By: Eric Burbridge
“Funeral homes, I hate them.” Doctor Eli Tonn whispered after he delayed a patient’s appointment so he could view the body of his aunt. He yanked open the huge wooden entrance door and walked into the humid funny smelling lobby. Did the security guard with the nervous smile pass gas or what? The funeral complex was impressive; thickly carpeted with exotic fake plants and flowers in oversized vases lining the mirrored halls that led to various sized chapels. Soft serene music escaped into the corridors when viewers and family exited into the hallways.
The more he thought about Auntie Gail’s cause of death the angrier he got.
Stage four prostate cancer!
She was not transsexual, a friend in the Medical Examiner’s office told him.
The aunt who virtually raised him was a man. There was no sign of that as long as he knew her. None. She was not overly feminine and her voice was normal. Auntie Gail was an attractive woman with bright eyes, beautiful skin, curves and a personality to match…the life of the party. His mom and the rest of the family did not mention it, no rumors in the neighborhood either. Why not tell him? Did the family resent his leaving to attend medical school or that he’d been a cop? That hurt and he did not want to see what was left of his immediate family. He could have visited more often. Finishing his residency and starting his Internal Medicine practice, with back and forth to the hospital, overwhelmed his schedule. Regret…he hated it.
There was a picture of his aunt on display outside the entrance to the chapel. It was one of her best photos of her sitting at the piano she never played. The joy on her face made him smile until he opened the door. And as he expected, nose twitching floral arrangements were everywhere. The closer he got to the casket the harder it got to hold back the tears. Gospel music played softly from hidden speakers, the casket looked quite expensive, no surprise– the family could afford it. She was dressed like a jet setter and her expression was peaceful and even in death that cover girl face remained. They did a good job on her; Anita saw to that. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “You left too soon, Auntie, too soon. You could’ve told me.” If he’d known her secret it would not have made a difference, but he still felt strange. He touched the person who taught him the value of secrecy. “It could mean the difference between life and death, happiness and tragedy.” She said, and that advice was helpful to this day. “Eli Tonn, is that you?” That too loud, obnoxious voice made his skin crawl. The one and only, William Pope walked slowly toward him and after all these years that cavity filled grin remained on his round razor bump filled face. Even in this heat he still wore his signature bow tie and carried the black cane with the rumored rebar core. “How are you, I didn’t startle you, did I?”
“No, of course not William, we’re just in a funeral chapel that’s all.” Eli smiled and extended his hand. “Hello.” He never liked him; when he first came around his aunt changed or was it jealousy? And, as Eli got further in his teens, he knew everything anyway and it did not matter.
“You look good, still skinny with the too broad shoulders, but that’s trendy, right?” Pope moved around him and inspected the casket. “Expensive…she deserves it.” He straightened her collar. His lips quivered and tears formed in his eyes. “She looks good, don’t she?” Eli nodded. “I loved her; she will be missed.”
“You two were a couple?” Eli asked.
Pope hesitated and cleared his throat. “Uh, uh.”
“I’m not judging.” That caught him off guard. Big bad gangster, William Pope was gay or at least bi-sexual. Did he know Eli knew her secret? It was getting late and he planned on going to the burial and perhaps the repass where he’d pop in and out. “Sorry for your loss, I got to go.”
“I’m sorry for yours…we need to talk Eli, it’s important.” Pope’s handshake tightened.
Now what? He did not like the expression on his ugly face. “Ok, I’ll be at the repass, will you?”
“See you whenever.” Eli rushed to his car. He might make it if he hurried.
Eli’s patient cancelled at the last moment. Against his better judgement he made a swift illegal U-turn and headed back to the funeral home. No additional cars in the lot, but there was Pope sitting in his custom Escalade. Those big lips flapped as he spoke into the dashboard mounted cell phone. Don’t look this way. Too late…he waved. “Officer Eli Tonn, we need to talk,” he shouted through the cracked window as Eli hurried by in the heavy down pour.
