"Listen, Jeffrey," I said, "why don't you come back to the café with us and we'll have some coffee and talk a little? Might make you feel better."
I expected him to turn me down but he just nodded. Rebecca and I rose to our feet and then helped Jeffrey up, putting him in the back seat of the car.
I drove to the café and we went inside, sitting down at my usual table. Mongo came over and we ordered some coffee. I got up and followed Mongo back to the bar.
I needed to ask him some questions...
"I can't believe my little girl is gone," Jeffrey said in a shaky voice.
Rebecca put her arm around his shoulders and he leaned his head over and rested it on her. My mind was churning over how I intended to keep my promise to Jeffrey and to Blaze. I knew Jade Chen was behind this, I just didn't know how I was going to prove it. But it all ties in with the Beatniks. I knew when this was over I would have to tail them and find out where they were spending their time.
But first things first...
After what seemed like an eternity, Jeffrey began whimpering softly as he sat down on the pavement and rested his back against the bumper of the car. He almost looked like he'd rather us get in the car and just drive over him. Rebecca and I went around the front of the car; she sat down beside him on one side and I did the same on the other. The three of us just sat there on the wet asphalt. The rain had subsided but the ground was still damp.
We must have looked like a trio of insane people...
He collapsed to his knees in front of Rebecca's car. He began sobbing uncontrollably, the events of the day catching up with him. Rebecca made a motion toward him like she was going to pick him up and I held my hand up to stop her. He needed this. As much as it hurt to see the man on the asphalt on his knees, he needed to let it out. And I'm sure there would be more to follow later. But at that moment nothing was better for him than to let that river of emotions flow out of him...
After the ceremony at the cemetery was over the small crowd of mourners made their way back to the parking lot. The Beatniks were piling into their respective cars and driving away. Mongo hung back to make sure we were okay, then got in his T-bird and headed to the café to open it back up.
Jeffrey looked like he was holding his fragile emotions together with rubber bands and glue. He was like a nervous juggler trying desperately to keep all the balls in the air, taking every bit of his concentration and determination.
And he wasn't successful...
It was lightly drizzling when we got out to the cemetery. As I stood looking at a freshly dug hole in the ground that they were about to lower Blaze into, my mind was spirited away once again to the past.
I was standing there, on another overcast, drizzly day. All of my seventeen years on this Earth didn't prepare me for standing there alone to bury my father, after a short but brutal battle with lung cancer. I had no one there in my corner.
That's why I was making damn sure Jeffrey had a shoulder to lean on...
I saw Jeffrey's body slump over and begin shaking and I knew he'd broken down crying. I walked over to him and put my arm around his shoulders.
"I'm not going to get through this, Jake," he said as he sobbed.
"Yes you are," I reassured him. "You are going to get through it. I'm here, Rebecca's here, and we're going to help you. You're not in this alone, Jeffrey."
He straightened himself up as I pulled my handkerchief from my jacket pocket and handed it to him.
"Thank you, Jake," he said softly.
I smiled and patted his shoulder...
The Beatniks all rose and started milling around, murmuring to each other and generally causing a racket. I stepped across the aisle and grabbed Alex by the collar and snatched him to where his face was an inch from mine.
I was fuming as I quietly said, "Alex, shut these animals up or I swear to God I'm going to make you regret the day you were ever born!"
I let go of him and he quickly turned and said in a loud whisper, "Cool it!"
Everyone became silent.
It's a good thing for Alex that they listened to him...
The minister didn't know how to follow my show-stopping act, so he said there would be a few moments for those that wanted to say goodbye to Blaze and then we would continue at the graveside.
I looked at Jeffrey and he shook his head. I don't think he wanted to say goodbye, but I knew he would regret it if he didn't.
"Do you want me to go with you, Jeffrey?" I asked in a whisper.
He shook his head and then rose up to do what he knew he had to.
I thought he was very brave...
It was bizarre. Marilyn couldn't stand Blaze. She turned Alex's head when she came to the café and Marilyn hated her for it. Why the hell would she be shedding tears over Blaze's death?
I continued on, "Now, this is about Blaze and her short life. But I'm going to say one thing about me. I'm not going to rest, I'm not going to give up, and I'm not going to stop until I find out who killed her and bring them to justice."
I looked down at the casket, "That's a promise, Blaze."
I turned and left the pulpit...
The minister fidgeted in the seat he was sitting in to the side of the pulpit. Blaze's father looked a bit shocked, but I knew that he knew I was doing it for a good reason. Rebecca was looking at me with admiration. I could tell she really believed in me, in what I was doing, and I'd never experienced that before. It was a good feeling.
