A lawyer and an intuitive old woman have a chance meeting in a Louisiana town.
Derek B. Thorpe
"Let me repeat the two choices available, Mr. Benwa... Benwa, right?"
Sergeant Cren Dennard wipes his fingers with the dirty rag from his back pocket and steps away from the open hood. "You can wait the hour for them to deliver the new fan belt, or you can order the tow truck to take you and your Jaguar back to New Orleans. I done told you the tow won't be here for another two hours or so."
"I can't understand why it would take so long for a mere strip of rubber to get here?" I shrug my jacket off and throw it into the backseat. "You sure you can fix this job, friend? It's foreign you know."
"Mister, I been fixin' whatever type of engine the military could throw at me while I was in the service. Heck, I can do this job with the three toes left on my right foot, but not while it's hot and smokin' like this. It's just as well the belt takes an hour to get here," he says.
One strap on his camouflage cover-all slides from his shoulder exposing more of the dense hair covering his back and chest. At least there aren't any flecks of food and dirt entangled there like there are in his beard. He looks around and picks up one of those clipboards with the pen dangling from a chain. He senses that I am resigned to stay and get the damned thing fixed at his garage so he shoves the board at my belly. The one printed sheet of paper trapped by the spring clamp flaps in the playful Louisiana breeze.
"Here, sign this sheet and print your name. It says you'll pay for the labor and the cost of the belt."
I do not like his attitude. Don't like it at all. I didn't go through four years of law school at LSU to have some hairy mechanic shove stuff at me. A man needs to be well groomed at all times. The only reason I don't pick him apart is because he is a veteran. His rank and full name are on ample display in and out of the garage. Lots of framed photos of him and his buddies in some God awful war zone are leaning up against anything standing still. The one he seems most proud of hangs on the bathroom door just off the garage bay with him receiving the purple heart medal under a tent in the desert. He was still on crutches with his foot bandaged, but he stands at erect salute. The capital letters 'B' and 'OOM' are the only ones visible outside the photo frame on the door. Still though, Vet or no Vet, he needs to watch his sass around me. I have been known to stiff a vendor or two if I've been pissed off enough.
The Louisiana summer sun is relentless. It's half past the noon hour and it feels like it's hovering directly over my head. It's so hot, it seems my shadow has taken refuge under my shoes. I stand in the middle of Dennard's lube and oil forecourt, not knowing what to do for the next precious million seconds of my eternity. The smell of aged petroleum evaporating from the cracked concrete irritates my sinuses and I can see how the heat shreds at the air just above the ground. I peek inside the tiny office to see if he has a cooler of drinks for customers.
I toss my tie atop my jacket, unclip both cufflinks and roll up my sleeves. I hate to crease my custom tailored white shirt, but I have nothing else on my legal calendar. My cufflinks make an odd noise as they bounce off the box of smokes I have in my pants pocket and I fight off the urge to light one of those smooth cigs up right here.
"Hey, I thought you said your name was 'Benwa', what is this B-E-N-O-I-T crap you wrote here?" says Dennard looking at the clipboard.
"It is, that's how it's pronounced. It's European." I cringe at the yokel's lack of sophistication. Clearly, he's not a native of Louisiana.
"I'll order the belt," he says, passing behind me, and wipes his hands with the dirty rag that seems to add more oil and grease to his fingers each time he uses it.
I give in to my urge and stick a cigarillo between my lips and light it.
"What year is that Jag?"
When I turn to tell him it's a 1998 XJ 90, he cuts me off midsentence.
"Hey hey... there is no smoking in the garage yard. Can't you see the sign? I got a diesel tank back there!"
I honestly did not see the sign, but his attitude stinks and I plan on stiffing this uppity, low-class laborer when he gets done fixing my foreign car.
"Go on down to the road edge if you need to smoke. Yonder by the bus canopy."
He sees my scowl and I can tell he has just as much contempt for me as I do for him by the way he scratches at his groin through his camouflage onesie.
No matter. I'll gladly bide my time over by the bus shelter and smoke my imported cigarillos. This greasy oil residue isn't good for my Italian leather soles anyway.
