The Attic forum: Group Story #3: Movin' On
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|Welcome to our group story: MOVIN' ON.
Here are the writers and the order in which they will write:
Each writer will have 2 full days to complete his/her segment.
Writers, if you need to pass your turn please let us know so that the next writer on the list will know to pick it up and move on.
We hope you enjoy the story, feel free to comment on this comment thread:
List of characters in this story in order of appearance:
Chase Williams, former police officer, private investigator in Nashville
Lance Benton, former FBI, private investigator in Nashville
Annie Spence, college student in art
Lacy Anderson, singer, college student in music
Kelly Michaels, administrative assistant to Chase and Lance, son of Tasha
Liz Michaels, Kelly's older sister, she is an attorney and manages her mother, Tasha's business
Tasha Michaels, Mother of Kelly and Liz, singing star
Mitch Michaels, deceased husband of Tasha, father of Kelly and Liz
Bob Schreiber, truck driver who got Tasha from WVA to Nashville
Louise Richards (Reynolds), 'sibling' of Tasha
Jim Reynolds/Larry Reynolds, SO and son of Louise, now deceased
Rose, Tasha's housekeeper
Mary Lee Richards, nurse and 'mother' to Tasha, Louise and their 'siblings'
'Siblings' of Tasha and Louise: Johnny, drowned at 4; Callie and Nelly, Luke and Josh
Paula Arnold, trashy woman who is no longer in the picture
Betty and Gene, caretakers at Tasha's farm
Wilma Jean and Frank, Mary Lee's cousin who raised Louise
Walt Patterson, doctor friend of Tasha, interested in Louise
|MOVIN' ON ⓒ 2010
“You think we’re ready for this? You really think we know what we’re doing?” Chase Williams asked his buddy, Lance Benton.
“We are as ready for this move as we ever will be, Lance. But we’ve got to make a decision. It’s been months since Robyn’s trial, and over a year since I lost Vivianna. It’s been two years since you buried Jenn. It’s the perfect time to leave. But if you have doubts, you need to tell me now. I’m ready to move on.”
“I’m ready, Lance. We have no family, neither of us, here in Louisville. We might as well get on with our lives. Truth is, we both need to get as far away from this town as we can manage. Let’s go for it!”
And so the final decision was made. They’d become fast friends, Lance and Chase, following the series of murders that had culminated in the death of the two women they loved. Those responsible for the murders were for the most part dead, though the surprise of finding one of their own, Robyn, responsible for the death of Chase’s wife, Jenn, had left a bitter pall over the entire Jefferson County Police Department. Robyn was serving a life sentence, and most likely she’d never again see the outside of prison walls.
In the months that followed Robyn’s conviction, both Lance and Chase had worked their ways through psych evaluation, required by the FBI for Lance, and by the JCPD for Chase. In the interim, they had determined a change of jobs and a change of location would be better than remaining in a town full of bitter memories.
They decided neither of them wanted to move so far away that they could not return to the cemeteries where Jenn and Vivianna slept. Chase also wanted to keep in contact with Albert, the special needs young man who was now learning to live life on a fuller scale than he had yet known. And they still had friends in the Louisville area, friends who were important to them.
“I still like Atlanta, Chase. You know how I hate snow, and Indianapolis is cold and damp as a dungeon in winter.”
“No, it’s Chicago that’s colder than a dungeon with all those winds from the lake. I’d take Indianapolis over Chicago any day.”
It was Saturday afternoon and they were lounging in Chase’s den. Once they had made the decision to move on with their lives, Lance had sold the house he inherited from Vivianna. The furniture had gone with the sale, and he’d stored those few items that he wanted to keep. In the meantime, Chase had offered Lance the extra bedroom in his own home, since their plans needed to be made together. Chase was in the process of listing his house with a local real estate agent. He opened a large envelope that had arrived in the mail earlier.
“I’d never given a thought to becoming a private detective until you mentioned it, Lance. Didn’t know a thing about the requirements. I know people who’ve used them, usually with success. Did you ever meet Chet Wayland? He’s the guy the department used, a good guy. And I have great respect for the good ones. Do you wonder sometimes if we’ve made the right decision?”
“I don’t wonder, I know! With your law degree and experience with the department, with my business degree and experience with the Feds, we’ll do well. You have right there in your hand proof that we will. You got any good looking frames laying around? We need to get that proof, both yours and mine, framed to hang on the wall of our new office. Framing them will put a stop to any doubts.”
“The proof isn’t in the framed license, Lance. The proof will be when we successfully find that first missing person. But, damn, look at this license, sure looks good, doesn't it? Yeah, I think I have a couple of frames that will be fitting for this baby. But I think a better idea is if we take them both down to the frame shop. It’ll cost, but it will be worth it! ”
They had decided to open a private detective agency, with their emphasis on missing persons. The question was where it would be located.
Finally the day arrived and Louisville faded in the distance in their rear view mirrors as they headed south. Nashville was their destination. On the map, it didn’t seem to be a great distance from Louisville, but after weekends in Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, and even a brief trip to Savannah, they both chose Nashville.
The atmosphere was different, the city was alive, and the economic range had a wider girth. And too, both men enjoyed the rhythm of the city, echoed in the type of music it produced. To them Nashville was uplifting and very laid back.
They’d found a duplex located in Brentwood, after scouring neighborhood after neighborhood. The weeks they’d spent living in Chase’s home left them knowing better than to try sharing one home. They both needed their privacy and the purchase of a duplex was a joint decision. From the street it looked to be a single family dwelling, with Chase’s entry in front and Lance’s entry to the side. The only thing they shared was the well manicured lawn.
They leased an office on Crestmoor Road, about 8 miles from their home, and very close to the Nashville airport. It was also far enough away that business wouldn’t follow them home, but close enough to be convenient. Their neatly framed detective licenses hung on each wall of their individual office cubicles, along with framed diplomas from their respective universities. The only obvious difference between the two men was Chase’s choice of rich dark mahogany furniture, and Lance’s choice of sleek glass and chrome. The same was true of their homes, Chase’s was mellow, Lance’s gleamed with angles and light.
It could also be said of their personalities; Chase approached a problem casually, and Lance jumped in with sharp edges showing. They were different, but they complemented each other. It was because of these differences they would make a successful team. They would help families find loved ones who were missing. They would reunite parents with missing children, and children with missing parents; that was their primary goal, and they were determined to be successful. Now they just needed to hire a secretary. Bitter thoughts of Robyn flitted through Chase's mind.
Nashville is a melting pot both economically and culturally. There are those who reach fame and fortune, and those who would like to. They come from everywhere seeking the same thing, wealth and popularity. There are also those who follow along on the coattails of others. Some hold on to the coattails and rise with the fame of those who are successful, but others lose their hold and fall by the wayside.
Annie Spence was one who was hanging on to a coattail, the coattail of her best friend. Annie had grown up in Nashville, spent her life with the country music set. When she was a child her parents took her often to Opryland, a huge amusement park that covered a large part of Nashville’s riverfront. She loved the shows that were provided by the park, and being there as often as she was, she got to know many of the young entertainers. When they became more than a name hastily written on a cardboard sign and tacked to a post on an outdoor stage, Annie followed them to other performance venues in and around Nashville as she grew up.
Annie was an anomaly in her own house. Her parents were Norwegian and German, both blond with light blue gray eyes, and large in stature. They were good people and Annie was their only child. Early on, Annie realized she was a little different. Her parents were quiet, hard workers, and they hardly knew what to make of their tiny, energetic daughter with her bouncing brown curls and eyes as dark as coal. Annie was happy, dancing her way through her days, and singing her prayers at night. She knew her parents loved her, even with their quiet, sometimes harsh ways, she knew they loved her. There was no doubt.
But she occasionally wondered who the ancestor was, the one that gave her the wildly curling hair and those nearly black eyes. Just a few years ago, when she was barely in her teens, she watched as Lacy Anderson performed on one of those open stages that Opryland provided for their entertainers. She got to know Lacy, simply because she was at every one of Lacy’s performances for the entire summer, sometimes she was the only audience Lacy had. They had started chatting after one of the shows, and both began to look for the other every weekend at Opryland.
Lacy lived in Memphis, but every weekend her parents brought her to perform in Nashville. She was a wonderful singer, belting out songs in the style of another Dolly Parton. The girls got to be friends, and when they became college age, they decided to find an apartment together. Annie was accepted into the Fine Arts program at Belmont College to study design and fashion, and Lacy was awarded a scholarship to the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt.
There were numerous opportunities for Lacy to perform, most often at small coffeehouses in and around Nashville. Lacy loved to sing, and had quite the following from her younger days performing at Opryland. Annie attended every one of her performances. The days of Opryland Amusement Park were over by the time their college days rolled around, the park had been replaced by a huge shopping mall. Both girls hated that the mall had taken over the wonderland of their youth, and rarely ever went there to shop.
Annie was great with fashion, she had an artistic flair for just the right dress for every occasion and she decorated their apartment with the ease of making a bed. She searched thrift shops for clothes for herself and for Lacy and décor for the apartment. Lacy didn’t mind, she was more into her music, and rarely gave a thought to her appearance. Annie was visual, and she thought Lacy should play to the crowd and that the right clothes would work wonders with Lacy’s performance. She found long sultry dresses for nights when Lacy sang the blues in the low lights of small restaurants, and glittery sequined formals for her nights on the stage at the Grand Old Opry. So Lacy had a closet full of costumes, ranging from shiny royal blues to match her eyes when she sang old Lena Horne songs, and cowboy hats that perched on her long sheaf of wheat colored hair when she changed her tune to match that of Patsy Cline.
Annie was more inclined to wear long black tights or straight legged jeans, clunky shoes and brightly colored men’s dress shirts, with sleeves rolled up and a belt or two tied loosely around her tiny waist. That style matched her personality, and it certainly worked when she was running frantically finding all the parts and pieces she needed when dressing Lacy between performances. Annie believed that if people paid to see Lacy perform, she must not keep them waiting.
It was Sunday night and they had been invited to the house where Annie grew up for one of her mother’s wonderful evening meals. Their families got along as well as the girls did, and Lacy felt right at home when she visited. Their times with Lacy’s parents were not as frequent because of distance, but meals with Annie’s Mom and Dad were often something to look forward to on Sunday evenings.
As they were driving home after stuffing themselves with potato pancakes and other goodies Annie’s Mom provided, Lacy turned from her seat on the passenger side of the old Altima Annie was driving and said: “Who do you look like?”
“Huh?” answered Annie. “What do you mean who do I look like? I look like me!”
“No, goofus, I’m talkin’ ‘bout that dark hair you have, those big black eyes, your Momma is blond as I’ve ever seen, and she’s got the grayest blue eyes. Even your daddy’s got blue eyes, too. Can’t tell about his hair, ‘cause he’s been gray since I met you. So where’d you get those dark curls? And little. Good grief, girl, you don’t even come up to your Mama’s shoulder. So. Who do you look like? The postman?”
Annie giggled. “Straight laced as my folks are, don’t ever let them hear you say something like that. Mama would faint pure and simple, and Daddy would near have a switch after you. Nope, I never thought much about it. Both of them were only children, and I don’t remember my grandparents. I always thought there must be some Italian somewhere along the line. And Mama always said I was never still long enough to grow much. So, I don’t know.”
“What about your art? Are either of them artistic? Y’all have a nice house, but in all these years, nothing ever changes. It’s always neat and clean as can be, but nothing changes. And you…just look at the changes you make to our apartment. You hang rugs on the wall, you put amber bulbs in the lamps, you hang our Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling, and you painted that wall eggplant. Do you know what I thought when you said you were going to paint the wall eggplant? I thought you were going to paint pictures of eggplants on it. Who but you knew that eggplant was a color?”
Annie giggled. “Yep, I do love color. Maybe it’s ‘cause I grew up in a cream colored house. The only color I ever saw was in the old quilt on my bed. So, I don’t know, Lace, I never gave it much thought.”
“What if you were adopted?”
“What! What did you say? What do you mean, ‘adopted’? What on earth are you talking about? Just because you are the spittin’ image of your mother doesn’t mean I have to look like mine. Whattya mean?”
“I mean those human interest stories that are on all the news. Like those adopted people finding their birth parents. Like that. You know, being adopted but not knowing it.”
“Sheesh, Lace, you read too much junk. You been readin’ People magazine again? Lace, I was born right here in Nashville. Lived here all my life. Mom’s got pictures of me in the hospital bed with her. I’ve never had any doubt who my parents were, and don’t plan to now. I love my parents, and they love me. And that’s enough for me. Don’t even talk like that, it would kill my mother if she heard you.”
“It’s OK, Annie. It was just a thought,” Lacy said quietly as they approached the parking lot of their apartment.***
|Chase never dreamed it would be this difficult to hire a secretary. He thought Nashville would have a surplus, not so. They had had an overwhelming response to the ad they took out in The Tennesean. Resumes had flown in, and so far he had interviewed nine, and none of them seemed to feel right. Chase looked at his list, the final interview was scheduled for three that afternoon with Kelly Michaels. He wondered if this one would be another young girl waiting for her big break, as that is what the previous nine had been.
Chase heard the outer door open and someone enter, he walked out of his office to find a young man, dressed in an expensive suit. Chase held out his hand, "Hi, I'm Chase Williams, can I help you?"
The young man smiled to reveal a mouthful of gleaming perfectly white teeth, 'the showbiz smile', Lance called it. As he took Chase's hand, Chase noticed he had a firm handshake. He spoke, "Hi, I'm Kelly Michaels, I'm here for an interview."
Chase was surprised, but hid it well. "Certainly, come on back to the conference room, and I'll get my partner."
Lance was skeptical as soon as he saw Kelly sitting there, a pretty boy, Lance thought to himself. He'd make quick work of this one, and they'd just have to call an agency to find someone.
Lance took the resume the young man handed him, and got right down to business.
"So, Kelly, are you waiting to be discovered?"
Kelly smiled, "No Sir, if I wanted to be in the music business, I would already be there. My momma and daddy were both in, and so's my big sister. I've been around it my whole life, and it's not what I want. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, and I don't want to go to law school which is what you need in order to be a successful agent these days."
Chase leaned forward, for some reason, he felt really comfortable with this kid, "Kelly, what experience do you have?" He asked.
"Well sir, I've been working in my Momma's office since I was old enough to answer the telephone. After my Daddy died I stuck to my Momma like glue, always afraid something would happen to her too I guess. I can type about fifty words per minute, I can set up a filing system, and I am an impeccable speller. I was the Tennessee State spelling champion three years running. I am organized, efficient and I understand confidentiality and how to maintain it. You guys are new in town, I've lived here all my life and I have a few connections."
Lance laid Kelly's resume on the conference table, "Kelly, you just graduated a few months ago with degrees in English and Sociology from Vanderbilt, why do you want to be a secretary? More specifically, why do you want to be our secretary? Vanderbilt is a good school, a really good school. I find it hard to believe you'd want this job, it's certainly not the money we're paying, there has to be another reason what is it?"
Kelly's face reddened slightly, "Well, first of all the money isn't an issue for me, spending money is really all I need. But, the truth is, I'm a writer, and I thought working here would accomplish two things for me. First it would be a steady job, and second, it would give me ideas for books or short stories. I've always been fascinated with sleuthing and thought I'd learn from you guys as well."
Chase stood up, "Kelly, would you mind going out to the reception area while Lance and I discuss a few things please?"
Kelly did as he asked and left the room. Chase closed the door, turned to Lance and said, "I like this one."
Lance burst out laughing, "He's a boy!! When have you ever heard of a boy secretary?"
Chase shrugged, "So we change the title to office assistant, I'm telling you, I like him. My gut tells me he's the perfect fit, and the best thing is, he is absolutely nothing like Robyn."
Lance sighed, "There's definitely no mistaking him for Robyn. If you want him, I won't argue, we need somebody. I really don't care who it is as long as they can do the job, and I'd say he is way over qualified to do the job."
Chase opened the door, Kelly rose and walked back toward them. "When can you start?"
Kelly's smile was broad, "I can start now if you want me to."
Chase reached out and shook his hand, "Tomorrow's soon enough, we're usually here by 7:30 but you don't have to be here that early, any time before nine would be great, we'll talk about your regular hours tomorrow."
The following morning, Kelly was waiting in the parking lot when Chase pulled in, he smiled to himself, he knew they had made the right decision in hiring Kelly.
Kelly proved himself quickly, he immediately started organizing the files Lance and Chase had thrown haphazardly into the filing cabinets, as he went he made a list of things he was going to need, things Lance and Chase had not thought about. When the phone rang, he professionally answered it, and gleaned enough information from the caller to give Chase and Lance an idea of what they were calling about. When asked why he just didn't put the call through to Chase or Lance Kelly told them that people would be apprehensive if they could talk to one of them immediately when they called. It was better to let a sufficient amount of time pass, and then return the call.
Lance and Chase had not considered that they would sound too eager when talking to potential clients, and it was easier to talk to them if they had an idea beforehand what they wanted to talk about, Kelly had a point.
Lance only had one complaint, and he went directly to Kelly.
"Kid, we've got to talk." He said.
Kelly looked worried, "Is there a problem?" He asked.
Lance nodded, "Yes, there is."
Kelly gulped, "What did I do wrong?"
Lance smiled at him, "You can't come to work dressed better than we are, lose the suits?"
Kelly smiled, "I can do that."
Kelly lost the suits, he began dressing in khakis, but every once in a while he still wore a tie. He was usually still dressed better than Lance, but Lance overlooked Kelly's wardrobe. Chase's instinct had been right, Kelly fit with them seamlessly, almost like he'd been working with them for years. Kelly was meticulous, and he hadn't been kidding about connections. They had a full caseload, people looking for old school chums, lost loves, former teachers, playmates and friends.
Kelly handled the billing like an accountant, he acted as their PR person and their marketing director, things Lance and Chase would have never dreamed of doing. He took out tasteful advertisements in some of the trade magazines, and the business began to flourish. Just weeks after Kelly joined them, neither of them knew what they would do without him, he had not only become their indispensable assistant, he had fast become their friend.