The Beatniks looked surprised as well. Skip, who always irritated the hell out of me, wouldn't look at me. Alex looked mad. But it was Marilyn that surprised me most.
She was crying...
The minister asked if anyone had anything they'd like to say. I stood up.
"Yes, I have something I would like to say," I said loudly.
The minister motioned for me to come up to the pulpit. I walked up behind it and grasped the sides of it. I felt for a moment like a preacher. That moment passed quickly.
"Susan Miller, known to us as Blaze, was a lovely girl. She was vibrant and full of life. She didn't deserve to have that life snuffed out at such a young age. She didn't overdose on heroin. She was murdered."
As the minister gave a tender eulogy to a girl he didn't even know, my mind slipped back to the past...
I was in a chapel, similar to the one I was physically in at that moment. I remembered seeing an open casket. I walked up to it.
"Mommy!" I screamed. My father picked me up and tried to quiet me. He eventually had to take me outside. He had been telling me that mommy had to go away, but I didn't understand. I understood it at that heart crushing moment.
I shook my head and returned to the present...
I turned on my heel and went back and sat down beside Rebecca. She squeezed my hand. I squeezed hers back. That was all we needed to say.
The motley crew of Beatniks took up the first three rows of pews on the other side of the aisle. I didn't necessarily like them being there, but at least it looked like a proper turnout now.
The organist looked at me as if to ask if she could stop playing now, so I smiled, giving her a wink and she smiled back as she brought the sad dirge to its conclusion...
"You clowns have got some nerve, I'll give you that," I said through clenched teeth.
Alex, the Lama, naturally did the speaking. "Hey, dad, we only came here for the last respects bit, ya dig?"
It was all I could do to restrain myself from doing a little dental work in Alex's mouth using only my fists. But that would've caused a scene. And Jeffrey didn't need that today.
"Okay, folks," I said in a calm voice, "you can stay. But I swear if you cause any trouble, Alex, the next service in this chapel will be yours. Ya dig?"
The organist, who looked like a schoolteacher, complete with horn-rimmed glasses and a sour facial expression, began playing a mournful hymn as the doors opened again. It was the old gang from the café: Alex, his girlfriend Marilyn, Skip, and all the other wastes of space. Since they all already dressed in black they didn't even have to change their clothes. I stood up and motioned for the organist to keep playing. She winked at me, understanding my hand gestures, God bless her heart.
I quickly walked back to the vestibule, to stop them coming in the actual chapel...
We started into the little chapel for the memorial service before the actual burial, and as I looked back I saw Mongo getting out of his Thunderbird and starting up the path to the chapel.
"Hey, Jake," he said sheepishly. I think he still felt bad for not giving me more info about Blaze than he did.
"Hello, Mongo. Glad you could make it."
We walked through the double doors of the chapel in silence. I went to the pew where Jeffrey and Rebecca were already seated. Mongo sat right behind us.
It was a pitiful turnout for poor Blaze...
I parked Rebecca's car in the parking lot and we went up to the front of Serenity Garden's chapel to meet Jeffrey. The expression on his face looked like someone trying to shield a house of cards from being demolished by a tiny gust of air.
We approached him and I shook his hand. "How are you, Jeffrey?"
He smiled weakly, "I'm holding up. Barely."
I turned to Rebecca, "Oh, this is my girlfriend, Rebecca."
He nodded, "Nice to meet you, Rebecca."
She nodded back, "You too, Jeffrey. I'm so sorry about Susan."
He nodded, "Thank you. So am I."
Rebecca and I had agreed on an itinerary, so I got up, kissed and groped her for a few minutes, and then headed back to my place to get on a black suit and try to be there for Jeffrey as he put his only child in the ground.
By the time I got cleaned up and dressed and got back to Rebecca's place, we had just enough time to get to the Serenity Gardens in Burbank.
When we pulled up we saw Jeffrey out front. No one else was there. He had no friends or family in Los Angeles...
We lay there cuddling for a while before I said, "Listen, Blaze's funeral is today at 2:30. Will you come with me?"
She pinched my nipple, making me yell out. "Of course I will, silly," she said, as if there should've never been a doubt.
"Why don't you get ready and then you can drive me to my house so I can get dressed?" I asked, not wanting to budge an inch from her heavenly couch.
"Well," she said, "it will take me longer than it will you, so you go get dressed and then come back for me. Okay?"