John Gray was a busy company. In the late 80’s, we did a million dollars of business each year, operating within a sixty-mile radius of Davis. We had four telephone lines into our undersized office and they were always ringing. On the afternoon of the 28th, I was relaxing in the office. It was a brilliant October day with colored leaves and a little warmth in the air. I was petting Penny, John Gray’s yellow Labrador. I was fond of Penny and took her on rides in my company truck whenever I could. John once said she was the only female he knew that always wanted to go somewhere.
I was seated across from Rebecca’s desk. She was still working as J.E.G.’s irreplaceable office administrator. She finished a call and put the phone down. A strange thought entered my brain. One good call, one bad call. Now why did I think that? Before I could answer myself, the phone rang again. Only this time it had a different ring. Very different. There was an odd tone to it, flat and mechanical. The bell tone was gone. Rebecca didn’t seem to hear any change. But it was obvious and frightening to me. It could not be sounding different, but it was. Here was an appliance as common as a coffee maker, now acting in a completely different manner. I’ve tried hard to explain how strange and menacing it sounded. It would be as if your father turned to you one day and then spoke in your mother’s voice.
At the same time, an enormous surge of power washed through me, like standing three feet from a passing freight train. An unstoppable force, completely awesome in its power. What was happening? As Rebecca reached for the handset, I found myself coming out of the chair, almost shouting at her. “Don’t pick up the phone! Don’t pick up the phone.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. Standing, I looked on in fright as she answered the call. Her expression was quizzical; she clearly could not understand what the caller was saying. And it wasn’t clear whether she recognized the caller. She put down the phone and said, “Now, what was that all about?” I said I didn’t know, but I knew it was bad, very bad. A little dazed, I went home. I didn’t know what had happened, but it was a mystery I could not solve.
The next day I got into work early, as I usually did. No one else was around but John. When he said he had the worst news possible, I thought I had lost my job. And then he said that Jim had killed himself. I broke down and blurted out how sorry I felt for John. It was a terrible morning. Everyone was shocked. No one had thought Jim suicidal. I met Rebecca later. She was at the top of the office stairs. I said, “It was that phone call, wasn’t it?” She nodded. It turned out that phone call was the first message from Jim’s house about his death. Jim had taken one of his shotguns and blown out his heart. Jim’s teenage son discovered his dad’s dead body in a bedroom and was calling for help, desperately trying to reach Jim’s best friend, John Gray.
No one talked immediately about Jim’s death. The coroner refused to rule Jim’s death a suicide. No note. A rumor floated later that Jim might have been having an affair. Did a jealous husband murder Jim? Impossible. What else might be responsible? Some people said he suffered from cluster headaches. Being Jim, he may have ended things when his condition got too bad. Jim always followed through on his decisions. Months later, I heard a note was found in a waterbed repair kit at his home. A pained rambling about his family life. His family never spoke to me about what happened to Jim.
Second company brochure. An installation at Mace Ranch, Davis, California
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