The ugly side of humanity does not dwell only with the downtrodden...
|Randy crouched in the ramshackle shanty he called home. The frigid air stung his exposed skin as he wrapped another layer of cloth around his arm. I need to get out of this hell hole or I'll freeze to death. He swigged down a few mouthfuls of whiskey, and felt the familiar burn as it cascaded down his throat. His body warmed and numbed, he drifted out of consciousness.
The sunlight twinkled on his eyelids as he stirred from his stupor. His joints were stiff, but the warmth of the rays felt good on his aching body. Still woozy, he pushed open the makeshift door and stumbled outside. The wintry air struck him like being pricked by a thousand needles. Randy shivered.
Henry, another bum whom he listed as his only friend, had a shack in an alley four blocks down and across the street. I wonder what old Henry is up to this morning? Think I'll find out. He often queried Henry for all the street gossip, and he also could have been a damn good weatherman.
Randy rambled down the street steadying himself against street signs, fences, stairways – anything that appeared sturdy. He crossed the street to blaring car horns that sounded like massive freight-trains in his head. His head pounded out waves of pain, so he rested on the curb for a few minutes to help clear his mind. Need to score some codeine later. He once again pulled himself up, and turned the corner where he spied Henry’s shack.
“Henry!” he shouted and waited for a response. Nothing. “Henry!” he yelled louder. While the shout caused an avalanche of pain in his head, he enjoyed sparring with Henry more.
Something inside stirred. The shack wobbled. The sound of heavy breathing and grunting struck Randy’s ears. He smiled.
“Get up you old coot! It’s nearly nine o’clock,” He lied. He had no idea what time it was.
“Yeah, yeah. Go back to yer pile ‘a rubble and leave me alone,” Henry voiced, cross and husky.
“Come on,” Randy banged on the door a few times, “we’ll go down to the square. It’ll be warmer there than the docks.”
Henry yanked open the door. His wild gray hair stood on end and leaned off to the right. His beady brown eyes squinted in the sun. He shook his finger at Randy. “I told ya never ta wake me up a’gin.”
“Fine. Stay in there for the rest of the day. I’m going to the square to get a few dollars for breakfast.”
Henry rubbed his grizzled goatee, and seemed to ponder Randy’s suggestion. A skull tattoo showcased his bare right arm. His other arm was wrapped in rags, while the rest of his body was covered in dirt-wallowed clothes. His pungent odor – a mix of booze, dirt, and sweat -- rolled out with him.
“All right. We cud do some signin’. Jus don’t take my corner. That’s me lucky corner now.” Henry’s mostly toothless smile crept over his aged, pitted face. He turned and picked up his panhandling sign that read ‘Anything will help.’
Randy’s head still throbbed. The blast of a car horn echoed down the alley. He stumbled from the sudden onset of pain. Henry, in a rare display of nimbleness, grabbed Randy’s arms and steadied him.
“Whoa! You got the ring-a-dingers in yer head don’ ya?”
“Here ya are,” Henry patted down his clothes then retrieved a few pills from a grimy pocket and offered them to Randy, “These’ll fix ya right up.”
Randy took them from Henry and retrieved his whiskey flask. He chucked the pills in his mouth and took a hit on the bottle.
“What were those?” Randy half-heartedly inquired. Like it matters.
“Tylenol and somthin’, I think. It’s what the ‘Bug’ said they was anyways.”
“Need to get some more codeine. I’m out.”
“Yeah. You owe me some now.” Henry looked off to the west. “Looks like it’s gonna get cold tonight. C’n see it in the sky. Maybe snow by the looks a’ things in a day or so.”
Randy trusted Henry’s weather predictions. He certainly does have a knack for it. “We’d best get a spot at the shelter then.”
“Naw. Can’t drink. They search ya for drugs. And ya haf ta take a shower. Son of a bitchin do-gooders.”
“I think I’ll go. I’m outta drugs anyways. Way warmer than my place.”
They ambled down the sidewalk bathed in abundant sunshine. The morning chill had worn off. Randy’s bloodshot eyes darted between the ever increasing people, as the church clock tower struck 8:30.
They arrived at Public Square and Henry took his normal corner, while Randy took up the opposite corner through the tree filled block. The paths ran like an X through it. A heroine junkie named Leroy lay on a bench, as Randy sat down and leaned back against a tree trunk. He took out his cup, dropped three pennies in it, and began to jingle it at passing pedestrians. A red-headed woman in full business attire kept her head down and ignored him. Typical.
A young white lady turned and spotted Randy after one such jingle. Randy grinned and nodded trying hard not to show his teeth. She dug a handful of change out of her purse and dropped them with a clank into the tin cup. She never looked at Randy. Instead, her eyes seemed unswayed from staring at the sidewalk and she moved along.
“Thank you ma’am,” Randy called. The lady continued on and did not respond.
Randy stared at the people walking by. He used to be one of them long ago. He couldn’t recall just how long. To them, he was invisible. The only thing that might gain their attention was the clinking of change in his cup. A feeling of despair swept through him. No one cares. He peered into the cup, now containing three quarters a nickel and three pennies. His only chance of survival rested upon these souls or the 'do-gooders' down at the shelter. He took his whiskey out and sucked down the last of it.
Nearing lunch time, Randy collected all of $2.42. It was enough for a couple burgers at McDonalds and a cup of water. He gathered his sign and tucked the tin cup under his coat. Meandering through the path, he spotted a squirrel with an acorn in its mouth scurrying up a white oak. He paused to think. Damn thing is probably better off than me. Lumbering to Henry's corner, he saw the old man asleep against a 'Yield' sign post. His sign crooked on his chest. Randy glanced in his cup where four one-dollar bills lay crumpled and jumbled inside. Several coins sat in the bottom. Randy thought for a moment about taking a couple dollars, but didn’t although any other bum would have without a second thought.
"Hey, Henry. Wake up."
"Uhhh?" Henry blinked his eyes a few times. "How did I git here?"
"We came together. You old fool."
Henry grunted and instinctively looked down in his cup. "Whoa! Looks like about six dollars. I remember da one gave me some foldin' money, but the other must've been when I fell asleep."
"Great. You get more asleep than I do awake."
"I told ya it's ma lucky corner." Henry grinned. "I'm hungry. Where ya wanna go?"
"Mickey D's is fine. I only got about $2."
They ambled down the sidewalk, wedged between the tall buildings of downtown Cleveland. The familiar row of blue awnings on Ontario Street shaded them intermittently. Cars zoomed by and faint car horns would sound as people rushed to their destinations. A man carrying a briefcase and chatting on a cell phone hurried past them. He eyed the building numbers seemingly in search of a particular address. Posters hung in the windows. One in particular had a black man carrying his smiling son via piggyback. Other posters showed other fake people trying to sell their fake products.
In contrast, two black people -- one man and one woman sat at the bus stop. The elderly man donned a heavy coat and sportsman cap while the heavy-set woman wore blue medical scrubs. Both were content to ignore each other -- The man by reading a section of newspaper, while the woman texted on her phone.
