A Song of the Past: Thirty-one

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Saturday, 3:30 PM
Deirdre consulted the local phone book to see if it held Jacob Tyler's current address. She found a listing in Hamden on Elihu Street, just past the New Haven line. She immediately checked out a car and followed Whitney Avenue away from the city center, past East Rock, past Bassett Park, and into Hamden. When she arrived at 23 Elihu Street she saw a well-traveled, maroon Volvo wagon parked in the driveway. Was this a lucky day?

She parked behind the wagon and walked slowly to the front door. The house was a modernistic, seventies era ranch, well built but neither extravagant nor especially distinctive. It was surrounded by an attractive, woodland garden containing rhododendra, azaleas, and a pair of dogwoods, all under-planted with dense mats of sweet woodruff and pachysandra. After Deirdre rang the doorbell, a minute or so passed before the silhouette of a head appeared through the stained-glass window set in the front door. A quick glance at the man who opened the door sufficed to convince Deirdre that she had found the right Jacob Tyler. The man appraising her from the doorway was about the same height as Harrison; he shared his brother’s sky-blue eyes, square jaw, and salt-and-pepper hair, but it was as if their common birthright had been employed to yield two strikingly different effects. Although both siblings were taller than average, Harrison clearly embraced his stature, so that it contributed to a stately and imposing presence, while Jacob looked like someone compelled to wear an ill-fitting and uncomfortable suit that made his movements awkward and left him oddly bent at the neck and shoulders. His blue eyes were as translucent as his brother's, but rather than having Harrison's overly direct gaze, they darted about hither and thither. However, when Jacob's eyes occasionally did meet hers, they seemed to burn with an intensity lacking in Harrison's. The salt-and-pepper hair, instead of being neatly parted like his brother’s, sat atop his head as if it had been arranged by some nesting field mice. The square jaw was not firmly thrust forward like that of his sibling, but rather squirmed from side to side, stirring Jacob's mouth into disconcerting contortions.

"How can I help you?" he asked Deirdre.

"Are you Harrison Tyler's brother?"

"Perhaps I am, and perhaps I’m not. Who are you, and why are my familial ties any of your business?"

Deirdre took out her badge. "New Haven police. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

Jacob's jaw accelerated its contortions, and the sky-blue eyes now entirely avoided Deirdre's own.

"Yes, well, then, come in. Always happy to help the police." He opened the front door wider, and gestured for her to enter.

The front hall was like a repository of Christian symbols, especially dark ones: rather grim looking crucifixes and paintings of martyrdoms and the wicked suffering in hell.  Jacob led her to the left into his living room. An Oriental couch and a number of Chinese vases, some African-print wall hangings, a couple of colorful Mexican wooden sculptures, and several screens patterned with Near Eastern motifs, interspersed among a variety of tropical plants in ornamental, clay containers, introduced a new multicultural motif to the decor. Jacob took up a perch on the lone couch while gesturing for his visitor to sit in the armchair facing it, a coffee table between them. Past Jacob's head was a picture window looking onto the rear of the property, and through it Deirdre could see a small, but neat and attractive, garden. Jacob's house had been built near the edge of a steep ridge, and the trees in the back garden framed a view of the browns and grays of downtown New Haven and the rich blue of Long Island Sound, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. It seemed that at least the landscaping gene manifested itself similarly in both brothers.

After she was seated, she returned to her original query. "So, you are Harrison Tyler's brother, then?"

"I am. In fact, I am his twin brother. The younger twin, born twenty minutes too late."

"Were those twenty minutes important?"

"Why do you think Harrison lives in our ancestral mansion while I live here? The eldest son, even by twenty minutes, inherits the estate."

Deirdre detected a note of bitterness in his voice.

"Grates on one a bit, doesn't it?"

"Oh, I reconciled myself to the way things are years ago. My parents didn't leave me destitute. I've had enough that I could pursue my own projects without worrying about starving."

"And what are those projects?"

Jacob stared at his coffee table for an instant. "Well, it hardly seems I’m obligated to satisfy your seemingly whimsical curiosity about my affairs, but, then again, why should I be needlessly secretive? It's not as if I'm an investment banker, or a dealer in black market antiques, or anything else so disreputable." He laughed nervously and glanced up at Deirdre.

