Chapter Thirty-Six: Ashe
Ashe’s face was set in a grim line as he stared out the window at the blue Arizona sky. He was carrying something in his heart. Jaxx could see it.
He pulled the car over on the edge of the dirt road. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he asked, turning toward Ashe.
He’d been surprised that Ashe wanted to come down here the day after they got back to Tucson. Maybe even a little worried. Was Ashe planning to go solo on him again?
“What? No, sorry. I was just remembering all those nights after work out at the ranch, when I’d ride my bike up here to find Kino already making dinner. This is the first time…” He shuddered. “The first time he won’t be there when I get home.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine.” His parents were both very much alive, living in a retirement place up in Green Valley. He was going to have to break the news that he and Ashe were back together. One of these days. “Look, we don’t have to do this. I can turn around again and take us back to Tucson right now.” He hoped Ashe would say yes.
Ashe sighed. “No, I’m ready. I need to do this.”
“Okay.” Jaxx pulled back onto the road.
Whatever Ashe needed, he’d support it.
The little trailer came into view, its metal sides glinting in the afternoon sun.
Jaxx pulled up in front, the gravel crunching under the tires. The car had hardly come to a halt before Ashe was out the door and up the stairs, ignoring a pile of mail on the front porch. He could deal with that later. At the moment, he needed to be back in his father’s room.
Jaxx followed behind him.
Ashe entered the room, glancing at the spot where his father had been left for dead by Cooper’s thugs. There were dark stains on the floor.
Ashe sank down on the bed, closing his eyes, trying to forget that image—his father, reduced to a quivering mass on the floor of his own home.
Jaxx sat down next to him, putting a hand on his knee.
“The last time I was here…” Ashe sniffed, unable to finish the sentence.
“I know.” Jaxx pulled Ashe close. “I know.”
Ashe sobbed softly in Jaxx’s arms. Jaxx just held him. Ashe felt the warmth of Jaxx’s chest through his shirt, his heart beating steadily in Ashe’s ear.
After a few minutes, Ashe’s breathing slowed, and his tears eased.
They separated, and Jaxx smoothed out his ruffled feathers. “You did him proud. You found the man who did this.”
Ashe sniffed. “I know. But it still hurts.”
“I know.” He held up the mail as a distraction. “Look, you were missed.”
Ashe took it and leafed through the envelopes. “Bill, bill, bill. Publisher’s Clearing Castle, Winky’s Gorgon Statue Barn… what’s this?”
He held up a padded envelope that was bigger than the rest. It had been sent priority overnight, addressed to him from Washington DC, but there was no return address.
“I don’t know. Open it.”
Ashe unsealed the envelope.
Inside was another flash drive, twin to the smaller one his mother had left him with a dandelion on the side. There was also a handwritten note.
He spread it out on his lap and read it aloud.
By the time you read this, I will be gone. I have decided to relocate somewhere safer, as my part in these events has become known, and I may no longer be safe here.
I have no regrets. Helping your mother was the finest thing I have ever done, and meeting you, her brave and beautiful son, was a gift I will always treasure. Your mother was an amazing woman.
Though we never were more than friends, I still love her, and feel an admiration for her bravery and courage to do what had to be done, no matter what it cost her.
Do not judge her harshly for this. She was always an idealist, but she loved you more than the air she breathed, and she loved your father too.
She left this for you, with strict instructions not to give it to you until she knew you would be safe from the forces who came after her, and later your father.
She was so proud of you, and if she could see the man I see before me now, she would be doubly so.
Jaxx, if you are with Ashe, take care of him, and Ashe, you need to let him.
Remember, life is only half-lived if you have to live it alone.
Ashe held up the flash drive in wonder. “Do you have your laptop?”
Jaxx nodded. “It’s in the car.”
He ran out to get it, and Ashe stared at the letter, wondering how Dressler and his mother had met. What kind of adventures they had gone on together. If his father had known, or been jealous, even though they had never apparently consummated the relationship.
