Notes: New story! This one is, as I mentioned before, a contemporary m/m romance, but a few little things to be aware of...there's going to be mention of a lot of history in this. American history. For those of you who aren't American and have no idea what I'm talking about when certain things come up, just shoot me a comment or wait for me to post clarification on my own. All you need to know for starters is that Benjamin Franklin was a founder of our nation, a respected scientist and philosopher, and a dirty old man. He's on our money. We love him that much:)
Title: Love Letters
Part One: The Question In The Card
Two and a half minutes after his pre-recorded interview on NPR ended, the Psycho theme began playing on Ben DeWitt’s phone. He stared at the device from across the room, only surprised by his agent’s rapid response and not the fact that she was calling. Ben wondered for a moment if the call was really worth getting out of his chair to go and get, then remembered the exhaustive voicemail Linda had left for him last time and decided that, yes, it was probably for the best. He could refill his cup of coffee and grab the mail while he was at it.
Ben rolled away from his computer and stood, then grabbed his phone as he passed from the sitting room into the narrow hallway that led to his kitchen. Skinny wooden floorboards, warped from over a century of traffic, squeaked and groaned under his feet. He answered the phone while he headed for the coffeepot. “Good morning, Linda.”
“Good mooooorning,” she purred, stretching the poor vowel for so long it should have been considered abuse. “How’s my favorite author today?”
“Please,” Ben scoffed, “Jared Diamond is your favorite author. I’m a distant second at best.”
“You’re my favorite right now, Benjamin,” she assured him. “That was a great interview with Terry. Wonderful synopsis of your work, great questions, this was all very good publicity.”
Ben poured the last of his coffee into the cup. The Harvard logo had almost worn away, it had been washed so many times. This had been his mother’s favorite mug. Ben kept it around more out of a sense of duty than anything else. “I’m glad you liked it, Linda.”
“Yes, oh, it was loooovely, just lovely. Almost all of it was perfect.”
Ah, here came the reason she’d called. “What part didn’t you like?” he asked as he sipped slowly.
“The part at the end. When she asked about your next project. And you said…” Linda paused expectantly like she expected Ben to finish her sentence. He just took another sip, and after a moment she continued. “You said you were thinking of doing a book on Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold! Benjamin, what are you thinking?”
He frowned at the phone. “I sent you that proposal a week ago, you didn’t say no.”
“That’s because I didn’t know what to say! Benjamin! The man who has just spent seven months on the bestseller lists for writing Liberty Or Death: The Inflammatory Rhetoric of the American Revolution does not go on from his amaaaazing debut to write a modern-day exposé on a historical figure whose very name is synonymous with treachery! And you certainly don’t announce your intention during an interview with a prestigious nationally-broadcast radio program! Not before I clear it!”
“I repeat: you didn’t say no.”
“I didn’t say yes either. Benjamin,” Linda heaved a heavy sigh, sounding exactly like his mother when he’d brought home a report card with a B on it. “You’re establishing your brand, okay, and consistency is very important. You turned what should have been a dry, scholarly analysis of the literature that helped get the Revolution going into an absolute blockbuster. You make things accessible to people, you redefine them in ways that are exciting and bold. But no one wants to read about a redefined Benedict Arnold. They just don’t, okay? The man is one of America’s greatest scoundrels.”
“He was an interesting man,” Ben said, wanting to fight her on this but not really having the energy for it right now. It was cold outside, cloudy and gray, and he hadn’t slept well for the past week, his mind running itself ragged with too many ideas. Benedict Arnold was only the latest one. “Did you know that he and his second wife wrote encoded letters to the—”
“Benjamin! No! This is not a blockbuster idea. Drop it.”
Ben scowled at his wall as he slipped his shoes on and wrapped a blanket over his shoulders. It wasn’t far to the mailbox. He could get out there and get back in and still have plenty of time to listen to Linda bitch him out. “Do you have any other suggestions?” he asked as he opened his front door and stepped outside.
It had been a fairly mild winter up to now, but apparently January marked the end of that. There was no more snow on the ground, but the air was bitterly cold. He walked down his front steps, past the carved stone lions that lounged at the base of his walkway, and down to his mailbox. The contents looked like mostly junk but he grabbed it all anyway, only listening with half an ear as Linda babbled on about hip, trendy, within your realm of expertise. By the time he got back inside she had thrown all sorts of ideas his way, each one more ridiculous than the last.
“I am not doing a recipe book,” he interrupted her, toeing his shoes off and heading back into the kitchen. “I might as well do a gimmick like one of those ‘year’ books if I’m going to sell out that badly. Like, A Year In The Life of a Founding Father: Syphilis and Head Lice For All.” The sudden, speculative silence on the other end of the line didn’t bode well. “I was kidding, Linda. I’m not doing that.”
