“Is that how you remember it?”
— Arthur Silver
Wine connoisseurs agree the longer a vintage ages, it’s less likely to spoil.
When the bottle is finally uncorked, optimistically, if it’s aromatic, dances on the tongue, and has legs, it’s fairly balanced. But, conversely, it can take on a life of its own and take a turn for the worse.
Secrets can be like fine wine, stored deep in the recesses of the mind to either mature or leave a foul taste in the mouth. Sometimes it’s better to keep them in storage, but doing so can bring on its own set of issues.
Everybody has secrets. Some we run from; some we run toward. Some secrets have secrets. I have some, so I know you do too. I have one that burns so hot only two people are aware of it, and we rarely talk about it. They’re great friends, actually brothers, the type that can keep a secret. We’ve carried it for decades, and no, it’s not buried in some shallow grave. Our urge to utter it has been tested, but we extinguished that notion quick.
If you don’t have friends like mine, but ache to share it, find yourself a reflecting pool and purge away. But remember, confiding a secret to just anybody might subject you to being controlled by them. Nothing screams leverage than the threat of the unknown becoming known. The best way to ensure they remain unknown is to trust no one; then, nobody can betray you. Ironically, there’s almost a sense of relief once the cat’s out of the bag. But look at the bright side, it’s one less thing to store away.
Retirement: it’s something you have to wrap your mind around.
Once known as Captain Jingle Belle, now he’s just Asa Belle around the neighborhood and carries around a smaller keyring these days. His fellow pensioners told him it would take about two years to acclimate himself to the life of leisure, but surprisingly, it didn’t take him long at all. Between all his honey-do’s, daily jogs, and church work, he’s busier now than when he was working. Who’d have thunk it?
Asa was in his garage, sorting out what items would make the cut for his home office. Living happily ever after affords him that luxury. He pulled out a shadowbox that displayed his Agency rank insignias and badges, and placed it in the ‘definitely’ pile. He set a few plaques and certificates in the ‘maybe’ stack; he didn’t want to come across as a braggart. He sifted through police-themed knickknacks and designated them to the round file.
He dragged out a dusty garbage bag and smirked at what was inside: a pair of moldy Agency-issued galoshes and rain slicker. He deposited it into the round file.
“Asa, phone call…,” his wife, Marlene, said. “Ugh, what a mess! What’re you doing?”
“Puttering around. Who is it?”
“Carl Bondurant. If you need busy work, I can find you something to do.”
“No thank you,” Asa remarked, as Marlene handed him the phone. “Hello?”
“Jingle Belle!” Carl bellowed. “How goes it, ya slacker?”
“I’m good, shyster. You working hard or hardly working?”
“I’m living the good life. Between my pension and billable hours, I should’ve retired years ago! You can’t believe how many cops stay in hot water. You reconsidering my offer?”
“And miss out on the thrill of doing chores? Not likely. My time’s mine now, and I don’t make any major decisions before 10 a.m..”
“Haaaaaa, same old Jingle! I’m swinging by your house tomorrow. I gotta show you something.”
“What did you buy now?”
“It’s not what I bought; it’s what I invested in. I converted a portion of my retirement portfolio into Porsche stock.”
“That’s smart money management. How’s it doing?”
“Oh, it’s moving… and red and shiny! It goes zero to sixty in about 3.5 seconds.”
“Same old Carl! I’ll be here.”
“See ya, Jingle!”
As their call ended, a strange car pulled up in front of his house, but it wasn’t a Carerra. A pug of a man stepped out whom Asa hasn’t seen since the gavel fell signaling the final chapter of that fateful night. The Heath tragedy not only brought about legislation and revenue; it also brought notoriety.
Arthur Silver, known as ‘Shotgun Artie’ in law enforcement circles, was a patrol beat reporter for the Sentinel Times. A portly man, he’s the kind of weasel who would stand up in a crowded theatre in the middle of a movie and reveal the ending. But his coverage of the murders turned him into an anti-celebrity.
Between book tours and the talk-show circuits, you could surmise Arthur sold his soul to become ‘Danny Boy’ Bouchette’s historian. He has a face of character, but it was shrouded by a veil of deceit and betrayal.
The national exposure he garnered should’ve whisked him far away from the Sentinel Times with his choice of landing spots, but, not ‘Shotgun Artie.’ He had to be content for what he had, especially when he sided with the immoral minority. He’s one of those die-hard loyalists who helps tilt the scales for those with opposing views so society doesn’t rush to judgment. There were even grumblings that his tomes would soon be converted into screenplays, but common decency and litigation prevailed. Nobody wanted his slanted platitudes on the silver screen…even after all these years.