They eventually learned that Kelly's mother was one of the nation's most beloved stars, Tasha Michaels. Tasha had come to Nashville as Mary Natasha Richards at the age of fifteen with not much more than the clothes on her back. She was from a broken home, her mother drank, and she had no idea who her father was. The last time Tasha saw her mother was after she came home slobbering drunk and got mad that Tasha had not taken a dirty glass from her bedroom. She broke the glass over Tasha's head and passed out. Tasha packed her few belongings and started hitch-hiking. When the truck driver who stopped asked her where she was headed, she told him as far as she could go. He was taking a delivery to Nashville, Tasha asked how far away it was, and when the driver told her it was about 400 miles from Shady Spring, West Virginia, she said Nashville sounded fine to her.
That had been a very long time ago, and Tasha hadn't looked back. She found a job waitressing in a diner, when one of her co-workers found out she had no place to live, she offered her a room in her home for a modest amount that she let Tasha pay from her first paycheck.
When Tasha was sixteen, she met music mogul Mitch Michaels in the diner. Tasha's personality was infectious, and she and Mitch became fast friends much as Tasha did with everyone she waited on in the diner. The diner was near Mitch's office, the food was great, so he ate there quite often. He had no family, only the clients he represented. Tasha had no idea what he did for a living, she didn't know what most of the people who passed through the diner did. Mitch was no different than anyone else, other than he was one of her favorite customers, and he tipped her very generously.
Mitch thought she was a great kid who had been through more in her short life than anyone he knew. He mentally ticked off his friends with kids close to Tasha's age that he could introduce her to, but he never did. None of them were good enough for Tasha, his friend's teenagers were spoiled brats who had been given everything in their lives and didn't appreciate it. Tasha on the other hand, was wise far beyond her years, and as pure and honest as he had ever met. He knew she wouldn't have tolerated any of them for very long.
They continued their friendship, Tasha looking forward to Mitch coming into the diner, and Mitch finding himself looking forward to seeing Tasha. Something about her spirit calmed him relaxed him. He liked to think if he had ever married and had children, his own family would have been much like Tasha.
Mitch discovered Tasha's talent quite by accident. One day a mother was in the diner with three small children. It was obvious that the mother was overwhelmed, the children were cranky, and when the youngest started crying, the mother simply broke down and started crying herself. Tasha, who had experience with small children because of her younger siblings picked up the young child and started singing in his ear while walking a small path near the mother's booth.
The child quieted as Tasha continued to sing softly, the mother was able to compose herself, and Tasha returned the child to the booth. Everyone in the diner was stilled hearing Tasha sing. Mitch recognized the level of her talent immediately, the beauty was obvious, and her personality shined to everyone who met her. She was the total package, and Mitch knew he could easily make her a star. What he wasn't expecting was to fall in love, but on Tasha's eighteenth birthday they were married, and shortly thereafter, Mitch made her a household name.
Mitch was nearly twenty years older than Tasha, but she hadn't cared, she loved Mitch with all her heart, and he loved her. Before he met Tasha he was a confirmed bachelor, never believing that he would ever meet "the one." Mitch's friends in the industry were suspicious, until they met Tasha. After spending five minutes with her, they understood why Mitch loved her so much.
Tasha was one of those people that others immediately liked; she was genuine, honest and instantly people felt as though they had known her for years. Mitch's friends adored her. Any misgivings they had about their ages or the marriage were gone, it was obvious that Mitch and Tasha were very much in love. Everyone celebrated with them when less than a year later, Tasha gave birth to their daughter, Elizabeth. Kelly was born less than two years later, and by then Tasha's career was skyrocketing. They planned to have more children "when things calmed down" but that was not to be.
Kelly's parents tried their best to give them as normal of a life as was possible when you were Mitch and Tasha Michaels. It was very important for Tasha that her children be with her as much as possible. She and Mitch were amazing parents and showered Liz and Kelly with love, kisses and hugs constantly. Tasha toured for six months of the year when Liz and Kelly were young, but Tasha refused to let that affect her role as a mother, so they all toured together as a family.
Each stop on the tour, Tasha would make a grand adventure, she would wake Liz and Kelly up bright and early with breakfast. They would eat together as a family, and then they would find a local attraction to visit. Tasha never seemed to realize how big of a star she actually was, to her, singing was her just her job, it didn't define who she was any more than being a waitress had defined who she was. So, Tasha and her children would walk around zoos and amusement parks just like everyone else. When fans recognized her she was gracious, talked to them, gave them autographs or stood for pictures with them, then she flashed that winning smile and walked away hand in hand with her children.
Their father handled as much business as he could from their comfortable tour bus. When he needed to be with one of his clients, they would stop at the nearest airport, he would fly to where his clients were, then fly back to them. Looking back, Kelly wasn't surprised that a heart attack had claimed him so young. One minute he was on the phone, giving directions to someone and the next minute he was lying on the floor, dead. His heart simply exploded is what the doctors said.
Kelly was fourteen when Mitch died and Tasha nearly lost her mind. It was Liz and Kelly who held her together. Liz took over, she directed calls, she canceled shows, she did everything a manager would have done even though she was only sixteen. Everything their father would have done, Liz did. Kelly stayed by Tasha's side, and helped Liz as much as he could. Answering the phone, typing letters, answering fan mail for his parents. They got through it together, and eventually Tasha came through her mourning stronger than ever. She stopped touring as much, while she focused more on Mitch's side of the industry--she felt she owed that to her husband and the family name.
Soon, Tasha only toured briefly during the summer months to select cities, while she continued to manage other stars and their careers, and she did that as well as Mitch had. It was Liz, however, who had the real head for the show business industry. She continued to work with her mother while doing her undergraduate degree in a less than three years. She went straight into Vanderbilt Law School, specializing in contracts and entertainment law all the while still working. After finishing law school, her client list began to grow, she started to get calls from all over, and her client list now ranged from Authors to Football players.
Kelly was the more nurturing of the two children, he liked helping his mother, keeping her organized, and just being the general go to person when either of them needed something. Kelly was born organizing, according to Tasha. She often told him the story of finding him in his bedroom when he was barely five, categorizing his story books into alphabetical order.
In a world where chaos often reigned, Tasha marveled at her son, methodical, precise and neat, always knowing where anything was in the house. Kelly didn't find it strange, it was simply how his mind worked. If something was out of place, he put it back where it belonged. If it didn't have a place, he created one for it. Everything made much more sense to him when there was structure and order.
The only area of his life where structure and order flew out the window was when he wrote. He loved to write, short stories, poems, songs, anything-- and hoped one day to be able to write novels that others would actually want to read, that was his dream.
Kelly knew that novels about the stars of Nashville would not appeal to a broad audience, and thus far in his life, that was all the experience he had. He felt if he was truly going to be a great writer, and not just a mediocre one, he needed to get away from the entertainment industry.
When he saw the ad in the paper for a secretary for a new private investigation firm he knew that was where he needed to be. He knew that would give him the opportunity to meet a lot of different people from all walks of life that would perhaps provide him with ideas for storylines and characters.
When he told his mother and Liz what he planned to do, they fully supported his decision, and both were ecstatic for him when he came home and told them he had gotten the job. His girlfriend, however, didn't share in his mother and sister's excitement. She chided Kelly, and told him it was 'beneath' him. She thought he needed to continue to work in the family business. Kelly decided he didn't particularly like her attitude and dumped her.
Kelly hoped that the invitation he had extended to Lance and Chase to attend his mother's barbeque tonight didn't scare them away. Most people were impressed when they came to their home, his father had intended it that way when he had it built for them. Kelly just hoped that Lance and Chase didn't feel uncomfortable, it was important to him that they see what he saw when he looked at his mom, and that was that she was just a really nice lady who happened to be famous.
"Oh my." Lance said as he drove up the long driveway that led to Kelly's home.
Chase sat with his mouth open, "I was prepared for it to be something spectacular, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine anything like this."
Kelly answered the door and ushered them in, almost immediately Tasha and Liz were at his side. Chase was struck by how beautiful they both were, Tasha, a sprite of a woman with beautiful dark hair like Kelly's and sparkling blue eyes. Liz, a tall beautiful blond, quite the contrast to her mother except for her eyes. Kelly and Liz both stood head and shoulders above their mother.
Tasha extended her hand, "It is so nice to finally meet both of you. Kelly speaks so highly of you. Please, come in and make yourself at home."
As the day wore on, Chase and Lance were comfortable, Tasha's meal was delicious, and they learned she did most of the cooking herself. Eventually they forgot they had walked into a living version of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and just enjoyed their company.
Later that evening, Tasha pulled Chase to the side. "I really do appreciate you giving Kelly a chance." She said.
Chase shook his head, "Best decision I've ever made, I don't know what we would do without Kelly."
Tasha smiled, "Yes, he is quite something, I am very proud of him."
"As you should be, he is a great guy, and has become someone I consider a close friend."
Tasha's smile widened. "That is about the best compliment anyone can give a mother, thank you."
Her face took on a more serious look, "Since Kelly has been working for you, he's told us bits and pieces of his days. He comes home so excited, and I guess that excitement is infectious, because he's got me to thinking."
Chase nodded, "What have you been thinking about?"
Tasha shifted in her seat, "I don't know how much Kelly has told you, but I left home when I was barely fifteen. My momma was a mean lady, and one day I just had enough and when she passed out, I left."
Chase just nodded, he knew she would continue when she was ready.
"When I think back to it, I shudder, if Liz or Kelly would have left when they were fifteen and caught a ride with a stranger, I would have died. I was lucky the truck driver who brought me to Nashville was a good and decent person. He could have so easily taken advantage of the naive child I was."
Chase agreed, "Yes, you were very lucky."
"Yes, I was. If he hadn't been coming to Nashville, I don't know where I would have ended up, but I know I wouldn't have the life I do now or my beautiful family, and I'd like to thank him for his kindness."
Chase understood now, "Makes sense to me. What do you know about him?" He asked.
Tasha shrugged, "Not much. He told me his name was Bob, and he was from New York or Ohio. I can't really remember, and I've been racking my brain. He was making a run from somewhere in Ohio to Nashville. I think he must have been delivering things, because I remember he stopped a couple of times along the way and either unloaded or loaded stuff."
"Do you remember what kind of a truck it was?" Chase asked.
Tasha smiled, "Unfortunately no. The trailer was just plain silver, the cab of it was red. I remember the name of the trucking company was on the door, and it was Mc something. I'm sorry, I reckon that isn't a whole lot to go on is it?"
Chase smiled back, "Oh, I've had cases before as a police detective that I had less information. Why don't you write down any dates you remember for me, and I'll see what I can do."
Tasha beamed, "Oh Chase, thank you so much." She leaned over and hugged him and kissed his cheek. Chase wasn't expecting it, but he realized he had really, really liked it.
|Chase began his search for Bob, the truck driver, in New York. He looked up business license records online from the early and middle 1980's, looking for a company name starting with Mc. He found several. He ruled out household moving companies because Tasha had said the truck was stopping to make deliveries along the route to Nashville. She remembered that he said he was on a week long road trip, and she remembered the names of two of the towns where he stopped. Bob had bought her dinner at a truck stop along the way, and that same evening when he dropped her off in Nashville, he was kind enough to call a cab and pay her fare to the YWCA so that she would have a safe place to spend the night. His parting words to her were “Please be carefull, bad things happen to girls who are alone.”
The preliminary search yielded names of several likely companies. Over the years some had been absorbed by larger companies, others gone out of business. One company in particular caught his attention. It was based in Buffalo, NY, and made runs to Nashville. A few phone calls later, he learned that the company was still in business but under the ownership of a larger company. He called Goodland Enterprises, talked to the receptionist, then to the payroll clerk, who would be most likely to remember the names of employees since she dealt with the paychecks and would have been typing those names often. Chase could only hope that Bob had a distinctive last name, one that somebody would remember! Many of the office staff had been relpaced by the larger company, and some had retired. Sally, the payroll clerk was fairly new there, but provided him with the name and number of the retired payroll clerk who had worked for McCluskey before the company was sold.
Irene Hughes was very surprised to receive a phone call from a private detective in Tennessee. He wanted to know about a McCluskey employee named Bob. Irene said yes, they had three drivers named Bob that she could remember, Bob Wilson, Bob LaMonte, and another one whose last name she couldn't remember. Bob Wilson had been killed in a truck crash, LaMonte had retired to sunny Florida. That third Bob hadn't worked for the company in many years before she retired. She remembered that he had taken a local driving job to be able to spend more time with his family.
Working several cases at once kept Chase very busy. He had to give priority to the cases he had already begun before Tasha Michaels hired him to find Bob. His desk had piles of papers, notes scribbled on envelopes, etc. Kelly just shook his head. “How do you find anything”? Chase replied that it was organized chaos, and that if he needed a certain piece of information he could find it because it was his personal mess. Organization would only confuse him. Kelly and Lance had neat desks, everything filed, looking very tidy. Lance would walk into Chase's office and start picking up pens and paper clips to put them away. Chase found a sign for his desk that said “A tidy desk is the sign of a disturbed mind”.
Chase and Lance worked on several cases together, shared information and gave each other suggestions and ideas. Their different approaches complimented each other while Kelly's knowledge of local places, people and the Nashville way of life helped them both. He might only want to be a writer, but his instincts and curiousity would also make him a good detective if he chose to go in that direction. However, Lance and Chase were so pleased with his orgainzational skills and professional manner in the office that neither of them wanted to mention such a possibility to him.
Every few days Chase called Tasha to update his progress or lack of it. He knew that Kelly would relay information to her, but felt that person to person contact was much better. He personally called all of his clients. Tasha Michaels was always friendly and appreciative of his efforts. Occasionally she was able to recall another tidbit of information, such as the tatoo on Bob's right forearm with the name Vicki and a red rose.
“Good afternoon, Tasha, this is Chase Williams. How are you today?”
“Hello Chase, I'm just fine. Whenever you call, I always think how nice it is to have the personal contact on the search for Bob. Before I forget, would you be free to come to a little party I'm having on Saturday evening? Nothing fancy, just a few friends, music and food. I hope you can make it.”
The invitation took Chase by surprise. He was happy to accept. He made a quick note of the date and time, and under it wrote new clothes, shoes, haircut. Nothing fancy, she says. Well, he thought he might need some better clothes so as not to stand out in the group as a bum. He knew from Kelly that Tasha's little nothing fancy parties were anything but that!
Chase almost forgot the purpose of his call. “I have some progress to report. I believe I may have located the company that employed Bob the truck driver. Does McCluskey Trucking sound familiar?”
“Umm, yes, I think so. The name after the Mc had about that many letters in it. Some of the paint was missing, but I think it ended with a y or at least a letter with a tail that went below the rest of the name. I never thought it would be important. I was young and scared, and it was so many years ago.”
“That's fine, no problem. Now, I don't want you to get too excited just yet, but I thought you would want to know that I have found something that might lead us to Bob. If you remember anything else before Saturday, call me. Thanks for the invitation, I'll see you then”.
Chase smiled as he put down the phone. It felt good to be helping people. That was why he became a police officer in Louisville. This missing persons emphasis was even better. He felt that he was helping more as a private detective than he ever had as a police officer. Tasha Michaels was by far his most famous client. He knew that a successful search for Tasha might bring him more business from the rich and famous, prestige, a better income, and a new lifestyle. He was not unhappy with things as they were now, but did see room for improvement. Although not a religious man, he found himself looking up and silently saying “Please”.
His next task was to find the names of Buffalo trucking companies with local delivery routes. The most interesting possibility was a distributor of snack food. They had an employee named Bob Schreiber who had previously worked for McCluskey Trucking. No, they couldn't give Chase the employee's home address or phone number because of privacy laws, but of course Chase knew there were other ways to obtain that information.
Chase's pulse quickened with the news. He pondered the possibility of making a trip to Buffalo to talk to Bob Schreiber. Maybe it was premature to think that Schreiber was “the” Bob, he hadn't located or talked to LaMonte yet. Maybe it was Bob LaMonte instead, or maybe the Bob who had befriended Tasha was the one who had died. He looked heavenward again, held up both hands in a questioning type of gesture. Just then his phone rang. It was Irene Hughes, she had remembered, the third Bob was Schreiber! Chase asked if he went to work for the Jiffy Snax company. Yes! He thanked her, hung up the phone and looked heavenward again. “Thanks”. ***
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
More ramblings at http://thegatheringplacehome.myfastforum.org/forum54.php
|Lance looked around Chase’s office. While his desk looked like a pile of trash, his walls were organized. He had pictures of his friends, pictures of himself with political officials, usually shaking their hand and smiling. There were awards; rookie of the year for the Louisville P.D., the Chamber of Commerce volunteer of the year for coaching youth sports. Also he kept his degrees hanging on the wall. One that always puzzled him was Chase’s law degree. Why would someone with a law degree spend his time and talent chasing ‘ghosts’ as a private detective when he could be living the high life of an attorney? Their most lucrative cases came from attorneys.
It also made Lance curious when Chase hired an attorney to file the paperwork for their business. Chase said it was because he wasn’t a contract lawyer, but he seemed a little evasive about the answer. Lance didn’t want to investigate his partner, but he did want to know the answer to his curiosity. ‘I suppose I’ll just have to ask him’. Lance thought.
Just then Chase walked into the outer office. “Hey Lance, I think I may have a line on that ‘Bob’ guy Ms Tasha wants to find.” Chase said in his smooth southern drawl.
“Hey Lance, you here?”
Lance walked out of Chase’s office looking a little guilty. “Yep, I’m here old buddy.”
“Did you find what you were looking for Lance?” Chase laughed.
“I was just looking at your pictures. When did you meet George and Laura Bush?”
“Oh that one.... it was during the campaign when he ran the first time back in 2000.”
“You know, Chase, I’ve wanted to ask you something for quite a while." Lance said. And I don’t really know how to approach it.”
“How about head on Lance? You can ask me anything.”
“Alright, why did you quit being a lawyer?”
“Whoa, that’s pretty head on. O.K. Lance, you have a right to know about this. Why don’t we sit in the back office. I’d just as soon keep this between you and me.”
Lance looked a little worried, but said “Fine partner, let’s go in my office.”
“It was about ten years ago.” Chase began. “I had just passed the bar and I thought I was gonna light the world on fire. I didn’t have a job yet, but I couldn’t wait to do my part to change the world.”