She ignored his offer to "get the joke," and simply stared at him.

"I try to bear witness to God’s glory in several ways, such as serving as minister for a small, local church, and helping out at a homeless shelter in the city. But my main project is running an art foundation: Art over Poverty. You probably have heard of it."

"I have to admit that I haven't."

"We bring the arts to inner city kids. Up lift, give them something to focus on other than drugs and gangs. We've been written up in major media outlets on a number of occasions: The New York Times even covered us a few years back. In fact, we co-sponsor several programs with the policemen's benevolent association."

"I'm sorry to say I haven't helped out." Deirdre's eyes begged forgiveness. "But you must be doing fairly well then, hey?"

"We get along. I couldn't afford a house like this" -- his hands made a vague gesture through the air over his head -- "on the salary I draw from the foundation. But, as I said, I don't have to."

"Do you know a young fellow named Alvin Blaine?"

Jacob looked as though he was attempting to wrestle his tics and nervous mannerisms into submission.

"Alvin Blaine… Alvin Blaine…" Suddenly, it seemed, it came back to him. "Yes, I do remember him. I directed him once or twice at Wilbur Cross."

Then why, Deirdre wondered, had it taken Jacob so long to place Alvin's name?

He continued: "A natural-born actor, you know. Alvin might even have had the talent to become a great one. But he completely abandoned the theater—he got heavily into drugs, I think—and I never saw him after that."

"How long ago was your last contact with him?"

"Well, it must have been when we did Hamlet, the winter before last, as I recall."

"And you haven’t been in touch with him at all since then?"

"No. Why would I?"

"Now, I couldn't begin to say why you would or wouldn't. I'm only asking if you have."

Jacob appeared disconcerted. After a few seconds of staring at the ground, he looked up and asked, "How is Alvin connected to my brother?"

"Why do you think he is?"

"First you asked me about my brother, and now you ask me about Alvin. Unless you are pointlessly meandering, it follows that, at least in your eyes, there is some thread joining the two."

Deirdre tentatively chose to offer the vaguest explanation that might appear plausible. "You see, Alvin's friend, Ben Moore, was killed last week. And we're just checking into every possible angle."

"But that still doesn't explain why you asked me about Harrison."

"No, I’m afraid it doesn't, but that’s because I want to avoid leading my witness. I was hoping you might enlighten me about why both Alvin and Harrison keep showing up in my investigation."

Jacob looked as though he might wiggle off of the couch and dissipate into a cloud of nervous energy at any moment. "I could enlighten you? I can’t imagine what information you thought I might have to offer. As far as I’m aware, neither Alvin nor Harrison ever has met or even heard of the other. What’s more, I haven't talked to my brother in over a decade."

"So I've been told. What led to your estrangement?"

"It was an argument we had while we were making funeral arrangements concerning our parents—they died together in a car accident, as you may already know. Harrison was adamant that they be buried in an extravagant and ostentatious mausoleum, as if they were Egyptian royalty, who might come back to life after a time, and have the opportunity to appreciate how much we had lavished on their afterlife housing. I suspect he considered it de rigueur for Tylers to have only the best accommodations in death as well as in life. But with all of the poverty around us, here in our own city, I thought that his idea was obscene. We were looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars for what Harrison wanted. Do you realize how much that money could mean to some of the kids who live around here?"

"What was the outcome of the dispute?"

"He was executor of their estate. Therefore, he won. But I haven't spoken to him since. That was the final straw between us."

"And what about Evelyn?"

Jacob again seemed to be struggling to compose the semblance of a unified persona out of a turmoil of forces coursing just beneath his public face. "What do you mean, what about Evelyn?"

"Have you talked to her since your split with her husband?"

"No, of course not. I only knew her through him."

"I see." Deirdre was certain Jacob was hiding something, but since she couldn't yet guess what it was, she also couldn't yet imagine how to ferret it out.

"So, you can't conceive of any possible connection between Alvin Blaine and either Harrison or Evelyn?"

"I'm afraid to say that I can't."

"All right, Mr. Tyler, thanks for your cooperation. Let me give you my card." She made a show of groping through her shirt pocket, quite obviously touching her breast in the process. She saw Jacob's eyes follow her hand around her breast like an owl fixated on a mouse. It seemed that Harrison wasn't the only horny fellow in the family.

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