I regret coming out to this northern parish. I am almost into Arkansas for crying out loud. Being stuck out here in the sticks is one thing but with nothing to show for my venture makes it sting that much more. I can't believe that ungrateful DeShawn Washington. LSU bound, star running back, refused my offer to be his agent when he turns pro. I can't believe his mother handed back the stack of twenties I offered to the family. Who would have known the kid was smart enough to have done his own research on me before I even show up? Freaking Internet. I depend on these strapping dumb athletes to stay dumb and just sign on the damn dotted line.
I hear a low rumble as I step under the bus stop canopy. Sure enough, there is a storm brewing in the distance, over there in the direction of Homer city.
"Great, now a thunderstorm to cap everything off."
Again, the rumble. Louder now, but more like a vroom! That's not thunder, I conclude. This noise belongs to an engine. I am sure of that and it's coming fast. It's a motorcycle engine, and the closer it gets the more I feel that spitting growl rattling between the ribs in my chest. I love motorcycles, well at least I used to love them. I step out from under the canopy and watch it approach from the north on that sun-drenched county road. The rays bounce off that fat, chrome gas tank and burn a hole straight through my eyes. Memories of riding through the countryside with my brother as a teen, play in the old theater of my mind. Good memories… well, mostly good memories.
The cycle pulls up on the other side of the road just in front of the opposite bus canopy. It is the most unusual motorcycle ever; tall handlebars but not quite a chopper, thick tires and long tail-pipes. The rider is dressed in typical all black leather with a matching black visored helmet. A little skinny but otherwise unremarkable for a biker. It is the pillion passenger, however, who catches my eye.
An old woman, easily in her 70s, dismounts the cycle by pushing herself backwards off the end of the seat. She has a newspaper in one hand and a grocery bag in the other. It must be light as she uses that arm to wave goodbye to the motorcyclist. I watch him rev twice and peel off without looking back or acknowledging the old lady. I try to guess their relationship and the make of the motorcycle but in the end, I have to infer that their bond must be as custom-made as the bike. He fades from view and so does the rumble and I turn my attention back to the old lady across the street.
She is nowhere to be seen.
Where could she have gone in those few seconds? And just before I start to freak I detect some movement behind the bus canopy. It's made of some transparent plastic and she's crouching in the tall grass and brambles. What is she doing? Is she trying to hide? She's looking around stooping but it isn't making any sense because all the world saw her get off that noisy motorcycle. Then she tears a page from the newspaper and reaches back and under... Oh my God, she's taking a crap right there! What the hell? She must know I can see her. She has way too much clothing on in this broiling heat and she clearly is pulling up and fixing her under-things. Now, this I really don't need to see and just when she starts to come out of the bushes, she pauses and goes back to the spot and begins to stoop and crap fresh again. Another sound of newspaper ripping and I summon enough energy to turn my back. I cannot explain why it's so hard to turn away, but it is.
I can see Dennard putzing around on the phone in his office and spooning something from a can into his mouth. I figure enough time has passed and I turn back around to see her sitting on the bench under the canopy. She's bent over rummaging through the crinkly supermarket bag looking for something, but from here it just looks like more crinkly bags jammed inside the outer bag. She sits back and looks directly at me for awhile before she raises a hand to wave. She must have at least four jackets on with a scarf around her neck and another over the top of her head and tied in a knot under her chin. I jerk my neck in her general direction. Not wanting to be rude but not wanting to give her too much encouragement either. But this is just enough of an invitation she needs and she gathers her newspaper and bags and heads across the street. She probably will ask me for money and although I have this load of cash in my pocket that Mrs. Washington refused, I will not give this disgusting, recently crapped, vagrant-woman a penny.
From the first step she makes, it's clear something is off. She walks with an exaggerated limp from the bow in her left leg. Although she's wearing a few skirts, the misalignment at her knee is significant and her foot on that leg is turned inward. There is a partial smile on her thin lips but I suspect it is not genuine as that level of deformity is surely painful.