“Well, if it isn’t the Devil’s minion!” Asa sneered.
“C’mon, Capta…” Arthur replied.
“I’m not a captain anymore. I’m just an average civilian who’d take pleasure in kicking your butt up and down my street. What do you want?”
“Um…Asa…, do you mind if I call you Asa?”
“Only my good friends and family call me Asa, of which you’re neither!”
“Okay…okay, Mr. Belle…oh, and by the way, congratulations! To cross the finish line after 37 years with the Agency is nothing short of a minor miracle…ha, ha! I hope I look as good as you when I…”
“Quit yer monologuing and answer my question!”
“I’m an investigative journalist; the truth is still out there.”
“Well, you’re not going to find it here, so why are you here?!”
“To see if you have anything to say on the record since you’re no longer a part of the law enforcement landscape.”
“Sure, use this…no comment!”
“Oh, on the contrary. In fact, I was requested by Rachel Weber to contact you.”
“Who? Never heard of her.”
“You might know her by her married name…Rachel Weber-Bouchette?”
Asa stared at him like he’d been hit across the face with a wet towel.
“Get inside the garage… and don’t let the door hit you on the way down.”
Asa pushed a button and the garage door began to cycle downward. Arthur waddled and did a clumsy hop inside, and not a second too soon.
“Whew… it almost got me!”
“Damn, the timing must be off. Now, explain to me what Mrs. Bouchette could possibly want from me?”
“Okay…okay. She’s curious why you never responded to any of Daniel’s letters. Um, what letters is she referring to, may I ask?”
Asa thought about shining him on with a ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ reply, but his mustache twitched. He may be an old-school cop, but Arthur’s an old-school newshound who can spot tells, too, and a story. He can be as relentless, if not more, as any bloodhound on the trail of a fresh lead, and can sniff the scent of truth better than most officers. He leaves no stone unturned, digs his hands into muck, and can weed through the bullshit.
“You did get some, didn’t you?” Arthur exclaimed.
“Shhhh! Keep your voice down!” Asa grunted.
“Okay…okay. What’d he write? How many did you get?”
“Let’s say, hypothetically, I did receive one. What’s it to you? You angling for another bestseller?”
“Nothing really, but did you read any of my bestsellers?”
“I have no want or desire to. You’re among a small cult who remain convinced that Bouchette’s innocent, the Devil’s special little creatures. What’s her bottom line? She one of those lonely-hearts who fell under the spell of a tortured soul who just happens to be a convicted killer?”
“Rachel was on his legal team and now runs The Reclamation Alliance, a firm of pro-bonos who review criminal cases to fight false convictions. They’ve been quite successful, but she’s has an affinity toward this one in particular, but what else would you expect from a wife?”
“Hmph, isn’t that touching? They discovered eternal love during a death penalty trial. Their story should be made into one of those sappy TV movies. Where were they registered, the prison commissary? Bouchette and innocence are a walking contradiction.”
“How can you say that when you haven’t even read any of the letters?” Arthur asked.
“Easy…and how do you know I haven’t read them?”
“I don’t, but at least you confirmed you got more than one. This is strictly off the record…, but does Daniel ever cross your mind? I mean, do you ever stop to think that maybe the wrong person is behind bars?”
“You mean the person who escaped from jail and slaughtered a family in cold blood? Not in the least. Bouchette’s exactly where he belongs…rotting on death row!”
“Is that how you remember it?”
“That’s how it happened. Now I’ll ask you again before I bid you adieu…what can I do you for?”
“All she wants is for you to read the letters, that’s it. Here…take my card. Give me a call when you’re ready to help in righting a wrong.”
“I don't make deals with the Devil.”
“This would be where we part ways…, Mister Silver.” Asa opened the garage door, and Arthur walked toward the daylight, but turned around just past the threshold.
“Just read them…what do you have to lose?!” Arthur said as the door closed.
“Asa?” Marlene said, popping her head in the garage. “Who were you talking to?”
“Just some persistent salesman trying to sell me a bag of goods.”
“Is it a good product?”
“I have to research it first.”
“You might as well buy it and put it on the shelf with the rest of your forgotten gadgets. I need the phone.”
“Oh…, here you go.”
“And make sure you put the garage back together this century,” Marlene joked, as she went back inside.
