At Providence's Gate
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Chapter Seventeen


     Jeff Begley was at his wits end.  He had no friends he could turn to except possibly Mel Dixon and hed been leaving messages for him on his answering machine since around noon.  It was now 9:30 pm and he felt the world closing in on him.  Then half an hour later he learned of Mels arrest on the 10 OClock News.

     As Jason Biggs, he had more than a million dollars in the bank but he knew if he tried to withdraw even part of the 50,000 dollars his trust fund allowed annually the police would pick him up before he left the bank.

     He had no idea where Nick Soto was or even if the homeless bum had his diamonds.  Quite sure the police didnt find them because something like that would have been on the news.  Maybe someone else has the diamonds, a third party.  He hoped that was not true because that meant hed never make it to the beaches of Rio.

     It didnt seem reasonable to believe that if Soto did get the case that he would continue to live as a homeless bum.  It contained more than 60,000 dollars after all, plenty of money for a bum to live the high life for a long time before he had to begin unloading the diamonds.

     So all morning Thursday he lay on his bed at the Stonegate Inn and tried to put himself in the shoes of Nick Soto.  Maybe hell go to church Sunday and donate a large amount of money to the church.  Hispanics like to impress the bishop.  Maybe he should go to church Sunday.

     Then it hit him!  If a homeless guy came into a large sum of cash, the first thing hed buy would be a car.  Why didnt I think of this before? Jeff said out loud, slapping himself in the forehead.

     So he pulled the yellow pages out from under the nightstand by the bed and started writing the names and addresses of all the dealerships in town.  It took him an hour to do that and the names of the new car dealers in the area filled two pages.  But it would be only logical a guy who found 60 G would buy a new car.

     Jeff Begley is a chameleon, like John Boucher and Jason Biggs before him.  And he was actually beginning to think of himself as three different entities, each different, yet inextricably linked together.  In his mind he was a trinity, and like the Christian Father, Son and Holy Ghost, he would be immortal and invincible if he only found Nick Soto.

     I was becoming an obsession to the sociopath.  He saw me in his sleep, every time a man with a beard came out of a bank.  At least once or twice an hour he would approach someone and say, Hey, arent you Nick Soto? or Hey, Nick, youre a long way from Brownsville.  Invariably his target would say, Sorry buddy, youve got the wrong guy.

     Jeff did visit every dealership on his list over the next three days and talked with most of their sales people.  He concocted this story that I was his uncle.  We were up from Brownsville and I had left him at our hotel while I set out to buy a new car.  He had a big wad of cash, he would tell them, We were supposed to go back to Brownsville this morning, I hope no one killed and robbed him.  The salesman or woman would sympathize, look at the photo Jeff would show them and say, No, I havent seen him.

     Occasionally Jeffs spirits would be buoyed by one of them who would say, Yeah, this looks like a guy Larry was selling a car to yesterday.  Larrys off today, but hell be in tomorrow.  When Jeff would return the next day, old Larry would look at the picture and say, Nope, dont know him.

     Once he finished with the new car dealers, Jeff moved on to used car lots.  He didnt bother to make a list and by this time he really didnt believe he would find I had bought a 1982 Dodge Dart, but he had to do something or risk insanity.

     In the meantime, my second week at Cosmo News was better than my first.  I made my 120 points in two days and by the end of the week I was 660 points into my bonus.  The highest previous number had been 578.  I was beginning to fancy myself a telemarketing guru.  My co-workers would stop me during breaks and at the beginning of the shift, asking for tips on how to make sales. 

     My life was more fulfilling than ever before.  I almost forgot about my cache of diamonds and money buried just beneath the ground in the field across from Providence High School.  Chris Manning saw me practically every day.  He and I became good friends, going to an occasional Spurs basketball game or out to dinner together on the evenings he worked until 9 pm.

     I dont know at this point if Chris had forgotten about the Key to the Treasure he had copied weeks ago on the emergency room copier and genuinely appreciated my companionship or if he was simply like one of those communist moles we heard about during the cold war, emigrating to the United States at an early age and waiting for orders from the Kremlin that would come years later, or perhaps not.

     I do know that Chris was developing an appreciation of the arts and I was the primary cause.  At least once a week I would invite him to one of the museums or galleries and we would discuss the various genre of art on display and the artists that produced them.  I began considering him a protégé, although he still claimed I reminded him of his deceased father.

