Show Her The Money
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Ed insisted on taking me to lunch, so after the police came, asked a lot of questions, took some of the blood off the floor, and Dot finished my haircut, we took off in his old 4-Runner.
He turned to look at me when he stopped at a red light. ďI talked to Santorelli this morning and advised him Iím now your counsel.Ē His voice was low and solemn. ďHe told me the Marvel legal team filed a request for injunction to keep your disk from being admitted as evidence. Theyíre claiming itís inadmissible because you obtained it illegally.Ē
ďWhat will happen if they get the injunction?Ē
Ed stared at me for a moment before answering. ďSantorelli says heíd have no choice but to withdraw your immunity because itís based on you turning over the disk.Ē
ďIf thereís an injunction, thatís not my fault. Besides, I was the one who went to the SEC. Doesnít that mean anything?Ē
He shook his head, sending my heart into my shoes. ďIt might be a mitigating factor if they prosecute, but just like a crook who turns himself in, your honesty after the fact doesnít alter your involvement.Ē
How stupid Iíd been to naively believe I could do the right thing, that I could be open and honest, and the bad guys would pay. I read the writing on the wall, and it told me I was going down. Lowell and the Marvel guys could afford enough legal muscle to weasel out of any charges the government could lay on.
I, on the other hand, had Ed. He was bright and good-looking, and probably enough of a shark to make the big time. But he was inexperienced and unconnected to anyone in Washington. Looking across at him, I swallowed hard. What choice did I have? No way I could afford a lawyer like Mr. Dryer. Iíd have to take my chances with Ed.
ďCheer up,Ē he said as he reached out and rubbed a tear from my cheek with the pad of his thumb. ďIím gonna help you.Ē
I know itís awful, but that only made me cry harder.
Midland is known for oil and rich white men and Baby Jessica, but it should also be known for Mexican food. There are forty-seven Mexican food restaurants in Midland, and the population is right about ninety-five thousand. Thatís a Mexican restaurant for every two thousand people. Thatís a lotta enchiladas and tamales and tacos. Thatís a Mexican food loverís wet dream.
I have personally eaten at all forty-seven, and do have a few favorites. Bettinaís House of Enchiladas is one. So is El Corazon, which means The Heart, and makes no sense, because they donít serve any kind of heart, and nothing in the place is a heart, or resembles a heart, but a white guy who spoke no Spanish opened it in the fifties and I guess he thought El Corazon sounded cool.
Ed took me to Bettinaís and I nearly had an orgasm right there in the corner booth, beneath a pi?ata shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants, because the hot sauce was so good. Thatís another thing. In Midland, in all of west Texas, nobody calls hot sauce, salsa.Thatís a foreign, sissy word. Itís hot sauce, and we have chips and hot sauce. Not chips and salsa.
Bettina outdid herself and I practically ignored Ed while I dived into the awesome food. There are undoubtedly a lot of women whoíd have lost their appetite after what happened at Mabelís, but I wasnít one of them. It was almost as though I enjoyed it more, could fully appreciate being alive.
Thatís not to say the guy planned to kill me. The part of my mind that keeps the fires of hope burning wanted to believe heíd only intended to rough me up a little, to convince me to lose the disk.
