Authors: Dorien Grey
The Popsicle Tree: A Dick Hardesty Mystery
By Dorien Grey
Copyright 2016 by Gary Brown, Executor of Roger Margason/Dorien Grey Estate
Cover Copyright 2016 by Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover Design by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 2005.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental
Also by Dorien Grey and Untreed Reads Publishing
A World Ago: A Navy Man's Letters Home (1954â1956)
Short Circuits: A Life in Blogs (Volume 1)
The Butcher's Son
The Ninth Man
The Bar Watcher
The Hired Man
The Good Cop
The Bottle Ghosts
The Dirt Peddlers
The Role Players
The Popsicle Tree
A Dick Hardesty Mystery
who can still
see life through
a child's eyes
Didn't somebody once say, “The only thing consistent in life is change”? So how come so many people are totally unprepared for it? They go through life as if they were driving down a freeway using only their rearview mirror to steer by. They think they're going along fine, and suddenly: Wham! Something they didn't see coming plows into them head-on and changes their lives forever, sending them spinning off in directions they'd never imagined going
The best way to handle change is simply to deal with it, and try looking at it the way a child sees new experiences: as a challenge often filled with wonder. Everything's possible to a child, and “growing up” shouldn't change that. Just keep your mind and your heart open, and who knows? A Popsicle Tree? Why not?
“You think they'll like them?” Jonathan asked as we left the apartment with a shopping bag full of presents.
“Of course they will. We have excellent taste.”
“In men, anyway,” he replied, grinning. “At least I do. I'm not so sure about you.”
“Would this be Bid for Reassurance number 1,209?”
We were on our way to our friends Tim and Phil's apartment, where we were invited for an impromptu “Welcome Back” gathering the day after our return from two weeks in New York. It was pretty short notice, and Jonathan had to scurry to get the presents we'd bought in New York wrapped, but we were eager to see everyone againâ“everyone” in this case being Tim and Phil, Bob and Mario, and Jared and Jake, who formed our inner circle of friends.
They'd said five o'clock, since it was a Sunday and everyone had to work the next dayâincluding me, unfortunatelyâand to my surprise we arrived exactly on time.
Tim, Phil, Jake, and Jared were already there, and you'd think we hadn't seen each other in two years rather than two weeks. Jonathan discreetly put the shopping bag on the floor next to the door before our exchange of bear hugs with everyone. Phil excused himself and went into the kitchen, returning with a Coke for Jonathan and a Manhattan for me. It was good to be home.
We'd just gotten seated when Bob and Mario arrived. Since Bob owned our favorite bar, RamÃ³n's, and Mario managed Venture, another bar, I realized their being there had involved some serious juggling of schedules, and I appreciated it. As soon as Tim got their drinks and we'd exchanged a toast to long-lost friends, Jonathan couldn't wait any longer. He got up and went to the shopping bag.
“We got you all something from New York,” he said.
Like Santa Claus with a bag full of toys, he handed out the gifts; one for Tim and Phil, one for Bob and Mario, and separate gifts for Jake and Jared, since they did not live together.
They all expressed surprise and thanks as they took the gifts, and Jonathan, like a little kid, oversaw the opening of each gift in turn. For Jake, a contractor by trade, we'd found a 1923 Sears & Roebuck catalog, which featured at least a dozen pages of entire homes you could buy in kit formâa three-bedroom cottage went for around $1,000. Jonathan had put a little tab in the catalog to mark the pages.
“Jonathan thought you could get some ideas from them,” I said, and Jake looked at both of us and grinned.
“This is great, guys. Thank you.” And he pulled Jonathan down to him and gave him another hug.
Don't you wish you'd given it to him?
one of my mind-voices asked. I recognized it immediately as my crotch.
Shame, Dick Hardesty! Shame!
my saintly conscience replied.
For Jared, who taught Russian Literature at a small college about an hour north of the city, we'd found an old book of folk tales in the original Russian.
Jared was visibly impressed. He turned through the pages, then looked from Jonathan to me. “Where did you ever find this?”
“In a little used-book store in Greenwich Village,” Jonathan said. “That's where we got Jake's catalog, too.”
Bob and Mario had been renovating a great old Victorian house, and we'd gotten them a pair of heavy glass candleholders we thought would go well on their mantle or dining room table.
