<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> No one had bothered to move the cane. <p> I stepped into the foyer and dropped my two large suitcases on the gray slate-tiled floor, eyes focused on my father's cane. It had come to rest at the base of the wall opposite the flight of stairs he'd tumbled down. No one had bothered to move it. Overlooked or ignored, didn't matter. Dead men had no use for canes. <p> Erik clattered in behind me. "Where do you want these, Josh?" Before I could answer, he dumped two duffel bags next to the suitcases. "How about there?" he asked, with a hint of a smile. <p> "Thanks. I'll take care of them later. And thanks for picking me up at the airport." The words came out lifeless. I'd taken the red-eye to Dulles from San Francisco after waiting standby all afternoon, too much on my mind to get any restful sleep. <p> "No problem. What are friends for, anyway?" <p> I nodded, keeping a snappy retort to myself. Didn't have the energy for verbal jousting. <p> Erik looked around, eyes never settling. "This place brings back memories. We had some good times here." <p> I nodded again. Erik Nolan had been my closest friend in high school and the best man at my wedding. We'd had <i>tons</i> of good times, here and throughout the Northern Virginia suburbs. <p> "Your father was a good man. He'll be missed by a lot of people," Erik said. "Katy sends her condolences. And her love, of course." <p> "Thanks. Give her a kiss for me," I said, stomach punctuating my request with a plaintive growl. A Snickers bar and four bags of stale airplane pretzels hadn't done the job. "Hungry?" <p> He glanced at his watch. "Sorry. Gotta run. Deposition." <p> "On a Saturday?" <p> "Justice never takes a day off," he said, then pursed his lips. "Listen, when you feel up to it, there's something we need to discuss. And sooner's better than later." <p> "What?" <p> "About the estate." In addition to being my best friend, Erik had been my father's attorney for years. <p> "What about it?" <p> "Oh, now you feel like talking?" Erik asked. I hadn't spoken much on the short ride over. Every time he tried to start a conversation, I'd cut him off. He tapped his watch with a knuckle. "Josh, I'm sorry. I need to get rolling. Got to stop home and change. Besides, it's business. We should do it at my office. I'm free between two and five this afternoon, if you get a chance." <p> "I'll try to squeeze it in." <p> Erik rolled his eyes, cocked his head. "You going to be all right?" <p> "Sure." <p> "How come I don't believe you?" he asked. <p> "I'll be fine. Really." <p> "Okay. I know better than to argue." As was his tradition, Erik engulfed me in a bear hug, one slightly less crippling than the hug he'd crushed me with at the airport. When he broke it off he said, "Anything you need, just holler." With a final pat on the shoulder, he pushed through the front door, jogged down the walkway, hopped into his car, and zoomed away. I guess justice didn't like to be kept waiting, either. <p> I closed the door and shrugged off my jacket. Flopped it on top of the bags. Worked the kinks out of my aching muscles, long trip finally finished. <p> My attention drifted back to the cane. I walked over and picked it up. Hefted it a couple times. Solid and smooth, save for a few chips gouged out of the curved handle. The beige rubber tip on the bottom contrasted with the dark wood. No ergonomic grip, no ornately carved ivory handle. No space-age lightweight alloy. No racing stripes. <p> Although my father had used a cane for years, I'd never thought of him as frail. Had others? I hooked the handle around the newel of the banister. The tip bounced against the post with a dull thump, sending a faint echo through the house where I'd been raised. <p> First food, then a nap. I still had a few hours before I needed to be at Lansky's Funeral Home to finalize the arrangements I'd started yesterday on the phone. <p> I wandered into the kitchen, trailing my fingers along the top of the old oak table we'd gathered around for family meals. I'd done my homework on it, played games on it, constructed papier-mch volcanoes on it. Had countless conversations around it. Back when Mom was still alive, and I was in grade school, and we resembled a regular family, dealing with all the mundane problems a family faces. Before my father got on my case for my lack of ambition and I tuned him out every chance I could. <p> At the fridge I paused, eyeing the lone piece of paper stuck to the door with the promotional magnets my father used to advertise his real estate business. A washed-out family portrait on frayed yellow paper, the artist's signature-JOSH, all caps-barely legible. Three generic smiling faces. A mommy, a daddy, and a boy, standing in front of a generic house, complete with smoke curling up from the box-like chimney. An authentic <i>Josh Handleman</i>, circa 978, when I was about six years old. My Magic Marker period. My father never threw anything away, but I didn't remember seeing this masterpiece posted in such a high-traffic spot. <p> A low moaning noise startled me. I froze. Twenty seconds later, I heard it again, coming from the in-law suite downstairs. I tiptoed through the kitchen into the foyer. Stopped. Concentrated. Another moan. Or maybe it was a groan. <p> Had Erik returned to yank my chain? Unlikely, even taking into account his fondness for pranks. I considered calling the cops. Was I being skittish? What would they say if they came barging in, SWAT-style, and found a rabid squirrel running amok in the basement? I could do without the embarrassment-and the commotion. I slipped my father's cane off the banister and crept downstairs. <p> When I reached the bottom, I stopped. Five feet away, the bedroom door was ajar, but I couldn't see anything from my viewpoint. "Hello?" I called out, softly at first, then louder. "Hello?" I inched toward the door. <p> Rustling, followed by a muffled cough. Definitely not an animal. "Hello? Anybody there?" <p> No answer. <p> Stepping forward, I used the rubber tip of the cane to slowly push the door open. It creaked on its hinges. <p> A white-haired man in a gray cardigan sweater sprawled on top of the bedcovers, dirty black dress shoes still laced to his feet. One arm dangled off the bed, fingers six inches from an empty liquor bottle upended on the floor. The stink of sweat and alcohol and urine washed over me as I stood there, cane in hand, mouth agape. <p> The man opened his eyes, red-rimmed and glassy, tilting his head toward me. He cleared his throat, an underwater phlegm-filled sound, and blinked twice. Swallowed hard. Then his cracked lips parted, revealing a mouth half full of stained, crooked teeth. <p> In a scratchy voice he said, "Hello, Joshua." <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>DIAMONDS for the DEAD</b> by <b>ALAN ORLOFF</b> Copyright © 2010 by Alan Orloff. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.