Ed talked while he worked through the Plato Grande, which means Big Huge Plate of Everything in the Kitchen. ďIs there any way at all to get your hands on that disk before Mrs. Bohannon gets back home?Ē
ďNot unless I break into her house, and even if I did, I canít be sure the box is there.Ē
He shook his head as he polished off his taco. ďI really thought the guy was just bluffing, but now I think heís serious about hurting you. Your mom has a good security system, doesnít she?Ē
ďThe best, but itís not going to do me much good while Iím living in an apartment.Ē
ďPink, you canít move to an apartment. Itís too dangerous.Ē
ďMaybe so, but Iím moving anyway. Besides, I already rented one.Ē Seeing an argument forming in his expression, I said quickly, ďLiving with Mom is not an option. After what happened this morning, sheíll follow me everywhere I go and fret about it and keep harping on me to blow off the disk. Itíll be bad enough at the office all day, but listening to her around the clock will make me a raving maniac.Ē
He conceded the point, but he still didnít look too happy about it. Then he asked, ďWhatís it like to work for your mom?Ē
ďI canít say for sure since this is technically my first day, but based on how I grew up and the relationship we have, Iíd say itís going to be great sometimes, difficult sometimes and absolutely awful the rest of the time. I love Mom and Iím so proud of what sheís done with her life, but sheís very different from most moms. When I was four, she wanted to teach me to swim, and because sheís a big believer in just doing it, she tossed me in the deep end and shouted, ĎSwim!íĒ
ďAnd you swam, I bet.Ē
Looking across the table at him, I realized he was a member of Momís Fan Club. Not that I thought that was a bad thing. It just made it harder for him to see, well, certain realities about my mother. ďNo, Ed, I didnít swim. The lifeguard pulled me out and did mouth-to-mouth, then threatened to call the cops on Mom for child endangerment. I know you wanted me to say, yes, I swam, and all was well and Mom did the right thing by shoving her four-year-old into the deep end of the Midland Country Club pool. But all was not well, and I was too afraid of the water to go swimming again until I was twelve, when Brandy Hernandez had a pool party and invited Lucky Barnes. I was hot for him and didnít want to embarrass myself, so I took lessons, but even now, Iím not real hip on bodies of water any bigger than my bathtub if I donít have a flotation device.Ē
ďYou were hot for Lucky Barnes? The guyís a loser.Ē
ďMaybe now heís a loser. In sixth grade, he was hot. Besides, he had a cool bike and listened to Def Leppard.Ē
ďDid you go out with him?Ē
ďNot a chance. He went with Brandy because she jumped in the pool and lost her top and he was wowed by her boobs.Ē
ďHe wasnít wowed with yours, I take it.Ē
ďWell, no, because I didnít jump in and lose my top like Brandy did. Thatís not to say he wouldíve been wowed if I had lost it, because I was only twelve.Ē
ďSo was Brandy.Ē
ďTrue. But she was obviously a wild child, losing her top like that, and Lucky being Lucky, he went for the wild thing.Ē
ďYou werenít a wild child?Ē
ďI had my moments, and I probably would have jumped in and lost my top and given old Brandy a run for the money, but I was too afraid of the water, so I just stood there and watched Lucky take her around the side of her house to make out where her parents wouldnít see.Ē
ďYou wanna know what I think? I think Lucky was probably a lousy kisser and youíd have been disappointed.Ē
ďWhy would you think that?Ē
ďIíve seen the guy eat and itís not pretty. Heís probably one of those wet kissers. You know, the slobbery kind.Ē
ďEd, how sensitive of you,Ē I said with a smile. ďI bet youíre right. And he probably tried to cop a feel off Brandy.Ē
ďNo doubt about it.Ē He returned my smile, making his handsome face look good enough to eat. Or kiss. ďSo you see, your fear of the water turned out to be not such a bad thing. In a strange way, what your mom did turned out okay.Ē
My smiled died. ďNo wonder youíre an attorney. That was frigginí amazing.Ē
ďI didnít actually mean it as a compliment.Ē
His smile morphed into a grin. ďI know.Ē
The man was just way too good-looking for comfort.
He stood and handed me his keys. ďYou can go on out to the car if you like. Iím going to stop off in the menís room.Ē
A little bemused by him, I watched him walk away, then got to my feet and headed for the door. I was halfway there when the Marvel CFO walked in, followed by the COO and a guy whoís the corporate attorney, but looks more like a bald bodyguard in a pinstriped suit. Roy Kipper brought up the rear. He looked as awkward and uncomfortable as a nun in a whore-house, and when he caught sight of me, he turned bright red, all the way to the top of his bald head. He mumbled something about taking a leak and scurried off to the menís room.
Panic set in. I wasnít sure whether to ignore them, be polite and say hello and keep moving, or stop and speak like the friends we used to be.
