A Dangerous Affair: Chapter 49

Lloyd gathered a stack of damp envelopes from the mailbox at the end of his mother’s driveway and carried them to the house. “Mom?” he called out from the broken screen-door he’d fixed twice already. He observed the busted latch where a pair of wood screws had been ripped from the frame.

“In here,” a faint voice called from the bedroom.

Lloyd poked his head inside the room that smelled of booze and urine. “It’s Lloyd,” he said in a quiet voice, his attention momentarily distracted by the squalid conditions.

“I know who it is,” said Brenda. “I heard your damn motorcycle two counties away.” She propped herself against the headboard with pillows behind her back. Prescription bottles littered the nightstand. “What are you doing here?”

Lloyd gave her the soggy envelope with her social security check. “I found this in the mailbox.”

“Next time leave it there, for all the good it does. What the hell am I supposed to do with… four hundred and fifty dollars a month?”

Lloyd set the check by the lamp. “Where’s Josh?”

“He left,” said Brenda.

“I thought he was taking care of you.”

“He took care of me all right. Stole damn near everything but my pantyhose. He would have taken those too if he thought they were worth something.”

“Where’d he go?”

Brenda cleared her throat. “He didn’t say. I didn’t ask. He took my good jewelry.” She pointed to the antique jewelry chest. “I kept my grandmother’s wedding band in there.”

“Did you call the police?”

“He’s my son.”

Lloyd opened the empty drawer. “He’s a thief.”

“He’s your brother.”

“You should call the police.”

“Nothing good will come of it,” said Brenda.

Lloyd shook his head. “Who’s going to look after you when I’m not here?”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Not like this.” Lloyd poured a glass of water from the bathroom sink. A cockroach scurried up from the drain. “You left your door unlocked again. The trash hasn’t gone out in days.”

“You told me you would take care of it.”

“You’re right,” said Lloyd. “My bad…” He held the glass for his mother to drink. “I can’t be here all the time. And you can’t live like this.”

Brenda touched his hand. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“Dying will do that to you.”

Lloyd set the glass down and reached inside his motorcycle jacket for a greeting card.

“What’s this?” Brenda asked.

“Open it.”

Brenda opened the Mother’s Day card on her lap. “I need my reading glasses.”

Lloyd brought her the glasses from the dresser. “You need help with these?”

“I can manage.” Brenda put her glasses on and read the card. “You’re a little late.”

“I sent you cards from prison. I never knew if you got them or not.”

Brenda kept her emotions in check. “I’m glad you’re here. The card wasn’t necessary, but thank you.”

“I had flowers on the back of the bike, but they sort of blew away.”

Brenda chuckled. She pushed the covers aside and hugged her son. “Help me up.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting up to make you a sandwich.”

“I’m not hungry.” Lloyd adjusted her pillows and examined the prescription bottles on the dresser. “You need to take your medications.”

Brenda swung her legs out of bed and touched her feet to the floor, sighing with pain. “I’m not an invalid. I can still control my own bladder even without those pills.”

“You still need to take them.”

“They slow me down,” Brenda countered. She used Lloyd’s massive arm for leverage to adjust herself back in bed. “Another bottle would do me better.”

“You’ll drink yourself to death.”

“This body’s already gone. My brain just doesn’t know it yet.”

“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”

“I can’t hold much food down anymore. It never seems to taste right anyhow.”

Lloyd searched the room. “You should be in a hospital.”

“I’m not living in a public spectacle with a bunch of strangers who piss themselves.”

“It beats living by yourself.”

“Don’t crack wise with me. Those places kill more people than they help. I might be a lost cause, but I’m not stupid.”

“You’ll be more comfortable.”

“No sir.”

“You’ll have a nurse to help you,” Lloyd challenged her. “They can take better care of you than I can. I’m on house parole. I have a curfew every night. I can’t always be here when you need me.”

“Forget it.”

“You’ll have three good meals a day.”

“Hardly. Their slop would kill me before my liver does.”

“Just try it out. If you’re not happy, I’ll bring you home.”

