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. “I talked to Santorelli this morning and advised him I’m now your counsel.” His voice was low and solemn. “He told me the Marvel legal team filed a request for injunction to keep your disk from being admitted as evidence. They’re claiming it’s inadmissible because you obtained it illegally.”
“What will happen if they get the injunction?”
Ed stared at me for a moment before answering. “Santorelli says he’d have no choice but to withdraw your immunity because it’s based on you turning over the disk.”
“If there’s an injunction, that’s not my fault. Besides, I was the one who went to the SEC. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
He shook his head, sending my heart into my shoes. “It might be a mitigating factor if they prosecute, but just like a crook who turns himself in, your honesty after the fact doesn’t alter your involvement.”
How stupid I’d 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. I’d have to take my chances with Ed.
“Cheer up,” he said as he reached out and rubbed a tear from my cheek with the pad of his thumb. “I’m gonna help you.”
I know it’s 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. That’s a Mexican restaurant for every two thousand people. That’s a lotta enchiladas and tamales and tacos. That’s a Mexican food lover’s wet dream.
I have personally eaten at all forty-seven, and do have a few favorites. Bettina’s House of Enchiladas is one. So is El Corazon, which means The Heart, and makes no sense, because they don’t 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 Bettina’s 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. That’s another thing. In Midland, in all of west Texas, nobody calls hot sauce, salsa.That’s a foreign, sissy word. It’s 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 who’d have lost their appetite after what happened at Mabel’s, but I wasn’t one of them. It was almost as though I enjoyed it more, could fully appreciate being alive.
That’s not to say the guy planned to kill me. The part of my mind that keeps the fires of hope burning wanted to believe he’d 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. “Is there any way at all to get your hands on that disk before Mrs. Bohannon gets back home?”
“Not unless I break into her house, and even if I did, I can’t be sure the box is there.”
He shook his head as he polished off his taco. “I really thought the guy was just bluffing, but now I think he’s serious about hurting you. Your mom has a good security system, doesn’t she?”
“The best, but it’s not going to do me much good while I’m living in an apartment.”
“Pink, you can’t move to an apartment. It’s too dangerous.”
“Maybe so, but I’m moving anyway. Besides, I already rented one.” Seeing an argument forming in his expression, I said quickly, “Living with Mom is not an option. After what happened this morning, she’ll follow me everywhere I go and fret about it and keep harping on me to blow off the disk. It’ll be bad enough at the office all day, but listening to her around the clock will make me a raving maniac.”
He conceded the point, but he still didn’t look too happy about it. Then he asked, “What’s it like to work for your mom?”
“I can’t say for sure since this is technically my first day, but based on how I grew up and the relationship we have, I’d say it’s going to be great sometimes, difficult sometimes and absolutely awful the rest of the time. I love Mom and I’m so proud of what she’s done with her life, but she’s very different from most moms. When I was four, she wanted to teach me to swim, and because she’s a big believer in just doing it, she tossed me in the deep end and shouted, ‘Swim!’”
“And you swam, I bet.”
Looking across the table at him, I realized he was a member of Mom’s 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. “No, Ed, I didn’t 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 didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I took lessons, but even now, I’m not real hip on bodies of water any bigger than my bathtub if I don’t have a flotation device.”
“You were hot for Lucky Barnes? The guy’s a loser.”
“Maybe now he’s a loser. In sixth grade, he was hot. Besides, he had a cool bike and listened to Def Leppard.”
“Did you go out with him?”
“Not a chance. He went with Brandy because she jumped in the pool and lost her top and he was wowed by her boobs.”
“He wasn’t wowed with yours, I take it.”
“Well, no, because I didn’t jump in and lose my top like Brandy did. That’s not to say he would’ve been wowed if I had lost it, because I was only twelve.”
“So was Brandy.”
“True. But she was obviously a wild child, losing her top like that, and Lucky being Lucky, he went for the wild thing.”
“You weren’t a wild child?”
“I 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 wouldn’t see.”
“You wanna know what I think? I think Lucky was probably a lousy kisser and you’d have been disappointed.”
“Why would you think that?”
“I’ve seen the guy eat and it’s not pretty. He’s probably one of those wet kissers. You know, the slobbery kind.”
“Ed, how sensitive of you,” I said with a smile. “I bet you’re right. And he probably tried to cop a feel off Brandy.”