“Jenn had been supporting us and I was determined that was gonna stop. I looked into working for the DA’s office, but they didn’t have any openings at the time. That’s when I decided I’d open my own practice. I rented this tiny little hole-in-the-wall office right near the jail. I wasn’t making any money to speak of. I got a few cases thrown my way as a court appointed attorney, but it wasn’t steady and it didn’t pay very much. I had a friend in the Louisville P.D. that suggested that with my law degree I may be able to get on with the detective division.”
“So off I went, back to “school”, actually the academy, I took the tests and the next thing I know, I’m working and solving cases for the cops. We had this case, a series of burglaries actually, that we’d been working for several months. They were all, pretty obviously, the same perp. The M.O. was the same on all of them. Homes were broken into when folks were on vacation, all the valuables were taken, no sign of forced entry.
It reminded me of a client I’d had as a court appointed lawyer. He worked for a burglar alarm company. I told my Captain about him. The case started to hone in on this guy and it became obvious that he was the perp. The Captain told me I probably shouldn't be involved in the arrest since I had been his attorney.”
“Oh boy, I can see exactly where this is going.” Lance sighed.
“Yeah…. so when we got the search warrant for this slime ball’s house, the ADA didn’t ask any questions about where we got our information. But after he was arrested his new defense attorney did.”
“When the truth finally came out, I got suspended for 5 years by the Kentucky state Bar for breach of attorney/client privilege. I was lucky I wasn’t disbarred.
I’d never even really gotten the chance to be an attorney.
I could have applied for reinstatement 3 or 4 years ago, but after getting to know most of these dirtbag lawyers, I don’t know if that’s how I want to be known.
Because the DA was a friend of the department, he helped to keep it quiet. It never really made the news and the cops loved the fact that a “lawyer” was willing to lose his license to bust a bad guy. I never looked back. I still have all the knowledge of an attorney; I just can’t practice law.”
“That’s quite a story Chase. I had no idea.” Lance said after a couple of minutes. “Are you sure you don’t want to try to get reinstated?”
“Frankly, I haven’t even looked into it. I’ve lost so much respect for the profession over the years, I don’t know if I even want to.”
“Well, just for the record Chase, I think you did the right thing, stupid maybe, but the right thing just the same. I wouldn’t give up on applying for reinstatement though. You don’t have to practice, you know.”
Chase put on his Brooks Bros. suit, a pair of Armani knock-off shoes, combed back his thick locks that had gotten longer since leaving the police department and headed out the door. He decided he’d do a little detective work and look around before he went into the party to see what everyone else was wearing. If the suit was too much, he could always lose the coat and tie and just go with the wheat colored shirt and the brown suit pants. It turned out that the not-so-dressy party was just that. He was happy to leave the coat and tie in the back seat.
Tasha greeted him at the door with a hug and kiss. She introduced him to a few people that had already arrived. He met the president of her recording label and a couple of studio musicians that worked on many of her records.
Chase made his way to the bar and ordered a scotch, neat. The bar keep pulled a bottle of 15 year old single-malt from the shelf and poured a generous amount into a beautiful cut crystal Old Fashion glass. Chase sipped the warm amber liquid and fell into his old habit of observing and listening.
As he made his way toward the back patio, he listened to snippets of conversations…… “…and I fell flat on my butt, that old quarter horse put his foot….” “…..he was just sitting there with his hat on backwards staring at my boobs…..” “……if we could just convince him that college was the right thing…oh Marge, he’s a rodeo cowboy, he’s not gonna….” And on and on the conversations went. Each one was committed to Chase’s steel trap memory, along with the face of the person speaking.
He made his way to the patio where the massive barbecue grill belched out hickory smoke and the sweet aroma of slow cooked baby back ribs and fresh corn on the cob. Just beyond the grill was an Olympic sized swimming pool, complete with two lifeguards. With all the alcohol being consumed here today, that was a very smart move on Tasha’s part.
Even considering the massive size of Tasha’s mansion, the place was beginning to get crowded.
He heard the familiar ‘tap, tap, tap’ of someone checking a mic. “OK everybody, we’ve got a little music coming our way. This young fella is trying to make a name for himself, so give a listen and cut a rug if you feel like it. Give a warm welcome to Toby Nash. Take it away Toby.”
The young cowboy strummed his six-string and crooned the strains of a sad country song. His rich baritone voice belied his youthful face. He sounded like a young Conway Twitty with a blues beat. The crowd loved him and showed their appreciation with cheers and encouragement to ‘give us another one’. Toby sang a couple more with a livelier beat then stepped aside for the next young talent Tasha had arranged.
As the booze flowed, and everyone loosened up a bit, so did Chase. He danced with a few of the young ladies there. Tasha made sure he didn’t sit alone for too long. She pulled him out on the dance floor a couple of times herself.
Chase listened while Tasha told a young singer not to be discouraged. She had a very soothing demeanor that reminded him of what he imagined Jenn would have been like in 10 or 15 years.
The sound of a singing voice that was distinctive from all the rest pierced the air. Even through the light fog of whiskey, Chase made certain to see just who owned this angelic voice. She was young; maybe 20 or 21 years old, but she didn’t have that teenie-bopper voice like Taylor Swift. She was country without a doubt, but her voice transcended genre. Chase wasn’t a real music buff, but he knew what he liked and this was something he could listen to.
She sang three more songs. One was pure country. She sounded like Tammy Wynette with a southern twang that Reba would be proud of. Then she sang a sweet ballad that had a distinctively modern pop sound to it. Next she covered that old Patsy Cline song “Walking After Midnight”. If you closed your eyes, you’d believe Patsy was standing right there singing.
“Let’s give a big hand to Lacy Anderson. You’ve got a future in this business young lady” the MC bragged.
“Now that’s a star in the making.” Chase said.
“Well come on over and I’ll introduce you.” Tasha offered.
“Chase, I’d like you to meet Lacy Anderson. Lacy, this here is Chase Williams. I think he’s quite taken with your singing.” Tasha teased.
“I’m happy to meet you Mr. Williams.”
“It’s Chase, please, and the pleasure is all mine.***
|Liz stood back, and watched the look on Chase’s face as he met Lacy. She was aware of a pang of disappointment along with a teeny tiny bit of anger. She had been harboring a little crush on Chase since she met him the first time and looked forward to seeing him again. "Oh dear…beaten out by the glamour card, again", she thought.
Growing up always tall for her age, the constant teasing over her height had given her an unsureness of her own beauty. She knew she was attractive, but always felt less than sure when around the performers who generally exuded self-confidence and assuredness. " Well, most of them did anyway. I’ll get to be the brains – no one will want to compete with that", she had decided early.
“There you are, Liz", Chase beamed, “you are lovely tonight, err..., I mean. No wait…I don’t mean you aren’t…” he stopped when he heard Liz and Tasha laughing. Even Lacy laughed.
“Don’t worry, Chase, I know what you mean…no need to blush..”
Chase felt his cheeks get warm. He wasn’t used to such attention, especially from so many lovely women at the same time. “Let’s face it, Chum”, he thought, “it has been a long time since you’ve received any female attention at all”!
After wrapping up Jenn's murder, as well as the other murders, Chase went into a strange emotional state, a sort of limbo between still mourning his loss and relief with the closure. His feelings hibernated within the caves of ‘numb and barely alive’ while he healed and proceeded upon his emotional journey. Chase felt as though he were coming out of a long emotional sleep when he and Lance moved to Nashville and began their new lives.
Filling in that awkward moment with perfection, Tasha grabbed Chase's arm and steered him toward the bar, “Now I am the hostess so I get the handsomest man at my own party,” she laughed, “even if it’s only for a while”.
Chase felt as if the axis of the earth was suddenly back to normal and he could actually walk without fear of falling. His cheeks cooled as well, as they ambled toward the group milling around a large table full of fresh fruit, differently colored liquid in bottles and a bank of blenders whizzing up exotic drinks. Tasha grabbed a glass of juice, unblended, and asked Chase what he would like.
“Don’t think I should deaden my awareness”, he laughed, “so I’ll join you in the juice. What an incredible singer, that Lacy! Wow, I am very impressed”.
“Yes, she is really talented” Tasha nodded, “and needs very little more until she is fully ready for the break… When it happens, the top will be worth the climb. When you hit the big lights, there's no time to figure it out, become trusted, become respected… If it hadn’t been for the fact that I was married to the best manager in the business I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I was so lucky! And now Liz is every bit as capable and good as her Dad was, and she is getting to be known for that, too”.
“Wow, this whole world of yours is pretty new to me”, Chase admitted, “and I am learning a lot. How many of the wanna’be stars ever become one? Many?"
“Actually, more than you might think but the Dolly Partons are few and far between! Those who find a good agent who can book them for Hotels or Nightclubs or even local radio commercials are the lucky ones. Pure talent, alone, rising to the top is not rare…just not common. It’s a business and must be taken seriously. When I toured, Kelly and Liz always came with me and we managed being a great family in spite of my career. I feel very blessed. I’m proud of my kids! I am so happy Kelly found work with you guys! He loves his job, oh dear, I hope I’m not speaking out of line…but Kelly has never had a ‘role’ in life…he always wanted his own world …one he can affect and help."
“Tasha, Kelly is a gem. He is organized, smart, respectful…he knows his boundaries and he knows when to step in and express his opinion! If you ever quote me I will deny it”, Chase laughed, “and he has brought along great family”.
“Thanks, Chase, I know he loves his job, and I love the fact he brought you both along. He’s a good kid…"
Liz thought about Chase a bit more….more curious than besotted. She had a good head on her shoulders, did not fall in lust easily, and she was curious, just curious. Liz knew she had a big bright career in her future and she was not about to side track it, not now, anyway. ***
Leap. The net will appear.
|Annie sat on the bar stool on the shaded porch of the guest cottage. When she and Lacy arrived at the Michaels’ house that morning, Tasha had showed them to the cottage, and told them to make themselves at home. The cottage was large and airy, beautifully decorated, with two bedrooms, a great room, and this wonderful porch. It was across the pool from the house, just far enough away to provide privacy. Just far enough away that Annie could watch the festivities without being noticed.
Annie was accustomed to being on the sidelines when Lacy performed. She was happy just helping Lacy dress for her shows, keeping track of her schedule, providing encouragement when Lacy felt she had done less than her best. So she sat on the bar stool in her best black Hollister jeans, straight off the rack of a local resale shop, her long white shirt draped loosely over the black cami that was trimmed in lace, her fingers running carelessly over the long strand of fake pearls that hung from her neck, and watched the Michaels family and their guests.
Annie didn’t notice Kelly’s approach from the side, and she nearly fell from the bar stool when he quietly said, “Hi.”
“Oh, hi yourself, you scared me.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. What are you doing sitting way over here. The party’s on the other side of the pool where your friend is. Come join us, there’s plenty of food. I’m Kelly, by the way. This is my family’s home.”
“Oh I know who you are, Kelly. I’m sorry we didn’t meet earlier. I’m Annie. Lacy’s my best friend and I always help her when she performs. But I’m fine right here, thanks. Your mother has stocked our fridge, and I love that she’s invited us to spend the night in your guest cottage. Lacy’s excited about it too. She’s very talented and so beautiful, don’t you think? She’s my best friend! Oh, did I already say that?”
“She’s very talented, she’s the best, and yes you already said she’s your best friend. But it would still be nice if you came over and met some of the others. Come on. Let me introduce you around, Annie.”
Annie hopped down from her perch on the bar stool. She tugged the scrunchie out of her long dark curls, then straightened her shirt, tightened the bright red scarf that hung low on her hips, and touched her pearls.
“You look fine, Annie, very pretty in fact. My sister Liz would die for hair like that. Have you met her yet?”
“No, I haven’t met your sister, but Lacy tells me she’s one of the best in the business. Do you work for your mother, too, Kelly?”
“No, not anymore. I work in a detective agency. Come with me and you’ll meet my bosses. Come with me and you’ll meet everybody. Come on, girl, times a wastin’, and so’s the food if we don’t rush..”
And Kelly led Annie around the pool to the group that was standing near the bar.
In a small coal mining town in West Virginia, Louise Richards Reynolds slumped in a corner of her threadbare old sofa. The beer sloshed out of its can and all over her hand. She wiped it on the arm of the sofa. It was already soiled, covered with a myriad of old spots, so what did a few more drops of beer matter? The TV was broken, had been for months, so she flipped the switch on the old portable radio that sat on an upended crate at the end of the sofa.
Weezie was tired out, it was wash day, and though she’d searched through the sofa cushions for change, she found not a penny. A penny wouldn’t get her very far in the laundromat down the road anyway, but the laundromat would have been better than washing Larry’s and Jim’s filthy jeans by hand. Hanging them on the line wasn’t so bad, but then there was the ironing. Weezie was worn out. Her back hurt. Jim expected his jeans to be ironed, he expected supper on the table the minute he walked in the door, he expected a cold beer, he expected a clean house, he expected , he expected, he expected more than Weezie could always give. And Larry, just turned 18 now, was exactly like his father.
Jim got Larry that job down at the Five Star where they both worked as mechanics. It was a contest to see who could come home with the most oil and grease on his clothes. Still, in this day and age, she was thankful they both had jobs. Weezie had worked at the diner in town for several years, made good money, too, but the diner closed along with a lot of other small businesses, and Weezie found herself out of a job and with a back problem that ached like the dickens. Money was scarce, but seems like Larry and Jim always had enough for beer. Weezie took another swig of hers. The beer helped relax her aching back.
Music played softly on the radio, the woman who was singing soothed Weezie’s soul and the beer went down smooth. Since the clothes were on the line, she idly picked up an old copy of People magazine. There on the cover was a glossy photo of that Nashville star, Tasha Michaels. Weezie had seen her picture before, she looked so familiar. It was Tasha singing on the radio now. But Tasha Michaels was nobody that Weezie knew, she was from Nashville, not a podunk coal city in West Virginia. Tasha was a big star.
Weezie flipped the magazine over to the story that had been written about Tasha. There, right there. That picture looked so much like the only picture Weezie had of her mother. Weezie thought about her mother for a minute, long gone now. Mary Lee Richards was a drunk, she disappeared when Weezie was very small, and Weezie had heard only bad things about her. She’d been raised by a cousin, none of Mary Lee’s kids ever knew their daddies, so when Mary Lee disappeared, her kids were parceled out to whoever would take them. Nobody had even bothered to look for Mary Lee. Weezie knew she had two older brothers and a sister, but she had no idea where they were, she didn’t even know who they were. But somewhere in her memories, Weezie could remember being sung to sleep by an angel. Sometimes Weezie would hear a song on the radio and she would feel cold chills dance along her spine. She seemed to know the voice, seemed to remember it, but she could never quite put the voice with a face.
The front door banged open, and Weezie dropped her magazine. The beer in her hand sloshed again. Jim came first, followed by Larry. Larry walked past her in the direction of the kitchen. Jim stopped in front of her, a strange look on his face.
“How much money we got in the bank?” he asked.
“I’d have to check,” said Weezie, “why, what’s wrong? What do you need money for? And what are you doin’ home so early, it ain’t but one o’clock, is it?”
“Five Star’s closin’. Ain’t enough business to keep it runnin’. Them big wigs sent word up from Texas sayin’ to close it down. Me an’ Larry was the first to be let go.
I ain’t got no idea ‘bout what to do, Weeze. I done been through three jobs just since January, and it ain’t even through August yet. We’ve ‘bout run out of options.”
He glanced at the magazine that showed Tasha Michaels’ photo on the cover.
“Wouldja look at that. That looks just like that picture you got hangin’ in our bedroom. Looks just like your ma. Looks a little like you when you get all dolled up. Prettier, though. Who’s she?”
“I don’t know, Jim, she’s just some star down in Nashville. What are we goin’ to do without jobs? I thought you said this one was the best, we can’t do without jobs. What about Larry?”
“I told you to save some money. Here you spent it on a magazine. It’s just like you to sit around all day drinkin’ my beer, lookin’ at trashy magazines that my money bought, and doin’ nothing to contribute to this family. I reckon you’re goin’ to have to look around for a job, too. We’re in this thing together, Weezie, for better or for worse. I reckon this is the worst.”
“Jim, that doctor told me I can’t work with my back in the shape it’s in. You know that. Last time I worked, I couldn’t hardly walk none at all.”
“If your back’s in that bad a shape, then you ought to be getting’ some gov’ment money for it. I don’t see no checks rollin’ in. If it’s so bad, that doctor of yours ought to see ‘bout getting’ that money for you.”
“I can’t get disability, Jim, cause there’s jobs I can do. I just can’t wait tables no more. But there ain’t no other jobs out there. You know I tried…”
“Who’s that, Ma? Look at her, she looks just like you. Well, look at that, that’s Tasha Michaels, only the greatest star since Dolly Parton. I ain’t never seen nobody that looks just like you, Ma. You could be twins. You sure you ain’t kin to her?” Larry said as he looked over Weezie’s shoulder.
“Now that ain’t a bad idea,” said Jim.
The party at Tasha’s house was winding down. Chase and Lance were just leaving as Kelly led Annie back to the cottage.
“That was such fun, Kelly, thank you so much for talking me into joining the party. I haven’t seen Lacy, though, did she come back to the cottage?”
“I saw her earlier with To…” Kelly’s words were lost in the scream that came from the cottage.
Annie looked at Kelly, “It’s Lacy!” And she ran for the cottage door.
“Wait! Let me go in first!”
Kelly pushed the door open just as another scream sounded. The cottage was dark, except for the lone candle on the table beside the couch in the great room. Annie reached for the light switch. “Lacy? Lacy?”
As the light came on, a disheveled Toby Nash tried to push past Kelly to get out the door.
Kelly grabbed Toby’s arm, pushed him against the wall.
“Hold on here, what’s going on?”
“Get your hands offa me, Pretty Boy. I’m jus’ here at that little hottie’s invitation. Seems like she talks the talk but she don’t walk the walk, so don’t you worry none, I’m outta here!” Toby pushed his way through the cottage door.
“Lacy, Lacy, are you OK? Did he hurt you?”