Asa locked the door and glanced at the clutter. In the time it took him to clean it up, everything was back in the same place it started. What a way to spend an afternoon. He stood alone with his thoughts and addressed his internal disarray.
He reached up to a shelf and pulled down a bag tucked behind two old friends: Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. He used to lean on them to drown his dreams, until they learned how to swim. He reached inside and pulled out a Beretta .45. His mind drifted off to when he was interrupted by a desolate Deputy Keith Miller. When they encountered each other in that penultimate moment, it was hard to determine whose back was more up against it. It’s said desperate times call for desperate measures, so Asa grabbed the tiger by its tail and became Jingle Belle one last time.
“Close my door and take a seat,” Captain Belle said. “I know it feels as though everyone’s deserted you, and I understand, but…”
“You have no idea what I’ve been through!” Deputy Miller groaned.
“Young man…, it’s you who has no idea how much I do, but probably not to your extent. The troubles you’re mired in, only you can dictate how you’ll make it out from under. But the way you’re carrying yourself, you’ve already resigned yourself to your fate. You can’t let this defeat you. Find something tangible to hang onto so you don’t go into a tailspin: your family, your faith, anything – just don’t give up!”
“That’s easy for you to say! You haven’t been through what I have! I never told anybody this before, not even my wife knows, but I was molested by my Pop Warner coach. He did all kind of… things to me that no kid should have to endure. He’d always touch me, and say how this was our special time because I was special; his go-to player. That bastard took advantage of me!”
“I…I had no idea. You’re right, I’ve never been in your position and can’t begin to understand what you experienced, but I do empathize for what you had to endure. But you never confided in anyone, not even your parents or a friend?”
“I tried telling my brother once how Coach D came up behind me when I was in the shower and… started rubbing on me…”
“If it’s too difficult for you to relive, you don’t have to…”
“No, I want to,” Deputy Miller muttered, bouncing his leg, nervously. “I’ve been silent for too long. He’d… rub me…and moan. God, I can still hear him in my ear! I…um, would get hard…, and then he’d put it in his mouth. I tried to push him away, but he’d just hold me tighter. He was so fucking strong, and I was too little to fight him!
“When I told my brother…, he…laughed at me. He said I was either lying or gay for Coach D…and that he was going to tell my dad on me. I got scared, so I said I was lying. It went on for years and then one day, he just stopped and started in on another kid. I guess he got tired of me. He probably told that kid he was special too.”
“Why didn’t you report him the police?” Captain Belle asked.
“Because in my neighborhood, if you ratted to the police, you got labeled a snitch. By then it didn’t matter, the damage was already done. I began taking what happened to me out on anybody, and I didn’t give a fuck who I hurt! I thought doing it to somebody else would make me feel better, but it didn’t!”
“Keith, the only way you’re going to get passed this is to face your demons and work on you. You’re not going to be any good to anybody until you do. What about your wife? Is she sticking by you?”
“No, she kicked me out when the article about me and that inmate hit the media,” Deputy Miller sobbed. “She won’t even let me see my son! I’m living in a motel until I figure something out.”
“I’m going to give you my personal cell number. If you need anything, call me. What happened to you was an atrocity that wasn’t your fault. What you repressed all these years has manifested and caused you to inflict more harm to yourself and others. What became of that coach?”
“The bastard got what he had coming! Kids these days are packing heat, and treat life like a video game. They can kill with no remorse! I wish I’d had that kind of heart back then, but I would’ve done it up close and personal… made his ass suffer!”
“What you’re speaking about is vengeance; having heart isn’t a prerequisite when it comes down to killing. In fact, you would’ve revealed yourself to be more of a coward. It wouldn’t have solved anything, and you’d be left more broken…” Captain Belle heard the squelch of radio traffic in the background approaching the Admin offices. “Sounds like the Rover’s coming for you, remember to call if you need anything.”
“I will, Captain.”
“I’m not a captain anymore, call me Mr. Belle.”
“You’ll always be Captain Belle to me.”
“Thanks, oh…and do me a favor.”
“Sure, anything! It’s been awhile since somebody asked me for anything.”
“Hand me that gun…, slowly.”
“Just give it to me…, you don’t need another case.”
Deputy Miller’s head dropped as he reached inside his jacket, and pulled out his Beretta .45 revolver. “I wasn’t gonna do…”
“You’re damn right you weren’t!” Captain Belle replied, sternly. “Now go meet the Rover and clean out your locker.”
“Yes, sir…, and thanks again.”
