I often saw him there since it served as good a place to write as any. The young man favored the waist high concrete barrier, which separated the walkway from the beach, for an unobstructed view. Though the walkway was wider and its paved surface mixed with a sparkling treatment, it accommodated as many in-line skaters now as walkers, and presented too big a hazard for an accident.
Generally, Coronado Beach exuded a calming sedate ambiance. On weekdays, it served the Beach front island community of well-to-do residents who enjoyed the atmosphere primarily from views in the privacy of homes designed by the architectural firms available to patrons with the means to afford it.
Only on week-ends and holidays did it succumb completely to the throngs of beach goers. The young, blond-headed writer could be found studying people on those days. A select few of whom became his source for the complete stories crafted during the more casual, serene days during the work-week.
The waves, with their persistent percussive, drum-beat became a metronome for his creativity. The sounds erupted around him and provided the inspiration of exotic themes for his imagination while he wrote. Waves against waves of exploding saltwater, waves smashing against rocks, waves roaring up on the surf and leaving shiny, rippled, wet sand behind as they bubbled and slid back into the surf or whipped noisily through the heavy wooden timbers of the pier. It sounded as though a cacophony of individual drums of different shape and tonal intensity waged battle against one another. Yet, for all its chaos, it mirrored virtually any ocean beach in the world.
He had a reasonably well-defined gift of observation coupled with a fruitful imagination that guided him in developing the characters for his stories. He examined his subject’s unobtrusively, from his vantage point there on the beach, sitting on the wall. Somewhat like an artist, he drew out portions of their lives, never permitting this ability beyond anything more than a rudimentary glimpse at a segment of the person they represented to him.
An artist would liken this to a sketch rendered in the process and development of a more complex and intricate composition, one could say, like the detail of a hand drawn, observed in several states of use; a closed fist, contrasted with a fully opened hand showing joints and fingernails as well as knuckles, and possibly another with the hand grasping an item or tool, a pen perhaps.
The walls of the young man’s work-room were hung with what had to be more than two hundred of these succinct stories, usually anywhere from four to eight pages, held together with a paper clip and then tacked inside a loop of the clip to the wall. So, according to where the story had been clipped together, determined whether it hung straight or tilted questioningly as if unfinished. If a pattern might be seen with the stories, or groupings according to some specific category, it remained a secret to anyone but the young man himself.
Nor did his name disappoint, in so much as it suggested the mystery of what, and to whom he wrote. We called him, Galen Phraser. A rumor persisted that the spelling of his last name might possibly have been changed by himself to remind a family member, his father perhaps, of his dedication to write. The long locks of blond hair and casual dress fortified that belief in some minds.
I occupied a place in the circle of a small list of friends who knew him. Most of us were writers of varying degrees of talent and exposure to the publishing industry. Galen himself never admitted to having an agent, never spoke of a publisher he associated himself with, and only shared a small selection of the mysterious, pinned-up stories from his work-room wall.
He didn’t lack for creature comforts, but nothing about him suggested extravagance. If he had any difficulties making ends meet within the lifestyle he functioned, it couldn’t be detected by those of us who knew him.
Galen’s manner and speech demonstrated formal education and what some would call good breeding. Perhaps a bit old fashioned, but refreshing because no one ever worried of needing to flinch at a remark intended to shock, and he suffered no loss searching for the right words.
Though brief, that’s a sufficient summary of why, when Galen vanished, those of us in his circle were taken by surprise. There had been no indication or comment indicating he needed to leave for any reason.
I personally checked the home where he lived and found it had been leased to him on an annual term from the absentee landlord, a gentleman living abroad and not intending to return to the U S for quite some time, if ever. The landlord was not distraught at the rather sudden vacancy, asking me if I might be interested in a lease. I said no and asked if he had any knowledge of where Galen might have gone. He had none. I asked if I might get a key from the leasing agency and he agreed, giving me the name of the leasing agent.
When I went to get the key, I had a similar conversation with the agent who was saddened Galen had left, but could give me no other information. I had no idea what I expected to find at his house but I held some curiosity about the wall of his work-room. I wondered if it might have a story to tell me.
I didn’t discuss with any other member of our small circle of writers that I was about to take a look at Galen’s house, what would I say? The single thing we all would have any curiosity about could only be his work-room. One of us eventually would have had to take a look. I would do it.
I was struck immediately on entering the home how, even though still furnished completely intact, the absence of its tenant made the place drab and foreboding, as though all its personality had left with Galen. It seemed less spacious, and smelled as though it had been vacant for a very long time; it had only been a couple of weeks. Pictures hanging, chandeliers, throw rugs, window coverings, now held no connected harmony. I am a grown man and still I felt the urge to sit on the stairs and weep his loss. I didn’t, but somehow Galen’s house had felt the loss and mourned, and now I mourned with it.
I approached the work-room on the second floor with some reluctance, already suspecting a room needing paint and repair. Picturing hundreds of pock-marked pin holes needing sanding and filling with putty, I toyed with the idea of not opening the door, plagued by depressing vibes. The finality of Galen’s leaving suddenly felt similar to losing someone in a traffic accident or something just as sudden where no time to adjust existed.
I hesitated outside in the hall, shrugged and told myself, your being melodramatic. Open the door and go in, for Pete’s sake! Resolving my thoughts I grasped the polished crystal door knob and let myself into the room. I brought my myself up short immediately, this room was absolutely different from the rest of the house, I felt transformed. Sunlight filtered warmly through the three windows, the walls that had supported the myriad of pages of the various stories seemed to glow, eagerly refreshed from their former task. The carpet showed little wear and appeared to beckon me to enter and enjoy the day.
Over to one side was a small antique desk and chair, the only furniture in the room. On the desk was a note on top of some thirty- five remaining stories which had once adorned the wall.
The note read, "I knew at least one of you would come eventually. These last stories will need completing. When you finish each one, set it aside. When you come back the following day it will be gone. Simply work on the next in the stack. Your skills as writer’s will lead you to the proper endings. Thank you for being my friends. Galen Phraser."
Scanning the first story I realized it had already beeen finished, perhaps as a sample of required methodology. It resembled a dossier of facts relating to the person originally described during a beach visit. It gave the facts of a young woman, and the one thing she needed to make her life complete. A female student at San Diego State University, she worked two jobs to raise her younger sister because their mother abandoned them to leave with her drug- supplying boyfriend. It was determined she could use a new car to get back and forth from class and her work. At the end of the dossier, a blue check mark and the signature, Galen.
I realized, startled at my sudden enlightenment, Galen unscrambled, read Angel. Phraser, simply announced his job description.