Doug laughed, but he wasnt sure why. He was already feeling like some pervertthe way he had ogled the dark-haired Edna in the photo. Now he began to feel ignorant as well.
"Did you notice the photo of Russ?" she said, crossing over to the bookcases. She picked up the group photo Doug had looked at and he wondered if she had seen him staring. "Back in Paris, just after the war, a group of us used to spend too much time being crazy. We had this nickname for our group a policeman actually gave it to us he called us les suspects habituals." She smiled so Doug smiled, not about to ask. "Thats Russ with his arm around my roommate."
Doug had only seen one picture of his uncle, many years before. His father had left his gun cabinet unlocked once and, taped inside the door, Doug had found a faded picture of his father standing next to Uncle Russit had to be him, the family resemblance was too strong. They were teenagers, Dougs age when he saw it, and they were standing on his grandfathers front porch. And they were laughing. His father never left the case unlocked again, never asked about the missing "photography magazines" Doug had found on the shelf. When his father died three years ago he looked in the cabinet before his Uncle Carl loaded it on his truck, but the photo was gone.
The face in Ednas group photo startled Doug. The man looked so much older than the image he had created of his uncle. He needed a shave, had a fighters build, and looked a hell of a lot tougher than his brother. His eyes, even when he was laughing, looked hard. He had the same firm jaw line as most of the Pearce men, the same small ears, the same charcoal-colored hair that, if he had lived, would have turned more gray than black. But there was something about the man in the photo, something none of his uncles seemed to have, an edge maybe, a sense of danger that just didnt fit with the genes he knew. So this was the terror of the Pearce clan, the token rebel, this twenty-four-year-old with Dillingers eyes? Actually, it wasnt hard to imagine.
"Russell had the best stories," Edna said, breaking the silence. "You never knew if they were true or not and I suppose we didnt care. His gift was keeping us all entertained with tales right out of Conrad, full of jungles, gunfights, jailbreaks, beautiful women and jealous husbands. Just when you were certain he was making the whole thing up, that it was just too much, hed say something like and thats where I got this and hed pull out some souvenira glass eye, a sharks tooth on a chain, an opium pipe with a bullet lodged in the bowl, a fresh scar. They were never proof, and he never convinced me the stories were real, but it was fun listening and pretending. We all pretended a bit too much then, I suppose. It was a different time. But," she said, motioning with her wine glass, "I guess everything I have I owe to your Uncle Russell."
Doug followed the wine glass and took in the room. "He must have left you a fortune."
Edna laughed and sipped more of her wine. "The only things Russ left me with were memories," she said and laughed again. "But, yes, I guess it was a fortune because I wouldnt trade those memories for the world. What I meant was that the things I learned from your uncle allowed me to earn my keep. His expertise was smuggling and you couldnt spend as much time with Russ as I did and not master a few skills. Later, when I returned to Canada, I put those skills to use."
"You were smuggling things into Canada?"
"Out mostly, and mostly south. But only until I put together enough money to apply my skills in a legitimate import/export business. I scraped along, built the business up and sold the whole thing to a wonderful gentleman from Hong Kong back in the mid-Eighties. Since then Ive kept busy investing in small businesses overseas. It pays the bills."
From Relative Danger by Charles Benoit (Chapters 1 & 2, pages 1-16). Copyright Charles Benoit 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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