He stopped and walked back to see the grin on Pope’s face. “Don’t call me that.”
“Just messing with you man, relax.”
Now he was soaked. Do not let anything unnerve you, Eli. How many relatives would remind him of his short-lived career as a cop? He wanted to spend time with Auntie Gail before Pope came back. What did he want to talk about? He sat directly in front of her casket, not the best spot since the A/C vent was overhead and that on damp clothes equals a summer cold. Two seats to the left solved that. Eli was not big on prayer, but he hoped her soul was saved. He showed his appreciation for her wisdom and guidance by offering financial assistance if she needed it over the years. She never asked. “Think first, Eli, act second.” The best advice she ever gave him back in the day and combined with his gift he couldn’t go wrong. Auntie Gail showed him the way beginning with those book reports he had to do back in the day. “Your teacher said you failin’ in English, boy what is wrong with you? That’s important to speak and write well. It’s hard for us to get and keep jobs, so do it right, got it?”
“Yeah, Auntie.” Her anger terrified him.
“Yes, not yeah, got it? You talk to your friends one way, the rest of the world another, got it?”
“Yes, Auntie.” Good advice, he found at an early age.
“Start readin’ this book, Catcher in the Rye, it’s good, you might like it and tell me what you read, I’ll be back, I got business. There’s food in the frig, don’t answer the phone unless it’s me, you know the code, right?”
“Yes, auntie.” He read for a couple of hours. When she returned her eyes were red and her hands smelled like weed. Her arms were full of bags from upscale stores at the mall.
“Time for a quiz, Eli. What you read?”
“I got to page fifty, auntie. It’s good so far.” Eli said, and started from page one.
“Wait, wait, tell me what’s it about and how you remember all them words?” She picked up the book and turned it to the first chapter. “You really remember them words, Eli?”
“Yes, auntie, I remember everything I read and the pictures too.”
“That’s amazin’ if you right.” She flipped the pages. “Ok, let’s see, page twelve.” He recited it perfectly. “Page six in the middle.” The same thing. “Jesus, boy you a genius. You got that total recall stuff or whatever they call it. You can be whatever you want, real rich too. If you can do this, why you failin’?”
“I don’t feel like being bothered with this stuff.”
“You in love or what?” She laughed. “It’s written on your face.”
Eli remembered being embarrassed. “I like this girl, but she doesn’t like me anymore.”
She laughed, “You’ll get over it, believe me.” She was right, his first heartbreak came and went. Her guidance from then on became priceless.
Two elderly couples stood over Eli’s aunt; touched her and said silent prayers. They walked over and conveyed their condolences. He did not recognize them, but they shared the same affluent, not entirely legal, air about them as Auntie Gail. Slick, best described them. Did they know about her? His back got tight, time to get up and stretch his legs. It was getting late, where was the family? The door swung open and loud conversation flooded the room, but whoever that crowd was they went next door. Pope stepped in and spoke to the couples as they left. If he called him Officer Tonn again he’d choke him. “Doctor Tonn, you don’t mind me calling you that do you?” That grin turned Eli’s stomach.
“Eli is fine, Pope.”
“Sorry man, I’ll stop messing with you.” He patted him on the back and they sat.
Here comes the BS. “Ok, what do you want, Pope? But first, do you know what killed, auntie?” The quick eye blink said it all. Surprise.
“Uh, uh…I heard it was pancreatic.” Pope’s voice trembled.
He was lying. “You’re sweating, you okay?” Eli asked.
“I’m not judging, it’s the twenty-first century. It’s okay, Pope.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Eli. Gail said she was going to look out for her niece and nephew. What that means I don’t know, but I assume you get the estate or whatever.”
“I know nothing about that. As you know or should, I haven’t been around for years on a regular basis.” What was he getting at? The concern on his face turned to a scornful frown. “If she does than what?”
“Well she has documents that were supposed to be signed and reviewed by attorneys and other things…”
“Did you ask Anita she might know.” Eli interrupted.
