7. “…at a Time Like This”
Rosemary had been lying down, she had no idea for how long. She sat up in bed and then stood and smoothed her clothes as she heard the knock on the door. “Come in, please” she called. As the door opened and she saw the familiar figures of her niece and her oldest friend, she heard Linda Sue say, “Aunt Rosemary? Are you awake? Ms. Averill is here.”
“Come in June! I’m so glad you could come at such short notice.” Then turning to her niece, “Thank you, Linda Sue. Has it been rough for you downstairs?”
“It hasn’t been too bad for me, but Madeline is really having a tough time keeping up with the phone. Every time she puts it down it rings again. I’ve told her to just leave it off and take a break, but she seems to be holding up.”
“Tell her I’m so very grateful, dear.”
“She knows. But I’ll tell her again. Can I get you anything right now, Aunt Rosemary?”
“No dear. I’m fine.”
Then, turning to her newly arrived friend:
“Kitty! Thank you for coming. I felt I just had to see you today. I keep telling myself Harry is gone but I still can’t believe it. I expect him to come walking through that door at any moment, sputtering and carrying on and asking if I’ve seen his cell phone.”
“I was absolutely devastated when I got the news, Plum. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I know that you really loved that old bugger.”
“Yes. Well. . . Would you like some coffee or something, Kitty?”
“No thanks. I’m fine. Tell me what happened.”
“There’s not much to tell, really. He seemed perfectly fine when he went to bed last night. In fact, he told me he was planning to take today off and work on his stamp collection . . .
“Stamps? Harry collected stamps? I didn’t know that.”
“Oh, yes. Had ever since he was a small boy, I believe. He really got into it in a serious way when Betty died. He was just a boy then, you know. It’s tough when a boy loses his mother at that age. He must have gotten great consolation from those stamps. He used to have one of his secretaries place orders for him and somebody on Ed Graham’s staff would go round to the stamp stores and pick things up for him. I think he didn’t want anybody to know who they were for. Swore Ed and all the various helpers to secrecy.”
“What was she like. Betty, I mean. Did Harry ever talk about her?”
“I know you’re trying to help me get through this, Kitty, but I really don’t want to go there just now.”
“Okay. Let’s talk about something else, then. Did you see that Ellen Greenberg . . .
“He is really a very sensitive man, you know. Was, I mean. Harry.”
That’s what you’ve always told me, June thought, but I’ve never seen much evidence of it. After a moment, she asked “Why is that, Plum?”
“Not at all like the media portrayed him. That was all a horrible invention the went wrong. He loved his work more than anything, of course. And, since his work was making money that made him an easy target.”
“Yes. Well . . . “ June paused, not knowing what to say next.
The rest of the afternoon passed in quiet conversation between old friends until Linda Sue eventually came back to accompany June to her usual room in the northwest wing where her luggage was waiting for her. As always, it was Rosemary’s wish that June occupy the coziest and most comfortable of the suites and in the next few weeks, Rosemary would often join June up there just to talk.
The obituary that appeared the following day in the Daily Eagle & Advertiser had been supervised by the editor, Jason Browning himself:
Harry Gordon Bertram Mueller, 94, one of the 500 wealthiest men in the country, died in his sleep Tuesday night at his home on Eustice Avenue in Spring Hill.
Mr. Mueller made and lost several fortunes during his long life, mostly in the commodities futures market. He was also the owner of Rutherford’s Department Store for a number of years. He was currently listed on the Forbes Index of the 500 Richest Americans, with a personal fortune estimated at 38 billion dollars. Mr. Mueller, was a quasi-royal figure, known locally as Duke Mueller or sometimes as The Count of Eustice Avenue.
Mr. Mueller was also widely known for his sharp elbows and, sometimes ruthless, business practices, which were often said to edge right up to the limits of the law, but seem never to have passed over into actual illegality. Even more Mr. Mueller was noted for his virulently anti-philanthropic attitude.
“Every American wants to be rich.” He told a Daily Eagle reporter in 1980. “It’s not my fault that only some people actually are.”
He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Rosemary Winslow Mueller. He was preceded in death by his parents, Harry Wilson Mueller, 1839–1918, and Margaret Bertram Mueller, 1841–1942, as well as his first wife, Eloise, known to her friends as Amy, who died in 1945. The Muellers had no children.
As so often happens, the article got Harry’s father’s name wrong and, even though no one could have known it at the time, the fact of his first wife’s death was incorrect also. The article went on for many more paragraphs detailing Harry’s involvements in various business ventures and local civic affairs. It also quoted several local business and civic leaders obviously striving to be as civil and complimentary as they could be under the circumstances. As he finished reading, Ed Graham looked up from his paper and spoke aloud to his empty office. “That old bastard! He probably faked his own death just to get quoted one more time sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge!” He laughed heartily until he began to cough.