“It’s OK, Lacy, he’s gone. Here, let me get you some water.” Kelly handed her a bottle from the fridge.
Lacy was wiping the tears from her eyes, and straightening her dress.
“I’m fine, really, I’m fine. It was all a misunderstanding. Please, Kelly, it really was. He said he wanted to see the cottage, said he didn’t understand why he hadn’t been invited to stay, said he just needed some peace and quiet. It’s OK. I’m fine. Don’t tell your mother, please.”
The door opened again, and the three of them quickly looked up.
“What’s wrong,” said Liz. “I thought I heard a scream.”
|Kelly explained to Liz what had just happened. Liz looked at Lacy, "Are you sure you're alright?" She asked.
Lacy nodded. Liz asked, "Did you specifically say no to him Lacy?"
Lacy nodded again. Kelly could tell by the way Liz was standing that she was livid, his sister always put her right hand on her hip when she got angry, while she continued to talk with her left hand.
Liz spoke again, "I need you to tell me exactly what happened, don't be embarrassed and don't leave anything out. I need to see if we need to bring formal charges against him."
Lance and Chase had arrived as well, Lance spoke, "I agree." he said.
After it was determined that Lacy had indeed told Toby no several times, Lance, Chase and Kelly wanted charges to be brought, Lacy did not. Liz spoke up, "The publicity probably wouldn't be good for Lacy, there are those who will say it was her fault, you know how people are. Unfortunately, I think that my way of dealing with him might be the best avenue to take."
Chase looked at Liz, "What do you mean, 'your way' what is better than turning the scumbag over to the cops?"
Kelly answered for her. "His career will over. Once Liz dumps him, he won't get a job in Nashville, and he won't find anyone else to represent him. Eventually he'll leave and go back to where he came from."
Liz shook her head, "Oh, I'll speed the process along a little more than that, anything that is scheduled will be cancelled. I'll give him a bus ticket and tell him if he doesn't want me to sue him for breaching the moralities clause in his contract, he'll take the ticket and be gone within a few days."
Chase looked at Liz, "Remind me never to make you angry." He said.
The following morning, Chase and Lance were sitting in their shared back yard discussing the events of the previous night. Neither had gotten much sleep, it had been late when they left the Michael's home last night, rather, this morning.
"Will somebody get this gate for me please?" They heard Kelly yelling from the side of the duplex. Lance jumped up and went to the side where he found Kelly, arms full.
"Kel, you didn't have to bring anything, we're just going to burn up some steaks on the grill."
After the party broke up, and Lacy had been settled down last night, Kelly had asked Chase and Lance if he could come over to talk to them Sunday afternoon. Of course they had agreed and told him they would feed him as well.
Kelly shook his head, "You don't know my mother. Can you grab something please?"
Kelly looked like he was going to just throw everything down if he didn't get some relief from his packages soon. Chase had wandered over when he heard their voices and reached out to grab a couple of the bags from Kelly.
"What is all this?" He asked.
Kelly shook his head as he handed off bags to Lance as well. "I'm sorry, my momma does this. She has to take care of everybody and she just had to send you guys stuff from the garden and our farm, plus some stuff that Rose, our housekeeper made," he sighed,
"Probably because momma asked her to."
Chase looked inside one of the bags, "Hey, I never turn down food of any kind."
As they unloaded the bags, Lance opened up a basket that was wrapped with foil, when he lifted the foil the aroma of fresh baked rolls wafted out. Chase groaned, as he picked up the basket, "Well, I'm good, y'all can eat whatever else you want to."
Kelly laughed, "It's okay, you take the rolls, I won't share this black raspberry jam she put in here, and let me tell you, if my momma is sharing her jam she thinks pretty highly of you. Liz and I practically have to sneak to even get a taste of it."
Chase put the basket of rolls back on the counter, "I'll share if you will."
As they sat eating, Lance couldn't stand it any longer, "Okay Kelly, what's up?"
Kelly finished chewing, swallowed then looked at each of them, "Why would anything have to be up for me to want to hang out with you guys?" He asked.
Lance and Chase looked at each other, then back at Kelly.
"Okay, okay." Kelly sighed. He took a folded letter out of his pocket. "This came in the fan mail yesterday, we haven't told Momma yet, it's going to upset her a lot. I wanted you two to see if you could pull up anything on your magic computers and find out if it's for real."
Lance took the letter from Kelly and read.
My name is Jim Reynolds, I got your address from the back of one of your records. My wife is Louise Richards Reynolds, and according to her ma, her big sister Mary done runned off when she weren't nothing more than a baby. Since you look so much like my Weezie and her ma, I can't help but reckon that your the sister that runned off. Looks like you done real well for yourself, and believe me, we are happy for you. Here's the thing, times are tough back in West Virginia, they be real tough, an me an Weezie, we been takin care of your ma all these years ourselves without no help from nobody. She is your kin as much as she is Weezie's and it is about time you paid your fair share for her keep.
I reckon you could ignore my letter, but then I'd reckon I'd have to call some of them reporters over to the news stations in Huntington and Charleston and ask them what they think of a big star like Tasha Michaels a lettin her poor old momma starve ta death and refusin to help her only kin. My address and phone number are below and I look right forward to hearin from you."
After reading the letter, Chase said, "Well, he obviously wants money."
Kelly nodded, "Obviously, but before we let Momma see this, Liz and I thought we'd better have you guys check it out, make sure it's legit. Momma will be upset. She doesn't talk about her life much from before she came to Nashville, but what she has told us it was pretty bad. Her momma was a drunk, and she took care of the house and the children until one night when her momma busted a glass over her head. She said she left and never looked back."
Lance stood, "Let me go make a call, even with the databases we use, it will be quicker to use some FBI databases."
Kelly looked at Chase after Lance left, "He can just make a call and the FBI will do things like that for him?"
Chase nodded, "Yep, technically he's still a Federal agent, they have him listed as being on 'extended leave' but they really want him to come back to the agency full time, so when he told them he was going to move down here and try his hand at private investigation, they told him they'd hold his job. If he needs to use Federal resources, he calls somebody, tells them what he wants to do, and they give him access."
"I didn't realize that, do you think he'll go back?" Kelly asked.
Chase shrugged, "You never know with Lance. He's had a lot of bad things happen in his life, and I think he still blames a lot of it on the fact that he was an FBI agent. I'm not sure he'll go back, but, I guess it's always a possibility."
Kelly nodded, "Well, momma has said all my life that people come and go at times in your life when they are most needed, so maybe you two are here now because you are needed in someone's life, and when that reason is completed, you may go on to other things."
Chase considered this for a moment, "Yes, I suppose you could look at it that way. I don't know what my purpose is anymore, I really don't. I know I'm starting to enjoy life again for the first time in a long time, and I'm happy about that. I like what we're doing right now, and I feel like we can make a difference. What we'll be doing a year from now, I guess no one knows."
Lance returned some time later with several pages of paper in his hands. He handed one to Kelly, "Well, here are pictures of Louise Reynolds and Jim Reynolds."
Kelly's mouth fell open, "She does look a lot like my momma."
Lance nodded, "Yes, I noticed the resemblance too." Handing him another sheet of paper, "This would be your grandmother if what he says is accurate. I think you'll agree the resemblance is there as well."
Kelly nodded, "So, I guess his letter is legit?"
Lance nodded, "Seems like it. Honestly, I am surprised they haven't tried to contact your mother before now."
Chase laid the papers on the table, "So is it safe to assume since they're in the FBI computers that they have records?"
Lance nodded, "Petty stuff, bad checks, drunk and disorderly, some judgments for non-payment, a couple of drunk driving charges. Typical stuff for people from a low socio-economic background."
Kelly nodded as Lance handed him another piece of paper. "This is a copy of your mother's birth record, it was hard to get. Somewhere a long the line, it was buried pretty deep. The address listed at the time of her birth is Shady Spring, West Virginia, which is about 10 miles from Beckley. The mother is listed as Mary Lee Richards, the father is listed as unknown. Interestingly enough, if you notice, the Mother's occupation is listed as Licensed Practical Nurse."
Kelly was confused, "A nurse? She was a nurse? Momma never mentioned that."
Lance nodded, "She was a nurse, I couldn't find where she is currently employed, or any record of employment for about twenty years now. The last employment I could find, she worked at Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley. I'll have to dig a little deeper, and in a couple of other places to find out what happened there."
"Anything else?" Kelly asked.
Lance nodded, "In the birth records, when I did a cross search for any other children for Mary Lee Richards, it turned up three boys and three more girls. One was older than your mother, and he died when he was four. Your mom was two. The other two boys, and all three girls are younger than your mother, I will dig up what I can find on the others as well."
Kelly swallowed, "What do you suggest we do?"
Chase shrugged, "You're going to have to tell your mother, Kelly. Let's cross that hurdle first, and see what she wants to do. She may want to help them, but I have to say, their approach is a pretty underhanded way to do it, it's extortion, which is illegal."
Kelly looked at the papers Lance had brought out again one by one and shook his head. "This is potentially a huge scandal, the media will eat this up. I don't want my momma's good name to be drug through the tabloids."
"Kelly, unfortunately, we're not dealing with people from the upper echelon of society. There is absolutely no guarantee that even if your mother gives them money now, that they won't go to the press, especially if they think they can make money from it."
Kelly nodded, "Will you two go with me to tell her?" He asked.
Chase and Lance stood at the same time. "Let's clean this up and go, the sooner your mother knows, the sooner we can come up with a plan."
Kelly nodded as he picked up his plate, "I'll call Liz and fill her in on the way over."
When they arrived, they found Tasha reading in her den. She smiled when she saw them come in, and then studying their faces asked, "What's wrong, y'all look like your best friend just died."
Kelly approached, "Momma, you need to sit down." He said.
Tasha laughed, "Honey, I can take bad news as easily standing up as I can a sittin' down. You and Liz are both here and look healthy to me, so there ain't nothing you got to tell me so bad that I have to sit down to hear it."
"Momma, please." Liz begged.
"Elizabeth, please. Don't whine, just tell me whatever it is y'all think is so bad, and we'll deal with it."
Chase admired her attitude. "Tasha, Kelly found a letter in your fan mail yesterday from someone in West Virginia claiming to be your Brother In Law."
Tasha visibly paled and sat down on a sofa.
Kelly smiled, "I told you to sit down momma."
Tasha spared a glance toward Kelly. "You know, all my life, I have expected someone to find me, or to appear, I really have ever since I left. I guess when it didn't happen when I was touring so much, at the 'peak' of my career, I guess I just figured it never would, so this is kind of a shock. It's not like I've hidden from them, I just left."
Kelly sat down beside of her, and took the letter from the envelope he carried. As she read it, he put the information Lance had collected that afternoon on the coffee table. Liz sat on the other side of Tasha, Chase and Lance sat on the sofa across from them.
Lance filled Liz and Tasha in on what he had shared with Kelly and Chase earlier that afternoon. When he finished, and Tasha had looked at each piece of paper several times, Kelly asked, "What do you want to do Momma?"
Tasha straightened, "Well I guess I'll be flying to West Virginia." She said.
Chase looked at her, "I don't think that is a good idea."
Tasha shrugged, "Why not. I'm certainly not going to ignore this. If the media got a hold of this, they would have a field day. I have a good name here, and in this business, how would I look if people knew I had abandoned my family?"
Liz stood, "They abandoned you Momma, you didn't abandon them."
Tasha shook her head, "It won't matter. When your daddy and I got married, we legally changed my name to just Natasha Richards. He paid people to seal the records as well as my birth record. I'm actually surprised you were able to find my birth certificate, Lance. I tried to get a copy of it many years ago, and the records department in West Virginia couldn't find it."
Lance nodded, "You can't seal anything from the federal government, but it was buried pretty deep. I don't think a reporter would be able to get it."
Tasha shook her head, "No, I'm sure they've tried over the years. I'm a celebrity, and you well know being a celebrity the press thinks that anything about me is news worthy. It won't matter what the truth is, they'll put their own spin on it and probably make me out to be a really bad person."
Lance stood and stretched his back, "What do you want to do Tasha? You realize they just want money?"
Tasha nodded, "Yes, I realize that, but you know what, it's only money. If a little money can help them out, and keep me out of the National Enquirer it's worth it."
Liz spoke up, "There is no guarantee that they won't go to the press anyway, especially after you confirm that you are who they think you are."
Tasha shrugged, "I don't have a choice. I won't do this on the phone or through the mail. I'll do it in person. I'll just tell them that the well is only so deep, and this is it. I won't be their personal cash cow."
Lance sat back down. "Actually Tasha, I think you're probably right. The best approach probably is the direct one. Liz, can you draw up a contract that says they won't come back on your mother for more money later?"
Liz nodded. Chase spoke up. "A contract will give them proof of who they are. Something tangible that they could take to the press."
Tasha nodded her agreement. "No contract, it wouldn't matter anyway. The best I can hope for is to talk to them, if they think I'm trying to buy their silence, it will be worse. As far as they are concerned, I do have an obligation to them, they're my blood, that is the way they see it, and a contract won't matter one way or the other ."
Tasha stood, "Let me make a few calls and get this trip lined up. If I can get everything arranged for tomorrow, are you all available to go with me? Lance, Chase, of course I will compensate you for your time, I would feel better if you were with us."
Lance and Chase both nodded their agreement, and watched as Liz and Tasha flew into action. Before they knew it, they were disembarking from a private plane that had just landed at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport near Beckley West Virginia. A large black SUV with tinted windows sat ready for their use. Lance climbed into the driver's seat, with Tasha beside him. Liz, Kelly and Chase sat comfortably behind them.
The address was easy to find, and although Lance had gotten an aerial photograph of the home, none of them were prepared for the level of poverty they saw as they drove. When Lance parked the SUV in front of the ramshackle house, he looked at Tasha. "I don't think all of us should go in, do you?"
Tasha shook her head, "Probably not, but we're all goin' in."
With that she opened her door and jumped out. She looked back at the trio in the back, "Y'all comin?" she asked.
As Jim Reynolds looked out the curtain to see who had pulled up, he swallowed. He never expected her to show up on his doorstep. He had sent the letter, really not expecting to hear anything. He hadn't said a word to Weezie or Larry. He hoped the Michaels woman didn't demand to see her Momma, because Jim didn't want to tell her he had no idea where she was. Weezie was going to be madder than a wet hen, he knew that much. No time to fill her in now, there were one, two... oh my, there were five people walking toward his front door.
"Weezie?" He called. "Get decent woman, we got company."
|Chase, Lance Tasha, Kelly and Liz took in the scene as they walked from the SUV to the porch of the small neglected house. Chickens squalked and flapped their wings getting out of the way. The yard was adorned by three rusted cars with tall grass and weeds growning up beside them, several piles of tin cans, glass and plastic bottles and other miscellaneous trash, an old rusty bicycle, two burned out 55 gallon drums that had obviously been used as burn barrels, a couple of skinny hound dogs that reluctantly moved out of their way, several scrawny cats, and finally the sagging porch with it's chairs that appeared to be less than sturdy enough to be useful.
Jim had watched the two men who walked with the air of confidence and authority, one other, younger man, and two women. The woman in the lead looked familiar. No, it couldn't be! She looked like the photo of Weezie's mother in their bedroom. How many days had it been since he mailed that letter?
The group stepped carefully past a hole in the second step, and with no hesitation Tasha knocked on the screen door. They could hear voices inside, a man who seemed to be ordering a woman around and then the female voice answering with questions. “Who is it Jim? Is it Miz Atkins wantin' me to babysit her ornry youngins? Tell her I ain't home. If it's Miz Lawrence wantin' eggs, yeah, I'm here”.
Jim answered the knock on the door. Weezie was still in the bedroom getting decent.
“I'm Tasha Michaels. These are mybusiness associates and family. We'd like to come in and talk with you.”
His carefully rehearsed speech flew off into thin air. Jim stammered “Come in and set down”, while he moved beer cans off the table and shooed cats off the furniture. Weezie emerged from the bedroom, still trying to arrange her hair. She stopped when she saw not one, but five strangers in her house.
Tasha saw that the woman was uncomfortable and began to introduce herself and her companions. Weezie had no idea why they were there. Jim, taken by surprise with the reality of the events that his hasty letter had put into motion, was outnumbered and obviously felt like a cornered animal.
Getting right to the point, and supposing that Weezie also had knowledge of the letter, she addressed her comments to both of them. “First off, if you believe I'm kin to you, tell me the given name of my mother and all of her children”.
Jim began reciting the list. “Weezie, er, Louise here is my wife, she has a sister named Mary who ran away, and Callie and Nellie. The boys are Johnny, Luke and Josh. Johnny died when he was a little feller, about 4 maybe, but the rest of 'em are all livin' hereabouts with their families”. Weezie nodded in agreement.
“And their mother? What is her name and where is she?”
Weezie answered. “Mary Lee Richards, an' we ain't seen her in years and don' know whar she is. Last we heard she was workin' takin' care o' some ole lady that was housebound down in Hinton.”
“Have you ever helped her by giving her money, paying her bills or buying anything for her?”
Jim hung his head, and mumbled “No, Ma'am.” Weezie shook her head.
“Ever had her live here with you?”
“Of course, Mr. Reynolds, I'm sure that you understand that you are not the first person to claim to be my kin, expecting to get some money, nor will you be the last. It's just one of the problems that comes with being famous.” She nodded toward Chase who spoke next.
“Mr.Reynolds, do you realize that in writing this letter and sending it through the US Mail, you have committed extortion, a felony that could send you to prison for the rest of your life?”
If Jim had not already been sitting down, he surely would have fallen over. He gulped, his eyes got big, and he stammered uncomfortably “Uh, no, I jest wanted some money so's we could eat. I done lost my job an' thar ain't no more jobs 'round here. I didn' think writing a letter was agin thuh law.”
Weezie was obviously out of the loop. “What letter? Jim, what've you done now?”
“Jest tryin' to get us a little money..... She's rich and we's poor.”
“Hush, Stupid, you ain't got the sense God gave a goose.”
“But Weezie, she's rich. She ran off and left the family. I jest wanna make her help us”.
