Sweet Thyme Baby – 16

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

16

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 15 first)

 

A thousand years ago when Dee and Victor went to court with Grandma and Grandpa, there were reporters and cameras. Later she saw a picture of herself holding Victor’s hand. The headline under it said, “Love Triangle Orphans.” That’s how Dee felt now, holding the bill in her hand. Orphaned.
 
She closed her bedroom door, and went into the bathroom, took three aspirin and ran the water until it was so cold it hurt her fingers. She soaked a washcloth, wrung it out and lay down with it across her eyes. Still, light winked behind her eyelids.
 
In the days before she responded to the Help Wanted sign in the window of Ryan’s Nursery, her home had been beneath the parish hall steps at  All Souls Episcopal Church, and for food money she had panhandled outside the Ocean Beach library. She had lice in her hair but Con and Carlotta had given her a bed in their house and told her she could stay as long as she liked. Dee had not trusted them; but she stayed on, as if to have her worst suspicions confirmed.
 
Under the wet cloth, one eyelid pulsed.
 
She had trusted Victor when she was young and at some point she might even have trusted herself – which now seemed even more remarkable. Eventually she had trusted Con and Carlotta; kindness and good food and time itself had defeated her resistance. But now she felt as if they had reached out from their grave and betrayed her by exacting a promise they must have known she could never honor. The cruelty of it was more than her heart could bear; but while she tried to resent it, she found she could not sustain the feeling. She finally struck a blow against reason and believed: they could not have known about the taxes.
 
Maggie wanted her to go to the City Treasurer and negotiate. But there had been a bold statement at the bottom of the tax form. THIS IS YOUR FINAL NOTICE.
 
The simple solution was for her to sell off some of the garden property but Con and Carlotta’s will had specifically asked that she hold the land intact, as it had always been. There was another alternative. She could sell her movies to Victor.
 
She swung her legs off the bed and walked across the cool floor to the bureau and opened the second drawer. Under the panties and bras and oversized tee shirts she slept in, lay the film reels in their two wide flat canisters. She laid one on her pillow and sat cross-legged looking at it. She ran her index finger along the can’s ridged surface.
 
The feel of the metal beneath her fingertip was all it took to revive the past. Simultaneously physical and emotional, the conditioned response emerged from where it lay buried and like a monstrosity off an ancient map, it swam through her blood to her heart and her head.  She lay on her side with her knees tight against her chest and rode the feeling until she could bear it no longer. She put the canister away and began to think again.
 
If she sold the movie rights, she would be selling this: her shame.  Without the movie cans as reminders she would not suffer in the same way. And though she could not explain why, she cherished the shame and was grateful for its constancy. It was her punishment to suffer every day for the rest of her life. It was what she deserved and the only sentence that vaguely fit the crime she had committed.
 
She lay on her back and stared at the ceiling.
 
She possessed the only copies of two movies, the others she had destroyed. Maybe she did not need them both. She chewed over her situation. Could she maybe sell Victor one and keep the other for punishment? She sat on the edge of the bed with her head between her knees until her temples throbbed. Blood to the brain was supposed to help with clear thinking, but it had only made her head hurt. She straightened her back and rotated her head in circles left and right. She stood up, walked to the window and stared out at the sea.
 
Far out, a pair of surfers rode the late afternoon swells. She tried to imagine how relaxed they must feel, afloat on the breast of the sea with the sun warming their backs. Perhaps they had fallen asleep out there as peacefully as infants in cradles. Careless.
 
She could not recall a time in her life when she had been “careless.”  An emotion came at her head-on. It was envy, as pure as love and unmistakable as hate. Why had fate given those girls or boys a life of sweet rocking surfboard hours when it had doled out nothing but trouble to Dee Larue?
 

*

 
“Well,” Victor said when he opened his door. “Well.”
 
“I have to talk to you.”
 
“I thought you would. If I stayed around.”
 
He opened the door wide, and she stepped into his room. His clothes were strewn on the backs of chairs. Though the double doors onto the balcony were open, she smelled stale cigarette smoke. Dee knew immediately that she should not have come into Victor’s territory. She should have asked him to come to the garden.
 
“Sit down, Sweetheart. I’ve got Jack Daniels. You still like him up?” He laughed. “No pun intended.”
 
“I didn’t come here for a drink. I have to ask you something.”
 
“You can at least sit down.” He put his hand on her elbow. “I won’t pounce.”
 
