After breakfast I walked to the living room, where stood one of the two Bösendorfer pianos the Buckleys owned; the other was a fixture at their maisonette at 73 East 73rd Street. Anyone who ever attended a concert at the Buckleys’ had heard Pat announce with great pride, “Bill married me for that piano.” The plush red carpeting warmly welcomed me into the room, and I sat down at the piano. I warmed up with some Bach and then a Schumann song transcribed by Liszt. At about 9:30, after 30 minutes of practicing, I went up to the guestroom to get another sweater.
I thought about what a gorgeous day this was, and reflected that spring was on the way. As I donned my sweater I was startled to hear what soon would become a continuous sound of yearning pain. What is
that? No one screams in this house. It was a female voice. I couldn’t decipher the words but the sound was so out of place in this house. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my skin went cold from the feeling of unease. Something wasn’t right. Within a couple of seconds I thought that Bill must have fallen. I had been told that he had fallen a few times — he was losing his balance and stubbornly reluctant to use a cane. But then I thought again and my mind darted toward the inconceivable. I looked out the window and couldn’t see anyone. That sound. Where is it coming from? No. No. No. It can’t be. No. No. Don’t think about that. It’s not possible. It’s just not possible. “Larry, don’t think about that.”
I ran down the stairs in the direction of the wailing. As I entered the kitchen I encountered one of the maids. She was the source of the sound. I finally focused and began to reluctantly understand her. She looked directly in my eyes: “Señor . . . Señor . . . Padre no more. Padre no more.”
It still didn’t sink in. I felt like I was in a Hemingway novel, “Padre no more. Padre no more.” Over and over again. I immediately asked, “Where’s Danny?” Danny was a childhood friend of Christo’s and was living at Wallacks Point in order to keep an eye on Bill. The maid showed me Danny’s mobile number and I quickly dialed. No answer. “Where’s Julian?” Earlier Julian had told me that he would be heading to the store to buy some things for the dinner. “Julian there . . . Julian there . . .” she said, pointing in the direction of Bill’s study.
I bolted out the door and ran the 30 yards to the study. The door was ajar and there was Bill. He was on the floor face down. His omnipresent Cavalier King Charles spaniels were confusedly walking around him while the other maid stood crying. A shocked Julian was on the phone, and a fire siren could be heard approaching. Within a minute the fire engine arrived and the firemen made their way in with EMT gear. I stood outside the door and watched other medical personnel arrive. It was surreal.
I walked back and forth on the driveway near the study door. I was next to Julian when one of the EMT men came over and said that Bill had a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) bracelet. There was a part of me that thought that maybe, just maybe, they were going to take him to the hospital anyway. Soon the same EMT man came back and said, “Mr. Buckley has passed away.”
I looked at the American flag outside the study and at Long Island Sound. I thought about everything Bill had done for his country, and for my family and the countless millions of people who waged battles against Communist regimes around the world.
The police arrived. It is a necessary formality in the case of any death at a residence. I walked into the house with one of the officers, and he asked me, “Did you know Mr. Buckley?”
I thought to myself, “Did I know Mr. Buckley? Did I know Bill?” I analyzed this question. Past tense. Why is he asking me this question in the past tense? The idea of death had yet to penetrate my mind. An hour ago, I would have said, “I know Mr. Buckley.” From now onward it was going to be, “I knew Mr. Buckley.”
The police officer was an innocent bystander to the emotions I was experiencing. I looked at him with tears forming in my eyes and said, “He was one of my best friends.” The officer replied, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” With those words it became reality. My eyes welled up completely as I said, “Thank you,” and ran up the stairs to the room where just four hours earlier I had awakened to the sound of Bill’s footsteps. What was especially difficult to process was the fact that I had had dinner with Bill just the night before. It was sinking in, and I was sinking along with the feeling. I couldn’t stop crying.
My BlackBerry began to vibrate. Text messages, e-mails, and phone calls began coming in. The news was out. Bill was still in his study, but everyone around the world was beginning to learn of the news.