“Melvin Purvis died yesterday.”
Clyde waited to see if Edgar would say something to mark the occasion, but except for a brief nod, he didn’t give any indication that he had heard Clyde, much less cared. He shouldn’t have been surprised at Edgar’s nonchalant attitude, but a part of him was actually angry at this fact. Clyde had resigned himself to playing his part in their relationship, that of a right-hand man who always backed Edgar up in whatever storm came their way. But there were times when Clyde practically choked on the words he wanted to shout at Edgar. The anger would swell up inside and he would clench his hands to prevent them from shaking. He was determined to never let Edgar see him lose his temper again, like he did that one horrible afternoon at the races. The memory of that day always broke something inside of Clyde and he tried his best to shove it to the back recesses of his mind.
It was a Tuesday morning and they were having breakfast together at Clyde’s house. The meal was always the same; soft-boiled eggs cooked to four minutes, crisp bacon, toast with strawberry jam, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee to finish. Edgar liked structure, loved control and having the same breakfast every day was just another way for Edgar to exercise that power. Clyde had always known this about Edgar, but today he just wasn’t in the mood to put up with Edgar’s craziness.
“You have absolutely nothing to say about the passing of one of your finest FBI agents? Not even a ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ Really, Edgar?”
Clyde put down the spoon he had been using to break open his egg, for fear he would smash the whole thing, and glared at Edgar, waiting for a response. Edgar continued to tap at his egg, one tiny piece here, another larger piece there, until the top portion of the egg was exposed and Edgar could start eating it. He only put his spoon down once he had everything sorted on his plate. Clyde then felt the coldness of Edgar’s stare, but refused to back down. For once, Clyde wasn’t going to cave into J. Edgar Hoover’s demands and go along with whatever he deemed appropriate. No, Edgar would have to actually explain why he was being so ridiculous about this Purvis situation.
“Clyde, I don’t feel the need to weep or throw myself on the ground in hysterics because a former agent of mine has died. Purvis was a good man, but he was also weak in many ways and, for all his accomplishments, I still consider it a good thing that he resigned when he did,” Edgar said.
Clyde could’ve predicted exactly what Edgar said, but he had been hoping for something different. That maybe the passage of time would’ve softened Edgar’s attitude toward Purvis, but instead it looked as if the old jealousies and insecurities were still as sharp now as they were back in 1935. The wave of disappointment gripped him in its wake for a few seconds, but then he let it pass. Clyde was an expert at pretending that everything was okay and he wasn’t about to stop the charade now. He wasn’t sure what prompted him to ask his next question though; some strange hobgoblin whispering in his ear, perhaps, or his own long-forgotten resentments finally bubbling up to the surface. Either way, the words were out of his mouth before he knew it.
“What if it had been me that died? Would you be so blasé about my passing?”
The look of horror and pain that flickered over Edgar’s face would haunt Clyde until his actual death, many years later. Edgar tried to cover it up, but Clyde had seen it and there was no turning back from that. After a few seconds, Edgar regained some of his composure and looked at Clyde with the singular purpose he used when staring down a Congressman on a committee or a suspect accused of treasonous activities.
“There will be no more talk of death or dying today, Mr. Tolson. Do you understand? It’s counterproductive and we both have much more important things to concentrate on at the moment. We have a busy day ahead at the office and we should finish our breakfast before it gets cold.”
Clyde didn’t appreciate being scolded like a child and tried to say something else, but was shut down by Edgar’s “No, Clyde! I refuse to discuss this anymore. Eat your breakfast.”
The next few moments were awkward and Clyde barely tasted any of the food he managed to shove in his mouth. He shouldn’t have asked that question because now the rest of the day was going to be hell. He was getting too old to deal with Edgar’s temper tantrums and he wished he could just call in sick to work and pretend this morning had never happened. Unfortunately, when your boss is currently sitting at a table across from you, it’s a little difficult to pretend.
Edgar eventually finished his meal and he stood up to take his plate to the sink. Clyde sipped his coffee and tried to think of a way to break the tension. Every time he would try to speak, the words would get stuck in his throat and he would have to shut his mouth. The frustration was starting to build and Clyde hated feeling so helpless. Edgar finished washing his dishes and walked over to Clyde’s side of the table for his plate. Clyde snapped and stood up, grasping Edgar’s arms and pulling him in close.
“Just tell me, Edgar! Would you feel sad? Angry? Disappointed? I just need to know if you would feel anything more than a vague sense of disapproval upon my death. Please, Edgar, please.”
He felt pathetic, all but begging Edgar for a scrap of feeling, of attention, but Clyde couldn’t help it. He was getting older and he was tired of playing this game.
Edgar looked shocked at Clyde’s actions and tried to say something, but couldn’t get anything out. Clyde laughed at the irony of the great Mr. Hoover suddenly being speechless, but soon his chuckles died out and he was left holding a stiff, scared Edgar. Clyde felt sick to his stomach and immediately released him. He didn’t know what was wrong with him today, but starting now he was going to get his feelings under control. He couldn’t afford to make Edgar look at him that way. Clyde could handle Edgar’s superiority complex, his bullying tactics, even his weird sense of humor, but he had never been able to deal with Edgar’s naked vulnerability. He so rarely dropped his walls and Clyde hated that he had pushed so hard that Edgar felt the need to do so now.
“I’m sorry, Edgar. Let’s ignore whatever happened this morning and we can finish getting ready for work. OK?”
Edgar continued to stand rigidly in front of Clyde, but managed to nod at his statement. They both headed off to finish getting dressed and soon they were by the front door, hats in one hand, briefcases in the other. Clyde smiled softly at Edgar, hoping that he would eventually forgive him for bringing up such a painful, awkward conversation. He turned the doorknob and was halfway out the door, when Edgar whispered, “I’d want to die if you died first. I’m not strong enough to handle that kind of pain.”
Clyde stood on the doorstep, feeling out of sorts, as if he had stepped through a portal to another world. It was the same street, the same sidewalk, the same people, but now everything felt different. Clyde could feel the heat coming from Edgar’s body and only flinched a little when Edgar briefly grasped his shoulder. Every touch counted with them and Clyde knew that, for Edgar, the past minute was practically a declaration of love. He wrapped that feeling up tight and stored it somewhere safe inside to pull out when Edgar resorted to his usual surly self.
He turned around, gave Edgar a huge smile, and said, “Well, let’s get on then. The boss can’t be late for work. It would set a bad example.”
Edgar quirked his lips in response and then they both headed down the steps toward Clyde’s car. As they drove into work, Clyde thought about Melvin and whether or not he had been happy in the end. He wondered about his wife and his children and whether or not they would miss him. He thought about if Edgar died first and how he would react. He took a deep breath, looked at Edgar sitting in the passenger seat, and decided that he would stop focusing on death and start paying attention to what was most important. He was alive, Edgar was alive, and that was enough for now.