“Why not? You have a cabin up in the mountains, don’t you?”
“Yes, but it’s still got things like electricity and running water.”
“You could turn those off for the duration of the year!”
“But you’re a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin! People would actually read a book like that if you wrote it.”
“Can we think of a project for me that doesn’t cash in on my name, if possible?” Ben requested tiredly. There was another long silence. He groaned. “What?”
“Well…it’s just that, W. W. Norton wants to put out a 50th anniversary edition of your grandfather’s book next year, and the publisher would like for you to write a new foreword for it.”
Oh right, his grandfather’s book. The one that started it all, the labor of love that had led Ben’s particular branch of the extended Franklin descendants to fame and fortune, relatively speaking. It was a good book, that was for sure, a look at the more personal side of Benjamin Franklin’s life and work that Grandpa had spent years putting together, in part using a notebook that documented Franklin’s scientific experiments that he’d inherited from his own father, right on down the line from the big guy himself. Yes, An Educated American was a huge success, but Ben hadn’t had anything to do with that. He didn’t feel right stepping into his grandfather’s shoes and commenting on it either, but…
“I’ll think about it,” he said, flipping through the mail. Bill, advertisement, advertisement, advertisement…wasn’t print supposed to be dying? It didn’t seem that way given the amount of junk mail he got. Advertisement, bill…
“Eeeeexcellent,” Linda beamed—Ben could hear it in her voice—beamed her happiness through the phone. “That’s great news, Benjamin. Now, let’s talk about what the publicists have cooked up next for you.”
“Oh, lets,” he said unenthusiastically, pulling an actual letter out of his pile of junk. No, not a letter—a card. Ben looked curiously at the outside of it. It was sent from Concord, North Carolina, but the only person there who wrote him was Brody, and he’d stopped sending actual letters years ago. Ben wrestled the flap open one-handed and pulled out the card. Thick stock, plain but expensive, with only a simple gilt cross on the outside. Ben opened it up with trembling hands.
The family of Officer Brody Alan Kuzniar regrets to inform you…
“Linda,” Ben said slowly, interrupting her again, but there was no way he could keep talking to her right now. “I have to go, something’s come up.”
“What sort of some—”
Ben cut the call and dropped his phone onto the counter as he kept reading, every line taking away more and more of his breath until suddenly he couldn’t read at all.
The family of Officer Brody Alan Kuzniar regrets to inform you of his untimely death in the line of duty January 1st, 2013. He was thirty-two years old and had worked for the Concord Police Department for the past six years, after serving four years in the military. Brody was a loving husband, father, brother and son, and he will be greatly missed by his friends and family.
Funeral services will be held on January 8th, 2013 at Central United Methodist Church, at 2pm.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Concord Police Department Survivor’s Fund.
At the very bottom of the card, written in blue ink, were the words Please Come. There was no signature, and Ben had never met any of Brody’s family. Hell, he’d never even met Brody, not in person. Mechanically, he checked the card again for a return address, but apart from Concord North Carolina and the area code, there was nothing. Who had sent him this? Why?
It didn’t matter who had sent it. Brody was dead. Ben abruptly sat down on the floor, surrounded by the puddle of his bright red blanket but unable to look away from the black and blue of the card. Brody was dead...dead.
"Oh my god,” Ben muttered, truly unable to comprehend it. Brody was dead. Dead. In the line of duty, whatever that translated to. A shooting, a stabbing, being bludgeoned to death… “Oh my god…”
He just barely made it to the closest toilet before he threw up.
Ben heaved over the porcelain, the scent of sour coffee and scrambled eggs invading his nose and making the nausea worse. By the time there was nothing more to come up he was sobbing, a new and different kind of pain, the kind he hadn’t felt since his grandfather had died. Ben wasn’t close to very many people. Brody Kuzniar, for more than two decades, had been one of those people, and Ben had counted on him being one of those people for many more years. Brody wasn’t supposed to die. He was laughter and heat and forcefulness and decision, he was bright and brilliant. He was supposed to live forever.
Ben spit one last time into the toilet, then flushed and stood up. He avoided looking at himself in the mirror, knowing that if he did he’d only see the shock of loss. He rinsed his mouth, then moved back to the kitchen, shuffling his feet like an old man. He picked up the dropped card and forced himself to read it again. Funeral services on the 8th…that was tomorrow. And someone, some mysterious member of Brody’s family, wanted him there.
It was noon now. If Ben was lucky, he could catch a flight today and be in Concord by tonight. Plenty of time to do…whatever it was he was going to do to prepare for something like this. He had no idea how to prepare for something like this.
The Psycho theme began ringing on his phone again. Ben switched it to silent, then headed for his computer.