NaNoWriMo 2012 – No Rest for the Wicked – Take Two

NO REST FOR THE WICKED

A Collective Novel sponsored by Red Wheelbarrow Writers for Nanowrimo.

On October 6th the Red Wheelbarrow writers gathered for our monthly Happy Hour and were randomly given some sixteen questions. The answers would be incorporated (somehow) into Chapter One of our Collective Novel.

Of those, as the author of Chapter One, I managed to incorporate most of them. The more detailed the response to the question, actual anecdotes writers told, were harder to fold into the story. However, all of the responses got some oblique recognition.What I tried to do in Chapter One was to set out a few characters with some background descriptions and to mention others by name, but not develop them. I rooted it in a distinct setting and gave an occasion for all these people to be together. Beyond that, as I think you can see, the chapter is laced with many tensions which subsequent chapter writers are free to develop, explore and expand.

Each chapter you write is supposed to be about 1,666 words (to have fifty thousand words by the end of November).  This one is a good deal longer than that, but then Chapter one needed more set up. So if your chapter isn’t quite 10,066, Chapter One can take up the slack.

Have fun! Write on! Laura Kalpakian

Overview of Novel:

Title: No Rest for the Wicked

Setting: Pacific Northwest, the opener in Western Washington

Time: Begin Summer 2012: on the occasion of a family reunion, celebration of the Golden Anniversary of Eli and Minerva (Bo) Hale, married in 1962.

Characters: Extended family of Eli and Minerva (Bo) Hale, their four daughters, their grandchildren, spouses, partners, in-laws, and out-laws and associates.

Sallyann Hale b. 1962

Nora Hale b. 1967

Hannah Hale b. 1969

Susan Hale b. 1971

All four daughters are or have been married and have children of their own.  Nora has grandchildren. The others might.

Chapter 1 – Laura Kalpakian

3607 words

Once upon a time there was a man, intelligent, though pig-headed and obstinate, whose efforts to amass wealth were tinged with a sort of missionary zeal. Like a missionary he was certain of himself, enthusiastic, energetic in his narrow realm. He never lost the belief in his eventual triumph. Part of this triumph was, or would have been, passing his wealth on to his sons. He believed that sons conserved, that daughters dissipated. Nonetheless, beginning in 1962, his wife bore him four daughters, the first some six months after their marriage (and generally regarded as an extremely fat, though premature infant) the next, five years later, the youngest two following quickly. After that, as the saying goes, they quit trying.

There were other things they’d quit trying long before that. They’d quit trying, for instance, to have any understanding of one another, much less any appreciation, or solidarity or cordiality, cheer, any of those life-sweeteners that make the rest of our troubles bearable. However, husband and wife were yoked to the same plow and they stayed the furrow. Eli Hale was that sort of man.

The wife, by contrast, stayed yoked to her husband, but she had none of his steadfastness. There was a sort of calico quality about Bo Hale, durable, but not memorable, colorful, a little shabby, a little gaudy, something that might flap on a clothesline, unseemly, but unwary as well. She had great blue eyes and a sweet nature and she asked nothing more of the world than to be protected from it. She was, in some ways, as much a child as her children, only they grew up. Even as a grandmother she could go round-eyed with wonder and giggle at all the things she didn’t understand. She preserved her innocence in the amber of dullness and she relied on people to be gentle with her. Most were. Her husband generally speaking, was not.

He was not gentle with anyone. Not even himself. Especially not himself. Outside of the family his virtues, indeed, his vices were rewarded. Shrewdness, timing, ruthlessness, parsimony and an instinctive grasp of opportunity made him an extremely wealthy man, a trucking business that had begun with one truck and the inspired slogan: Don’t Haul: Call Hale. In business he took no needless risks, but his definition of needless was elastic. Over the years his wife and daughters learned to be braced for reversals, and over time penny-pinching became a way of life. Eli Hale never even felt guilty for putting his family’s expectations at risk. When his affairs went badly, and the money dried up, he simply re-doubled his efforts, donated himself body and soul. No rest for the wicked, and the righteous don’t need it. He believed in that, body and soul.

Within the family, and since there was no son to contest his sway or reign, the girls (his wife qualified as one of the girls) cowered beneath his patriarchy. He had the sole defining voice in the family, and of course, the family would do as he bid them to do, that is, until the girls grew old enough to defy him. They ”each in her own way” tested him, angered him, flaunted their rebellion. As women they betrayed his values, made an array of bad choices, glib assumptions, achieved some successes, and often woke to messy dawns with tear-stained faces. These debacles obliged Eli’s daughters to call on their father’s core strengths, and the irony of that was not lost on anyone.

This stubborn strength was bred into Eli. He had been brought up in an especially astringent home, raised in a fishing family in Western Washington in a five room house that smelled always of fish and damp. Only Eli graduated from high school; his three other brothers all left school about age fifteen and joined their father on the family fishing boat, the Sallyann, a squat tub named after their mother, who, by contrast was thin and hard and lean as a ridge pole.

At his earliest opportunity, Eli Hale fled the smell of fish, headed inland, across the mountains and went to the state college. He took classes by day, studied and stayed warm in the library. At night he slept on a cot in the basement of a bakery. He got up at 3 a.m. every morning to work for the baker. He went to class caked in flour. People thought he was sick. He cared nothing for what they thought, but he was mightily disappointed in the university.

A lot of it was twaddle, and the professors pompous and self-serving. He disdained them as comfortable men pursuing mundane, self-satisfied lives in comfortable homes. At the university, and though he had no money, Eli studied business. He saw no reason to study Classics, poetry or logarithms, or any of the other things required of him by the university.

In one of these unnecessary classes, a Professor Bodene had invited his Classics students toward the end of the term, to tea at his home. Professor Augustus Bodene believed this was the Classical thing to do. Professor Bodene pictured himself in the grand tradition of Oxford dons handing round cups of tea to eager undergraduates, brilliant minds, all, sitting at his feet discussing Plato.

On an afternoon in May, when lilacs thickly surrounded his brick home with its shaggy lawn, Professor Bodene’s students arrived in twos and threes. Eli Hale came alone. He had brushed the flour off his clothes and shoes, though it was still slightly powdering his coarse, dark hair, giving him the appearance of a much older man. He was ushered through the house to the back garden thick with lilacs. In and under these bushes, the youngest Bodene, an obnoxious boy named Seneca (all the Bodene children had classical names) pretending he was an Indian, burst out of the shrubbery to attack the students who were all (in his eyes) hapless settlers.

Eli Hale came for the free food, and stayed close by the table which was in the shade of an apple tree, gaudy with blossoms. Cakes, bread-and-butter (in the Oxford tradition) plates of gleaming, deep fried donuts, hard boiled eggs, cornbread, and preserves from the summer before. When Eli Hale first laid eyes on Miss Minerva Bodene, he had a mouth full of hard boiled egg, the shells lay at his feet, bright white fragments in the dry grass, the yolk crumbling on his tongue, the slick white dissolving along the back of his throat.

Minnie Bodene, even then had bright blue eyes in a round face with creamy skin that pinked easily in the sunlight. She was plump, pleasing, about to graduate from high school and go to the university where her father taught. She had a lovely singing voice. She loved music. She had been told by her father to be courteous to the students since Augustus Bodene could not be everywhere at once and Mrs. Bodene was in the kitchen. (Where, the implication was, she belonged.) So Minerva, Minnie to her school friends, was nice to Eli Hale.

His own mother had not been nice to Eli Hale. So to have this beautiful, buxom girl ”her upper lip alight with perspiration in the May heat, the lilacs casting restless lavender shadows over her face, her curled, light brown hair glinting in the sunshine, her blue dress shimmering, brimming over full breasts” address him with interest and charm was an altogether new experience. He didn’t quite know what to do. He might have fought it. Probably should have. It would have been in character for him to resist her. Later in life he certainly resisted her. But that particular afternoon, he splashed into Minerva Bodene as if she were a bright clear pool and he a parched trout, content to swim in her depths and shallows, not even knowing the difference, not caring.

When, some months later he did indeed splash into her, the pleasure and release of pleasure, the brilliance of the experience left him breathless, the smoothness of Minnie’s skin, the cream-and- pink of her, the swift response of his own body, the taste of her lips, her round roseate nipples, what chance had the notion of sin against any of this? If there was no rest for the wicked, then fine. He did not want to rest. He wanted Minnie Bodene. Wanted her badly. Had her. More than once and on many occasions. She filled his thoughts, day and night.

In her own fashion, Minnie wanted him. She succumbed to his advances with scarcely more than a token of resistance, and in the Classical mode, by the end of that year, 1961, she was pregnant.

Professor and Mrs. Bodene could hardly contain their dislike of the lanky young man, who must now marry their nineteen year old daughter. They liked him even less upon discovering he was dirt poor and lived in the basement of the bakery. They regarded him as a vile seducer who took advantage of their innocent daughter in order to have a roof over his head.

But Eli did not want their roof. He did not want their daughter for that matter. He sure as hell didn’t want the child she was carrying, though he had certainly enjoyed the begetting of it. He did not want to be a member of the Bodene family whom he regarded as pompous fools. Bopeeps rather than Bodenes. He said as much to Minnie. Minnie cried and wept and carried on, she said she was sorry; she said she loved him, had always loved him, would always love him, wanted only to marry him (which is to say she wanted not to be left stranded with her shame). Eli knew only that he was being punished for his sins, but in March 1962 he married Minnie Bodene, whom he swiftly christened Bo, short for Bopeep. He took his wife and promptly left Pullman, returned to Western Washington, though he stayed away from fishing.

And now, fifty years later, their four daughters ”women bearing sturdy no-nonsense names, Sallyann, Nora, Hannah, and Susan” and their children, grandchildren, assorted spouses and partners, in-laws, out-laws would, on July weekend, celebrate the Hales’ fiftieth anniversary. The celebration, complete with marquee tent set in the meadow would last several days, everyone gathered to honor a union that testified only to the durability of the institution of marriage, and the inability of two narrow people to imagine anything outside its confines.

***

Sallyann was the only attendee over the age of seventeen and under the age of seventy who was unattached, who came alone. Her three children were here, but she had long since divorced their father and never remarried, indeed after a crashing heartbreak, Sallyann gave up on men altogether. This morning she woke, early and alone and in the same narrow bed that had been hers as a girl. This room was a small attic space she had once commandeered for herself. She put her feet on the same rag rug, though the rest of the room had long since filled up with boxes, trunks, suitcases, fans and lamps, old computers with heavy screens, televisions that no longer worked, chairs that had three legs, and dressmaker’s dummy that testified to the years that Bo Hale had made all of her daughters’ clothes. Sallyann would have preferred to take a hotel room in town where she could be away from the family, have a drink, watch cable TV at the end of the day, but her mother had prevailed on her to stay. Bo needed her, needed someone responsible, someone to do the cooking, organizing, delegating tasks. This was Sallyann’s role. Always had been. All the more reason to savor her favorite time of day, dawn, singular, unsullied by other voices, demands, requests.

She dressed quickly, a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, a cotton blouse and thrust her feet into sandals. What a relief to have taken this long hiatus from the office, not to have to struggle daily into the trim-unto-grim clothing required of a woman attorney. Just battling the office politics was a full time job, much less wearing stilettos. Sallyann Hale Knox was very like her father, and when Eli told her college was not for girls, (naturally) she went. He once ventured the opinion that no woman could possibly be a decent doctor, or lawyer. Sallyann went to law school, passed the bar, joined a renowned Seattle firm. Later, her father came to appreciate having a lawyer in the family since Sallyann’s legal services were (naturally) free for Hale Trucking.

She went downstairs on tiptoe, past the second floor landing where the four bedrooms sheltered various family, the oldest, her Uncle Senaca, and the youngest, her niece Alyson with her tiny baby. And of course her parents’ room. Once in the kitchen, Sallyann rinsed out her mother’s old percolator and patted the head of the golden retriever, Callie, a dog so eager to be loved, she probably would have licked the hand of Jack the Ripper.

Sallyann and Callie stepped outside. The dog tore off eagerly while Sallyann stood on the wide porch, looking across the meadow to the line of poplars that stood between the house and the river. In the broad shaggy meadow, a marquee had been set up in case of rain. The Hale home sat on ten rural acres that accommodated offices for the trucking company, a warehouse, garages and gas pumps. Behind the house there was a large garden and two dozen gnarled apple trees. At some distance various RV’s and campers were parked. Some people had driven long distances, some flew in from far away, and were staying in hotels. Coming to this anniversary party was obligatory for anyone who wanted to stay in Eli Hale’s good graces. It was utterly unlike Eli to give a party, and the idea certainly didn’t come from Bo. No, if Eli Hale invited everyone, then there was some reason. Rumors abounded, whispered out of Eli’s hearing. Everyone knew that one of Eli’s few pleasures in old age was changing his will, and he did it often. He had emphysema. He might die any time.

The dog, Callie, tore over the meadow chasing squirrels. all the way over to the offices and garages, and then racing down the long line of poplars that bounded the Hale property from the river. A damp wind rustled the poplars, and that’s when Sallyann heard the river. Strange, she thought. High summer, the river usually ran low and quiet, but perhaps the endless rain in June had raised it. The whisper of the river was interrupted by the sound of a vehicle coming up the long drive. Awfully early for a guest to be coming. She walked down the flagstone path that led to the drive. She saw a truck with a camper. She did not recognize the truck.

Her sister Nora got out of the cab. Of the Hale girls, Nora and Susan resembled their mother, pink and plump; Sallyann and Hannah resembled their father, dark hair, broad shouldered, gaunt, tall women. Sallyann, in embracing her sister, towered over her. Then she looked up and saw Randy Oliver. He wore a baseball cap and a big grin.

Sallyann released Nora. She said to Randy, “I see they let you out of prison for the festivities.”

“I been out for seven months, and you know it,” said Randy, a solid man, his blond hair thinned and gone to gray, his blue eyes bright in pudgy face. His hands and arms were tattooed with hearts and barbed wire. “I did eighteen months outta my two years.”

“Forgery, wasn’t it?” Sallyann Knox was not a criminal lawyer, but she had an instinct for these things. Certainly she’d guessed that Randy Oliver was a criminal even before the forgery charges. (And he did have priors, it turned out.)

Randy pulled a noisy mass from his sinuses and spat it some distance.

“And who is this?” asked Sallyann, as a young man and a pale girl got out of the camper. The girl held a small child who squirmed out of her arms and tore off, chasing the dog.

“This is Randy’s son, Jess and his wife, Lizette, “ said Nora. “Randy and I thought it was time for Daddy and Mama to meet them, since we’re getting married.”

“Really?” asked Sallyann. “Are you pregnant, Nora?”

“That is not funny. We’ve been engaged for five years and we’re getting married,” she added with a small pout.

Sallyann suppressed a laugh, but not a smile. Everyone knew Eli had threatened to cut Nora out of his will if she married this jailbird. He had threatened his other daughters’ choices of spouses and partners as well, and for the most part, the women had done and wed whom they wished. Often to their chagrin. Randy Oliver would be Nora’s third husband.

Lizette shook Sallyann’s hand. “Are those real diamond studs?” she asked wistfully.

Sallyann reached up and touched her earrings, and said yes. Then she noticed Lizette had a rhinestone stud in her upper lip.

“They’re beautiful,” said Lizette, “they twinkle in the light.

Jess bounded up, friendly as a pup. “Nora’s been telling us, all the way over the pass, what a great big party this’ll be. She says you’re roasting a pig tomorrow!” He shook Sallyann’s hand enthusiastically. His arm had the same hearts-and-barbed-wire design as his father. “And there’ll be live music. Well, I’m ready. I brought my guitar. A Gibson.”

“I think they’ve hired a band, but you’re certainly welcome to play.”

“Rest of my band’ll be here later today. Rock, blues, rockabilly, country and western. Carl Perkins is happy in heaven when we play Blue Suede Shoes.” He grinned and shook himself out after the long journey. “This is sure a great place. Is that the river just beyond those poplars?”

Sallyann turned and saw the child still chasing the dog. “You should go get your kid. You don’t want her going through the trees to the river.”

“Him,” said Jess “The kid’s a him.” He called after the child and when he did not heed them, Jess took off after him.

Sallyann turned back to Nora. “Alyson and Miana are already here, Nora, with their husbands and your grandkids,” she said, waiting for the dismay to flicker over her sister’s face. Nora’s grown daughters and their husbands disliked Randy.

“Have you seen Aly’s baby?” asked Nora. “Is he beautiful?”

“He is.” Then, because she was unable to resist a dig at Randy, Sallyan added, “I’m sure Alyson and Miana and everyone will be so happy to meet……well, what will these people be to one another when you get married?” Sallyann feigned perplexity. “What can we possibly call them?”

“We are all family,” Nora said.

The tremble in Nora’s voice was enough to make Sallyann regret her sarcasm. Her sister and mother always raised her protective instincts; they were women unprepared to protect themselves. She flung an arm around Nora’s shoulders. “Come on to the house. I’ll put the coffee on.”

“Mom’s old percolator?”

“Of course, what else? I’m sure you’re hungry. I’ll get breakfast started. Come on, all the rest of you too.” She called out to the tattooed musician, and the pale girl whose name she could not remember. She turned back to Nora. “Have you been driving all night?”

“We had a little trouble,” Nora confided.

“Trouble?”

“Well, south of Seattle. We got stopped for speeding and we don’t have proof of insurance or papers on the camper, not really, and ….” Nora’s eyes grew round. “We borrowed the camper.”

“Stolen?” asked Sallyann without an ounce of guile.

“Why is your sister such a bitch?” asked Randy. “Just because we’re not snotty Seattle lawyers who are part-owners of snotty wine bars on snotty Capitol Hill, who take snotty trips to snotty Europe, why does she think she gets to look down on us?”

Sallyann stopped as they approached the flagstone path. She turned to Randy, met his gaze squarely. “Just so there is no failure to communicate, Randy, let me be clear on this. I do not look down on my sister. I love her. But I am not obliged to love you or your kids or grandkids or any of them. I do not love you. I will never love you. And I know one day you’ll break Nora’s heart“

“That’s not true,” cried Nora.

Sallyann turned to her sister. “Really? What about the time some kid backed into Randy’s car in the parking lot, totally wrecked it, and he never pursued the insurance or getting it fixed because you weren’t supposed to know who was in the car with him.”

Nora’s face lit with alarm. “How did you hear about that?”

“Alyson.” Sallyann turned back to Randy. “So let there be no mistake here, Randy. Sooner or later I’ll be picking up Nora’s pieces, but in the meantime don’t let’s pretend that I approve of you. If you want this to be a fine family weekend, just stay clear of me. It’s that simple.”

“You are such a bitch,” Randy retorted.

“Call it what you will, as long as we’re clear.” Sallyann put two fingers to her lips and whistled for Callie who came running, the laughing child close behind, till his father swooped him up in an embrace. The others went inside, but Lizette waited at the gate for Jess. Clearly, in this house, you needed to stay close to your allies.

Chapter 2 – Debbie Bernard

Words: 1597

Eli Hale viewed these early arrivals from his second story study, undetected. “Ah, the gathering of the clan,” he thought bitterly, as he paced and plotted. He had already spotted Nora’s poor white trash boyfriend and the rest of her blue-collar entourage. As long as this reviled subclass of people existed, the tattoo ink business would thrive, he thought.

“Ah, the fruit of my loins. My legacy. They defied me, spat on my values, and never had one moment of gratitude for all I provided. But, it seems as long as I have the ‘letters of transit,’ I will never be lonely,” he sneered, imitating Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. That was his favorite movie, the story of a strong and principled man fighting betrayal on every hand while running a successful business. And smoking cigarettes.

“Hypocrites!” he spat. They’re probably wondering why I called them all together. Well, before this weekend is over, it will be clear. They want the inheritance? They’ll have to prove their true mettle. Last man standing. Oh that’s right, no man. Last woman standing. Why oh why had God not granted him a stronger-swimming Y-chromosome? Even one male heir?

His angry reverie was interrupted by the melodic ringing of the old-fashioned black telephone on his desk.

“Father? Hi! It’s me, Hannah. Is Sallyann there?”

Eli knew full well that Sallyann was down in the kitchen, but couldn’t be bothered to fetch her. “I tell you what. I think she’s in the house; she took Callie out for a walk this morning and might be back. So when we’re done I’ll hang up and you call back and I won’t answer so she can pick up downstairs. Now: you best not be calling to cancel out on the party.”

“Oh, no, Father, we’re on our way. I just got this great idea about renting a Bouncy House for all the kids and wanted to….”

“Just talk to Sallyann about that; she’s in charge of the frivolities,” he said, and hung up the phone abruptly.

Cooking smells began wafting up from downstairs as Sallyann deftly began the breakfast brigade. She assigned Nora to the scrambled eggs and Lizette to the turning of the pancakes. Sallyann was in charge of the thick country bacon and little pig sausages, merrily cooking away in the old fashioned four legged frying pan plugged in on the counter. The sputtering oil sounded like a cleansing downpour in a rainforest.

Her mother had wandered downstairs at some point in the chaos and was setting the table, pouring the first percolator full of coffee into a carafe and making another pot, and answering the “where do you keep your maple syrup?” kind of questions. Jess was assigned to keeping his baby safe, and Randy was assigned to keeping his mouth shut. This last command was silently but eloquently communicated from Sallyann to Randy by means of the ol’ stink eye.

“Remember when we used to fry up razor clams with the bacon and eggs?” Sallyann asked her mother. Just a friendly little reminisce. Nora looked up from her frying pan, startled, and caught Sallyann’s eye. They both looked quickly at their Mother, who had turned so suddenly on her heel that cream flew out of the pitcher she was carrying to the table. She seemed flustered, and she wasn’t meeting anyone’s eyes. Callie was delighted, lapping up the unexpected bounty from the linoleum.

Clams. For the three Hale women, the mere mention of clams suddenly immersed them in a very uncomfortable memory.

It was 1995, possibly the last time that Eli and Bo’s entire family had sat down to dinner together. It was so long ago that Nora was still on her first husband and Sallyann had not yet given up on men.

The family had on rare occasion dined out at a waterfront restaurant called Taylor’s Landing in Mukilteo. Roughhewn logs coated in creosote made up the rain-soaked dock where the Mukilteo ferry came and went, right next to the picture window of the restaurant named after that landing.

The food was good, simple, local fare, mostly seafood. There was a full bar decorated with paintings of ships, many in stormy seas. The entrance wall was covered with fisherman’s nets, adorned with Japanese floats, assorted shells, and, inexplicably, the carcass of a giant Alaskan King crab.

The baskets of warm sourdough bread never stopped coming, along with the little round pearls of butter shaped like clamshells. The view of the ferry making its rounds, the cars loading and unloading, the seagulls circling and cawing for scraps, all added to the nautical ambience. At Christmas time, a parade of ships festooned in twinkling lights and Santa Clauses made its way past the picture window.

The ambience was totally lost on Eli Hale.

But, Eli Hale loved steamer clams and each of the three times the family ate there, that’s just what he had. A big bucket of steamers, with bread dunked into the buttery/garlicky sauce, and two frothy glasses of Pilsner beer. Soul food for a soul who had escaped the life of a fishing family but who could still enjoy the taste of the sea.

A new restaurant has just opened right across the street from Taylor’s Landing. A half block up the hill so the view of the ferry landing was spectacular. The Seahorse was also a seafood restaurant. Locals thought it was much more upscale, that the food was more gourmet, and that it was the clear choice for a special night out.

Sallyann had just completed her legal degree. The dinner out was to celebrate the passing of her bar exam. Since she was the guest of honor, she got to pick the restaurant. It hadn’t even been Eli’s idea to celebrate this silliness at all—a woman lawyer? It was absurd.

No, it was her mother that “thought it would be nice” to celebrate this. Translation: Sallyann had to make the reservations, contact everyone and organize the event. It was what she had always done for the family.

The night had begun swimmingly well. The four Hale sisters hugged, showed off their children, linked arms with their husbands who certainly seemed to be on their best behavior.

They ordered a round of cocktails for the adults, Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers for the children, and the first baskets of warm sourdough bread appeared (apparently de rigeur in waterfront seafood restaurants) as menus were opened.

Lively chatter and good-natured teasing ensued. “I need a lawyer! Oh, there you are, Sallyann!” “Was that an ambulance? Do you have to go chase it?” all in high humor and good fun.

Nora’s first husband proposed a toast: “To Sallyann! She did it! She finally managed to pass a bar without going in for a drink!” Even the children joined in the peals of laughter, though they had no idea why they were laughing.

And then. Eli, the patriarch of the clan, summoned the waiter over. “My good sir, I notice that you don’t have steamer clams on the menu. Surely you offer them? It’s just an oversight?”

The waiter assured Eli that no, indeed, there were not steamers on the menu, that people were so enchanted with the locally caught king salmon and the giant shrimp served in every possible way that steamers had gone by the way here.

“Come on; let’s go across the street to Taylor’s Landing!” Eli ordered. He stood up, threw his shrimp-colored cloth napkin on the plastic bib that was at each place (in case somebody ordered the lobster) and said, “Well?”

Dead silence. Eli looked glaringly at the four sons-in-law. They looked away. He finally announced, loudly, snarling, “If you want to stay here, fine, but I’ll be across the street at Taylor’s Landing.”

And he got up and left the gathering.

Bo Hale, who was so even-tempered that she often seemed like an automaton, burst into tears. She rarely showed emotion. Her pink cheeks blazed dark magenta, her rarely-worn mascara puddled under her eyes.

This rude, self-absorbed, self-indulgent outburst had totally undone her. She was aware of her husband’s selfish nature, that her marriage was a drab sham compared to most people’s marriages. But she thought they somehow had an unspoken agreement: she would serve him as his wife as best she could, and he would not humiliate her by revealing his true nature to the people she most cared about.

The night was all but ruined. They all gamely ordered, tried to make light conversation while waiting for the food, but the grim specter of “What just happened?” dampened their spirits.

The food came and they ate quickly, the awkward scrape of a fork on china replacing the former sounds of laughter. There was no second round of cocktails. The children began fussing, perhaps sensing the tension. Nora’s four-year-old daughter Alyson spilled her Shirley Temple, that sticky cherry and 7-up concoction, over the starfish placemat she had carefully colored, and burst into tears. She could barely be consoled.

Meanwhile, Eli Hale thoroughly enjoyed his steamers and three full beers by the time one of the sons-in-law came to fetch him.

The memory gave Sallyann and Nora a sudden feeling of dark foreboding. Their father obviously cared nothing about social gatherings, about celebrating landmarks, about family. So whatever had possessed him to call them together now?

Their mother, however, put on a cheerful face and said, “Goodness! That bacon smells good! Call your father and let’s eat.”

Chapter 3, Kate Miller

Words: 1869

Nora and Bo put the extra leaf into the dark cherry dining room table to accommodate the extended family while Sallyann ferried bowls of steaming eggs and platters of bacon and pancakes from the kitchen to the dining room, setting them in the center of the table. Bo went to the bottom of the stairs to call Eli. Lizette slipped out the back door to fetch Jess and their son.

“Jess, Sky, breakfast is ready,” Lizette shouted in the general direction of the river.

She could hear Sky’s delighted giggles from beyond the line of trees. The sun had come up and was warm on her back as she followed the sound of his voice. There was a slight breeze and Lizette thought it might end up being a nice hot day for the gathering. She wondered what old man Hale would be like. Everyone sure seemed to bow and scrape around him. According to Randy he was a nasty piece of work. Yet this was Bo and Eli’s 50th wedding anniversary, maybe he had a soft side only his wife knew. After all, Nora was still with Jess’s dad and god knew Randy could be a bastard. Eli must have some kind of power over the family besides money, though come to think of it, a lot has been done in the pursuit of money she mused.

Lizette could hear the river louder now as she walked up a slight incline to stand among the rustling poplars. She peered over the edge of the bank and saw Sky rolling on the muddy ground with Callie, his face buried in her fur. His long reddish-blond hair (almost the color of Callie’s coat) was tangled and his shoes and pant-legs were wet. The river sang among the rocks no more than a couple of feet away from the rough-housing boy and dog. Her heart skipped a beat. Jess was nowhere to be seen.

“Skylar Oliver, come up here this instant” Lizette said, a bit more sharply than she had intended.

The dog scrambled to her feet and her son looked up at her reproachfully, “Aawww Mom, we were just playing Hero Dog.” He stood up and reluctantly began to climb up the river bank, his shoe laces trailing in the mud.

The rising wail of a blues melody floated over the air from the driveway, two guitars working up to a good strong cry. Lizette pulled Sky the rest of the way up the bank and hoisted him into her arms, squeezing him tightly to her chest.

“Hey Mom, let me go,” he wiggled, “Dad says I’m too big to be picked up.”

Lizette set her son down and he immediately headed for the dog, who was ecstatically rolling on her back in the still dew-wet grass. She grabbed Sky’s hand and marched determinately toward the beat-up truck in the driveway. Jess and his dad were sitting on the truck’s back gate, heads together, strumming their guitars and sharing a pre-breakfast joint.

Jess glanced up to see his wife planted in front of him, her pale face flushed with anger. He struck a particularly mournful chord and laid his guitar down beside him. Randy pinched out the stub of the joint, drew out a battered red tin and deposited the dope in the can before stuffing the tin back in his pocket. “Time to vamoose, kid,” he said to Sky, taking the child’s hand before hurrying toward the house.

“I can’t believe you, Jess, you and Randy out here smoking weed in full view of Eli’s study, playing your damn music and where do you think your son was all this time? Out of sight, that’s where he was, down practically in the river. What if he had fallen in, what then? Would you have even heard him over this racket?”

Jess started to shrug, and then thought the better of it. He stood up, putting his arms around Lizette.

“I’m sorry, honey. I was watching Sky, really I was. He was right here a moment ago, playing ball with the dog, I think. You know how it is with my music, I just lose myself in it. And Sky can take care of himself.”

Lizette pulled away angrily, pushing at his arms. “What are you thinking? No, I guess you’re not thinking at all. That’s the problem here. Sky’s practically a baby, Jess, he’s not even five yet. You have to pay attention, I can’t be everywhere at once.” Hot tears trickled down her cheek and she brushed at them with the back of her hand.

“You promised me,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect it of Randy, but you promised me you’d grow up.” She turned and stalked back to the house.

Jess watched her for a moment, then picked up his Gibson, brushing his hand once more across the strings. He put it gently back in its red plush case, flipping the latch shut, and ambled after his wife.

************

Back in the dining room there was a general flurry of activity as everyone took their assigned seats, the scraping of chairs on the polished wooden floors and the chatter of hungry children. Just then Sallyann’s cell phone vibrated in her jeans pocket. Great timing, she thought, but her father hadn’t come down yet so she still had a few moments to spare. In this household no-one raised a fork or spoon until Eli took his seat at the head of the long table. She wiped her hands on her apron and went out onto the back porch to take her call. Seeing it was from Marilyn, she moved farther away from the house, heading for the wrought-iron bench under the gnarled apple tree.