In the end, what I wanted didnít make any difference. The CFO, a tall, lanky guy named Larry Sparks, but whom everyone knows as Sparky, stepped in front of me before I could get to the door.
ďHello, Pink,Ē he said in a neutral voice.
ďHi, Sparky.Ē I nodded at the COO and the lawyer, then looked at Sparky, waiting for him to say something.
ďSaw you on C-SPAN.Ē
I nodded again.
ďJust curious, Pink, how does it feel to fuck a senator?Ē
Oh-ho, so thatís how it was gonna be. ďJust curious, Sparky, how does it feel to be a greedy bastard, commit fraud and ruin thousands of peopleís lives?Ē
Sparky took a threatening step closer, his nostrils flaring and his cheeks pink with either anger or too many of the martinis I could smell on his breath, which was hot on my face. ďIf you turn over that disk, youíll be the one who ruins their lives.Ē
ďI have no choice. Even you can see that.Ē
ďWe all have choices. You just seem to be inclined to make all the wrong ones.Ē His angular face formed into a dark frown. ďLike sleeping with Santorelli.Ē
ďIf you believe everything in the news, then you must believe that you and Lowell Jaworski set up a plan to defraud the state of Texas out of millions of dollars of past oil and gas overrides.Ē
ďYou know thatís not true.Ē
ďYeah, Sparky, just like I know itís not true I sleep with a senator.Ē I caught his look of pure hatred before he schooled his features into mild dislike. I admit, it unnerved me and I decided I needed to leave. Immediately. ďI have to go,Ē I said, stepping aside to move around him.
He stepped aside at the same time, blocking my way.
ďLook, Sparky, youíre not going to intimidate me. No matter what you say or do, Iím handing that disk over to the finance committee.Ē With a firm grip on my nerves, I stepped aside again and made to walk out.
Again, he blocked my way. Then he went one worse and grabbed my arm. ďNot so fast, sister. I just want to hear you explain how it is you never caught any discrepancies last year, or the year before that.Ē
ďGet real,Ē I said, now thoroughly furious and disgusted. ďYou know I was promoted to senior manager in December, and this was my first year to head the Marvel audit. I didnít have access to the memos and spreadsheets before this year.Ē
ďDo you seriously expect anyone to believe you? Donít you get it? By squealing to the feds, youíre digging your own grave. Theyíll throw you in jail same as the rest of us.Ē
His hand on my arm tightened painfully and I flinched, wanting to kick him, knowing I couldnít cause a scene. I cast about for some kind of a comeback, anything to make him let go of my arm. For once in my life, I was at a loss.
While the COO and the refrigerator-size attorney mumbled something from behind him, Sparky took advantage of my muteness. He leaned closer. ďHereís a little advice, for old timeís sake. Donít hand that disk over, or something very, very bad will happen to you.Ē
Every hair on my head stood on end. I glanced down at his hand, still holding my arm in a bruising grip, and saw a white bandage. Mother of God! Was Sparky the Dog Doo Stalker? He didnít seem the type, but heíd just threatened me, and his hand was wounded. Maybe from a gunshot?
Shocked and tongue-tied, beyond freaked, I was about to cry out and get someoneís attention when I heard Ed say, ďI suggest you let go of my client before something even worse happens to you, Mr. Sparks.Ē
Looking as though heíd just awakened from a trance, Sparkyís eyes widened, he let go of my arm and stepped back. Jerking his head to his companions, he walked toward a table and they all took a seat, smiling and talking as though he hadnít just been a major asshole.