She's still about fifteen feet away and already I can detect the putrid sphere that envelops and moves with her. She shuffles to a stop in front of me but I take a step back within the canopy before she speaks.
"Are you married, Mister? You're a good-looking man. Wish I could have known ya when I was younger."
She extends her hand to shake but I use mine to cover my mouth and squeeze my nose as a reflux of bile shoots up my gullet. I am not sure what repulses me more; her odor or the fact that she uses a pick-up line on me. I swallow my breakfast for the second time and it leaves a taste that might not differ from rancid cactus juice at the back of my throat.
She's only about five foot two at most and she's still looking up at me with her hand extended as if she really thinks I'm going to shake it. If you could somehow trap smoke within an ice cube, that would be the closest color I can use to describe her eyes. They shock me and I am distracted enough not to answer her immediately. The lower lid of her right eye doesn't or can't close fully and the pink membrane is exposed and weeping down her cheek. The fluid follows the lines and folds of her face, crisscrossing like a cracked clay vessel.
"I'm not wanting to be mean, lady, but I just saw you crap over there in the bushes, so you'll excuse me if I don't want to shake your hand."
She enters the bus canopy and sits on the bench at the far end. She puts her newspaper on the seat and her bags between her feet.
"No bother, good-looking. I'm Gert, by the way, It's okay. I'll just take the weight off my knee for a spell and chat with ya. It hurts like there's a storm coming. Sorry, you had to see me over there. I've got this intestinal thing you know. It'd be nice if Sarge over there would let me use his bathroom. He's banned me. Says I mess up the place. Ha Ha."
I say nothing. I have no interest in conversing with her. Never have I appreciated the smoke from my cigarillo masking her presence as I do now.
"That Sarge though. He's okay in my books. Did he tell you he got a purple heart in the first Iraq war? He put that picture right on the bathroom door so everyone could see. He nearly got his whole foot blown off going back to save his wounded Captain. What a soldier eh? He actually went back."
I still say nothing, although I'm glad she tells me the story about Sergeant Dennard. Maybe I pegged him wrong. The scars of war may linger like bad tenants. It's hard to evict some memories like you'd want to.
Then out of the freaking blue, she says, "Hey, Mister. How's that brother Phil of yours, when did you last see him?"
I quit my drag halfway through and choke on my saliva, coughing like it's my first time I ever smoked. How in the world does she know about my brother and that is exactly what I ask her when I stop coughing.
"Don't get your panties in a bunch, good-looking. Ha Ha." She smirks and wipes the fluid coming out of her eye with the scarf from around her neck. "You got your sleeve rolled up and I can see the tattoo on the inside of your arm. 'Phil... miss you', and then there's that hand finger shape."
"Yeah, but how do you know it's my brother?"
"I used to gamble. I played the odds. Ha Ha. It could be your lover but I don't think you're sissy like that. That leaves your father, your son or your brother. Probably not your father because you'd put his full name as Philip or Dad. It could be your son, but that's kind of a cheesy tattoo for a son, plus the tattoo looks pretty faded. So that leaves your dear old brother that you miss. How am I doing, good-looking?"
I am floored by her deduction. I know more than a dozen high priced attorneys that couldn't do what she did on the fly like that. I catch myself folding my right sleeve down to re-cover my tattoo even though she's already seen it. Okay...she might be ugly and smelly but she ain't no idiot, so I decide to throw her a bone.
"He's not my 'old brother'. Phil is the same age as I am. We are twins. He died when we were in our teens."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. How did he die and what's that hand symbol?"
"He had an accident, okay. That's all you need to know." She sits, nods and rocks quietly for a few moments.
"I get you, good-looking. I didn't mean to pry. I don't get to talk to too many strangers. I know your pain. I lost someone a long time ago too."
Some thoughts are leaking into my memory that I had vaulted away years ago and I spend some time resealing that leaky crack to stop any impending breach. I steal a glance over in her direction and she's still rocking in silence. Then she says," You know I never married so I don't have any children. I bet you do though. A daughter maybe? I best be on my way but before I go I want to give you something for her."