“Marilyn,” Sallyann said, “What is it? You know I said I’d call you when I could get away. Now isn’t a good time. We’re about to eat breakfast and I have to get back in before Eli comes downstairs.”

“Hey, Sal, I’m sitting here drinking my morning coffee and missing you. I thought I’d see how you are holding up under all the family pressure,” Marilyn said.

Sallyann sat down on the bench, crossing her legs and jiggling her right foot, which she did when she was agitated.

“You could come up, you know. You are family after all. The kids would love to see you.”

“And stay in that moldy basement “guest room” and be “Aunt Marilyn” for your family? You may be ok with the Old Maid moniker but I’m getting really tired of it, Sallyann my dear. Exactly how many years have we been partners and yet we still have to continue this charade for your parents? I can’t bear to celebrate Eli and Bo’s so-called marriage, fifty years and everyone knows your father can barely stand the sight of your mother. And poor Bo, she never did have any backbone or she would have left him years ago. What’s to celebrate about their relationship? You and I deserve better.”

Marilyn had moved in with Sallyann less than a year after Daniel had moved out to live with his new girlfriend. Her family saw Aunt Marilyn, herself a single woman, as a convenient “roommate”, paying Sallyann rent and helping raise the kids. Sallyann knew the family liked to say, often and loudly, that after her divorce she had “given up on men” altogether. Ha, she thought ruefully, she’d fallen in love with Marilyn even before she started dating her brother Daniel. Her father would have disowned her for sure if he knew what she was; he’d have choked on the very word.

All her life she had grown up with Eli ranting about “those people” which could have meant gays or immigrants or drug users or whomever he was disparaging at the moment. No, there was no way she could have chosen Marilyn over Daniel. Sallyann admitted that, like her father, she had always been ambitious. She had known that she wanted to go to law school and counted on Eli’s favor and his bank account to help her. Even though he ridiculed her for her choices, she knew that he applauded her ambition.

Sallyann could picture Marilyn standing in their sunny breakfast nook, steam rising from her second cappuccino of the morning, the New York Times open in front of her. She’d have taken her reading glasses off to rub her hazel eyes. Grey was just starting to creep into her rich brown hair, especially around her temples. She’d lean against the counter and do a few quick ankle raises, stretching her long runner’s legs. At fifty-five Marilyn was still lithe and graceful and Sallyann still loved her. Standing up and moving to lean on the trunk of the apple tree, Sallyann shifted the phone to her other ear.

Marilyn was still speaking. “It’s just that we’re doing just fine financially. It was different when the kids were growing up and I was still in school, what with Daniel’s alcoholism and his inability to hold it together enough to pay for child support and all. I know we’d have been in trouble if your parents hadn’t helped you out. But the kids have families of their own now. A lawyer and an architect make a pretty comfortable living together; we don’t need Eli’s money anymore. Everyone knows we’re as good as married, Sal, it’s 2012 for goodness sake. What difference could it possibly make to quit this duplicity once and for all and say it out loud?”

Sallyann sighed and scratched her head with her free hand. Of course she wished she could be “out” but there was too much riding on Eli’s money. She and Marilyn were fine, but was it fair to risk cutting her kids and their children out of the will? And there was her father’s business to think of. Most of his clients in the county were fairly conservative. She herself as a corporate lawyer had to think of her career, even in this day and age. Bo knew, of course, but she always resorted to that stock phrase “don’t tell your father, it will kill him,” which might not be that bad an event after all, since that way he would be dead before he could even write her out of his will.

“I know, love,” Sallyann replied, “But now’s not the time to upset the old man, you know his health has been declining and Bo’s not doing that well either, she seems a bit more forgetful than usual. Let it go for a bit longer, can you? After all, callous as it may sound, Eli won’t live forever. We’ve put up with things as they are this long, rocking the boat isn’t a good idea.  The reunion will be over in a few days and I’ll be back home before you know it. I’ve got to get back in for breakfast before my father notices I’m not there but I’ll call again tonight. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”

************

When Sallyann re-entered the dining room ten minutes later, everyone’s plates were still empty and the bowls of eggs were no longer steaming. Eli’s seat was vacant, as was Bo’s.

Chapter 4 — Skipped

Our chapter 4 author was unable complete the chapter. When this happens, we just move to the next day. To avoid confusion, we’ll keep the same chapter numbers since they correspond with the days of the month. In short, there is no chapter 4. Let’s keep truckin’!

Chapter 5 — Rachel Hanley

Words: 1663

“It’s cruel,” Bo whispered, her gaze lowered down to the magnificent Sarouk rug they had bought on their honeymoon in Europe all those years ago. The marriage hadn’t been ideal, but way back then she had actually believed it might work out, that it could transform into a “happily-ever-after.” Even under her father and Eli’s displeasure at an unexpected child, she felt their judgment and blame shiver under the power of new love for a beautiful, baby girl. Sallyann. Where would she be now without Sallyann?

Now, after fifty years of marriage, she could finally bring herself to challenge Eli…but not with her voice raised, even to standard volume, and not while meeting his stare. Even the voices drifting up from the dining room below nearly outmatched her own right in this room.

At first, she feared herself so soft-spoken that he hadn’t heard, but then, without looking, she could feel him bristle at the opposition. She had never been a particularly spiritual woman, but she did believe that emotions permeated a room, saturated the air. Believed it so strongly that she considered anyone who disagreed an ignorant fool to be blind to something so obvious. Why, you could practically taste them.

“It’s fitting,” Eli sneered in response from his seat in his plush desk chair. “Just deserts. Don’t you think, my love?”

The endearment stung. Back when they were two passionate youths and he whispered it in her ear for the first time, “my love” sent a shiver through her; he breathed it with such certainty. Now it had become a taunt, because they both knew full well how little they cared each other.

She raised her head in time to see him interlock his fingers against his stomach and settle back against the black leather. It seemed to her there must be a few “just deserts” lurking in the shadows for their chance at Eli (lounging in a chair while well over a dozen people waited patiently for his presence was the least of his sins), but she couldn’t say that, not with their gazes locked. He had a way of looking at her in these moments that made her imagine they were arm wrestling, his stare pushing against hers and pressing her down. He always won. Rather than pursue the topic any further – he had made up his mind, won again – she returned to her original request. “At the very least, you can come down now. The food is getting cold.” She tried infusing her words with bite or chill, but didn’t have it in her. She had spent herself already – questioning his intentions – and felt weary at the mere prospect of even the subtlest further rebellion.

He didn’t answer. Only scooted his chair back from his desk so the legs squeaked harshly against the hardwood floor and strode past her and out the door.

She knew he expected her to follow, but she hung back as she felt a familiar thought creeping to the forefront of her mind. She preferred to consider these things in private, as though Eli could actually read her thoughts.

She could still divorce him.

Only last year the same thought had been absurd. She was an old woman. Setting aside tradition and respectability and everything else that had kept her in such an unhappy state for long, what did she have to gain at this point in her life from a divorce? And yet she still had plenty to lose.

Then she had met Clyde eight months ago, while walking Callie in her favorite park, and realized that even old women are capable of falling desperately and hopelessly, head over heels in love.

*****

Eli took his sweet time serving himself and only when he took his first bite did everyone else spark into action. Hands reached for dishes like they had been poised for the acceptable moment. Dishes were passed with offerings and requests, growing louder and louder to be heard over the others. Then, when the plates were full, “Would you like…? Can you pass…?” turned to conversation. Anyone a few rooms away would think this a bustling, happy family, everyone so eager to share with everyone that no one could get a word in without cutting someone else off. Of course, if you were in the room, close enough to hear the words, you realized the error of your assumption. Yes, everyone chattered nonstop, and numerous conversations interspersed throughout the crowded table, but the topics covered social niceties, repetition of known facts, and the old standard – weather.

“Eggs are delicious. As always.” “Oh, they’re my favorite.” “Mine, too, though the bacon’s a close second.”

“Your boy is five, right?” “Almost.” “Starting kindergarten next year?” “That’s the plan.”

“I forget how much it rains here!” “Do you even get rain in California?” “Not like this, I’ll tell you!”

Eli sat back and surveyed the table. He glanced at each person in turn, noting faces he had never even seen before. He lingered on his daughters, about whose response to this experiment he was most curious. He frowned at all the proof of their rebellion. Men who didn’t deserve a place at this table. Children that shouldn’t exist. And, most of all, he noticed how content everyone was to turn their heads away from him, to let their gaze slid over his chair, and to generally carry on as if his position at the head of the table was invisible.

Not one person here who loved him. Not one person here he loved.

His gaze shifted to Bo, who concentrated intently on her food, no doubt waiting for his announcement. He had loved her once. Or so he thought, but he had spent many decades now wondering the difference between love and lust. He pictured that first glimpse of her and her youthful figure, curves hugged in that tight blue dress, and her smile, seemingly just for him. If he could go back to that moment, would he warn his younger self what careless passion could lead to? It was easy now to brush his younger self off, but if he was truly honest, he didn’t think any warning would have kept him from Minerva Bodene then. Young boys really are fools. Something he had tried unsuccessfully to explain to his silly daughters.

Love. That’s what it all came around to, though, wasn’t it? He had been content for most of his life, manipulating those closest to him with money. It didn’t always work. His daughters frequently did whatever they wanted regardless, though he knew they still hoped for a place in his will. If only they knew. His wealth wasn’t what they thought it to be: it was more. And while the bitter side of him felt tempted to blow it all away before the end, leave them with nothing, what he really wanted was some kind of legacy, someone or someones he could hand his vast wealth down to with confidence that they deserved it. Maybe old age was making him sentimental. Maybe age was irrelevant; it could be how close Death’s hand felt, like he sometimes saw it resting on his shoulder out of the corner of his eye. He wanted to know. Once and for all. Who loved him and who didn’t.

He cleared his throat. The almost instantaneous quiet was satisfying, but not nearly as satisfying as he had found it only a year ago.

He rose, with glance at Bo, who watched him with resignation.

He wasn’t one for niceties or stalling, so he plowed ahead without preamble to his point. “I fear I have some bad news. Tomorrow I declare bankruptcy.”

He let his abrupt statement roll out across the table. Studied each face in turn. Some of the faces he didn’t even recognize still seemed crushed. Bo had returned her attention to her food. She was against this idea from the start, though he felt assured that she wouldn’t interfere. If one considered wives on a scale of quality, Eli viewed Bo as smack in the middle. She had lost her charm soon after the wedding, but he still counted his blessings that she didn’t cross him at every turn like their daughters. No, she didn’t like or support this plan one bit, but she was a dutiful wife who would do as he wished.

On some faces it was already plain: they came not for him but for Bo. If not for Bo, then for the money. He tried to keep his own disgust out of his expression. They all remembered, didn’t they, his every fault. They could count off every time he had failed or disappointed them. But did they remember the times he had saved them? Did Sallyann speak of when she ran away in her youth and he went after her? Did Nora remember that boy and what might have happened had her father not come home early? Did Hannah still think the classics that appeared by her bedside were from her mother? She, like, Sallyann could never let go of his qualms about women attending college. But he had sent them, hadn’t he? He had paid every dime of their schooling. And Susan – as far as he knew, she had never told a soul about the gambling debts he had paid off. She certainly never thanked him. None of them did. He knew he was no saint, but they were all so eager to remember his sins and forget his virtues. Now he would see, wouldn’t he, who truly cared about him. And who would give up the façade once they believed the money gone.

Because one by one, in the months to come, Eli Hale intended to call upon each of his daughters, their children, his brothers, and even further extended family for favors, some as ludicrous as his imagination could invent and then he would know who deserved to be in that will.

Chapter 6 — Grace Peterson

The kitchen was silent save for the gentle hum of the dishwasher. Order once more, just the way Bo liked it. A tidy home always offered her a restrained sense of satisfaction. She may not be able to please Eli, but she could make herself happy, even if her tasks seemed mundane to the rest of the world.

As she wiped her hands on what was now a fairly wet dish towel, Bo sighed and looked across the room at the oversized dining table. Unabashed sunshine streamed through the windows in an effort to lighten her mood but Bo was oblivious. Her mind swiftly replayed the bombshell that shattered any attempt at familial camaraderie. Frustrated famine morphed into the euphonious clatter of dishes and then, with Eli’s booming declaration, to appetite-killing shock, all in a matter of minutes. Sallyann, always at the ready, grabbed her father’s arm and practically dragged him out of the room towards privacy at the other end of the house. That’s my girl, Bo thought. Sallyann will know what to do. That law degree wasn’t for nothing. ÂA gentle breeze made the curtains above the sink dance slightly and Bo, drawn to the movement felt a shiver run up her spine. Odd, she thought.

Beep, beep, beep… Bo immediately knew that sound and it brightened her mood in a way the sunshine couldn’t. She set the wet towel on the counter and skipped out the door and down the steps quicker than a woman half her age. She wanted to be the first to greet her Susan.

Rounding the corner, Bo could see that Randy, Nora, Jess and Lizette had already gathered under the familiar slogan, Don’t Haul: Call Hale. A flicker of remorse and anger toyed with her for a second as she wished the crowd would part like the Red Sea and let her at her baby. She sighed, resigned, and stood back to let the younger generation say their hellos. It had been awhile, after all. Susan lived in Portland now and didn’t make her way up here all that often. It was obvious that everyone missed her, a light brighter than the July sun.

When Susan glanced between Lizette and Jess, she caught sight of her mama and parted the sea in a way that would do Moses proud.

“Mama!” she squealed, running into a welcome embrace.

“Oh honey, we’ve missed you so,” Bo whispered with tears in her eyes. “And what have you done with your hair?” she laughed, pulling Susan back and inspecting her fiery locks.

“Do you like it?” Susan asked, while preening dramatically, swirling around in a clumsy pirouette to make eye contact with the rest of the family. “It’s for the play. They told me I could get a wig but I thought, what the hell? I always wanted to be a redhead.”

“It’s lovely, dear,” Bo chimed but her compliment was muted by Randy’s animated whistle.

“You look hot!” Jess hollered and Lizette elbowed him and rolled her eyes.

Susan had a way of bringing out a visceral neediness in Bo that she couldn’t begin to understand. It was a sad, lonely longing that went back to childhood. She felt a human connectedness with Susan that, until recently she’d never felt with anyone else. Well, maybe with Eli back at the beginning. It’s all rather childish, her adult self would chide. But Bo couldn’t help herself. She had this enormous sad, pathetic need to be listened to and validated. And now, she was hoping for some time to catch up with her sweet baby girl. She wanted to share her secret.

“Well, come on. Let’s get your bags and go inside,” Bo said, wrapping her arm in Susan’s. “So tell us about this play.”

***

“So you’re saying the money is basically gone?” Sallyann blurted, reeling from the shock. She was unable or unwilling to contain her signature sarcasm and minced no words with her father who was, between coughing fits that worried her, stubbornly and uncharacteristically short on words. “What about Layton? Has he been embezzling funds? Have you checked his books?” and without waiting for an answer, “Let’s go down to the office. I want to see the books!”

Eli, needing a smoke, was sitting on the edge of the bed looking like a sad puppy. Having spent months polishing his performance, he knew he held the upper hand. Sallyann had swallowed the ruse, hook line and sinker. She was blazing mad. Typical, he thought. Eli was forever reliant on his own pessimistic assumptions. It never entered his mind that Sallyann’s anger might not be from a perceived lost inheritance but from a genuine concern about the financial well being of her parents.

“Layton’s a good guy. I’ve known him since he was in diapers. He wouldn’t do this to me.”

“Well, I’m glad you trust him, Daddy, but I still want to look at the books. What about Betty? What do you know about her?”

Eli sighed heavily. “Sallyann, the bankruptcy is legit. It’s inevitable.”

“Dad, I’ve been your attorney for how long now? How come I didn’t see this coming?”

“I don’t know, Sal,” Eli said, standing. He sensed she was getting a little too nosy so it was time to put a stop to this conversation. “Look,” he said gazing straight into Sallyann’s eyes and stifling another cough, “I’ll open the office next week and let you talk to Layton, okay?”

“Well, dad you can’t expect me to accept news like this without an explanation.”

“I know, I know…” Eli said, waving a hand of dismissal and walking out of the room.

***

“Hurry up, everybody! Sallyann’s gonna think we went off the road and drowned in the river. What’s taking you all so long?” Hannah yelled up the stairs. “We’ve got to get over to Heidi’s first and make sure we can get the Bouncy House delivered by 3 so let’s hustle.”

Hannah and Don’s house was small but cute. Hannah had a penchant for decorating, faithfully tuning in every day to those design shows on Cable. Taking her cues from what she considered, the best, she painstakingly color-coordinated each room of the house with paint, pillows and throws.  However, Hannah was also a disorganized packrat and cluttered detritus sullied her well-meaning endeavors. Although she was aware of her tendencies, she had no mind to change. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” she’d joke while frantically tossing magazines and newspapers off the sofa whenever she had visitors. She knew fully well it was a hackneyed excuse but she was too busy to think of a different one.

Hannah scurried around, gathering stuff she should have taken care of days ago but this was Hannah’s way. Everyone joked that she thrived on chaos and given that her best ideas were the ones forged at the last minute, her pattern was actually quite endearing.

“Here, can you take this to the car?” she said to Don who had just come down the stairs, eyes glued to his iPhone.

“Yes, honey.  You’ve asked me three times already,” Don said, looking up at his frantic wife. “I’ll take care of it but I’m not going out yet. I’ve got to call Roy and make sure he’s got the office covered for tomorrow. It’ll just take me a second. Don’t panic,” he assured Hannah, looking deep into her eyes in a way that bordered on condescending.

Don was a good man and Hannah loved him dearly but sometimes he was such an asshole. “Stephanie, are you coming?” Hannah yelled up the stairs.

“Mom would you get a grip. I’ll be down in a minute. It only takes us 5 minutes to get to grandma and grandpa’s. Why are you freaking out?”

“I’m freaking out because I need your help. Would you say goodbye to your friends and get down here?” Damn Facebook.

“Why do we need to take all this stuff anyway, Mom?” Hannah’s son Ben had silently entered the room.

“Oh good. Ben,” Hannah said, stopping for a moment to give her son a kiss on the head. “Can you help me get these boxes out to the car?”

“What’s this stuff for, Mom?” Ben was 12 and sweet, despite having to endure his sister’s habitual abuse. At 16, Stephanie was the archetypal know-it-all big sister and although Hannah and Don made numerous attempts at transforming her histrionics into a temperament they could live with, she seemed hell bent on making their lives miserable. “She’s exactly like her grandfather,” Hannah would lament to Don during pillow talk after a particularly brutal day. Ben, on the other hand, retained a calm demeanor that often made Hannah wonder if the hospital had switched babies on her.

“Oh honey. I should have gotten you a haircut,” Hannah said, rustling Ben’s longer-than-normal dark hair. “I’m taking all of this because your grandma and grandpa are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We talked about this, remember?”

“Yeah but…”

“Well, these are the photographs and over there are the scrapbooks. Your Aunt Sallyann and I are going to set up a table and make it look pretty so everyone who comes to the party can enjoy it. Now, can you take this box out to the car?”

“Okay Mom,” Ben said, taking the box Hannah held out for him. “Mom? Grandma is pretty,” Ben said affectionately, looking down at the largest of the framed photographs still lying on the sofa. “But how come Grandpa isn’t smiling? I thought weddings were supposed to make you happy.”

“Oh honey. You’re wise beyond your years.” Hannah said, touching him on the cheek. “Gandpa is hard to understand. Now hurry, okay? I’ve got to run upstairs for a second.”

As Ben gently closed the door behind him, Hannah’s cell phone rang.

“Shit. Where did I put my phone?” Hannah muttered scrambling back down the stairs and looking around frantically. “There it is. Hey Sallyann, I’m going to Heidi’s to—what? Wait. Slow down. What’s the matter?”

***

Bo had already decided that, despite being powerless to stop Eli from his cruelty, she wouldn’t be involved in any it. His supposed bankruptcy was his lie to tell. She wouldn’t waste a precious minute speaking of it.

“Where is Brian, honey?” Bo wondered aloud to Susan. The rest of the family had gone indoors, leaving the two of them alone as if intrinsically knowing there was a special, sacred bond between them that dare not be messed with.  ”Here let me help you with that.”

“Oh, he’s here somewhere. He must have gone inside already.” Susan answered, knowing her husband had no problem mingling with people. She handed one of her bags to her mother.

“Wait. Let’s trade, Mom. You can carry this one. I’ve got something in here I need to show Daddy.” Susan said rather nonchalantly.

As they walked towards the house, Bo felt that all was right with the world. Of course, her husband was up to no good but Bo was sure that her daughters would pass his outlandish, cruel test or whatever it was he called it. She couldn’t speak for her daughters’ husbands and certainly not for Nora’s crazy bunch but she was sure her daughters wouldn’t disappoint their father.

A dog barked in the distance and Bo instinctively turned towards the sound, raised her free hand to shield the sun and squinted to see if maybe… And this made her all the more eager to tell her beloved Susan about Clyde. If anyone would understand, Susan would.

Opening the front door, Susan was accosted by the odor of stale cigarette smoke while Bo caught the lingering scent of bacon which alerted her to pending kitchen duties. Eli was not only smoking himself to death, his nonstop coffee drinking worried Bo.

Ignoring her burning nostrils, Susan dropped her bag on the sofa. “It’s nice to be home, Mom,” she said, smiling brightly and hugging Bo once more. She quickly pulled away and turned her attention to the bag. Unzipping one of the side pockets, she pulled out a large envelope. “Where’s Daddy?” she asked as Bo trotted off to the kitchen.

“Oh, probably up in his study, honey. You can go on up.”

“Okay. I’ll be back Mama. I need to talk to him first and then I’ll help you with the party stuff.”

Reaching the landing, Susan could hear baby noises behind the middle door. The baby was crying and Aly’s voice was trying to soothe him. Susan was anxious to see them, but first things first.

“Knock, knock. Daddy?” Susan’s voice echoed off the wood paneling as she tentatively opened the door. For a second, her mind drifted to Hannah and how she always used to complain about those drab walls. But the more she begged Eli to paint them, the more resolved and angry his response was. Apparently Hannah still hadn’t convinced him.

“Hi Daddy. I’m here!” Susan said in a voice that was a tiny bit more theatrical than she’d intended. The blue nicotine haze hovering above her father made her want to throw up.

Eli stood, let out a cough and opened his arms to embrace his youngest daughter. He didn’t utter a word. She hugged him back and they both sat down.

“Daddy, I brought you something.” Susan held out the envelope. “Here.”

“What’s this?” he asked, tearing it open and grabbing its contents.

“Just look at it.”

Eli pulled out three bundles of currency, turned them over a few times like he had never seen such a thing. His brow furrowed in that funny way it did when he was perplexed, which wasn’t very often. He looked up at Susan, still silent.

“It’s the money you spent to bail me out. I’m repaying you, Daddy! All those times I came to you crying and desperate. Well, I’m better now, Daddy. No more gambling, ever!” Susan smiled. “I bet you didn’t know I was keeping track, did you?” She paused for a second to let it sink in. “Well, I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

She stood up and kissed him on the forehead and walked towards the door, then looking back she said, “I love you Daddy.”

 Chapter 7 — Brandon Nobach

Susan walked downstairs beaming with relief as the weight of her debt to Eli was lifted from her shoulders. She felt freer than she had in many years. As much as she knew her father meant well, it always seemed to be the elephant in the room, that cash that he had saved her with, not anymore though, she had escaped from the prison that had held her. It had only been a few years, but she was finally getting her life on track. She had a steady job working at Powell’s bookstore during the day and kept herself busy with her play in the evenings. The group of friends that now surrounded her from those long nights spent working on lines, and rehearsing, were doing her worlds of therapy. She had spoken with Marilyn, Susan’s roommate, about her running endeavors over the last few years, and acting seemed to have the same therapeutic release for Susan as running was for Marilyn. Just goes to show you that everyone has their own releases.

         Brian had also helped. He was such a wonderful man, one of the few people who actually knew of all the money that had been lost to her addiction. They had toughed out the hard years, when money had been low and fights were frequent between the pair. He had managed to keep their heads above water, she knew she owed him her life and that it would be hard to pay back that debt. Although now she felt they could make it through anything, as husband and wife.

When she reached the hallway she heard a crash come from the back porch. She stepped out into the warm July day and turned to find Hannah picking up the contents of a spilled box she had been carrying. Susan knelt down to help her closest sister, “Hey Hannah,” she smiled.

“Thanks,” her sister replied, they stood up together and carried the contents, photographs, over to a long table that already had photo albums stacked on top. “How was your drive Susie? Brian and you drove up this morning right?”

“Yeah, it was good, very peaceful, I love the drive up here. The mountains, they’re just so gorgeous.” Susan started to help place the photos so that they could be viewed out on the table. There were pictures of them growing up, birthdays, Halloween, Christmas, school dances, every activity you could think of had been saved by the photographic memory of a camera, mostly because of Bo’s wishes to remember the special times as she grew into her old age. Susan looked through pictures from a trip to the Oregon Coast that they had taken before Sallyann’s senior year of high school. It had been that trip that made her want to move to Portland, it had seemed so different from Seattle as they drove through, she wanted to explore it’s inner workings, but time had not allowed her to, they had to keep to Eli’s schedule.

“Very beautiful,” Hannah said placing pictures out from an Easter holiday. There were colored eggs placed all around the yard, the four girls were running through the backyard with wicker baskets flying behind them as they raced to get as many as they could. “Susan? Can I ask you something?” Hannah’s voice had dropped to a whisper.

“Of course, anything Hannah”

“What do you think of the bankruptcy?”

“The bankruptcy? What do you mean?” Susan thought to the money she had just given her Daddy, could it mean more now than it might have?

“Daddy and Mama are declaring bankruptcy tomorrow. Daddy announced it at breakfast. You had not been told yet?”

“Well no, we only just got here a little bit ago. I have not had the chance to talk with anyone. Daddy did not say anything when I spoke with him earlier. I gave him…” She stopped herself, Hannah knew of her previous gambling addiction, but never that Eli had lent her the money that he had, might be best to keep that to herself for a little while longer. “I went and saw him in his study when I first got here, I gave him some books that I thought he might enjoy.”

“Sallyann called me. She says that there was quite the announcement made at breakfast this morning. Said that Daddy doesn’t seem too worried about it, but Sallyann wants to look at the books for the business anyways. Thinks there’s something just not right in them, that maybe Layton or Betty might be taking some. He just let it slide. You know how he is though, so hard to read sometimes.” Hannah and Susan picked up the empty boxes and they started moving towards the house.

“How can we help him?” Susan asked. “Should we do anything to help?”

“I don’t know Susan, but you know how he can be. He doesn’t accept help very well. If he asks, well I guess we will have to make our own decisions. If not, we just let it be I suppose.”

Eli had watched everyone arrive throughout the day from his study window. The bouncy house for the children had arrived. He imagined his children’s children bouncing around in it, the ungrateful brats. He could hear and smell the food that had been cooked throughout the day, sure that Sallyann had slaved over the stove with everyone pitching in where they could help, his oldest daughter calling all the shots.

He was most intrigued by Susan though. Why now? Why had she given him the money? Had she known about the bankruptcy plan before she got here? Had Sallyann or Nora called her after his announcement? His youngest two daughters surely knew by now, if they had not known before. Maybe Susan really did want release. Maybe she was clearing her own slate by removing the money he had given her to help her out. Time would tell what her true motives were, tonight though was about the rest of the family. Most he knew were here just because they were scared. Some were here because they thought they would be written into the will by being here, some were here because they thought they would be written out of the will if they did not.

The small grandfather clocked chimed once. It was now half past 5. He was half an hour late to his party. He was happy about that. He wanted the news of his proclaimed bankruptcy to spread. He wanted it to settle.

There was a light knock at the door. Bo stuck her head in. “Eli, are you going to come down? Everyone is waiting. The party was supposed to start a half an hour ago. Everyone is wondering where you are. I can’t keep up the excuses. Please come down.”

“You’re right. Let me ask you a question. What’s the consensus? How have they responded to my news? How have our offspring taken to the news that they no longer have an inheritance?”

He asked these questions in a curious, mischievous way. Bo was disgusted, she truly wanted no part in his shenanigans, this war was between her husband and her daughters. The pair had always had such different relationships with their daughters. He helped of course. He cared of course. It was always from a distance though. He gave money. He had given their daughters and grandkids a place to stay when they had been going through divorces. It was she though who had nurtured them, and cried with them. Who had held their hands and taken care of them when they were sick. She was now the one who worried what this might do to her family. If everything went poorly, maybe she would divorce this man she did not really love anymore.

She thought to the whispered conversations that had been taking place all afternoon. She had seen Susan and Hannah talking as they set up the pictures. Sallyann had been off and on the phone all morning with various relatives and friends of the family who were on their way. It would not have surprised Bo if many did not show up tonight, which of course is exactly what Eli wanted. He wanted to sort out the people who might truly care about him from those whom only wanted a slice of the pie. Nora and Randy had been in a fevered conversation in the kitchen as she passed through on her way up here. He wanted to leave. If there was no hope of inheritance why stay. Bo had heard Nora reply that it was for “Mama” that they were staying, if only Eli could hear that. She knew he had his own plans though.

“They are taking it as you would expect Eli.I don’t want any part of this game though. I told you that. I think it is mischievous and deceitful.”

Eli stood up. “That, my dear is the point.” He reached his hand out until she took his in her own. They went down and joined the party, together.

Chapter 8 — Yolande Brener

In the dining room, Sallyann took charge as other family members helped put the finishing touches to the dinner table.  There were two tables, so the children could enjoy themselves without bothering the adults and vice versa.  Sallyann had decorated both tables with gold candles for her parents’ 50th anniversary. She spread blue tablecloths to symbolize the ocean because it had been so much a part of their father’s life.  Eli would consider these embellishments unnecessary fripperies, but Bo would enjoy them.  Each person’s place was marked by a shell, starfish or seahorse collected from a family outing, whether a trip to the beach when Eli and Bo’s eldest, Sallyann, was a baby, or from an ill-fated fishing trip that Eli had taken in 1975, to show his four daughters something about how he had grown up.

Eli had longed for sons, with whom he could roughhouse and go on adventures and play captain to.  Captaining these five girls, including his wife, was far less satisfactory.  On the fishing trip, all but Sallyann had become seasick, with the youngest, Susan, lying prone as waves rolled her from one side of the floor to the other.  He told her to go below deck, but she said it was too stuffy and she preferred the fresh air.  Bo, as usual, comforted the girls, pointing out passing shoals of fish and pulling pretty shells out of a net as Eli tried to reel in tuna and swordfish.

One couldn’t underestimate the power of the ocean, but Eli felt learning mastery of the elements was an important rite of passage and wanted his offspring to develop just a little of his fearlessness.  The weather that day had started off mild and grey, but turned stormy and choppy, tossing the boat from side to side.  An unexpected wave caused the boat to lurch, sending Susan’s little body slipping off the side and into the darkening water.  Fortunately, Eli had attached her life vest to a rope and was able to pull her in.  She surfaced with wide eyes, silently and open-mouthed.  Bo held Susan close as Eli and his crew steered the boat back to shore.