On the opposite side of the street, a dilapidated bridal shoppe sign hung like a relic to someone's past dreams of self employment. The ancient block building stood with several broken windows in its second floor and an ugly frost covered the panes on what Randy thought might at one time, have been a nice store front. Henry didn't seem to notice as he was too preoccupied with looking at the sky. Probably thinking about the weather again.
They turned onto Prospect Avenue and then again onto 2nd Street as they weaved among the signs, posts, and fire hydrants. Passing people dodged them, trying hard not to make eye contact. A few would glance their way. The wind from the winding canal hit Randy's face. Henry squinted at the sudden onset. They spied the tall "Hard Rock Cafe" sign near the water's edge, but they would step into the Skylight Tower City Center entrance and find their way to McDonald's. They made it just before the lunch crowd.
They ordered their burgers to go to avoid the sales tax. Henry ordered a vanilla shake in addition. Randy knew better than to ask for a sip. Henry would share just about anything, except food. Randy peered out a row of large windows facing the canal. The waters were moderately choppy and a tugboat drifted by. Some clouds had crept in and caused the sun to peek-a-boo behind them from time to time.
"Look. I don't know what will happen with the Applegate estate. There's just the one heir. We've got to find the son." A tall man dressed in a suit spoke into his cell next to him.
Randy turned. Applegate? That's my name. His attention piqued, he listened further.
"I think he's dead more than likely. He dropped off the map years ago. (pause) I know it's a long shot, but Charlie said the judge owed him a favor and we could at least see if the guy is filing a tax return. We have the social…. (pause) Yeah, well in eight months it'll go to the cousin. (pause) I'll be back to the office after I eat. I'm at McDonald's of all places. Ok... Ok... Yeah... Bye."
The man slipped the cell into his inside coat pocket and strolled over to the counter and nodded to the cashier. Her short-cropped black hair and pudgy form held out a sack. She nodded back. "Come back soon, sir." The man took the sack and turned in one motion toward the exit.
Randy followed him.
"Thanks." The tall man turned and came face to face with Randy. "Sorry buddy, I don't have any change."
Randy squinted at the man who cocked his head and furrowed his brow. "Did you want something else?"
"You said something about Applegate."
"Yeah. I'm an attorney for Friedman, Rauser, and Brown. It's an estate."
"That's my name."
Henry sauntered up and took a slurp on his shake. His eyes darted from the tall man to Randy and back again.
"Look. I get it. You'd like a little pocket change. I think I do have a buck or two." The man lifted his wallet out of the other inside jacket pocket and retrieved a five dollar bill. He held it out to Randy who took it and shoved it deep in his layered clothing. The man nodded, smiled, and scooted around Randy who stayed silent.
"Wha' was that about?" Henry inquired.
"I don't know. I guess he didn't believe me. Thought I was just wanting some money."
"Hey, you got a fiver out of it!"
"Yeah." Randy pulled the five back out and looked back as the man spun through the revolving door and out of sight. Randy walked to the counter and ordered a chocolate shake. The teen made change and wrinkled her nose at the sudden onset of odor that accompanied Randy.
Randy noticed a tattoo with the word "Fang" just underneath her sleeve. She slid the shake over to Randy and retreated back to the cook window where a couple burgers lay.
Randy's mind trickled with images of his father, and the last words he'd heard from him. "Son, you need to straighten out your life. If you can't turn it around, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the company and move out."
"If you can't help me, your only son, I'll save you the trouble. I quit. I don't have a father any more." The echo of that door slamming still sent a chill through him. His father was right -- Drugs ruled him then, and still do.
"You gonna drink that thing or just stand there wid your mouth hangin' open?" Henry asked.
"Oh. Sorry, Henry. Let's go." He took a long drag on the shake to demonstrate he was back from his short daydream. I wonder. The urge to contact his father—a feeling he'd not had in years—crept upon him. He held out the shake to Henry. "You want the rest of this?"
Henry looked perplexed, but didn't question. He snatched the shake away and began slurping.
Randy spun through the revolving doors and turned right. The Hard Rock Cafe sign dominated the scene with the river beyond. He crossed the street and felt the sharp wind on his face. Henry sidled alongside of Randy and they stood in silence watching the scant ships fight the current and wind as they trudged up and down the waterway. They stayed like that for about ten minutes.
Randy's head settled down as the pills Henry gave him kicked in, but the cold made him numb again.
"We doing any more signin'?" Henry asked breaking the quiet.
"Maybe later. I need to do something. I'll catch up to you later."
"All righty." Henry flipped the empty cup into a nearby trash can and glanced at Randy once more before pushing up the sidewalk back toward his shanty.
Randy couldn't stop thinking about his father. He recalled the multiple times he'd come home from work drunk and laid into his mother. His mother would say things like "You're never home." and "I'm tired of this crap and being shit on." When his father had had enough, well he let his fists fly. He remembered the blood and his mother's sobs so vividly that he turned and looked at the sidewalk for the red drops. Stupid. Successful bastard, but God my father had a temper. I never really forgave him for that.
Randy glanced up and down the street. Friedman something and Brown. I think I can find that.
After asking a few people he finally got a teenager to look up the address—just five blocks from his shanty—on her phone.
Randy trudged through the streets keeping his eyes down and only looking up at street signs. Lost in a whirlwind of thoughts the last one came to him as he stood before the tall office building; "It's an estate." He pulled open the glass door and entered. Two pot-bellied security guards eyed him. The first squinted as the pungent aroma that was Randy, hit the man's olfactory senses.
"Sir, can I help you with something?" asked the red-haired man. He feigned a clearing of his throat as he winced and held the back of his hand just under his nose.
"Yeah..." Randy's voice trembled a bit. "I ... uh... need to find an attorney. I was told to see a Friedman Brown?"
"Well there is an attorney up on the 8th floor. Friedman, Rauser, and Brown. They're mighty expensive. Perhaps... You might have the wrong building, or maybe you should find another attorney?"
Randy noticed the taller dark-headed man unbuckle his gun holster. He swallowed hard as both the guards eyes bore down upon him.
"No. I just need to see them about an estate."
The guards glanced at one another. The taller man shrugged. "Let him through, Murph."
"Empty your pockets, place everything in the bin, and step through the metal detector, sir." The red-haired man smiled. "You don't have any drugs on you I assume?"
"As a matter of fact. No. I'm all out at the moment. No booze either." Randy let out a light chuckle and a grin.
They both grinned and the tall man even chuckled a bit back.
Randy stepped through and no alarm sounded.
"The elevators are over there. You want room 812."
"Thanks." Randy nodded and proceeded to the elevators.
"Whew. That guy reeks." Randy heard them whisper.
The elevator doors opened and he walked down the hall eyeing each number until he stood before a fancy mahogany door. A plaque next to the frame stated "Friedman, Rauser, and Brown, LLC Attorneys at Law" He reached and twisted the knob. A sick feeling welled inside of him as the numbness wore off. His very soul ached along with his bones.
A stout black-haired lady with her back turned to Randy typed at a computer keyboard with a crisp flat LCD monitor before her. She heard the door close and spun around with a wide toothy smile. "May I hel..." Her gaze fell upon Randy and she pushed away from the counter. She stared at Randy and an awkward silence ensued. A flash of fear followed by disgust pushed over the lady's tan face.