She let herself be led to the striped, overstuffed couch. If she relaxed she would fall back into it and smother so she sat on the edge and stared straight ahead.
 
“Why do they want to kill you? What have you done?”
 
Victor poured a finger of whiskey and drank it. Poured another. He sat in the easy chair facing her across a glass-topped coffee table. She could hear his mind turning over, like a car shifting gears to find the right speed.
 
“The truth, Victor. That’s all I want.”
 
“Dee, you are the eternal ingénue. I guess that’s a big part of your appeal.”
 
She knew this Victor. The world weary, the philosophical, the bitter but unbowed Victor, the jaded Victor who had seen and done so much more than she ever would. Poor Dee, poor innocent.
 
“You owe money. To the mob.”
 
“That. Yes.”
 
He pushed back a lock of hair. “After…what happened…in LA…I hung around for a while, but you want the truth and I’ll give it to you, what happened up there was so awful, my heart went out of the business. I needed a change, a big one. So I went to Vegas and what with one thing and another, I made some powerful friends, had some good times, –”
 
“Gambled.”
 
“Sweetheart, that’s what I do. Haven’t you figured that out?”
 
“Go on.”
 
“I heard about this land deal, this property thing…. Vegas is a boom town, you know. Thousands of people move there every month. It was a great deal I had going and when it went through I was going to be a rich man, you know?”
 
The excitement in his voice was not only genuine, it was as familiar as her memories and hurt in the same way.
 
“I knew I couldn’t lose so I borrowed. Lots. And when the time table didn’t go just the way I thought it would –. I tell you, Sweetheart, construction’s a loaded game and in Vegas we’re talking water, water, water. If you don’t have water… Well, anyway, good as that deal was I had to borrow more and not always from the same folks. It got so I was afraid to go out my front door.”
 
Victor wasn’t lying now.
 
“The development finally went through but I had to cut some corners, pay a few city officials. Never woulda worked if my guys hadn’t been huge.”
 
From the patio dining room below, Dee heard the sound of laughter and conversation and, faintly, a piano playing a tune with pretty, old-fashioned lyrics she knew for some reason.
 
We’ll survive on, keep alive on, just nothin’ but kisses, we’re mister and missus….
 
She had to laugh.
 
Victor looked hurt.
 
“How much are my movies worth?”
 
“Enough to get my bankers off my back.” He swirled the whisky in his glass. Clockwise, counterclockwise, then clockwise again. When they were kids he did the same thing with his milk until it slopped and Grandma yelled at him.  “The way we’ll do it, we’ll tape ‘em and distribute worldwide.” He grinned. “They always did love you in Asia and the Middle East.”
 
“What do you mean, ‘we?’ You said ‘we’.”
 
“I got to get something out of this, don’t I?”
 
“What about your debt?”
 
“They’ll take it, don’t worry. Those guys don’t miss a fucking beat.””
 
“I’ll need more money.”
 
“I don’t know, Dee….”
 
“These are mobsters, Victor.”
 
“We’re not talking Michael Corleone. These are local guys, small time.”
 
“You just said they were huge.”
 
“Huge in Vegas. Not huge-huge.”
 
Now she was not sure if he was being truthful. Best to assume the worst. She would save the garden and put an extra few thousands somewhere to earn interest for next year’s taxes. Con and Carlotta wanted the land intact, and to keep it that way, she would sell one movie. She had known joy in the garden, day after day of it and so had Pinkus and George and Maggie and countless others. “I’ll sell one for seventy-five thousand.”
 
He drew in his breath.
 
“If what you say is true, you’d be getting it cheap.”
 
“Twenty-five. Max.”
 
“It’s not enough.”
 
“I don’t get it. You got that garden, the nursery. You don’t need my money.”
 
“Seventy-five.”
 
His tan reddened. “I deserve those movies, Dee.”
 
She realized that she had always known there could be no deal between them. Wishful thinking and curiosity had brought her to his room. Lodged between her heart and her head there had been this tiny bud of hope that he might have changed. But no one ever changed. Not Victor. Not her.
 
At the door she asked him, “Victor, do you have any photos of Serena?”
 
He thought a moment. “I might.”
 
“Could I have one?”
 
She saw him thinking, heard the gears. “Maybe we could make a deal. You give me the movies, I pay you twenty-five thou and…a photograph.”
 
“Which one?”
 
He shrugged. “Big Bear? She’s wearing that white snowsuit.”
 
“She slipped on the ice in front of the condo and tore the backside.”
 
“Do we have a deal?”
 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

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