Eli couldn’t argue about the trials of sea fishing, which is why he had started his company, Hale Trucking.  His slogan,”Don’t haul. Call Hale” was emblazoned across highway billboards and featured in local cable television ads, with Eli as his own spokesman.  If only one of his sons-in-law could have inherited a love for the family business.  But no one in the family wanted to work in Hale Trucking, save the small legal services that Sallyann provided. Hale Trucking led the area’s transportation needs for homeowners, landscapers, small businesses, ranches and farms.  Eli had a staff of 200 including his drivers, administrators and despatchers.  The success of Hale Trucking made it difficult for Eli’s family to understand his declaration of bankruptcy.  Sallyann suspected foul play amongst his employees and determined to get to the bottom of it.

Eli and Bo both dressed up for the occasion of their anniversary dinner.  Eli wore dress pants and a button down shirt, with gold and amethyst cufflinks that Bo realized she hadn’t seen before.

“You look handsome,” Bo said, hoping to raise his mood before dinner.

“No need for niceties between us, woman,” he said. “Let’s go down and get this over with.”

Bo didn’t care if Eli ignored her new dress and the careful make up Hannah had helped her with.  Bo felt prettier than she had in a long time.  She wore a blue silk dress, fitted softly to her curves.  She had curled her soft, blonde hair and she knew the blue dress brought out her sky-colored eyes.  Bo remembered when Eli used to find her beautiful, how exciting it used to be when he held her hand and danced with her.  Now his hand in hers felt firm, set, almost angry.

On the spectrum of masculinity versus femininity, Bo leaned far to the soft-skinnned, long-lashed, giggling, cuddly-toy and frilly dress-loving side of femininity.  As a girl, she had loved Eli’s appreciation of her, his forcefulness, his determination to woo her, even though it wasn’t very hard.

Bo missed the attention of her strong man, who had perfectly complemented her softness, at least for a few months.  But now, perhaps for the first time in her life, Bo had a secret.  Eight months previously, while walking Callie in the park, as she did almost every day, something entirely unexpected had happened.  If it hadn’t been for Callie, Bo might have walked her usual route around the lake and gone home.   But Callie had started to pull away toward a side path. Bo believed that God worked through animals, so she followed Callie. It had been a late fall day, with the leaves twisting to the ground every time the wind gusted.  A carpet of yellow, orange and red leaves softened the ground as Callie tugged Bo along this new-to-her path.  Callie wasn’t pulling toward a squirrel or a rabbit, but toward a bounding chocolate Labrador, who was attached to a tall gentleman wearing a black Crombie coat and Fedora.  The man and his dog stood in a clearing with a thicket of blue Russian sage, spears of Monkshood and dainty fall crocuses. Callie tangled her leash into the chocolate labrador’s, wagging her tail enthusiastically.

“I think you’ve come to the right place,” said the man.  ”It looks like someone put these flowers here to complement your eyes.”

Bo giggled and blushed.  His words were corny, but it had been so long since any man had mentioned her eyes, or flirted with her.

“I’ve never walked this way before,” said Bo, emboldened by the attention.  ”Callie brought me here,” she said, nodding toward the tail-wagging hound.

“Oh, Callie, is it?” said the man.  He had a refined English accent, a bit like Prince Charles, Bo thought.  ”Well, if we’re to be formally introduced, I’m Clyde, and this is Bruno.  Pleased to meet you, Callie.”

Clyde reached out his hand toward Callie, who completely ignored him and was now doing a circular dance with Bruno, the chocolate lab.  Bo giggled and looked down at the dogs.  She wondered how she looked to this stranger.  Clyde had a leonine mane of dark blonde hair, bony Anglo-Saxon cheekbones and eyes like a bubbling blue stream.  He had never seen Bo when she was a girl, when everyone thought she was beautiful.  But perhaps this worldly-wise man saw something else in her.  Bo’s daughters sometimes told her she was pretty.  She knew her skin was still soft and people had said she had an infectious smile. And he had noticed her blue eyes.

Bo snapped out of her reverie into the present moment.  This was her 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration.  Her daughter’s had created a beautiful table setting with the blue and gold, and the shells, and a centerpiece of blue and gold roses.

“Mama, you look lovely,” said Sallyann.  ”And you look handsome, papa.”

“Thank you, darling,” said Bo.

“Let’s get on with it, then,” said Eli.  ”Let’s eat.”

Sallyann pulled out the chair at the head of the table for her father, and then the chair to its right for her mother.  Norah came over with two champagne glasses.

“First, let’s have a toast,” she said.

Hannah went around the table making sure everyone had champagne in their glass.  Her husband, Don, went around the children’s table pouring sparkling apple juice into their plastic cups, replacing it with still apple juice for those who didn’t like bubbles.

“Pay attention,” said Don.  ”We’re going to make a toast; that means we touch our glasses, sip our drink and think of something we all want.”

“You mean like making a wish?” asked Jess and Lizette’s son.

“Exactly like that,” Don winked at him.

Sallyann raised her glass, and the rest of the table followed.  A few of the children giggled and threw bits of paper napkin and grapes at each other.  Don glared at them.

“To Eli and Bo,” said Sallyann.  ”To their fifty happy, healthy years together and to fifty more, at least.  If it wasn’t for your work, your sacrifice and your guidance, we wouldn’t be sitting here now with all these beautiful families and children.”

The sound of tinkling glasses and murmuring echoes of the toast filled the room.  The high-pitched sound of crying rose above the clinking.  One of the children had started bawling when his neighbor at the table accidentally spilled an entire glass of sparkling apple juice on his lap.

“Yes,” said Eli.  ”And that’s exactly the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile.”

He looked serious for a moment, and then chuckled and took a swig of champagne.   That meant it was ok for the others to laugh also.  So they laughed, took a sip, and the chatter began as Sallyann and Susan made sure everybody got their appetizer of oysters sautéed in butter.

Don lit a tall gold candle in the center of the table and smaller gold candles placed strategically along the master dining table.  Randy went over to the old turntable and—delighted to find a large collection of vinyl—put on a Beach Boys album, which he thought was in keeping with the ocean-going theme of the night.

Eli looked around the table at the motley crew of his family.  Once, Eli had been a man with dreams.  Once he had been in love with his wife, even if only for a short time.  She wasn’t so bad, but she couldn’t match him in wits and ambition.  Eli couldn’t enjoy a conversation with Bo.  And his daughters were usually so caught up with their own emotions—at least that’s the way he saw them—none of them really took an interest in his business or expanding the empire of Hale Trucking.  What about his sons-in-law?  Eli glanced at Randy, Don, and Brian.  He couldn’t trust any of them.  If he allowed them a part in the family business, then who was to say they wouldn’t betray his daughters once he was gone.

Perhaps Eli didn’t show love to his daughters in the lovey dovey hearts-and-fluffy-toys way that his wife did, but he was fiercely protective of them.  After all, in some way his daughters were a part of his body.  He didn’t feel this in the same way that Bo did. But he knew if they were hurt, it would hurt him more than anything else.

If only one of his daughters could carry on his family name. If only one of his spoiled grandchildren and great grandchildren could understand how hard Eli had worked to raise himself up from the destiny life had intended for him. But now Eli had a plan.  If his daughters couldn’t prove themselves to him, prove they cared about him and not just his money, none of them would inherit a penny from him.  So far, both Susan and Sallyann had surprised him: Susan with her repayment of the money he gave her to cover her gambling debts, and Sallyann with her genuine concern that Eli wasn’t being cheated by his employees.

But Eli was suspicious; he always had been.  He saw how people took advantage of others and how they failed to keep their promises, even his father who had promised to take care of Eli’s mother.  Mrs. Hale had been hard with Eli. She loved him, but instead of showing it by being affectionate, she showed it by pushing him to do better, to be the top student in his class and inheritor of his father’s fishing business. Eli’s mother told him he was responsible for protecting his brothers after she was gone and it had weighed heavy on him.

As a youth, Eli had striven to do his duty by studying business and making his own company, Hale Trucking, since he had grown to hate fishing.  As a young man,

Eli had done his duty by marrying Bo, the young woman he accidentally made pregnant.  But now he sat here, knowing that he had no real love for anyone here, feeling no one had love for him.  And he kept to himself the fact that there was someone he truly loved, someone he had loved for the past fifteen years, someone he wanted to do right by, no matter what.

Chapter 9 — Marian Exall

Eli ate little at his anniversary feast, and spoke less. His impassive gaze roamed from one family member to the next, not revealing the judgments that accompanied each regard.

That new silk dress Bo was wearing was too young for her; she had no business still coloring her hair. Blondes over sixty were unconvincing, and more importantly her extravagance was undermining his bankruptcy announcement. Susan had momentarily impressed him with that $20,000 now locked away in his desk drawer, but she was fundamentally weak, babied by her mother and indulged by her older sisters. And Brian, that husband of hers, so good looking, but not man enough to father a child on her. At least Don had done his duty in that regard with Hannah, although Ben was much too young still to be of any use to him. Hannah had been his father-in-law’s favorite because of her love of reading. The old professor, now long-dead, had arm-twisted Eli into funding Hannah’s art history degree: what a waste! Nora, the prom queen: she had been pretty once. Now she was just pretty stupid. She had made a disaster of her marriages, always falling for the bad boys, the exciting ones who smoked and drank too much, and drove too fast. She never understood that all they wanted from her was sex. And now she’s doing it again with that felon Randy, only he wants more than sex; he’s after the money. When Eli made his announcement, he was amused to note that it was Randy who manifested the most disappointment.

And then there’s Sallyann. She would be the hardest to convince about the bankruptcy. Not just because she handled the company’s legal business and knew its workings, but because, Eli grudgingly admitted, she was damn smart. If she had been born a boy, things might have been different, he might have been different. Instead, she did nothing but butt heads with him, questioning every decision he made. Little miss know-it-all. But she wasn’t as smart as she thought she was. She thought he was unaware of her perverse lifestyle. He had understood early on where her inclinations lay. He merely chose to ignore her disgusting practices because it suited him to have a lawyer in the family, a counselor who had more at stake than submitting a monthly bill. It had suited him, but very soon he’d be able to do without Sallyann. He’d be able to come out and tell her what he thought of her and her “roommate.”

After he downed the obligatory glass of champagne, Eli signaled to his son-in-law Don. Don, biting down on his resentment at being treated like a servant, made to refill the glass, but Eli muttered just one word, “Scotch.” Don fetched the bottle and a more appropriate glass from the sideboard. He leaned over Eli’s shoulder, imitating the accent of an ingratiating waiter.

“Some water with that, sir?”

Oblivious to the sarcasm, Eli gave a brusque shake of the head. As Don stood erect, Sallyann caught his eye. She had been watching the exchange appraisingly. Now she indicated with a slight movement that Don should follow her into the kitchen. While he did so, Don looked for his wife, but she was deep in conversation with Nora’s daughter Alyson, and did not notice his departure.

Of her sisters’ men, Sallyann respected Don most. She despised Randy and feared for Nora’s happiness, even her safety, if she legalized the relationship with him. Although she was glad Brian had stuck with Susan through her gambling addiction and recovery, she thought he was a lightweight, fun at parties, but not too bright. Don on the other hand held down a mid-level financial management job with one of the state’s larger manufacturers. He sometimes sounded a bit priggish, and she suspected he did not entirely approve of her sexual orientation, but he was willing to enter into the family conspiracy to keep it from Eli. She also suspected that, at the time of his marriage to Hannah, he had entertained hopes of joining Eli in the business, and perhaps succeeding him. He had been wise enough to quickly see that Eli would never share control or cede it, and seemed content to pursue his own career. He was here at the anniversary celebration without any expectation of financial gain, but out of loyalty to Hannah, and to the wider family he had embraced as his own.

“Don, what do you make of this bankruptcy thing?”

Don shrugged.

“I don’t know what to make of it. I was thinking you would know what he’s doing.” “I honestly have no idea. At the last board meeting, there was no mention of trouble paying the bills. I can’t see how things went downhill so fast. I think the old man’s up to something.”

“What?”

Sallyann took her time in replying. She wiped off the already clean counter-top, then stood gazing out of the window over the sink.

“I snuck out earlier and went down to the yard. It was empty: not a single truck or trailer. And the offices were locked up tight – not a soul around. That’s unusual. Daddy might have given everyone the day off in honor of the anniversary party, but there should have been some equipment there. I phoned Layton, but he was out, at least, that’s what his wife said. I did get hold of Betty. She was very tight-lipped, I’m sure following instructions. Anyway she finally gave me the name of the lawyer who has been working with Dad over the last few weeks, presumably preparing the bankruptcy filing.”

“Who is he?”

“That’s the odd thing,” She turned away from the window and came closer to Don, dropping her voice. “I looked him up. His office is down in Everett, and he’s not even a bankruptcy lawyer; his specialty is family law.”

Don followed her lead and spoke quietly.

“Why on earth go to Everett when he had you on retainer right here?”

“Well, bankruptcy’s federal law, so the filing has to be in Seattle. I can see why he’d want someone closer to the U.S. courthouse. But the puzzling thing is: why not hire a bankruptcy lawyer?”

“Did you try and call the guy?”

“Yes, and he was as close-lipped as Betty, quoting attorney-client privilege at me. But I was able to convince him that I was Dad’s lawyer, as well as his daughter, and he could confide in me. I got a few questions answered. He’s filing a petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on behalf of Hale Trucking tomorrow in federal court .”

“What does that mean?” Don frowned.

“It means the company will go on operating under the management of a trustee. The trustee will reorganize – make changes so that creditors can get paid off. They won’t get all they are owed, but if the reorganization is successful, they’ll get some, and Hale Trucking can continue on.”

Don let out a small explosion of air.

“But this makes no sense. Can you see Eli letting a trustee make decisions for him? He built the business up from scratch –“ He broke off as Susan entered carrying a stack of dirty dishes.

“What’s going on here? Can anyone join in? It’s getting tense in the dining room. Papa’s drinking steadily and giving everyone the gimlet eye. Mama’s getting tearful, and the children have had way too much sugar.”

“Sallyann’s explaining the intricacies of bankruptcy law to me, but it’s still not making any sense. Why would your father give up the only creation he ever loved?” Don stopped suddenly in confusion. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean –“

Sallyann gave a derisive laugh.

“Don’t worry. It’s not news to us that our daddy is not exactly doting. But this bankruptcy thing: if he doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay the bills, he may have no alternative. “

“But he does have cash!” Susan flushed. She had not meant to reveal the repayment to her father to her sisters, but having gone this far she felt compelled to go further. “I mean, I happen to know for a fact that he has $20,000 in cash in this house right now.”

Sallyann and Don looked curiously at her, waiting for her to elaborate, but she stuck out her chin and stalked over to the dishwasher to begin loading it.

After a pause, Sallyann spoke.

“We’d better go back and join the fun before we’re missed. Susan, would you ask Mom about this? I feel sure she knows more than she’s said to me, and she’s much more comfortable talking to you.”

“Hmm. You’re asking me to get her to betray Papa. I don’t think that’s right. You know she’s always supported him through thick and thin. Anyway, this silly bankruptcy business is nothing to do with us. I don’t care about the money. I have my own life to lead.”

Sallyann was offended.

“Well, I don’t care about the money either, but I do care about Mom. I don’t want to see her in poverty in her old age. I would have thought you’d want to help us get to the bottom of this.” Her voice was rising and her fists clenched.

“OK, ladies. Calm down. Look, why don’t you both, and Nora and Hannah, get together after dinner and talk about this situation?” Don would have liked to have been part of that conversation too, but felt he could not invite himself without also involving Brian and – God forbid! – Randy.

Back in the dining room , most chairs stood empty. Once Eli had risen unsteadily, grasping the half-empty bottle of scotch by the neck, and retreated to his study upstairs, the rest of the company relaxed. The younger adults dispersed to put their overexcited offspring to bed. Bo begged to be the one to bathe Alyson’s baby. How she missed those days when the girls were tiny little dependent beings and she could answer their every need! The men went outside to smoke and talk sports. Don followed them, leaving Sallyann, Susan, a couple of the older female grandchildren to clear the table.

Suddenly, a roar reverberated down the stairs shaking the chandelier in the foyer and startling the women in the dining room.

“What the hell –! Get up here!”

Sallyann had not heard her father shout so loud since before his emphysema developed. It instantly took her back to her teenage years when shouting matches between the two of them were a weekly occurrence. She rushed up the stairs with Susan close behind. They stopped at their father’s open study door.

“What’s happened?” The question was superfluous. Eli was standing at his desk. His face was crimson and his breath was coming in gasps. One of the desk drawers had evidently been wrenched open, the wood splintered around the lock. It rested at the old man’s feet, completely empty.

Chapter 10 by Linnie

Bo hadn’t offered to carry the baby for Alyson, but instead just followed them upstairs to the bath. At seven months this little one was an armful, and after three glasses of champagne Bo felt certain that the party was fragile enough without her dropping any babies down the stairs. Still the champagne felt good. “Perhaps I’ll have another glass,” she thought to herself, “later.”

Her fifty years of marriage did not truly feel like reason to celebrate, but she was vaguely happy anyway, and this puzzled her as she climbed the steps behind Alyson and the baby. Then her tipsy mind tripped across the memory of her Englishman, an opportunity, like still-unspoken wishes owed her by a fairy godmother. She smiled and, if he had been there to see, Eli might have thought she looked young enough for her blond hair after all.

Alyson gathered up a hooded towel, diaper and sleeper from the guest room, then they moved to the big bathroom off the hall. Bo ran the warm water in the tub while Alyson made a game of undressing the baby. He was tired and fussy but smiled when his mother lowered him into the warm, shallow water. “There you go Jacob,” Alyson said. She kneeled beside the bathtub, and Bo sat close by on a wicker bench. The baby sat up straight and splashed, then frowned when the water got in his eyes.

Bo thought about his name. There was no short version she could imagine so she didn’t try. She reached and handed him a plastic rattle, something Alyson had carried in with the clothes. “Hey sweet pea,” Bo said. “Is this yours?” He took the toy and smacked it hard into the water so that all three of them were spattered, then he burst into tears. Almost immediately he wound this up into a mad baby roar that had Bo standing up in astonishment. “I believe he takes after Eli,” she said sadly, but the baby was so loud that Alyson didn’t hear.

Then Bo heard something else, outside the bathroom, and she turned her head to listen. Next came the sound of running up the stairs, and alarmed voices. Why in God’s green earth could there not be thirty minutes without a disaster? She looked down at the blue silk of her dress, with the dark spots of Jacob’s bath water scattered across it like blood from a shooting. The baby caught his breath and lamented again. Alyson drew him from the tub and held him, wrapped in his towel now, with the cute corner hood over his red, angry little head. Bo patted the baby on the back as she moved to the door.

********

At sixteen, Hannah’s daughter Stephanie was anti-domestic. She saw her mother as a household slave, and not accomplished even at that—Stephanie wanted better. At the same time she was tuned into appearances, and in this extended-family venue, she was certain that she knew how to look good and get points. It was more than just a cutting-edge fashion statement like the lime green mini skirt and cashmere pullover. She also tried to behave like heaven’s gift to adults, to impress them all. As soon as she saw her grandfather stagger away toward the stairs she stood up and began to stack dishes. When she got to the kitchen she found her aunts, Susan and Sallyann, and felt certain that their uncomfortable looks had to do with their surprise at her helpfulness. She smiled and made another trip to the table, and the aunts followed her back to help. That’s when they all heard Eli’s thundering shout from above.

While Susan and Sallyann ran to the stairs, Stephanie went out the kitchen door in search of adults. She marched up to her father, who stood talking with her Uncle Brian and Aunt Nora’s skuzzy almost-step-son Jess– he was the only one smoking. She could feel Jess’s eyes on her body and she kind of posed for that even though he was a nothing. “Dad,” she declared in a loud voice. It adequately interrupted the conversation.

“What’s up honey?” Don said. He was proud of his attractive daughter, but he couldn’t help stepping a little to be between her and Jess.

She spoke clearly, to them all. “Major shit has hit some fan,” she said. It was vulgar, and she usually tried to be effective without vulgarity, but she was pretty sure Jess would appreciate it and she just couldn’t quite help herself. He rewarded her with a big smile which she barely managed to not return.

“What are you talking about?” Brian asked. He smiled too. Her dad was the only one who didn’t seem to appreciate her colorful language.

“It’s Grandpa. He went upstairs and now he’s bellowing up there about something. The aunts went running—Susan and Sallyann. Where’s Mom?”

Jess tipped his head back and whistled. “You-all should sell tickets for this circus,” he said, and he wandered off toward his dad’s camper. Brian headed toward the house.

Don glanced around. “Where is your mom?” he asked. Then, “Steph, go find her and tell her there’s trouble. I’m going inside.”

“Can’t Ben do it?” Stephanie said in her whiney, at-home voice again. “I helped with dishes!”

“Find her!” Don shouted back over his shoulder. He gave one more glance–what was Hannah thinking, letting Stephanie wear that indecently short skirt?

**********

At the door of her father’s study Sallyann had looked quickly from the panicked and gasping old man to the gaping hole in the walnut desk where the locked drawer had been pried out of its place. As she entered the room she saw that this drawer had ended up, empty, on the floor, tipped against the leg of the leather swivel chair. This room was a crime scene of some sort, and she found herself trying to put the details together even as she considered who from the party would have been available and motivated to have done this thing, whatever it was.

Susan entered the room at almost the same instant but her attention was immediately focused on her distressed father. He continued to cough and struggle and would not sit down even when she tried to push him into his leather desk chair. “Daddy please just relax and breathe!” she begged.

There was an inhaler lying on the desk and she reached for it, then was horrified when her father slapped her hand, hard, as if she were a wicked child stealing icing off a cake. He shook his head madly. “Evidence,” he said, but the word came from his mouth in just a whisper.

“Oh for Christ’s sake!” Susan cried. “What does evidence matter when you can’t breathe?” Her slapped hand still stung, but she grabbed the inhaler and held it to his mouth. He dropped himself into the chair at last.

Sallyann completed a careful assessment of the room. She turned toward him and spoke in a clear voice that Susan heard as cold. “What was in that drawer?” Eli stared away from her. His weak breathing still sounded painful and he didn’t reply. Sallyann gripped her sister’s shoulder. “You told me there were twenty thousand dollars in this house. Was the money in that drawer?”

Susan glared at her. “I think we need a doctor, not an interrogation,” she said. But she was forced now to consider the cash she had left with him, in that room, just a few hours earlier. “Oh Daddy,” she whispered then, and he glanced at her, but still he spoke no words. Sallyann watched them both and listened.

Eli’s mind had become a muddled whirl of anger, fear and whiskey. He closed his eyes and felt a tiny little wave of appreciation, or maybe love, for Susan, who had helped him breathe in spite of himself. This warmth dissolved like smoke in a hurricane of suspicion, resentment and greed—all the inspiration for the scam against his own children. Surely this horrible theft of his money was proof positive that they deserved it, but that perceived validation didn’t do much to stop his panic and remorse. The always-locked drawer was completely empty. The money was gone–and so were its other contents. He needed to remember.

He felt the neck of the whiskey bottle, still in his clenched hand. He had gripped it like a savior, but it had been no help at all, as undependable as his family. He couldn’t think. The locked drawer. What else had he secured in there, that had been discovered, and taken? Oh God, there were the letters. And worse, three photographs. Now the loss of control became almost unbearable. He felt sick to his stomach. Susan saw him go pale and held the waste basket toward him, just in time.

She stared at him. He suddenly seemed to be a different person. They said he was bankrupt, and clearly he was sick, and now even the bit of money she had repaid him appeared to be gone. She felt an inexplicable relief, and tried to sort it for herself as she held the waste basket beneath his bent head. Somehow they were equals now, just people of a family, bound by love and free of heartless walls of money. Free of money? That’s how it felt. She stroked his hair, and didn’t even notice the tears running down her own face.

As he recovered Eli wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and the gold cufflink hurt his lips. Then he sat back with closed eyes. Susan leaned to his ear, and whispered, and to him her whisper sounded like the voice of a little child, one who knew nothing of the world. “You don’t need what was in that drawer, Daddy,” she said. “We’ll take care of you!”

Sallyann caught her words, and turned away in irritation. She believed that art and rationality were opposing forces, and had always felt that Susan proved the theory perfectly. Someone in this caring family was a thief. She turned on her heel and went out the door, just as Bo was coming in. But there was no time to speak with her and anyway, Susan was the child who could comfort their mother best. Sallyann was the problem solver, and whatever had occurred here was one huge problem.

Chapter 11– Kimber Stonehouse

The thief laid out the haul from the desk drawer, and didn’t believe, couldn’t believe in luck. Life was hard, unyielding, and often the only luck was bad: tripping while robbing a house, or having a flat on the ‘get away’ car. But there it was, Luck, staring up from beneath the cash. The cash was the reason for the theft. There was no way to leave that money hidden while everyone whispered of the impending bankruptcy and no inheritance. With the cash, the inheritance was already inherited! But this treasure, luck, and fortune locked in the same drawer was even better.

Finding the letters and pictures buried beneath the cash, whispered one word to the thief: Power. But first, the thief would need some assistance, someone smarter and more experienced. Why? Because the weapon must be wielded with skill and dexterity to prevent the prey from escaping or admitting his guilt. The web of deceit would ensnare as many victims as possible for the thief learning to blackmail. More victims meant more guilt, and more guilt equaled more money. Even families who were destitute would pay to keep their secrets safe. The thief had much to plan.

**********

Lost in reverie, Hannah finally looked up realizing someone was repeating her name over and over again. Stephanie was standing next to her, and nearly shouting, ‘Mom. Mom.’ As soon as Hannah looked at Stephanie, she stated: ‘Dad said for you to head up to the house, some major crap is coming down, and he thought you should be with the Aunts.’ ‘Wh-What happened?’ stumbled Hannah. ‘I don’t know, I heard Grandpa shouting, the Aunts went running, and Dad told me to find you. Why don’t you go find out? They’re your weird family.’ As she flounced away, Hannah wondered, ‘When did she get that mini skirt? I don’t remember letting her buy something quite that short!’

Sallyann nearly flattened Hannah as they met at the doorway. On her way out, her feet flying as her mind flitted from one suspect to the next. The group of Nora’s was one big nest of suspicious, thieving rats. And she would find the one who stepped over the line once and for all.

Hannah narrowly turned aside to avoid the collision, putting her hand out to steady Sallyann asking ‘What is going on?’ Sallyann started in the middle and went backwards and forwards at the same time. ‘Hold on, hold on. At the beginning, please. Start with Dad finally leaving dinner with his Scotch & highball glass.’ Sallyann took a deep breath,

and filled in the blanks for Hannah. ‘Seriously, a thief, here? One of us? Are you sure?’ Hannah was flabbergasted. ‘No way Daddy would have allowed such a thing. How could this have happened? And where did he get that kind of money, I thought you said he was filing bankruptcy tomorrow.’

‘I know what I said, but that was this morning, and now it’s evening. Things have changed. I’ll find out which one of Nora’s bunch stole the money. It had to be one of her group; none of them even understand the concept of a job, let alone owning something they actually paid for. Did you know they ‘borrowed’ the camper that their using? Borrowed! As in STOLEN. I’m heading over there now to get some answers to some very specific questions.’

‘Sallyann, Sallyann, wait! You can’t just barge in there, guns blazing, and hair on fire to demand they return the money. What, no, no, just hear me out, what if they are all innocent of the theft? How hurt do you think Nora will be? I’m serious. They’ve been her family for years, and while we don’t agree with her choices… Let’s proceed with caution, and facts.’

Sallyann took a deep breath, and realized that for once, Hannah was right. Maybe she needed a plan before taking on Nora’s clan, because one misstep, and they’d tighten ranks against her, and everyone else with a question.

**********

He heard Susan whisper ‘We’ll take care of you,’ and he was stunned. He wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe that the provider would be provided for in the future. That he could relax his demands and his daughters would be there for him, not just for Bo, but for both of them. Control. Power. Money. These were his task masters, and they were a demanding lot, but to relax his guard and be free was a temptation. He must resist.

He pushed himself up as Bo flew in the door, ‘What’s Happened?’ She took in the scene, her husband weak and ill, and then the broken desk drawer. ‘What was in there? What were you hiding?’ forgetting in her shock that she was addressing her husband! She paused and waited to be rebuked, but Susan quietly answered, ‘Some business papers, right Daddy?’

Eli sighed, and forced himself to take control of them, and their women’s gossip. ‘Yes, we have a thief, and no one sleeps until we find out who it is! I will not have my house defiled and dishonored!’ He pushed Susan aside, reached for his cigarettes, and began to contemplate where to begin his search. He needed to plot, plan, and regain control. Then he would deal with the thief.

Susan bereft of her Father’s need turned to her Mother. Bo was in shock that someone would steal from Eli. She wasn’t sure how anyone could have found the nerve to defy him. And it was her home, too! How could someone be so cruel as to ruin their 50th Anniversary Party. It was Eli and his bankruptcy lies that led to this mess. The Champagne-induced freedom she had felt earlier was gone, and left was the bitter taste of deceit and unhappiness. She took Susan’s hand, and moved swiftly out of the office, ‘Come with me.’

**********

Of Eli’s brothers only one was still alive. He had outlived his beloved wife, buried two of his children, and still couldn’t understand Eli’s fascination with money and control. He’d never had control of his own life, kinda figured fate didn’t have that in her plans for him. If she did, she’d never let him know. He lived his life on the sea, and like the sea, he shifted with the wind and the current. The less you resisted, the more you drifted. That was his motto, and it had served him well.

He was mildly successful as a fisherman, and that kept food on the table. But what he really loved was the chartered boat trips for scuba divers. He had realized early on that diving along the coast would become profitable for the right Captain, and it was going to be him. He refitted his boat bit by bit to accommodate the divers’ gear, tanks, and even added more bunks and a fantastic galley.

The divers came from near and far to charter his dive boat for the weekend. He loved the time at sea with these adventurers. All of them, men and women had a freedom and love for life and daring that he’d never seen. Their life with the sea began when they entered the water! After he lost his wife, the scuba chartering became his solace. Yeah, he still fished, but being surrounded by divers replaced the loss in his life with their zest for living.

However, this weekend, he was a landlubber. He was attending this sham of a 50th Anniversary Party for his brother Eli, and Josiah knew the bankruptcy was a lie. He’d known his conniving, controlling brother for far too long to fall for that. Besides, Eli had only ever had one passion, and that was making money. Sometimes risking it on a lost venture, but that was just something that came with owning your own business. Not every venture was a profitable one. But Eli usually beat the odds on most of his gambles with his Hale Hauling business. So, that left the question, what was up his sleeve? And how would his beautiful daughters and wife pay for his deceit?

**********

Finally, Lizette and Nora had the little one down. Too much sugar, excitement, and then the Bouncy Castle. It had taken both of them telling stories, singing, and even pretending to go to sleep, but finally the little one was out cold. Still a little sticky, but drooling in his sleep, dreaming of all the fun things he’d do tomorrow.