I start to ask her how she knows I have a daughter but I figure she's playing the odds again so I just watch her. She rummages through her many crinkly supermarket bags. Some have complex knots and others are open-mouthed and then with an 'Ahhhh' she stops the searching and hobbles towards me in her multicolored layers of clothing.
"In case she meets a fella who doesn't care too much about her... this will protect her."
She has a small metal pendant in her wrinkly hand but she can see I'm very hesitant to take anything from her. She makes one step forward, places a hand on my shoulder and winks with her weepy right eye. I hold out my palm and she drops a bronze brooch in the center, no bigger than a fly.
She turns and leaves the shelter with her bags and heads up the county road in the direction of the approaching storm. The air quality is much improved but I wonder why she doesn't just go across the street back to the opposite canopy. I take a closer look at the brooch and it's a bird of some kind. Blackbird or crow. Cheap and blemished. I drop it into the breast pocket of my Ladd Brother's shirt not knowing what else to do with it then. It had better not stain through.
By the time I look up to see her again she's much farther on than I would have thought with that limp from her bow leg. She has left her newspaper on the bench and I grab it. I fill my lungs with air to call out but she's way too far away to hear me or even come back for it. Why I even bother upsets me. She's a homeless old hag and I leave her be.
A silver panel van pulls up into Dennard's garage and delivers something. It looks like it could be my fan belt. Already? That is kind of fast I'm thinking, but my watch says it's 1:45.
I walk back up to the garage with the newspaper and I can't explain why it still feels so hot. My shoulder is burning from the sun but it shouldn't be. Clouds are rolling in and I can barely see the sun. By the time I reach Dennard's tiny office I'm feeling dizzy and lightheaded and it feels like I have a sunburn on my shoulder.
"Belt is here and the engine should be cool enough now, so I'll get started," he says.
There's a cube of a vegetable lodged in his beard that wasn't there before but I'm happy the belt is here and I decide I'll give the old bastard a second chance and pay him what he charges me. Afterall I have a pocket full of cash that I wasn't supposed to still have. But I am really not feeling well at all. I think I may be dehydrated because there is a wave of nausea sweeping over me. Perhaps the odor of Gert is affecting me finally.
"Hey, you got any water in this place?"
"No," he says. "All outta water."
"Well loan me the key to the bathroom. I might have to use the washroom."
He tosses me this huge key ring and we both head to the work area and my stomach starts to roll like I'm on a cruise ship or something. Crap, I'm sweating like my mother's gumbo pot cover and I loosen more buttons on my shirt.
When I get to the bathroom door, the framed photo of Dennard getting his purple heart greets me and I remember the story Gert tells me under the canopy. I wonder if he's smart enough to have deliberately hung the frame just so only the letters 'B-O-O-M' are seen.
"Hey, Sarge, sorry your foot nearly got blown off in the war but I'm proud that you went back to save your Captain's life. You should get another medal for bravery."
I expected to hear him chirp some 'aww shucks' line but instead, he whirls around and bellows at me.
"What did you say? What...Who told you that?" and he bum rushes me at the bathroom door.
"Hey calm down. It's no secret. Your friend Gert told me. What is your problem?"
"Gert? Who in the hell is Gert?"
"Gert...the old homeless lady with all the clothes. You know... the one you banned from using this bathroom."
"Mister you better tell me who told you that story because no one on this green earth knows about that."
"Gert! Geeze the old lady with the shits and the messed up bow legs. You must have seen her pull up on that noisy motorcycle. We were chatting under the bus canopy!"
"I have never seen or heard of such a woman and I've been here for more than twenty years. Now, are you going to tell me how you come to know about my Captain?"
There is a precocious gust of wind that always seems to blow before a heavy downfall. This one zephyrs and swirls bits of debris and paper around the vehicles and building corners. On any other day, I might have decked Sergeant Cren Dennard right there but I am not sure my bowels would last a short tussle and I need to relieve this malaise that has me in its grasp.
I push him away from me and enter the bathroom. I splash some water on my face and try to drink some but in seconds I vomit into the sink and I take off my pants to sit on the dirty garage toilet. All of this is crazy. How could he not know who Gert was? She knew him.
