On January 3, Lien, just back from a visit to Beijing, invited me to breakfast at her apartment. Over waffles and coffee we exchanged holiday gifts as well as travel tales. We cleared the plates and I unwrapped a twelve-inch square present that was obviously vinyl.
“Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock,” I said, eyeing the colorful front cover artwork. “Nice. This was on my to-buy list.”
She smiled. “I’m glad you don’t already own it. The receipt’s attached in case you want to exchange it for something else.”
“Smokescreen Vinyl,” I said, glancing at the paper invoice as my heart sank. “I didn’t mention this to you before, but on that day we stopped at the record store, I got all the answers I needed from the sales clerk–from Niles.”
Lien smiled. “That’s terrific!”
“It was,” I replied.
“What do you mean, was?”
“My dad said it all sounded too good to be true. Too much of a coincidence. I guess he was right.”
“I still don’t follow.”
“See, problem is, this gift receipt here is dated one week before our day-long trek across town. I thought it was random, us stopping there. It wasn’t though, was it?”
Lien sighed. “There are two things I know about you,” she said. “One, you needed closure on this Brubeck obsession. Two, you were never, ever, going to get closure.”
“So you gave nudged the wheels of closure.”
“And Niles, assuming that’s actually his name–”
“Niles didn’t actually work as a sound engineer on any of Brubeck’s recordings.”
“Nice of him to play along though. How’d you pull this together?”
“Luck mostly. I was in the area, holiday shopping, and stumbled upon the record store. Figured I might find a decent gift for you. Niles – his name’s Mick, not that it really matters – he and I started
talking music. He asked me what you liked. At some point, your fascination with the ‘cough’ became part of the conversation. I explained how it’d been gnawing at you and, well, he offered to help.”
“Altruism in the city of the angels. Who’d have thought?”
“Not too altruistic. I paid him fifty bucks.”
“So no one named Hardwick Abernathy died during the recording of Jazz at the College of the Pacific.”
“Because I’m your friend. Because you needed to get on with your life and I knew you weren’t going to any other way.”
“I suppose I should thank you. Or maybe hate you for filling my head with a big fat lie.”
“Your choice. For what it’s worth, I had only good intentions.”
“I know.” I sighed. “It’s just . . . this isn’t the closure I wanted. It isn’t closure at all, really. But I suppose it’s something. And you’re right, I needed to move beyond this obsession.”
“You did. Truly.”
“I appreciate you looking out for me. Happy New Year.”
We toasted. Tea cups in lieu of champagne.
“Happy New Year,” Lien said, coughing unexpectedly as she swallowed.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, after a moment. “Sometimes a cough is, you know, just a cough.”