started.
"I, too, belonged to a close group of friends. One night, at party much like this, I ran into an old acquaintance, Richard Lansing. I knew Richard from the University. We had a couple of classes together, but we were never really close. We tried to stay in contact after we graduated; however, we drifted out of touch when he joined a group of exporters and was more out of the States than in."
"I found it awkward to find something to say after the usual, 'How have you been' exchange. I stumbled to fill in the gap of some twenty years, but stopped as I watched Richard remove from his safari jacket pocket a red silk handkerchief and unwrapped a glass that looked like a regular, thick, water tumbler, about 4 ounces. He held it level to my face and asked me what I saw.
"I thought to myself, what was I supposed to see with a glass blocking my view? I tried looking at him through the glass to see what sort of reaction Richard was looking for. I noticed his silhouette was refracted and colors around him seemed to swirl. Or was this just the light distorted by the glass?"
"Light seemed to come from the glass, but there was no light source in the room that was bright enough to produce the intense hues I thought I saw. Richard did not give me time to answer. He simply laid the glass on the table and said to watch it. I tried to think of a diplomatic excuse to bail out because I thought Richard was about to put on a magic show. I wondered how drunk was he that he did not realize that he looked or acted like he had just escaped from a mental home? I thought should I humor him? Before I could answer my own question, I heard Richard say, 'If the glass travels up and down, the answer is 'yes.' If the glass moves left to right, the answer is 'no.' Now the question. Is there a murder being committed?' Too shocked to frame a response, my eyes saw it happen. The glass moved up and down."
"My mind knew the glass could not have move unaided, but my eyes saw the glass moving. The movement of the glass did not register because my brain was still locked on the question. How can one ask such a question as a party trick? One has to be insane to ask for a response to that kind of question."
"Jeff, I can see by your blank stare that none of this makes sense to you. Much like the reaction I had. So to make an impossible story believable let me show you."
While my mind tried to retreat to a sane place, I looked at the man beside me more closely. The first impression that snapped into my mind was that he resembled Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, the character from the late 1960's TV program.
Roger then slid closer to me and laid the glass on the table, on its side, just as he had described in the story and without looking at me said, "Ask the question."
I always felt that I could handle most situations, but this was rapidly slipping into a wide-awake nightmare. Just the idea that a murder was being committed I should have asked the eternal question 'why,' but instead what came out was, "Where?"
Before I realized I had even spoken, I saw the glass begin to spin on its axis and come to a stop pointing to the right, as if it were a compass needle.
"It's in tracking mode." Roger scooped the glass off the table and pocketed it. Then rising off the couch, he headed for the door. He glanced back at me and with a nod of his head, more as a command than a request, "Let's go, Jeffrey. Come with me."
I don't remember how, but I found myself standing next to a green, two-door sports coupe.
"You drive," said Roger as he handed the keys to me and slid into the passenger seat.
He reached around to the back seat and grabbed a wooden tray and placed it on his lap. It looked like just a regular serving tray, but then I noticed the sides were about two inches high and it was quite battered and a faded oriental pattern dominated the center of the tray. I recognized it as a Tibetan motif but any further reflection on the symbol was broken as he placed the glass on the tray. He said, "I'll guide, you drive." I pulled out of the space and glanced over at the man sitting next to me with the glass on the tray. As I pulled into traffic, the glass swayed to the left. Roger snapped out for me to turn left at the next corner.
I was just about to ask him what the hell that thing was and what were we doing when he said, "It's too late." He nodded down to the glass that had just started to roll back and forth like a glass would if left unattended in a moving car.
Roger said in a monotonous, detached voice, "Drive back to Tom's party and I will leave you to tell Tom that I went back to the hotel. Tell him I'll call him in the morning."
I spun the wheel and pulled to the curb. I killed the engine and glared at him, "Will you tell me what the hell we were doing or going to do?"
"If I tell you, it will turn your life upside down. I have no problem with telling you what this is all about, but I have no proof. Now, I am giving you an opportunity to just walk away and chalk it up to the ranting of a crazy old man or you can hear the rest of my story and draw your own conclusion. The decision is yours. Here is where I am staying. No, I am not staying at Tom's. I like my space. Give me a call if you want to hear the rest of my story."
He wrote down his hotel room number and phone number on a gas receipt. He reached across and pushed the door open and extended his hand for a handshake and slipped me the piece of paper. As we shook hands, I felt a light jolt of energy. Something I did not expect from a man I judged to be in his early sixties. I opened the car door and got out.
"I will be in the area over the weekend. After that, Tom will know how to reach me. Go back to your life and enjoy the goals you have set. If I have caused you confusion, remember it was meant to be." With that he slid behind the wheel and gunned the motor to swiftly merge into traffic.