Chase looked directly at Jim. "A runaway girl is a juvenile matter. You have no proof that Mary Richards and Tasha Michaels are the same person. In any event, a child who ran away from home before you even met your wife is certainly not responsible for your situation, and has no legal obligation to help you."
Chase had listened to enough of Jim and Weezie to see that they were not in this together. Jim had apparently acted without her knowledge. He just had to make Jim see the seriousness of the situation he had created to keep him from going further with exposing Tasha as a bad person who had no interest in helping her own family.
“Did you discuss this with anyone?”
“Did anyone help you write the letter?”
“Nope, I done that alone.” Jim hung his head, avoiding Weezie's dagger like looks.
“Now Mr. Reynolds, I see that you understand that you could be in a lot of trouble. I would advise you to say nothing to anybody about this, to protect yourself and your wife, you see, because if you go to prison that would not be good for your wife.”
Weakly, Jim nodded. “Uh huh.”
Weezie was beginning to get over her shock. She glanced nervously out the front window. “The neighbors, the town, they all seen your fancy car, your nice clothes..... They'll all be asking..... We gotta tell 'em sumpthin.”
Lance looked at Jim. “How long has it been since you filed a tax return?
“I ain't never done that. We ain't had enough income ta bother with it.”
“Hmmm, well, MrReynolds, the Internal Revenue doesn't like it when people don't file tax returns. People go to prison for that, too.”
“Well, uh, I'll tell them you are from the Internal Revenue”.
Tasha spoke again. “Jim Reynolds, I can see that you folks could use a little help. Now, I am prepared to help you, but you must understand that this is a one time gift. I will not be your personal cash cow. I'm going to keep the letter you sent, and if you ever ask me for help or anything again, I will not hesitate to press charges for extortion. If anything comes out in the media about this incident, I will press those charges. Do you understand?”
“Yes Ma'am, I understand.”
“Tell me what I just told you.”
“I am not gonna ask for more money or help, or talk to nobody about this.”
“That includes writing letters to anyone about it”.
“Yes, I won't write no letters to nobody about it.”
Tasha opened her purse, took out a legal size envelope with nothing written on it, and handed it to Jim.
“I have your word?”
“Yes, Ma'am, you have my word.”
“These 4 people, plus your wife have witnessed your promise. Their testimony in a court of law would carry a lot of weight.”
Jim Reynolds nodded.
“Tell me that you understand how serious this matter is.”
“Uh huh, I understand. I won't bother you ever again Ma'am.”
Tasha released her hold on the envelope, closed her purse and turned toward Louise. She realized that this poor lady was one of her younger sisters. They had always called her “Weezie”, never Louise although their momma said she was named after her aunt. Tasha smiled and adressed her in a much softer voice than she had used with Jim. “Louise, I do hope that you and your husband will go to the county seat and apply for aid. There are many programs for people in situations similar to yours. They may be able to help you find jobs, or train you for new ones. There's always hope, always something a person can do. I see that you are the innocent party in this situation. I don't blame you for any of this.” She looked back at Jim, with a harder expression. “Goodbye, Mr. Reynolds”. Then she turned to Chase and Lance. “Let's go.” Hands were shaken all around, and as they passed Weezie, Tasha said “Goodbye, Louise”. It was struggle to speak to her as if they were not kin, but at least for now, Tasha felt it was necessary. She swallowed hard, fought back the tears, and they walked out the door.
The five of them walked back to the SUV, got in without a word or a look back, and drove away. Many people were gawking as they drove back through the town, Tasha was thankful for the tinted windows that prevented people from seeing them. She knew the phones would already be ringing, people would be speculating, asking questions. She hoped that Jim Reynolds would keep his word, and that Weezie was also trustworthy and not a gossip. It was a chance she had had to take. Tears rolled down her cheeks, she tried not to let them show. The scenery outside her window had suddenly become very interesting.
Nobody spoke until they were on the plane. They talked about the level of poverty they had seen. Kelly commented that beer was not a priority when people are starving. Jim and Weezie were obviously not starving. Lance agreed, “I noticed they have chickens and eggs, and a vegetable garden. They're still buying trashy magazines and last week's Inquirer was on the table. Needy, and greedy, but not destitute.”
All agreed that while they did need various kinds of help that Tasha could easily afford to provide, the fact was that Jim had tried to extort money from her by threatening to go to the media. Hopefully this one time gift of cash, without even a name on the envelope for proof, would be enough to buy his silence. They hoped that even lacking in intelligence, he would honor his word.
Chase wondered if Tasha thought Weezie might be her sister, but didn't ask. In a small community, everyone was likely to have known the names of the mother and her children. He thought it best to give her some mental privacy. Situations like this, even if the claims are false, take an emotional toll.
“We need to find my mother.” Tasha looked at Lance, then back at Chase, Kelly and Liz. They all nodded. “Lance, can you do some more digging and see what you can find?” ***
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
More ramblings at http://thegatheringplacehome.myfastforum.org/forum54.php
|Weezie stood up looked at Jim, and held out her hand.
“It’s not all yours, Mr. Extortionist”
She continued to glare at him, as she raised her voice. “What ever you did wuzn’t right, and I don’ care your stupid reasons behind it, but I ain’t gonna let you drink all this money away, an we are gonna go do all the things that lady says we should do; ya hear me Jim?”
She had turned red in the face and her arms were flushed as she slowly realized what had just happened and became embarrassed and ashamed all in one moment.
“Weezie, we don’ even know how much is here, at least let me count it will ya? “ Jim lifted the envelope up and down trying to weigh it in the air.
Kelly and Liz sat in the swing by the pool, Liz sat in silence, deep in thought. They had a good life, and she liked it the way it had been all these years. The existence of possible new family members made her shudder.
“We do not know for sure, Kelly, if those people are really related to Momma or not.” She shook her head and sighed. “If this becomes public, we have a big problem and that is all I want to prevent.”
Kelly nodded in agreement, but his heart tugged at his curiosity to know if he had more family that he never knew existed.
Liz waved her hands out at the span of the grounds they looked at as she proclaimed, “Momma and Daddy built all of this for us, and no one is going to change any of that."
Tasha moved away from the curtains and quietly shut the door behind her two children. She had been standing there listening, and had started to leave when she heard them, but couldn’t help hearing the concerns they had.
Mary Lee Richards bent over the wrinkled old man she was caring for and plumped the pillows under his neck. “There ya go, you look right comfy now, Mr. Miles.”
Mr. Miles was in room number 14. He was an aging old vet, and had no lower legs. He needed turning often in these final stages of his life. He looked into space, seeing the past and not Mary Lee.
She walked out of his room and on down the hall to number 16. Peeking her head in, she saw Mrs. Williams, who was sitting in her rocker wrapped in a blanket watching the view outside. “Are ya doin’ alright, Ms. Williams? “ Mary asked, coming into the room and smoothing her bed sheets, plumping her pillow and making sure the Catheter Bag was still
hanging without any pinches. Mrs. Williams followed Mary’s movements with a watchful eye.
“Oh I am good as can expect I guess,”she answered Mary.
Mary smiled at Mrs. Williams, “ Well ya know you can just holler if you need me, Ms. Williams, I want you to be all comfy, okay?”
Mrs. Williams had turned back to the window view and had not heard Mary. Mary sighed as she left that room, and rolled her cart and cleaning supplies down the corridor. “Oh the good ole days” she thought to herself, as she went to the broom closet to ready the mop and bucket.
She had once been a LPN, a good one, except for when she went on her drinking binges. It was her drinking that made her lose her license, end up in jail for awhile, and on her own without a dime to her name and no one to help her. She was forced to join AA, and made some good friends there, got help with a slight name change and she let the past go behind her as she found an Apartment, and a job as a custodian at the old folks home in Beckley.
She still felt like she was a good nurse, as she checked in on her patients, and wished she
could go back and change her life, such as it was. Her heart ached to see her children, to say “I’m sorry.”
She wrung out the mop as she readied herself to swipe the floor in number 20. It was now vacant. “Sad.” she thought to herself
He had no family, number 20. She took care of him as well as she could, but when he slipped into his morphine coma, she knew he was not coming back. She had gone and got the Head Nurse when she saw him that day. Then she went down to the little chapel room and prayed for him. She prayed that he would be reunited with his wife and two sons that died before him.
“I hope I see my children before I die” she thought to herself.
She stood up straight to admire her shine on the floor, flipped the light off and closed the door.
Remember: You get what you give in Life,so be careful of what you are giving!
|You could hear the clanging of the bell from that old black table phone all the way out at the chicken yard. It was one of those old rotary phones that weighed about ten pounds. Louise reached for it and answered it on the eighth ring, out of breath, and nearly spilling the five eggs she’d just gathered.
“Hell-o”, she breathed into the receiver.
“Yep, this is Lou-ise.”
“Momma” Weezie said, incredulous, then listened intently for more than a minute, rolling her eyes and shaking her head.
“Stop it Momma!” Weezie finally said. “No, you need to listen to me this time. We’ve had the same phone number for 18 years and the only time you ever call it is when you’re a needin’ sumthin’. I ain’t got nothin' for you. I ain’t got no place for you to stay. Maybe Jesus can offer you redempshun, but I cain’t.”
“No Momma, I ain’t gonna stop and listen. I been listenin’ to folks my whole life and look where it got me. I live with a no-account man that treats me like his property in a shack that ain’t fit for decent folks. Ever' time he hits me or cusses at me he got that same ‘I’m sorrrry’ that you just gave to me. I’m done listenin’ to folks tell me how sorry they are. I know you’re sorry. You’re a sorry excuse for a Momma, just like Jim is a sorry excuse for a husband. I done had it with all this ‘I’m sorry’ stuff.”
“Wuz you sorry when Mary run off? NO! You said “that’s jus’ one less mouth to feed.” That wuz my SISTER Momma, YOUR daughter! Wuz you sorry when that jack ass you brought home to live with us pawed all over me when I wuzn’t nuthin’ but a little girl? NO! You said he wuz payin’ the bills and it wouldn’t hurt me none to grow up a little bit. Don’t you be callin’ back here with that whiney ‘I’m sorrrry’ agin. I done heard enuf of ‘em.”
With that, Weezie hung up the phone. She dragged herself up from the beer-stained couch, tears streaming down her cheeks, and went to the sink to wash the eggs.
“Who wuz that on the phone, Weezie?” Jim asked as he stumbled through the door.
“Weren’t nobody, just a wrong number.”
“Yes, this is Victoria Schreiber.”
“Ms. Schreiber, my name is Chase Williams. I’m a private investigator in Nashville. Are you the wife of Robert Schreiber?”
“No sir, I’m his daughter. My mother was Vicky Schreiber. She passed three years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Ms. Schreiber.” Chase apologized. “I’m looking for your father. I was wondering if he was a truck driver? If so, he may have done a wonderful favor for someone many years ago and that person would like to say thank you.”
“Well that’s no surprise Mr. Williams. He’s a fine man and has always been good about helping people.”
“Is there any way I could speak to him?” Chase asked.
“Mr. Williams, my daddy is in a nursing home down in Warner Robbins. As much as I’d like to have him here at home with me, I’ve got three kids to try and raise while I work full time. Daddy smoked like a chimney all his life ‘til he got emphysema. He needs somebody with him, pretty much all the time and I just can’t do it. I go see him near about every day, mind you, but......Oh my! Listen to me, telling you all about my troubles. I’m sorry. This is none of your concern.”
“That’s quite alright Ms. Schreiber.” Chase assured her.
“May I ask what my daddy did that deserves this phone call?”
“Well, it seems he gave a young lady a ride in his truck many years ago. She was just a teenager and he made sure she got where she was going safely. A lot of men may have taken advantage of her, but your father was kind and helpful." Chase explained.
Later that evening, Jim passed out drunk. He'd been drinking that expensive Crown Royal whiskey he bought with the money from Ms. Michaels. Weezie quietly opened the footlocker at the end of the bed. Jim had stashed the envelope full of money in there. He had counted it earlier that day and told her there was two thousand dollars. He admonished her, ‘stay away from it, you hear?’ In the darkness, she opened the envelope and took out one of the two stacks of bills from inside. She took the one that had a paper band still wrapped around it, figuring Jim had been spending from the other one. “I guess you picked yours already, Jim old boy.” Weezie said as she slipped quietly out the bedroom door and started walking toward town.
She carried only a small bag with a few clothes and a picture of her and Larry. The picture was taken when he was only two and she was barely twenty-one. Jim's influence over him had been great. He now treated her just like his daddy did. But she remembered her sweet little boy. At least she'd keep that memory alive. Louise had no idea where she would go; but go she would. Away from this place, away from the misery that had consumed her life and left her with nothing but anger, shame and lines on her face that weren’t befitting a woman of her years. After all, she wasn’t much past forty.
The farther she walked down that old dirt road, the quicker her steps came and the straighter her back grew. She felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from her and the oddest thing happened. She began to laugh as tears poured down her face. Anyone watching her at 2 am may have thought she was insane. She even considered that herself. “Crazy or not, I’m gittin’ out of here.” Weezie said to the clear night air.
An hour later she found herself in the Greyhound station at the ticket counter. “How can I help you ma’am?” offered the small gray man behind the counter.
“I need a bus ticket outa here, mister.” Weezie said.
“Where are you goin’, young lady?”
Louise hesitated for a moment… then said “Nashville….. yep, Nashville Tennessee.”
“Will that be one way or round trip?” He asked with a knowing smile.
“Oh, it’ll be one way. That’s for sure.”
She reached into her purse to pull out the money and saw that it was a stack of fifty dollar bills. There must have been a hundred of them. That's when she realized Jim had lied to her about how much money there was. She peeled off three of them to pay for the hundred and fifteen dollar bus ticket. Soon her life would change forever. She only hoped it would be for the better. ***
|Kelly sat in the dark corner of the bar, studying the faint cigarette burns in the table. His beer in front of him was barely touched…he really didn’t want it, but he didn’t like sitting there with no ‘reason’. The bar was in the outskirts of Nashville and not a cowboy boot or hat to be seen: just well dressed couples and singles milling around…maybe looking for dates. Kelly wasn’t looking for a date…he was there to meet someone.
During college he often came here with friends from school…friends who weren’t involved with the either the music business nor ‘country’. With his family steeped in both so deeply, Kelly enjoyed being around a more ‘varied’ group. People with more interests in art, writing, social issues and such fascinated him. As a little kid he loved visiting other cities, the different dress, the different accents…just different. Kelly liked different; he liked change, he liked the unexpected.
Liz fell in love with her Dad’s business with its power and various aspects of control involved…and being a good father, Mitch was thrilled. She wanted to take it on and he helped her enormously. On the other hand, Kelly was different. Kelly wondered what people felt and what they wanted from life; he wanted to understand why people wanted what they did, Kelly wanted to write about this.
“Hey, Kelly.” said the good looking older woman in the leather jacket, “been here long? It’s really good to see you again."
“Yeah, Paula, good to see you, too. Nah, just got here, thanks for coming over. I need to talk to you”.
“Kel, you really look tired. Worried. What’s up?”, Paula asked.
“Look Paula, I know we agreed to tell to our families, but I really don’t know if we have a future together."
Paula, her fingers running along the rim of her glass, nodded, her eyes clinched together in a grimace. “I hear you, Kelly. I was just waiting for you, but if you need me to break the news to your family, I'll do it. I'll give you a few days, then I'll call your momma, we'll have lunch."
Kelly didn’t say much at all, they both knew she would do it, it was a threat. There was no more to talk about.
"What am I going to do?" Kelly thought to himself.
When Chase told Tasha he had located Robert Schreiber at the Meadows Care home, in Warner Robins, Georgia she was thrilled. She was surprised he was in Georgia, when everything indicated he had worked out of Buffalo, and since he had left the trucking job to be with his family more, she assumed he would have still been in the Buffalo area.
Tasha told Chase she was anxious to arrange for a visit to see Mr. Schreiber. She really wanted to thank him, and hoped he could truly understand how deeply grateful she was for his great concern and help. The fact that he was in a care home and had a daughter with little ones made her sure she would be able to help them. Tasha called Liz first, Tasha always called Liz first when it came to these matters. Keeping these things in the family were very important to Tasha.
Picking up the paper he had just finished, Chase contemplated going out to lunch, but decided to make some phone calls, instead. He wondered if Tasha had heard anything from Louise or Jim Reynolds, he didn't think she would, not until the money ran out anyway and he had forgotten to ask her when they talked earlier.
Tasha and Liz were arranging to fly to Warner Robbins to visit Bob Schreiber. The first stop was going to be at his daughter's home, and from there they would go to the care facility. Tasha thought that taking Bob's daughter with her would be easier on him. She didn't want to upset him by barging in with a bunch of strangers in tow.
Tasha thought back to the meeting with Louise and James. She bet they were probably shocked with her arriving with a bunch of strangers in tow too. Oh well, it didn't matter, that was over with for the time being, anyway.
In part she felt sorry for Louise, but that her own sister would have anything to do with her husband’s extortion repulsed Tasha. She had always wanted to believe that her family had fared alright, had managed to become decent upstanding citizens in spite of their conditions, but after meeting Louise, she couldn’t. Tasha just wanted to ignore the whole mess but knew she couldn’t. She knew she would have to handle everything delicately and remember to keep Chase in the loop so that he could handle things and tell her how to handle her side. A fine line. ***
Leap. The net will appear.
|Kelly raised his head from his desk with a start.
“What the he..?” he said aloud banging his fist on his desk. “Lord have mercy!”
“What?” asked Chase. “I only asked for the Langston report. You OK?”
“Yeah,” mumbled Kelly, rubbing his hand across his eyes, his face. “It was just about Paula, just a dream, damn it!!! Damn HER!!” He blinked, looked up, “Sorry, Chase, what did you say?”
“Listen, kid, you getting’ enough sleep? You’ve been dragging around the office today. You coming down with something? Do you need to go home? What’s wrong? And who the heck is Paula?”
Kelly shook his head, rubbed his eyes again.
“She’s just some woman…”
“Kelly, do we need to talk? Man, I can listen if you need an ear. I know a little about women, what’s up with this Paula?”
“I just had the weirdest dream. Sorry, Chase, yeah, I was sort of dozing at the job. Doesn’t say much for my skills as an office manager, does it? But ya see, I do have a problem. A big one. One I can’t seem to get out of. But yes, I do have the Langston report ready. Here, it’s all done.”