When Deputy Miller left the office, Captain Belle reclined in his chair and blew out a huge sigh. “I’m getting too old for this crap.” He pulled out the magazine clip and ejected the chambered round. He put the gun, the clip, and the bullet into the bag with the letters.
Suddenly, a cold chill ran through his body, snapping him back to the task at hand.
“Face your demons and work on you….It’s high-time I follow my own advice.” Asa pulled out a news clipping from inside the bag. It wasn’t the
most detailed of stories nor some noteworthy piece. He had to scour through the Times just to find the blurb buried in the Local section below the fold:
‘Former Deputy Found Hung In Apparent Suicide.’
Asa recalled attending Deputy Miller’s funeral and sitting in the back pew of the church amongst the low turnout for a man whose life was celebrated to little fanfare. Not even a contingent was deployed to represent the Agency.
Sure, family and friends paid their respects, but there were more faces of anger and repugnance rather than sorrow. His widow scowled at the open casket as the preacher did the best he could to eulogize him. There was no interment following the service; instead, some mourners broke off into small circles to reminisce about a beleaguered young man. Others disregarded the pastor’s consoling words and mother-fucked the departed with scathing undertones: ‘Faggot,’ ‘Fuck that fudge-packer,’ ‘He took the punk way out!’
The ‘grieving widow’ groused about how the insurance company refused to pay out for a suicide, and then she said it for anyone in earshot to hear: ‘His bitch ass could’ve at least lived better so the preacher didn’t have to lie up there!’
Asa shoved his hand back inside the bag and pulled out an envelope. He ripped it open and began reading, as his heart pounded louder than a giant tippy-toeing:
I hoppe this letter makes it too you. I been writin to you, but I haven’t herd back. I don’t kno why I keep writin I gues I think you will write back one day. I jus want to tell you I didn't do what they say I did to that family. Ima lot of things, a crook, a lyer, a theif, but I ain’t no killa or a dirty rapist! Check my sheet, you kno it true. I saw it in yo eyes while yo boys beat me. But Ima start taken GED classes, maybe even git my diploma. May as well while I'm locked up in hear.
I ain’t even mad at anybody no mo’. Not at da DA, da judge, da jury, or even you cops. I hoppe I hear from ya. I jus want da truth ta get told. Dat desent family didn't deserv dat…
Asa was blindsided that it wasn’t the bitter rantings of a calculating killer; it lacked the teeth and had the air of commiseration. Nothing could ever change what happened on that fateful day, but he could attempt to make peace with himself. He popped inside the kitchen and grabbed the phone.
“Hey, it’s not done charging yet!” Marlene bellowed.
“I’ll just be a minute!” Asa said, as he disappeared back into the garage and began dialing.
“Jingle Belle, we’re not a couple of schoolgirls who need to constantly gab on the phone,” Carl replied. “We talked already.”
“Funny,” Asa said. “I just had a blast from the past. You remember that reporter from the Times, Artie Silver?”
“Who could ever forget that sloth? What’s he want?”
“Well…if your offer’s still on the table I’m all in, if you want me.”
“Of course I do! What made you finally come around?”
“I need to break up my routine. I do have one stipulation before I commit, but I don’t want to say what it is, just yet. You okay with that?”
“Sure, I’m just giddy to have my old road dog back in the trenches with me, … but do you hear yourself?”
“What’d you mean?”
“You’re contradicting yourself.”
“You said you didn’t need more people hating you.
“Well, what’s a few dozen more gonna hurt?”
“It was a dark and stormy night…”
— Sheriff Callaghan
The SIT/Con Room is akinto the Cone of Silence, where delicate discussions are conducted in this clandestine setting. Even for those in the know, sometimes it’s not for them to know, because some matters require another layer of insulation.
Sheriff Callaghan called a double-secret meeting with only a select, selectfew in attendance: Undersheriff Ulrich, County Counsel Theresa Durning, and Human Resources Manager Van Frankel. There was only one topic on the docket, and he was in his Gemini mood.
“We’ll dispense with the intros and get right to it,” the Sheriff grumbled. “The Undersheriff and I sat down and gave this Complaint another look, and I’m fed up. Theresa, how can we make this go away?”
“I’ve read it backwards and forward, and I can’t find any ‘a-ha’ moments in it,” Ms. Durning replied. “The only new wrinkle is the gag order, and it’s self-explanatory.”
“Don’t remind me. We’ve got a leak we need to plug. Van, how secure is your department?”
