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 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 my Dad's secretary, 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 his 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? I swore I'd never take a penny from him. Ever. 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? Are you talking about 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! That son of a bitch. He never worked an honest day in his life.”
“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 three 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."
"Yes and a shower.." Steve cleared his throat. "... I'm sure." Steve 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. "Nobody... I mean since I left. Nobody..."
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. He may not have wanted me to have the money, but I do 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 glanced 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. But I could wait and push my schedule. I don’t really have another set of clothes that would come close to fitting you though.” 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. I'm pretty decent at painting.” 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. Rand