“Listen, if she had papers for you, I’ll give them to you. I have no desire to know or be in your business, got it? If there’s a reading of a will or whatever you can come and hear it. Ok?” Pope nodded and extended his hand.
“Fair enough. You still don’t like me, do you?”
Eli sighed and leaned back. That was his answer. Family started to trickle in, waved and lined up to view the body. Did Pope know Eli’s secret…his gift? Had Auntie Gail told him and if she did, it was none of his business to know about his form of Hyperthymesia Syndrome and how he would use it.
When they flipped the handles and the most influential person in Dr. Eli Tonn’s life descended into the ground he almost lost it. The family’s tears and outcries hurt. He maintained his composure just as she would have wanted. He dabbed his tears with a tissue his cousin provided. Anita clutched his hand as they walked toward their vehicles. She looked great for forty and six months pregnant. “I know this is hard for both of us… we’ll be fine.”
“True, but still.” Should he bring up her secret? Why not, the suspense was killing him? “How long did you know about her?”
His favorite cousin sighed. “For ten years and it’s a long story.”
“Put your sunglasses on your eyes are puffy.” Eli said.
“I didn’t care…you couldn’t tell and we still loved her for her regardless, right?”
“I hate you were last to know, sometimes the truth can fuck up stuff.” Anita said. “After all these years you still look good cuz.” She pinched his side. “Still skinny and that’s good.”
“Yeah, thanks. I was talking to his majesty, William Pope, did he know?” Anita giggled and nodded.
“He had to…on the down low, you know, doing the humpty-rumpty.” They laughed too loud and turned heads. “Those were the types she liked.”
“Pope still a fence?”
“Yeah, but no drugs and he’s still in real estate. One thing about auntie, she loved the entrepreneurial types.”
“Pope asked about documents she left.” The alarm chirped next to a black Mercedes G class SUV. Eli’s finger tips slid over the hood. “Nice car.”
“Thanks. Documents and the estate stuff are at the house. She left you the house, that I know and if there’s anything else we’ll find out later from the attorney.”
“That’s a headache I don’t need, especially now.”
“Which is fine, since everybody has plenty of money of their own.”
He heard that before, greed had a way of creeping into the richest of families. He did not want her estate, whatever it was. “We’ll see, Anita, we’ll see. He closed her door. “I’ll follow you to the repass.”
“Ok, cool. Oh, before I forget, have you seen any of your friends you ran with back in the day? The five nerds we called you guys.” Anita laughed and started her car. “Don’t look offended, you know you guys were crazy.”
“No, I haven’t and we were like everybody else, drinking wine, smoking weed and chasing skirts…harmless red-blooded males.”
“Ha…not what I heard; see you there.” Anita pulled off.
“The five nerds, that’s an insult,” Eli said aloud and if he continued to follow his cousin at this speed, he will get a ticket. They were good guys with clean records and no trouble with the cops. She was messing with him, she had to be. “Nerds, my ass.” All of them were college grads. Pete was tall and obese, but athletic and excelled in all sports, Calvin was the short pretty boy ladies’ man with the silly giggle. Earl, the muscular quiet one with hands like catcher’s mitts nobody dare bother him. Tillman was the jet-black colored genius with huge ears and a braggart who did not mind showing it. Eli, the average, they teased him often, was the string bean with the shoulders and long sandy hair, but kept his gift to himself. Auntie Gail insisted. The five, so called, nerds came in all sizes and colors which was a good thing…well-liked and respected.
Then tragedy stuck!
