By James Robert Smith
Represented by Robert Fleck of The Fleck Agency.
“Max. Heads up. Someone’s going to call,” Clyde said to him.
David Maxwell cringed at the sound of the voice. It was a good, deep, regular voice with a nice tone-- just the shade of a mid-western accent that had been mainly filed away from decades of government work. But it still got on his nerves when it crept up on him that way.
Instead of replying, he just sat for a moment and considered. He knew without asking what was coming and who (roughly speaking) would appear and why they would want to see him. It never changed. Instead of asking for verification, though, he considered the glass tumbler full of Jameson whiskey, trying to remember if it was his second glass or third. He didn’t feel all that drunk, so he was thinking it was only two glasses. It wasn’t quite ten in the morning.
“I know what you’re going to ask me,” Clyde said. “And, yes, they want you to help them sneak into the Rez to find someone they love.”
Max stood up. He was a very tall man—six-foot-four as they used to say in the day. For a moment he considered that tumbler again and downed most of its contents before he could come up with a reason not to drink it. And if someone was coming, he should probably get dressed. As it was, he was standing in his kitchen wearing briefs and a tank top and nothing else. If he’d thought that Clyde was going to show up, he would at least have put on a robe.
“Tell me again how you and Edgar met,” he asked his friend.
Through whatever barrier that separated Clyde’s exact position in this world from David’s, he heard the ghost of the former Assistant Director give out with a sigh. “I applied for a position. Unlike my other—unsuccessful—attempt to join the Bureau, this time Edgar saw the file personally and asked to see me.”
“Because he saw my photo. Yes, because he saw my photo and found me attractive. He asked to see me. We met.” There was that ephemeral sigh again that hinted at more than just mild frustration. There was sweet nostalgia in it, too. “And the rest, as they say, is history. But unlike with other people…me and Edgar…we really lived history. And made it,” he added.
Max turned and scanned the reaches of the house that he could see. He was searching for sign of his friend. And that was certainly what Clyde was, these days. Initially the presence of him had been a horror and then a bother. But the fellow had grown on him. In the absence of anyone else of substance (ha ha) in his life, Clyde served in the role of as good a friend as any. So far, he had no reason to doubt that friendship.
“Clyde?” David’s eyes bounced around the kitchen, looking. There were times when he couldn’t figure exactly where the voice was coming from. Especially if there was not corresponding input from his other senses. Once, his ghostly pal had laid a hand on his shoulder. The act had been comforting at the moment. It was the only time they’d touched one another.
“Yes?” Clyde responded.
And, ah, there he was. Wearing a white suit, white hat, black shoes. And spats. That was something one rarely saw these days. His face was long, with a strong jaw and a mildly bulbous nose above a smiling mouth. He was the young Clyde and not the aged one who had died long ago in DC. Max figured if you were a ghost you could be your younger self, if you felt like it. But he’d never asked him about that detail. Clyde’s eyes were bright this morning, unlike David’s which were bloodshot from another night of lousy sleep.
“And why is it that you haunt me?” Max asked the ghost of Clyde Tolson, one-time lover of arguably one of the most powerful men who ever lived in the USA: J. Edgar Hoover.
“Because you are a strikingly handsome man, Max. I like looking at you.”
“Well, if only I was gay and If only you were alive,” he said, raising the tumbler to the ghost and then draining the last little bit of the fine whiskey.
Quickly, then, Max put his long legs to work and strode across the dining room and down the hall toward the master bedroom where the shower was waiting for him. “Don’t look at my ass while I’m taking a shower,” he warned Tolson.
“I am, as always, a perfect gentleman,” the ghost told him.
In the bathroom Max decided that he would probably not have time for a soak and just programmed the shower for eighty-five degrees and waited while the water heated as he adjusted the jet for a massage effect. With the water pattering on pale marble he slid the opaque glass door aside, stepped out of his sweat-soaked underwear and into the loving embrace of the warm water. It was wonderful.
Above the racket of streams on the pale marble surface, he called out. “And who are these people who are going to want to see me?”
“The usual,” Tolson’s voice, volume slightly louder. “There’s someone…over there. In the Rez. Innocent, of course. Whole thing is a misunderstanding and they just want to rescue them. If that’s possible. And your name, of course, came up.”
“Of course,” Max whispered.
Max wasn’t sure if Clyde was really being a gentleman or if he was just pretending. But in the steamy air of the bath it really didn’t matter, he figured. All the ghost would see of him would be a tower of flesh tones hiding in the swirling bit of billowing vapor.
“Nothing,” Max called out. And as the water removed the soap he’d lathered on to his now cleansed body, he stepped out of the shower and grabbed one of the rough, cotton towels and swabbed himself dry. Reaching out with the cloth, he dried off a bit of the mirror and tried to look at himself in the polished surface. All of his life he’d been told that he was good-looking. Sometimes he was described as ‘devastatingly handsome’, whatever the Hell that meant. Once, Clyde had told him that Max had reminded him of Cary Grant. Who even knew who Cary Grant was, these days?
Max made a puffing sound at his image and turned. Cary Grant, my ass, he thought.
The stubble that had been sprouting from his chiseled features was soon swirling down the drain of his sink—polished granite of gray tones with bits of quartzite mixed in. He’d paid a lot for that damned sink. He brushed his teeth with a regular old toothbrush and washed his mouth out with Listerine to cleanse his palate of that good whiskey. Later, he’d reintroduce himself to that bottle and kill it off. He could be a real bastard that way, he knew.
Minutes later he was once again in the midst of his house. This time he was in what passed as his office: a couple of laptop computers, a desk, some portable hard drives, and a stack of notebooks. And, of course, there were the boxes of collectible comic books arranged on the floor, along with the various tallies of that collection and want lists for future purchases. And next to the desk were some very old-fashioned file boxes made of corrugated cardboard where he stored what were now over two thousand recipes for all manner of dishes and breads that he sometimes cooked.
Those recipe files and comic book lists had been Clyde’s idea. Max had to admit that it was all very clever. Actually, he cared not one whit for old comic books and had to force himself to cook any of the vast arrays of recipes over which he only seemed to obsess.
“Well, I guess you’d better tell me more about these people who want to see me,” he said to the ghost. But there was no reply. Clyde was like that. Sometimes he was there, and other times he was not. Max had yet to figure out the manner of the ghost’s manifestations. Tolson had come out of the Rez with him once, and had never quite left. Max hadn’t figured out how the shade of the dead former Assistant Director of the FBI had managed to squeeze out of that place when nothing else could. But he had. He’d tagged along somehow, and that was all there was to it.
Nothing else had ever done that—crossed over from the Rez into the real world. Nothing else, of course, but David Maxwell and those he was sometimes able to rescue. But generally speaking, you had to be alive to cross back over.
At the point when Max figured that Clyde was gone for a while, the voice finally spoke up, again in the same room, and again making David flinch a bit. He really did wish that Clyde would cut that shit out.
“Too late,” Tolson said to him. “They’re already here.”
And with that, the doorbell chimed: a quick and cheerful pinging of electronic notes that sang something that had always been familiar to Max but which he had never quite placed. It had come with the joint and he’d never had the bells replaced.
He turned and could see his image reflected in the glass of one of the landscape paintings on the office wall. It was an image of Mount Katahdin, in Maine. Superimposed over that striking peak delineated in imaginative strokes of grey and blue, he could see himself standing there: white shirt, blue tie, navy slacks to match, white sneakers.
Max adjusted his cuffs, turned on his heel and went to answer the door.