UNITED STATES—Two thousand dollars was an unusually small amount for a trust deed. For that amount I had sewn up as collateral the whole ramshackle six-unit apartment house on 47th St. The payments came from Gus Morales as regular as clockwork, thus vindicating my faith in Gus and his family.

There came a time when I would leave Los Angeles to go back to Mexico. And then the payments continued to come regularly for my mom to deposit in the bank. Then after six months, or so, one payment was late, then two. When the back payments finally came, attached was a letter from Gus’ sister saying that her brother had died. She conveyed this news in the leanest terms. This opened the door to all kinds of speculation.

Business considerations came first, however. The sister resumed, in her beautifully meticulous handwriting, payment of the checks on the trust deed. They continued. This would have been the time to contact Stanley Thorpe, and have him walk me through the process of taking over payment of the mortgage on the property. What a sweet deal: this chunk of six-units on 47th St. all for $2000. A deal, alright, but it never crossed my mindꟷonly in hindsightꟷthe option of uprooting myself and taking over the obligation and management of the property.

I was on the path of art and art would be my path to riches. Being one of those few conversant with both finance and poetry, I have kidded about writing a book called “Financial Advice to a Young Poet.” It is a strange life. The most adequate explanation for my nature came from a clairvoyant who told me that I had been a successful businessman in a past life. Been there, done that. In this life I was on to other things.

Call it heart or indolence, with 47th St. trust deed a family’s tragedy had handed me a sweet mousetrap and, to tell you the truth, I had no stomach for seeing the mouse killed. Unlike the offer to become a drug-dealer friend’s man in Amsterdam, an offer involving travel and money, I’ve never felt remorse over not taking 47th St. Well, hey, maybe a little…

Because of the slowness of communication and the sister’s laconic version of events, the mystery of how Gus died lingered for months. In the early 90s, Los Angeles death could have come in quite a few waysꟷnone of them nice. This same mystery shows up in my story “Angels,” where Jed Woods comes back to New York after many years and finds out the friend he has come to visit has died. Jed’s mystery lasts only a few days.

Mine was resolved during a Christmas trip to Los Angeles, when I dropped by the Morales house near the train tracks in Huntington Park. Gus’ sister told me how during a family outing he drowned in the Kern River. While saving his drowning brother, it was he who drowned.

All these years later, I still have the unfulfilled promise made to Gus to visit Oaxaca. And I remember, he more than many learned people instinctively understood the writers’ task to keep writing.
“If you keep writing,” he told me, “One book will hit and it will lift up all the others.”

Grady Miller is a humorist. His latest story collection, “The Havana Brotherhood,” is available on Amazon.