“Since this went public, I’ve trusted in one other person, but I wouldn’t consider her to be any leak,” Mr. Frankel said.
“At this point, I’m not ruling anybody out. Since Deputy Miller’s death, we observed a cooling-off period out of respect, but it’s time to get our oars back into the water. Undersheriff, can you recap the timeline on this for us again?”
“Hmm, let’s see,” the Undersheriff said, sliding on his glasses. “We were served with the Complaint; we filed our response; forwarded the discovery packet to their attorneys, held a meeting to discuss ongoing strategies and the Times article regarding Miller and that inmate, we…”
“Silver wrote that piece, right?” the Sheriff said.
“The one and only.”
“I’d start with him,” Ms. Durning groaned. “Does Pat still have a rapport with him as the public information officer to schmooze him enough to find out who his source was?”
“Up until Silver started his ‘Free Bouchette’ movement,” the Undersheriff explained. “He more or less burned whatever traction he did have left with us after that.”
“I read the court transcripts of that case when they got unsealed; there was some damning evidence against him,” Ms. Durning said. “I also read a couple of Silver’s books to get his spin on it, too. I can’t understand how he continues to maintain he could be anything but guilty.”
“He took the side of the con rather than the pro, and milked it for all it was worth,” the Undersheriff replied.
“Did Captain Lansing forward you the emails, texts, and phone records related to the Complaint yet?” the Sheriff asked.
“He did,” the Undersheriff replied, as he patted a stack of manila envelopes. “He’s got a sharp crew, and they’re very thorough. I made copies for us to review over lunch. Van, you won’t need to remain for that. Between the Sheriff, Theresa, and I, we got a handle on it.”
“Um, emails?” Mr. Frankel replied.
“Yes, all forms of electronic communication are subject to discovery,” the Undersheriff explained. “We didn’t forward them to opposing counsel for discovery because they didn’t request them…yet. Funny thing, though, in my day, anything classified, we had to memorize it, then shred it, but not nowadays. People email the darnedest things, and somebody a lot smarter than me can recover it even if it’s deleted. Why?”
“Well…, while I was validating the scores…, it’s standard procedure whenever we finalize the rankings…”
“Are you gonna tell us one stammer at a time?” the Sheriff groaned. “Spit it out!”
“All right. You weren’t there, Sheriff, but when Theresa mentioned in that last meeting if there was anything that might come up as a surprise, well…, there was one item I didn’t think could become a big issue. I, um… sent out emails with what I believed to be the final rankings, but then I got a phone call to recall them ASAP because the numbers weren’t definite.”
“Who called you?” the Sheriff replied.
“I…I’d rather not say. Anyway, it was my fault for rushing to get the lists out before the holiday weekend.”
“Hold on a second,” the Sheriff growled. “I don’t want to hear any ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ stories! Stop thinking about what I might ask before I ask it, just give me the goddamn name!”
“It was, um…Commander Harwell.”
Ms. Durning sat stunned, the Undersheriff shook his head with derision, but, the Sheriff? He was eerily stoic.
“Get us up to speed,” the Sheriff said.
“He told me to recall the emails because the scores needed to be gone over again, and to stand by until he got back to me. Usually, recalling emails don’t work, but this time it did. When he finally sent me the final rankings and numbers, I reentered them personally, then emailed those out. I didn’t think anything of it after that, until we had that meeting. I brought it to his attention afterwards, and he pretty much ordered me to zip it regarding the A and B lists thing…”
“A and B lists?” Ms. Durning interrupted.
“Yeah, I created two independent lists for tracking purposes.”
“So what’re you saying? There’s a list, and then there’s THE list?” the Sheriff exclaimed.
“Why’re you maintaining two lists?” the Undersheriff asked.
“My predecessor trained me to develop test-related redundancies in the event the process gets challenged or we get audited. I apologize for not speaking up sooner, but Commander Harwell was confident everything would work out.”
“Is there anything else I should know about on my end?” Ms. Durning replied.
“Just that all the promotions we’ve made thus far are based strictly off the B list, so there shouldn’t be any discrepancies, civil-service wise, or grounds for the unions to file the Complaint.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” the Sheriff replied. “From here on out, everything, and I mean down to the scintilla, goes directly through me or the Undersheriff. Got it? Undersheriff, can you give Theresa an envelope on her way out? There’s some in-house business we need to discuss further outside of her presence.”
“I understand,” Ms. Durning said. “I’ll keep you updated if anything else pops up.”
