The Wife >
by Tom Fegan
I began my career in customer service at my father’s business Burger & Shake in Fort Worth. It wasn’t voluntary. A prank involving throwing a water balloon at a passing car caused a wreck with no injuries except to my father’s bank account and my plans for a carefree summer. I was twelve years old. Being hospitable is crucial in customer service and there are those who are difficult to be hospitable to. The rude people served as a learning tool for me.
Jackson Carlyle was one of those people. As a boy he hung out at my father’s root beer stand and Dad watched him grow up. Carlyle graduated with honors from college and was a talented architect, so my father said. Every Saturday morning he would eat breakfast at Burger & Shake and berate me on my low grades and the car wreck. My sister was away at college and scholarly. Carlyle would say, “Pity. He has one good kid and then he has you for a son.” I would sigh and serve him and be reminded by my father I needed to be hospitable towards Carlyle.
“It’s difficult to be nice to someone you don’t like,” my father advised. I didn’t like Jackson Carlyle but my father did. It was a mystery to me.
Carlyle boasted of his lovely wife and children. He had displayed wallet photographs of them. One afternoon he entered our restaurant hand in hand with a much younger woman and proudly introduced her to my father. My hands trembled as I served them lunch. “What you so nervous about?” teased Carlyle. I was silent. He nudged her and repeated my shameful history and his success.
One day as I perused the newspaper I saw his photograph and the word “missing” under it. His car was found abandoned at a parking lot and the backseat had been burned. I was startled. His decomposed body was found months later surrounded by thick brush in a vacant lot several miles out of town. The story exposed his activities several years before when he first started his career and suddenly left Fort Worth.
Carlyle had designed a building that collapsed and injured several people. His business associates were ruined financially and a few went to prison. He denied responsibility and had a second set of designs that exonerated him. Someone had waited patiently for his return. His lunch date was a person of interest and daughter of one of the parties that went to prison. She had vanished.
Carlyle’s family disappeared from Fort Worth. My father explained, “Learn from his mistake son. Don’t create a past that will catch up with you.” I nodded in agreement and I smiled to myself at never having to be hospitable to that big mouth architect again.
published 11 September 2013