The last thing Raymond Gaver expected was that he would die with a key to the Beverly Hills Hotel in his pocket.
He was from New York. He didn’t even like Southern California. And he hardly ever stayed at that hotel.
He expected to nail down the financing he needed before lunch, and that happened. He expected he could get to the airport in forty-five minutes, and he had. He expected the flight to be half-full, and it was. What he did not expect was that it would explode in midair halfway to San Francisco, nor that his body would lie in pieces, among the wreckage of the plane and of the other passengers, for more than a day in the silence of the Santa Cruz Mountains while rescuers tried to reach the crash site.
Sherry Zagar was vetting the Gaver-Zagar American Express bill when the phone rang. (You’d think with a specialty in tax law that Raymond could figure out for himself why it made her weary to find charges for his dates’ pedicures and hair tinting larded into his hotel bills.) “Good morning. Gaver-Zagar.” “Good morning….Excuse me. Who have I reached?” “Gaver-Zagar Partnership. This is Sherry Zagar, can I help you?”
“Is this the office of Raymond Charles Gaver?”
“Who is calling please?” And what fresh hell is this, said Dorothy Parker. Christ! Raymond Charles Gaver?
Pause. “My name is Frieda Mailman.”
Oh. Who? “I’m sorry, Mr. Gaver is in California this week. Perhaps if you told me what this regards, I could help you.”
Another pause. “Um, I’m trying to reach his next of kin.”
Oh. Insurance. “Well that would be his son, Jack, who is probably in algebra class at the moment.”
“Oh.” Pause. “How old is Jack?”
“Sixteen. Are you sure I can’t help you?”
“I need to reach Mr. Gaver’s family.”
“I’m afraid Mr. Gaver has been killed.”
“What! By who?”
Sherry realized many hours later that this was an interesting response. She had seen a flashed image of a gun fired in a hotel room. A skull-crunching punch. A pair of hands around a jugular. The woman from the airline, whose name Sherry had already forgotten, replaced this with the true image, the one Sherry would have to live with for the rest of her life, of a man she had once loved, dying in fear and then lying in pieces on the side of a mountain he’d never heard of and never would.
For a while after she hung up, Sherry looked around the office as if she’d never seen it before, and tried to keep breathing. She was in shock. How many times in her life had she said “I’m in shock,” when what she meant was, “I am crammed with outraged opinion and eager to jam a million words about it down your throat.” Now she couldn’t say anything. She just looked out the open door of the office to the reception desk and kept puzzling over the nearly empty jug of the office water cooler. Had the faucet handle on the cooler always been blue? She felt surrounded by a great colorless void, into which would occur spikes of thought, as if injected by syringe. Mostly random and amazingly off the point. She became aware that she was shaking her head in an odd way, as a dog does when it has an earache. And thinks there must be some mistake.
That kelim on the walls was Raymond’s. From his den at home. The one time Sherry had been to their house (this was before Martha realized Raymond was sleeping with Sherry) she’d admired the rough masculine comfort of Raymond’s den, as Martha had arranged it for him. it had kelims and an old leather sofa and a camel saddle from somewhere. And loads of plants. Sherry remembered the little boy, Jack, coming in in his pajamas to say goodnight. Jack was carrying an ancient stuffed beast, allegedly an elephant, that had once been his father’s. He’d been sweet and warm and shiny from his bath.
On his own, Raymond was not so adept at creating comfort or effect. Sherry looked at the partners’ desk Raymond had bought himself in London. Too good for this office, with a dingy expanse of West Fifty-sixth Street out the window. An antique partners’ desk beside bunged-up file cabinets and an overflowing metal wastebasket. Raymond didn’t take any meetings here. When he was romancing a backer he did it at breakfast at the Mayfair Regent. He used to take rolls of gorgeous architectural renderings with him. Well, he wouldn’t do that anymore. Or sit at that desk.
Jesus. Raymond? What did she do now? What about the new hotel) What about his mother in Florida? What about his secretary? Could Sherry keep the business afloat at all? What about his tickets for Miss Saigon next week?
What about the early mornings here alone when they would drink coffee that tasted of cardboard from the Greek deli downstairs, and laugh about where life had brought them and where they meant to go? How, in the middle of your life, do you replace — get along without — a relationship of fifteen years, with someone you’ve loved and slept with and grown to hate and forgiven and trusted and been betrayed by and forgiven?
God, maybe it would be a relief.
Sherry hadn’t spoken to Raymond’s ex-wife in fourteen years. She could hardly call her now. But who was going to tell the boy?
“It looks like a slam-dunk to me. They had a document in the file saying they couldn’t honor checks for over five hundred dollars without a countersignature. The bank has to return the money. Period, full stop.”
Charlie Leveque was in his partner Albert’s office when his secretary buzzed.
The foregoing is excerpted from Domestic Pleasures by Beth Gutcheon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022