“They're beautiful,” Bob exclaimed, admiring the candlewick pattern.
“We got them at Macy's,” Jonathan announced happily.
“Well, they're perfect, and we thank you,” Mario said.
“You're welcome,” Jonathan said, beaming.
Since Tim and Phil collected exotic tropical fish and had initiated Jonathan's interest in them, we had picked out a large coffee-table photo book from the gift store of the New York Aquarium.
“Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you Dick,” Tim said. “Of course you realize we will now have to file for bankruptcy after we go out and get all these fish.”
His Santa Claus duties finished, Jonathan came back and sat beside me.
“Now,” Jared said, “tell us all about your trip.”
And we did.
It was a great evening. As usual there was enough food for a small army, and Jake had brought a Bavarian chocolate cake for dessert, as if any of us really needed it after all the other food.
We sat around talking and laughing until just before ten, when Jared said he'd better get started on the drive back to Carrington. He'd left his car at Jake's, so they left together, followed shortly by Bob and Mario, leaving just Jonathan and me with Tim and Phil. Jonathan wanted to help Tim with the dishes, but Tim refused with thanks, and we left at about ten thirty, heading for home and the prospect of work in the morning.
I spent the entire morning at work returning calls left on the answering machine, and setting up appointments with prospective clients, one of whom was a George Cramer, owner of Cramer Motors, a used car lot in The Central, the business hub of the gay community. He didn't go into detail but I arranged to meet him at his lot at two thirty that afternoon. A couple of checks had come in with the accumulated mail, so I decided to take a late lunch and run them to the bank on my way to The Central.
Jonathan had been saving money to buy his own car for going to and from work, and we'd planned that I would sell him the car we now hadâhe insisted, even though I'd been intending to just let him have itâand I'd get a new “family” car. I thought as long as I'd be at Cramer's lot, I might look around to see what was available. Being in The Central, a large percentage of the lot's customers were from the community and I knew a couple of people who had bought cars there and been satisfied.
I parked on the street in front of the lot, and the minute I walked onto the lot itself and passed the first row of cars, I was approached by a guy who did the term “tall, dark, and handsome” a great disservice. Since he was wearing a name-tagâClintâI gathered he was one of the salesmen, and wondered what in the world someone as hot as he was doing selling used cars when he could be gracing the cover of any men's magazine in the country.
“Hi,” he said, cramming more charm into one syllable than it was meant to hold, and giving me a smile that made me wish I'd brought my sunglasses. “I'm Clint. See anything you like?”
Don't go there
, I warned my crotch before it could say anything.
I was aware that the question was one he undoubtedly used on every male gay prospective customer.
that was my crotch talking out loud, not me! “â¦in a few minutes,” I hastened to add. “I'm looking for Mr. Cramer right now.”
“Sure,” he said, still smiling. “He's in the office. Just let me know when I can be of some help, Mr.â¦?” He held out his hand.
“Hardesty. Dick Hardesty.”
Yeah, like you had to include your first name!
one of my mind-voicesâthe one in charge of being a pain in the assâsnorted.
“And I'll do that,” I added as I took his hand. There was just the slightest hint of an extra squeeze before he released it. Damn, this guy was good!
Leaving Clint, however reluctantly, I made my way to the office. There were two empty desks, and three doors other than the entrance, two of which were closed. Through the third door I could see a very large man seated behind an equally large desk. He looked up as I approached.
“Come in!” he said jovially, getting up from his chair and extending his hand.
“Dick Hardesty,” I said as I took it.
“Have a seat, please.” He walked around me to close the door, then returned to his chair.
“Let me say first off that I am not a bigot,” he said, apparently by way of getting right to whatever point he was trying to make. “A man's sexual orientation is his own private business and no one else's. I don't judge a man by who he sleeps with.”
And who might we be talking about, here?
Me, Clint, orâ¦?
“I've got one straight salesman,” he continued, “Dean Arbuckle, and I suspect he is ripping me off, though I can't prove it. I don't want you to think I suspect him just because he's straight.” I smiled, both inside and out.
Ah, the world, it
“And you have no other straight employees?”
He shook his head. “Just one of my mechanics and my niece, Judi, my brother's daughter. She's the bookkeeper.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Come,” Cramer said, and a rather mousy young woman entered. She seemed startled when she saw me.