Jess and Randy were smoking a little weed, and grooving some blues on the guitars. The ‘real’ band had been a no show, but given all the crazies and turmoil, it seemed they weren’t even missed. Randy was sure that stick in the mud Sallyann would eventually miss them and probably sue them for ruining her party planning. That’s what attorneys did, right? They sued people over every little thing. Them and their fancy, smancy education. They shoved it down normal people’s throats like they were a god or something.

Jess winced, ‘Hey Dad, quit frowning. You’re making the tunes all stressed. Relax and jam. That’s the plan.’

**********

The thief had made contact with the experienced one. Soon the plans would be in place, and begin to take shape. A bit of justice on the old man, and a guaranteed inheritance, what more could any person want.

Chapter 12 by Heather C. Williams

Word Count: 2295

“Let go of me, Mama.” Susan pulled away from Bo and Bo’s face crumpled.

“I have something to tell you, Susan. Come with me downstairs.”

As Eli ordered other family members about the house, desperate to find the thief, Susan and Bo found a quiet corner of the living room on the first floor.

Bo’s anniversary party was ruined. Though she felt some shadow of loyalty to her marriage and her ill husband on this grand occasion, the sparkle she’d felt at slipping on her silk dress had been snuffed out under the onslaught of Eli’s lies and shouting. How could it hurt to divulge her little secret to Susan now?

Nobody paid attention to the two women as they huddled in comfy green chairs and Bo leaned towards her daughter. After a pause, she said, “I’ve met someone.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve met someone. I see him at the park where I walk Callie sometimes. His name is Clyde, and he’s from England.”

Susan stared at her curiously for a moment, then looked out the window into the sky outside, which was just turning a deep blue, though the hour was growing close to nine. Those long Seattle summer days, remembrances from her childhood. “Mother…”

Although the Hale girls had had to endure much torment in their childhood, this was the family that they were used to. Fighting against their father’s control had become a way of life for them. Though he no longer really frightened any of them, except for maybe Nora, the thought of the family coming apart at the seams was distressing to Susan, especially considering the belligerent father for whom she had a strange affection—the one who’d saved her life on the sea when she was young, the one who paid her gambling debt. The one whom she’d tried to pay back, and who’d made it clear her help was not needed once that money was stolen. He’d pushed her aside. Now her mother was telling her that this complicated, seflish, obnoxious man was not enough for even her passive soul. Susan didn’t blame her, but it was a lot to take in at such a stressful time.

“Mama… when did this happen?”

Given this opening, Bo grinned helplessly. “About eight months ago. He was so dapper and wonderful. Oh, Susie… I’m in love with him, and he loves me.”

A dapper Englishman in love with her mother? Susan loved Bo, but it was difficult to see what an old gentleman would see in her. Perhaps someone to worship him? Or could it honestly be love at first sight? Could there be hope for her poor, passive, mother whose life had been so wasted? Yet, how could she say it was wasted? Wasted on Eli, certainly, but what about the girls? Though Bo’s marriage was unfortunate, no one could say that she had not been a good mother, and a good grandmother no less, though Susan had no first-hand experience of this aspect of Bo. Maybe it was possible, just possible, that there was some spark of life in Bo, something beyond the roles that she’d slipped into, unresisting. Could the twilight of her life harbor some resistance at last? Susan saw a distant possibility of such a revolution, if there were a sufficient catalyst.

“Okay, so… how serious is this thing, Mama? What are we talking about here?”

“Well, at first it started at the park. Since then, we’ve met up several times for coffee.”

“How did you avoid father finding out?”

“Oh, he works so hard during the week; he doesn’t care what I do or where I go. As long as Callie isn’t begging him for a walk when he gets home, he’s happy. I make sure that she gets her walk. A long walk. The only problem is…”

Susan put her hand on her mother’s knee. “What is it, Mama?”

“You see… he doesn’t know I’m married. I lost my wedding ring two years ago and Eli has been too cheap to replace it. It’s not that I tried to hide it from Clyde, I just… I never told him.”

“Oh, Mama…”

“I’m so afraid of what Clyde will think. I’ve always tried to be good. I’m not the kind of woman who would cheat on her husband. I don’t want to do the wrong thing. I said “’til death do us part,’ and I believe that honey, I really do, despite who Eli is. But he’s been so sick, you see… is it wrong for me to wish for a little happiness? Is it wrong for me to feel relieved at the thought of him being removed from my life… from all of our lives? That one last obstacle, and I could be free, and I wouldn’t have to lie to Clyde…”

Despite Susan’s apprehension at the possibility of huge changes in her family, she became a little exasperated with what she saw as naivete on the part of her mother. Susan, the recovered gambling addict, had seen more of the world than her sheltered forbear could have imagined. “Mama, you don’t have to lie to him at all. This is 2012. Why don’t you just tell him the truth? If he’s a good man, he’ll see that you’re not a horrible person for having made the mistake of marrying one.”

“Maybe you’re right, Darling… maybe you’re right.”

There was no light on above them and the sky was deepening outside, but Susan thought she could see traces of tears on her mother’s darkened face. What she couldn’t see was Stephanie, crouched around the corner, hearing a conversation that was never meant for her ears and wondering in her teenage brain what to do with this new information. Stephanie waited a few minutes until they had stopped talking, then nonchalantly opened the front door and shut it again to make it sound like she’d just entered the house.

She came out of the entryway and peeked into the living room on the right, showing herself. “Oh, Aunt Susan. Did everybody figure out what was going on?”

Susan collected herself and said, “no, honey—why don’t you go find your mom and maybe head for bed? This is a problem that the rest of us will have to deal with.”

Stephanie, annoyed at being talked to like a child, but relieved that her ploy had worked, nodded and headed for the stairs. She felt a little sorry for Grandma Bo and her predicament, but felt like this was a secret that was too big for her alone…

*************

Eli had sent the others out of his study so that he could sit with the broken drawer and consider how best to proceed. He fingered the gold cufflink on his left sleeve. It had been bold to wear them to the party considering who had given them to him. He had thought Bo too stupid to realize that they weren’t old, but she had glanced at them, and he couldn’t tell what she had been thinking.

He remembered when it had all started fifteen years ago. An innocent smile in that young face. He’d pushed himself so hard with his work, and Bo was fading faster and faster as the days went by. His greed, his cantankerousness, had isolated him, and work was his only solace. Work, and that face that he saw every day.

At first it started out as a flirtation. He’d been fifty-seven then; he was now seventy-two. She had been a young-looking thirty-five, unmarried and hard at work as his secretary at Hale Trucking. She’d shared an office with Layton, a twenty-two-year-old recent college graduate in accounting who kept books—and secrets.

It happened one day when she was especially vulnerable—her mother had just passed away and she was weeping, but before she left to deal with the unpleasantness of wills and estates, she had to do some yearly file-shredding which, smooth as a sheet through a new laser printer, she always accomplished on New Year’s Day. Unlike Bo, she was organized, important, self-reliant. Losing her as a secretary would have been like losing an arm.

That New Year’s Day fifteen years ago as she loaded heavy file boxes into her beige Ford Escort, Eli watched her from the window of the main office, appreciating the conservative, yet suggestive navy knee-length skirt and the soft curves underneath. She often wore skirts even when it was cold—the one impracticality she normally allowed herself.

Not knowing what possessed him, when she came back in to collect another box, he stood in front of the small remaining pile. He grinned. “Don’t haul. Call Hale,” he said, and hefted the top box himself. She protested, of course, but in her emotional turmoil she was grateful for the help.

Neither of them remembered who made the first move, who planted the first kiss, but one kiss led to another, which led to the boss’ desk after hours, or the janitor’s closet, or perhaps if they were feeling intrepid, to the roomy back of one of Eli’s fine fleet of hauling trucks. If Bo ever called during these trysts, Eli would feign ignorance and say later that he was out with the boys. Of course, Layton covered for him. He paid the boy well enough.

When she told him she was pregnant, and they found out the baby was a boy, he had felt over the moon. He took care of her financially, of course—a discreetly kept mistress, and she was loyal to him. She’d saved up her pay and given him the gold cufflinks for the fifteenth anniversary of their first kiss, since they had no legally recognized union to celebrate. The irony that those tiny gold cufflinks symbolized someone who was everything to him while the overblown weekend was a celebration of a fifty-year sham was not lost on him.

And then there was the drawer, and the money, and the letters, and the pictures. He thought hard. He’d been in his study up until going down to dinner, and many of the partygoers had already gotten up by the time he left with his Scotch. Who would have known about the money? Who would have had the opportunity? For the most part, he trusted that his own daughters wouldn’t betray him. Bo had no backbone. He remembered Don at the party almost the whole time pouring drinks, then heading into the kitchen to talk with the women.

He took a shuddering breath. Whoever the thief was, he would have to ask for help. His immediate family could never find out about those letters from his love, or the pictures of her and their secret son, of whom he was both so proud and so ashamed—the ironic son who could carry on his DNA, but never his family name. No one could be allowed to find out about his love for Betty.

*****

Susan and Bo had peeked into the study and Susan announced that she was seeing Bo to bed. Eli waved them on. If anyone was going to help him, it wouldn’t be either of them.

After Susan had seen Bo to bed, she decided that she was going to turn in too, no matter what her father said. If he’d already refused her help, then there wasn’t a lot she could do about the situation until she’d gotten some sleep, and she wished that everyone else would follow suit.

Her teeth were clean, and she would shower in the morning. It was Saturday night—only one day left of this crazy weekend. She was saddened by her parents’ bankruptcy announcement, but at least they’d found a lawyer who was willing to work with them and file on a Sunday. That must have been part of their strategy somehow. She’d heard of weekend filing before, so she didn’t particularly question it.

As she entered the room in the house that she and Brian shared together, she fumbled for the switch on the bedside lamp and cursed as her mouth guard box was knocked to the floor and popped open, neatly ejecting her mouth guard under the bed. She got the light on, and knelt down to find the wayward crescent of plastic and metal.

Looking under the bed, she reached out and caught hold of the mouth guard. She would have to go rinse it off; it was covered in dog hair—apparently her parents didn’t keep the doors closed when guests weren’t around.

Just then, something caught her eye—a packet of stuff at the far corner of the bed by the wall. She lay down on the floor and shoved her arm back as far as she could (she was grateful to have been gifted with long arms; it came in handy when she had to gesticulate grandly on stage). It was far back, though. She grunted slightly with the effort.

Pulling it out, she felt her chest constrict. It was two envelopes. She stood, too fast, and was dizzy for a split second, then sank onto the bed. Thinking quickly, she stood again and shut the door, then returned to the bed. She looked in the first envelope. It was the cash! But why in their room?

Before she could look into the second envelope, the door opened and Brian stepped in. Shutting the door behind him, he took in a breath. “Susan. I should have hid it better, but I didn’t have time–”

“Brian!” Susan let the two envelopes flop onto the bed, still without looking in the second one. “What the hell is this? I was trying to pay Dad back!”

Chapter 13 by Becky N

Brian’s expression of both fear and pride resonated about his face. Susan’s mind began to spin. Her heart began beating faster and her palms grew sweaty. She was responsible for bringing this man into her parents’ home, how could he betray her? He has always been so sweet, caring, supportive, and hard working. Why did he do it? She was just about to ask when there was a quiet knock on the door. She quickly stashed the envelopes back under the bed and in her calmest voice possible asked, “Who is it?”

“It’s me,” Hannah quietly called through the door.

“Just a sec,” Susan said as she gave Brian a frantic look. She opened the door slightly as if to shield Hannah from the rest of the room. “What’s up?”

She looked at her sister, exhausted from the day, “Just thought you might want to talk about the day. It’s been an odd one.”

“Sure,” Susan replied, “let me just grab my coat.” She didn’t want to seem unusual or crazed like she actually felt. She turned away, grabbed her jacket, and whispered in Brian’s ear, “Stay here. We’ll talk about it when I get back.” And arm in arm the two girls walked toward the river.

Susan tried to keep her emotions in check and focused on her sister. She didn’t know if she could hide her feelings from her, but she could at least try. Hannah, oblivious to her sister’s emotions, began discussing the day. Hannah and Susan shared a unique bond unlike any of the other sisters. Maybe it was their natural agreeable natures or maybe it was just their fondness for their mother, either way, they could always count on each other to share their secrets. And boy, did they have secrets tonight. As they walked along the path toward the river, the bright moon guided their steps. Hannah started the conversation by mentioning the surprise turn of events, both the bankruptcy and the theft. Susan nodded and agreed with everything Hannah shared, careful as not to spill any of her secrets just yet. When Hannah began stipulating who could have stolen the money, Susan blurted out, “It was obviously one of Nora’s people.”

“Yeah,” Hannah replied and she hoped it was. She and Don had a fine marriage, much better than her parents for certain, but there was always an air of mystery about him. She shared with Susan, “I would never steal from dad, but we could have used the money that was in that drawer.”

“How do you know there was money in it?” Susan defensively responded. She didn’t want anyone knowing about her debts or gambling problems.

“What else would Dad care about that deeply?” replied Hannah. Susan had no response. Obviously it was just the money, but if Dad never knew he was going to receive it until today, what made him get so upset?

Susan stopped in her tracks. Her mind was racing a mile a minute and she feared any more discussion about this issue would result in her slipping up either about the gambling debt or worse, that Brian had stolen the money. She had other secrets to tell that night and figured they were less important than the ones she needed to keep hidden. “I have to tell you something.” She whispered to Hannah.

Hannah, who was always ready for gossip responded, “What, what?”

“I was talking to mom today and she is…in love.”

“She loves dad?” Hannah asked in a confused tone uncertain about that being even possible.

“No, another man!” Susan clarified.

Instantly Susan knew she had betrayed her mother. Hannah was the worst at keeping her mouth shut, especially when it was this juicy. But this information did exactly what she had wanted, she was sure that Hannah would talk of nothing else for the rest of their walk back. Hannah began badgering Susan with questions about when it started, who was the guy, were they “doing it,” and other pestering queries. Susan tried to use discretion and answered them as quickly as she could. Her guilty conscious for sharing her mom’s secret was overwhelming. She didn’t know all the answers to her sister’s questions either.

Hannah, sensing uneasiness in Susan, began to back off. She wanted to know all of the details, but didn’t want to pressure her sister either. Just knowing this secret was enough. She thought about her dad and how terrible of a husband he had been. She was happy for her mom, but she also feared what would happen if her dad found out. When Susan felt as though they were in ear shot of the house, she asked to keep this a secret between them. They said goodnight and Hannah headed back inside to collect her family, her brain reveling in this new discovery.

As Susan made her way back to her room, she paused at the door. What was she to do? Why did Brian betray her and her family? She slowly opened the door and walked into a dark room. Brian was in bed and appeared to be sleeping. She got undressed slipped into her pajamas and settled into bed. She wrestled with whether or not she should wake him up to discuss this or not. Maybe it would all be better in the morning?

No, she knew what happened when you put things off. She was a gambling addict and although she hadn’t gambled in years, she knew she could easily slip back into the mentality of not taking responsibility. She gently shook Brian awake. As she began to ask him why he stole the money, a loud “BOOM” echoed from outside. In an instant lights inside the house were on and feet were shuffling up and down the stairs. Susan and Brian climbed out of bed to see what happened ignoring the conversation that was eating at their minds.

Eli came running down the stairs with his shotgun in hand. Baby Jacob was screeching at the top of his lungs while his mom and Bo tried to comfort him. As Eli trudged out the door, Brian, Sallyann, and Susan followed. In the driveway, Hannah and Don were packing up the kids and had turned toward the sound. The noise came from just behind Nora’s camper.

“Idiots,” Eli muttered under his breath. As they came around the corner they saw Jess and Randy drunk and out of control. They were laughing so hard calling out to Nora and Liz,

“Did you see that?”

With his shotgun aimed right at Randy, Eli began yelling, “Did you steal my money? Where is it? I know you did it! And I let you into my home!”

Nora didn’t know where to turn. She thought of all the people who were at the dinner and knew Randy was the most likely one to steal it. In fact, he had stolen things from her before. She thought he had changed in prison. He promised to be a better man and a real husband, now this? She didn’t want to defend him if he actually did do it, so she just stood by watching, hoping Randy would give her father his money.

Randy was wasted. After smoking pot all day and then drinking more than he could handle after dinner, he was unafraid and unashamed. He began cussing out Eli for being so stingy and a terrible dad. His anger grew and his voice became louder and louder. Eli countered by matching his tone and his volume.

Brian was perplexed. Maybe, he thought, it would all go away if Randy admitted to it? But sooner or later, Eli would find out the truth. That is after all what Brian wanted; he wanted to hold over Eli’s head what he found out. He wanted the power. Susan also kept her mouth shut. As hard as it was to see Nora’s “family” on the outskirts, it was much better than outing her and her husband. She kept her head low and prayed for it all to end soon.

The screaming match continued until Eli who was already short of breath could take it no longer. Randy, who would not admit to stealing anything, began packing up their stuff. He was not going to stay on this man’s property.

He called out, “Nora, let’s go.” But Nora was torn, it was still her parents’ weekend and she hated seeing her father so upset.

As Nora was tormented with the decision about what to do, Hannah stepped in, “She can stay with us for the night.”

Randy countered, “She is my fiancé; she is going home with me.”

Nora could not handle another fighting match, she quietly said, “I’m going to stay with Hannah tonight. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Randy stormed off into the truck. Thankfully, Lizette got behind the wheel and they were off. By this time it was late and everyone was exhausted from the day’s events.

Every member of the Hale family crawled into their own beds, eyes shut tightly, and brains still churning.

Chapter 14 by Sean Dwyer

1871 words

When Seneca Bodene awoke to screaming, he knew what had made Eli cut loose. Not that Eli couldn’t come up with a dozen reasons for screaming.  But now that he didn’t have the breath for screaming, it had to be big. And Seneca knew about tonight’s biggest trouble.

This party, like the one for Sallyann’s graduation, and like the tea where Eli had started drooling over Minnie, owed its tension to Eli’s behavior. This time, though, someone had gotten back at Eli, stuffed greedy deceit down the craw of the man who had generated so much of it himself.

On the occasion of these few Hale family gatherings, Seneca couldn’t help but remember how close he had come to making Eli’s first visit to the Bodene home his last. Something about the gawky, ill-mannered, disdainful college student had rubbed Seneca the wrong way immediately. He could always tell when some kid thought his dad had been stupid for giving his kids Classical names. Even a kid named Homer had snickered at Seneca’s name once, but just once—Seneca had gone for a copy of the Odyssey and made Homer eat his namesake’s words. Well, the title page, at least, before his sister Helen had stopped him.

Apart from the annoyance over the names, Eli had made it obvious that he was at the tea to keep his grade up. Funny, that, since tonight he was screening his own flesh and blood to see which of them were here just to keep their inheritance. Seneca could understand his wanting to see that the girls didn’t let their husbands make a mess of the Hale money, but Eli was no one to complain about expedience.

When Seneca saw himself in his mind’s eye, he didn’t see a balding man with wispy white hair, a blotchy complexion, and a small gut. He saw the Indian he had been the day of the tea, the day he had felt his gut churn when Eli had almost gagged on the boiled egg he was gulping down. Seneca also knew instinctively which boys were poor as dirt, and since Eli was one of them, seeing his glance at Minnie turn into a riveted stare was enough to trigger Seneca’s best defense mechanisms.

He had grabbed his headdress and his tomahawk from his bedroom and slipped out the French door into the shrubs. From there, he lay in wait for the dark-haired, hungry invader, the paleface who had come to scalp his sister. At every opportunity, Seneca jumped out and roared at Eli. The goal was to make him show his true colors, make him take a swing at Seneca, kick at him, even give him a tongue-lashing. Anything to get his fake calm to cede to his true self and sully his reputation before Minnie had even decided what that reputation was.

But before Seneca could break the spell Eli was casting, Dad had ordered him to stop bothering the boy, who clearly had a hard row to hoe. A year later, Dad had told Seneca how much he regretted asking Seneca to lay off. Chasing Eli from the tea would have been a huge blessing to the family.

Every time Seneca showed up at a Hale gathering, Eli did something to show how poor a choice Minerva, now disdainfully rechristened Bo, had made when she let Eli seduce her. Eli couldn’t even respect his own lawyer daughter enough to eat something other than steamer clams to celebrate her hard work and success. And tonight, Seneca, all but forgotten at the corner of the adult table, had thought that Eli, in announcing his bankruptcy, had finally gotten his payback.

When everyone started murmuring about the debacle, though, Seneca thought it through. Eli was far too arrogant to admit such a crushing defeat to his children, much less to Nora’s trailer-trash ex-con, who would soon go back to prison for lifting the camper. Seneca hoped he’d get caught before he could get Nora to tie the knot. Yet, if Nora went down as well, it might be the wake-up call she needed.

With Randy sitting at the table, Eli’s announcement felt more like a ruse. Would Eli say such a thing just to get Randy to give up on his meal ticket? Seneca thought it was possible, but Eli wasn’t interested enough in Nora’s welfare to give her such a gift. No, Eli, who always thought big, had something huge in mind.

As if to confirm Seneca’s suspicions, Bo caught his eye, and in her gaze he saw misery without desperation. Concern for what Eli was doing to the family, yes, but no fear of finding herself in the street. That was when Seneca relaxed and decided to enjoy the ride. He wasn’t wicked; he could rest.

Before the howling began, Seneca had repaired to the room Bo was always kind enough to provide him when he visited. He didn’t mind the trip in from Poulsbo to see his favorite sister, but day trips, with the hated wait for the ferry, made for one tired Seneca. Perhaps because she was older, Bo knew how taxing the trip was becoming. His room, not the biggest, but the farthest from Eli’s, suited him well enough that he visited her more often than he did Helen, who also lived on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Seneca was having trouble calming his anger when he sat down in the recliner Bo had installed in the room, and he picked up a Sherman Alexie book in hopes of coming across a fictional family that was more miserable than his real one. A light tap at the door roused him from a story about donkey basketball, and he was about to call out when a figure slipped into the room.

Once the light hit the face, Seneca raised his eyebrows. Brian, coming for a visit?

“Uncle Seneca, I need your help, and I think you’ll be happy to give it.”

“If you say so. What’s up?”

“First, I have to know. You love your sister?”

“Above all.”

“You hate Eli?”

“Above most things. Less than earwigs. And tarantulas.”

“Do you want to ruin his party?”

“He ruined it himself.”

“Ruin it for him.”

Seneca pursed his lips.

“That might be enjoyable.”

“How does some revenge, with financial gain, sound?”

“I don’t need money. But Eli lives for it, so if the revenge costs him, I’m all ears.”

Brian rubbed his hands together. Seneca couldn’t believe anyone ever really did that, and he wondered if he should listen to Brian’s idea. Could a guy who rubbed his hands together at the prospect of revenge really come up with a good plan?

“Susan brought some money to him.”

Seneca smiled. That would get Eli off her back.

“And I just stole it back.”

Seneca’s heart skipped a beat, and he put a hand to his chest.

“Don’t you want her off the hook? Why would she let you do that?”

“She didn’t. She doesn’t know. Not yet.”

Seneca scratched his head while he thought.

“You don’t need me for that.” He looked idly around to see if he could grab a weapon if Brian decided to silence him.

“Ah, but I need you to help me with something I happened to find at the same time.”

“What would that be?”

“In the same drawer where he locked up the money, he had some photos and letters. He has a son!”

Seneca whistled softly.

“Well, that son of a gun.” He drew out the words to match the slowly dawning clarity in his mind. Eli had become more aloof, which meant less negative, over the past couple of decades, and Seneca had wondered if he might be planning to dump Bo for some other gal. He did always seem to have something to fret about, even if it wasn’t day-to-day life with Bo.

“Is the woman blackmailing him?”

“No. But you and I are going to blackmail him.”

Seneca held up his hands.

“Now, wait a minute, Brian. What good would that do us? Eli’s not going to last all that many more years, and then you’ll have your share of the spoils. You can’t enjoy that money in prison. Ask Randy.”

“But I read the letters. I think there’s a decent chance that he’ll throw us all over for this kid.”

Seneca felt himself grow pale. Eli couldn’t leave Bo high and dry. Could he leave her an allowance and will everything to this son upon her death? Maybe so; Seneca was no lawyer, nor was he given to intrigue, like his namesake.

“Eli is in touch with this woman, and this boy?”

Brian nodded vigorously.

“Oh, yeah. Hang onto your hat, Uncle Seneca. He’s been having this affair for maybe fifteen years.”

“How in the world could he keep a secret like that for . . . “

And then an idea struck him.

“Fifteen years?”

Brian nodded encouragingly.

“That’s it, Uncle Seneca. You’re on the right track.”

“Surely not . . . “

“Stranger things have happened, I’d say.”

“I can’t bring myself to say the name, in case I’m wrong.”

“You’re not. It’s Betty.”

Seneca rubbed his face with his hands.

“Of course. I mean, who else? But how could she not have enough brains to see what he’s really like?”

“There’s the real currency of this family at work. Power. Eli has it; now Betty craves it and has power of her own. Mom has none, the girls have none. You and I can give power back to the people who deserve it. And we can do it just in time to keep Eli from pulling off this stunt he’s planning over the next few months.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, he had me fooled, along with everyone else. But it’s all there in the letters. Eli’s faking bankruptcy so he can see who loves him, and who loves his money.”

Seneca decided not to admit to his own suspicions.

“Does he give up his whole plan in these letters?”

Brian shook his head.

“I know that Betty knows he’s testing us. But would he trust her more than he trusts his daughters? It’s hard to say.”

Brian looked at his watch.

“I’d better get back to Susan. What do you think?”

Seneca couldn’t really say no at the moment. If nothing else, he could buy time and then give up Brian later.

“I’m in.”

Brian pumped a fist in silent joy.

“I’ll be in touch.” And he slipped back out of the room.

Seneca picked up the book again, but he realized that even Sherman Alexie couldn’t imagine a family as messed up as this one. He set the book on the table and closed his eyes.

Eli’s screaming about the theft woke Seneca a short while later. That was easy to ignore. But later, after he fell asleep again, a loud boom rattled his window and woke him. Seneca peeked out the window. Soon there was yelling, and Eli brandished a shotgun. Randy and his crew drove off after an argument. The main suspect in the theft was gone for the moment. Seneca had to wonder if that would turn suspicion toward Brian or Don first.

Chapter 15 — Jawahara Saidullah

1680 words

Bo looked behind her furtively as she softly closed the front door behind her. The sun was rising reluctantly in the sky, painting the darkness with streaks of gold, when she reached the canopied clearing at the far end of the park.

“Oh my dear girl,” said Clyde, with evident relief when he spotted her.

“Oh Clyde,” Bo wailed, giving in to her long-denied urge to be a soft, helpless romance-novel heroine.

He held her tightly in his arms, patting her back in soothing motions. She felt protected, loved even.

“There, there,” he said, “Nothing can be that bad my dear.”

“Oh but it is Clyde, it is.”

She sobbed. Bo Hale, despite letting her marriage trap her for so many unhappy years, had a spine of steel. This was something her daughters recognized and her husband ignored.

She sniffled, stopped crying and moved slightly away from him, hugging her arms around her.

“I’m so glad you came,” Clyde said, smiling at her in his usual befuddled, professorial way.

“I wasn’t sure you would be here either,” she said.

“Now then,” he said, “what’s made you so upset? Tell me about it.”

Bo swallowed and then straightened up from her sadly slumped posture. Taking a few more steps away from him she turned around to face Clyde. His narrow, intelligent and bespectacled face and especially his precise diction reminded her of her father, the academician and worshipper of all things proper and English. Clyde would have been her father’s choice of a husband for her. Fifty years too late. She smiled. Then, the weight of what she was about to say wiped the smile away.

“Clyde, I have something to tell you.”

“Why do you look so serious? You’re not a serial murderer, are you?” He smiled, though he looked worried.

“No,” she said seriously, “it’s worse, much worse. I’m…I’m married.”

“Married?” The question shot out of him like a bullet.

“Yes,” she said.

“But,” he spluttered, “I had plans…for us.”

“Oh, don’t you see Clyde, but the truth has set us free. If you…if you can forgive me for not telling you right away we can still have a future together.”

“Oh, I’m not sure,” he muttered, his brilliant blue eyes fixed on the ground. “Married,” he muttered. He turned away.

Bo knew then, that while the truth might set you free there was no guarantee that it would bring you long-denied happiness.

“Okay,” she said, squaring her shoulders, “okay. Goodbye then, Clyde and thank you for…well…for being you.”

She walked away briskly. She could barely see the ground in front of her as tears flowed unchecked from her eyes.

“Wait,” she heard.

She stopped.

“Wait. I…I…just know that I love you.”

“I love you too Clyde.”

“Well then,” he said, “so we will deal with this together.”

“I want a divorce,” she said with a laugh.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he said.

They hugged, kissed and talked before leaving, separately.

Callie met Bo at the door, tongue lolling. She petted the dog’s head absent-mindedly who rewarded her by licking her fingers.

“Where have you been?” Susan asked.

“I decided to go for a walk.”

“At dawn?”

“Yes.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Sallyann’s making French toast,” Susan said.

“She’s even using your recipe,” she said with a smile.

People were drifting in and out of the kitchen, leaving with cups of coffee and plates of breakfast to eat out on the porch. Others remained indoors. Jess sat, uncharacteristically silent, while Alyson sat one end, feeding the baby whose face was a sticky mess as he chortled with delight. Randy and Nora were sitting close together at the other end of the table. They were feeding each other bites of maple-soaked toast and whispering and giggling together.

Susan shuddered in distaste and poured Bo a cup of coffee. Sallyann put the last piece on the giant pile of sweet, eggy bread, then took off her apron and came to sit by them.

From the open window, they could see Brian walking slowly with Seneca, adjusting his stride to match the slower gait of the older man. They were deep in conversation

“Wonder what they’re talking about so intently?” Sallyann mused.

Susan looked worried, biting her nails, as they all walked up to take their slices of French toast. She shrugged in response to Sallyann’s query but her eyes remained fixed on the two men, their figures slowly moving out of direct view.

Loudly she said, “Well, I hope everyone had enough to eat because I’m starving. You snooze, you lose.”

She laughed unsteadily, her eyes not leaving Brian and Seneca.

“Did Dad eat?” Hannah asked as she came in, leaning against the counter where she started a new pot of coffee.

Sallyann shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just the cook. It wasn’t my turn to watch him.”

“Dad,” Hannah called out, “Did you get something to eat? Where are you?”

There was no response.

“Maybe he went for a walk too,” mused Susan, “there seems to be a lot of that going around.”

She forked a sweet mess of French toast into her mouth. Bo avoided her gaze.

“Callie’s still here. He never goes for a walk without her,” Bo said, motioning towards the dog patiently waiting for someone to drop a piece of something, anything on the floor.

“He’ll eat if he’s hungry,” Bo said off-handedly.

“Fine. I’ll go check on him,” said Sallyann, with a sigh.

The door was half-open. Sallyann could see his feet, legs crossed as he leaned back against his chair. He was totally still.

“Dad,” Sallyann called, her voice panicked.

The legs shifted.