"I'm sorry." She attempted to regain her composure. "May I ... uh... help you, sir? Were you looking for an attorney's office?" The question seemed more like groping at a hope that he was lost, more than an inquiry.
"Yeah. My name is Randy Applegate. I need to speak to a tall guy. He saw me at McDonald's today."
She blinked hard a few times, slid back one step as Randy's odor reached her, and replied, "Oh, I think you might mean Steve or maybe Charlie?"
"I think he mighta been talking to Charlie."
"Ok." She pushed the intercom. "Steve. This is Sheri. I have a Randy Applegate here to see you."
"I don't know any Randy... wait. Applegate did you say?"
"I'll be right up."
Randy noticed the name plate that read "Sheri Gonzalez" on her desk. Look at her. All fancy and stuck up. That business suit and her perfect hair, outfit, and matching shoes. I remember that. A feeling of resentment bubbled inside him. Reminds me of Ruth Ann.
Randy sat on the edge of an overstuffed chair. He fidgeted with an empty pill bottle in his pocket. He was suddenly aware of his coarse beard, odor, and mismatched clothing. He stared at a dirt smudge on the back of his hand. Kinda looks like Abe Lincoln. He smiled at the silly thought and rubbed it off (more like smeared it) with his opposite sleeve.
A door off to Randy’s left opened and the tall fellow named Steve wandered through. He grimaced at the sight of Randy, but stuck out his hand and bore a smile.
“Hello, Mr. Applegate. Please do come in. I’m Steve Rauser.” Randy shook hands. His eyes shifted down to the man’s shiny shoes. “I do recall you from McDonald’s. Please follow me.”
The two mazed their way back a couple of hallways and into a side office where a large window displayed the city’s skyline. Randy stopped at the doorway and took it all in. I’d forgotten what the view was like from these places.
“I take it…” Steve started, but realized Randy wasn’t listening. He increased his volume a bit and began again… “I take it that you are here about the estate?”
“Oh… Yeah. I just really had a question. Who was it that died?”
“That would be Thomas Applegate Jr. Is he any relation?”
“You could say that.” Randy nodded and tears welled in his eyes. Just hearing his name like that sent a chill through him. He blinked a few times not wanting to cry. "He's my father."
“Your father?” Steve repeated. “So you’re the missing son? We all thought you were dead. I must apologize for my actions at McDonald’s. We've been searching for months. I just didn't expect to see you in all places...”
“I’m sure you have. Last I saw of the bastard, he never wanted anything to do with me. The feelin’ was mutual. I just wanted to find out if it was him. That’s all. I’ll get out of your hair now.”
“Wait.” Steve stood up. “You do want to claim the estate I presume? I mean if you’ll submit to a DNA test.”
“Nah. I don’t want any money. Just give it away. It isn’t mine. It's his and my step mom's.”
“Estelle died too. Several years ago. The estate is 3.6 million dollars. Surely, you’re kidding.”
“No,” Randy said flatly. "I'll just go on about... wait. Did you say 3.6 million dollars? The old man weren't worth that much was he?"
"Yes, Mr. Applegate. He was. Now if you're serious about not claiming the estate, since we have located you, you’ll have to sign a waiver. I’ll draw that up if you'd like.”
3.6 million dollars? Nah. Old man wouldn't want me to have it no how. “Nobody needs to know you found me. I just wanted to know about my father. You know. Whether he was dead or not and all.” Randy turned and took a few steps toward the door.
“Where can I find you? I have to at least have a waiver. Nelson will insist on it.”
“Nelson? Nelson Fitz? My cousin? That rotten, no good son-of-a-bitch!” Randy's anger welled within him. He could feel his veins tighten at his name. Randy placed both his palms face down on Steve's desk and leaned forward to glare at Steve.
Steve seemed taken aback. “Well... Uh.... Yes. If you don’t stake a claim. He gets it all. He is the next in line per stirpes. Your aunt is deceased and Nelson is the only living heir.”
“Per what-sies? If it mean he don't get it then where do I sign? It’ll be a cold day in hell before I give it to him!” Randy pounded a fist in the middle of Steve’s desk. A dirt splotch signified exactly where.
“So you want to claim it then?”
“You betcha. I’ll give it to charity or something. Never to Nelson, the little weasel!”
“Well ok then. I’ll need a little hair and…” Steve fidgeted with a few papers in front of him trying to regain his composure. “a swab for the DNA test, fingerprints, and a signature. I’ve got that right back here.” Steve turned, pulled open a filing cabinet drawer, and (after muttering to himself a few seconds) retrieved a thick file with a perfectly straight label of "Thomas Applegate Jr. Estate". He pulled a few papers from it and slipped them across the desk at Randy.
Randy eyed them for an instant then picked up a golden pen and signed each one. After taking fingerprints, a swab and a hair sample Randy sat down and looked around the office. A picture of Steve, a woman and three children sat in a frame on the filing cabinet. The mahogany desk, matching chair, and plush surroundings completed the scene.
Steve ticked off each signature and glanced at Randy. “Well, if this is all verified you’ll have a nice house, a solid portfolio, and a summer home on Kelley’s Island. You’ll also be the majority stockholder of Applegate, Inc. maker of various motor parts.”
“Applegate, Inc? You mean the old man incorporated? I can’t run a business like that. How'd it get so big anyways?”
“Your father put his life into that business. You really won’t have to run it. Tom hasn’t been in good health and really has let his staff run it for the last five or so years. You can meet them if you’d like. The guy you’d want to talk to is the Vice President, Ernest Millhaus.”
“No. I’ll just…” Randy shook his head. What have I gotten myself into?
“Don’t worry. We’ll guide you through it all."
“Yeah. That sounds ok.”
"Now, on another topic how about we get you a hot shower and some food?”
"Sure. I could use something to eat."
Steve nodded and arose from his desk. "I'll lend you my guest room for a day. I've put up a few clients when they are in town. If that's OK."
They walked into the reception area. Randy following after Steve.
"You... would do that for me?" Randy's voice quivered.
Steve stopped just in front of Sherry's station and turned. He looked Randy eye to eye. "I don't know why Randy, but I trust you. You may look like a bum and have lived like a bum, but there's something about you."
"Thanks. I won't be any trouble. Just promise me that Nelson won't get my Dad's money. I owe him that much."
Steve pondered the request. "I'll give it my best."
The last sensation Randy had was the smell of Sheri’s citrus hand lotion as he exited with Steve.
------------------------------------------ Chapter Two ----------------------------------------------
Steve's home consisted of five bedrooms, three baths, and a two car garage in the suburb of Avon Lake complete with a white picket fence which spanned the length of the front lawn. The spiral staircase to the second floor along with the vaulted ceiling, sunken living room and wet bar displayed the posh lifestyle of a high-powered lawyer.
Steve led Randy to the bathroom and laid out a full set of towels and three kinds of soap. Randy said nothing. He only admired his surroundings and kept coming back to 3.6 million dollars. Wait until Henry hears about this. But how am I going to manage 3.6 million dollars? That's what me and the old man fought about all the time is money, but not that much. Maybe I should have went to see him after all. I just can't believe he's dead.
Randy snapped out of his thoughts as Steve led him to a bathroom upstairs. He pointed toward the bathtub.
