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Fathers, Cousins and Other Troubles Hal Has Known

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One unusually warm evening Richard leaned on the railing around his rooftop patio and watched Alcatraz turn pink as the sun bled into the water west of the Golden Gate Bridge. Behind him rose music from Bagot’s guitar, working on a new song, followed by giggles from Bushy and Green every time he hit a sour note.

“Have some. You need the inspiration,” laughed Green, reclining on a chaise, lazily waving a vape at Bagot.

Bagot swatted the hand away and tilted a brown bottle of Anchor Steam beer in Bagot’s direction, its froth rising up the neck so fast that he had to take a swig, nodding seriously before he spoke.

“This is the only muse I need, my friend.”

“Hipster douchebag,” Green muttered.

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Bagot sang over a couple E minor chords.

The breeze lifted a strand of Richard’s hair and the movement caught Bushy’s eye. Richard’s bowed head burned in the dying light, his hair running in wild, tangled waves down his hunched back, feet bare beneath skinny jeans. “What’s he doing moping over there all by himself?”

“Let’s see what Richard thinks of your new song,” he sneered to Bagot.

“Oh, Your Maaaajestyyyy…” Bushy and Green teased, but as Richard turned around they heard a woman shriek on the street below. They rushed to Richard’s side and leaned over the railing to get a better view.

A petite middle aged woman, wearing yoga pants and an oversized Bay to Breakers t-shirt, was struggling with someone in the open passenger door of a white Prius. She wrangled a lanky teenage boy to the curb, where he sat in a wobbly heap while she hopped into the driver’s seat and sped up Pacific to Divisadero.

“Fuck you too!” He shouted after the car, struggling to his feet.

“Richard, you naughty boy! You’re having Uber deliver them now?”

Green and Bagot chuckled.

“Shut up, Bushy,” snapped Richard, cuffing him lightly on the back of the head. “That’s my cousin Henry’s son, Hal.”

Bushy, Bagot and Green eavesdropped from the kitchen while Richard propped the boy up on the sofa.

“You stink.”

“I might have puked in the Uber.”

“Oh God, Hal.”

Green snickered too loudly.

“Green, bring a glass of water and some aspirin.”

Hal chugged the pill down with the water, then let his head sink into the sofa cushions with his eyes closed.

“Why did you give the driver my address?”

“Because I don’t have a home anymore.”

“Another fight with your dad.”

“I don’t have a dad anymore.”

“Come on, Hal, your dad-”

“No, this time he said to not come home. Not to call. That he was done with me.”

Richard watched his face struggle to control emotions released by alcohol.

“Ha! Well, the joke’s on him ‘cause I’m done with him, too, and I’ve had more weed, more blow, and more pussy in the past few months than that lardass has had in his whole bougie life.”

In spite of himself, Richard laughed.

“That wouldn’t be hard!”

“And I have more friends. I don’t need my dad.” Hal turned somber, despair buried in the defiant set of his jaw.

“Stay here tonight. Let’s get you cleaned up. We can talk in the morning,” said Richard gently.
*****************************************************

Isabella smothered a piece of toast with butter and set it next to the scrambled egg on Hal’s plate.

“Don’t you have any Cocoa Puffs?” he whined.

Isabella pushed the plate across the table and sat down.

“Fine. I’ll eat it,” she said with a Gallic shrug. “Saves me ze trrouble of coooking some for myself.”

“Coffee?”

She pointed to a pot on the counter and while he rummaged in the cupboard for a mug said casually, “I saw your father ze other day.”

“Ok?”

“At a fundraiser.”

“Was he donating or begging,” Hal scoffed.

“He looked sad.”

“Definitely donating, then. Greedy bastard.”

Richard, fully dressed for work, breezed into the room as he finished.

“Did I hear someone call my name?”

Isabella laughed and Richard bent to kiss her.

“You are greedy for only one t’ing.” She squeezed his butt.

“Ewwww!” wailed Hal into his cup.

Richard joined them at the table and turned to Hal.

“Speaking of money, how are you getting by?”

“Just because Henry doesn’t want anything to do with his son doesn’t mean he actually wants him to starve. He keeps my bank account loaded and his credit card limit high.”

“I have a feeling this has something to do with the latest turn of events.”

“He made a fortune being a capitalist pig. If I redistribute some of his wealth among deserving proletarians, it’s only fair. But you can’t expect a capitalist pig to agree with that.”

“Like Robin ‘Ood,” Isabella interjected with mock seriousness.

“Well, this capitalist pig thinks you still have to graduate from high school and go to college,” admonished Richard.

“I don’t have to do anything. I’m going to inherit millions! Do you really think I’m going to grind through college and schlep myself off to some boring ass job like every other corporate drone?”

“You will if your father disinherits you. Or gives your share to your brothers.”

Whatever Hal was about to say caught in his throat and he gaped at Richard as if the possibility had just occurred to him, but shook it off quickly.