“What?” His voice was gruffer than usual.

“Are you all right?” Sallyann ventured.

“For god’s sake, girl, what do you want?”

“Don’t you want something for breakfast?”

“No, I don’t want anything for breakfast. Now leave me alone.”

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and went in.

“Didn’t I tell you to leave me alone? I don’t want any goddamned breakfast.”

“Dad…daddy,” Sallyann said in a tone of wonder, “you’re crying.”

“Be off with you girl,” he said in his usual surly voice.

“Why are you crying?” she asked.

Sallyann realized that none of them had ever seen Eli cry, ever, not even when news of the deaths of his remaining siblings had arrived over the years.

“Well, that’s that then,” he would say when he found out and that would indeed be that.

Now here he was, sitting in his old, worn chair, tears shining in his eyes and he too looked old and worn. Defeated. Sad.

She squatted beside him.

“What’s the matter? Are you in pain? Can I do anything?”

“No,” he said, his voice barely audible.

Sallyann had never felt close to her father. She doubted anyone had felt close to him nor he to them.

But today, this late morning with the room bathed in light clearly showing the cruelty of time etched into his skin, his eyes puffy and watery, his head lowered, she felt close to him. Or at least as close as anyone could ever claim to feel to Eli.

“Well,” she cleared her throat, still not knowing why she was doing this, “everything is not all right with me.”

“What?” he asked aggressively, “what are you talking about?”

“I mean, I’ve been living a lie. I…I…”

She faltered. He returned to looking nowhere.

“Bah, that’s the problem with all you women…wishy-washy and always talking, talking, talking.”

Sallyann jumped back, stung.

“Never mind.” She turned to go.

“No. Stay,” he said.

They sat in silence for a while, then he asked her what she had been going tell him.

“I’m…a…”

She faltered.

“A dyke?” he laughed nastily enjoying her surprise.

“Yes, dad, I am a lesbian.”

“What a surprise.”

“You knew. You knew and you said nothing.”

“It wasn’t for me to say anything.”

“I can’t believe it. I don’t know what I was thinking. You really are a horrible person…as always.”

“What else is new?”

She left him sitting there.

Breakfast was over. Bo, Hannah, Nora and Susan were washing the dishes and putting things away. The others were nowhere to be seen. Even Brian and Seneca had disappeared from view. The women looked at Sallyann as she flounced in, visibly upset.

They exchanged glances with each other.

“You okay?” Susan ventured.

“Fine,” Sallyann said, shortly.

Then, before anyone could say anything else they heard Eli walking with his usual heavy tread, heading down towards the kitchen. He was muttering angrily to himself.

“Bo,” he shouted, “Bo. Goddamnit woman, where are you?”

He thundered into the kitchen. Sallyann observed that everything that had seemed tired and warm about him before had disappeared again, leaving behind the hard, harsh man that he was.

Bo stood in the center of the kitchen, her hands clasped loosely in front of her.

“I am here,” she said.

He came to stop right in front of her.

“I am here,” she repeated, “and my name is not Bo. It’s Minerva. Minerva, you hear me.”

There was complete silence in the kitchen.

Then from the doorway, there was a delighted, raspy chuckle. From a chuckle it ballooned into a laugh that kept going on and on.

Seneca stood there, with Brian supporting him.

“Good god,” Seneca said, still winded from his mirth, “I never thought you’d do it. Minerva. Nice to see you again after all these years.”

His sister looked at him with the irreverent look he remembered from his childhood.

“Hello Seneca.”

“Well, well, very touching indeed.”

Then. “Minerva indeed. Fine! Minerva, this gosh-darned shirt is missing a button. Again.”

“You have hands,” she said, “and we certainly have a needle and thread in the house. Fix it yourself.”

There were gasps in the room.

Brian chuckled again. Then he whooped and hollered as he had wanted to at Eli all those years ago.

“It seems Eli,” he said, “she has your measure now, as do I. As do I.”

“Oh, stuff yourself,” Eli said as he walked away.

Chapter 16 by Brandon Nobach

Word Count:1,638

The thief hadn’t even begun his move in the chess game that was sure to unfold in the coming days, weeks, and even months to come, and Eli was worried. He needed a way to bring the power that he could slowly feel leaving his grasp to come back to his own hands. Bo had never talked to him that way. She wanted to be called Minerva again? Well of course I’ll play along, but up here, he tapped his head, that’s just not going to happen.

He pounded his way up the stairs making his way into the bedroom that he and Bo shared. He rummaged through the drawers in her sewing station located against the wall on her side of the bed. Bo often sat here and sewed up clothes for him, or when the girls were younger repaired the blankets they clung to so readily. He rummaged through the different colored strings until he found one that suited him. As he grabbed this spool and a needle, he made to turn away from the drawer when something caught his eye.

Pushing aside more spools of thread he caught site of a photograph. It had clearly been hidden well. It wasn’t meant to be found by him, or anyone else, buried deep in the back corner of a drawer that was typically only used by Bo, serves her right he thought. He pulled the image out and scrutinized over what he saw staring up out at him. The image contained Bo, in a park not too far from their home, she was walking Callie, but in the image was another man, walking a chocolate lab himself. They both smiled warmly at the photographer, the dogs even seemed to be obedient enough to look at the camera at the same time. Was this man and his mutt the reason Bo had been keener to take their dog for a walk over the last many months. This image didn’t appear to be more than a few months old, but had bent edges and smudges as if it had been held many times. He flipped it over in his hand to find a message scrawled out:

Minerva,

  The first of many photographs to be taken, of this I am sure.

  My Love,

  Clyde

So his Minerva had been seeing somebody on the side. Not that he could be terribly surprised by this, but he had thought she would always be submissive. That spine of steel had surely shown itself this morning. It wasn’t as though he had been fully faithful. His own affair, and son at that, was in jeopardy of being unleashed unless he could find out who the thief was. He tucked the photograph back into it’s hiding spot. He could come back for it later, he did not want Bo to think he suspected anything. He had a big day to prepare for. He returned to his study. Sitting in his chair he began sewing the button back on his shirt. Act two of the show he was putting on would begin that afternoon at the courthouse.

_________________________________________________________________________

Nora and Randy walked down towards the river together, hand in hand. The crazy turn of events between Eli rushing her family with that shotgun of his last night, accusing Randy of stealing contents from his desk drawer. The warning shot he had shot into the air had scared them all, and the war of words wasn’t pretty, Randy insisting that he had not stolen from Eli. That he thought that it was a crazy idea. He knew the odds weren’t exactly in his favor, but he had changed since meeting Nora.  As she looked on trying to distinguish which side to take, Nora knew she loved Randy, but her family was, well, her family. Randy wasn’t even her fiance yet. Well, that had changed this morning.

After a night spent at Walmart in the camper, Randy had sobered up and come to his senses. In the morning Randy had had Lizette and Jess drive him to Hannah’s house. They all joined in listening in on Randy spill his heart out to Nora that morning from the kitchen. He had apologized profusely. Saying he was so sorry for what had happened the night before, that he was willing to change. He had then gotten down on one knee and proposed, presenting a very simply diamond ring. He himself was really proud of the ring. He had been saving up the little income he had to buy it for her. It hadn’t been stolen.

In returning to the Hale household for breakfast they announced the news to everyone except Eli, who seemed to be missing. Food was also flowing freely, something that Hannah and Nora didn’t expect, without Eli taking the first bite. No one seemed to care, so everyone dug in.

Now as the happy couple got to the river, they sat down on some tree stumps that Eli had placed there when the girls were younger, so they could try and fish along the bank. They watched the water rushing by them, contemplating their future together. They would leave early the next morning to get back to their side of the mountains. They would leave behind the crazy family of Nora’s, for the time being at least. Neither could know that this would not be the case though. That their home on the other side of the mountains would remain vacant for quite some time. Eli had plans to keep them in the area, that they were not privy to, not yet at least.

___________________________________________________________________________

Eli, ever knowing about how to put on a show, came down the stairs in a ruffled suit, it had been one of his first purchases from his trucking business, he wanted to look good, he wanted to flaunt his money, to show that he was the one with the power, but after years of wearing it, and multiple sews from Bo, the suit was patched at the elbows and knees, and frayed along the wrists and ankles. The golden cufflinks he had worn last night were exchanged for another pair, this pair a color that had once been a shimmering silver now appeared no more than a dull gray, barely reflecting light from the overhead chandelier in the kitchen.

“Sallyann!” He bellowed through the house. “Are you ready? We need to get moving if we are going to make it to the courthouse on time.”

She came out of the living room wearing a very professional suit. “Ready when you are. Let’s get going.” They stepped outside and got into the car, driving away.

The meeting this morning to declare bankruptcy was of course a sham. Eli had set it up with a family lawyer he had found in Everett. He payed Barry well, he had explained what he wanted to do. The young man was as crooked as he was, and after enough money had been pushed his way had agreed to help him. The information that he had fed to Sallyann the day before had been cleverly concocted between the pair. Eli had taken all the steps, Barry had helped him to find a judge willing to listen to the case, and was just as willing to go along with the ruse. Betty had helped to draw up the documentation for the bankruptcy, and was going to be meeting them at the courthouse with them.

As Eli and Sallyann parked in the lot, Betty and Barry were waiting for them. Eli took in Betty. He wanted to rush her and take her in his arms, but he knew better with the other pair present. She looked a little flustered though. What could be the matter he thought. Sallyann shook hands with the pair, introducing herself in person to Barry, they delved into conversation as to what was going to happen today. Eli turned to Betty and took the folder of papers from her, he flipped it open. Turning page by page he made sure things were in order. Double checking that signatures were in the proper places, Betty had once again done a splendid job. He turned over the final paper to see a small note scribbled on a receipt. Betty’s handwriting stood out to him instantly.

Someone knows about us, we need to talk.

He took the receipt slipping it into his jacket pocket and discreetly nodded to Betty, telling her that he understood. It seemed that the thief had made the first move in their game.

__________________________________________________________________________

Back at the house Seneca and Brian stood along the river, not far from where Nora and Randy had been earlier. They had put things into motion. They knew that confronting Eli head on would be a poor decision. They decided to attack the insecurities of Betty instead. They knew she would be meeting with Sallyann and Eli this morning. They made the phone call shortly after they had departed.

It had been easy to get her number. Sallyann had it, phone’s were easy to get into especially if there were no passcodes to enter. They searched out her phone during breakfast. She was too occupied with thoughts of that afternoon, and with trying to maintain breakfast to have noticed it slipping away for a few minutes.

Now they would just have to sit back and wait to see how Betty would respond to the information they had slipped into their cryptic messages. Calling from the Hale house hadn’t put a target any bigger on their backs. With Randy and the crew back, it might be obvious that they came back to put this plan into further action.

They smiled at each other. Hoping that Eli wouldn’t find a way to wriggle out of the situation he was about to find himself in.

Chapter 17 by Leslie P

On the court steps Betty realized how very tired she was, and her patience, her greatest virtue, seemed to be running out. Betty wanted, needed, to be Mrs. Eli Hale but Eli never had the decency to ask her. Although Eli always paid her rent and gave her enough money to support her and her son, the respectability she longed for her eluded her. All Betty could think of was that she had been the one sleeping with him, she the one loving him and here she was, still just Betty, the secretary. For so many years he seemed to love and at times even worship her, yet he remained married to that woman.

Surely Eli couldn’t be long for this world – his hoarse cough testimony to his being at the end of his life. Did Eli have the decency to leave her, his only true love, the company she had as much blood, sweat and tears invested in as he? Would he leave her anything? Betty felt her life slipping away. All those years and planning, her usual organizational skills put into play, and now something unforeseen. Who made the anonymous call telling her they knew about her and Eli? The carefully thought out plan for Eli to cut the kids he had with Bo out of the will had an unexpected kink. Betty knew the kids would find out sooner or later, that was all part of the plan, but it needed to be after Eli finally realized who loved him and who needed to be rewarded.

At one time, Betty felt secure in their relationship. Betty knew she was much of the brains behind the success of Hale Trucking. Her organizational skills, her people skills that allowed her to pick employees who stayed for years, the way she could cushion Eli’s testiness with employees and thus keep them in line. Why, she was every bit as responsible for the outrageous success of this business as Eli.

Betty could remember like it was yesterday when Eli first looked longingly at her legs. She had enough relationships with men to know that he was hers for the asking. She eagerly went into the conference room with him. In her mind, Eli promised that he would leave his dull, meek wife. Year after year Betty waited. Year after year she snuck around to no-tell motels satisfying Eli’s every whim. She gave birth to the son he so desperately wanted. But what she desperately wanted was Eli’s last name for both herself as well as her son. Eli resisted. Gave her excuse after excuse as to why he could not leave his family and become hers out in the open. What would happen if Eli died today? For God’s sake, he was still married.

That Eli loved her and not the wife was obvious on a daily basis. Eli had nothing but disdainful things to say about those girls and his wife, gave her jewels Betty knew he never gave to her. Not bad for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Here he was, almost on his deathbed, wheezing from all of the cigarettes she bought whenever he asked, inhaling the smoke daily and nightly. She carried out their plan – her plan – to the letter—but now, an anonymous phone call. She would not let some lowly stranger take what was rightfully hers. She would not allow some dim witted relative to win. Betty knew she was the rightful heir of Hale Trucking, the only one with the experience and brains to keep that business alive. She knew she and her son were destined to work together. She could not let her son down. Betty needed a new plan.

On the courthouse steps, Betty caught the eye of Sallyann. The woman looked at Betty the same way she always looked at Betty in the past, as though she were the hired help. Fifteen years of acting had paid off—smart as that daughter was, she had no clue of the relationship between her and her father. But someone does know, and Betty had to find out that information. As usual, Betty followed behind Eli and his lawyers. Her stomach tightened as they entered the courtroom. So many things could go wrong. The judge might get cold feet, the hired lawyer could get pertinent details incorrect and Sallyann could become suspicious or, heaven help, was it possible that Eli would feel badly in front of his daughter and back down? No, of all the events that might occur, she knew that was not one of them. She could count on Eli to do the right thing by her.

*****

Bo could not remember feeling this way. Every time she thought about Clyde her arms filled with goose bumps and her face flushed. Only ten short months ago Bo had resigned herself to her fate: that of being the doormat to Eli, but surprisingly, fate smiled on her. She looked down at Callie and thanked the dog for introducing her to Bruno and her new love. Did she ever feel this way about Eli? It was so long ago, but of course, she must have. No one knew Eli like Bo did. She had seen his mean, vengeful side many times over the years. In her giddy state she was fully aware how she had earlier let her guard down in front of Eli, but thinking things over, she knew she had to play her cards just right. Somehow, she had to let Eli come to the conclusion that it was in his best interest to leave her. After all, Bo well knew that Eli did nothing that was not in his best interest. Of course, there was the money. She had been wealthy for too long to be poor now. After all, it took years of secret manipulations to get money from her stingy husband. Yes, she had secretly socked away quite a sum, but as she knew well from her smart lawyer daughter that those things are easily found.

Bo thought about her daughters—they were her life. Caring for the four of them had always been the one thing she had done well, although it seemed like no one noticed or gave her the credit she so deserved. In spite of a certain degree of dysfunction, especially Nora, well, she told herself, all families have that. Her turn had come and she could not, would not, let that opportunity pass. Eli had his plan. Bo decided to formulate a plan of her own. Eli had won in the past, but he didn’t need to win today. Bo saw Hannah up ahead. Funny, thought Bo, Hannah does not like to walk for fun. She heard, “Mom, mom, wait up!”

As she walked to catch up with her mother, Hannah realized that never could keep a secret—it was as if the secret bore a hole in her heart. She told Susan she wouldn’t tell anyone, but she wanted to hear the story first hand. Breathless, Hannah said, “Mom – mind of I join you for a walk?”

“Hannah, you know I don’t. You look agitated. What’s the matter?”

“You have to promise me you won’t tell Susan. Please.”

“Promise you what?”

“That I know—about you—being with some man you met in the woods. I mean, Mom, I want you happy, but you don’t know anything about this man, and dad’s going bankrupt, and, I mean, really, Mom, you have, we all have, enough problems without you adding one more.”

“Me? Hannah, let’s talk about me. My whole life has been you and you girls and your father. I can’t worry about you all right now. It’s my turn, and I’m not getting any younger.”

“Yes, I know, Mom, and I realize that you and dad have had some problems, but you and dad have always been you and dad, and I, well, you’re worrying me you being different lately. Don’t you think dad has enough without this?

“I love him, Hannah, and he loves me. I have to go.” Just as Bo was leaving, she heard a rustling in the woods, and it was not her daughter.

Chapter 18 by Pilar U

Bo turned around quickly to see who was behind them. She signaled to Hannah to be quiet and stealthily made her way along the side of the path so as to make as little noise as possible. She circled around a small clearing but found nothing. If someone had been listening, they were gone now. She paused for a moment. If that person had overheard them, it was information that Eli could use against her. She quickly walked back to where Hannah was standing and told her they should go back to the house separately; she would be along in a minute. Hannah shrugged her shoulders and loped off.

Bo came back to the clearing and sat on a stump while she went over the confrontation that had transpired earlier in the house. She couldn’t stop thinking about how she had stood up to Eli and called herself by her given name for the first time in over 30 years. Minerva. It felt strange in her mouth. That girl had been saucy, with a twinkle in her eye, ready for any adventure. But Eli had quashed that fever long ago. Little by little, his sarcasm and condescension had eroded her spirit throughout their marriage as she struggled to raise her gaggle of girls. She had been reduced to going through the motions of life, acquiescing to his every demand. And the more she gave, the crueler he became. That is, until this morning. She had awakened from her coma and actually spoken up for herself.  She could tell he had been shaken by her tone of voice. This was her turning point, no more silently taking the abuse he had dished out for years…

She stood up abruptly, scaring Callie who had been waiting patiently at her side. Oh Lord, it was about to happen again. More betrayal awaited her family. It was too much. She went back up the path, walking dejectedly passed her beloved garden on the way. In happier times, she had reveled in watching the vegetables that she herself had planted grow and ripen enough to pick and cook healthy meals with. While the delicious smells wafted through the house and the girls were setting the table, she would walk over to the greenhouse, grab a few sprigs here and there from various potted plants in the tiny enclosure and return with a delightful bouquet as a centerpiece. What a long time ago that had been. She sighed, trudging up the steps as a voice called to her from inside.

Randy was leaning on a tree in the woods, gingerly trying to open the buttons of his fly with one hand while the other held a roach, when he heard women’s voices coming toward him. Oh Jesus, he thought, they’re going to find me butt naked with a butt in my hand. Giggling, he crouched down and squinted to see who it was. He could only make out one of them, Nora’s mother. He felt kind of sorry for the old bag. Looked like she’d had a rough time with that geezer of a greedy husband. He couldn’t tell which of the sisters she was talking to. It was either the bitch lesbo lawyer or the gambling addict who couldn’t tear herself away from the slot machines. This was some pathetic family with all their obsessions. Next to them, he was a pussycat. At least his favorite thing, his weed was natural, from the earth. It didn’t cost a lot of bread. That was something he needed badly these days. He’d sure fooled Nora though, getting down on one knee to profess his love, telling her the ring he was giving her wasn’t stolen. No, he’d gotten it fair and square from the pawnshop a week before. It was only grocery money he had stolen from her, little by little so she’d never miss it. He’d gotten a great deal. You couldn’t even tell it was cubic zirconium. So, after two days of all this effort to try and look respectable and where had it gotten him? The old man had gone and tried to shoot him, for crying out loud. What a waste of time this trip was turning out to be. He should have left when he said he was going to. Then he realized whose voice it was.

Hannah, that’s who was talking. Something about some man her mother had met in the woods. Holy crap! The grandma was getting it on with another guy! He definitely had to let Nora in on this piece of news; maybe they could squeeze some money out of her family after all. He got up, stumbled over a stump and made a beeline for the camper.

Inside the courthouse, Eli smiled as he observed the cast of characters preparing the ruse about to be enacted: Barry, waiting for the arrival of the judge to present the case, Betty, author of the fabricated paperwork, and Sallyann, the unwitting family member lending support to her father. As soon as the filing was completed, Eli would expose the thief who was hiding, as he was sure it was the same person who had contacted Betty. Sallyann leaned over to ask him if there was something wrong but he waved her off, eager for the proceedings to begin. Barry had assured him that he was used to dealing with this judge and it probably wouldn’t take very long. That meant he could begin the final act of his scheme tonight. Right then, the door opened and a stout, balding man entered the small room with a sheaf of papers, uttered a curt hello and sat down. Eli noticed that Barry did a double take.

“Excuse me but I believe Judge Harmon is presiding over this case”.

The man stared long and hard at Barry before speaking. “I’m taking over for Judge Harmon. He was in a minor car accident last night and is in the hospital for observation.”

“Well then, it should be postponed until he’s back, “ he blurted out.

“Is there a problem?” He turned and looked at Eli directly. Eli, sensing it was not a good idea to put a monkey wrench into the mix and challenge this surly substitute for Barry’s first choice, shook his head.

“Alright then, let’s begin. This is the section 341 meeting of creditors for Hale Trucking, case number 00476-135. My name is George Charlton, Chapter 7 trustee. Do you have the petition and financial statements for the court?”

“We do your honor”, Barry meekly responded.

“Thank you. The debtor’s identity has been verified. We did not, however, receive the tax returns in the original packet.”

“I have them here, your honor” as Barry slipped the file toward the judge.

“Please raise your right hand Mr. Hale. Do you verify that all the documents are a true representation of your income, property and debt?”

Eli cleared his throat. “I do.”

“Alright, let’s proceed with…” The judge abruptly stopped as he heard some noise coming from the other side of the door.

“What’s going on out there?” The voices began to increase in pitch and volume.

“Stella!” He yelled. A tall, agitated young woman poked her head in.

“ Yes, Sir?”

“What the hell is that racket?”

“S-Sorry sir”, she stuttered. “ Someone who says they’re part of the family is insisting on presenting vital information to this case.”

“What? They’re not allowed! This is a closed hearing!”

“Yes, sir. I know but…”

Suddenly the door was pushed back and Eli’s mouth dropped open.

Chapter 19 by Joy M, The Accidental Booty Call

He certainly had not meant to punch Minerva’s private cell number last night when, drunk, he booty-called her. ‘Darling I’m simply pottie-hugging sozzled, [mumble], be a doll, –do come over and shag me to death, Love . . . . there’s an old girl . . . [mumble, slur], crash . . . .” was certainly not meant for his dear Minerva, someone who represented what little good was left in him.

It was meant for Betty.

Minerva had been collecting rain water, highly toxic, off the leaves of her foxglove plants for weeks– dry spells and remorse setting her back– but she’d kept with it. She’d used a plastic vial that her sewing machine needles came in. She’d carefully tucked it down in to the soil beneath a leaf of foxglove in her garden. Right where the rain would drip off of it . . . .

Minerva knew all about foxglove poisoning — or digitalis poisoning. Once, years ago, when first establishing this garden of hers, she’d accidentally ingested some seed. Busy putting the miniscule seeds in the ground, she realized she felt something gritty on her tongue, that she’d absentmindedly wet her finger to her tongue, touched it to the small seeds, scraped them in to the ground, re-touched her finger to her tongue–but some small seed had hung on, and she’d just eaten it. . . . Panic set in so fast she thought she’d be sick right there. Foxglove was poison! Aurora, the housekeeper they’d once had briefly when the girls were little, was nearby. She’d sense enough to call over to the Rescue Squad. There was no Poison Control back then. The ambulance had come right over and taken her in–saying oh, yes Mrs. Hale, it’s serious — to the nearest hospital for an EKG. She’d been fine. But she’d gotten a lecture on foxglove, digitalis, and all its toxic components from a very fretful intern .  . . . and later that night, a spiteful, mean verbal beating from Eli on her stupidity.

She had initially dreamed of killing Eli. But now . . . her love & romance, flounced feelings for Clyde had turned to just more heart ache . . . . now, after this! After this drunken, offensive, slurred message from Clyde, this morning on her cell phone, left at three a.m!, clearly meant for someone else — WHO? It was too much! She could barely stand on her two feet, her mind was in such a frenzy, blackness and fury made her trip on some brush as she walked to the park. . . . Nora’s call from the house about the damn potatoes only briefly distracting her from her errand.

But now! Now, with her nice old-school Thermos of hot cider in hand, Callie by her side, she was going to poison Clyde instead. Clyde!!!!! The heart-breaker with the English accent. Clyde! The one upon whom all her old-age Dreams of Maybe were pinned . . . . She hated Clyde!!

But how had she loved going in the kitchen her mind so made up finally, a new feeling of empowerment coming over her, and taking her secretly-saved rain water and pouring it in his hot cider. . . . He’d drink it up with compliments a’plenty and later today, perhaps tonight, die of a massive heart attack! . . . maybe in two or three days, she’d read about it in the newspaper.

But who’s to notice, Minerva thought? He’s an old man, and a lush too, apparently, so who’s to think twice of an old fool dying?

For Clyde loved it when she met him in ‘their park’ with something she’d baked or her old plaid Thermos full of hot chocolate or an Irish Coffee, or say, hot cider! Well, today, Ole booty-calling Clyde’s hot-goodness would have an extra little kick . . . !

Minerva kept tromping through the woods down the trail towards Clyde . . . her mind purple with just-formed thoughts . . . She’d have to bide her time now and regroup. . . . She couldn’t poison Clyde and Eli in the same day could she? She must think! What was that crunching sound? That chirping? Was she losing her mind? She must think! Should she put the toxic water in Eli’s coffee? His oatmeal? Damnation! She must get herself together! She must calm down!

She walked on . . . .

Randy came out of his lurking place in the woods and got in the camper truck and drove the three miles up the main highway to the nearest store. His mind was reeling with what he’d heard and seen. . . . But for now, he wanted to check on that PowerPot ticket he’d bought on the way out to this whole dog and pony show of a weekend . . . .

For five minutes after stealing the camper, he’d found himself jonesing for Cheetos and OrangeAid and stopped at the nearest quickie mart. The place had good old Virginia hams hanging outside from the eaves of the roof — a lucky sign, he thought! So he’d bought him a lottery ticket too along with the junk food.

Hell, you never knew! Besides, he liked to keep up on these things . . . . he’d go see if he’d bought him a winner. . . then think on doing him some thinking later . . . .

Nora and Lizette were in the kitchen peeling potatoes when they heard Randy tail-spinning the camper truck up the driveway, a good hour later, hollering and screaming like he’d lost his mind . Minerva was just entering the lawn from the path in the woods, an empty Thermos dangling in her hand . . . .

“AhhhhhWWOooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” Randy let out as he jumped out of the truck, dust flying up around him, a few beer cans clattering to the ground . . .

“We won, we won!! Gotdang! We Woooooooon!” He ran around the yard in circles, Callie, the dog, running over to him, Nora and Lizette, Jess and Minerva all convening on his euphoria . . .

“What on Earth–’ said Nora . . . .

“Gotdang, Baby!” Randy finally slowed down enough to say, “we got us a winning ticket, baby!” He took her and spun around again, tripping, and ultimately dropping her in the dirt.

“That fiver you lent me, Baby! It bought us the winning lottery ticket! We get $5,000 a week from now until eternity– wweeeeeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Everyone stared, stunned . . . . Nora looked up from her spot in the dirt. No one could take this in. Surely this was some more of Randy’s chicanery. Pure Bunk. A Joke . . . . But Randy waved a multi-colored paper of some sort that seemed to verify his excitement. Everyone stood wide eyed, open-mouthed, disbelieving: Randy and Nora suddenly rich, suddenly not pawning and thieving their way across Christmas?

Eli and Sallyann and the rest were still at the courthouse, at that sham of a trial thought Minerva . . . she needed to sit down. She felt faint, spinning . . . my God, what had she just done? What had just happened? She mumbled something congratulatory to Randy and made her way to the kitchen. Randy a lottery winner? Randy and Nora rich until their shenanagans or cholesterol killed them? And Clyde! — loving his hot cider, his kiss to her old deceitful cheek . . . .

In the kitchen, she took some Clorox and rinsed the Thermos out several times, then dowsed it in running scalding hot water for a good five minutes. While the water ran, it quieted her turmoil. She had another vial out there in the dirt . . . She had that Last Will & Testiment of Eli’s she’d found back in April  too . . . the one he thought he’d hidden so cleverly from her in that locked desk drawer of his, the one to which she had gotten a big fat key. Yep, she’d found the new Will, the one leaving everything to the bastard spawn he’d fathered with that whore Betty! And she’d burned it! She’d found the pictures and the letters! A lot she cared! She left them where they were. He could have his side-dish, what did she care at this point? After his years of soul crushing abuse what part of her was alive enough to care? Let Betty have him and his arrogance! All Minerva cared about now was Justice . . . she wanted her girls to get what was theirs, and she wanted to wage a War to end the Reign of Eli.  For now, she was Minerva. No more Bo.

She planned her next move.

Chapter 20 by PK Read

1917 words

Seneca found his sister sitting in her workroom, her sewing basket open. As much as Brian’s plan to mess with Eli pleased him, the sight of his long-lost sister standing up to Eli, demanding that she be called her her proper name, had changed his mind. It was one thing to toy with Eli. It was entirely another to betray his sister. Minerva, goddess of wisdom. How could he leave her in the dark when she might be able to save her dignity – not to mention enjoy life without her disastrous husband? Why should she pay for a mistake made fifty years earlier? In modern times, no one could have forced her to marry Eli, baby or no.

***

“Minerva,” he began, but stopped when she looked up at him. She had a glazed expression, tinged with distress. One hand held a needle and thread, the other a photograph. As he stood there, he watched her expression harden into something that looked more like fury. She was clearly working out a riddle, and arriving at an answer that did not please her in the least.

“Minerva?”

She spoke, but not to him. Only to herself. “He was up here, looking for thread. That’s when it happened. And he thinks he knows something.” She flicked the threaded needle back into the sewing box and snapped it shut. She cast a derisive glance at the photo before slipping into her pocket.

“Minerva, we need to talk. It’s about Eli. It has been brought to my attention that…” Seneca had never been the bearer of this kind of news, and he wondered how his sister would take it. Judging from the look of intent rage on her face, he might be lucky to leave the room with his head still attached.

“What has been brought to your attention?”

“You know Eli has never been a favorite of mine, but that is not reason I am telling you this. It’s that – well, I can’t stand you not knowing what kind of  man he is. I mean, beyond all the awful things we already know.”

Minerva tilted her head and he saw a bit of the young, beautiful sister he had known and loved. She allowed a tight smile to play on her lips. “Seneca,” she said, pointing a gentle finger right at his heart, “you know, don’t you? About Eli and Betty?”

Seneca blinked in shock. “You already know?”

She removed her finger and took his hand instead. “Yes. I know. And don’t think I wasn’t hurt at first – not because there’s any love lost, but because he thinks it’s acceptable to give love elsewhere and expect me to live in this desert, alone.”

She pulled out the photo. “Finding out gave me the freedom to dream again – I thought this fine fellow,” and here she gave a bitter laugh, “might be the answer. But he’s useless, as well. However, allowing myself to love again means it’s not too late for me. There’s only one problem.”

