FLESH AND BLOOD
By Bill Vernon
The doorbell rang, dragging a white-haired lady from her soap, making her trudge to the front door. She squinted through the screen at a man and woman on her porch. “Hello.”
“Don’t you know us?” asked the man.
She hesitated, and then stepped onto the threshold. “I don’t see too good.”
The man opened the screen door and smiled.
The lady’s eyes widened. “Oh, well, no wonder I didn’t recognize you, what with that goatee and those doodads on your arms.”
“Tattoos, Granny,” the woman with him said, also smiling. “John’s got ’em all over his body now.”
“Well, well.” Granny stared from one to the other. “I ain’t heard a word from you two in ten years.”
“Yeah, it’s time we visited, Granny,” John said, bending and kissing her cheek. “So here we are. How you been?”
The woman took John’s place for her turn. “Good to see you, Granny.”
Granny swiveled her head, nearly avoiding the woman’s kiss, and said, “Your father told me you were both away on a long vacation. I guess that was some time ago, now I think about it.”
John said, “Our Daddy don’t know that me and Joyce are back here in Lebanon together. We’ve decided to take advantage of an opportunity that just came up.”
Granny studied his face, then the woman’s.
Joyce asked, “Aren’t you goin’ to invite us in?”
“Well, I guess so.”
The duo selected opposite ends of her three-person couch while Granny offered coffee.
“Got anything stronger?” John asked.
“You ought to know I don’t keep beer or any other alcohol in the house. Liquor’s against my principles.”
“Coffee’s fine,” Joyce said.
Granny served John and Joyce half-filled cups on saucers that also held packets of sweetener and powdered cream she’d confiscated from restaurants. Then she brought from the kitchen a white plastic decanter, which she plopped down on the end table by John. “Coffee’s in there if you want more,” she said, and sat without coffee herself in a rocking chair.
Joyce said, “You get around real good, Granny.”
“Fair. I still drive and take care of myself. Praise the Lord! Lots of people younger’n me can’t do that.”
John asked, “How old are you now?”
Joyce shook her head and grinned. “You’re doin’ real good.”
John said, “I remember you always had a Christmas tree in front of that picture window.”
Granny nodded. “Yes, and piles of wrapped-up presents. And we had Easter egg hunts outside. And Thanksgiving dinner over there in the dinette. Those holiday get-togethers are some of my fondest memories.”
“Ours too,” Joyce said.
John said, “We want to let you in on a chance to make some money.”
Joyce reached over and squeezed the hand he’d dropped on the cushion between them.
Granny said, “You two were such cute little things when you were growing up.”
Joyce said, “Those were good times.”
John said, “Yeah, they really were.”
Both smiled at Granny and sipped coffee.
Granny sighed, then said, “What's this money thing?”
John set his drink on the coffee table and leaned forward. “See, I have this really good job, and...”
Granny interrupted, “How long you had it? You went through a lot of good jobs when you lived here before.”
“Yeah, but that was all from bad luck. I always got in with people that tried to take advantage of me.”
Joyce touched his left arm.
John said, “Anyway, I been with this landscaping outfit all summer, and it’s really up-front and well established. They been operating for 15 years in Landon.”
Granny said, “Landon never even existed 20 years ago. It built up overnight.”
“That’s right,” John said, “and this landscaping outfit grew up right along with the town. The guy that owns it has 40 regular customers under contract, and the company’s still growing. More important, though, it’s for sale.”
Joyce leaned forward. “It’s a real opportunity to get ahead for whoever takes it over.”
John said, “That’s gonna be us, Granny, and we’re giving you a chance to invest and fatten your wallet.”
“I got all the money I need,” Granny said. “What I care about’s my family. See those pictures. Whole history of the family up there. Your family too. Come here and look.”
John said, “Now wait a minute. We’re talking business.”