The cops shot Tillman in the back while he ran to catch a bus. “He looked like a suspect, we ordered him to stop.” They said. He didn’t comply because he wore his headphones. And, of course, they got away with it. How could they make the cops pay for it? They came to the conclusion…infiltrate. They came from middle class families, all of them attended Catholic grammar and high schools and at the time were college seniors. The Metro Police accepted all of them, phase one was under way. Everybody excelled in all aspects of training except Eli, he kept a low profile being, the average one. As time went on the guys changed and upon graduation, they didn’t have that focused militancy and vengeful attitude they vowed to maintain. They turned into cops with personal goals and ambitions. Love, marriage and family became the main topic in their off-duty interaction. Eli played it smart; no telling who had Internal Affairs ambitions. “Face it, revenge is dead.” He told himself and Auntie Gail. He remembered playing doctor as a kid and realized how much medicine interested him. That’s where he’d focus his gift.
The repass was great, minimal contact with the family and no questions about the past, present or future. The heat and humidity were brutal when they entered their aunt’s bungalow. No surprise she kept it immaculate and well organized with Anita’s help in her final days. The off-white deep pile carpet accented the entire living and dining area. Most of the leather chairs and glass top tables were still there and in good shape. The walk past her room hurt when through the cracked door he saw the IV poles and hospital bed. Anita said she was mobile up until two weeks ago.
“I love this place…so clean. I’ll check the frig.”
“That figures.” Eli said and she gave him the finger.
“Not much in there except a few beers, want one?”
“Yeah. I’ll check her office.” He didn’t know if the computer was password protected. The book shelves were in order by size, category and complimented with contemporary bookends and small sculptures. The large plants in the corners and surrounding her computer center needed water. One large leaved plant had died. He opened the blinds to perk up the atmosphere. The desk drawers were empty, all of them. Strange. “Anita, Anita.”
“Come here a second.” She had a couple of beers and tossed him one. “All the drawers are empty and be careful with the alcohol, cuz.”
“You right.” She gulped down the beer like she was in a drinking contest and a loud belch followed. “Excuse me, anyway she threw all kinds of junk out, old magazines and stuff. You know how thorough she was.”
“Yeah right.” Eli popped the top and sat at the computer. Did she toss all that stuff he copied from his days at the academy? He had not thought about that stuff since forever. His worries were over if she did. Check the small closet. It was virtually ignored when he was coming up and his old toys might be in there. If Anita had a boy, he will love them. He opened the door. No toys, but there were two steel drawer cabinets, both with a steel rod down through the handles and padlocked. Where were bolt cutters when you need them? “Anita, look at this.”
“Maybe that’s where the money is, you think?”
“What money?” Eli asked.
“Just kiddin’ I think I know where the key is.” She went to the utility closet. “This is it; I think.”
The lock popped. “Good, let’s see what we see.” He removed the rod.
“You check…I got things to do.” Anita peeked in when he opened the drawer. “Files and more files. No cash, I’m gone. Here’s the key, get a copy later if you don’t mind.” She kissed him on the cheek. “See ya later.”
Anita left several beers to keep him company. He popped a top and strolled through the house. His aunt hated clutter and the lack of it made him feel good. Less clutter, less work. Eli flushed the toilets and turned on the faucets to get the air out. The A/C was good, but the filter needed to be changed. Time to check the computer. Auntie Gail sat in that very chair when he told her what the group decided to do about Tillman’s murder. She reclined her chair slightly, crossed her long legs and gave her famous serious expression. “This is what you do and tell no one.” Tell no one was gospel for Eli. “Use your memory since your hyperthymesia stuff kicks in when you read, then read everything you can while in trainin’. They ain’t goin’ to let you take it home for security reasons, right?”
“Got it, auntie.”
“You know how to be smart about it. How you want to do it, write on paper or on the computer or both?”
“No computer, it can be hacked or stolen. Who steals peoples paper work?”
“Right, that’s my favorite nephew usin’ his head.”
After that Eli got to work reading and studying everything the department had to offer, he did not arouse suspicion. He maintained the persona of being an average guy, but his buddies wore themselves out being the best. Other cadets were envious and the resentment got ugly on occasions. The dark side of the department had shown its face. “You guys need to slow down.” They took his advice, for once.