What in the hell is going on where she touched me? My shoulder is burning, itching like it's the fire ants Olympics and my bowels are flowing Niagara style into the toilet. It's going to be messy and I start to gather the toilet tissue from the roll, except there is only one square left that's stuck to the cylinder.
I pat my pockets to see if I have a handkerchief or tissue but the only thing I have is the crow brooch, fifty twenty-dollar bills, my cigarillo box, my wallet and...Gert's newspaper. I can't decide if this is good luck.
I continue to sweat in the tiny cubicle. The newspaper gives some relief from the fanning but the air is already foul and the effort becomes counter-productive. But there is something odd about this news journal. The title of this publication is very familiar.
'The Louisiana Sentinel'.
I used to deliver this paper when I was growing up. Phil and I had a paper route together. We'd deliver on our mopeds before we got bigger motorcycles. But this paper went out of business decades ago. How does Gert get to have this in her possession?
Then right there on the bottom of the front page, I begin reading about my twin brother's death. The headline reads; District Attorney's son dies in a motorcycle accident. I look at the date at the top of the journal and it reads August 3rd, 1962.
The crack in the memory vault that I shored up in the bus canopy reopens and everything floods out much like what is happening at my lower end. I don't need to read on in the article any further because it's all total lies.
I murdered my brother Phil.
I murdered him because he was soft. He was mama's favorite, the spineless tattletale and I had to get rid of him. We were so close. We even had our own secret twin brother sign that he came up with. Index twisting behind the middle finger and all the other fingers folded into the palm. I draw up my sleeve again and run my finger over the tattoo of his name and our sign.
But he was an idiot. Dammit, Phil. You could have kept our secret. That's what brothers do. Instead, you threatened to tell Dad about my girlfriend Trudy falling off the back of my motorcycle while I was doing wheelies on Tressel's old farm. I told you then that she'd be fine even though her leg was broken pretty bad. She'd have been fine, Phil. Damn you! I had to silence you. People would have just thought she ran away from home or something. I tried to reason with you but you wouldn't listen. So I ran you off the road. I had to. Your fault you big dummy. You said I should have gone back to get her. Gone back to rescue her from the birds on Tressel's farm.
I do not realize I am sobbing out loud while sitting on this commode until I hear a squawk through the tiny window in the bathroom. A large black bird is perched on a fence looking right through the transom at me. It cocks its neck like a puppy would when a shrill whistle is blown. It's a crow and it's trying to keep its balance on its one good leg while the rain and wind get stronger. Then it hits me that I gave Trudy that same exact pendant and pinned it to her lapel. My God how...?
It's time to get out of here. I have no more excrement for this bowl of porcelain. I fish the brooch out of my shirt pocket, drop it between my legs and it hits the side of the bowl and disappears into the murk. I rip the middle page out from the August 3rd 1962 copy of the Louisiana Sentinel and I fold it into a sizeable rectangle. It frames an obituary announcement for one Gertrude S. Claibourne, sixteen years of age.
There is no time to be sanitary. I flush, pull up my pants and open the door. The rain hits me hard. But Dennard's baseball bat hits me harder right across the chest. It hurts like there is still something small and hard in my pocket and Geeze...I know I flushed that thing down. How...? Before he pins me up against the wall with the bat choking me across my neck, I feel the bulge of the freaking brooch still in my pocket and my blood stains through the corner edge.
"Who are you? Military Intelligence? CIA? FBI? Who sent you here? I'm not buying this old lady crap. Only one other person knew that I shot my own self in the foot deliberately and that was the Captain. Tell me how you knew about him. I thought I finished him off in Iraq."
The rain is coming down pretty hard now. It's actually doing a pretty good job at getting some of the shit that's trapped in Dennard's beard as it percolates through.
There is a roar. An engine revolution that I associate now with a particular motorcycle. I look over Dennard's shoulder and see the cycle from before just cruising by slowly on the road. Its thick tires splashing water in its wake. The skinny rider turns his helmet in my direction and raises his index and middle fingers entwined around each other and rides off.