“Thanks for coming in,” the Undersheriff replied. “Van, are you certain there are no other land mines waiting for us to step on?”
“No, that’s it, I promise,” Mr. Frankel said. “Again I want to apologize, I really thought I was…”
“Well, thinking isn’t knowing,” the Sheriff barked. “You haven’t been the HR manager long, but you’re not thinking like a supervisor! Whenever you’re confronted by a member of my staff to keep a matter of this magnitude quiet, remember this…I outrank everybody! You drop whatever you’re doing and contact me or the Undersheriff yesterday! Are we clear on that?”
“Yes, sir, and it won’t happen again.”
“I’m sure it won’t, or you won’t be HR manager going forward if I have anything to say about it. Until this mess is over, I’m excluding you from future dealings on the Complaint unless you’re summoned. The last thing we need is for the unions to start believing one plus one equals two.”
“I understand, sir.”
“And don’t breathe a word of this to anybody. As far as anyone’s concerned, it’s business as usual. That’s all!”
“Yes, sir…business as usual. Good day, gentlemen,” Mr. Frankel replied.
As he scampered out the room, the Sheriff and Undersheriff started chuckling.
“He better thank his lucky stars I’m not his boss or I’d have exacted my pound of flesh from him,” the Sheriff said.
“I hated putting him through that,” the Undersheriff replied. “He’s going to be good at his job once he knows to stay in his lane. But if there’s one thing the Marines taught me, the best way to extract information is to infer blame.”
“Okay, let’s debrief. Between Harwell’s meddling and the very real possibility Commander Laing may be the leak, things are starting to gel. How certain are you she’s the pipeline?”
“As certain the sun will rise tomorrow.”
“Let’s leave that alone for now, and see if we can float something in her presence that she can’t resist blabbing to Silver. If she does, she’s done.”
“Got it. So what’s your next move with Harwell?”
“I gotta put him on the shelf where he can’t be heard from for a while. First it’s that damn picture of him getting his knob slobbed, now this. Vasco’s been clamoring for a replacement, well, it looks like they’re gonna get their wish. But hunger calls, you hungry?”
“Let’s head down to Dutch’s; it’s on me. I already have someone in mind to babysit Vasco in the interim until we can start promoting folks again…”
“Hold that thought,” the Undersheriff said, as he grabbed his cell. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Theresa. I just opened the packet, and the papers are blank! Is this a mistake?”
“No, that would be an on purpose. I’ll explain it you later, but for now, consider it a donation for your printer.”
“So what happens when they ask where’s the smoke?”
— Phoebe Alexander
Monica walked into the living room of Casa de Alexander and stared at Phoebe sitting on the floor surrounded by photographs.
“Are you still trying to put all those pictures into albums?” Monica exclaimed.
“And hello to you, too!” Phoebe smiled. “I'm just finishing up for the time being.”
“I offered to scan them onto the computer for you. It would literally make your life so much easier.”
“Not everything’s better with technology. Besides, I’m enjoying my stroll down memory lane, but I saved the best for last; it’s only right we dive in together.”
“Definitely! Sorry, it took me so long to commit, I haven’t had much free time lately. I’ve been crazy swamped at work! There’s talk one of the supervisors got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and is on the outs. You know, ‘corruption at the highest level’ stuff. I had to assemble a packet for the DA’s office, for them to decide whether or not to bring him up on criminal charges.”
“They’re always going to pin some sort of misconduct on whoever’s in office. Personally, I trust a bureaucrat with a little dirt on them before the ones constantly proclaiming they’re squeaky clean. They’re the ones I’m suspicious of. So, you ready?” Phoebe slid the Great Room’s doors open that unveiled journals stacked on the dining room table.
They settled in as Phoebe popped the cork on a Pinot. They sipped and laughed while reading Olivia’s thoughts and exploits. For a woman who didn’t drive, she sure got around.
Phoebe giggled as she read how Olivia fell asleep on a bus and ended up being awakened by the driver at the end of the line.
Monica chortled when Olivia implored Walter not to kill a suspected intruder who turned out to be a young Phoebe sneaking out of the house for some late-night fun. They’d interrupt each other to share a nugget or two as the minutes lapsed into hours.
Suddenly, Phoebe’s brow furrowed as Olivia’s writings turned dark and disjointed:
…I’ve spent my entire life trying to make others happy, but, who’s making me happy? Why am I always hurting inside? But I have to keep persevering like everything’s fine, but, it’s getting harder to contain my pain.