At the end of each day he documented what he read. Several months later he accumulated a couple hundred pages and crude illustrations. How would he use it, what would Auntie Gail do with it? He asked and she shrugged. “Don’t know yet.” Don’t know yet! What kind of answer was that? It did not sit well with him, but she would do the wise thing. If they found out what was in her possession, God help them. The best way to hurt or bring about change, become a reliable source for journalists, but Eli didn’t stay around to get deep into law enforcement. And here he was years later sitting at her desk wondering if she had those papers in the house.
Go through the files, all of them. Screw the dread and get busy.
After hours of reading and separating files; one stack of real estate stuff, the other her personal finances, Eli rubbed his throbbing eyes. His cell rang; William Pope. How did he get his number? “I’m not going to ask how you got my cell, Pope.”
“Hello to you too, Dr. Eli Tonn.” Pope snapped. “Don’t be rude.”
“I’m tired looking for what you might want…whatever that is.” Then it hit him, Pope was lying. “You were here, you should know.”
“Just business documents, Eli.”
“I’m finished separating personal stuff as new owner. I’ll hit you in the morning. And don’t bring your boys or should I say associates by my house. Got it?”
The line went dead.
William Pope reeked of last night’s whiskey and the early morning humidity didn’t help when Eli waved him into the living room. “This place is still immaculate as usual.”
“Right, and you still smell drunk. You need coffee or what?” Eli felt the daggers in his back walking to the kitchen. “Black with sugar or what?”
“Black is fine,” Pope replied and walked into her office. “These file cabinets mine?”
“No. Just the one marked Pope Realty, as if you didn’t know.” Eli handed Pope the coffee and cabinet key. “Gather your stuff I got to go, if you don’t mind. After you’ve finished, of course.” The doorbell rang.
Eli shrugged and went to the door.
“Hey, cuz.” Anita gave him a slight hug and headed to the office. “Hello, Pope.”
He stopped fingering files and gave her the once over. “You look nice, Anita. Those shorts and blouse fit the baby bump well.”
“Thank you, don’t stop on my account. Eli, a word please.” They went into the living room. “What’s he doing with the files?”
“He asked about business documents she had or whatever? I told him he could have them. I separated her personal stuff, I guess. What they do or did I don’t want any part of it. If you do fine, then you two can work it out.” Eli headed to the back.
“Ok, got it.” Anita said, right on her cousin’s heels.
“Auntie Gail’s movie collection.” Pope was startled, but kept fingering through the DVD’s, “Is not your business, Pope.” Eli said.
“Uh, sorry, she got so many classics on VHS too.”
“Pope get your files and leave.”
They watched Pope load the files in the back of his Escalade. “Since I got the house, I’ll sell it to you or other family for half of market value.” Eli said. “I have enough stuff to handle. What do you think?”
“Sounds good to me, but Pope worries me.”
“You know what she had going on with that asshole?”
“No! Don’t want to either.” Anita said and grabbed the doorknob. “Eli, don’t let auntie’s secret or deception get you down she’d want you…us to understand. I’ll be in touch.”
They hugged. “You’re right I guess.”
Eli stared at the rows of movies his auntie accumulated over the years. Pope thinks he’s stupid. What was he looking for? Time to find out. Was there a video of Pope and his aunt going at it? It had to done systematically. And, don’t forget about the cop documents. She probably got rid of them years ago… he hoped. The attic, he forgot the attic.
He pushed the old clothing to the side as far as he could in the narrow closet to position the small step ladder. Dammit, the ceiling door had been painted over. Who uses enamel in a closet? Get a box cutter and go around the edges. Forget that…a good punch or two might work. It did, thank God. The musty odor of damp insulation embedded between the joist smacked him in the face. He didn’t have to look far, a row over there was a wet cardboard file box. He stretched his arms to the limit and grabbed it. Dammit! It came apart, but he saw a package wrapped in plastic and when he opened it. Bingo!
