Chapter Nineteen continued
Sam and Dave watched Judy and Frank drive by. “Who are those two?”
“Isn’t that the chick we saw coming out of Allen’s that time?”
Judy drove past the house and parked turned in the direction for home. She took Frank’s arm and walked slowly up the flagstones. She loved growing up there. They used to play hide and seek as kids. Judy always got up somewhere high. The willow tree. The copper beach. The roof. It took them a long time to find her, and sometimes they went inside and left her hiding.
Allen opened the door. Judy gave him a big hug. He promised they’d go out back and catch a buzz later. Frank, too, he offered, but Frank didn’t get high, thanks just the same.
Mom was in the living room with Gordon. Judy was amazed at how clean everything looked. “Mom, do you have a maid?” she asked, and Allen beamed. Mom looked great: her skin was all pink and soft, and her eyes lacked that squinty look that said she was upset.
Mom simpered. “This is Gordon’s fiancee, Laurie.” Laurie squirmed and said nothing.
“Fiancee?” Judy looked at Gordon, who shrugged. Maybe he’d stretched the truth a little for Mom’s sake. He was always telling her what she wanted to hear, and Mom fell for it every time.
“Laurie’s a doctor,” Mom continued. “Of tribal dance.”
“Comparative religion,” Laurie corrected. Her imaginary degree was a field she’d always been interested in.
“There is no comparison between religions,” Mom said indignantly. “There’s only one religion. All the rest are lies.” Laurie raised an eyebrow. So Mom had religion buttons. Where should she poke next?
Judy turned to Laurie. “So you’re a doctor?”
“No, a doctorate. In college?” Judy nodded. They talked about college. Neither had ever been, and that was a sore spot with Mom, but they were talking in low tones and Mom was soaking up attention from the boys.
Frank turned to Laurie. “Tribal dancing?”
“Belly dancing.” They talked about dance and self expression, dance and magic, dance and sex. Since these were also sore spots with Mom, they too spoke in lowered voices.
Mom had asked Frank to come over to fix something, and since he knew what that meant, he decided to bring Judy. But he wasn’t prepared for dinner, or for other family members. His plan had been to install his latest death trap, endure more humiliating sex, and try to escape without collapsing.
He felt very happy about Allen. Never again would he have to come over and help Mom, with Allen around. Frank avoided Mom’s eyes. She kept drawing his attention to things, like the drapes he’d hung, the bookshelves he’d installed. Things that only reminded him of the depraved things she had done to him afterwards.
He brought out a plastic bag. Mom took it eagerly and peered inside. “What’s this?” she asked. Frank mumbled as Mom brought it out and displayed it. “Frank has brought me a present.” It was a heating pad. A heating pad with a specially modified control. He pointed out the features. This position for warmth, and this one for warmth and massage. He’d been struck by the simplicity of it one afternoon, when he noticed how icy her feet were in bed. “Why thank you, dear,” Mom smiled. “I get so cold at night. Allen,” she called, handing it to him as he came over, “please go put this in my room.”
Judy was cold toward Mom, and spent her time hanging out with Frank and asking if he felt okay. She kept visualizing her very own mother having her way with her poor ailing husband, and could hardly sit still. Why was he still bringing her things after all she’d done to him? She wanted to throw a burning log into Mom’s face, not heat her toesies.
They talked to Laurie for awhile, while Gordon was buttering Mom up to ask her something; money, probably. They liked Laurie. She was down to earth and said what she thought. They wanted to warn her about Mom’s temper, but she looked like she could handle it. Which would be great. Mom had run off all of Gordon’s girlfriends before.
“Where did you meet Gordon?” she asked as they watched him keeping Mom happy. He was almost prancing in front of the fire.
“He was always coming in where I work, and one night I sat and talked to him.” She shrugged. “I liked him.” He did magic tricks, he told her wild tales that couldn’t be true, he waved a fantasy life for the two of them. Talked her right into bed. That, and a bottle of Patron.
“Well, he’s my favorite brother, if that’s any use. I like you. But he’s – well, we’re kind of the black sheep in the family, so the rest of them are predisposed to disapprove.” Judy accentuated the syllables to make sure she wasn’t slurring.
Laurie seemed to think everything came out fine. “Well, I’ll have to meet the others, then,” she said, deciding to get up and go to the bathroom again.
“They’re all just pale reflections of Mom,” Judy assured her.
Laurie reared back. “What, your mother? She’s no match for me. And besides, my mom is just like her. I’ll be fine.” Mom heard that.
“Okay,” Judy replied. Mom glared from across the room.
“Oh, Laurie, dear, come tell me about your education.” She looked at Judy and grinned. “A master’s degree, did she tell you?” Judy scowled.