“No doubt about it.” He returned my smile, making his handsome face look good enough to eat. Or kiss. “So 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.”
My smiled died. “No wonder you’re an attorney. That was friggin’ amazing.”
“I didn’t actually mean it as a compliment.”
His smile morphed into a grin. “I know.”
The man was just way too good-looking for comfort.
He stood and handed me his keys. “You can go on out to the car if you like. I’m going to stop off in the men’s room.”
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 who’s 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 men’s room.
Panic set in. I wasn’t 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 didn’t 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.
“Hello, Pink,” he said in a neutral voice.
“Hi, Sparky.” I nodded at the COO and the lawyer, then looked at Sparky, waiting for him to say something.
“Saw you on C-SPAN.”
I nodded again.
“Just curious, Pink, how does it feel to fuck a senator?”
Oh-ho, so that’s how it was gonna be. “Just curious, Sparky, how does it feel to be a greedy bastard, commit fraud and ruin thousands of people’s lives?”
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. “If you turn over that disk, you’ll be the one who ruins their lives.”
“I have no choice. Even you can see that.”
“We all have choices. You just seem to be inclined to make all the wrong ones.” His angular face formed into a dark frown. “Like sleeping with Santorelli.”
“If 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.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“Yeah, Sparky, just like I know it’s not true I sleep with a senator.” 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. “I have to go,” I said, stepping aside to move around him.
He stepped aside at the same time, blocking my way.
“Look, Sparky, you’re not going to intimidate me. No matter what you say or do, I’m handing that disk over to the finance committee.” 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. “Not 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.”
“Get real,” I said, now thoroughly furious and disgusted. “You know I was promoted to senior manager in December, and this was my first year to head the Marvel audit. I didn’t have access to the memos and spreadsheets before this year.”
“Do you seriously expect anyone to believe you? Don’t you get it? By squealing to the feds, you’re digging your own grave. They’ll throw you in jail same as the rest of us.”
His hand on my arm tightened painfully and I flinched, wanting to kick him, knowing I couldn’t 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. “Here’s a little advice, for old time’s sake. Don’t hand that disk over, or something very, very bad will happen to you.”
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 didn’t seem the type, but he’d 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 someone’s attention when I heard Ed say, “I suggest you let go of my client before something even worse happens to you, Mr. Sparks.”
Looking as though he’d just awakened from a trance, Sparky’s 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 hadn’t 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. “Ed, his hand was bandaged. I think he’s the guy who grabbed me at Mabel’s.”
“I 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.”
“Does that mean the Dog Doo Stalker isn’t connected to Marvel?”
“No, it just means I don’t think Sparks is your man.”
“Then the guy’s still out there.”
“True, but he’s got a bum arm now, so maybe it’ll keep him quiet for a while.”
“Wonder what happened to Sparky’s hand?”
“I’d like to think he closed it in a car door, or sliced it open on a meat cutter, or something equally painful.”
“I still can’t get over how he acted, Ed.”
“Just be careful, Pink. If you see him, or any of the others, don’t talk to them.”
“But, Ed, I tried to walk away!”
He stared at me with a worried frown. “Next time, try harder.”
Mom was out for meetings all afternoon, so I spent the remainder of the day working on my spreadsheets of Shanks Resources’ 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 Mom’s to tell her about what happened at Mabel’s, and to drop the bomb that I’d 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 Shankses’ yard as soon as night fell, which would be close to nine o’clock since it was late summer.
Mom wasn’t home yet, so I took the opportunity to float in the pool. I’d been there half an hour when Harry showed up.
“Hey, Harry,” I said as he came outside, “Mom need more Freon?”
He looked at me and shook his head. “No. She said there’s a noise, or something, so I came to check it out.”
Thinking it sure was late for an air-conditioner guy to be working, I said, “This must be a really busy time of year for you.”
“Uh, yeah…yeah it is. Real busy. Been at it since seven this morning.” He stepped back, said he’d talk to Mom later and left.
He’d looked sorta uncomfortable and I checked to see if I was coming out of my bathing suit, but I wasn’t. I wondered if Harry was casing the joint, but decided he wouldn’t 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. Don’t know what it is. Just Mom. “Thanks, Mom. You need some help?”
“No, I’ve got it.” She slanted a look at me as I settled on a barstool on the opposite side of the kitchen island. “I hear you got a haircut today.”
