The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness
- Bull Durham
The next day, Tré arrived at the L.G.E. offices at the same time that Karl Rafferty’s corpse was being wheeled out by the coroner.
He walked in, shocked, and looked at Wally Cadwallader, who was standing behind his desk giving a statement to a policewoman. Bulstrode stood in front of his office, looking blankly around. A detective was gathering evidence.
“It was such a shock,” said Wally. “I noticed coming down the hall that the door was wide open. I thought maybe it was Tré or Bully. But then I walked into Bully’s office and there he was… dead on the floor. God, it was awful!”
“What happened,” asked Tré. “What’s going on?”
“Oh my god, Tré,” said Wally. “Someone broke in and then died here!”
“It was a man named Karl Rafferty,” said the detective. “Did you know him?”
Tré’s mouth opened and closed a few times. He couldn’t quite think of what to say. He was shocked and confused and very grateful when Wally Cadwallader came from around the desk and hugged him. “I know, honey,” he said. “It’s an awful shock.”
“Raff is dead,” Bulstrode said to Tré. “I took your advice and left after you called me, but I guess I forgot to lock up. He came in and drank some cognac and did some drugs and just …died.”
Over the next few minutes, Tré, Bulstrode and Wally reconstructed the series of events: Bulstrode had known the dead man, many years ago. He’d resurfaced following a drug-related stint in prison. He’d been trying to ingratiate himself into Bulstrode’s life. He’d made a nuisance of himself, hanging around the L.G.E. offices and bars. When he’d been asked to leave one of those bars, Tré had been there and warned Bulstrode that he was on his way. In his hurry to avoid another tiresome confrontation, Bulstrode had rushed out and neglected to lock the doors.
Tré and Wally corroborated all that Bulstrode told the police. It was all true. Karl Rafferty was a man from Bulstrode’s past; a man anyone would be eager to avoid.
Not too long after, the police and the coroner left. They didn’t expect much more from Bulstrode. The man had died of a drug-related heart attack, as was clear from the security tapes. If Bulstrode needed a copy of the police report, he could get one from the police station; but since there’d been no loss or damage outside of a bottle of cognac, it probably wouldn’t be worth the hit to the premiums to alert the insurance company. Best just to carry on. Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day.
Wally reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of bourbon he kept there for emergencies. He poured a stiff measure into three coffee cups and passed them around. “May he rest in peace, I guess,” said Wally.
When the drinks were empty, Wally said, “I’m going home now, Bully. I’m going to go home and drink a bottle of wine in my underwear, watch TV and do my best to avoid thinking about the sight of that dead man in your office. I think you should both do the same.”
“Wally’s right, Tré,” said Bulstrode. “Just go home. I think we could all use a day off.”
“OK, Mr. Bulstrode,” said Tré. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Tré turned to leave and noticed Bulstrode heading back to his own office.
“Aren’t you leaving too,” Tré asked.
“No,” said Bulstrode. “I need to get a few things together. You two go on. I’m not far behind you.”
After they left, Bulstrode leaned against the desk in his office and picked up the overturned bottle of Courvoisier. It was only about half empty. Bully took a long pull from the bottle and tried to square his feelings about what had happened.
Karl Rafferty, the blackmailer, the embarrassment, the man who’d made his life a living hell for months now was dead, out of his life. And it was none of his fault. Raff’s death was his own responsibility. He’d snorted poison up his nose and down his gullet. He’d killed himself. Bulstrode was innocent. He ought to feel relieved. He tried to feel relieved.
But he didn’t feel relieved. He felt guilty and sad. He hadn’t meant for Raff to die. He’d meant for him to be arrested, to head back to prison.
But instead he was dead.
Bulstrode took another long pull off the bottle.
It felt like just a few days ago that he’d been young and handsome and fun. The cool bartender at The March. He could see skinny little Karl Rafferty grinning up at him, worshipping him, laughing out loud at all Bully’s jokes. They were like that old Looney Toons cartoon with the yappy little dog who hero-worshiped the bulldog. Bulstrode had loved Raff’s admiration; hell, he’d courted it. And Bully had treated Raff like a pet, tossing scraps of attention his way back then when he was young and handsome and all the girls liked him. He’d never treated Raff like a friend. Raff had always been easy to mistreat.
When things went bad for Raff, and the drugs came into the picture, it was right as Bulstrode was becoming successful. On the verge of all that success, Bulstrode couldn’t have Raff hanging around, his already big mouth loosened up by booze and cocaine. And Raff had done drugs and sold drugs at The March. But the accusation that led to his arrest? That was made by a down on his heels actor that Bulstrode had hired.
Once Raff was gone, Bulstrode forgot him. It was like he’d never really been there at all.
He’d treated Raff badly. There was no denying it.
And Raff wasn’t even the person that Bully had treated the worst.
He took another long pull from the bottle.
He’d liked Ellinore Ladislaw, at the beginning. At the beginning, she was younger than he was now. Maybe Susan’s age. She’d been a little faded, a little too eager, but she was still pretty and she was still sexy. And she was fun. They’d had a lot of laughs, tucked away in the narrow bed in that little flat of his.
He remembered her lying in that bed. After, she’d sit up and wrap the sheet around her in just the way that hid the parts she didn’t like and showed off the ones she did; a shapely leg emerging just so from the white-ish sheet. He could see her leaning forward to accept a light, hair mussed but hanging, just so, gorgeously over one eye. Bully knew she was arranging herself, but he appreciated it. And now, all these years later, he found himself touched to the point of tears remembering her.
She was as fleeting as his memories of her were. It was as though she were still standing with her hand on the doorsill, almost out, but lingering, taking one last, longing look.
He felt a heavy regret settle over him. He’d broken her poor, tender heart and he’d stolen money from her dying daughter. He couldn’t expect to be forgiven for that. He’d built his beery empire on the ashes of people he’d failed and betrayed and constructed a respectable, disciplined facsimile of a decent man over his old, careless self.
He was a fraud and he knew it.
Another pull from the bottle of Courvoisier.
All the people he’d defrauded were dead now (save one… save one he’s not thought of).
Now he had his own family to look out for, his own beloved wife to keep safe. It made no sense for any of it to come out now. He had to keep safe what was his and he was glad that Raff was no longer around to threaten him.
He regretted what he’d done. Sure. But it was done.
Bulstrode stood up and put the top back on the bottle of Courvoisier. He left it sitting on the credenza behind his desk. He neatened his papers, straightened his jacket, smoothed his pants and left.
He made sure to lock the door on his way out.