"Yeah. Just not used to such nice things. You want to show me how to turn this thing (pointing to the shower controls) on?:"
Steve smiled and and let out a chuckle. "Yeah. Took me a couple times before I figured it out too."
Steve adjusted the controls and showed Randy the hot water mix to cold. Randy nodded. Still don't get how that works, but I'll give it a whirl. Man, I need a drink. My head is starting to throb.
Randy undressed and dropped his grimy clothes on the pristine tiled floor. After a minute of fiddling with the controls the water poured out and Randy stepped into its stream. Dirt raced down the drain and the sensation seemed surreal. Can't even remember the last hot shower I've had. My joints are aching, but this water does feel nice. Don't care much for the soap though. After soaping down and rinsing Randy pulled the shower curtain back to reveal some fresh clothes on the toilet seat. A knock rapped on the bathroom door.
Randy looked quizzical with his eyes squinted and brow furrowed. "Yeah?"
"I put your old clothes on the front porch in a plastic bag. I got some of my old clothes out when I used to weigh a bit more and.. uh... well I put them in there. I think they'll fit."
Randy paused for a moment and stared at the garb. "Fat clothes?" Randy chuckled.
"Yeah." Steve laughed. "Fat clothes."
Randy mumbled, "Best looking fat clothes I've ever had."
"What's that?" Steve yelled through the closed door.
"Nothing. I kinda like them is all."
"Oh. Well. That’s good. I'll see you downstairs."
Steve soft-footed down the hall and bounded down the stairs.
Randy lifted up the Armani dress shirt and held it close to his frame while looking in the mirror. Looks to be a bit big, but I’ll be stylin’
He slid on the clothes like a pet poodle putting on his first doggie outfit – Awkward. The pants fit well, even if they were a bit long. The shirt envelope him, but was wearable. The loose folds scrambled this way and that, down his torso and ended with the shirttail tucked sloppily into his pants.
He spotted a pair of scissors in a cup and looked at his scraggly beard. He worked at cutting away the rough spots and the grey but kept going until he had a svelte, neat trim. “I look good,” he stated. He smiled and realized the mirror door was ajar.
Randy pulled open the medicine cabinet door and spied a full bottle of aspirin, a near-empty prescription of Vicodin, and a few laxative prescriptions. He swiped the bottle with vicotin and popped the top off. Five pills. He slung two into his mouth and filled the rest of the bottle with aspirin, then jammed the whole pill bottle in his pocket. A momentary pang of guilt welled inside him. He won’t miss it. He grabbed the doorknob and escaped to the hall.
Steve plodded up the steps and Randy swung his head toward him.
Steve stopped one step from the top when he became mindful of Randy’s presence. “Oh,” he stammered. “I was just coming up to check… Wow, you clean up pretty good there, Randy”
A grin swept over Randy’s mouth, but faded. His hand crept into his pocket and he clutched the pill bottle.
“Yeah, I … uh… used ‘em scissors and well. I trimmed up a bit. I tried to throw all the hair in the little trashcan, but I’m not used to….”
“It’s ok.” Steve interrupted. “You look good I’m sure Donna will clean it up.”
“No." He grinned. "Donna is our cleaning lady. She comes tomorrow. Just once a week.”
As if that’s normal.
Steve turned and started descending the stairs. He continued, “I went to the trouble of fixing us some lunch. I assume you didn’t get a chance to eat at McDonald’s? I know I couldn’t eat much of that thing they call a sandwich. So, I made a couple turkey sandwiches on rye. My wife, Karen, even left some fresh cantaloupe for us. She’s a peach, my wife. Must’ve picked that up just for me before her trip to Buffalo. She knows it’s my favorite. Let’s see this is Tuesday and she’ll be back Friday night. Chelsea is staying…” Steve turned around and looked at Randy. “Oh, Chelsea is our daughter.”
“Anyway, Chelsea is staying at her grandmother’s this week. Spring break and all. She loves to ride horses. My parents have a small farm down around Akron. Chelsea just loves it down there. I figure…”
“Do you always talk this much?” Randy interrupted.
“Oh. Well I am a lawyer,” He quipped as he led Randy into the dining room off to the right. A kitchen with a large island was clearly visible through an open-countered bar window. “My wife says I ramble. Please have a seat.” He motioned to an oblong walnut table with full place settings. Turkey sandwiches rested upon two plates with chips on a side plate and a bowl heaped with fresh cut cantaloupe adorned the middle. Napkins rested to each side of the plates. A pitcher of pink lemonade rested to the side.
Randy glanced at Steve. “You sure this is for me?”
“Yeah. Go ahead and sit down. You’re a million dollar client now.”
“I’m… your client?”
“Well, yeah. That’s part of those papers that you signed. I’m your lawyer now.”
Randy looked around. He is talking to me, right?
Steve scooted his chair back and sat down. Randy saw him steal a glance his way and he copied him and sat as well.
While he wasn’t too hungry, given his meal at McDonalds, life on the streets taught you that you don’t refuse a meal. He raised the picturesque sandwich nicely balanced upon his fingertips and took a big bite. A burst of flavor filled his mouth. He chomped out another bite about as quickly as he could manage and still have time to swallow the first. Been a long time since I had a sandwich this good. Eat your heart out, Henry.
He took the spoon out of the cantaloupe and dished out a heap. He started to raise the spoon to his mouth and gulp down a few chunks, but stopped when Steve dipped an eyebrow at him.
“’Excuse me. I forgot where…”
“It’s ok,” Steve replied. “Here.” Steve guided Randy’s hand to the plate and the pile of cantaloupe toppled across its face. “Just use the fork from there.” Steve forced out a grin as if he delivered the punchline to a bad joke.
Randy stared at the melon. One chunk had tumbled and rested atop his potato chips. His mind wandered to his step-mother and her insistence on having a fruit and vegetable with each meal. Estelle. She’d never let me call her mom. Always Estelle. Stella to her girlfriends. But to me, her step-son, it was always Estelle.
He must have stared a bit too long as Steve piped up, “You can eat it now. It’s not trained to jump in your mouth.”
“Sorry. Just thinking of my step-mom.”
Steve paused and nodded knowingly as if he overcame the difficulty of recalling something buried deep in his memory. “Stella wasn’t it? I actually met her on a minor legal issue a few years back just a few months before she passed away.”
“Estelle. She wouldn’t le' me call her Stella. She was a hard woman. Not like my real mom.”
“If I may,” Steve swallowed a chunk of mellon, “what was your real mother’s name?”
“No last name?”
“I don’t recall just at this moment. It’ll come to me though. I barely remember her. Passed five days shy of my seventh birthday. Then my dad met Estelle a few years later.”
Steve nodded and took the last bite of his sandwich when his phone buzzed. He glanced down at the screen, grabbed the phone and keyed in a response. He read his response, hit send and plopped it back on the table.
Randy dished out another helping of cantaloupe and scarfed it down while Steve seemed intent on studying his phone. It would buzz from time to time as he keyed in responses.
Dang. Doesn’t he ever put that thing down?
Randy’s stomach let out a large rumble, but Steve stayed stone-still. He stared into his phone screen waiting until he suddenly looked up.