Brenda shed her reading glasses. “Don’t antagonize me, Lloyd. I’m not in the mood. I might be an old widow with terminal cancer, but I haven’t lost my senses. I just want to be left alone in my own home, on my own terms. Understand?”

“I’m just saying—”

“Don’t.”

Lloyd felt the avalanche of stubborn attitude prevail. “You deserve a better quality of life.”

“Son, that’s the trouble with life. You can want what you want, but in the end, you only get what you get.” Brenda leaned back, clearly exhausted from the effort to leave her bed. She pressed her hands on Lloyd’s face. “Now tell me, who’s the girl?”

“What girl?”

“The one you’ve been hiding from me—I can smell her perfume on you.”

Lloyd moved her hands away. “I’m not hiding anything from you.”

“When do I get to meet her?” Brenda asked. Her smile beamed at Lloyd.

“It’s complicated.”

“Is she younger?”

“Mom—”

“Can she cook?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you better find out. The last thing you need is a woman who doesn’t know her way around the kitchen.”

“You never cooked,” said Lloyd.

“And yet your father loved me all the same after thirty years of frozen dinners. Poor bastard.” She scratched her hair. “So tell me how you met her.”

“There’s not much to tell.”

Brenda took hold of Lloyd’s hand and studied the lines on his palm. “Your father loved you very much. He would want you to know that. The day we brought you into our family was the proudest day of his life. He always talked about you. He always bragged about you to his friends. Someday you will be a great father to your own child.”

“I’m not ready for that.”

“That’s not what I see.”

Lloyd gently pulled his hand away. “Why did Dad kill himself? And don’t tell me it’s between him and God. I need to know whatever it is you’re not telling me.”

Brenda shifted her stare to somewhere far beyond the room. “Your father…” She lowered her head and wept quietly. “Two years ago, a postal worker filed an insurance claim through your father’s company. Said he had injuries from a work-related accident that left him in a wheelchair. The company got suspicious and asked your father to investigate the claim. He took photos of this man hauling groceries, riding a bicycle… anything to prove the fraud.”

Brenda coughed. She pulled a tissue from the box on her nightstand and covered her mouth. “Instead of submitting his report, your father blackmailed this loser for a split of the insurance payout.”

“Why?”

“We were buried in legal bills. Lawyers hounded us for years after you went to prison. They were trying to take our house, our land… everything we owned. Your father saw a way out.”

Lloyd scratched the back of his neck. “What happened?”

“This man threatened to hurt us, but he didn’t have the balls. Your father hid the money. He never told me where. He said I was safer if I didn’t know. A few days later, this man showed up at our house at night half-tanked and angry at the world, demanding your father give up his share of the settlement.”

“Did you call the police?”

“And tell them what? Your father was just as guilty of fraud as what’s-his-name. Jerry, Juno—Julian. His name was Julian Verne. I remember his face. And his hands. He had tiny hands with dainty fingers like a woman.”

Lloyd paced. He thought about the note his father had left him. “Did Dad talk about this Julian?”

Brenda rubbed her eyes. “Not really. Julian disappeared for a while. A few months, maybe more. Then he came back. The rotten ones always do. He broke in the house when Josh was here and got in a fight. Josh went crazy, I mean wild-eyed crazy like I’ve never seen him before. Your brother went to town on Julian with a hammer. Killed him dead on our living room floor. The police arrested Josh and let him go on account of self-defense. But he wasn’t the same.”

“What happened to Dad?”

Brenda coughed in her hand and shuddered in pain. “I came home one night and found him dead in the yard. He still had the gun in his hand.”

Lloyd stared at her in disbelief. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because nothing good would come of it. Your father was a good man who made a bad decision he couldn’t live with.”

“Dad wouldn’t take his own life.”

“Don’t be so sure,” said Brenda. “Sometimes you never know what you’re capable of until you face your own demons.”

“But Dad hated guns.”

“Your brother hated needles. It never stopped him from shooting poison in his veins.” Brenda touched her hand to her side. “Your father’s gone. There’s no point in digging up the past.”

Lloyd saw the torment in her eyes. “What if I could buy you a new liver?”

Brenda smirked. “Are you nuts?”

“Maybe, but I think I know where Dad hid the money.”

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