Ed nudged me and I walked outside, sucking in the dry, hot air. I was more shaken than I wanted to admit. ďEd, his hand was bandaged. I think heís the guy who grabbed me at Mabelís.Ē
ďI doubt it, Pink. The police think the guy was hit in the arm, and I happen to know, Sparks was in a meeting all morning. A lot of the Marvel execs are in town to go over their Permian Basin holdings.Ē
ďDoes that mean the Dog Doo Stalker isnít connected to Marvel?Ē
ďNo, it just means I donít think Sparks is your man.Ē
ďThen the guyís still out there.Ē
ďTrue, but heís got a bum arm now, so maybe itíll keep him quiet for a while.Ē
ďWonder what happened to Sparkyís hand?Ē
ďIíd like to think he closed it in a car door, or sliced it open on a meat cutter, or something equally painful.Ē
ďI still canít get over how he acted, Ed.Ē
ďJust be careful, Pink. If you see him, or any of the others, donít talk to them.Ē
ďBut, Ed, I tried to walk away!Ē
He stared at me with a worried frown. ďNext time, try harder.Ē
Mom was out for meetings all afternoon, so I spent the remainder of the day working on my spreadsheets of Shanks Resourcesí bank statements. I found several more checks to Birds in Flight and spent some time on the phone and the Internet, looking for information, but came up empty.
At five, I joined the cattle drive and left the office, headed for Momís to tell her about what happened at Mabelís, and to drop the bomb that Iíd leased an apartment. I dreaded it, but figured it was best to bite it and get it over with. Besides, I needed to get out to the Shanksesí yard as soon as night fell, which would be close to nine oíclock since it was late summer.
Mom wasnít home yet, so I took the opportunity to float in the pool. Iíd been there half an hour when Harry showed up.
ďHey, Harry,Ē I said as he came outside, ďMom need more Freon?Ē
He looked at me and shook his head. ďNo. She said thereís a noise, or something, so I came to check it out.Ē
Thinking it sure was late for an air-conditioner guy to be working, I said, ďThis must be a really busy time of year for you.Ē
ďUh, yeahÖyeah it is. Real busy. Been at it since seven this morning.Ē He stepped back, said heíd talk to Mom later and left.
Heíd looked sorta uncomfortable and I checked to see if I was coming out of my bathing suit, but I wasnít. I wondered if Harry was casing the joint, but decided he wouldnít have come out to say hello if that was his purpose.
Mom finally came home and set to work making chicken and dumplings. She said she thought I could use some comfort food, which had the effect of making me feel even more guilty for renting an apartment and dissing her.
I dropped a kiss on her cheek and inhaled deeply. Mom smells good, always. Donít know what it is. Just Mom. ďThanks, Mom. You need some help?Ē
ďNo, Iíve got it.Ē She slanted a look at me as I settled on a barstool on the opposite side of the kitchen island. ďI hear you got a haircut today.Ē
Yikes. Sheíd already heard about it. ďWho told you?Ē
ďEd. He was at a meeting I went to this afternoon. Are you okay?Ē
While she stood there, all Mom-like and domestic, making dumplings, she casually said, ďLetís go over to old lady Bohannonís tonight, break in and get the disk out of Mister Bobís box.Ē
It took me a minute to recover from my shock enough to speak. ďUh, Mom, thatís known as breaking and entering and can get us ten years in the Big House.Ē
ďOnly if we get caught.Ē
ďYouíre not serious.Ē She couldnít be. Could she?
She glanced up from the dough. ďIím dead serious. Letís get the disk, get it to the boys at the SEC, and this maniac wonít have any reason to stalk you.Ē
ďItís tempting, Mom, but too risky.Ē
ďNot as risky as a stalker who tried to haul you off in the middle of the day, from a crowded place.Ē
ďMaybe not, but Iíll take my chances and avoid prison.Ē
ďWell, okay,Ē she said with disappointment edging her voice, ďbut let me know if you change your mind.Ē
With a cup towel in her hands, she turned toward me. ďWhere were you at ten-thirty? I came to ask you to lunch.Ē
Oh, man, this was it. Iíd hoped I wouldnít have to tell her until later. I sucked in a deep breath. ďI went to look for an apartment.Ē
ďDid you find one?Ē
ďAs a matter of fact, I did. Itís a one-bedroom on the west side of town. The Windmills.Ē
ďIíve seen those before. Not too dumpy, but kind of old.Ē
ďThis one has turquoise appliances.Ē I was waiting for her to start the lecture about the danger of living alone and the foolishness of wasting my money.