“Langston can wait, Kelly. And I can listen if you need to talk. Things are quiet right now, Lance is working records this afternoon so we’ve got some time. What’s so important it’s keeping you awake at night? Or rather, who’s so important? Who’s Paula? I thought you had eyes for that little fashion designer friend of Lacy’s, Annie.”
“Yeah, I do, and that’s the problem. Well, Annie’s not the problem, Paula is.”
“OK, let’s start at the beginning. Paula is the problem. Start there.”
“Wait a minute. I need a strong cup of coffee for this. You want a cup?”
“Nope, can’t say as I do. But you can bring me a bottle of water while you’re up.”
Kelly returned, handed Chase his bottle of water, and sat staring at his own cup of coffee.
Quietly, Chase said, “Who’s Paula, Kelly?”
Kelly took a sip of coffee, then looked right in Chase’s eyes. He took a deep breath.
“It was my junior year of college, and I had a communications class. It was taught by the coolest teacher. She was a sharp dresser, everybody loved her, she charmed your socks off before you even knew it. She wasn’t really beautiful, she was just a really classy older woman. Everybody knew who my mother was, and she teased me about it. She said I could already communicate pretty well, coming from a family that was so often in the public eye. I thought that was pretty cool, so I gave her two tickets to one of Mom’s shows. She told me her husband was away that weekend, and couldn’t go with her, but she said she’d be proud if I went in his place. Turned out, we ended up back at her place, just for a drink, she said. But it turned into more than that.”
“So she’s in your dreams now, Kelly?”
“NO! Not in that way, not at all!”
“OK, I believe you, so what’s the problem?”
“Her husband was gone. A lot. He owns a bunch of bookstores, and he spends a lot of time traveling around to each of them. One thing led to another, one invitation led to another, and we started spending time together at her place. It’s been three years, Chase, three damn years! Sometimes I hate her, but I can’t seem to get away from her. Every time I think I can get out of the relationship, she finds another reason to keep us together. Now she wants to tell her husband, wants to tell the world, wants me to marry her. Lord, Chase, I don’t want to get married. I don’t even really love her. How did I ever get in this mess? She told me last night that she was going to start by calling my mother. And the truth is, she is old enough to BE my mother.”
“Have you talked about it with anyone? Your sister, maybe?”
“NO! Liz would kill me. You know how protective she is of the family name. And it would kill my mother.”
“Well, kid, I think the first thing to do is to talk with Liz, get her take on things, she’s a wise woman, has a good head on her shoulders. I think that’s the place to start. And sounds to me like you might need to do it, like yesterday!”
“She and Mom are on that flight to Georgia this afternoon, Chase. It’ll have to wait. And besides, I have a date with Annie tonight. She’s taking me to have dinner with her family. Seems her Mama is the best cook in Nashville. Lacy has a rehearsal tonight at the Opry House, so it’ll be just me and Annie. That ought to keep Paula out of my life for one night anyway.”
“Good thinkin’, kid, but don’t put off that talk with Liz. There’s power in numbers, and your sister is one powerful woman. Don’t forget that.”
“Thanks, Chase. Thanks for listenin’.”
At about the same time Tasha and Liz were boarding a plane for Warner Robins, Georgia, Louise Reynolds was stepping down from a Greyhound bus in Nashville, Tennessee. She looked around. It was a dreary place, and didn’t look much better as she managed to squeeze through the outside door. Christy’s Cabaret was to the left, and to the right the sign said “Homeless Mission”. Louise walked back inside the station and to the window where a uniformed man stood.
“Can I help you, ma’m?”
“Please. Can you point me in the direction of the nearest motel?”
The man glanced down at Weezie’s worn tennis shoes and ragged jeans. That didn’t always mean much in Nashville, not with the way some of those stars dressed. But she looked a little familiar to him, so he said to her in the kindest manner, “There’s a motel about 3 blocks down, ma’m, but if I was you, I’d be gettin’ a cab and going out a ways to th’ Best Western. It’s only a few blocks, but them’s long blocks. You ought not walk it this time of evenin’. Wait here, ma’m, I’ll be callin’ you a cab if that’s what you want.”
“Thank you so much,” said Weezie, and wondered if he’d charge her for the phone call. Then she remembered the money she carried with her, and held her purse just a little tighter.
Weezie had never been to Nashville. Actually she had not been out of West Virginia, and she looked around from the back seat of the cab. It was nearly dark, seemed like she’d spent the whole day on the bus, but her heart was pounding so hard, she might as well be in another country. She’d never been in a cab before, and she’d never spent the night in a motel. She hoped she could fake her way through the evening without losing all her nerve and calling Jim. No! She’d never call Jim. She’d be fine.
The cab pulled up to the Best Western, Weezie saw the lights of the lobby and it looked huge to her. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do next, but she pulled a fifty dollar bill out of her purse. Tonight she needed to sit down and count that money. She had no idea how much she was carrying. The driver told her it would be $8.50, and Louise remembered that she should give him a tip. She looked deeper into her purse and found a folded twenty, egg money, she thought, hidden from Jim. She gave the driver the twenty, and told him to keep the change. He held the door for her and helped her with the small bag she carried, so she decided she’d done right well with that first cab ride.
She opened the door to the motel, took a deep breath and walked over to the reception desk.
“I’ll be needin’ a room for a week,” she whispered.
“Excuse me? Can I help you,” said a beautiful woman with skin the color of creamed coffee.
“Yes, ma’m, I’ll be needin’ a room for a week. How much will a week cost?”
“Our nightly rate starts at $79.95 for a single. Will you be needing a suite?”
“Ummmmm, a sweet? Uhhh, no, thank you. Does your rooms have a kitchen?”
“No kitchens, but we do have a small microwave, a coffee pot and a fridge in each of the single rooms. We also include a continental breakfast with that.”
“Well, let me figger how much that will be for a week. Can I borry some paper?”
“Ma’m, you can have the room for the week for $508. 65. Tax included. It’s a special we offer to businessmen, and others who need to be in our city for longer visits. It includes the breakfast I mentioned and full room service. Will that be sufficient?”
“Yes ma’m, that’ll do. Here’s the money.”
“Do you have a credit card? We prefer to keep a card on record for our guests?”
Weezie nearly cried. “I ain’t got no credit card, but I got money. Won’t that do?”
The woman’s eyes softened. She’d seen this kind before. “That’ll do,” she smiled.
Finally, Weezie filled out the paper work, and the receptionist accepted her money, giving her a receipt. Weezie accepted the key card, and looked at the paper the woman had handed her. It read: Lou Richards. Good. The woman had copied it just exactly like Weezie wanted it. She only hoped she could remember to use her maiden name all over Nashville.
She headed to the stairs the woman pointed toward, and as she took the first step a flash went off right in front of her. She looked up, and it flashed again. Someone just took her picture!
“Sorry Ms. Michaels! You are just too beautiful! Love them ragged jeans! Them Hollisters? Lookin’ good, Ms Michaels, lookin’ real good! Thanks for the picture! See ya around!” the young man shouted as he headed quickly for the door.
Louise hardly had time to think about it, he just mistook her for somebody named Michaels, and she pushed it from her mind. She made her way on up the stairs, holding tight to the key card and her purse. Her bag containing her clothes hung from a strap on her shoulder.
The next morning Tasha and Liz were visiting at the home of a very gracious Victoria Schreiber. Tasha had called from the hotel where she and Liz were staying the night, and made arrangements to meet Bob Schreiber’s daughter at her home. Victoria’s ex husband had worked for a company based in Atlanta. After their nasty divorce, Victoria took her maiden name back and her mother and father moved into their very large home with her and the kids. The house was in Warner Robins, just outside of Macon, and her parents were glad to get out of the frigid winters in Buffalo. They were a great help to Victoria, and Victoria and her children were blessings to Bob and Vicky. But soon after they moved to Warner Robins, Vicky Schreiber died, and Bob eventually needed more care than Victoria could give.
Victoria was thrilled to hear the story Tasha told of her father, and tears came to her eyes as she listened to it. “That’s my daddy, his heart is sure made of pure gold! Now, let’s get you over to see him, Ms. Michaels. I hope he remembers you.”
They walked down the hall toward his room, Victoria leading the way. She had taken a personal day from work, and she wanted Tasha to visit with Bob during the morning hours when he usually felt his best. She knocked gently on the door, then opened it. Tasha and Liz hesitated behind her.
“Good Morning, Daddy, why look at you! You look great. You must have known you’d have company this morning. Look, Dad, I’ve brought some folks to see you!”
Tasha and Liz stepped through the door, a bright smile on Tasha’s face.
“Mr. Schreiber, it’s so good to see you. You might not remember me, but…”
“Well hello again, Mary Natasha Richards. It’s about time you came to see me.”
Tasha knelt by his chair, and took his hand in hers. “You remember!” she said in her husky voice. “You remember me.”
Bob’s blue eyes twinkled, though his voice was a little slow and gravelly. He reached his other hand across his lap and patted the hand that held his.
“I never forget a pretty face, Ms Tasha. You haven’t changed one bit! Now is this lovely young lady your daughter?”
Tasha visited with Bob for an hour and left only when the staff brought his lunch. He most definitely knew who she was. He’d followed her career over the years, recognizing her face in the music tabloids that his wife loved, though he’d never tried to contact her. He told her that he and Vicky had collected every album she’d ever made. Tasha was smitten. She told him quietly how much she appreciated what he had done for her so many years ago, and how very happy she was to see him again. She told him a little of her life, but found to her astonishment, he already knew much of it. She promised to return often, and Tasha was always as good as her word. She put her arms around him and softly kissed his whiskered cheek good bye.
Liz and Victoria sat in the coffee shop and got acquainted while their parents visited. Each liked what they learned of the other.
Before they left to catch their flight back to Nashville, Tasha made arrangements with the care facility to contact her if Bob had special needs, and she checked to see that their maintenance staff would be able to install the sound system she was going to order for the facility. She wanted to make sure Bob could listen to any music he and his friends wanted. She was impressed with what she saw, and the conversation with Victoria assured her that Bob was being well taken care of. She would have Chase investigate first, but she was going to make sure Victoria and her children had what they needed too. They were good people, and Tasha had the means to be there if they needed her. Chase would stay on it, and so would Tasha.
She discussed it all with Liz on the flight home, and as always, Liz took copious notes.
As they left the airport in Nashville, Liz picked up a copy of The Tennessean, Nashville’s local newspaper. Tasha drove away from the airport and headed toward her home. Liz opened the newspaper. In the lower right hand corner, just under the fold in the paper, Liz glanced at a picture that took up most of 3 columns. She gasped!
“Mom, oh dear God, Mom! “
“What, Liz? What? Are you all right?”
“Mother, look at this, it says: 'Tasha Michaels caught on her way to room in local motel. Details, A12, Entertainment'. Mother! When did you go to a Best Western? And where ever did you get those ratty jeans?”
|“Oh for heaven’s sake Liz, look again at that photo. That person looks hard, she’s had a hard life, it’s Louise. She must have taken part of the extortion money and left West Virgnia.”
Liz wasn’t convinced, “At a glance it looks like you Mom.” Liz said. “But you’re right, she does have a bit of a rough edge that you don’t.”
Tasha nodded, “We need to have Chase or Lance see if she is here alone or with her husband. If she brought her husband along, I’m going to be leery of her. If she is alone however, we need to send a car over and invite her for supper.”
Liz shrugged, “I’ll call Chase and see if they can get right on it, but I don’t know about inviting her to our home, Momma.”
Tasha shrugged, “Neither do I, but it’s the right thing to do, and probably the best way for us to find out why she’s here.”
Liz wasn’t convinced, “I understand that Momma, but why do you have to invite her to our home? Why can’t Chase or Lance just handle that for you?”
Tasha was getting the feeling that Liz was jealous, she needed to choose her words very carefully now. “Liz, she’s my sister, my half sister anyway, and I need to find out what kind of person she is. Is she deep down a good person, just tainted by her life experiences, or is she truly not a good person. Believe me Liz, if she is not a good person, I won’t allow her within miles of my life, but if she is a good person, then I feel like it is my obligation to see to it that she finally has a chance. I don’t think she has had much of one up until now.”
Liz just looked at her, “Momma, I understand what you are saying, I’m just saying, don’t borrow trouble.”
Tasha took Liz’s hands in hers, “Just remember Elizabeth, Louise didn’t have any more of a say in who her momma was than you did—you can’t blame her entirely for who she is, any more than you can blame me entirely for who you are. You are your own person, but you had a very good example in your father of how to be a good person, you also had parents who loved you more than anything in this world. You had many tutors and teachers from the time you were born who read to you, who told you stories of far away places, who simply shared with you. She didn’t have any of that. You could read by the time you were four, you and Kelly both could, Louise, most likely, can barely read at all.”
“Momma, I understand, she has had a bad life, but so did you. You got out, she chose to stay. You can make all the excuses in the world, but she still chose to stay there, and she chose her mate. All of her problems can not be blamed on parents or lack thereof, she has to take some responsibility for the way her life has turned out too.”
Tasha nodded, “I see your point, but I’m still going to help her if she has left that awful man, that is my choice. Now, would you like to call Chase and Lance, or shall I?”
When the call came in from Liz, Chase, Lance and Kelly were already looking for Louise. Kelly saw the photo in the paper, showed it to Chase and Lance, and they had already called the Best Westerns and half of the other hotels in Nashville.
“Found her!” Lance called out. Chase and Kelly both hung up their phones. “She checked in yesterday, is staying a week, she’s going by Richards, not Reynolds that’s why we couldn’t find her the first time we called.”
Lance came out of his office and looked at Chase, “Do you want to ride over there with me?”
Chase shook his head, “No, you go ahead, I’ll wait to see what Tasha wants us to do, she and Liz are on their way over.”
Lance grinned, “Gotcha, you want to wait for Liz.”
Chase reddened. “I did not say that, I’ll go with you if you want me to, Kelly can hold down the office.”
Lance laughed, “It’s cool, I was just teasing you. I’ll see who she brought with her and let you know as soon as I do.”
Liz and Tasha arrived a few minutes after Lance had left just as Chase had hoped. He figured they would have bit before Lance called in and told them if Louise was alone or with her family. As he had planned, he pulled Kelly into his office, “Now’s your chance to tell them about Paula, they’re both so upset about Louise that Paula won’t be a big deal.”
Kelly gulped, “Are you sure I shouldn’t wait?” He asked.
Chase shook his head, “Definitely not, you need to tell them before Paula does something stupid. It is always better to be on the offensive than the defensive, and here you are on neutral ground, it won’t be as difficult as telling them in your home.”
Kelly nodded, “I know you’re right. Will you come with me?”
Chase nodded and they walked out of his office to face Kelly’s family.
Tasha’s reaction was better than Liz’s. Liz was ready to go challenge Paula in a fist fight, but she finally calmed down enough to allow herself to think, and she came up with a couple of different plans. Both plans involving Liz going directly to Mrs. Arnold and saying since she seemed to be ignoring Kelly’s requests, she would be addressing her not just as his sister, but as his attorney as well. Kelly insisted Chase go along if he couldn’t, and he really didn’t want to. He wanted Paula Arnold out of his life forever.
As they were working out a plan for Mrs. Arnold, Chase’s phone rang he looked at the display, it was Lance. He took the call, and listened. He nodded a few times, as the three other people in the room waited anxiously to hear what Lance found. When he hung up he told them Louise had indeed come to Nashville alone, with a very small bag. She arrived in a Taxi, and seemed very naïve when trying to take her room. “The clerk told Lance it was almost as though she had never done it before.” Chase said.
“She probably hasn’t.” Tasha said. “Has Lance gone to her room?”
Chase shook his head, “No, he got everything from the clerk who checked her in. She hasn’t left the room; ordered Papa Johns delivered last night. Nothing today according to the day clerk.”
Tasha shook her head, “She must be scared to death. Okay, I’m going to go over there and talk to her.”
“Momma, no!” Liz and Kelly said in unison. Liz continued, “I’m sure the press are watching the place like buzzards watching road kill.”
Chase held up his hands, “Why don’t we have Lance bring her here?”
“I’m not sure she’d go with him.” Tasha said.
“Would she go if you called her and told her you were sending a friend over to pick her up?” Chase asked.
“She might, it’s worth a try. But if she refuses, I will be going over there, I’ll just put my blond wig and sunglasses on.” She said looking directly at her children.
Chase nodded, “She’s in room 317, Kelly, have you got the number on your desk?”
Kelly walked to his desk picked up the phone and dialed the number, he asked for room 317, and handed the phone to Tasha.
Louise had not left the room since she arrived. The room was nicer than any room she had ever been in her life, besides the bed being the biggest she had ever seen, it had been like sleeping on clouds. She had a little refrigerator that even had a freezer, a microwave, a coffee pot, an iron and ironing board, a real hair dryer, they had even put shampoo and mouthwash in the bathroom. She had a beautiful recliner, a small couch that looked brand new, and a television that had more channels on it than she had time to watch. As far as she was concerned, she could stay here until the money she had was gone.
She felt so fortunate that Sadie Mae Phelps traveled occasionally to Pittsburgh and Charleston, and told her they always ordered pizza in their room to save money. She was starving when she got there, and immediately looked in the phone book and knew it was her lucky day when she found a Papa Johns. Papa John’s was her favorite pizza, there was only one in Beckley, but whenever they could afford to splurge and buy pizza, she always wanted it from there. Lucky for her Larry and Jim liked it too. When she called, they had a special, and she got two medium pizzas and two big bottles of soda pop for twenty dollars. She could eat for at least three or four days on that.
When the phone rang, she was afraid to answer it, what if it was Jim or Larry? She decided she would answer it, but not the way she usually answered the phone, maybe they wouldn’t recognize her voice. She picked it up, “Yes?” she said.
“Louise?” The woman’s voice on the other end of the line said.
“Who’s calling please?” Louise asked, pleased with herself that she didn’t think she sounded anything like herself.
“Louise, it’s Tasha Michaels.”
Startled Louise forgot about disguising her voice, “Look, I didn’t take all of that there money you left, no matter what Jim done told you.”