Wally’s back from another one of his conferences. I asked him how it went, and he didn’t say a fucking word, as usual! He just looked at me with that STUPID LOOK of his and turned on the idiot box! One day, I’m going to bust that thing just to see if he notices me then! He can be so SELFISH!
Well, miracles do happen. He finally spoke and said, “You know, the same old boring stuff,” but I know he only said that to shut me up. Translation: NONE OF YOUR BEESWAX!
He thinks I’m oblivious to what’s he’s doing, but he’s not fooling me one bit. Since when does he care about his clothes and how he smells for me not to notice?Who the fuck does he think he is? Why do I continue to remain in this marriage?
I don’t know how long I can keep wearing this fake smile so nobody sees how much I’m dying inside! It’s like that magazine article said, “The prettiest smile hides the deepest secrets, the brightest eyes cries the most tears, the kindest hearts have felt the most pain…”
“Mom? Earth to Mom! You okay?” Monica exclaimed.
“Huh…um, yeah, what’s wrong?!” Phoebe blurted.
“You’re crushing the notebook.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I…”
“Oh no you don’t, give.”
“It’s…, It’s like I’m reading about a totally different person.”
“You’ve been reading her entries. How does she sound?”
“Confident, independent, and stubborn; kinda like us.”
“Tell me about it. But in these later journals…she sounds so unsure of herself and angry. She pressed the pen down harder on some pages and used all caps. It’s obvious something affected her around that period.”
“No way! Let me see.” As Monica read, she was astounded by the distress from a woman not known to kowtow to anybody. “I could be wrong, but it reads like Grandma suspected Poppy was cheating on her.”
“So it’s not just me,” Phoebe replied. “I thought it was the wine.”
“But, we’re talking about one of the sweetest men in the world. He worshipped the ground she walked on; he’d wouldn’t do that. What stack did you pull this from?”
“This one. These are right around the time before she died.”
“Do you want me to read those? They might get rougher.”
“No, I'm okay…, she wanted me to find them for a reason, so I’m reading them.”
“Then let’s read them together.” Phoebe picked up another journal from the grim pile. Monica draped an arm around her as they read:
…Today, one of the Angels For Blue wives gave a tearful testimonial about how she doesn’t keep a diary for herself, but for others. She said it’s like a secret she doesn’t want to tell everybody, but wants everybody to know. I feel so petty believing I have such earth-shattering problems in my life, but nothing compared to what they have to live through everyday because some animal killed their spouse. They’re some of the strongest people I’ve ever met. A lot stronger than I’ll ever be.
I’m glad I was used to keeping a journal. I’ve been writing for so long, I would’ve exploded if I didn’t write what I have inside down. Oh well, say it, forget it; write it, regret it! Ha, ha, it feels good to laugh for a change, especially when the pain hits. It’s like drinking. Boy, do I remember how numb it got me. I remember when the wine was more than enough to soothe me, but it wasn’t right for a lady to drink alone.
I could get away with it at functions, but I got tired of Wally shaming me and that if he wanted to marry a barfly, he would’ve. He had a point, I guess, but I’m NOT some damn barfly! I take exception to that! Am I wrong when I’d tell Bebe it was grape juice when she asked what I was drinking? Probably, but I pray she forgives me. Besides, alcohol’s cheaper than therapy! Haaaa, I crack myself up sometimes, but most of the time, all I have is myself to humor me. I had to lie to spare her from seeing me like this. I remember a quote one of the Angels shared with me: The strongest person you know cries behind closed doors because they have too much pride to let anyone see them cry.
I’m so thankful I got talked into going to an AA meeting. I even got a sobriety token out of it. I kicked the grape juice habit, but I still need something to deal with the pain. It’s becoming worse! The cough syrup helps, but only for so long, and I can’t keep saying I got the flu. Nobody’s that sick.
Hopefully when Bebe’s older, she’ll understand I’m like anybody else with real problems. The one thing AA preaches is every relationship is destined to fail when you start hiding aspects of your life from them. But it’s not the secrets that destroy them, it’s the suspicions. If I can help it, she’ll never find out. I’ll take that to my grave!
Wally’s still acting like everything’s fine, but with all the FUCKING hang-ups and those goddamn conferences (cops don’t need to meet so much!!!), I’m at the breaking point that I don’t give a damn anymore! GOD, I wish he had the guts to ask me what’s on my mind, instead of always lashing out, but all he ever does is plop his ass in his chair and flip channels! One day, I hope he sees my last image so it’ll haunt him forever…
Suddenly, Phoebe’s arm flinched, knocking Monica’s purse off the table, spilling its contents onto the floor. As she began picking them up, she looked incredulously at a certain item and held it aloft.