I have difficulty processing what I've just seen. Who knows that sign apart from... It's just hard to think things through with Dennard trying to knee me in the crotch and choke me with the thin end of his baseball bat. The rain is slashing at my delicate skin like razor shards and I feel like I can't comprehend another byte of real life when Dennard eases up the pressure on my neck.
A silver panel van creeps into the forecourt and stops. The wipers pendulum across the windscreen with vigor, flailing the rainwater away. It's the delivery vehicle that brought my fan belt but I'm not sure why it's back and neither does Dennard. The front door opens but no one gets out and no one is sitting in the driver's seat.
I hear Dennard's breathing pattern change to short choppy chuffs of air and his eyes widen to a point where I fear they may leave their sockets. He's looking over his shoulder and he whines a question.
I don't know what he sees or what he's looking at apart from the van but he is afraid so therefore I'm afraid. Things are happening that I have no explanation for and I feel like I want to cower in the back seat of my Jaguar.
"Captain?" he mewls again, drops the bat and backs away from the raised sidewalk outside the bathroom. He falls to his knees with his palms out and I scan the forecourt to see what is scaring this burly army veteran, and all there is-- is the blinding rain and the van with the engine running.
"Please no, Captain. I'm Sorry!"
Dennard is talking to someone and it's freaking me out. There is no one in front of him but his eyes are focused to a point just above him. There is terror in his voice, there is terror in his eyes and I can't see what's terrifying him. He topples backward with force like he's shoved or kicked in the chest and he is laying face up on the tarmac. Then as plain as is possible in a driving rainstorm, two chunks of his full beard rip away from his chin at the roots. He shrieks and the tufts drop to the ground and float away on a rivulet of water towards the gutter.
"I'm a coward I know! I've always been a coward. Forgive me I'm sorry...I'm sorry Captain Claibourne!" he sobs.
The scene is too much for me. I have to leave. I am devoid of enough courage to help this man and whatever demon is persecuting him. That name has come up twice in the last ten minutes and I'm not equipped with enough brain power to figure this crap out.
The keys to the jag are still in the ignition and I start her up not caring that the fan belt is broken still. The rain has started to decline but it's still very dark for two-thirty in the afternoon. I peel out of the station and head towards Homer where I can get back on the highway to New Orleans.
A solitary female figure hobbles at the side of the road ahead of me. There's only one person that can be and I pass her with enough velocity to splash a flood of water over her. Good riddance.
I crack my neck bones and try to relax enough to think logically about what I'm going through.
It's working, but then my gut cavorts and I need to use the bathroom again.
I take a deep breath into my lungs to calm my bowels but lose the battle right at the same time the crow in the back seat spreads her wings and squawks.
It is not easy keeping the Jag on the slick road with the crow's talons planted in my neck and ripping at my cheek flesh. Her wings flap at such high frequency in front of my eyes that I do not see the culvert edge until its too late. Feathers are swirling like I'm in a blizzard of black snow and the car ends up on its side crashing into the water-filled ditch.
The damned crow is startled by the collision and begins a screeching whine before she flies through the broken passenger window. Although I see her disappear behind the branches I still hear the annoying whining which stops the instant I close my mouth.
I manage to climb out the driver's side door and the rain, I swear, has turned to acid, the way how it burns the lacerations on my face. My blood stains the front of my wet shirt conch-pink, but I engineer this distress to remind me I'm still alive. There are two houses a short distance away on a dirt road and I trudge through the muck to get help. I don't know what the odds are for country folk to let strangers in to crap in their bathrooms but I'm guessing it's pretty low.
I pick the green house on the left for no particular reason and before I decide whether to knock with my knuckles or pound with my fist the door swings open and the woman standing in the doorway says. " Mr. Benoit...you don't look so hot. Ha Ha. I've been expecting you."
My open jaw is locked in place and I cannot utter a word of English. DeShawn Washington's mother smiles as she holds the door ajar. She is dressed as I left her hours earlier; She's a pretty creole. A pleated turban-like wrap crowns her caramel face and her eyelashes are naturally thick. They curve with flair at the ends of her lids.