Eli fed the moist faded papers he worked so hard on into the micro cut shredder. Every batch brought a smile to his face. He and Auntie Gail were the only people who knew of its existence. That he was sure of. He made a mental note to remind Anita about the roof and attic problem. Now it was time to watch some videos.
The plan, watch the untitled ones and the X’s, probably meant porn, first. The old Panasonic VHS still worked as he cautiously inserted the tape. Good, a picture appeared, grainy, but a picture. He adjusted the tracking. A figure walked toward the camera that appeared to be a naked female. “Hey honey, get ready baby,” and for a second, she sounded like his aunt. Eli hit pause and readjusted the tracking. She continued toward the camera.
Jesus, it was his aunt!
Somebody lay on the bed wear the camera was mounted. “You lookin’ good girl come closer.” The guy sounded familiar. Auntie Gail stopped at the foot of the bed. She had a hard on. Eli shut his eyes and turned away. The hurt and disappointed overwhelmed him. His breath shortened; he grabbed his chest. Relax, Eli, relax. “Dance for me baby…shake that thang.” That voice…it couldn’t be. He spun around; the guy still wasn’t entirely visible. His aunt performed like a pro. “Yeah…yeah,” he said. Whoever he was the speed of his hand in the genital area said he trying to reach a climax, but it seemed his fingers were inside, not out.
“Stop, we can come together so we can make a baby, before you transition completely.” Auntie Gail said and got on the bed. “We’ll be alike, but you still won’t be as big as I am.”
“That’s okay wait a minute,” he moved his hand. “Ok, put it in.”
“That’s William Pope!” He knew that voice was familiar. Speed it up…no, don’t, it might snap. No telling how old this was. It went blank. “Shit!” Eli watched the snowy screen for a while. Was that the end? It had to be. Shit! He still couldn’t prove it was Pope. But now he knew his secret. Big bad William Pope was transgender. Who’d believe it? Like Auntie Gail, he was an anomaly. Jesus, that was an expensive complicated procedure from male to female and vice-versa. He saw a video of the surgery it made his skin crawl. Hormone therapy, infection and other side effects, it took a strong determined individual who had to understand the consequences. No comebacks! After this revelation he needed several beers, but he had to think this through. Pope would kill to keep his secret.
Eli rewound the tape, wiped off any prints and placed it back in the sleeve. Wipe the machine and remote, the other tapes and DVD’s looked untouched. Pope was a sneak and he will try to get this stuff, his life and reputation depended on it.
He had simple plan; let Pope have this stuff, don’t move anything. Pope would send somebody to get it tonight. That would be the smart move. There probably weren’t any copies. Eli was surprised he hadn’t been in here already. But he had a convention to attend, focus on that. He set the alarm and locked the door. He texted his cousin; Anita, I got a conference in New York, look out for the place, rang me if you need anything.
“Hey Eli, how you doing in the Big Apple?” Anita asked.
She sounded strange. “Good for the time being. What’s up?”
Anita sighed. “Somebody broke in auntie’s house.”
“Oh really.” Pope made his move! He wanted to jump for joy.
“They took all the electronic stuff in her office, small appliances and all that expensive jewelry. They triggered the motion detector, but the cop response time was twenty goddamn minutes.” Anita shouted. “I wonder how they knew that shit. I hope they die!”
“Thieves know that stuff, that’s what they do, slick Mr. William Pope.”
“What…why? That don’t make sense, he got money.”
“Yeah, your right.” Of course, she would never know what he found.
“Sorry to disturb you, but you needed to know. I got the police report for the insurance claim and stuff. But I still want to buy this place.”
“Sounds good, let me know the details and stuff when you get it. And, calm down and before I forget, I forgave everybody about Auntie Gail for not telling me. When I thought about it, it’s best that way, like you said. Keeping her in a good light is important.”
“Ok cuz, enjoy the conference.”
Forget William Pope, he hoped he got what he wanted for his peace of mind. If not, so what. The former cop in Eli told him he had nothing to worry about and go back to learning new things to save lives.