Everyone has their secrets. Some don't reveal themselves until tragedy strikes.
My father always swore he wasn't there when it happened, but pictures don't lie.
Unfortunately, he would never be able to explain himself. The robber had seen to that. The robber and Dad's pigheadedness. If he had just let the guy have his money...
But that was the past. The present held only the mountain of debt he had left behind, debt that forced us to sell the store. This was the last business day, and I was cleaning out his office. I remembered playing here as kid while Dad did the books. I recalled working summers here in high school selling hammers and nails. So many memories, yet what kept running through my mind was, “Who’s going to get that giant ‘HARDWARE’ sign off the roof?” Each plywood letter was six feet tall. Dad was so proud of it - wouldn’t let anyone else maintain it. Once again, cleaning up after him was left to me.
To change the direction of my brooding, I opened the safe. It was a family joke that he never kept anything inside. He claimed it was a decoy for burglars. Sure enough, inside lay a pile of worthless old cancelled checks. For no reason, I plowed my hands through them like a pile of old leaves, and that’s when I found the faded manila envelope sealed with duct tape.
Curious, I slit the envelope open, and poured out an old photogragh. Ice ran through my veins. Two smiling young men in the middle pointed to a giant V at the right edge. One man was my father. I looked at the other and began to shake. “You lying bastard.”
Downstairs, the bell tinkled indicating a customer. Must have forgotten to lock the door.
"We're closed," I called down. Nobody answered, but heavy footsteps made their way up the stairs.
"I said we're cl--"
"Good evening, Mr. Wilson," came the voice of the one man I did not want to see. Before Detective Mason reached the top, I crammed the photo and envelope into the safe and locked it.
"Thought I'd find you here," said Mason sounding casual. After two months of dealing with him, I knew one thing about Detective Robert Mason. He was casual. Florida casual from his pastel polo shirt to his brown boat shoes. Too bad we were in Poughkeepsie.
Tonight, though, his insouciance looked forced. Maybe it was the sweat staining his armpits, the pallor behind his tan, or the wideness in his eyes. Mason shoved the ancient rotary phone to the middle of the desk and claimed one corner for a seat. He shot a glance at the safe. "I've been thinking about our last conversation--"
"Hold it right there, Mason. You've been pestering me about my father’s past associations ever since he died." With more bravado than I felt, I leaned my fullback frame over the smaller man, casting him in shadow. "Like you think he was the criminal. What are you after?"
He turned to the wall. "Nice safe. Wonder what's inside."
Even when he stood, he had to look up to me. Shaking his head, he said, "Usually people cooperate when a loved one has been murdered."
"Usually detectives try to catch the killer instead of digging into their past."
"Did you ever think they might be related?"
Mason gave a harsh laugh. “Are you that stupid? Do you think your father just said, ‘Hey robber, let’s fight so you can shoot me.’?” The detective glared, his face red like it had never been since he began investigating my father. How did he know there was more to Dad than I had known until today? All I wanted was for this jerk to go away so I could take in the bombshell that photo had dropped just minutes before.
“Show me what’s in the safe,” he demanded.
“Screw you,” I spat, shaking.
“Open the damned safe!” he screamed, grabbing my collar. The little guy was stronger than he looked.
“If you don’t have a search warrant--”
Next instant, I felt the barrel of a Glock semiautomatic jammed under my chin. “This is my search warrant! Now open the safe.” I couldn’t tell who was shaking more, but at that moment I began to understand my father’s stubbornness. If this creep thought he was going intimidate me, he had another thing coming.
“You’re a cop!”
“Not tonight I’m not.” That sentence, filled with resignation and anger, frightened me more than the pistol. But it also seemed to take the air out of his balloon. Mason lowered his gun and sank into the desk’s wooden chair. He stared into distance, brooding. “You’re just like your father.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
This evening had gone all over the place. I didn’t know if Mason was a cop or a kook, and with that Glock dangling from his right hand, I didn’t want to press my luck. On the other hand, the silence that had fallen was suffocating.
“What’s going on?”
He looked up at me with sad eyes and gave a big shrug that led to a sigh.
“Did you know my mom died last week? Shot herself. Know what she used? The gun that killed your father.” He paused to let the gravity of his words sink in. Then it hit me.
“Your mother?” He nodded. “But--”
In response, he handed me an envelope. Inside was an exact copy of the photograph I had discovered that evening. Not exact; it was the mirror image.
“There’s your father,” he said, pointing to Dad. “And there’s mine.” My knees grew weak, and I had to sit on the desk to keep from collapsing.
“Your father was…”
“Benny Harcliff, international jewel thief and mastermind of the infamous Ferris heist. See that bag?” He pointed the sack my father held. “Ferris diamonds.”
The room started to spin. “Dad always said he had met Harcliff in prison but never had anything to do with him afterwards and was nowhere near the Ferris job.”
“So I see.”
Mason joined me on the desk. “My father fled to Rio when things got hot. Mom never saw him again. But a few months ago she got a letter saying he was dying and wanted her cared for. He told her your father had the Ferris loot and would give her half if she showed him this photo.”
“Is that why you harrassed me so much?” He shook his head.
“Everyone knew your father had a past. I just wanted to see if there was any connection. Little did I know it was my own mother.”
"So, why'd she kill him?"
"Apparently, she showed him the picture, and he laughed. Said they already split the loot, and he’d spent his half. Mom didn’t believe him and pulled the gun, but he just kept laughing. Something snapped inside her, and she shot. Mom searched but found nothing. Last week she confessed everything to me -- just before putting the gun in her mouth."
"So, your mom killed my dad for diamonds that don’t exist."
"Yup." He holstered the Glock and folded his arms.
He shrugged. “I just want to know more.”
“Like if the jewels are really gone?
“Well, I didn’t even know Dad worked with Benny Harcliff.”
“It’s only, if there was something left…”
“It’d be blood money. It killed my father.”
“And my mother. But still.” Mason seemed so pathetic, so sad. I wanted to throw him a bone, something to cling to. But what? Then it hit me. I jumped from the desk nearly knocking Mason over. "Hey," he started but stopped when he saw me head for the safe.
A few twists of the dial, and a satisfying click sounded. There was the photo. I reached out my hand to Mason.
"Give it here," I commanded. He obeyed. Instinctively, I knew what to do, laying both photos on the desk side-by-side with the V at the left side of the frame of one meeting the V at the right side of the other. Together, they formed a giant W with two men on either side pointing to it. Why did it look familiar?
“HARDWARE,” breathed Mason. I smacked my head. Of course, the sign on the roof. But what did it mean? Surely they didn’t park the diamonds on the roof. And if they did, if there were still diamonds up there, what would we do? Take them? Stolen goods that killed our parents? Turn them in for a reward? Rewarded for their crimes?
“You could save the store,” Mason said, with no joy.
“Don’t know. I just want to know the truth.”
The truth. What was that? After a lifetime of being lied to by my own father, I had no idea. Perhaps only those old photographs held my truth. After all, unlike people, pictures don’t lie.