”The court has set a date already. A week from next Tuesday. That would be the 13th. We should at least have the fingerprints as proof by then. The DNA lab will be the clencher, but apparently they’re back up at least a month.”
Randy’s stomach billowed with fullness. His eyes felt heavy. “At least a month…,” he mimicked
“Yes. In the mean time I will call around for at a few long term lodging places and try to book you a room. We’ve got a long road to challenge the claim that Nelson has put in, but once we have some evidence of who you are the court will grant a stay so we can stake a higher claim. Nelson won’t get a dime!”
Randy’s eared perked up a bit. “Now that’s my lawyer! That rat! Low down weasel.”
A broad smile broke out across Steve’s face. “Not a penny! What did Nelson do to you anyways?”
“He’s my Dad’s sister’s boy. We’ve had some fights. Real knock down drag out ones. He hit me with a shovel once. Put me in the hospital for three days. All because my Aunt took me to the zoo instead ‘a him. I punched him right in the nose next time I saw him. Dad wasn’t none too happy about that. Then there was the time he stole my Aunt’s car and totaled it and blamed me. Lucky I was on video tape at the corner drug store picking up Estelle’s cigarettes. That’s just a few of the things I could tell you..” Randy felt the blood flush to his face. His heart pounded and his teeth clenched.
Steve nodded. “I’ve met him. He’s a real tool. Tried to say he paid his attorney when he didn’t. I used to work at that firm. Who pays their attorney in cash? Like we wouldn’t remember that.”
“Sounds like Nelson. He’d shoot his own kin for a quarter.”
Randy ate as if he hadn't eaten for days. After the last of the cantaloupe disappeared he sat back in his chair. His belly so full it hurt a little. If this is what it's like to be rich maybe I could get used to this.
“Well I hope you had your fill. I’ve always loved that kind of turkey. My wife bought it several years back at this little deli up near the lake. Kind of a touristy area and a bit on the pricey side. We’d go up there and go out with the Ingram’s on their boat. Nice family. They live just a few blocks from here. My daughter and their son, Justin…
Randy just gazed at Steve as he continued his ramble. He tuned out and his mind wandered to his father. How did he die? Steve never told me. Heart attack I’d bet my best bottle of booze. Always figured a heart attack.
… Yes, sir. Justin never did live that down. 100 pounds soaking wet and we all laughed like…”
“Yeah, Mr. Ruster?”
Steve’s eyes, fixed on his phone turned to Randy. “Yes, Randy. It’s Rauser. My name is pronounced Raw-Ser, but do continue.”
Randy felt a tinge of annoyance, but soaked in the pronunciation. “Ok. Yeah. About my dad. How did he die anyway? I figured the old coot would live to be 90. Strong as a God Da…. I mean. Strong as a mule.”
“Oh. I don’t rightly know. I don’t recall. I did look over the death certificate, but I guess I didn’t notice the cause. Is that important?” Steve reached over and poured a glass of lemonade. He motioned at Randy’s glass with the pitcher.
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Give me a bit of that too.” Randy pointed at his glass.
Steve obliged and filled it.
They both fell silent for a bit enjoying the tart taste of the tart lemonade. Steve fiddled with various apps on his phone and stopped to text now and again as his phone buzzed from incoming messages.
Glad I don’t have one of those things. It’d drive me to drink. Speaking of which, I could use a good belt. Better not ask him though. He’d probably fix me a daiquiri. Dude wouldn’t know a good stiff drink if Jack Daniels himself offered ‘im one.
Randy arose from the table and found himself at the end of the dining room in front of a set of French doors that led out to a large deck. Three evenly spaced 40 foot leafless trees waved in the wind. At their base was empty landscape beds. Beyond them was a playground complete with clubhouse which could only be reached by ladder or the monkey bars if you were nimble enough to traverse them. The white fence from the front yard wound its way to the backyard too, but rose in height to provide privacy. Randy imagined in the spring the lawn would be lush and green, while the beds were likely full of flowers.
For a moment, Randy thought of his own home that he grew up in -- 3314 Hancock Avenue. Instead of a plush lawn he remembered him and his buddies would play in the creepy Monroe Cemetery down the street a bit. The stone archway with a cross at the top and four steepled stone pillars was what made the biggest impression. It was like all the scary Halloween movies’ opening scene. Just thinking of that entryway sent a chill down his spine. Not like this backyard. That’s for sure. His mind kept coming back to one number, 3.6 million.
Randy stood there watching the sun sink over the rooftop of the house on the lot behind. He was used to waiting so standing there for an hour didn’t faze him. Homeless for six years and now here I am in this rich lawyer’s house about to get $3.6 million. Unbelievable.
Steve’s footsteps behind him finally caused him to look away.
“I’ve never liked the Iskowski’s,” Steve stated while motioning to the house behind. “His dog gets out all the time and likes to get inside our fence. We’ve had a few words about it.”
“Really?” Randy asked.
“Yeah. Stupid dog chases our cat, Boots, and runs her up one of those trees every time.”
Randy nodded. Dogs and cats. Don’t get along. Imagine that.
“I’ve thought strongly about taking him to court. What a complete ass that guy can be.”
Randy glance at Steve whose face tinged red. He saw him clench his fist a couple of times.
Randy again nodded. Ruffled feathers, for sure.
Steve stood silent for a minute while staring out at the Iskowski residence. His brows furrowed and then relaxed as whatever thought seemed to dissipate. Steve turned to Randy.
“I contacted Judge Stump and told him we have located the missing son. He was pleased. Old friend of the family, Stump. My older brother and him went to law school together. We’d have barbeques at his house from time to time during my youth. My brother is almost four years my senior and well….”:
Randy began tuning out. Steve rambled on about the great feasts he ate and how Stump and his older brother would pal around going to concerts and such. Randy slowly shook his head.
“… my brother and Stump rode home after that. Problem was I knew all about what happened….”
“Steve.” Randy stated.
Steve stopped. “I am doing it again, aren’t I?”
“Sorry. I guess I do ramble. Where was I?”
“Well, about my case you left off with calling the judge. Some feller named Stump.”
“Ah yes. Aaron Stump. Did I tell you about him and that crazy…”
Randy leaned forward and looked at Steve through the top of his eyes.
“Oh, right. Well the judge will accept the motion to claim the inheritance once we have the first verification which will likely be the fingerprints. I’ve texted my contact at the police, Officer Meredith, to try and get the fingerprints expedited. As I said the DNA will take at least a month, but once we get the motion filed I’m sure Stump will release a bit of funds. I’ll appeal to him to at least get you a room or perhaps even stay at your dad’s house temporarily. It would be better than it sitting empty.”
“Sounds great. Sounds like you got everything rolling along. How much do you think the judge might release?”
“Actually with me as the executor, it is my decision, but I like to get the judge’s OK on things especially with a larger estate and with this being such an odd circumstance. Nelson’s attorney will likely object and try to draw things out as long as possible. Stump blocked their same request about three months ago to give time to find you.”
“Well, well, well. Nelson Fitz got his panties in a wad, did he? Good to hear. The day that he gets my dad’s money is the day hell will freeze over and become an ice skating rink.”