ďWhen do you move in?Ē
ďAnytime I want. I signed the lease effective today.Ē Any time now, she was going to get wound up.
ďLet me know if you need some help. My air-conditioner guy does some other stuff for me, and heíd be available.Ē
ďOkay, sure, Mom. Thanks.Ē I waited for her to say it.
ďI think Iíll go take a quick shower before dinner.Ē She turned and walked out of the kitchen.
Watching her go, I coulda caught several flies, my mouth was so wide-open in shock. Where was the lecture? Where were the hangdog looks? Where was her favorite martyr routine?
Something was up with Mom, and I intended to find out what it was. Shoving off the barstool, I trailed her into her bedroom and confronted her in the bathroom. ďMom, arenít you going to say anything about me not staying here with you?Ē
She tossed her skirt into the hamper, then turned my way. ďNo, why would I?Ē
ďI donít know. I just figured youíd be upset about it.Ē
ďWhy would I be upset?Ē
Looking down, I nearly had heart failure. ďWhereíd you get that bra?Ē It was a black lace thing, a push-up. Momís breasts were way, way out there, her cleavage so deep, she could hide a television in it.
ďPicked it up on sale at Missyís Lingerie. You like it?Ē
ďYeah, but, Mom, itís kind of sexy,Ē I said, thinking maybe she didnít realize that bras like that were designed for appearance, not comfort.
She turned and preened in the mirror. ďItís not kind of sexy. Itís real sexy.Ē
ďWhy do you care? You hate men.Ē
ďSo? Doesnít mean I donít want to feel sexy. Iím only fifty-five, Pink. Not hardly ready for the home.Ē
It finally dawned on me. ďYouíre dating someone, arenít you?Ē
ďHeavens, no! After your father, Iíd rather be shot than date someone. Men are such a pain in the ass. Can you imagine me living the life I do with a man hanging around, expecting me to cook and clean and wash his underwear? No thanks. I like being single. I can go where I want, work when I want, spend my money how I want.Ē
ďMom,Ē I said pointlessly in an age-old argument, ďnot all men are like Lurch. There are some real nice guys out there.Ē
ďMaybe, but not after I get hold of íem. Iím just no good with men.Ē
That was true. Mom has iron ovaries when it comes to work, but around men, she reverts back to a doormat. I donít know why. She doesnít, either. ďSpeaking of Lurch, how is he?Ē
ďI havenít talked to him since he moved up to Lake City, right after his divorce from Nelda. That was maybe four months ago. I expect heíll call when he gets sick of fishing.Ē
ďYou know, of course, itís totally weird that you helped Dad divorce his second wife, and you still talk to him.Ē
ďItís not out of any great benevolence on my part. Iíve got a vested interest in him hanging on to his retirement fund. I get a thousand bucks a month off him until he croaks, and he canít pay me if he loses his whole wad to some idiot like Nelda. The very idea, buying pink phones for her Mary Kay business. She was a piece of work, that one. And your father was stupid enough to let her run through half his retirement fund before he woke up and smelled the disaster.Ē
ďGood olí Lurch. He just stays clueless.Ē At the best of times, my relationship with my father is lousy. At the worst of times, itís closer to war. I donít get along with my dad. No one gets along with my dad. Heís gruff, rude, arrogant and just not a very nice guy. One of my cousins called him Lurch once, years ago, and it stuck. Weíve called him that ever since, but not to his face. I slipped up a couple of times and he asked me, ĎWhy do you call me Lurch? Whoís that?í That sums up Dad to a tee. Who the hell doesnít know who Lurch is? Nobody, thatís who. Nobody except my dad.
Mom unhooked her bra, then stepped out of her panties. She got in the shower and continued talking, her voice coming over the glass door, along with clouds of steam. ďI still donít know why you thought Iíd be upset about you not living with me. Itís maybe more dangerous, but itís not as though Iíd be much defense against this nutcase whoís stalking you. The thing is, Pink, youíre thirty-one years old, and living with your mama would be kinda pathetic. For another thing, and donít take this the wrong way, I do actually have a life, and you living here would cramp my style.Ē
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