Seneca didn’t hesitate. “Minerva, what can I do to help you?”

She played with the photo now as if it were a chess piece. “Eli came up here and I’m sure he found this picture. So he thinks he’s got something on me. I’m sure he’ll try to use it.”

“What can you do? Did you have an affair with this man?” Hard to imagine the woman called Bo doing anything so rash. With the old Minerva, however, it was easy.

“Pfft. Affair.” She scoffed. “Two fuddy-duddies holding hands. Hardly an affair.”

There was a knock at the door. Hannah peeked in. She looked completely discombobulated, eyes wide. “Uh – Mom? There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who is it?”

“Says his name’s – uh – Clyde. Says he’s a friend.” She looked wild for a moment. “Mom, how could risk having him come here, Mom?! What the hell is going on?” Hannah put her hand over her mouth, and took a deep breath, eyes ranging between her uncle and her mother. “I’m sorry. Susan told me.”

***

The three of them went down the stairs to find Clyde standing in the foyer, among piles of shoes, coats and hats. He looked utterly lost, his usual dandy demeanor completely deflated. His eyes rose and he took in Minerva, descending the stairs like a goddess. She was no longer young, but by god she was glorious. How could he have been so stupid?

“Minerva, I…”

Minerva put up a hand to stop him. “Let’s take a walk, Clyde.” When the other two behind her looked like they might want to follow, she smiled. “Alone, thank you.”

***

Once out of earshot of the house, Clyde started to apologize, but he found Minerva surprisingly uninterested in his excuses.

“Clyde, I am done with men who can’t appreciate me. It’s taken me a lifetime, but I don’t have to spend the rest of my life suffering from being a slow learner in love.”

“Minerva,” he started. He stopped. “Minerva,” he said again, and she was stunned to hear his accent had changed completely. “I’m a fool and a liar. When I met you in the park, I thought I’d have some fun, pretend to be someone I’m not. I’m not English, I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina. Oh, I studied in England, but I’m no more British than you are. I thought I’d impress a good-looking woman who I’d probably never see again.”

Minerva took this in. Before she could answer, Clyde continued. “But I didn’t lie about my feelings for you. By all that is good and holy, I’ve been a cad, I drink too much sometimes, and yes, I was calling someone else but that was just because she’d flirted with me the other day while I was having a drink. She seems to have a thing for old men like me. I’ve seen her with other men my age and older before, but she did seem partial to a British accent.” He gave a rueful laugh and raised his eyebrows. “My god, Minerva, if you could ever find it in your heart to give me another chance…”

Minerva studied him for several moments, during which he didn’t dare to speak. The wind blew gently in the trees, and far off, she heard a dog bark. Finally, she said, “You know Clyde, one of my great virtues, though by no means the only one, is my ability to offer second chances.”

Clyde took both her hands and squeezed them with undeniable passion. But Minerva’s mind was elsewhere. She needed to find out just how many people in the family Susan had told about her secret. There was Hannah, that much was certain. Seneca knew now, but she could trust him. Who else knew?

***

Less than an hour later, Minerva, accompanied by Clyde and Seneca, burst into the judge’s chambers and demanded to speak with the judge who was handling Eli’s sham bankruptcy. The assistant, poor thing, was no match for the three of them.

They strode into the courtroom, and Minerva saw Eli and Sallyann sitting at the table with a young lawyer, facing a very angry judge. Betty was sitting at the back of the courtroom as if she had just slipped in, unnoticed. Both Eli and Betty’s faces went into open-mouthed shock at Minerva’s appearance. Eli’s eyes went from Minerva to Clyde’s face, and his mouth opened even further.

Seneca tried to explain things to the judge. “Judge, I think there are some serious tall tales being told here, and we want to put a stop to it before things go any further.”

At the back of the courtroom, Betty was stunned to see the older British gentleman – a foreign fox she had seriously considered adding to her collection – next to Minerva. What made her go pale, however, was the sound of Seneca’s voice. It was the same voice that had called on the phone, telling her that her secret with Eli was out. She stuffed her fist in her mouth to stifle a scream, and slipped out of the courtroom as quickly as she could.

Between Minerva and Seneca, the situation was explained to the judge. Eli was planning to use the honorable court to dupe his family into thinking he was bankrupt. Worse: Minerva was certain that his real plan was to hide his money in order to abandon his wife, marry a younger lover, and leave Minerva broke and destitute after fifty years of marriage.

The judge, a man of deep conviction for whom the law was sacred, sat up straighter with every passing moment, smiting Eli with every glance. Sallyann was slack-jawed and speechless, for once. Barry, their lawyer, had his head in his hands.

At some point, Eli jumped up. “Your honor, this is a travesty. This woman, my wife, is nothing better than a harlot! Why, that’s her own fancy man right next to her! She’s just doing this to divorce me and get money! I’ve seen pictures of her with him!”

Minerva slid the photo out of her pocket and waved it. “You mean this?” Eli fell silent. “This was an attempt – and an attempt only – to lead me astray by a gentlemen I met while walking the dog. He thought he could blackmail me by making it look like we were having an affair. But he has come to his senses. Haven’t you, Clyde?”

Clyde nodded. With no trace of a British accent, he spoke to the judge and to Eli. “Your honor, I’ve been a cheat and a liar. I thought I could get some coin out of this fine woman by blackmailing her with a picture a passer-by happened to take in the park one day. But it turns out she’s not easily scared.”

***

In stunned silence, Eli turned over the new developments. If there was one positive aspect of all this, he calculated, it was that after the dust had settled, he might just be able to salvage a relationship with the real love of his life, Betty. Sure, he might have to make back some money that he would have to pay to that harridan, Minerva, but he could live with his son – his son! – and openly proclaim him as such.

The judge was saying something about charges for filing false information, Minerva was talking about divorce, Seneca was gloating and Sallyann had tears running down her face. But Eli felt relief and a very first taste of blessed hope mixed in with a lifetime of bitterness and bile.

***

On the other side of the city, an e-mail arrived in an e-mail account under a fake name, but even at age 14, the boy was good at deception. If his mother wouldn’t tell him the truth, Jason would find out for himself.

He’d visited her at work one day and managed to lift a few hairs off the old man’s coat when no one was looking. Then, along with hairs he’d managed to gather from other candidates, he’d sent them in to a lab that specialized in paternity tests. Here were the results. Finally, the lies could stop. He would know if any of the men his mother saw, any of her ‘special friends’, ‘dancing partners’ or ‘colleagues’, were his father.

Jason looked at results. One of the men sampled was, indeed, his father. The code number next to the sample was 9847.

9847 was not the code for his mother’s boss. It was not Eli Horner.

Chapter 21 by Tina Burnette

1666 words

So who were Jason’s other candidates? Who were the men that he thought might be his father? Eli Hale, code number 9846, was the one he fully expected to be his father. Code 9848 was that phony Englishman that his mother often danced with in the bar where she liked to unwind after work. And code 9847? That was a hair sample that Jason almost didn’t bother to submit. He was the least likely candidate of all—a shy, quiet man, much younger than his mom, who always seemed to be in the background, almost part of the furniture. It was Layton Clark, the bookkeeper where his mother worked.

Jason wasn’t sure how he felt about having Layton for a father, but it was better than being related to that asshole Eli Hale. He’d never understood what his mother saw in Mr. Hale. Now that he thought about it, Jason looked a little like Layton. They were both tall and lanky, with curly brown hair. And Jason liked math. Weren’t bookkeepers supposed to be good at math? Maybe it was his subconscious that had prompted him to sneak one of Layton’s hairs and include it among the samples he that sent in to that DNA-testing place.

Jason stared at his computer screen. He didn’t know what he should do with his newfound knowledge. His first impulse was to show his mother this e-mail message—just to let her know that he knew—and if she had been in the house at that moment, he would have acted on that impulse. Failing that, he was itching to click the Forward button and shoot this message on to someone else. Layton would be the one to send it to, but Layton wasn’t among his e-mail contacts. Jason made the rare decision to sit on the information. He would bide his time, for now, and blurt out what he knew when it would make a big impact.

***

Although Jason didn’t know it, even Betty didn’t guess the true identity of his father. Her fling with Layton had been a one-night stand. He was just small fry, but she was well aware that he was attracted to her, and she liked making conquests. She was playing a dangerous game, seducing Eli Hale’s bookkeeper when she had her eye on the main chance, but she knew that she could count on Layton’s discretion. At least, she hoped she could. There was a nervous little voice in her head that liked to remind her of how foolish she had been the night she took Layton Clark to her bed. But she tried to quiet that voice by reassuring herself that Layton worshipped the ground she walked on. Surely he wouldn’t betray her secret. Layton Clark was a keeper of secrets if ever there was one.

Having slipped out of the courtroom, she took refuge in a stall of the ladies’ room to compose herself and plan her strategy. The one who really had her worried was the old British gent. That Englishman was a charmer, and now that she thought about it, a pretty smooth operator. Maybe she had been out-conned by a more skilled con artist than herself. Probably he had already told the judge about her secret with Eli. Well, they hadn’t broken any laws, as far as she knew.

She flushed the toilet and washed her hands. In the harsh fluorescent light, she coolly assessed her face. The woman who looked back at her from the chipped mirror didn’t look half bad. She was no longer in her first youth, but she could still turn heads. She reapplied her lipstick. Then she moistened the corner of a paper towel and carefully removed a few flakes of mascara from beneath her right eye. There’s nothing like flaked mascara to age a woman. Now more than ever she needed to look her best. Thus revived, she emerged smiling brightly, spine straight, the very picture of wholesome innocence.

And whom should she run into, lurking in the shadowy hallway outside of the ladies’ room? It was old Eli himself, looking years older than he had just an hour ago. Her heart went out to him. Just because she was after his money, that didn’t mean that she didn’t love him—in her way.

***

The judge declared a recess. In the courtroom, Minerva felt giddy. Her heart pounded fast. Her ears were ringing, and the room was going black. Shakily, she felt behind her for the nearest bench and sat down. Gradually, she felt calmer and her sight cleared. Was this the beginning of the end of the Reign of Eli? Whose reign would follow? She supposed the whole family knew of her foolish secret by now, but the thought no longer disturbed her. Life would go on, and she meant to see to it that her girls got their due.

Clyde perched on the edge of the bench beside her, not sure of his welcome. Minerva had spoken of second chances, but did she really mean it?

***

Sallyann had sufficiently recovered her voice to make a promised phone call to Marilyn. She wandered out to a pretty courtyard where she sat on a worn wooden bench in the shade of an old oak tree. She retrieved the phone from her briefcase. She had already told Marilyn, the night before, about her Dad’s financial woes, but now this. “Marilyn, Honey, you’re not going to believe all that’s happened. It’s just been one thing after another. I’m worn out.”

“You mean something more earth-shattering than your dad declaring bankruptcy?”

“It was all a fake! He was just testing us to see who really loved him. Boy, he could teach King Lear a few things about how to be a loving father!” A crow cawed his comment.

“Wow! No kidding! How on earth did he think he could pull off something like that? It doesn’t make sense. I mean, you’re a pretty sharp lawyer, for Christ’s sake.”

“Thanks for the compliment, but I don’t feel so sharp at the moment. In fact, I’m bowled over.” And she told Marilyn about the incredible scene in court, with one revelation after another. “I mean, doesn’t all this sound like the kind of court intrigue that went on in 14th-Century China? You’d never guess that this is 20th-Century America from the way everyone’s acting. And we still don’t know who robbed Dad’s desk drawer, or why he happened to have all that cash stashed in there. Your family is so sane compared to mine.”

“Oh, other people’s parents always seem saner than your own. Remind me to tell you about the time Mom got caught red handed stealing paper towels from the ladies’ room at the bank.”

“No shit! Did she really do that?”

“The bank closed her account the same day. Well, hang in there, Babe. I love you.”

“Oh, Honey, I’ll be so glad to get home.”

***

Nora and Randy and Jess and Lizette were sitting around the kitchen table nursing mugs of fresh coffee. Each armed with a spoon, they picked at the last of the mashed potatoes from lunch while Sky napped upstairs. Jess and Randy passed a joint back and forth between them. Callie lay stretched out in a spot of sunlight. Nora had finally allowed herself to believe that Randy really did have a winning lottery ticket. The question was, whose ticket was it, really? After all, he had used her five-dollar bill to buy it. Didn’t that make it her ticket? Well, maybe, but Randy had already proposed to her before winning the lottery ticket. And he’d given her a real diamond ring, that he’d paid for himself. She stole another look at the ring on her hand. It was the prettiest diamond she’d ever seen. They were as good as married already. What was hers was his. She decided to put the ungenerous thought about the lottery ticket out of her head.

Sallyann had wasted no time in spreading the news that Dad’s so-called bankruptcy was a sham. But, even though he was still a rich man, Dad’s threat to write Nora out of his will if she married Randy was a hollow one now. She and Randy could thumb their noses at the damned will. Randy could hardly wait to lord it over Nora’s “snotty” family. He already had their suitcases and guitars all packed, ready to leave as soon as Minerva got home. Randy had never read Miss Manners—didn’t know the first thing about the obligations of a house guest—but he had a high regard for Minerva. He wanted to thank his hostess, but the sooner he gave Eli his back the happier he would be.

He and Nora had often daydreamed about a better life, but now they began to indulge in a daydream that could actually come true. How would they live, now that they didn’t have to scrimp and cheat? Nora suggested shyly that they might be able to buy the brand-new double-wide trailer they’d been looking at, but Randy said, “Baby, you still don’t get it. Look”—he reached for a calculator that was lying on the kitchen table—“$5,000 a week. Times 52 weeks a year. That’s, let’s see.” He punched the keys. “$260,000—more than a quarter of a million dollars. Every year. We’re way past double wides, Babe. We could buy a fucking mansion, big enough for the whole family. I mean,” turning to Jess, “You and Lizette and Sky could have your own wing, if you wanted to live with us.” Jess grinned.

Nora let this sink in. How would she keep such a big house clean? Oh, yeah, now they could pay a maid to do the dirty work. Two maids. And a cook. Slowly, she warmed to the idea of living high off the hog.

Callie heaved a deep sigh from under her place in the sun. Her paws twitched, and she uttered a muffled bark.

Chatpter 22 by Eileen L

Jason sat in a stunned silence for almost 20 minutes. If you didn’t know the boy better you would think he was stoned or just spaced out. Jason was contemplating and trying to sort out this new information that was life altering. Eli was not his father. He realized that he felt freedom. He was free from his mother’s expectations of what he would bring to her. To Eli. Eli always held his power over everyone he touched. He was free from Eli, his mother, his planned future, and now the boy felt joy.

It hadn’t been easy growing up an only child of a single mother. He used to look at school assemblies and holidays as a reminder that he had a mother but no father. He was always playing the role of the dutiful son that grew up too fast in a broken home. His mother didn’t see it that way. Betty was always waiting for her life to begin. At times Jason felt sorry for his mother. The way she had to use her looks to get what she wanted. This fact did not pass him by even at the age of 6. Jason had his mother figured out long ago. Betty never saw what her son saw. Betty never realized much fun she was to be around. Betty was good enough on her own but she seemed to be in want of something different. Always waiting, chasing, and wishing for something more when it was right in front of her all along. She didn’t see how she was smart and knew so many things–things she used to tell him in stories when she tucked him in each and every night growing up until he was old enough to tuck himself in. He still wished she would tell him stories from her imagination as he drifted off to sleep.

Jason didn’t know everything at the age of 14. But this he did know: He was free of all the expectations thrown upon him and he was now the master of his own destiny. His life was worth living and it would not come from what anyone looked like, who their blood father was, what his mother wanted or especially what Eli willed. Jason would make his own way and take responsibility for him own life now. He also knew he would never email this truth to anyone. It was only going to happen if he himself spoke these words of truth to all those that had betrayed him and used him as a pawn. It was time.

****************************

Susan was just finishing the last of the lunch dishes and taking in the news that Hannah had given her. Daddy lied about the bankruptcy. Why would he do this? To test our loyalty and love seemed like a ridiculous answer. Why did Brian steal back the money she had paid her father back in full? She was so proud to do this one thing. Her entire life had eluded her before. She only wanted to stand on her own two feet and face her father as an equal.

She looked down at her hands and realized they were shaking. It reminded her of that day on the boat in that storm so long ago. Her hands shook that day she was tossed into the angry sea. Susan thought she would drown in that dark abyss of churning waves. She knew she was wearing a life jacket but she did not know her father had tied a life rope from her to the boat. Her father who didn’t know how to say the words, “I love you.” He had tied a life line to make sure she was safe. Susan realized in that moment why her father had tested all of them. Eli didn’t know how to say he loved any of them and was afraid none of them loved him at all. Eli was dying and he didn’t know how to love or receive it. He didn’t know how to say it or ask. He only knew how to tie a life line to each of them. Eli keeping them all safe yet at the same time keeping them prisoners anchored to him. Susan knew in that moment that her father loved her the only way he knew how.

It was then that Brian was just getting back from a run and she knew she could not wait for answers any longer. “We need to talk about all of this and I am so angry with you I don’t even know where to begin.” Susan started.

“Honey, why are you angry with me? I was protecting you and taking back what is rightfully ours to begin with! Your addictions were inherited from that son of a bitch father of yours that was addicted to his work while he forgot about raising his family! Are you kidding me? He owes this to us and then some.” Brian was actually shocked that his beloved wife would not understand his motivations were to honor her. To hell with Eli Hale he thought.

“Brian, that envelope was not yours to take. I understand I could not have gotten that money saved without you and for that I owe you my life. I will not surrender my heart and take part in this in any way. Good, bad, evil or out of love, my father did pay off MY debts. My mistakes were not little ones. This was my time to become my own person. Being the youngest, everyone did everything for me! This was my opportunity to be me and you stole it. Like you stole the envelope and God knows what else. Brian, it was wrong and you cannot correct the past by stealing today. You have to put that cash back and right now. Put it back in the desk!” Susan was not even aware of the tears streaming down her face. “You stole from ME not my father. Don’t you see that?”

Brian stood motionless taking in his wife and her beautiful, tear stained face. “Jesus, Susan, I am so sorry. I never thought that would hurt you in a million years. I was just so angry with your father and always have been. I resent him and how he has treated all of you and especially your mother. Bo…I mean Minerva, deserves so much better and I thought taking the only thing Eli cared about would help.”

“Brian, you have to put it back and make it right. All of that money and whatever else came with it. Please.”

“I will put it all back right now but I have to tell you something about the other envelope. It did not have money in it but letters and picture. It’s all about your father and a mistress and he has a son. He has kept this all a secret for 15 years and we…well a few of us think it’s time for Eli to pay for his crimes. Crimes against all of us and payback for the years of holding all of us hostage! Now we have the power! Now we can make things right.” Davis was pleading for Susan to see the light on this.

“Jesus, Brian, stop it! My family is far from perfect, and I have never pretended we were something we are not. This weekend has been too much to bear. All these secrets, lies, dreams never realized and all this pain is in those envelopes you stole. I don’t give a damn about letters, pictures or any other additions to this family. I only care about what is in front of me right now, at this moment. I want, I need myself whole in all of this and you have to make it right. NOW!” Susan was ready to search for the envelopes herself and put them back in the desk. She knew about Clyde but not her father too! It was too much.

Brian went back to the room they shared. He stared at the white, bare walls and modest bedroom and could not imagine what it was like to grow up under this roof. He only had the envelope with the cash. It weighed heavy in his hand. Seneca had the other envelope. The one that weighed the most in this web of secrets, lies and dreams never realized. Ironically Brian had the easy part after starting all of this. He climbed the stairs to the second floor, into the bedroom that two people had lived a lie in for 50 years and placed the envelope, stuffed with cash on top of the desk and walked away.

**************************************************

Judge Charlton was back from the court recess and was ready to rule on case #004-76-135. “Counselor I see your client is present and I am ready to announce my ruling on this matter today.”

“We are all here, your honor,” Barry replied with defeat already in his tone. God damn that Judge Harmon. He hoped he was in pain from his accident.

“Mr. Marks, I am not sure where you went to law school but perhaps were out sick that week they taught about Chapter 7 criteria and burden of proof. There is nothing in this file that supports any claims brought forth to this court today, a Sunday that remotely resembles a Chapter 7 hearing. This entire proceeding has been conjured by false claims and missing paperwork. I am holding these files for further review by a court appointment liaison. If any improprieties are found from today’s events caused by you and your client there will be court sanctions and possible fines. It is my ruling this petition be denied.” With that the good Judge Charlton slammed his gavel down, stood up, turned on his heel and left his chambers, not even giving Eli a glance to show his eyes blazing with defiance.

The angry Eli was about to be upstaged once again. Outside the court room the screams of one woman was heard and more shouting. Sallyann was still in shock and reeling from today’s events, “Good God what now.” She thought as she raced to the halls. There on the floor of the court house lay one Clyde Ashford, with no signs of life. Minerva was screaming for a doctor and one Good Samaritan was already assessing Clyde’s vitals and ready to administer CPR. From all appearances it seemed Clyde had just suffered a massive heart attack.

 Chapter 23 by Chilton Tippin

Eli stood and turned around and leaned against the balustrade while most everyone rushed through the double-wide doors of the courtroom. At a distance, echoing in those marbled halls, he could hear a flurry of movement and people screaming for help. He hardly registered it, though. His faux bankruptcy ploy had collapsed on itself, the judge had retained custody of the false paperwork, and he was none the wiser for it. At his left, his lawyer still sat with his head in his hands. The man had been a crook, and Eli Knew it; nobody else would have taken the case. But his scheme, at least at first, had seemed plausible, especially since Barry had the judge in his pocket. Alas, it seemed they were doomed from the moment Judge Harmon–also a crook–wised up to the absurdity of the situation and feigned an injury in that car wreck.

Thinking all of this, Eli noticed that he was feeling faint. He tried to take a step, but the courtroom spun. The scale of justice was off balance. He looked at his feet and tried to regain his equanimity. Then, from the galley, he heard a familiar voice.

“Dad,” Sallyann called. She stepped down the aisle between the pews. “Dad, what the hell is going on?” Mascara ran in the rivulets down her face, her hair was disheveled, and she plodded zombielike toward him, weary and confused and seemingly drained of vitality.

From the foyer, Minerva wailed, and Sallyann looked back over her shoulder, concerned, yet she came on, came to her father, and she said, “Dad, what have you done?” She held out her hand and placed it on his shoulder.

He looked at her and had nothing to say, so he began to cough, a deep, chest-rattling cough.

Sallyann leaned in, speaking in an earnest whisper. “Do you know what the consequences are if what they say is true? If you cooked those numbers, Dad…”

Barry stood up. “Say nothing to your daughter, Mr. Hale. She–“

“Shut up, Barry. You dimwit. You fucking slouch of a lawyer. I’m speaking to my father and you will back off.” And Barry was cowed, so she turned her attention back to her father. “Dad, there are serious criminal consequences if you gave inaccurate bookkeeping information, if you didn’t disclose all of your assets…if you came here intentionally giving false testimony. I mean, what have you done? Seriously, Dad. What are we looking at here?”

Eli drew a handkerchief from his pocket and coughed and spat in it. Lowering it, he looked at his daughter. In his old age, he was still taller than her. He allowed his eyelids to slacken, but he held his gaze firmly on her face, and he saw that she was genuinely confused and concerned. And then he said, “For fifty years I have provided for this family. Since you and your sisters were girls, I’ve given you everything…”

“You could do time for what you’ve done today, Dad. Do you understand this? Are you not comprehending the gravity of the situation here?”

“I took care of Susan’s gambling debts. I handled your sister’s frivolous art school. I supported you, trying to be Miss Erin Brockovich. Do you know how much that cost me? Literally tens of thousands of dollars…”

“Focus, Dad! This is all beside the—“

“And now, Sal, I sit back and I look at the life I’ve given you: the opportunities, the good home. I think, you are an old man, Eli. You can rest now.” He paused and looked off to some distant corner in the room. “How could I have been so deluded? For all my hard work, I have been repaid with nothing but treachery and deceit.”

Sallyann took a step back. “What are you talking about?”

Now Eli’s eyes seemed to be bulging from their sockets, and they looked on her with disgust. “Oh please, let me enumerate: your mother’s trysts with her Frenchman in the woods; your sisters, running around with convicts or sniveling sycophants; and you!” He pointed a long, gnarled finger at her chest. “I thought I could take some pride in you. But now you’ve abandoned your children for some goddamn bull dike.”

Her hand shot to her mouth. “Who are you? My god, I don’t even know who you are.”

“You know what, Sallyann. You and your mother and your sisters can conjure whatever lies you’d like. Like witches around a caldron. Bring whatever bullshit you may, the filings are sound and good. My testimony is the Gospel. So you can butt right out of my business.”

“I was trying to help you.”

“I don’t need your help, woman.”

She stared at him a moment, her lip trembling, and then she wiped the moisture from her eyes. “How’s it go, Dad–your saying? The one you’ve said so smugly since we were kids. Ah, yes, I remember it: There ain’t no rest for the wicked. It’s a good one. It rings true. There will be no rest for you, not until they lay you down for good. But in your case, Dad, there will be no one there to lay you down. You will be alone.”

Eli chuckled at first. Then he began to guffaw until it caught in his throat, and he had another emphysematous coughing attack. He reached in his back pocket, still coughing, and drew forth his wallet. He thumbed through the pockets and pulled out two business cards which were bound together with a piece of thread. Ripping the thread off, he smiled, and brought from between the two cards a photograph of a young boy. “Meet my son,” he said. “Jason.”

Sallyann stared at the picture until Eli jerked it childishly from her vision. He put it back in his wallet and said, “Let’s go, Barry.”

They made their way out to the foyer, where a crowd had huddled around his wife and a man who lay prostrate on the floor. People turned furtively toward Eli, parting to let him through, and then closing ranks behind him. He hesitated in the inner ring of the circle. All eyes were on him, expecting. He saw now that his wife held the man’s head in her lap. He saw that the man’s lips sputtered ever so slightly. And he saw that the man was his wife’s lover.

Bo turned her head and looked up at him. Her face was a mess of tears and makeup, and her eyes seemed to be seeking, seeking for Eli to react in some way, to show love or concern, to be the provider like he’d always been. He broke eye contact. He took a step and then another. The crowd was silent save for Bo’s quiet weeping. His voice, when he spoke, came out in a growl: “Move!”

The men and women parted, allowing Eli and Barry to leave the courthouse, descend the steps, and enter the Town Car which awaited them. Inside, Eli pulled the door shut and told the driver to take him home. Barry leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands, clearly racked in anxiety. Eli was aware of himself breathing heavily. His lungs seemed full of mucous. He stretched his legs out and jammed his feet into the floor of the car, pushing. The weight of his predicament was physically on him, driving him into the car seat as if it were a force of gravity. Sweat leaked from the pores above his temples. “The world is closing,” he said. “Barry, I feel dizzy.” And he leaned back in the plush seat.

…..

Minerva cradled Clyde’s head in her hands as he lay there sputtering about the lips. She hated the thought, but the sound he made was almost like that of her percolator, when the coffee was just beginning to heat up. An odd sound to make in the midst of a heart attack. His eyes fluttered, too, and sometimes he would jerk and writhe in pain.

A moment ago he had not been breathing. But Josiah, Eli’s brother, materializing out of the blue, straddled Clyde and gave him CPR and mouth-to-mouth, bringing him back from the dead. Once Clyde had been somewhat stabilized, Josiah said: “Hold him here like this. I’m calling 911,” and he disappeared into the crowd.

In a moment the paramedics arrived. They checked Clyde’s vitals and dropped a gurney and lifted Clyde onto it. He lay there limp as a ragdoll.

“How is he?” Minerva said. “Is he going to be okay?”

“He is not stable, ma’am. His heart is still constricting. Please, let us do our jobs.”

She stood aside and watched as the man listened to Clyde’s chest through the stethoscope. The voicemail from the night before had been obliterated. He’d come back for her. She loved him. She knew it.

The paramedics rolled Clyde out of the courthouse and carried him down the stairs. Walking briskly, Minerva followed. Please, please be okay. My Clyde. My last ray of hope: flickering, dying. And then she thought of Eli—how he had shrugged her off in her moment of raw desperation—and her blood boiled.

The ambulance doors were open on arrival. The paramedics rolled Clyde into the cavern, where tubes and wires dangled like vines in some sort of science-fiction jungle. Bo was grabbing the handrail and hoisting herself up when she felt two hands on her hips.

“You cannot get in, ma’am.”

“Unhand me!” she said, whirling. “You just try and stop me. Just try!”

“I’m sorry. Next of kin only, ma’am.”

She stood there speechless as they slammed the ambulance door shut and latched it.

A storm gathered to the West. She heard the rumbling of thunder and felt the warm, moist breeze as it came glissading off Possession Sound. The taillights of the ambulance painted everything around her red. The klaxons wailed. She wanted to drop to her knees and wail along with them. Then she felt a tap on her elbow.

She turned and Josiah was there, his brows arching, his eyes perceptive. He said, “Bo, I’ve got my car right over there. C’mon. We can follow the ambulance straight to the hospital.”

Seneca and Sallyann stood at his aside. Sallyann was on the phone. “Nora, there’s been an emergency. Call Susie. I’m calling Hannah. Everyone needs to meet at Providence Washington…No it’s not Dad. It’s Mom’s—uh—it’s Mom’s boyfriend. Clyde.”

Chapter 24 by Gloria B

The drive to the hospital seemed to last forever. Watching the ambulance’s lights was almost more than Minerva could take. Would Clyde be ok? What caused him to collapse? Why did he come to the courthouse? These were all questions that raced through Minerva’s mind but as they pulled up to the hospital , disappeared as quickly as the came.

Clyde was rushed into the emergency area. There were too many doctors and nurses working on him to count. All Minerva could do is pray. Pray that Clyde wouldn’t die. Seemed like forever before any medical staff came out and said Clyde was stable but still not out of the woods.

Back at home, Eli went to his office where he felt he could do his best thinking. His first reaction was where do I go from here. Before he could come up with an answer, there was a knock on the office door and it slowly opened. It was Betty. Eli was shocked but yet relieved to see a friendly face since the whole family was at the hospital with Bo and her beau.

Betty approached him slowly as she could see a very broken man. She placed her arms around his neck and felt their connection return as if none of this had ever happened. Eli took a long slow labored breath and said, “Betty, what have I done?” Before she could even think of an answer, Eli said, “This is all wrong. I have worked hard all my life and now could spend my golden years in prison for something that has gone horribly wrong. “ Betty knew that Eli had the power and resources that this would never happen to him. But she also knew her words could not comfort him now. She continued to hold him. Eli found comfort in Betty, but was still aware this was not to be happening in his house where he lived with his wife and where he raised his children. He stared at the broken drawer, wondering who could have taken the money and what would the person do with the photos they found?

Eli came to his senses and drew a breath. “Betty, you have to go before anyone comes home.” Betty knew he was right and kissed his lined forehead ever so softly before she broke contact with Eli. “Please call me later.” she said as she slowly left the room and closed the door.