Steve reached over and clicked on the light. The sun slid silently behind the horizon with a purple and orange display pelting the thin clouds in the distance.
Randy felt strange. He would often be panhandling at this time of night. When it got dark he would track down the nearest street dealer and get some pills then head over to the nearest liquor store and get a bottle. The rest of the evening dwindled away into a familiar spiral of getting stoned and taking away the numbness of life. For the first time in many months he wasn’t doing that. Instead he scanned his surroundings in a posh heated home with comfortable beds. He felt tired and his body ached. His hand played with the pill bottle cap in his pocket.
Steve sauntered away and slipped into the living room. Randy followed him. Steve sunk into the lounge chair while Randy sat on the couch facing a 65” big screen TV. Whoa. That is one big TV. He spied the remote resting upon the long, parallel coffee table.
“Go ahead,” Steve stated “watch whatever you want.”
Randy peered at Steve then grabbed the remote. Pressing the big red button the TV clicked on and after a few seconds the screen filled with scenes from a firefighter hosing down a house fire as a nearby reporter droned on… “… luckily no one was at home when the house caught fire. The only casualty was the family’s cat whom one firefighter snatched up and brought him to safety. A bandage for his paw and a bath is all that was needed. That’s all here tonight in Mayfield Heights. A family that may have lost their possessions, but still have each other.”
Randy scanned the channels – mesmerized. So many channels. With each scene the vibrant colors and great contrast jumped out at him. He finally settled on a boxing match and sat there soaking up the action.
Eventually, Steve retreated to upstairs and Randy lay down. His eyelids felt heavy. Sleep, sweet sleep met him at last.
---------------------------------------------- Chapter Three ------------------------------------------------
Light poured in from the large, double-paned window. The warmth of the rays pushed up Randy’s arm. He turned toward the couch’s back and grunted. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times. His mouth felt like paste. The odd sensation of being warm suddenly hit Randy. Where the hell am I? He sat up and looked around.
Randy held out his hand. It shook violently. He tried to get some moisture in his mouth by swallowing a few times. Damn. I need something. Where can I get… Then Randy felt the pill bottle in his pocket. He groped his pant leg as his hands didn’t seem to want to obey. Finally he held the bottle in front of his face. He wrestled the cap off. He tipped the bottle and dumped all the pills into his palm. He weeded out the three vicotin’s and chucked them down his throat.
"No booze to wash it down." Randy lamented as the pills begrudgingly went down. He spied a wet bar in the corner. He flipped the aspirins back into the bottle and pushed on the lid.
He wobbled over to it and tried the glass door. Locked. Glass door. I could just bust it. Have to be quiet though. I… What am I doing? I can’t do that. Steve… I mean… He put me up and… Randy snorted in disgust. He walked to the window and peered out at the backyard where a dog hunched in the lawn doing his business.
“Iskowski’s I’m guessing. Ah. Just his nature. A dog’s going to be a dog.” Randy mumbled. The dog retreated to his master’s home under the fence.
Randy’s mind wandered to that number again -- $3.6 million. I could help Henry. Build a real homeless shelter. No showers and all the pills, booze and junk they wanted.
“Randy?” Steve asked right behind Randy.
“You want to take another shower or are you good? I figure we’ll go on to the office and pick up a little breakfast on the way. I don’t really have another set of clothes that would come close to fitting.” Steve tried to catch Randy’s eyes in order to read him.
“No shower, but going to the office sounds good. I feel bad with you feeding me and putting me up. I could work it off doing something if you want.” Randy stated.
“Oh, no. That’s not necessary. I figure we’ll take care of a few things at the office then set you up in a hotel room. I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable. We do need to get going. 7:20 now and we’ve got a half hour drive.”
Randy nodded. Steve swung on a suit jacket and turned toward the front door. Randy followed. He could feel his nerves calm as he anticipated the vicotin kicking in.
They both got into the Mercedes Benz in the garage. It eased out of the driveway while the garage door silently closed. Randy stayed silent while Steve fidgeted with his phone while meandering through the neighborhood. His eyes glanced up periodically as he drove.
Randy decided to zone out. He didn’t feel much like talking. Besides, he could scarcely get a word in any way. He watched as they merged onto the highway, passed several cars and the image of downtown Cleveland arose on the horizon. Steve made several phone calls, but Randy just let him go through his routine. If he got him started talking…
Steve hung up his cell after a lengthy conversation with some lady named Val. He turned to Randy.
“She’s a real peach. Used to work for us, but decided upon greener pastures.”
Randy, staring out the window looked at Steve. “Oh, what?”
“Valerie. She works for the county now. A real peach. Worked for us about six years. Hired on as a temporary at first. Charlie didn’t really care for her, but I thought she had a lot of potential. It’s all in the training is what I said, but he didn’t…”
Randy sat there wide-eyed when Steve noticed.
… uh… anyway. Where would you like to go for breakfast?”
“Don’t matter,” Randy stated.
“How about we swing by Grumpy’s Café. You like Omlettes?”
“Grumpy’s café? Haven’t been there in a few years. Henry always raved about them. So, we saved a few bucks and went. Good eats. I really like their corned beef hash.”
“Well, that’s great. Best breakfast in town. We’ll get it to go and eat at the office. Love their coffee too. Fresh and hot.”
Randy nodded in agreement. Grumpy’s was a downtown Cleveland gem but just for the locals.
Steve turned and glided into the exit lane heading for 14th Street. Randy strained to remember the taste of their corned beef hash. His mouth began to water.
Within moments they pulled into the parking lot and as luck would happen a car was pulling out of a prime, upfront space. Steve snagged it. Shut off the car and got out. Randy did the same.
“We eating here?”
Steve looked at his watch. “We’ll get it to go. I have a meeting to get back to. Sheri will hook you up with a hotel room. I figure you’ll have the rest of the day to do what you want while I get the ball rolling from a legal standpoint.”
Grumpy’s was a simple place. A bar stood off to the right. Several four top tables sat off to the left. All of the seats were occupied. A couple of guys loitered just in front of them apparently waiting for their order. The carpeted floor kept the noise muted as the customers continued their quiet conversations. Three of the walls were painted a drab yellow while the fourth offset the yellow with a dark maroon. The word Cleveland splayed across one wall with a pictorial of the city behind. The iconic Grumpy dwarf logo seemed pasted upon every paper material including, of course, the menu.
Steve picked a menu out of a nearby rack and started perusing it. Randy just glanced around the room. Bet these people could spare a few bucks. Look at ‘em. Sitting there in these warm digs, sipping their coffee and eating like kings while I beg them for money. $2.42 is all they could give up. Automatically he started sizing them up as to who might give the most. Guilt is powerful.
Steve nodded a few times and turned and offered the menu to Randy.
Randy waived it off. Steve paused for a moment and his brow furrowed in obvious puzzlement that Randy had already decided on his entrée.
A bustling waitress approach, winked at them and stated she’d be with them in a moment. She scurried off toward the long counter and flopped a couple order sheets down. The bartender clipped them to a rotating silver wheel that straddled the opening in the wall to the kitchen.
A curly-headed blond girl about five years old broke away from a nearby table and ran headlong into Randy.
“Whoa there! Where are you off to missy?” Randy said.