Tasha closed her eyes and squeezed the bridge of her nose. “Louise, Jim didn’t call me.”
Louise wasn’t convinced, “Then how did you knows I was here?” she asked.
“Your picture was in the newspaper this morning.” Tasha answered.
Louise’s heart sank, “Why in the world would anybody be puttin’ a picture of me in the newspaper anyways?” she asked.
Tasha laughed, “They thought you were me.”
“But I don’t look nothin’ like you, you a really pretty woman, Miss Tasha.”
Tasha smiled, “Thank you, you look a lot like me Louise, they took your picture because they thought you were me.”
Now Louise laughed, “Now Miss Tasha, I know when someone is a pullin’ ma leg, and yous doing it right now.”
“Louise the reason I am calling, I would like for you to come and spend some time with me this afternoon, then have dinner with me. Do you think you could do that?” Tasha asked.
Louise thought about this for a moment, she didn’t have anything to wear to see someone famous. “I don’t know Miss Tasha, I didn’t bring ma Sunday clothes with me, alls I got are jeans and t-shirts.”
Tasha wasn’t taking no for an answer, “Jeans and a t shirt will be fine Louise, truly it will. I’d really like to have some time to talk to you, I’ve got on jeans and a t-shirt too.” She lied as she glanced at Liz who was staring at her in her Vera Wang suit and $700.00 Louis Vuitton shoes.
“It would be nice to visit with you I think.” Louise was saying.
Tasha wasn’t giving her a chance to change her mind. “Great I’ll have a friend of mine come over and pick you up, and bring you to my house in about an hour. Would that be alright?”
Louise really had no choice but to agree. When Tasha hung up the phone, they all looked at her expectantly. She threw her hands up in the air. “If I bring her to the house, it will scare her to death.”
Chase looked at his watch, “Where do you want Lance to bring her?”
Tasha tapped her lip with a perfectly manicured pink nail. “The farm. She won’t be intimidated at the farm. Liz…” she turned to Liz, Liz cut her off as she was dialing her phone. “Already on it momma.”
Chase looked at Kelly confused. Kelly laughed, “Liz and Momma have a kind of telepathy going on, Liz knows what Momma wants before the words come out most times.”
“What do I tell Lance?” Chase asked.
“I’ll text the directions to his phone, tell him to pick up Louise in an hour.” Tasha said as she and Liz ran out the door.
Chase was confused, he looked at Kelly, “Told you telling them about Paula was a good idea right now.” He laughed.
Kelly laughed too, “Yes, it was a good idea. Do you want me to fill in the blanks for you?”
Chase nodded, “Please!”
“When Momma was pregnant with Liz, her and daddy were talking, and somehow it came out that Momma had always wanted to live on a farm with pigs, and cows and horses and chickens. She wanted to grow a big garden and make jam, can tomatoes and green beans. Shortly after Liz was born, Daddy bought her a farm. When we were little, we spent a lot of time there when we weren’t on the road. Momma and Daddy did a lot of the restoration themselves; they had a hand in just about everything there, and we actually lived there full time while the house we live in now was being built. I think it was relaxing for them. They both loved being there; we all did… until Daddy died. After that I think it was too painful for Momma, so we stayed here in town. We have a couple that live in a house on the back forty as caretakers, and they do a good job running the farm. Every year Betty and Gene put out a huge vegetable garden, Betty cans just about everything she can get her hands on, and Gene hauls a lot of it to town for us. All summer long, at least two or three days a week, Gene or Betty or both of them bring stuff from the garden to us. When the black raspberries get ripe, Gene picks them and brings them to my Momma so she can make her jam.”
“Sounds like a special place.” Chase smiled.
“It is.” Kelly smiled. “We still go up there at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that’s about it. Even though it’s only about 20 miles away up in Pleasant View, it feels like a million miles. You’ll see.”
Chase was confused. “I’m going too?” He asked.
Kelly nodded, “I think you’ve been made an honorary member of the family.” He laughed. “Besides, you don’t want to miss this do you? Come on, you can ride with me.”
The drive was pleasant, and not long at all. Kelly turned off the main highway on to a side country road. They drove down it for probably three or four miles, then Kelly turned into a gravel driveway that was practically hidden between trees. As they drove between the trees, Chase wondered how far back this house was. The trees gave way to tall corn growing on either side of the drive. It seemed as though they were driving right through the middle of a cornfield, but Chase could see the top of a barn off to the right in the distance. He took out his phone and texted Lance, “be careful or you’ll miss the driveway.”
When Chase saw the house, he agreed that this would be much less of a shock to Louise than the Michaels mansion in town. Although this house was still very nice, it was an old rambling farmhouse that had had additions built on either side of it, a porch that wrapped all the way around it tied it all together seamlessly. Huge old oaks surrounded it; there was even a tire swing in one of them. There was a big two story red barn to the right of the house about 100 yards, and what looked to be a horse barn, and a few other smaller barns about 100 yards to the left of the house behind a small orchard. Chase was saddened for a moment as he realized this was the type of place he had hoped to find since he was a child. The kind of place he had always wanted to raise children in. When he saw the large pond off behind the barn, his voice caught as he asked Kelly if there were fish in the pond.
Kelly laughed, “It’s loaded with fish, Daddy had it stocked regularly—fishing was one of his favorite things to do when we were out here. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine Gene keeps it stocked like Daddy did.”
Tasha met them on the porch; she was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of Nike’s that had obviously been well worn. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and looked completely relaxed. “Have you heard from Lance?” she asked.
Chase shook his head, “No, but don’t worry, he’ll find it okay. Tasha, this place is great!”
She smiled, “Yes, it is isn’t it? We had big plans for this place; we always planned to live here most of the year, especially after we had more children. Now, I’ll have to be content with the hope that Liz or Kelly will want to live here and raise their family.”
Just then they heard a car coming down the long gravel lane, Kelly squinted as he looked in the direction of the driveway, “I’m sure that’s Lance. Chase, you wanna go see if the poles are still out in the barn?”
Chase nodded, “Sounds great to me.”
Tasha called after them, “We’ll be eating at 6.”
Louise looked at the farm making it’s appearance as they slowly made their way down the long drive. She had expected the home of someone famous to be a big mansion, not a farmhouse. Maybe this lady would be easier to talk to than she had first thought. The man who picked her up had been very nice, but not very talkative on the drive out here. She supposed he was just doing his job. She was relieved to see Ms. Michaels standing in the yard wearing Jeans and a t-shirt just as she had said. She was such a pretty lady, Louise, for the life of her couldn’t imagine anyone thinking she was her! That man with the camera must need to get his eyes checked. The car came to a stop, and the Michaels lady was standing on her side of the car waiting for her to get out.
Tasha noticed that Louise looked scared, so she brightened her smile, and when she got out of Lance’s SUV, she reached out her hand to her, “Louise, thank you so much for coming, I’m so glad to have you here. Would you like to take a walk around, or would you rather go in the house and sit?” Tasha asked.
Louise considered for a moment, “It’s a real pretty day, I think I’d like to walk.” She said.
Tasha looked back at Lance, “Liz is in the house, and Kelly and Chase are in the barn looking for fishing poles, make yourself at home Lance.”
Tasha and Louise walked toward the orchard and the barns where the animals were kept on the opposite side of the house from the hay barn. Louise cleared her throat, “Ms. Michaels, I swear I didn’t know what my Jim was up to. I’m real sorry about it. I only took about half of your money, but I’ve got it with me, minus the hotel and pizza oh, and my bus ticket, you can have it back, and as soon as I find a job, I’ll pay you back the rest.”
Tasha stopped and turned to look at Louise, “Louise, first of all, please call me Tasha. I don’t want your money, that isn’t why I invited you here.”
Louise was surprised, “It’s not?” she asked.
Tasha shook her head, “No, the money was a gift, to help you. I wouldn’t dream of asking you to repay it. No, I invited you here because I wanted to spend some time with you, to talk with you. Why did you come to Nashville?” She asked.
Louise shrugged, “I don’t rightly know, it just sounded good. You came here and you done fine for yourself, I guess I hoped I could do all right for myself here too. If you did it and weren’t nothing more than a child, I figgered I’d be okay as an adult.”
Louise suddenly took off running towards the barn lot. Tasha could hear her saying something, but couldn’t quite make it out. When Tasha caught up with her, she was kneeled down hugging and petting a red goat.
“Aren’t you a pretty little thing.” Louise was saying to the goat as Tasha caught up with her. Louise looked up at Tasha, and in her face Tasha saw the face of a child. “Oh Miz Michaels, you got goats! This here girl is a Golden Guernsey, and they come all the way from an island by England. They is supposed to be prized for their milk. Their milk is high in butter fat you see, and that makes for real good cheese.” Louise stood up, as something else caught her eye, “Why look yonder, you got Buff Orpington and Barred Rock chickens too! Why them Orpingtons is a great meat bird and lay the nicest brown eggs. I always wanted to get me some Buff Orpingtons but they never did carry them down to the feed store when I got my chicks every year. I think they are so pretty with their blond feathers. S’pose to have a real good disposition too.”
Tasha was baffled, she didn’t know much about goats or chickens other than Gene and Betty made sure she had plenty of eggs at the house, and Betty made Goat Cheese for her on a regular basis. She heard Louise awing over something else, and looked over to see her headed into the horse barn. Tasha followed.
Louise was stroking the muzzle of one of the horses in the barn. Again, Tasha was struck by how excited and childlike she seemed to be, “Do you like horses Louise?” she asked.
Louise was grinning from ear to ear, “Why this here is a Tennessee Walker, beautiful horse Miz Michaels, why you just got yourself a real heaven on earth here. Yes, that is what you got.”
“Louise, please, call me Tasha.” She said.
Louise didn’t seem to hear her as she had moved on to another horse in another stall. She was telling Tasha how smart horses were, and she was off to another stall. Tasha just followed along as Louise went through the barn, and then into the Dairy barn to admire the Holsteins, then into the hog barn to exclaim over the Durocs. Louise told Tasha that the Columbus brought Durocs to this country on his second voyage. She talked about their red color and their droopy ears. Tasha was amazed at the amount of information Louise held about all of the animals. When she finally had settled on a bench in the farm lot, holding a Golden chicken in one arm, and petting one of the goats with her free hand, Tasha asked her, “How do you know so much about the animals Louise?”
Louise looked at Tasha, “Well, when Momma got in trouble at the hospital, the state came in and said she weren’t fit to be a momma no more. Not that she was fit before that, but I got sent to live with Momma’s cousin Wilma Jean and her husband Frank. They lived on a farm, and I had to help with the farm chores, but I loved every minute of it. Wilma Jean and Frank, they had three boys, and they was big into 4-H and then Future Farmers of America. I weren’t allowed to be in 4-H or nothin’, but I didn’t care. I got to go to the fair with them ever’ year and help with the animals. When my chores got done at the fair, ‘stead of going back to the camper, I’d just wander around all the animal barns. Whenever I’d hear something about an animal, somehow it would stick. I weren’t much good for learnin’ in school, but when it came to animals, seems like I cain’t ferget nothin’ I ever heard. Ain’t that funny.”
Tasha smiled at her, “I think everything you know about animals is amazing.” She said.
Louise put the chicken down, and began rubbing the goat with both hands, “Oh, it ain’t nothin’ special Miz Mi… Miz Tasha, I just love animals, that’s all.”
Tasha smiled, “It shows. How old were you when you went to live with Wilma Jean and Frank?” she asked.
Louise sat back and thought for a moment, “Well, I reckon I was about ten or so. I don’t know, maybe I was twelve. I really don’t remember. I just remember being happy that I didn’t have to put up with none of Momma’s boyfriends a pawin' on me anymore and I was tickled to death I had my own room and a hot meal ever’ night.”
Tasha was curious, “Why did you leave Wilma Jean and Frank’s if you were happy there?”
Louise waved her hand in the air as if to dismiss them, “Oh, they turned me out when I was 18 and the state didn’t give them no more money for me. It was okay, I had been a seein' Jim by that time, and I just moved in with him. I sure did miss the animals though. Jim always promised me we’d get a place in the country and I could have all the animals I wanted, but, well, Jim weren’t so good at keepin’ his word either.”
“Are you planning on going back to Jim or divorcing him?” Tasha asked.
Louise laughed, “Well, I don’t reckon I have to divorce him since we never got hitched or nothin’ I just started a usin’ his name, and no one ever even asked. But, no, I ain’t a never goin’ back to him. I reckon if Larry ever wants to find me he will, but he’s so much like his daddy I doubt they even noticed I left.”
Tasha sat back and took all this in. What a sad life Louise had lived. “What did Momma do to get in trouble at the hospital?” She asked.
Louise shook her head, “She was a stealin' drugs is what they said. She done some time over it, that’s why the state came in and passed us all out to whoever they could find. I remember hearin’ Wilma Jean and Frank a talkin’ about it one night, somethin’ about if they’d'a ever found out what Momma was a doin' with those babies, they’d have thrown away the key.”
“Babies?” Tasha asked.
“Oh, I don’t know the whole story, just bits an' pieces I heard Wilma Jean and Frank talkin’ bout. Seems Momma worked in the maternity ward right a’fore she got busted for the drugs, and she bragged to Wilma Jean that she was a takin’ babies and switchin’ them around. So’s babies that was born to poor parents went home with rich parents, and babies that was born rich was a goin’ home with poor folks.”
Tasha gasped, “Oh you’re kidding?” she asked.
Louise shook her head, “That’s what I heard. Now, I don’t know how many she done that to, since as I recollect, there weren’t that many rich folks to be a switchin’ babies with, but according to Wilma Jean, she done it.”
Louise paused for a moment then added quietly, “When Momma would leave for work, I was always glad when she left.”
Tasha hugged herself, “Yes, I always was too.”
Tasha looked at her watch, “It’s dinner time, I hope you like fried chicken.”
Louise smiled, “It’s my favorite meal.”
The meal was uneventful; no more was mentioned about Louise’s childhood, Tasha didn’t want to push her too much. As the evening wore on, everyone was tired, Tasha suggested that Louise spend the night with her at the farmhouse. Louise agreed, and Tasha found that she was enjoying her company. She really did seem to have a good heart, and as she suspected, she really had not had much of a chance in life.
Tasha decided the following morning, she would invite Louise to go shopping with her. There were a few places near Pleasant View where reporters wouldn’t be, and the locals wouldn’t bother her. Although she had extended the invitation to stay to Lance and Chase as well, they declined as they had a full calendar on the agenda the following day. Kelly opted to return to the city as well. Though Liz loved being at the farm, she too, had a full load the following day, but finally decided she would have to put it off, she wasn’t leaving her mother alone with this woman. Though she had been pleasant enough during the meal, Liz didn’t trust her.
The following morning, Liz was awakened by the smell of bacon permeating the house. “Mmm” she thought to herself, Momma had made breakfast. She threw on her clothes and hurried down to the kitchen where not her mother, but Louise was taking fresh rolls out of the oven.
“Smells really good.” Liz said. “But you didn’t have to do this, you’re a guest.”
Louise waved her off, “I have ta earn my keep, your momma has been so nice to me, this was the least I could do. Besides, I get up with the chickens usually, might as well make use of my time.”
“Everything looks delicious.” Liz said as her stomach growled.
“Well here, sit right down and I’ll fix ya a plate Miss Liz.” Louise beamed.
As Liz ate, she thought Louise might just be a better cook than her own Momma, and she felt guilty for thinking it. She was almost finished with her second helping of eggs when Tasha came into the kitchen, “Louise, you didn’t have to make breakfast!” She exclaimed.
Louise just shook her head, “I’m happy to do it, you need some more meat on your bones anyway. Sit right down here and eat up.”
The day passed quickly, Louise had not wanted to accept the new clothes Tasha was having her try on, she said she felt like a princess. Tasha was amazed at how little it took to make Louise happy, and Tasha noticed as the day wore on, that she really did enjoy Louise’s company.
They had decided to cook dinner together at the farmhouse, and as they taught Liz how to roll out the home-made noodles they were making from eggs Louise had gathered herself before they had left that morning, Tasha decided to tell Louise about the idea she had.
“Louise, I have been thinking. Remember I told you that I live in town most of the time.”
Louise remembered, she couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be anywhere but right here on this farm, and had told Tasha so.
Tasha continued, “Well, I was thinking, that maybe you would like to stay here at the farm for a while, until you figure out what you want to do. It would be a huge help to me, and I’m sure a huge help to Betty and Gene. There really is a lot of work here to be done with all the animals and the gardens, and I think you would be the perfect person to do it. I’d pay you of course, and you’d have the house to yourself.”
Louise wiped a tear from her eye. “I never had someone be so nice to me Miss Tasha. Why I’d stay here at this farm for free, I done told you, it’s like heaven. But, Miss Tasha, I don’t think I could feel right a stayin’ here in this house of yours. It’s too big for just one person, it was made for a family. I just wouldn’t feel right about it.”
That’s when Liz realized Louise had won her over as well, and she was surprised by it. “Momma, what about the guest house?” She asked.
“Good idea Liz, I didn’t even think about that.” Tasha smiled, “Louise, there is another house here on the property. It’s not far from this house, it’s past the animal barns, back in the trees. It’s small, only a two bedroom, but you are welcome to it, if you would be more comfortable there. I really could use your help.”
Louise was openly crying now, “I don’t know what to say Miss Tasha, it sounds perfect.”
Tasha put her arms around Louise and hugged her, “Just say yes.”
Louise nodded her head and hugged Tasha back. “Thank you Miss Tasha.” She sobbed. Louise had never in her life had someone be so nice to her, she couldn’t believe what a kind person Tasha was, Louise felt like anything was possible when she was near Tasha.
“Uhhhh.” Jim rolled over and nearly rolled out of the bed. “Uhhhh.” His head hurt, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, but the worst part was that he had vomited in the bed sometime during the night.
“Uhhhh.” Drunk as he was the smell repulsed him.
There was no answer. Jim sat up on the edge of the bed, held his head in both hands, and tried to focus on the floor. The room was in motion. “Weezie, whar are you, woman?”