There was fidelity, and there was emotional fidelity.
He sighed. He had to trust the words in the letter, trust that his mother really had loved Kino.
Jaxx returned with his laptop. He opened it up and slipped the flash drive into the usb port. “There’s a video file on the drive.” He clicked it, and it opened up.
Ashe’s breath caught as his mother’s face appeared on the screen.
They shared a glance. Ashe nodded.
Jaxx pressed play.
“Ashe, if you’re seeing this, two things have happened. I’m no longer with you, and you’ve figured out what to do about it.”
“Mita…” Ashe whispered, touching the screen lightly with his fingers. She was so alive.
“I’ve just returned from Switzerland, but you probably already know that. And you know what I was working on. I am so sorry I couldn’t tell you directly. You are… you were so young when all of this was happening. And I didn’t want to put you in further danger.”
She stopped to pick up an envelope. “I’m sending the evidence I have gathered so far to a friend of mine, Dr. David Dressler. I hope you’ve met him. Well, you must have, if you’re watching this now.” She laughed, a melodic sound that Ashe had almost forgotten. “I’ve left clues for you to follow, clues the enemy won’t be able to find. But you know most of this, now, if your father gave you the key.”
Her eyes were moist. She wiped the tears away with her hand.
“I am so proud of you, my little sparrow. I always have been. Give your father my love. Remember who you are, my love. I will love you always.” She smiled gamely, and blew him a kiss.
Then the screen went blank.
Ashe reached out reflexively, but she was gone, consigned again to his past.
He sighed. That wound was older than the death of his father. Deeper, but older. It still pained him, but he could live with it.
How beautiful it had been to see her face again, to hear her laugh. To have this little bit of her to treasure.
“You okay?” Jaxx’s eyes were wet too.
Ashe wiped the tears from his own eyes. “Not really. I’m a mess today. But I will be, eventually.” He looked at Jaxx, his love, his rock. “I don’t understand, though. Why now? Why did Cooper wait ten years to come after my father?”
“I found this too.” Jaxx handed him another envelope. “Maybe it has the answer.”
It was from the US State Department, addressed to his father.
Ashe ripped it open.
Dear Mr. Heyoka,
It is with deep regret that I inform you that we are unable to reopen the investigation into Nancy Heyoka’s death. It was ruled accidental at the time it happened, and we have no new evidence to suggest otherwise.
I understand the pain you are in, but I urge you to let this go.
If there is any further assistance I can offer you, please let me know.
US State Department
“Look at the postmark.”
Ashe picked up the discarded envelope. It was dated three days before the attack on his father. “He wanted to find out the truth too. Maybe Cooper was looking for him, all these years.” He sighed. “So why did he never give me the key? Until the bitter end?”
Jaxx shrugged. “Maybe he was protecting you.”
Ashe laughed ruefully. “I thought I was taking care of him. You think he was taking care of me?”
Ashe closed his eyes. All his life, especially these last ten years, he’d viewed his father as an oaf, an out of control, drunken loser. Now he knew the secret his father had been keeping, and how it must have eaten away at him—the loss of his wife and the fear for his only son.
Now it made sense. Why they had always been on the move, from town to town, living off the grid as much as possible. Why his father drank. “Papa, I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Ashe looked around the old trailer. It was empty without Kino’s big voice, his outsized presence.
Jaxx must have felt it too. “Ashe?”
“I want you to move in with me.” He took Ashe’s hand. “I know I’m nothing special. I have a crappy little house in a run-down old neighborhood, and a shitload of college debt. But maybe together—”
Ashe cut him off with a finger placed gently upon his satyr’s lips. “You’re not nothing. You’re my everything. Without you, I never would have finished this. Cooper would still be out there, and my mother’s ghost would still be restless.”
Jaxx’s eyes danced. “So that means…?”
“Yes, you idiot. It means yes!”
Jaxx laughed and hugged him tightly. “So… your place or mine?”