She looked up with big brown eyes and took a few steps back. A woman, likely her mother, shot up and grabbed her shoulders from the back.
“Oh, I am so sorry, sir. She’s a bit rambunctious today,” she uttered and smiled through pursed lips.
“That’s ok. I …” Randy paused. He looked down at the girl who edged away behind her mom’s leg. “… I know how young ‘uns can be.” A memory flashed through Randy’s mind of a similar instance about two to three years earlier where a kid crashed into him on the street. The terror in that child’s eyes felt almost palpable, but this girl seemed just a little embarrassed.
“… and a ham and cheese omlette. What did you want, Randy?” Steve voice entered from the right.
Randy turned toward him. “Yeah. I’ll take the corned beef hash with some scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. You got grapefruit juice?”
The waitress nodded. “… and a large grapefruit juice to go.” She scribbled on an order sheet.
Randy scanned the dining room. The mother and girl already returned to their table. The sounds of silverware against plates, people talking and kitchen food sizzling filled the air. A mix of pleasant smells wafted through the restaurant.
Steve texted on his phone while they waited. Randy continued to look at the people – eating, leaving, coming, ordering. This was a life that Randy hadn’t seen in a very long time. He felt so out of place and yet in these clothes he wasn’t.
Steve tapped Randy on the shoulder. “Let’s go.” Steve held a takeout bag in his hand.
Randy and Steve sat at Steve’s desk. Far better than he recalled, the corned beef hash melted in Randy’s mouth. “This stuff is great. Better than having all that fast food all the time.”
“You’ll be eating like this every day. Just a matter of time. Nelson won’t know what hit him.”
Randy let loose a hearty laugh. “That’s the best part.”
Sheri entered the room. The smell of oranges followed after her.
“Mr. Rauser the judge in the Smith case just made a decision. You’re not going to like it.”
“Judge Woodson. That guy is a thorn in my side. Let me guess. He is delaying the distribution again.”
“You got it. Says that the documents showing the appraisals on the office building were not signed and witnessed properly. They’ll have to be re-submitted.”
“Lord in heaven above this will be four times! Plus the building doesn’t even have anything to do with the cash on hand.” Steve said exasperated.
“My dad always said just go ahead and do it. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Randy grinned.
“That’s good,” Sheri opined and pointed at Randy.
Steve just shook his head. “I wish. I mean I have every right to make the distribution, but if something goes wrong it is back on me.” He stopped for a moment and looked at Sheri. “I’m glad you stepped in, Sheri. I want you to set Randy up with a hotel room. Make him comfortable. I’ll give a call into Stump and see if we can’t let him in the house. Any calls come in from Office Meredith?”
“Not that I know of,” Sheri answered.
“I’ll give him another day. He should have the fingerprint verification back soon. Once that happens we can likely get the go ahead to get you to at least sleep in your own house. We might even not have to go through the DNA testing.”
Randy held up his grapefruit juice. “I’ll drink to that.” He swilled down the last of it.
“I’ll let you two finish up your breakfast. Meanwhile I’ll call a nice hotel. Would the Hampton be ok?”
“Sounds all right to me. Something with a hot tub and a bar.”
Sheri nodded. “I’ll see what I can do,” She said through pursed lips holding back a smile. She stepped out quickly and footsteps trailed down the hall.
Steve, who suddenly began texting on his phone, seemed intent on typing a reply.
Randy quietly finished up his eggs and sat staring out the tall office building window. He could see a piece of the river from this angle. No boats in sight. From in here it seemed like a pleasant, partly sunny day. Randy knew that the temperatures at night were ranging down to freezing. His thoughts wandered to Henry. He said it would snow soon. Probably tonight. His eyes looked to the west where large gray clouds were forming.
“Now that we’ve finished Grumpy’s, I want you to go see Sheri. She will set you up. She’ll give you prepaid debit card and book you a room. I’m setting a $2,500 limit on the card so don’t have too much fun.”
“Ok.” $2,500. That’s a lot of jack.” Randy’s head spun with the location of a few local liquor stores. Let’s see. The one on 9th would be closest.
Steve turned his attention to his desktop computer and began scrolling and clicking with his mouse. A few moments of contemplating what he was reading, and he began typing. Randy watched him for a few minutes. He studied the man’s face as his forehead crinkled in concentration.
Randy finally raised up and silently slipped out of the room, down the hall and to Sheri’s desk. He arrived just in time to see her hang up the phone, scribble a few notes on a notepad and look up at him.
“Hi, Randy,” she said pleasantly.
Randy’s mind went back to the first time she saw him come in the day before. The repugnant expression completely replaced with a smile and perkiness.
“I’ve set up a room at the Hampton just below the top floor. Should be quite a view. Also…” She paused and opened her lap drawer retrieving a debit card “… here is a debit card preloaded with $2,500. This will be added to your bill along with the cost of the room.” She reached out and extended the card in his direction.
Randy took the card and pocketed it. He felt it in his hand inside his pocket. He kept mulling the amount. $2,500. More money than he’d had in years.
“I’m sure you will get into your dad’s house soon. In the mean time, just trust Steve. He really is a good attorney.”
“Would you like me to call you cab?”
“No. I’m not going to the hotel right now. Easy walk from here anyways. I need to track someone down. I’m sure he’s probably in some hole or another or out signin’”
Sheri appeared puzzled.
“Nevermind. Oh, and how do I get hold of you?”
“We’ll ring your hotel. They have voicemail. A little light will blink on the room’s phone. Just press it, pick up the receiver and listen. It’ll probably be a few days, but of course you can check in here too.” She grabbed a business card and slipped it across the counter.
Randy retrieved it and slipped it into the same pocket as the debit card. He turned and walked out. His hand clutched the card with an iron grip.
--------------------------------- Chapter Four ----------------------------------------
Nelson Fitz sat in his recliner. His stubby fingers dipped sliced apple wedges in caramel and he popped them in his mouth. The TV droned on with a "Dancing with the Stars" rerun of Bill Nye. He rewound the painful dance routine as a goofy grin swept across his face.
"He falls down right here. Oh, Epic fail." Nelson chortled in glee.
His cell phone, resting on the stand next to his chair, began to buzz. He snatched the remote and pushed pause. His sticky fingers hit the accept button.
"Yeah." He replied and switched the phone to his other hand and sucked a little caramel from his finger.
"This is Roger Penny, your attorney."
"Oh, hello Roger. I didn't figure I'd hear anything from you for another two months -- The one year limit to claim the estate."
"Well, I ... I guess I have some bad news on that front..." Roger stammered out.
"What bad news?"
"They found him." Roger stated.
"No. You mean they found Randy?"
"Yes. They found Randy."
Nelson's lip quivered at the statement. He stared at the opposite wall. "That's not fair!" He yelled. His belly shook as he arose to his feet and began to pace.
"Now what do we do? I need that money! I also need to show that Ernie how to run a proper business. First thing I'll do is bust him down to janitor and have him clean the toilets."
"Well. The court has set a date to review the claim. My contact down at the courthouse just called me. I'm sorry, Nelson. It doesn't sound good. From what I understand the guy looks just like the picture."