Jim stood up and almost fell back into the filthy bed. Carefully he made his way outside via the back door of the ramshackle house, down the well worn path to the outhouse. If his stomach hadn't already been empty the smell of the place in the middle of a hot summer day surely would have been the trigger to accomplish that. Duty done, he carefully made his way back to the porch, poured some water from the bucket into the washbowl, got a towel from the peg on the wall, and proceeded to try to clean himself from head to waist, first putting his head down into the water until it almost ran up into his nose. It was hard to keep his balance, he reached for the wall and almost missed it. The cool water felt good on his aching head.
Feeling a bit better, and certainly smelling better, he walked unsteadily into the kitchen. No Weezie. He reached for the coffee pot, cold. Where was that woman? “Weezie,” he bellowed. Larry, startled by the sudden loud noise, looked up from his video game and answered, “she ain't here.”
“Whar is she?”
“Donno, ain't seen her.”
Jim went to the footlocker to get more money so they could go to the cafe, and found only one stack of bills. He cursed loudly, and vowed to beat that no good woman to a bloody pulp if he ever got his hands on her. He was more upset about loosing the money than about loosing Weezie.
And so Jim and Larry's life began without Weezie, without coffee, without breakfast or dinner, and eventually without clean clothes, without anything they wanted and had taken as their right and privilege. Nobody picked up after them, the house was soon a pig sty.
They ate their meals at the cafe, and Jim got drunk every night while the money in the envelope lasted. People asked questions about his sudden wealth while having no job. Jim wasn't sure what he had told them besides that the Internal Revenue was after him, but that certainly didn't explain why he suddenly had a lot of money. He bought them drinks and they were happy with that. When he was sober, he started hearing rumors about his newfound wealth, rumors that connected him somehow to the visitors in the shiny SUV and the people in nice clothes who rode in it, visited his house briefly and then left without stopping anywhere else in the community. Rumor had it that these strangers had flown into Beckley in a private plane and rented that car. Although he denied knowledge of it, he still had plenty of money to spend, and his denials weren't very convincing, especially when liquor loosened his tongue and laid waste to what little self control he had.
Jim persuaded another woman to move in with him, a woman who was more beat down emotionally than Weezie, and easier to control. Her husband had thrown her out with only the clothes on her back and told her that he would kill her if she ever set foot in his house again. She was about the same size as Weezie, and was happy to have her clothing, her house and her man. The poor woman thought that Jim was a big improvement. At least after he hit her he said he was sorry.
Louise was happier than she had ever been in her life. She was rid of that no good Jim, she had a nice place to live, the companionship of Betty and Gene, and felt appreciated for the work she did on the Michaels' farm. Never in her wildest dreams would she ever have dreamed that she would live in such a nice place. Betty and Gene thanked her for the help she gave them, and nobody yelled at her. Tasha came to the farm every few days, sometimes spending the night. Now and then Louise pinched herself to make sure she really wasn't dreaming.
Tasha kept wondering if Louise was really her sister. Nothing Louise had told her so far was out of line with anything she remembered from her own childhood. The physical resemblance would be uncanny for somebody not related. There was only one sure way to find out. DNA testing would answer it once and for all. Tasha wondered if she was ready for this, and what would Louise's reaction be? Would it matter? She concluded that it would matter because if Louise was really her sister, there were other sisters and brothers out there, somewhere. And Momma. If the test proved that she and Louise were not sisters, Tasha thought she liked this woman well enough to want her to stay on the farm.
Louise was wondering the same kinds of things. She felt in her heart that Tasha was her sister, but even if she was not, she wanted to stay right here, helping Gene with the animals and garden, helping Betty with canning and housework. All of this was so enjoyable that Louise felt like it must all be a wonderful fairy tale, one she hoped would go on forever.
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
More ramblings at http://thegatheringplacehome.myfastforum.org/forum54.php
|Lance and Chase’s caseload was much larger than either of them had envisioned when they opened shop in Nashville. In only a few short months they were juggling more cases than they really had time to dedicate to properly.
They discussed hiring another investigator, but decided to wait a little longer to see if it was just their advertising paying off, or if this was the way it would always be. Lance’s observation was that they may find themselves with little or nothing to do in a few weeks and if they hired a new investigator it wouldn’t be fair to anyone.
“I’ve got that stake-out on the Anderson case I need to start this afternoon Chase.” Lance groaned. “Remind me again why we’re doing divorce work.”
“Because the client gave us a ten thousand dollar retainer.” Kelly reminded. “And he has very deep pockets. His pre-nup voids any alimony if she’s caught cheating on him. It’s in his financial interest to do that.”
“But we already have pictures; we know she’s cheating on him. What else does he want?” Lance complained.
“He said he wants to establish a long-term pattern and not allow her to have any way to deny it or say the pictures were taken out of context. This guy is very patient.” Kelly said.
“Better you than me.” Chase said with a smirk. “Don’t forget to charge your camera batteries.” A grinning Chase teased.
It was only a ten minute drive over to the house on Cargile where Lance needed to set up, but he’d much rather be going a few blocks down the street to F. Scott’s for a couple of beers and some good jazz. He absolutely hated going on a stakeout in the afternoon. Midnight work was fine, but sitting in a van while everyone else was having dinner or going out was not Lance’s favorite thing, to say the least.
Lance exited their office on Crestmoor into a steady drizzle. He held his briefcase above him and ducked his head, all the while thinking ‘I wonder why people duck their head when it’s raining?’ Just as he reached for the door handle on the old plumber’s van they used for stakeouts, he felt a blinding sting on the back of his head and everything went black……
Weezie and Betty became fast friends. She marveled at the way Betty and Gene treated each other. The only time she remembered Jim treating her that way was when they first started dating. After Jim got what he wanted, he started treating Weezie like a possession. Even though it never felt right to her, she accepted it because that’s the way she saw her mother being treated by all the men in her life.
“Do you prefer to be called Louise or just Lou?” Betty asked. Weezie had never been called Lou in her life and rarely had she been called Louise, but the sound of the name ‘Lou’ was new and somehow befitting her new life. She had, after all registered in the motel that way.
“Lou is fine. That’s what my friends call me.” Weezie fibbed. It made her feel like a different person. “My name is Lou.” Weezie thought to herself. “Hello, I’m Lou.” She practiced in her mind once again, and she smiled at the thought.
Lou and Betty’s fingers were purple from the berries they’d picked that morning. Betty was busy making a pie from them while Lou stirred the stockpot full of the delectable morsels as she prepared to make jam. Both the women were raised in the country and needed no introduction to life on a farm. It was as though they could read each others thoughts. Betty would start to ask for help with something and Lou would already be there doing it.
The division of farm chores was not something they ever discussed; they each just naturally gravitated to the ones they were most adept at and the load for each of them was fair.
Weezie discovered peacefulness in her life she’d never before had and found herself smiling most of the time.
Weezie was dressed in a pair of Roper jeans and a Panhandle sleeveless top that Tasha gave her. She had her hair pulled back into a high ponytail. When Gene walked into the kitchen she turned to greet him. He was visibly a little startled. “When I first saw you there, I thought you were Ms Michaels. You look just like her.” Gene said.
“Why that’s awfully nice of you ta say, but I’m sure nowhere near as pretty as Miss Tasha.”
“Well if I can be so bold as to say so, you certainly are. Y’all are sisters, right?” Gene asked.
Betty gave him a glare that would have frozen water. They had agreed to not mention their curiosity until Lou brought it up.
Weezie, (Lou), was a little befuddled, and said, “Well, I’m not rightly sure. It seems like we probably have the same momma, but we ain’t got the same daddy, that’s for sure. I guess we’re gonna try to find out if we’s kin. Ever’body seems ta think we are. I’ll tell you, it don’t matter one way or t’other ta me. I like her no matter. It just don’t seem real that I could be kin to somebody famous though.”
“Lance, are you OK? Hey buddy, talk to me.” Chase said excitedly.
Lance opened his eyes to see a drenched Chase looking at him and felt a sting of pain in the back of his head. Kelly stood nervously over them, vainly trying to hold an umbrella over all three of them. The scene was comical to Lance and he couldn’t help but laugh.
“Well I suppose you think it’s funny.” Chase smiled, relieved that his friend and partner seemed to be all right.
“What happened man?” Chase asked.
“I don’t know.” Lance answered as he pulled himself upright. “The last thing I remember was leaving the office heading for my stake out. Everything’s fuzzy after that.”
“Let’s get you in the van and out of the rain for right now. We can take you to a doctor later.” Kelly suggested.
“No, no I’m not going to any doctor. It’s just a little bump on the head. I’ve had many more like this.” Lance insisted. “But we can get out of the rain.”
They all piled into the little remote office that was the cargo box of the van and sat looking at each other.
“What’s that paper on the steering wheel?” Kelly asked as he reached for a piece of yellow construction paper with some words scrawled on it in felt marker.
“What’s it say Kel?”
“It says ‘mind your own business jerk’.”
“What else does it say? Is it signed or anything?” Chase asked
“Nope, that’s it, just ‘mind your own business’ with an exclamation point at the end.”
“That doesn’t give us much to go on.” Chase observed.
“Yeah, and the fact is, we are minding our own business. It just so happens that looking into someone else’s business IS our business.” Lance noted. “And what time is it? I’ve still got that stake out to go on.”
“You don’t need to be doing that.” Kelly said, knowing what the answer would be. “But since I know I can’t convince you otherwise, at least let me go with you in case something happens.”
Lance and Kelly drove away toward the house on Cargile St. Chase stood there watching them drive away and worried a little about his partner. He knew it must be a case that Lance was working and his first move would be to go over all of Lance’s outstanding cases just to see if anything jumped out at him.
“Liz, honey, I don’t see the point. We’ve already established that we have the same momma. Why do you insist on a DNA test?” Tasha said.
“Momma, first of all, we have not established anything of the kind. You two have similar features, granted. We know that she came from the same little West Virginia town, which only means that she would know more about you than you’d know about her. There are folks who try to attach themselves to celebrities all the time. They want the fame, they want the attention, but most of all they want the money.” Liz said emphatically.
“But sweetheart, she tried to give the money back to me out there the other day. I’m just gonna feel weird asking her to have a DNA test.”
“You don’t have to Momma. I’m gonna do that myself. Dr. Patterson has already agreed to go out there with me this afternoon to get the sample. It’s painless you know; they just swab the inside of your cheek. Once we do this we’ll know for sure that Weezie is your sister and you can introduce her to the world if that’s what you want, but Momma, as your agent and your daughter, I’m obligated to protect you from wannabes. Don’t feel badly about it. I’ll handle it in a way that she’ll be comfortable with, I promise you.”
“Well, if you think it’s best, I’ll go along with you. But I guarantee you she’s my sister. At least she’s my half sister. I’d bet my fortune on it.”
“Let’s not do that Momma. We’ll just do the DNA test. Speaking of…..there’s Dr. Patterson walking up the path right now.”
“Come on in Walt. It’s good to see you.” Tasha greeted.
Dr. Walter Patterson was a trusted friend who explained exactly what he would do. “Just open your mouth, yes like that, now that’s all I need.” He said as he brushed the inside of Tasha’s cheek with a cotton swab.’’
“That’s it?” Tasha asked, surprised.
He put the swab into a sterile plastic bag and placed in his old leather medical bag.
“So I guess we’re off to the country house now Momma. Do you want to go or not?”
“Maybe I will go after all. I don’t want her thinking I’m just sending someone up there to probe at her and not be there myself. As a matter of fact, I want you to take another swab from me when we get there so she sees me do it too.” Tasha decided.
“Momma I think that’s a really good idea.” Liz agreed.
Tasha knocked on the door of the little guesthouse and was surprised to hear Weezie call to her from across the yard.
“Hey there Miz Tasha. I been over at Betty’s making jam. How are y’all doin’?”
“We’re just fine, Weezie you look so good. How are you doing?”
“I’ve never been better in my whole life.” Weezie smiled. “And I’ve decided I’d rather be called Lou if y’all don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind a bit dear. I’d like you to meet a family friend of ours. This is Walt Patterson. Walt, this is my friend Lou.”
Walter Patterson had already decided that this little exercise was completely unnecessary. These two could be twins. He also saw something he hadn’t expected. He saw a woman who caught his interest and that hadn’t happened since his sweet wife Marilyn passed three years ago.
“I’m happy to please you…ummm I’m pleased to make you happy….If you’ll excuse me Miss Lou, my tongue seems to be a little twisted. I’m pleased to meet you.” He said as he took her hand.
“Me too.” Lou said simply. Obviously taken by the gentleman doctor as well.
“Why don’t y’all come on in. I got some tea if you want a glass.” Lou said, still looking at Walt and not letting go of his hand.
Liz and Tasha looked at each other smiling and walked into the house ahead of the newly introduced couple, both of them more than a little surprised by the turn of events.
|Kelly drove the van as Lance held the cold ice pack to the back of his head. Prepared for the stakeout, Lance had aspirin, icepacks, soda, and water in the ice chest…and finally the aspirin were kicking in.
“So, Lance, tell me some more about this case. Who’s this dude with the wife we are stalking? Story? Can you talk about it?
“Sure, Kelly” Lance groaned, “This guy has been suspecting his wife for a while, and as the pre-nups are so specific, he wants to make sure he gets away from her without a lot of suffering. Seems he’s been suspecting her for a while…and our stake out is simply a seal on the deal…the ultimate confirmation. Oh, Geez, I hope this doesn’t take all night…. but the client has the money and is more than willing to pay for the evidence”.
“Oh yes,” Lance replied “the husband himself has files and files of photographs of his wife going in and out of that door, alone and with company. We are here to get non-prejudicial evidence admissible in court…hope it happens SOON and we can get done with this.”
Between Lances’ bad mood and bad headache and Kelly’s inability to completely grasp what was happening, it was a very difficult couple of minutes. Kelly didn’t know whether to scream or throw up. As he drove towards the area of the stakeout, his own emotions boiled inside. This area of Nashville is where he would meet Paula…for their stolen hours together…Paula?”
“Ok, Kell, what’s the number on the stake out? 31 something, isn’t it” Lance mumbled. Are we close? You are going to have to find the numbers, my head really hurts…”
Kelly’s insides were doing back flips. “No, it can’t be”, he thought, ”it just can’t be the same place”.
“Lance, is the wife’s name Paula by any chance”.
“Christ, man, you been reading the files?” Lance asked, almost laughing.
Kelly moaned…half hurt and half relieved…’No, you haven’t submitted them for summation. But if it is Paula, I can stand as witness as well as whatever we find out tonight. I’ve been having an affair with Paula for about 2 years…rather, she’s been having one with me…Hahaha…and I guess her husband and I have a lot in common. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get out of it too. Oh My God, what a small world!!!!
The driving rain made navigation through the narrow streets torturous, and every oncoming car’s headlights shot arrows of pain through Lances’ head. He knew he had his client’s wife dead to rights…this was simply the icing on the cake. The camera he had set up on the dash… They just needed few seconds…please…a prominent customer, good $$$, cleanly done...”Kelly, are we cccccclllllllllll……..” and Kelly slammed on the brakes.
“Lance, Lance”, he reached for his cell phone as he leapt from the drivers’ seat to the other side of the van. “911? Do you have me on your locator map? I can’t read the street signs. Maroon van, license plate CVNt434, passenger comatose, unresponsive, breathing OK. Need Assist. PDID45500LC3. Over to you, 911 I’m going clear”.
The reply came over the cell phone as Kelly could see the flashing lights coming down the boulevard. “Rodger. Medic Assist ETA 2 minutes. Standby. 911 going Standby.”
Kelly was relieved. “Roger 10-04. Standing by for assist. Clear. Channel Open.”
Within minutes the EMTs had Lance on a gurney, slipping him into the Ambulance. The Lead Technician told Kelly where they would be taking Lance and he followed them to the Emergency Room.
Tasha spent a difficult morning trying to stay engaged with Lou, Walt (and they needed no help staying engaged with each other), the business of the ranch, and the business with Liz that went on 24/7. The prime subject of her concern at the moment was Lance. Kelly woke her up near midnight to tell her what happened and explained why he wouldn’t be home at breakfast.
Lou and the Walt were totally taken with each other. It was sweet to see Lou being flirty and dreamy and her dear friend Walt, being so attentive and happy. “It’s time,” she thought, “it’s time for him to let go and live.”
Now Lance in the hospital: out of ICU but heavily monitored with a concussion and possible skull fracture. Kelly was fine. “Why am I so worried”, she thought, “Kelly is fine.”
Knowing her husband was suspicious of her, Paula whispered, “No, not the lights, it’s not safe” as the tall man in the hallway finally arrived. “There may be someone following either one of us…”
“Be still, my sweet, that Private Detective isn’t going anywhere. I sent him a message he may wake up from to understand. Nothing is going to stop us…unless they find out and, believe me, no one will. We will get out of here and everything will be fine… With your alimony and my brains, we can’t possibly lose…that prenup I wrote for you have quite a number of holes in it… Trust me.”
“It’s amazing”, the young doctor reported to Kelly, “that guy is sitting up and ordering everyone around…but he still has a concussion and the results aren’t back from the radiology yet, so we don’t now about any fractures yet. In the meanwhile, please try to keep him in bed and resting, until we know what else is going on.”
“Will do, Dr.” answered Kelly, “Mr. Benton has a long track record with health issues thru the FBI and is very realistic. He’ll understand, no worries.” As the attending
Doctor walked away, Kelliy was wondering how in the world he was going to nail his bosses’ foot to the floor to keep him from bolting from the hospital.”
It was around noon when Tasha finally let herself call Kelly and ask about Lance. “So, is he going to live?” she asked.
“Momma, he wasn’t stabbed or shot, he’s fine. Probably no fracture but we won’t know until the films come back. He’ll be good as gold soon, trust me”.
“Oh, I’m so glad,” Tasha sighed. “Instead of taking him to his own house, wherever that is, bring him home. Rose will love having someone to hover over and we can all help”. We need to make sure whoever conked him doesn’t get to him again”.
“Ok, Mother, I’ll bring him home, but I don’t guarantee he’ll stay there, especially in bed. He’s going to want to solve this issue soon. There’s now a lot more at stake”
Leap. The net will appear.
|This story is continued here:
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