“Why are you defending Henry? You hate each other.”

“We don’t hate each other. We just-”

“You just stole his ideas and took credit for all his work and cut him out of the company. Yeah, I guess that’s a sign of love in a capitalist world.”

“You really believe all that?”

“I don’t know what to believe.” He flicked a toast crumb across the table. “Henry is all work, work, work, and always do your best, Hal, and you can do better than that, and you’re grounded because your GPA fell below 4.0. If I don’t get on every sports team every season, and don’t do chess club and computer club and violin lessons and volunteer at the food bank, I’m nothing to him. I’ll never get into a good college, I’ll never invent something that changes the world like he did. I’ll never amount to anything.”

“And away from ‘im, with your friends, you are somet’ing,” whispered Isabella.

Richard ended the awkward pause that followed by asking, “Where have you been staying?”

“At a house in the Tenderloin. A lady called Mistress Quickly rents it. We all party there a lot and because my friend Jack Falstaff crashes there all the time, she lets me and my friend Ned crash there, too.”

“Mistress Quickly?” Isabella raised her eyebrows. “Does she know you are underage? You are too young for... zat sort of parrrty.”

“Gross! She’s way too old and fat.”

“Listen here, my good little man,” said Richard sternly. “I’m all about pleasures of the flesh, but trust me, your flesh can withstand a lot more pleasure when you’re grown up. You’re going to stay with us, and you will go to school every day.”

Hal groaned but didn’t protest. Richard spoke from experience. The idea that this might happen had sloshed around in the back of his drunken head when he told the Uber driver to bring him here, and he needed a break from Mistress Quickly’s bedbugs anyway.
****************************************************************************

The last time Richard spoke to Henry had been at the release party for his new Quintessence app. Henry had confronted him with some documented malfeasance and a lifetime of resentment. They argued until it nearly came to blows, and Richard fired him from White Hart, the tech company he raised around the revolutionary microprocessor he invented at the tender age of ten. After that, Henry basically fell off the map. Months had passed with no contact between them, and Richard wasn’t even sure Henry was still in the country, though Isabella claimed to have recently seen him. Rumor had it he was in France, or Switzerland, it varied depending on who told the story, on the trail of some shady startup to take down White Hart. Richard didn’t put much faith in that version of events. Henry had always been more of a nose-to-the-grindstone worker, never the sort of visionary that would pursue revenge across two continents.

And sure enough, when Richard finally worked up the nerve to try his number, Henry’s assistant actually answered the phone, and arranged an appointment at a Starbucks, neutral ground. He brushed a bit of lint off his jacket and stirred his coffee to occupy his jittery hands. The coffee shivered when Henry plonked himself down in a chair on the other side of the table.

“Has my criminal cousin come to offer himself up to the authorities? Or cut a deal, perhaps?”

“You know we’re here to talk about Hal.”

“Suddenly, Richard has a conscience!”

Richard pushed aside his fury with a threat.

“Do you have any idea how easy it would be for me to turn Hal so far against you, you’ll never speak to him again?”

“We haven’t spoken in months. I’m getting used to it.”

“He isn’t. He acts the part of the callous young man, but really, he’s floundering. He needs his family.”

“Good thing you’re family. Your louche lifestyle must be quite to his liking.”

“Actually, he complains constantly. I’ve been making him go to school.”

Henry looked quizzically at Richard. “How?”

“By telling him I’ll take him back to you if he doesn’t.”

“Is that why you brought me here, Richard? To brag that in addition to taking credit for the work we did together and pushing me out of White Hart, you’re a better father to my own son than I am?”

“God damn it Henry! It was all my idea! MINE. You helped me build it but it was my invention!”

“MY NAME SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE PATENT!”

“We were both just kids. Our dads screwed up.”

YOUR DAD SCREWED ME OVER!”

Richard stood and banged his fist on the table, shouting in Henry’s blustery face.

YOUR DAD AGREED IT WAS MY INVENTION!”

The baristas huddled nervously in case one of them had a gun.

“Sit down, Richard. You’re making a scene.”

Richard looked around at the stunned faces in the café and sat back down.

“You should call Hal.”

“I have called him. Many times. He doesn’t answer.”

“He said you’re done with him, that you won’t speak to him.”

“We had a huge fight and I said some things I regret.”

Both men silently contemplated their coffee for a moment and when Richard looked up, Henry’s miserable eyes met his.

“Can you convince him to answer his phone if I call?”

“Maybe.”

Around eight o’clock that evening, Hal was doing his homework in front of the TV while the three of them caught up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones when his phone rang. Richard and Isabella’s heads whipped around and just as quickly returned to face the TV, as if they had not noticed a thing, their ears sharp. Hal let it ring a couple more times before swiping the screen.

“Hello, Henry,” he said in a gruff voice that cracked just a little at the end.