As Granny rose and lurched around the couch toward an array of photographs on the wall, Joyce frowned at John and stood, pulling him up by an arm. John raised his eyebrows, but followed Joyce, taking a position where they could look over Granny’s shoulders.
Granny dragged them through every picture, one by one naming names and explaining what had happened to each person. The photographs were arranged in chronological order, and she proceeded from her and her husband’s grandparents to her and her husband’s parents, then stopped at her own wedding pictures. “Course, this is Bert. We were married 44 years.”
“Uh huh,” Joyce muttered, catching John’s eyes. He shook his head, and she mouthed at him to take it easy.
Granny continued, needlessly pointing out their father. “Of course, this is Herman.”
“That’s our dear old Daddy all right,” John said.
Granny said, “My great grandchildren. Must be 11 or 12 now. I often wonder what’s become of them.”
Joyce said, “They were adopted.”
“Yes, I know that. Do you ever see your child?”
“Not me,” John said.
Joyce said, “I plan to visit my Shawna real soon.”
Granny asked, “Where is she?”
“Down in Cincinnati with her father and his wife. I understand they’re pretty well off.”
Granny sighed, looked at Joyce, then John, then went back to her rocking chair. They returned to the couch.
“So here’s what we had in mind,” John said, smiling and leaning forward again. “You loan us what we need and we’ll pay it back with interest. The company’s guaranteed to succeed. You’ll definitely make money on the deal.”
Granny said, “How much do you want?”
John said, “$3,000. That’s enough with what else we got to make a down payment.”
Joyce said, “We want to keep this opportunity in the family if we can. Give you a chance to make some money too.”
Granny looked at them.
John asked, “What do you say?”
Granny frowned. “I’d have to go to the bank.”
John smiled. “We’ll sign whatever you want about interest and payments.”
Joyce said, “We can go to the bank with you right now.”
“All right,” Granny said. “Let me put on something decent and fetch my handbag.”
The transaction went quickly. The two young people stayed near the bank’s front doors while a teller handed over bills that Granny carefully counted one by one and put into an envelope. She put the envelope into her big purse, draped it on a forearm, turned and came back to the door.
“All set?” John asked, opening the door for her. “Let’s go do our business.”
In the lot, the three of them stopped between their cars, and Granny dug in her purse. “I got two thousand-dollar bills, a five-hundred, and the rest in 50s.”
“That's great.” John took the envelope, counted the bills inside, folded them with the small bills on top, then stuffed the wad in a trousers pocket, dropping the envelope, which skittered with the breeze across the pavement. “If you got a pen, we can make out an IOU right here.”
“That's not necessary,” Granny said. “We’re family.”
“You’re sweet,” Joyce said, and kissed her.
“Thanks, Grandma,” John said, kissing her too. “Now be careful goin’ home. You drive awful slow. It almost drove me nuts when we followed you here.”
Then they parted company.
At 8:39 that night, two police officers rang Granny’s bell, interrupting a rerun of “Touched By An Angel,” which was her favorite show. They said they were Sheriff’s Deputies and mentioned their names, which she instantly forgot. One of them asked if she was Ruth Sampson.
“Related to John and Joyce Sampson?”
“I’m their grandmother. Oh dear, are they in trouble again? Or did something happen to them? An accident?”
“No, no accident,” the taller deputy said, bending down so his eyes were level with hers. His breath reeked of peppermint. “Did you give them any money today?”
“Did you give them money, ma’am?”
“Why no. Poor old widows don’t have money to give away. I just buried my Bert a year ago. Maybe you knew him. He ran the Sampson Studio downtown. Let me show you. Come in, please.”
She led the men inside to the pictures and threw on a light. “Bert took all these photographs. When the cancer got him, it was awful. Cost every penny we’d saved to care for him. We were married 44 years, you see. That’s him in the middle there.”
The taller one said, “We’re sorry for your loss.”
The other one asked, “Did they go to the bank with you today?”
“My grandkids? Yes, I withdrew a little money because I had to get something at the hardware store, and then they told me goodbye in the parking lot outside the bank.”