"No, no, no, no, no, no.... Noooooooo!!" Nelson stomped around the middle of his tiny living room as he ran his free hand through his greasy, slick-backed hair. "Why does he always spoil things for me? He got away with blaming me for that car wreck. Got away with lots of things when we were kids. Now, he has to come back and take my money. Money that that moron druggie doesn't need and my uncle Tom disowned. Why does this stuff happen to me? What can we do?"
"We have to wait until Tuesday the 13th. You can come with me or I can attend alone in your place. We just have to see the evidence for ourselves and..."
"I want to come," Nelson interrupted.
"You don't have to, you know. I'll get a copy."
"I said I am com - ing. You understand? You work for me."
"All right." Roger's voice seemed terse.
"Fine. What time?"
"Should be around 2:00."
"I will meet you there. Nobody is going to claim my money."
Nelson hit the 'End' key and fell onto his couch. His body shook as he pounded on a sparsely threaded pillow. A tuft of stuffing protruded from an emerging hole.
I should call Clara. Maybe she can make me feel better.
Nelson turned his attention to his phone and flipped through his contacts until his thumb hovered above her name. But if she knows I won't get the money, she might break up with me. Nelson tossed the phone on the end table. It bounced a couple times and came to rest an inch from the opposite edge.
He grabbed an apple wedge, dipped as much caramel on it as he could manage and gobbled it down. He spotted the remote and clicked back on the TV. Bill Nye fell down just as predicted and Nelson snorted with a half grin. He wiped his fingers on his pants.
Nelson watched the rest of "Dancing with the Stars", then turned off the TV.
His mind raced with thoughts of Randy. I hate him. He's just like my old man. A waste of space. An air sucker. Drunk. Druggie. Asshole. I wonder if I could sue him for hitting me?
He grabbed his phone, scrolled down and hit Roger's name.
"If he gets that money, could we sue him for assault?" Nelson inquired.
"What? Who.... Oh. It's you, Nelson. Who are we talking about?" Roger said.
"Randy! You dimwit. Can we sue him for assault? He hit me."
"Hit you?" Roger's voice arose in surprise. "When was this?"
"About ten years... Oh, Damn. You're going to say we can't because of those statues of limitations."
"It's statutes. And yes. We can't sue. It's typically just three years."
"Damn it! You're some lawyer. Think of something. Earn your money for a change."
Nelson hit the end button. He ground his teeth as a bit of spittle flew from his flabby jowls.
Feeling like a caged animal he paced the floor. His mind raced with thoughts once more. Randy. Estelle. Margaret. My Mom (Esther). His mother's face flashed through his head. Where is that scrapbook? Maybe there's something in there I can use.
Nelson walked to his bedroom, opened an old cardboard box and pulled out a large book. The yellow pages smelled of mustiness. Several photos and a mix of papers were haphazardly stuck in between pages. Nelson brushed off the thin layer of dust from it's cover. Golden script letters on it spelled out FITZ. "Damn drunk," he mumbled as he looked at the name. He opened the thick volume.
Four pictures met his gaze. The first was of his mother, Esther. She looked young, about 30, and she smiled at the camera like it was some kind of obligation. Her hands were folded and placed in her lap. The second picture was of himself as a four year old sliding down a tall metal slide on a playground. His face showed of terror as he gazed down the long smooth surface. The next pic (presumably) showed Nelson at the bottom of the slide, his fat little body sprawled upon the ground. His face twisted up and tears streamed down his cheeks. Nelson snorted at the two frozen memories. The fourth picture showed just the top of a man's head with his face blotted out with a blue crayon. Several creases and crinkles gave the impression that this photo had been wadded up at least once before.
Nelson flipped through the pictures until he came to a birthday party. A white cake adorned with a candle in the shape of a 9 stood before Nelson. A goofy grin pasted on his face, he stared at the cake. Randy sat off to the right. Nelson's finger slid across his face. Randy. Just when I thought I'd gotten rid of you. Nelson looked at his mirror image and the happiness at the coming feast of cake.
He closed the book and toted it to the kitchen where he retrieved a family sized bag of plain M&Ms. He lay the book down. He ripped open the bag and poured out a big handful of candy. He looked at the glistening colorful orbs. The same goofy grin spread across his chubby cheeks and he shoved them into his mouth. The sweetness exploded in his mouth.
A soft knock on the door filled the quiet room. Nelson got up and lumbered to the door. He paused, peeked through the peephole and saw Clara standing there. Usually Nelson felt a jolt of joy when he'd see her or talk to her. But now, with the money on the verge of disappearing, he felt fear. He turned the knob and cracked open the door.
Clara looked at him through the crack. "It's me, silly."
"Clara. What are you doing here?"
"Just stopped in to see my pooky Nelson."
Clara ground one heel into the worn carpeting. She wore a faux white stole that needed washing. Her dress, about one size too small, hugged her curves like an outdated sports car on a rough road. She used a lot of makeup to cover several old acne pits on her face. She also wore knee-high pantyhose in an obvious attempt to add some class to an otherwise unimpressive outfit.
"I'm in the middle of something maybe you could stop back by tomorrow...."
Clara frowned and gave Nelson her best baby pout. Nelson sighed. He knew that Clara would not stop until she was safely inside. No use in trying. Nelson swung open the door.
"Thank you, Nellie."
"Don't call me that. You know I don't like it." Nelson's eyes flared with annoyance.
Clara bopped in the doorway and gave him a peck on the cheek.
"What are you in the middle of?" She asked coyly.
"Just looking at some old pictures in my mom's old scrapbook. No big deal."
"You mean I can see my pooky as a little boy? Oh, how delicious. Where is it?"
"I don't think..." Before he could finish, she spotted the big book lying on the kitchen table. She'd already taken a couple of steps toward it. Nelson caught her by the waist and spun her so she was face to face.
"Not a good idea. I just don't want you seeing those yet."
"You are a spoilsport." She took her finger and playfully tapped his nose. Wiggling free of Nelson's grip she sauntered to the recliner and plopped down. Her legs splayed apart, but then as if she remembering some long lost "lady-like" coaching she crossed them and rested her folded hands atop.
"So, you want to do something?" Nelson asked.
"There's an idea. Maybe you could take me out on the town. A couple of drinks and a nice steak dinner."
"We seem to do that a lot. I inherited $30,000 from my mother and there's only a little over $20,000 left. I can't keep spending like that."
Clara again pouted. "So, you don't love me any more? I'm not worth a teeny, little night on the town?"
"Yes, you are. I just... well... had an unexpected call from my lawyer and I might need that money to..."
"So, we're not going." Clara spied the apple slices and took one. She nibbled on it.
Nelson studied Clara for a moment. A bit of disappointment fell upon him. Of course, we can go. It's just dinner. Nelson remembered that same feeling of disappointment as a child when his father denied him something.
"All right. We can go. Didn't you wear a coat? It's getting pretty cold out there."
"I left it in my car. Oh, Nellie I'm glad you reconsidered. I've just been dying to try this new restaurant."
Nelson felt another twinge but let the 'Nellie' pass this time. I could use a little company after that news anyway. Besides I haven't been out to dinner for a while myself. I deserve a little treat.
He swung his arm toward the door. "Let's go."