Yikes. She’d already heard about it. “Who told you?”
“Ed. He was at a meeting I went to this afternoon. Are you okay?”
While she stood there, all Mom-like and domestic, making dumplings, she casually said, “Let’s go over to old lady Bohannon’s tonight, break in and get the disk out of Mister Bob’s box.”
It took me a minute to recover from my shock enough to speak. “Uh, Mom, that’s known as breaking and entering and can get us ten years in the Big House.”
“Only if we get caught.”
“You’re not serious.” She couldn’t be. Could she?
She glanced up from the dough. “I’m dead serious. Let’s get the disk, get it to the boys at the SEC, and this maniac won’t have any reason to stalk you.”
“It’s tempting, Mom, but too risky.”
“Not as risky as a stalker who tried to haul you off in the middle of the day, from a crowded place.”
“Maybe not, but I’ll take my chances and avoid prison.”
“Well, okay,” she said with disappointment edging her voice, “but let me know if you change your mind.”
With a cup towel in her hands, she turned toward me. “Where were you at ten-thirty? I came to ask you to lunch.”
Oh, man, this was it. I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to tell her until later. I sucked in a deep breath. “I went to look for an apartment.”
“Did you find one?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. It’s a one-bedroom on the west side of town. The Windmills.”
“I’ve seen those before. Not too dumpy, but kind of old.”
“This one has turquoise appliances.” I was waiting for her to start the lecture about the danger of living alone and the foolishness of wasting my money.
“When do you move in?”
“Anytime I want. I signed the lease effective today.” Any time now, she was going to get wound up.
“Let me know if you need some help. My air-conditioner guy does some other stuff for me, and he’d be available.”
“Okay, sure, Mom. Thanks.” I waited for her to say it.
“I think I’ll go take a quick shower before dinner.” 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. “Mom, aren’t you going to say anything about me not staying here with you?”
She tossed her skirt into the hamper, then turned my way. “No, why would I?”
“I don’t know. I just figured you’d be upset about it.”
“Why would I be upset?”
Looking down, I nearly had heart failure. “Where’d you get that bra?” It was a black lace thing, a push-up. Mom’s breasts were way, way out there, her cleavage so deep, she could hide a television in it.
“Picked it up on sale at Missy’s Lingerie. You like it?”
“Yeah, but, Mom, it’s kind of sexy,” I said, thinking maybe she didn’t realize that bras like that were designed for appearance, not comfort.
She turned and preened in the mirror. “It’s not kind of sexy. It’s real sexy.”
“Why do you care? You hate men.”
“So? Doesn’t mean I don’t want to feel sexy. I’m only fifty-five, Pink. Not hardly ready for the home.”
It finally dawned on me. “You’re dating someone, aren’t you?”
“Heavens, no! After your father, I’d 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.”
“Mom,” I said pointlessly in an age-old argument, “not all men are like Lurch. There are some real nice guys out there.”
“Maybe, but not after I get hold of ’em. I’m just no good with men.”
That was true. Mom has iron ovaries when it comes to work, but around men, she reverts back to a doormat. I don’t know why. She doesn’t, either. “Speaking of Lurch, how is he?”
“I haven’t talked to him since he moved up to Lake City, right after his divorce from Nelda. That was maybe four months ago. I expect he’ll call when he gets sick of fishing.”
“You know, of course, it’s totally weird that you helped Dad divorce his second wife, and you still talk to him.”
“It’s not out of any great benevolence on my part. I’ve 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 can’t 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.”
“Good ol’ Lurch. He just stays clueless.” At the best of times, my relationship with my father is lousy. At the worst of times, it’s closer to war. I don’t get along with my dad. No one gets along with my dad. He’s gruff, rude, arrogant and just not a very nice guy. One of my cousins called him Lurch once, years ago, and it stuck. We’ve called him that ever since, but not to his face. I slipped up a couple of times and he asked me, ‘Why do you call me Lurch? Who’s that?’ That sums up Dad to a tee. Who the hell doesn’t know who Lurch is? Nobody, that’s 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. “I still don’t know why you thought I’d be upset about you not living with me. It’s maybe more dangerous, but it’s not as though I’d be much defense against this nutcase who’s stalking you. The thing is, Pink, you’re thirty-one years old, and living with your mama would be kinda pathetic. For another thing, and don’t take this the wrong way, I do actually have a life, and you living here would cramp my style.”
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