     He demonstrated some rather odd behavior one Saturday however, when he said he would be late arriving at the McNay Art Museum to view a collection of early Italian art that would be closing the following day.  I arrived at the museum at 2:30 in the afternoon, having ridden my bicycle through Breckenridge Park first.  I could afford a car, but living at the Yellow Rose Hotel and San Antonios public transportation as excellent as it was, I preferred these alternative forms of transportation.  The buses all had bicycle racks on the front and I needed the exercise a bike afforded me.

     At any rate, I was walking through the McNay, entranced by the works of art painted by some of Italys most famous masters.  I had waited on the grounds in front of the main building but Chris never arrived.  Finally I went inside and began slowly walking through the various exhibits. 

     I had rented a guided tour on audio CD and was marveling at the fine restored works of art when the program directed me to the DaVinci Room. As I entered the art space, my eyes were drawn to a very anatomically correct painting of a man and woman in a passionate embrace. Paying total attention to the erotic work of art rather than the other people watching the exhibit I bumped headlong into none other than Ina Weinstein.  Excuse me maam, I was looking at that painting instead of where I was walking.

     Ina shook it off with a laugh, looked at the picture of the naked couple and said, I dont blame you for not looking where you were going.  Shes quite striking isnt she, for a 475 year old woman.

     Miss, if I had seen you first, I probably would have bumped into the painting instead of you, I replied despite the blush I could feel starting to rise from my neck to the top of my head.  Extending her hand to mine, she said, You are a charming man, Ina Walstein. 

     Soto, Nick Soto, I replied, Your father owns the San Antonio Diamond Exchange.  Yes, yes he does.  How did you know? she asked.  I remember seeing your picture in the newspaper and on the news, I said, Tell me, did they ever catch the thief that stole your diamonds?

     Unfortunately no.  But the police know who it is, Ina responded,  Theyre afraid he left the state, maybe even the country.  You were insured? I asked.  Yes, but the insurance company still hasnt paid.  They say thee investigation is still ongoing.  In fact, the theft took place nearly 30 days ago and the insurance companys investigator still works with the detectives assigned to the case every day.  And, the reward from Great Western Indemnity for the return of the diamonds is up to 500,000 dollars.

     Five hundred thousand dollars? Do you think the thief will try to collect it? I asked.  Well said Ina, they say they will pay the money no questions asked, but I personally think the thief wants more.

     She was a delightful woman with the grace of royalty and an easiness about her of the girl-next-door.  I was at once smitten not only by her beauty, which was substantial, but by her brains, which were equally evident.  Suddenly I blurted out, May I take you to dinner this evening, Ms. Walstein?  Yes Mr. Soto, Nick Soto, you may.

     It was at this point, at the end but very zenith of a personal and romantic encounter that Chris Manning joined us.  I made introductions, but Chris was very cold and distant toward Ina.  I almost suspected his friendship toward me was more sexual in nature and yet, he had never given me the slightest indication he was gay or thought our relationship was anything more than that of two people who respected one another and enjoyed each others company.

     Chris then asked if I wanted to go for a bite to eat because he was famished.  When I told him that Ina and I had just arranged to have dinner together tonight, he became openly rude and huffed out of the museum.  I apologized for Chriss behavior even though I could not explain its genesis.  Ina told me not to worry, shed seen worse scenes than the one Chris had performed, in fact, Ina said she had orchestrated worse scenes herself.

     Ina and I dined at Crumpets that evening.  I explained I had no car and she picked me up at my seedy hotel at 7 pm.  I could see she was curious about my living arrangements so I opened up and told her everything, well nearly everything over the course of the evening, naturally leaving out the part about the diamonds.

     She acted as if my current and past lifestyles didnt matter.  All at once I realized Ina Walstein was someone I wanted to have as a friend and as I said earlier, I have too few friends already.  We met several times over the next two weeks, attending a gallery opening, poetry readings, free concerts and the like.

     But there were nights and days after nights when I was unable to contact Ina.  She was a lovely woman and I couldnt expect that Id be the only man in her life.  Yet I harbored a sort of jealousy that I had never felt before.

     Chris Mannings behavior continued to act very strangely during this time.  One day he was cordial and funny, the next dark and somber.  I wasnt aware what was going on in this young mans life, but in time I would find out.