Gordon and Allen went around the house looking at all of Allen’s handiwork. The broken railing going up to the bedrooms. (Frank loosened it.) The new floorboards around the refrigerator. (Frank disconnected the defrost line and the wood rotted.) The badly wired 220 volt outlet in the kitchen that had a short in it (Frank), the leaking pipes in the bathtub (Frank’s work in progress, just waiting for it to rot thru the floor)
Laurie stood in front of Mom like she was in front of the class, weaving a tale full of buzzwords while Mom looked for holes. Just like defending her doctoral thesis would have been. As if – Laurie never finished high school, and made six figures. Tax free. Who needed grad school?
Frank and Judy huddled in the corner and almost decided to make an excuse and go home before dinner. Then Gordon and Allen came to ask Frank detailed questions about the state of Mom’s house, he being the expert. Gordon rubbed Judy’s shoulders as they sat there, and she felt calmer. It was so much easier when they were kids. They always got along even tho there was the most space between them as siblings. Gordon wasn’t as determined as the others, not as pushy, and they used to just sit around and talk. They never talked any more. There was so much more to deal with now. But it was nice being together now.
Gordon leaned in and kissed her neck gently. “I love you, sis.”
“I love you, Gordon.” She smiled and shut her eyes.
Allen saw the kiss, and smiled happily.
Laurie saw the kiss, and winked at Allen.
Frank saw the kiss, and squeezed her hand.
Mom saw the kiss, and grew suspicious.
Laurie went to the bathroom again. Allen mentioned it to Mom, and Gordon remarked how small women’s bladders could get. Judy wondered if Laurie could have an infection. Mom was silent.
* * *
Sam and Dave watched Rick and Alice drive by and park in front of the house.
“There he is.” Sam wiped fog off the window with his sleeve.
“Roger that.” Dave mumbled the time into his mini voice recorder.
Rick strode up the flagstone walk to Mom’s front porch, with Alice stumbling behind him on high heels he’d insisted she wear. He hated the house. He hated growing up there. His happiest memory was how they used to play Monopoly as kids. He did anything to get a monopoly, and then immediately slapped on hotels, to break everybody else.
Allen opened the door.
“You,” Rick said coldly, and brushed on by. “I’ll deal with you later.” He really liked saying that.
Alice smiled shyly as Allen helped her with her coat. They talked about the baby. He wished she’d come by again because Mom really loved seeing that baby. Alice kept her answers short and avoided his eyes.
Rick found Mom in the living room with his least favorite siblings sitting around sucking up to her. “Where are the kids, honey?” Mom asked, peering around him into the hall.
“We’re having a little trouble with the kids,” he said, prepared to resist her prying. “Nothing serious. I’ll talk about it later.”
Rick looked around the room and sat down next to Mom. Scumbags all, soiling his – soon to be his – antique furniture. Gordon the drug addict and petty criminal, Judy the besotted hippie, Frank the crackpot inventor. And now Allen. He was going to have to lay down the law to Mom. She couldn’t be allowed to keep criminals around
He was so glad they only did this once every couple of years. He scowled as Alice came into the room and chose a chair on the other side of the fireplace. She sat there and studied her hands. He wondered if he should discuss her little problem now, or wait until they were all gathered. For maximum effect.
Mom had called to invite Rick and Alice and the kids to dinner. She’d told him she had an announcement to make, something important to their future. He’d come prepared, with arguments for everything from him as executor of the will, to the great retirement home she could move into right away. Whatever she had in mind, he was ready to turn it to his advantage. Just sign here, Mom.
Someone was clumping down the stairs on loud shoes. Mom cleared her throat. “Rick, this is Gordon’s fiancee, Laurie. She’s a dancer.”
Rick turned around with a sneer – Let’s see Gordon’s skank – and stopped in his tracks. His mouth dropped open. He felt like he’d been hit with a taser. Roxy.
First he felt embarrassed. God, Mom knew he was fucking a stripper. Then he thought of how hot she looked, and felt only lust. Maybe he could get her alone upstairs in the towel closet. Then he thought of her marrying Gordon and felt like beating his brother to death over it. Then he thought of continuing to fuck her once she was married. Take that, little brother. She loves me more than you.
Alice watched the thoughts play over Rick’s face. She had learned to read him very well. What his face said now was that she was going to get it when they got home. For something.
Laurie sat down beside Alice and said something nice about her hair. It broke the silence. Rick sat down and stared at the fire. Gordon said something to Mom. Allen said something to Frank. Gradually the noise level got loud enough that Alice could say something back to Laurie. Laurie seemed nice. Gordon was getting old to still be single, and she wished them both the best of luck.
Rick ignored Frank and Judy, found his wife beneath contempt, and Allen beneath notice, and was embarrassed by Laurie, so he applied himself to wooing Mom and edging Gordon out. The thing to do was to convince Mom to sign her life insurance over to him so he could leverage it into multiple rewards. Twice what it was worth. Triple. She could enjoy it while she was alive and still leave it for her heirs. He could pay off his debts and invest the rest in sure things, and take care of the old bitch even tho she’d never appreciate it.
Alice watched Rick sparring with his brother. As Rick’s wife, it was her place to disapprove of any choice Gordon cared to make. But she liked Gordon, even tho she had to join Rick in his disapproval. Laurie looked like a lot of fun. Maybe she could see more of them if they met at Mom’s house, or she could visit them wherever it was they lived.