“And since when do you smoke?”
“I don’t, um…, technically smoke them,” Monica replied. “They’re more for show.”
“Remember that analyst job I thought I had in the bag? Well, I found out through the grapevine that the fix was in, and the chick I was up against snaked it from under me. I literally could do that job blindfolded; my supervisor even assured me it was mine! Next thing I knew, she’s packing up her crap and moving upstairs.”
“And what does that have to do with you smoking?!” Phoebe remarked.
“I'm getting to it,” Monica explained. “I could accept losing out if she were sleeping with the person who made the final decision, but she was taking her breaks when the bosses did, and smoking with them on the patio! I’m not saying that sealed it, but she got more face-time to sell herself. I decided I gotta start putting myself around them, so I don’t miss out on another opportunity again, and if it meant nursing a cigarette in my mouth to get noticed, so be it.”
“But, why smoking?” Phoebe exclaimed. “Never mind the Surgeon General’s warning not to do it, listen to mine: you’ll not sacrifice your pink lungs for some stupid job!”
“I told you I’m not smoking them; I only nurse them! While they’re puffing, I just put it in my mouth every now and then to make it look good.”
“So what happens when they ask where’s the smoke?”
“I tell them I’m trying to quit, and the best way for me is to not light up. It’s cheaper than buying patches.”
“That sounds like a lot of work just to get noticed. You may be an Alexander, but you’ve got Dodd DNA in you, too. Did you ever consider that maybe you were meant for something bigger than some analyst job?”
“It crossed my mind, but I really wanted that job! Now I have to take orders from that…her, and I was the one who trained her when she got hired! It’s sickening the way they kiss ass down there. I’m liable to light one up just to blow out some stress!”
“And that’s how it begins,” Phoebe replied. “You read how your grandmother started off drinking wine, then cough syrup, but nothing eased her pain. You know, now that I think about it, that explains why there were always empty medicine bottles in the trash.”
“What’d you think they were for?” Monica asked.
“I was young, and didn’t concern myself with anything unless it affected me. She knew to come to me in my dream at the right time in my life because I don’t know if I would’ve paid any attention back then. She’s still teaching me after all these years.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Don’t you see? You have to read between the lines, or rather the lies. I thought her life, our life, was perfect. I thought the hardest things she had to deal with were raising me and getting around on the bus. But after reading these entries, she endured so much more.”
“It’s just sad she couldn’t share her problems with someone like the way we do.”
“Yeah, now. Remember not too long ago, we weren’t exactly on the best of mother/daughter terms. You used to confide in Gigi, but I had nobody…just a bottle of wine. You know, sometimes, I’d sit alone in the house, pour a glass to relax, and before I realized it, the bottle was empty.”
“I never knew that!” Monica gasped. “I always thought you were just an occasional drinker.”
“Occasional? Heh, that’s what Mom used to tell me, too. You’re a strong woman, Monica Olivia. So what you didn’t get some job, who cares? You’ll earn what you get by what you bring to the table, not because you smoke around people who are the decision-makers. I once told you if you’d joined the Agency, you’d be a captain by now, but I was wrong. You’d be the sheriff! Why settle? Plan A is easy, but life’s all about how you handle Plan B. Reach higher and be more than you ever thought you could be.”
“I love you, Mommy!” Monica sobbed.
“I love you too,” Phoebe said, wiping her eyes. “Just promise me you won’t ever compromise yourself to get ahead.”
“I promise. Oh, and you can toss those away; I won’t be needing them anymore.”
“That’s my girl!” Phoebe happily tossed the cigarettes into a wastebasket.
“But what about the wine?” Monica asked. “I don’t want you relying on it anymore; you’ve got me.”
“That’s good to know. Besides, there’s always grape juice, right?”
“And don’t you forget it! But, I’m still not buying Poppy cheating on Grandma with another woman. Are you?”
“If this were a few months ago, I’d be racing over to that old man’s house and kicking in the front door to confront him, but I’m kinder and gentler now, so I’ll hear him out first. Just keep in mind, he was a man first before he became your sweet Poppy.”
“You can suppose that’s why he wasn’t leaping at the chance to look for Grandma’s stuff. But to be fair, I wouldn’t want anybody poking around in my past, either.”
“Well, in the words of Walter Dodd, fair is a place where they judge pigs and pies.”