Minvera was desperate for more details as to Clyde’s condition but because she wasn’t “family” she could not obtain the current statis of his health. She paced and waited. She drank bad coffee and would barely leave to use the restroom. The girls promised to come get her if anyone changes were made in his room. The doctor would not let her in. She felt guilty as Clyde was all alone accept for his brother who only came around for holidays and when he needed Clyde’s help.

Jason had decided to tell his mom about the research he had done and the results he had found. How would she react? For all these years, she was banking on the fact the Eli was his father and now to find out, it was Layton Clark. What kind of name is that? I have never met a Layton before. Jason Clark. Jason Hale. Hmmm? Son of a bookkeeper or son of a millionaire?

Back at the hospital ,time passed slowly. Josiah was by his brother’s side for hours. The nurses would come in, check the machines and leave without much word on Clyde’s condition. Josiah knew that Bo was a friend and had his suspicions, but few words were ever exchanged between Josiah and Bo. Bo could no longer take the waiting. She went to Clyde’s door and knocked. Waited a few seconds and knocked again. Knowing Josiah had to come out soon, she waited at the door impatiently.

Josiah came out and said no change. He is stable but unconscious. The next 24 hours will be crucial in his recovery. The doctor remains optimistic. Clyde is a strong man, not only physically but he has strong willpower too. He will be ok, he has to be. The doctors advised they would call him if there was a change, he should go home and rest. Come back in the morning, they would know more then.

Josiah convinced all the others to do the same. Reluctantly, everyone left. Minerva was the last to leave. She was worn out. Unsure of what she would walk into when she got home. Hannah convinced Bo to ride with her as Bo was still shaken from the day’s events. The ride was long and no words were exchanged between mother and daughter. As they turned into the long driveway, Mivera realized she had much to deal with, but tomorrow, as for now all she wanted to do was go to bed.

Betty arrived at her quaint house. Jason was waiting for her to tell her his findings but could tell by her face, she could handle no more for the day. She knew she needed rest but all she did was toss and turn when she went to bed. He could tell his fragile mother couldn’t handle any more for the day.

Morning came way too soon as Bo felt as if she just put her head to the pillow when she saw the sun peering through the window. The light had brought her back to reality that she had a whole house full of family who came to celebrate 50 years of marriage. What a party it has been.

Minerva had always enjoyed having her family around her but today she wanted silence. She wanted to reflect on where she should go from here. She started the bacon, and thought about homemade cinnamon rolls but decided to pull potatoes and leftover veggies for a frittata which would be faster. She still had a fruit platter left from the party and there would be plenty for all to eat. She set the table and put the food out. SHe abruptly left before anyone had come down.

She decided a short walk with Callie. Susan had left earlier for a run. She ran into her mother and decided to walk with her. They walked in silence as Callie led the way. Minerva was wishing in the back of her mind that she would see Clyde but then she remembered that he was in the hospital and she needed to go see him. Susan said, “Mom, I understand. I know Daddy has been hard to live with all these years. Long hours, ambition. It can take it’s toll on a marriage. “ Bo just cried with relief that at least one person understood.

Josiah was in Clyde’s room when Bo arrived. She went in to see Clyde’s frail body. His eyes were open and she had tears of joy. She hugged Clyde for what seemed like an eternity and then Josiah spoke. “The doctor said he had quite a scare yesterday. He hadn’t been taking his medications regularly but thanks to that dog, his exercise made his collapse not as serious as the doctor originally thought. He will be here for about a week so they can monitor his recovery then he will go home. I have decided to move in and take care of him to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Eli had a sleepless night and to make matters worse, spent it on the couch in his office. He awoke to the buzz of his cell phone. Someone was calling. He looked at the number with fuzzy eyes and decided he wasn’t ready to deal with Barry. He let the call go to voice mail and fell back asleep. When he stirred again, he remembered the phone call. He listened to the voicemail and knew he was in trouble.

Chapter 25 by

Kimber J Stonehouse

1557 Words

Jason stayed awake nearly all night. Alive with the possibilities for his life. No longer were there unspoken expectations, choices that were requested, but technically required. No more pretending to love the man who wasn’t his dad, in fact…Eli Hale could just go back to all his daughters, and try to salvage some grandsons’ interest in his business.

The rumours were all over town about how he treated his ‘real’ family. Why his Mom thought Eli was ‘all that’ was totally confusing to him? His Mom was gorgeous, and smart; why had she put up with all the years of lies and broken promises? Just for a trucking company? Well, he wasn’t having it! He was free, and it was time to let the world know. He had a future and a life that didn’t include Hale Trucking or Eli Hale.

He wanted to meet his real Dad someday, not yet, but someday. He wanted to go to college, study mechanical engineering – you needed good math for that right? Maybe even join the Air Force…they trained you for cool jobs, and working on jets would be AWESOME! Maybe even have the chance to fly one. Anything to no longer wash Eli Hale’s trucks for his lousy minimum wage that HE thought was so incredibly generous. His Mom making him thank him for the opportunity to work. What a load of crap!

It was still too early to wake his Mom, but Google-ing all the possibilities was making it hard to stay in his room, and not share his excitement with her. Not to mention, the roar coming from his stomach. Time to go find some breakfast!

Minerva sat quietly at the hospital bed just holding Clyde’s hand. So much had happened in the last few days; it had been a whirlwind of crisis, family, and a flat out emotional roller coaster! As a young woman, she had enjoyed the freedom & chaos of a good roller coaster, the wooden ones were always the best. The best hills, the speed, and the clackity-clack of the tracks….the click, click, click of the chains dragging the cars up the first amazing hill, while the suspense of the stomach dropping sensation to follow tingled all the way through her body. As a woman fast approaching seventy, she was little out of breath with all that had been revealed, exposed, and turned on it’s head in the last 48 hours. It was nice to just sit quietly, and softly think about what the future might hold. A future so different than the one she had been confined to just days ago.

‘Actually Josiah, I’d like to take care of Clyde. If he’ll have me that is? You have your dive boat and fishing businesses, and that often takes you away for days or weeks at a time. For the first time in many years, I want to guide my own life again. I’m done living only for my daughters, their children, and more importantly, I’m done living my lie with Eli. I don’t know that I’ll have anything to bring with me, but I’d like to live life again while I still have a few more years to live it.’

Josiah sat in stunned silence. Tears appeared in Clyde’s eyes, ‘You’ll have me? After all I’ve done? The lies, the deceptions, the blackmail, all of it?’

‘We’ve both done a bit of lying and deception. I’m willing to give it a try if you are. I’d say we have a good start with the last day’s honesty. Keep in mind, I may be arriving only with Callie, and my ability to cook and sew. I don’t know that I’m such a great bargain!’

Josiah quietly left the room, his presence was no longer needed. At last, it looked as though his brother, technically half brother, was finally on the right track. Perhaps, Minerva would find better happiness as well. She certainly hadn’t been happy with his money-obsessed brother Eli! And truth be told, she deserved some happiness after living with that crotchety man for 50 years.

As Eli listened to the message from Barry AGAIN, he couldn’t quite take it all in. He heard the words, but the world was closing in around him. Those words were terrifying – anyone who’d spent time on either side of the courtroom was intimidated by the power of that office of government. And Eli was no exception. He’d run his business on the edges at times, but always steered clear of actual illegal actions or business practices that were traceable. He’d tread the edges of course, didn’t everyone. A few illegals to wash the trucks paid in cash, Deliveries of rock, sand, gravel to home owners re-doing their driveways, cash payment – never reported to the IRS. A little here, a little there, but nothing serious, nothing worth noting, and certainly never any records were kept.

But now, the voice mail rambled on about subpoenas, income tax records, banking statements, loans, investments, personal property, landownership, incorporation documents if applicable, and at the very end, a deposition was required with the provider of the falsified accounting records. Oh No! Betty! What had he done! He was destroying Betty, the only good thing in his life. Betty, the joy and light. The one thing, besides Hale Trucking that really meant he had arrived. Betty and his son, Jason.

Sallyann saw Susan head out for her morning run. She understood the routine is what helped her sister through her gambling addiction. They all had them, addictions, they’d been ingrained from their father from the time of the birth. Susan’s was gambling, the games of chance to win her fortune, Hannah’s was creativity & the constant need to decorate. Nora’s was her ongoing loser boyfriends – would it never end. Even winning the lottery won’t help the latest one! Hers was excellence, pride in her accomplishments & the zeal to be her best and PROVE to her father that she was worthy of his love. Finally, she was free of that. Like Susan, she had beaten her addiction. It no longer mattered what Eli Hale thought of her, her sisters, her Mom, or their choices.

Sallyann beamed with joy. Her Mom was finally standing up for herself, and Sallyann would make sure, she got her fair share of the fortune that Eli was trying to hide. Bo, or Minerva now, had stayed with him for 50 years, and cooked, cleaned, sewed, and raised his daughters. She’d put up with his ups & downs of business, his affair, and after Eli shoved that picture of his illegitimate son, in Sallyann’s face – She’d make sure her mother was well taken care of. At least 50 % of EVERYTHING! Including the house, even if they had to sell it. She had work to do, and research to start. Her practice wasn’t family law, better known as divorce. Or bankruptcy and fraud, but she knew all the best lawyers in town, and it was time to begin protecting her Mom. She was packed & ready to roll. Coffee in hand, her cell phone charged, as soon as it was 9am, she’d start the phone calls. Time to go.

Betty awoke to a beeping. Alarm clock? What time was it? Shouldn’t she be at work? Then the memories came crashing down on her. The courthouse, Eli’s sham bankruptcy, her falsified documents, the judge that got cold feet, and the one who replaced him. The courtroom fiasco with the arrival of the Brit, Bo, and some other men. Eli’s devastation with the turn of events. She went to his house!! What was she thinking yesterday? At least that secret was safe; she didn’t think anyone saw her. She sincerely hoped not.

The aromas of leftover Kung Pao Chicken wafted into her bedroom. Ahhh, that’s what the beeping was, the microwave. Jason would eat anything for breakfast, and that smelled like his dinner from their ‘date’ the other night. Being a single Mom took it’s toll on Parenthood, working late, her night life, his friends. and high school sports schedules often got in the way. A few years back, they had arranged a weekly ‘date’ night. That night was always reserved for their time together, no intruders. None of his friends, none of her friends. Just the two of them, and whatever they wanted to do. Order out for pizza, rent movies, biking, or dinner out. Just the two of them. The other night it has been Chinese Food, or at least the Americanized version. They had even talked about going to China someday to find out what Chinese food was really like!

Such an awesome young man, she was so proud of all the things he was accomplishing. Something she had actually done right in her life. Well, maybe not the way she had done it, but the result was still the same. He was growing into a fine young man. Incredibly intelligent, and FOREVER on that computer of his. ‘Hey Jason, would you be a dear, and put the kettle on, please?’

‘Sweet! You’re up! You got it Mom! Hurry up and get in here. I want to talk to you about all kinds of stuff! You won’t believe all the cool stuff I found while surfing this morning!”

Chapter 26 by Cami O

Betty arrived in her kitchen, groggy and unkempt, badly needing a shower to wake her. The burden of keeping secrets had worn her out. The love of her life had gone home to the house he shared with his wife; his wife was likely at the hospital with her “friend,” and she, reliable Betty, sat waiting for a phone call telling her that charges would be pressed against her for her involvement in a sham she’d participated in out of devotion to a man who in fifteen years had not left his family for her, despite his nearly daily promises to do so.

“Mom, I found something out you need to know,” Jason said, as he set a cup of tea in front of his mother.

“Honey, can it wait? I hardly slept.”

“It can’t wait, ma. It’s waited long enough.”

Resigned, Betty turned to her son. His sandy hair stood on end and his slight jaw suddenly reminded her of someone. Who? She couldn’t put her finger on it. “What is it, darling?”

“I decided to do a little detective work and…”

The phone rang just then. Betty held up a finger to indicate that Jason’s discovery would have to wait. “Hello,” she answered. And then, “Yes. Of course. Today? Okay. I’ll make arrangements.”

“What is it mom?” Jason asked once she’d hung up the phone and he saw how white her face had turned.

“I’m being asked to go to the police stations to testify with regard to fraud. If I cooperate, they say they’ll keep me out of jail. Oh boy, I think I’ve made a mess of something.”

Jason watched as his mother rose, ran her hands through her hair and turned to go back upstairs to take a shower. He couldn’t wait another minute to give her the news he thought would free her from her current sadness.

“Mom, listen to me,” Jason said to her back. “He’s not my father.”

Betty stopped midstep and turned to look at her son. “What did you say?” she asked him, searching his face.

“He, Eli, that old dude you work for… is not my father. I know he’s been sending you money for years…. I mean, I get the mail everyday after school. I’m not an idiot.”

Betty stood staring at Jason. She’d made the mistake most adults make in assuming that their children aren’t paying attention. Jason knew what most children know: adults think children are small idiots, when, rather, they are tiny private eyes watching everything their parents do.

“What do you mean?” Betty asked.

“Eli Hale, the guy you work for, the guy who comes by on my birthdays with gifts too big to be from my mom’s boss… he’s not my dad. I did a send-in DNA test with his hair–and mine. We’re not related.”

Betty felt her breath turn shallow.

“Don’t freak out, Betty,” Jason said, coming to his mother and flopping an arm around her shoulder as if his news were no more profound than that he needed her to sign a permission slip for a field trip. “This means we don’t have to invite him over anymore. It means I don’t have to pretend to like to play with toy trucks when I’d rather write rap music. It means you don’t have to buy expensive, sexy clothes just to go to work everyday. This is good news, ma.”

But Betty didn’t think so. She didn’t think she was in for good news for a very long time.

Sitting in Clydes room holding his hand to her lips, Minerva said a silent prayer. May he never discover that his heart attack was caused by the tiny drops of foxglove rain runoff she had dribbled into his hot apple cider. Clyde obviously had his problems, his vices, but Minerva could see into his heart and knew that he genuinely cared about her. And this was more than she’d had for a long time.

Hours passed in Clyde’s hospital room, though, and as they did, Minerva found herself grounded in a reality that she hadn’t considered before. The more tired she became that Monday sitting next to Clyde’s sleeping body, the more she began to consider what it would be like to live with no man at all in her life. She could divorce Eli without another fellow to run to, after all. She would get half of their estate. And she might be smart to do it before he gave it all away to his bastard son somehow. She didn’t even know what the most recent will said.

She could divorce him anytime she wanted to, now that she thought about it. This wasn’t 1970. She had a lesbian daughter, for crying out loud. The world had changed. With half of Eli’s money–their money–she could live just fine.

On the other hand, the midnight booty call notwithstanding, the fake British accent forgiven, Clyde did look at her with an affection she hadn’t felt too many years to count. And she wasn’t young enough to figure out how to live on her own without a man. She hadn’t been trained to be an independent woman, she’d been raised to raise children and to adore grandchildren and to bake a mean apple pie.

Minerva had some decisions to make, if her impulsive, vengeful deed to slip a little poison into her thermos of homemade cider was never discovered. If it was discovered, she was going to need a good lawyer.

Just then there was gentle knock at the hospital door. “Mom, how are you?” It was Sallyann.

Chapter 27 by Angee Stonehouse

*** Power of Attorney ***

As it turned out, ignoring Barry’s insistent phone calls had been a bad idea. Blasted pigs had rooted him out, him without a chance to run or hide or consider some more meaningful defense than “you can shove that warrant up your ass.”

Eli squinted in the yellow of the setting sun, that ill-begotten hue of pre-twilight that consumed perfectly good afternoons with the jaundiced tones of futility. In the throes of teenage angst, his daughters each had their own litany of what Sallyann had been the first to dub ‘Yellow music,’ tunes devoted to the utter emptiness of a day’s final gasps. Sallyann’s had been Melissa Etheridge (he should have known…), Hannah’s Tori Amos, Nora’s Norah Jones (because Nora could only identify with another poorly-named soul), and Susan’s… He realized he had forgotten Susan’s. Joan someone? Fiona? Now, sitting in the back of the squad car watching the familiar hills pass by, the thought suddenly made him sad. Susan had paid him back, the first glimpse of worthiness in the whole rotten charade of a party, and he couldn’t even remember her yellow music.

“This way,” the trooper opened the back door, motioning for Eli to follow him.

Eli stared at the youngster’s hopelessly eager eyes, planted a scowl on his face and refused to move.

“Please, sir.  Let’s not make this difficult.” The young man pleaded.

Eli shook his head and stuck out his tongue, just for the joy of watching the young man squirm at the idea of wrestling an obstinate old man from the back of the squad car. So little brought joy to his life, but the kid’s tightrope walk between patient public servant and foot-stamping toddler amused Eli in a way very few things, even Betty’s bouncing breasts, ever could.

He whined and moaned, complaining of severe joint distress as the officer attempted to pull him bodily from the car. Then squealed with inward laughter as he called in the lieutenant for backup. Like all pleasures in Eli’s life, even toying with the cop was short lived. The lieutenant, a sour-faced dyke of a broad that he was sure even Sallyann would find repulsive, made no qualms about yanking him into submission.

The police station stank of urine and old paperwork, the odors distinct enough to recognize but not entirely separate. The resulting effect was a sense of time’s bitter decay, the bureaucracy of process managing young and old, rich and poor, black and white in the common human experience of producing waste. So this is what we’re all reduced to, Eli thought, when all plans go awry, this is where we all come to die, behind a mountain of forms and evidence on top of a puddle of someone else’s piss. It made him feel better somehow, the great leveler in the end.

When they led him past the rows of desks toward the station’s only holding cell, Eli had to hold back the wad of saliva that threatened to expel itself on the concrete floor.  There, sitting on the bench behind bars, reeking of weed and sweat (though Eli was too far away to smell it, he still knew it), was his daughter’s sweetheart. Randy. “You have got to be kidding me,” Eli grunted. “Not with that one.”

Now it was the lieutenant’s turn to feel childish amusement. “Oh yes, with that one, old man. No funny business.” With a dyke-ish grin she opened the door, shoved Eli unceremoniously inside, and slammed the door closed, going back to her desk and leaving the two of them in shocked silence.

“So,” Randy said with the air of someone who had uttered the next words on many occasions, “what are you in for?”

“Nothing I have to answer to you for, you sorry excuse for a man.”

“Bankruptcy deal didn’t work out so well for ya, did it?” Randy grinned, brushing a hand through that sandy hair he must think makes him so damned irresistible to stupid girls like Nora.

“Not your damned business, is it?” Eli ambled over to the bench and sat down without looking at Randy. “And you? What is it this time? Thought they legalized weed.”

Randy chuckled. “Apparently there are some ‘restrictions'” He made air-quotes around the last word, “on the actual amount that constitutes personal consumption.” He shook his head. “They got nothing.”

Eli tapped his foot against the concrete.

“Anyway, with the lotto money, I’ll buy some fancy lawyer, be out of here in no time.”

Eli raised his eyebrow. “Lotto?”

“We won, man. Big one. Couple hundred G’s a year.” Randy peered at the old man as if considering his next words, then curled his lips into a sneer. “Well, I should say I won. Nora’s just going to have to prove she’s worthy.”

His last words echoed in Eli’s mind ‘prove she’s worthy.’ Yes, well, with money, there was always something to prove. Eli gazed up at Randy and saw something in him then, something that had eluded him to this point, but yet had always been present behind the veil of righteous indignation, fueling his loathing of Nora’s insignificant other. With a rueful grin, he recognized his kindred spirit, one so alike in his unabashed selfishness that it made his eyes brim with pride. Much as he had wanted to deny it, there Randy was before him.  The son he had truly never had.  No rest for the wicked, they always said. Eli knew what it really meant and, he now realized, so did Randy. Eli let out a grunt that morphed into a hoarse chuckle. “Well ain’t that a kick in the head.”

***

Getting the old man to sign the power of attorney had been the easy part, Sallyann remembered. During a particularly rough bout with his emphysema, he had such a document drafted to govern the pulling of the proverbial plug. Eli Hale had been many things throughout his life, but a vegetable he would not be. It had been a simple task of cleverly crafting what Eli himself had called ‘legal mumbo jumbo.’ Enough ‘therefore’ and ‘as with respect to,’ and the old man had had enough reading and moved on to signing. Were Sallyann more misguided, she could have characterized the act as trust in her abilities or her fidelity to him, but she knew Eli Hale. What lay behind the guise of trust was conceit. No one could get the better of him.

Sure, to be safe, Sallyann had drafted the asset takeover clause such that it was technically reciprocal should she ever have the misfortune of being incarcerated, but for all his scheming, Sallyann knew that Eli lacked the wits to manufacture such a plan for her. Oh he despised her, to be certain, before the ‘dyke’ incident, and certainly would have relished the ability to lord power over her (and had, on many occasions). After all, her very existence was the root cause of the unequivocal catastrophe that was his life. Yet while he had the stones, he did not have the noodles. Soon, he wouldn’t have the clams either. In any sense of the word. Sallyann scowled. Fucking clams.

Knowing Eli would eventually realize his soul mate in Randy had been a recent discovery. Sallyann had never minced words about her feelings for Nora’s sweetheart. She had watched him like a hawk at first because she suspected, and later confirmed, he was stealing from her baby sister. Yet what she learned shocked her. Behind the cloud of ganja and rock and roll, Randy was more like Eli than any of the sisters would dare be. Her father, so desperately wanting a son would eventually see the man in the mirror in Nora’s lesser half. Sallyann had to react to quickly to avoid the would-be-male heir from having a stake in the pie, should there be any time lapse between Eli’s newfound love of the pothead and the invocation of Sallyanns’ power of attorney clauses upon proof of Eli’s guilt in a federal charge.

Reluctant at first, Nora became a willing accomplice soon enough. Headstrong and capricious, sure, but Nora was still her father’s daughter. Love of money ran thick in their blood, and continued theft of what they deemed so precious was enough to spur even her fickle heart into scheming discontent. Nora knew the ring was CZ; she had seen enough true diamonds in her life not to be fooled by a cheap imitation. Yet the marriage had to be as real and binding as any. The fact that Randy had gotten his own dumb ass thrown in jail before she could follow through was a slight snag, to be sure, but she’d have her marriage certificate and her prenuptial agreement, cutting Randy out of any of Eli’s promises.

The lottery was going to be a problem. “What now?” Nora had asked, biting her nails to the quick, chips of magenta nail polish flaking off on her bright red lips. “He’ll draft his own pre-nup now, for sure. If he even does go through with the wedding.”

She was right. The shadow of their father, Randy wouldn’t give up his new-found riches so easily. Yet, there were ways around every problem if you had the right connections. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll just make some calls.” Sallyann had all the judge’s numbers in her contact list, especially that crooked little judge who had bought into Eli and Barry’s misguided scheme.  Hadn’t taken much convincing for the weasel to get cold feet. Money talked. “He’ll need to go through with the wedding anyway. As long as you’ve been together, common law would go into effect for joint ownership on something like that.”

Nora had nodded, as if that made perfect sense. So too, Sallyann hoped, would Randy.

Sallyann had thought mother was going to be more of a problem. Minerva Bodene may snag the occasional grape from the grocery aisle, or, as it turns out, the occasional faux-Englishman from the dog park, but she wasn’t a criminal. Until this very day, Sallyann had been pondering a myriad various options to get her mother thrown in jail (the other unfortunate clause in the power of attorney she’d had to throw in to maintain believability). Each scheme was as thin as the last. It was no good. Even with her mother’s affair, Bo was as straight-laced as they could come in a family as ass-backwards as theirs.

When she saw them cart off her father, knowing Randy was also on his way down to the station, Sallyann had grown desperate. Running through the house in a panic, she scoured each room for a shred of evidence to implicate her mother on the weakest of charges. She’d even considered planting some cocaine. She had enough on her to make a decent case. Then, she had found it. The foxglove. “Oh mother,” she’d whispered with a smile, “say it isn’t so.”

Chapter 28 by Maria E

“Eli Hale, the guy you work for… he’s not my dad. I did a send-in DNA test with his hair–and mine. We’re not related.”

Betty’s breathing became labored and she slipped to the ground, gasping for breath. Jason ran into the kitchen and came back with a grocery bag for his mother. He’d seen his mother hyperventilate before but it had never been this bad.

“Are you ok, mom?”

“I will be, as soon as I get a hold of myself,” she panted, glaring at him. When the dizziness had passed, she straightened up and faced her son.

“What were you trying to do, give me a heart attack? When did you get this so-called test done? How do you know it’s reliable? And why didn’t you tell me you were doing this? I’m your mother, for Pete’s sake!”

Jason put up his hand. “Stop it mom! I didn’t want to upset you but I needed to find out. I mean, I have a right to know who the heck my father is and you’ve always been so mysterious about it. Geez Louise mom, it’s a big deal. Couldn’t you have at least told me?”

Betty smiled. Jason had a knack for breaking the tension with his mimicry of her old fashioned phrases. She really should have told him earlier but she didn’t like to recall her past, it had been such a crazy time. Three men courting her, while a fourth suitor had lurked in the shadows all these years. He was still waiting. But getting involved with him had been out of the question. Or was it?

“Yo, earth to mom, where’d you go?” Jason was gently tapping her on the arm.

“I’m right here darling. It’s just, well, you surprised me, that’s all.”

“You mean you really didn’t know?”

Betty flinched. ” Well, I had my suspicions that it might be Eli, but deep down I knew it was Layton. A woman always knows these things, dear.”

“Really, oh you mean you got the calendar out and…”

“Stop it, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Betty went to stand up but her son stopped her.

“Ok, ok but you owe me big, like, some new speakers for my computer. I’m just glad Eli’s not my dad, he’s such an asshole.”

“Please son, let’s not talk about this right now. I have a headache, I’m going to lie down for a few minutes.” Betty paused. “I am truly sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, my love, and that you had to find out who your real father was through a test.”

Jason hugged his mom. “Ok for now, but I will come to collect.” Betty chuckled as he gave her a peck on the forehead and went upstairs to his room. Betty collapsed on the sofa. Her son was a great kid. She was lucky he had turned out so well. But his discovery complicated things. Who was going to take care of them? Eli had been footing the bills for so long that she had gotten used to having him around, even if he was a terrible lover. She could just imagine poor Bo putting up with his grunting, thinking he was hot shit on a silver platter when he was actually warm diarrhea in a paper cup. She shook her head. Her son was right. She was living in 2012 with a whole lot of archaic phrases from the last century, along with a sexual itch that never seemed to go away, she thought ruefully. She would love to have been a courtesan during the Renaissance. It was more acceptable than being ‘the other woman’ in this day and age of prudish hypocrites. And she would have been good at it too.

Betty sighed as she looked up at the ceiling of her worn out living room. There were little paint chips in the corner that were on the verge of flaking off. Her house needed a new coat of paint and better furniture. But where was she going to get it? Eli, her cash cow, was in trouble and facing a probable jail sentence. It was just a matter of time before they put two and two together and came looking for her.

She shot up. She couldn’t be implicated in this mess Eli had created and she’d be damned if she was going to take the fall for him. She had to get the hell out of dodge, that’s what she had to do. She sprinted off the couch, and then stopped.

She couldn’t get out of town and run away with her son, where would they go? Then she thought of the one piece of evidence that could save her. It would mean giving up Eli forever, but her son came first. Eli had started this whole mess and now he was going to have to face the music for his actions. There was no way she was going down with this ship. She went upstairs to her room to look for the proof she now desperately needed, then make the phone call to the key person who would be able to help her.

***                                     *****

Susan was rocking back and forth on her bed, shivering, angry and scared. Was her whole family crazy? At this moment, Daddy was in jail for a phony bankruptcy scheme and Mom was tending to her lover in the hospital. In the kitchen, Nora and Hannah had just filled her in on Sallyann’s game plan to relieve their father of his money. When she heard the foxglove detail, Susan had started screaming at the top of her lungs and run upstairs to get away from them. What had they all turned into? Was this really what her family was like? It seemed like her innocent wish to put things right with her father had backfired into this snowball of lies and deceit. But sadly, she knew the patriarch of the Hale family was responsible. And right now, all she wanted to do was get out of the house, take a plane to Vegas, and just sit at the blackjack table with a vodka martini all night. But she knew couldn’t do that. Years ago, she had accomplished the impossible and managed to grow out of her addiction. Well, she’d be damned if she was going to fall back into that black hole of despair now.

There was no way she would ever agree to such a diabolical plan. Even with all the damning evidence her sisters had just presented to her, even her mother’s foolish attempt at poisoning god-knows-who with foxglove wasn’t enough for her to acquiesce. She wanted no part of this scheme or this family. She wouldn’t run away again. When she had the strength, she would walk out and never look back. She went to her suitcase, found the envelope Eli had given to her for safekeeping before going to the courthouse, took a deep breath, and marched downstairs.

Chapter 29 by Joy M.

Eli and Randy were sprung from the jail house for the funeral. Although they were just about five minutes shy of freedom anyway, Eli having rustled up a bail bondsman that owed him money . . . .

Sallyann and Nora had been hit by a train on their way to the jail to legalize Randy and Nora’s ill-begotten union. That old RRX on the back Valley Road was always pesky. Why just last week, Tippie Talbot with News Team Six! had done a piece on it. . . Tippie had been  most displeased.

Jess picked them up in Susan’s car they’d ‘borrowed.’ Susan was no where to be found. Once the Sheriff had come with the news about the train wreck and everyone fell apart and fell on Minerva and Minerva on them, Susan had just sort of vaporized . . . . Leaving poor Hannah to deal with her catatonic mother, her grieving nieces (&nephews?), and all the crying children. And a confused Lizette, running after that child of hers and looking for Jess everywhere . . . .

Jess, Randy, and Eli had no intentions of going back home ‘in to that house full of crazed womenfolk’ as Eli put it . . . Bull dyke got what she deserved, thought Eli. And Nora’s out of her fool-headed misery too!

Instead, they were driving to Seattle to go to the lottery headquarters so Randy could finally turn over his winning ticket. The one he no longer had to share with Nora.

Eli was just game to get out of town. He needed to think. Think and plan. For he was worried, powerful worried. That bitch Betty was a loose canon. . . and now criminal charges brought against him! Everything was a mess and he just wanted to go off somewhere peaceful and cough himself to death. He wanted to smell the sea!

But first things first. Randy needed to replace the stash the cops had confiscated, bastard pigs, and that was foremost in his just-sprung mind. He had a Q on hold with his buddy Frank but hell, ole Frank would spot him an oh-zee now for sure! And the good stuff this time — no more ‘middie.’ God Bless Frank! Could he get to Frank fast enough?

Then the old man, Eli, wanted to go to some bank in North Bend. Said he had something there that could help them all. Plus, Randy needed himself a bank account anyway — they had to put his lottery loot somewhere! That carpet muncher Sallyann had at least imparted that bit of four one one before her stupid crazed ass ran through the RRX . . . . Yeppers, thought Randy, at least she told me that! “Do you even HAVE a bank account, you low-life?” she hollered at him all red-faced and fuming.