Rick brought out the present he’d brought with him and gave it to Mom with a flourish. It was a silver framed professional photo of Rick and his family. She cooed over it and made to hand it off to Allen, but Rick grabbed it out of her hands and patted his pockets, pulling out a small hammer. That’s how much he loved his mom, he was going to put her gift up by himself. She beamed at him. Rick brushed past Allen and started making noises in the hall. “You,” he called, and Allen turned and followed.
Rick handed everything to Allen to hold. “I need a step stool,” Rick ordered loudly. “You owe me four months rent,” he whispered. “How dare you be here?”
Allen shrugged. “Your mother asked me to help.” He went to the kitchen for a stool.
Rick fumed until Allen got back. I’ll tell Mom on you. He mounted the step and looked for the right spot to put the picture. “I’m not having a criminal in my house,” he hissed.
Allen smiled and handed him the nail. “She knows about my past.”
Rick snorted and drove the nail into the wall. “We’ll see about that.”
He put the picture above the linen chest, where it had a 180 view of the front door, living, room, dining room, kitchen and back door. The den was out of sight thru the kitchen but you had to pass it to get there. Anyone using the stairs to another level had to pass it. It had pride of place. Everyone would see it, anytime they went anywhere in the house. They would be reminded how successful Mom’s eldest was, and would subconsciously affirm his right to rule the family fortunes.
He admired his photo.. Traditional frame, professional portrait, happy family, and a surveillance camera and microphone. He pressed a corner. Ben, watching from the basement of Rick’s headquarters, pressed the record button and noted the new feed in the log.
He fussed with his present for a long time, reluctant to go back into the living room and see his perfect Roxy sitting next to that mousy little disappointment of a wife. He decided to propose to her the next time they had sex and leave Alice for a real live trophy wife.
Rick was suspicious of the others. They seemed to be in on something together, and were treating him like the outsider. He wondered about Gordon and Allen, how much they had to do with each other. He wondered about Gordon’s and Judy’s designs on Mom’s fortune. He knew they were plotting against him. Plotting to rob his inheritance. He was in the strongest position; of course they’d try to gang up on him. They always had in the past, and he’d always gotten them to stand together and then yanked the rug out from under all of them.
He put his tool back into his pocket, admired the stiffy it gave his pants from certain angles, and swaggered back into the living room brandishing the bulge at his Roxy.
The moment he was clear of the door, Laurie got up and went off to the bathroom, looking nauseous.
Judy raised her eyebrows at Alice. Alice tilted her head.
* * *
Sam and Dave watched Cindy drive up and park right behind their stakeout. They both froze up and pretended to be head rests until she strode by, arguing with Bill.
She parked around the corner from the house on a whim, behind a nondescript car with two men in it. She might have gone in the back way if they hadn’t been there. She had such mixed feelings about the house, mainly because Mom still lived there. She remembered how they used to play slaves as kids. She ordered her slaves around and was haughty and mean, and tied them to her wagon like horses. She didn’t like it when it was her turn to be slave, and always ran away.
Bill rang the bell and ran his hand thru his thinning hair. Cindy reached into her purse for a couple of fuck you pills. Allen opened the door. Cindy swept by him as if he were a doorman.
“Hey,” Bill said, shaking his hand. “You didn’t tell me you were staying here.”
“Man,” Allen shook his head in disbelief. “You never told me she was her daughter.”
“Wow,” they said together.
Mom was in the living room, holding court. Cindy walked in to see Rick and Gordon running competing cons, and Judy and Frank sitting zombielike in the corner. Poor Alice looked broken, and Cindy wanted to sit down and comfort her, but had to go bow and scrape to Mom first. Bill came in and bowed and scraped even lower, and Mom hardly noticed him kissing her hand. What a cold bitch. Bill wasn’t good enough for Mom, and she rubbed it into Cindy’s eyes every chance she got.
Mom had called and confessed that she was writing her will. And in a moment of weakness had asked if there was anything Cindy especially wanted. She hadn’t been expecting everybody to be there for dinner, but it had struck her funny that Mom wanted Bill to come along. Mom hated Bill.
Cindy’s eyes narrowed involuntarily when she looked at Mom. Like she was squinting thru gunsights. Her eyes passed over Allen. She looked at Gordon and counted the number of charges she knew about, and thought about the times the family had to bail him out. Rehab. She looked at Judy and Frank and saw gray faceless shapes. Except that she’d like to slip Frank a couple of wakeup pills.
Cindy heard someone clacking down the stairs in cheap heels, missing the last one. Allen rushed to help. Cindy turned to see a drunk hooker wobbling into the room. She recoiled in horror and turned to the others to see if it was a joke. But they all acted normal. She hated her family.
“Cindy,” Mom said. It sounded evil, snakelike, the way Mom said her name. “This is Gordon’s fiancee, Laurie. She’s a waitress.”
* * *