"Why don't you come in out of the rain? You probably need to use the bathroom right? Come this way, dear."
I am completely confused. This is not the house I visited earlier. I'm sure of it, but as I enter, all of the furnishings are familiar. To calculate the odds of this occurrence is impossible but the need for me to relieve myself is urgent and I just follow the direction of her index finger. I am tracking mud and dripping water and blood all over this woman's floor but first things first.
The bathroom is such an oasis from the maelstrom of the past hour. It's clean with a feminine touch and the lavender fragrance calms me. On the wall ahead, a varnished wood plaque hangs above a mirror. It reads; WRETRIBUTION and before I fully appreciate the wordplay I come across the disheveled monster sitting on the toilet staring back at me. I am a disgusting royal mess. I remove my ruined Italian shoes and finish up in the bathroom. Retracing my steps, the floor is already spotless and I can finally say thank you to Mrs. Washington who sits at the dining table where we spoke this morning. She motions for me to take the same seat I sat on previously.
"Mrs. Washington. Thank you so much for helping me out. I'm in your debt...but how did you know to expect me?"
"You're welcome, dear. Please, call me Regina, I'm not Mrs. Washington. I've already called a wrecker truck for your car but you already know it'll take two hours right?" she says, stirring a cup with a teabag string hanging over the edge. The silver spoon clinks against the saucer as she rests it down.
On the table before me is a glass of water and some white medical gauze pads in a ziplock bag. "Okay, Regina-- a crow got into my car somehow and attacked me as I was driving..." I can't complete my explanation because there is something else on the far end of the table that grips at my windpipe.
A box cutter knife sits in the middle of a worn rubber belt. The engine belt has been clearly sliced with a sharp edge.
I shudder through my wet clothing. Part of it is due to my realization that this woman might not have my best interest at heart but most of it is from a cold draught of air wafting through her home.
"Is---is that my fan belt?"
"Hmm. I'm not sure. DeShawn leaves things all over the house. He's quite talented with his hands outside of football you know."
She sips her tea and calls DeShawn from the garage. He comes in shirtless, with more than his fair share of muscles exposed, wiping his hands on an oily rag.
"Is that Mr. Benoit's fan belt?"
"I think it is, Miss Regina. But with all the work I'm doing constructing my custom motorcycles I'm not really sure."
Then he looks right past me and says," Oh hey, Gert."
"Gert? Gert! You all know her? She's here?"
"Oh, of course, we know her. She's standing right behind you."
I whip around out of my chair but there is nothing there except the condensation from my breath. The temperature drop dries out the film of water on my corneas and I blink repeatedly to replenish the moisture.
I've had enough. I'm exhausted from being afraid and confused. I'm wet, bleeding and someone in this house owes me answers.
"Who are you people? Dammit, tell me what's going on? How do you know Gert and why can't I see her anymore?"
Miss Regina looks at the big ropey veins that bulge at the sides of my neck when I get frustrated and she seems impressed.
"Do you know what I do for a living, Mr. Benoit? Hmmm?" She stands and circles behind me. "I'm a negotiator, and I'm very good at it. The reason why I'm so good, is because I can communicate with certain energy forms on very specific frequencies."
"I don't understand what you're talking about."
"Well shut up and listen... You're a wretch, you've done many wretched things in your life. DeShawn's future success in the NFL is guaranteed already because of my negotiation to bring you here so I don't need your money. Your bowel affliction will never leave you just so as you know, but you're going to have to go with Gert and the motorcyclist if you don't agree to do one more thing."
I can hear the blood pounding on my eardrums like waves against a seawall. " Wha...What?"
"Free DeShawn's father."
"Miss Regina Who...?"
"Marcus Washington. Ring a bell? He's on death row because you destroyed evidence that cleared him from the murder you knew he didn't commit. Begin to fix it today or you will see all of your new friends again for sure."
"I'll be disbarred, maybe jailed. Why are you doing this?"
"Because I'm a Claibourne too, Mr. Benoit. We spinster ladies stick together... whether in the now or in the hereafter. Ha haa."