But then Eli had also mumbled something about wanting to see a lady-friend, too, that maybe she could meet them in North Bend. Randy didn’t think much of this idea. Hell, any ‘lady friend’ of this old coot’s had to be at least nine hundred. What were they going to do with old baggage in need of dusting? Shit, he’d make sure this part did not happen . . . .

Fifteen minutes outside the two-bit town Frank called home Susan’s stolen ten year old Hyundai started making a most peculiar knocking sound.

“What the damnation is that!?” Eli yelled so loud he commenced one of his coughing fits. “F*” Randy yelled about that same time . . . “What the—-” said Jess who was trying not to run the piece of Asian crap off the highway . . .

“Pull over got-dang it, pull over,” hollered Randy, riding in the back seat. Jess made his way in to the parking lot of “The Hair Palace Beauty Destination,” a business that seemed to have found another destination besides this run-down, paint pealed place. Jess stopped the car. The knocking commenced again, this time with a sort of rhythm.

“What the F*,” said Randy. He reached forward and yanked the keys out of the ignition. The keys Jess had gone through the missing Susan’s purse to procure. The knocking got louder still.

“It’s coming from the trunk!” yelled Jess, “The trunk! There’s someone in the trunk god damn it!” They all tumbled out of the car and stood back, as if the car was now their enemy not their getaway vehicle. The knocking started again and now muffled hollering.

“Got dang it! ” yelled Randy and he took the keys and opened the trunk of Susan’s car.  And there, crouched in fear and anger, was a pimple-faced teenage boy.

“Jason! Son!” yelled Eli flabbergasted. “What on Earth are you doing in the trunk of this car?”

Jason looked up cowed but relieved to have fresh air.

“Damn all of you!” he hollered first, fit to be tied. “I came to see you Old Man,” pointing at Eli, “and then I saw this idiot,” he pointed at Jess,” sneaking off in a car t’won’t his!” he sputtered out, fuming yet trying to

think up a good tale as to why he was in this trunk. “So I hid in the trunk, it was open! He was stashing stuff in it! He’s too stupid to notice anything!” With this he climbed out of the trunk and stretched himself.

“Now whadda we do?” demanded Randy, kicking up some dirt with the toe of his worn out boot. “You little piss ant trunk-hiding mother boinker,” Randy added.

“You thieving sons of bitches!!” Jason yelled, futile, thinking of nothing else to help his situation. “This ain’t your car! It’s that crazy daughter of yours — the one that took off walking down the road . . . .”

“Boy, go on back to your Momma!” Randy said disgusted and wanting to move on– closer on towards Frank’s and his kind weed. Jason scowled and started to retort but Jess interjected, “Oh hell, Pop, just let him climb up front, little fool.”

“Hell, No!” said Randy. “I say we leave him at the Hair Palace, let his momma come find him!”

Jason sputtered, looked cornered.

“I know where some money is!” he hollered, playing his trump card. “That woman whose car this is stashed it in the spare tire here!” He went over to the trunk and pointed to the spare tire. “Go ahead, look, it’s in there!” He stepped aside and let Randy pilfer through the trunk. After a series of clangs and clashes, and “what the’s–,” Randy stopped his searching.

“Damn!” Randy said finally, leaning up, and waving an envelope with cold hard cash in it. “Must be $10,000 in here–got dang!” Randy was reeling with this luck of his! Who had ever!? His ass, a constant string of bad luck from the get-go, was now a bona fide dancing leprechaun at the end of yet another rainbow.

“Get in the car, all a yee’s!” Randy hollered, threatening, sort of herding the lot of them towards the car. “We’re going to Frank’s!”

He made a tenative move towards stopping Jason, leaving him at the Hair Palace,  but his unbelievable luck was putting him in a euphoric, forgiving state of mind.

At Frank’s, they turned in at a dilapidated mailbox and drove up a winding, narrow path of a drive. Four rottweilers came out to meet them. Frank was a part-time drug dealer and concrete worker. He spent long hours waiting for concrete to set, so he’d taken up running petty drug deals w/ fellow construction workers he met on site. That’s how he and Randy had struck up their friendship, twenty years earlier–when Randy was once employed as an electrician, albeit a color-blind one.

“What in tarnation are you getting us in to, Boy?” growled Eli, now riding in the backseat with Jason.

“You just hold tight, Old Man,” retorted Randy, “You can’t go nowhere with out us so just pipe down! Pipe down!” he growled to punctuate this command.

Randy navigated around the rottweilers and parked the Hyundai under a tree, the dogs circling it.

“Blow the horn!” Randy said to himself, blowing the horn obnoxiously . . . then rolling down his window a peep and hollering out: “Delilia, get back!” to one of the dogs . . . . The sound of his voice seemed to be a signal to the dogs and en masse they backed off and let out one last sort of growl/snort in unison. Randy exited the car, saying before he shut the door on the rest of them: “Stay in the car! Frank don’t like strangers — or OLD MEN!” he ended looking at Eli in the back with the kid and slamming the door.

It must have been a good 50 mins. into the deep purple haze Frank and Randy found themselves in that Randy remembered he’d left Jess and Eli and the kid in the car.

“Holy F*!” he exclaimed, hopping up, knocking over the pipe on his knee . . . . He moved outside and went over to the car. Frank following him.

“Who are these clowns, you dumb ass!?” Frank asked seeing the car full of disgusted faces at the windows, his rotts laying in a circle around the vehicle.

“It ain’t nobody but Jess, and Nora’s old man, and a kid we found hiding in the trunk, damn him!” With this Randy considered how he could leave the Kid behind at Frank’s, hell, maybe barter him somehow.

But what was left of Randy’s riddled mind jump started ever so slightly and he came up with a brilliant idea for the Kid. He said:

“Here’s how it’s going down. Frank here needs our car. So we’re giving Frank the car. Shut Up! I don’t want to hear it!” he ended before anyone could object. “And you — ” he pointed to Jason in the back seat cowering by the wheezing Eli, “You Kid are going to earn your keep by carrying this here backpack for us.” he held up a 20 pound or so hiking pack. “Then we won’t leave you here with Frank and his hungry dogs.”

“Do What!!!!?” Jason barely got out . . . Frank slammed the door back on the lot of them. “I’ll be back in a minute. Get your shit out the car, and be ready to walk in to town in ten minutes!” With this he walked back inside to smoke another one with Frank.

Randy had traded Susan’s car to Frank for $5,000 of top grade smokeage. Frank wanted the car instead of the cash Randy’d found in the trunk because he could sell it to a chop shop that would trade him back in pot . . . . Randy would get the Kid to carry the smoke in the backpack — who would mess w/ a kid, even though he did reek of finest grade marijuana ever grown inside a grow house? They’d walk in to town and rent a car or buy them a car or hell, just steal them another one! He’d figure that part out while he was walking. He always walked and did his best thinking.

They’d found a linen service truck being loaded up the road about eight miles. The Kid, Jason, starting to whine and complain endlessly the last mile, Randy thought he’d lose it.

“I’ll charge my cell phone somehow and I’ll IM Momma what you’re up to if you don’t tell me what you’re up to, you criminal!” he kept threatening.

“Yeah, well Tweet this, Kid,” and Randy had given him a swift kick in his scrawny teen-age ass pushing him a good six feet up the side of the road  . . . .

Hiding in the linen service truck had gotten them all the way to North Bend where they wanted to be anyway. The old man, Eli, was wheezing and breathing so hard, Randy was sure the guy driving the linen truck would think Darth Vader was aboard.

“Jesus, Old Man!” Rand kept saying to him under a pile of dirty sheets from the nursing home where they’d spied the linen truck being loaded.

Once the linen truck stopped and was quiet for a bit, Randy peeked out and saw it was clear and told Jason to pop out, he was smallest, and peek around and see what was up. Jason cursed and fussed and did what he was told.

“It’s all clear he said, come on!” The lot of them, Eli slowly, climbed out of the linen truck, brushed themselves off and walked off like it was perfectly natural for three men and a boy to exit a linen service truck.

*    *    *    *

They got a cheap room at the North Bend Motel. It stank of that cheap motel rank smell. Someone had somehow scrawled “Debbie Loves Nathan” on the ceiling over the bed. Eli fell on the closest bed in a coughing spasm.

“Jesus, Old Man, take your freaking Advair!” Randy told him yanking the backpack off the kid and shoving him over in to a nearby chair that wobbled.

“Wooo! It’s good to be home!” said Jess. “Lizette will be wondering by now where I’ve got to . . .” He thought about calling her, then the thought went just like it had come. He unbuttoned the top button of his jeans instead.

“All of you pipe down!” hollered Randy falling on to the second bed in the room, “I need to think!”  Then “Who’s got a credit card?”

No one answered.

“I want to call Miss Joanie,” said Eli in a spell of not-coughing.

“Forget about that Old Man, ” Randy sat up from the bed and hollered.

“I’m calling my momma!” the Kid said again . . . .

“In here,” said Randy to Jess and he pulled Jess in to the small, aqua-tiled bathroom, “We need to talk away from these two yahoos.”

In the bathroom, Jess and Randy decided to walk out a pace and see what kind of vehicle they could procure. Renting a car would require all kinds of ID and blah blah blah. Randy wanted to just borrow one –it’d always served him well in the past. They’d take the Kid with them, leaving the backpack in the room with Eli. They’d go in a store and just leave the kid, find them a car, come back for the Old Man and the backpack.

They didn’t count on Eli calling Miss Joanie when they got just out the parking lot of the motel but he did. She happened to be in the neighborhood.

Up at a strip mall, Randy saw a Honda that looked like twenty other Hondas in the area. He and Jess went in to a Dollar Store and feigned needing Pepto Bismal. They sent the kid down the junk food aisle to get lost in a world of orange puffed snacks. They told him ‘pick out whatever you want kid . . .” and left him in the store. But, oddly, uncannily, once they were out at the Honda they had tagged, there the little rat was! Randy tried not to let on his surprise and disgust at seeing Jason and just scowled at him to ‘lay low rat!”

Randy hot wired the car in no time and drove off,  obeying all the laws and regulations of the road so as not to draw attention to himself. Driving back to the motel, they saw a Burger King and Randy jerked the Honda in to the empty parking lot.

Randy decided to send the Kid in to fetch food, he’d draw less suspicion. He started telling the kid what he wanted:

“And a Whopper with double cheese, no TWO,  no THREE! and fries, and a chocolate shake, and whatever Jess wants, and you feed your trap too, Kid,” he added, slapping some of the loot found from Susan’s now-pawned car.

After what seemed an interminable wait, Jason reappeared with bags of food and a tray of drinks, almost spilling the lot of it at the car, Randy cursing him.

They drove down a road and found a dirt road where they stopped the car and ate their food.

It couldn’t have been that long had it, that it took to steal a Honda, go to Burger King, eat, and well, yes, Jess and Randy had smoked one while they sent the kid in the woods to sit behind a tree until they hollered.

“I know what the two of you are up to!” he spit at them when he got back in the car. But it seemed like only about 20 mins. — How much trouble could Eli have gotten in to? Why was the door to their room semi-ajar?

Randy jammed the Honda in to a spot and poured out of the car. He and Jess got to the door at the same time, jamming the entrance, all in time to push open the door and see the Old Man, buck naked, sprawled on a pile of rumpled sheets. What had he managed to do while they were gone? Whatever it was, he seemed to have died in writhing, blue pain, for his face was as blue as a bruise.

“Holy Crap, Mother F* a mother F’er!” erupted Randy. Then “Where’s the back pack!? Where’s the back pack!?” and he and Jess poured in the room, while Jason, now fully in the door, began to scream. Randy clapped a hand over his mouth and shoved him to the bathroom. Then he went over to the old man and felt for a pulse, just in case he’d survived this blue-fit. There wasn’t one. He was dead.

In the closet, Jess found the backpack and tore it open and there was the pot — it seemed what ever shenanagans ole Eli had got himself in to they did not include robbery.

“God Damn, give me a f’ing heart attack!” Randy exclaimed.

“What are you criminals doing out there!!” Jason screamed.

“Come on,” said Randy, “Let’s get the f* out of here — “

“But –” Jess got out . . . .

“F* that Old Man!” said Randy.

So the old lush, Eli Hale himself, founder of Hale Trucking, is found dead in a cheap motel room with whore-stained sheets . . . who’s to wonder?

Jason screamed curses from the bathroom against which Randy had propped a chair.  He and Jess stopped to wipe down the room with Randy’s tee-shirt he took off for that purpose. They threw the backpack in the trunk and hid it under some crap. Randy went back in and grabbed the Kid out of the bathroom, socking him up side the head once on the way out to quiet him.

“We’ll lose him in a Wal-Mart, ” he told Jess, throwing the knocked-out kid in the backseat. Or you never know, he thought, he might just come in handy.

Ten miles down the road, Jess began to wonder what Lizette and the baby were doing. Dare he venture the idea of going back to the Hale’s and fetching her . . . well, maybe after they went to the lottery claims office and lost the Kid, now coming to in the back seat. . . .

Little did Jess or Randy know, but back at the Hale’s, the remaining Hale clan was being questioned for possession of a stolen camper.  .  .  . And Susan had turned up at the Fickle Moon Casino out on one of the Indian Reservations, out of her mind, out of her money, and suffering from alcoholic poisoning at a nearby hospital.

No Rest for the Wicked

Conclusion

Chapter 30 by Laura Kalpakian

They were an odd lot, there in the kitchen, still wearing the clothes they had worn to the memorial service, and swilling iced tea, as they sat around the table in varying stages of exhaustion. The family had truly split asunder, and the group gathered here, Minerva, Clyde, Hannah, her husband, Don, her daughter, Stephanie, Marilyn, Lizette and the little boy, all had the look of flotsam and jetsam, wreckage bobbing on a sea of chaos.

Marilyn, alone, could command some cosmic wherewithal to deal with the Sheriff’s deputies. To get rid of them, she commandeered Lizette. Together they were showing the Sheriff deputies the door, ushering the reluctant men outside. The dog scooted in.

“Tell them again, Lizette,” said Marilyn.

“Randy stole the camper,” Lizette repeated while she hushed little Sky. She bounced him in her arms. “It was all Randy’s fault.” This was her chance to separate Jess from his deadbeat dad. Maybe. The last she’d seen, they’d gone off together, just like always, looking for high times. Lizette had all she could do to look after Sky. As for Jess and his dad, watching them weed-up and space-out, taxed her energies. One thing she knew for certain coming from Nora’s memorial service, life is short. You could get hit by a train. Lizette had returned here with the Hales because she had nowhere else to go, except back to the house she had shared with Randy and Jess and the late Nora. She wasn’t going back there, not with Jess and not without him. “Randy hot-wired it. He’s good at it.”

“Where is Randy?”

“Him and Jess and Eli all left together,” said Lizette.

“And Jess is your husband, ma’am?”

“Sort of,” replied Lizette, coloring. “If I know Randy, he’ll cash the lottery check and buy a bunch of weed. His man’s in North Bend. A guy named Frank Perkins who runs a construction business on the side. Frank’s a big seller,” she added, happy to see smiles light the faces of the deputies. “They probably stole another car to get there.”

“You see,” said Marilyn, authority lacing her voice, “This is a house of mourning not a den of thieves, officers. Take the camper and leave.”

“We’ll be back for the camper,” they said. They both tipped their hats to Minerva, and the distraught Hannah. The cute one winked at Stephanie.

“Sort of?” said Stephanie when they’d gone. “Lizette, you mean you stuck with that low life even if you weren’t married to him?”

“We have a child,” Lizette declared, pressing little Sky’s head against her shoulder. “He is the father of my child.”

“All the more reason to run like hell,” said Stephanie, pulling out her cell phone and looked for a video game.

“Thank you, Marilyn,” said Minerva wearily, “for dealing with them. I couldn’t have done it.”

“Oh, think nothing of it, honey.”

“Through this whole ordeal, it’s just like the old hymn says, Marilyn, you’ve been a rock and a shelter to me. I’m just sorry I didn’t know you all those years you brightened my daughter’s life.”

“Mama” cried Hannah, “what about me? Haven’t I been a rock and shelter? They were my sisters! She’s nothing but Sallyann’s lesbian lover!”

“She’s my in-law, same as Don.”

Hannah blubbered, “And now Sallyann’s gone and Brian just called from the hospital that Susan’s got alcohol poisoning and they’re pumping her stomach.”

“Maybe she’ll think twice next time,” said Minerva.

“Oh Mama, don’t you have any pity for her? She’s gone right back to the devil and the drink. Oh, it’s more than I can bear! My dad’s been jailed and then run off. Is there no pity for me?” She turned to her husband, Don who patted her back and soothed her.

Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Maybe Gramps will let you decorate his prison cell with cute little blue geese and stenciled ducklings and some nice little throw pillows, Mom.”

“Are you making fun of me?” Hannah cried, her face a mass of mascara and streaked rouge. “Have you no sympathy? No empathy.”

“For this family? Hell, no. Sallyann was the only one with any balls. ‘Scuse me, Marilyn, but it’s true. The rest of you all just laced yourselves into corsets, daughter, mother, wife, and waddled through life letting other people tell you who you are.”

“You’re awfully young, Stephanie,” Marilyn observed cooly, “not all of life is a beautiful open plain of opportunity.”

“BFD.”

“You’re unfair to me, Stephanie. I have my art,” Hannah declared. “I have a career which is more than Nora could ever say, or Susan either. Selling books and playing the slots. What kind of life is that?”

“What kind of life is quilting throw rugs out of duck down?” Stephanie shivered. “The mind f**ing boggles.”

Minerva’s face contorted as though on the edge of tears.

“Young lady,” Clyde admonished her, “you watch your language around your grandmother. She has suffered enough.”

“BFD,” said Stephanie again. This was her favorite euphemism.

Clyde moved to comfort Minerva, but she began to laugh. She laughed till her ample body rolled with the effort, she laughed till little Sky joined in, and Stephanie and Lizette and Marilyn. She laughed until she hiccupped into sobs, and then she stopped. She grabbed a paper napkin and mopped her eyes, blew her nose. She rose, kicked off the shoes that were killing her swollen feet, and padded across the kitchen floor to the screen door where she stood, her back to them The dog looked up expectantly and she opened the screen and the dog ran out. The phone rang and she answered it. Her replies were short, succinct, monosyllabic, and when she turned back round, she was pale. “Eli’s gone,” she said. “Dead. Found dead and naked in a motel in North Bend. Died apparently in the act. They don’t know who with.”

The intake of breath was audible everywhere and Hannah began to cry all over again. Even Stephanie was moved to go to her mother, and Don hovered over her, though he wasn’t heartbroken, not by a longshot. He had not told his wife he’d been laid off from his job three months before, and now he saw a future: he’d take over Hale Trucking. Who else could do it? He’d have work and a good salary and Hannah could go to craft fairs and remain happy. Oh yes, at the end of all this, some would land on their feet and Don and Hannah would be among them.

Clyde went to Minerva, his arms outstretched, but pushed him away. “No rest for the wicked,” she announced, “and the righteous don’t need it. That’s what Eli always used to say. Well, by god, I need it! I’m damn tired, that’s what I am. I been married for fifty years to a man who never saw fit to treat me with anything but contempt, called me Bo for Bo Peep, got everyone else to call me Bo, who did not value my what I brought to the marriage, the hard work, the sheer toil and the ups and downs of Eli’s fortunes, who did not value my daughters because they were not sons. My girls….” For a moment it seemed as if she might cry, but she blew her nose again instead. “A man who screwed the secretary for fifteen years—don’t think I don’t know it—and finally, as his parting gesture in this life, thought he would fake a bankruptcy to see which of the daughters he despised would love him without his money. And the answer is none. Without his money, no one loved him. And now, disgraced, he’s dead in a North Bend motel. And what’s he got to show for his whole life? No one valued him, finally. I can’t bring myself to cry. Maybe later, but not now, and even when I do, it will not be for Eli.”

“Minerva, dear….”said Clyde. “Let me help you.”

“There’s another old biblical saying,” Minerva went on, “for every thing there is a time and a season, and this is the time and the season for truth. There’s too few of use left not to tell the truth.”

“Good for you, Minnie dear,” said Clyde.

“Clyde ,you can leave. That’s the first truth. Oh, it’s true you sparked my fancy, and you shone some light into the darkness of my life, enough that I knew it was darkness, and I would have rewarded you, Clyde, but you are a lying SOB and I see no reason whatever that I should so much as give you the time of day much less tend you in your illness.”

“But Minnie, you—“

“If I were going to take up with a man, Clyde, why would I chose you?”

“Would you like me better with my British accent? I could do that, Minnie.”

Minnie regarded the overhead light fixture studiously. “What is they say?”

“BFD?” offered Stephanie.

“Exactly. I am no more doing for anyone who don’t love me back. Now get your walker and make tracks, Clyde. I’m over it.”

“I don’t have a ride. I came in your car, Minnie.”

“I’ll call you a cab,” said Marilyn, “and you can wait out by the road.”

“Minnie, you don’t mean this!”

“I do.” She held the screen door open and Clyde went out with the dog, but he’d no sooner stepped out the door than exclamations lit the air as Clyde and Betty greeted one another, Clyde tripping over his English accent, and Betty brushing past him to burst into the Hale kitchen.

“Where is my boy?” she demanded. “Eli’s got him somehow.” Betty wavered in the door, then wobbled to table and plopped down in a chair. “I have a text message that he’s with Eli and I want to know where they are, dammit!”

“Eli’s dead, Betty,” said Minerva. “Tea? Better yet.” She went to a cupboard and pulled out a bottle of Eli’s fine old bourbon.

***

Jason in the backseat of the Honda could not decide if he was feeling nauseous because he was riding in the backseat (he always rode up front with Mom), or if it was the Burger King, or the country western music warbling out of the radio, or the sweet waft of weed. Second hand high. Or maybe just plain old fear. Whatever was making him woozy was also bringing up at the back of his throat, that nasty metallic taste of regret. He’d shoplifted once and got caught, so he recognized regret and its dark antecedent, shame. What in hell was he doing here? What had seemed like a great adventure: catch the old man out, tell him, listen Buster, I’m not your son! Get it! You’re nothing to me and nothing to my mom! So leave us alone! Oh yes, he had planned to make his statement and make old Eli pay and weep and gnash, and tremble because there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. But then…well, Jason hadn’t counted on these two. They were like remnants of some old Smokey and the Bandit movie he’d seen on TV, Burt Reynolds and a fat cop and a fast car. Only these two, between them, could carry their brains in a thimble. However, once lit–as they continually were–they were ballsy, fearless and totally unpredictable. Now they were driving, smoking, playing with the radio dial, laughing their asses off, talking about going to Vegas, and leaving him off at the Wal-Mart.

“Fine with me,” he shouted, hoping to sound snarly. “I hate your guts anyway. Leave me at the Wal-Mart.”

Randy turned to him, looking surprised, as if he couldn’t quite remember who Jason was. “Donchu wanna go to Vegas, boy? Be good for you. You might get tickled by wonna them girls wearing ostrich feathers.”

Jason wanted the Wal-Mart parking lot more than he had ever wanted anything in his life, but he made smart ass retort and lapsed into silence, watching the angle of the sun as lowered and the wind ruffled his hair. Wait a minute! Jason’s Cub Scout training was not altogether lost on him ( though he’d quit after one year because all the other boys had dads and he felt like a freak) but he remembered that the sun set in the west! And if that were true–and he had no reason to think that the planets had altered their orbits just because he, a fourteen year old boy, had done something incredibly stupid– then these two were heading north, not south. Canada. Holy shit!

“Hey, Daddy,” said Jess who was at the wheel. “I think there’s something wrong here. I think maybe we’re going the wrong direction. Looky there at that sign we just passed.”

“Oh shut up and drive, son.” Randy let out a long plume of smoke.” You know that new guitar you been wanting, it’s yours! And that band you been playing with, forget them. We’ll get you a whole studio band, and a lotta groupies to go with it. Some for you and some for me. The Oliver men are living high on the hog from now on. No more whining women, no more eating dirt from people like the Hales, no more, no more.”

“What about Lizette, Daddy?”

“What about her? A skinny little whiner. You deserve better.”

“What about Sky?”

“What about him?”

“He’s my son.”

“Ah, ferget it. Wait’ll he’s older. Real men don’t look after kids.”

In the backseat Jason fought back tears.

“Is that what you did with me, Daddy?”

“Nah, your mom run out on us. I had to look after you.”

“She leave you for another man?” cried Jason unwisely. “A real man?”

“Shut up you little mothball, ‘fore I shove your nuts down your throat.”

“Why did she leave, Daddy?”

“Shut up, and listen to Travis.”

“That ain’t Travis, Daddy, that’s Johnny Cash. Don’t you know nuthin?” Jess’s hands trembled at the wheel. He finally pulled the car into a mini-mart and gas station. He took a couple of twenties that were laying by the gearshift and stalked in. Randy put his head back, grinned and let loose a long, satisfying fart.

Jason flung open the car door and flew into the mini-mart crying out, “Help! Help! I’m being kidnaped! They’re going to sell me to the sex trade! Help me!” He pushed Jess and another guy out of line and flung himself across the counter where a pimple-faced youth stared at him, mouth agape.

“We never kidnaped you!” Jess spluttered. “You stowed away in our car, you little bastard!”

“That’s right!” Jason screamed, “I’m a little bastard! I am,” he assured the pimpled youth. “I just wanna call the police and be free, free of these two weed-eating weirdos!”

“I can’t let you behind the counter,” said the youth. “It’s against regulations.”

“Then gimme your cell phone!”

“I can’t do that.”

Jason, glancing around wildly, flung over a stand full of Lay’s potato chips, all flavors and began stomping on them, crying out, “I’m a little bastard and they’re selling me to the sex trade!” He next turned over a barrel full of ice cold Pepsis. “I been kidnaped! You gotta help me! Ice splattered everywhere and Jess slid on it and took a tumble to his butt.

The kid handed over his cell phone.

Jason turned to Jess laying splayed among the ice cubes. “Your father is one sick puppy, dude. I’m calling the cops!”

He hotfooted to the bathroom, locked the door, hunkered down and dialed 911, only they were in the mountains and there was no service. Jason slid the floor, put his head in his arms, and wept. Then he got wearily to his feet and plugged his cell phone in the outlet. He always carried his charger, so he could not count himself a total fool, no matter whose son he was.

***‘‘‘‘‘

Betty, Marilyn, Minerva, Lizette, Hannah, and Don were on their second bottle of Eli’s fine old bourbon. Sky fell asleep on the dog. Stephanie was playing the Walking Dead video game on her cell phone. They called for a pizza, lurched to the door, and over-tipped the kid who brought it. They ate pizza and drank bourbon and laughed and cried and told Eli stories, and they all agreed, even as they told them, that they were well rid of him, that he was toxic beginning to end, and maybe now they’d have a chance to put their lives together without his tyranny over all. Except of course, that Sallyann was gone, and she wouldn’t have a chance. They all had a good cry with Marilyn who said that Sallyann was the best ever, even if she didn’t have the balls to fess up to her family that she was a lesbian and she had a lover. A spouse, Marilyn sniffled.

“She did though,” said Minerva “She told him right at the end. He was crude about it.”

“What do you ‘spect?” said Hannah, patting Marilyn on the shoulder. “he was crude about everything.”

They all said it was too bad that Nora would never have the chance to find a life without Eli’s feet on her neck in one way or another. Lizette offered timidly that Nora didn’t know another way to live. “Maybe it was Eli’s fault, maybe not. But Nora just had to have someone making her miserable and making it up in bed. That’s all she knew. I’m not gonna live like that, nor Sky either. I’m not going back to Jess. I don’t know what I’ll do, but my boy and I are not going back to that.”

Everyone had a drink to Lizette’s resolve and Minerva said she could stay here as long as she needed to sort herself out. And everyone drank to that.

“And Jason?” Betty gulped, the bourbon having unhinged her usual instincts of lying self-preservation, “what about my boy? What about Jason? My baby. Where is he?”

Suddenly from across the kitchen there came the sound of a harsh rap song. Betty went pale. “That’s how my phone rings when it’s Jason! It’s his rap song! It’s called Yo! Momma!” She burst into tears.

“Answer it!” cried Marilyn.

But Don beat her to it, dashing toward the counter where Betty had flung her purse, scrabbling through the contents and tossing the phone to Marilyn who punched it, and said “Hello? Hello, Jason?”

“Momma? Is that–”

Betty jumped up and grabbed the phone. “Baby, baby where are you? Are you all right?”

“Eli’s dead, Mom. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not! Just tell me where you are, and if….” She motioned wildly for some paper, and when she finally got off the phone, her face suffused with relief. “He’s all right. But your husband, Lizette, he’s in a lot of trouble. And Randy….”

“I don’t care about Randy.”

“No one does,” said Minerva. “Nora was his only chance, and now she’s gone, and Randy will end up just like Eli, with no one ever giving a shit about him.”

“Maybe Randy was Eli’s real son,” said Lizette. “Maybe they were two of a kind.”

Everyone pondered this bit of wisdom, and Lizette’s powers of intuition.

“Well I’m happy to tell you all that Jason is not his son,” said Betty, wobbling over to the counter to get her purse. “It’s true. Jason did the DNA test and didn’t tell me.” Their jaws all dropped. “I had a petite flingette with an astrophysicist. What can I say.”

“You can’t drive!” said Hannah. “Look at you, you’re drunk as a skunk.”

“We all are,” said Minerva.

Betty took out her keys. “I’m going to the King County Sheriff’s substation to pick up my son who will be grounded for life, naturally. Nothing’s going to stop me.”

“I can drive,” said Stephanie, snatching the keys from Betty. “I’ll take you.”

“Really?” Betty’s face puckered with tears. “You’d do that for me?”

“Sure.”

“Sure she would,” said Hannah proudly. “She’s our daughter. She knows when to do the right thing by someone.” Hannah and Don held hands.

Stephanie looked embarrassed; she had only volunteered to escape the company of all these drunken adults, people she’d known all her life and would know all her life and would be burdened with all her life, the duckling throw rugs notwithstanding. She recognized that much, but she really couldn’t stand any more of their stupid laughter and their stupid tears.

“Minerva,” Betty spluttered, tears falling, , “all of you, you’ve been so good to me. I don’t deserve your kindness.”

“Forget it, Betty,” said Minerva. “rising slowly to her feet. “I’m going to sleep this off, and when I wake up in the morning, I expect to have the first hangover I’ve had in fifty years.”

“Fifty years, Mom?” asked Hannah.

“Yes, fifty years ago I had to get drunk on my wedding night. I’d already slept with him, so it wasn’t that, the sex. I had to get drunk because I knew, in my heart, that this marriage was a terrible mistake. Of course my poor parents were glad of it, the shame, you know. Me too. I was just a girl, nineteen, and there wasn’t anything else I could do in 1962. So I married him, and I got royally drunk that night, and I lay there awake, unsleeping beside my new husband, and I thought oh yes, no rest for the wicked. No indeed. And wherever Eli is now, you just have to wonder, don’t you? He certainly ain’t amid the righteous.”

And with that, Minerva bid them all goodnight and made her way up the stairs. She paused at her own bedroom door, then chose another room. A new day tomorrow. A new night tonight.

The End

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