The tall one asked, “Did you give them the money you withdrew?”
“Well, no, it was just $50. Two 20s and ten ones. What did those children do now? I’m afraid they’ve been nothing but trouble from the beginning.”
The shorter one said, “We know they were recently released from prison in Montana, ma’am. Their father is presently in prison in Ohio, isn't he?”
She took a frilly handkerchief from the pocket of her blue robe, dabbed her eyes, and shook her head. “Herman’s got 20 years to go. He killed his ex-wife Janine, you know.”
“Maybe it’s all my fault. Herman is my son. John and Joyce are my grandchildren. Maybe I did something wrong.”
The tall one said, “Everybody’s responsible for his own self. You can’t take the blame for what other people do.”
“I wish I could believe that. What’d those two kids do this time?”
She was told they’d been passing bad money in a bar in Morrow, and when apprehended, each had counterfeit bills in their possession. They swore the money had come from her.
Granny said, “Goodness. I can’t believe those children would try to blame their own flesh and blood to get off for something they did.”
The short one said, “They both told exactly the same story.”
“I declare.” Granny shook her head.
She went into the garage and checked the new spade. It was perfectly dry and clean, exhibiting no evidence of recent use. Of course, it’s being purchased today might be suspicious, but the cops hadn’t asked for the name of the hardware store she’d gone to. They probably wouldn’t check on that.
However, why had she mentioned the hardware store at all? That was very dumb. Maybe old age was getting to her more than she realized.
Why couldn’t the kids be like Bert? None of them came close to his moxie, certainly not their son Herman, her biggest disappointment. Unable to trust Herman to pass any of his father’s money, they’d told Herman as little as possible about their sideline. In contrast, not once had Bert been caught passing bad money — nor even suspected as far as she knew.
Bert had been careful and smart. Like when he couldn’t duplicate the strings imbedded in the new 50-dollar and 20-dollar bills, strings that glowed in ultraviolet light, well he hadn’t pushed it and used his product anyway. The paper needed was simply not available yet. He had patiently continued right up to when the cancer came, perfecting on old paper his photographic reproductions of the new bills’ designs. Granny had kept some of these as mementos.
If little Johnny and Joyce had stuck around, or shown the least interest, they might have found out about the family business and Bert’s secret expertise.
Frankly, her grandchildren were just selfish people. Human trash. And ignorant. Those thousand-dollar and 500-dollar bills showed that. Bert had made them as a lark. They didn’t even have the right president pictured on them. Not only that, the largest denomination circulated by banks nowadays was 100-dollar bills. Larger bills had to be special-ordered. But as Granny had expected, the kids were too ignorant to know any of that.
Those young people really galled her, trying such an obvious scam. Plus, they’d shown no feeling for Bert. They could have at least expressed a little concern about their grandfather’s passing even if it would have been phony.
Anger filled Granny as she dug through a drawer for the flashlight.
What would Herman do when he heard how she’d treated his kids? Probably nothing. He didn’t like them any more than she did.
Then again Herman might try to shorten his sentence by giving his own mother up to the police. He might reveal everything he knew even if it wasn’t very much. Which could make her life difficult for the little time she had left. She wouldn’t be surprised if he did that, but it wouldn’t matter.
She’d refused treatment for the cancer ravaging her insides. She’d rather be with Bert than go through the suffering he’d gone through. She loved Bert and was ready to see him again.
Still, she’d get rid of all evidence of Bert’s counterfeiting art. There was only that small packet of bills out back. She’d dig them up, burn them in the fireplace, and flush the ashes down the toilet.
Then let Herman talk. Let the FBI and Treasury Department agents search all they wanted.
Wouldn’t the most cynical of authorities sympathize with an old woman betrayed first by her grandkids, and then by her own son, all three of them telling wild, unsubstantiated stories about her?
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.
Copyright © 2015 Bill Vernon. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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