Eric Burbridge has been writing short stories for several years and published two collections of short stories. CONSOLIDATED SEPARATES and CONSOLIDATED SEPARATES TOO. He also has been published in numerous literary journals. He is currently working on his first novel.
“Complain, complain, that’s all you do, Lepty.” His alderman said. He was right too. The guy with the big ears and little head promised with an articulate, thundering voice he’d consider his next bid to rehab or, at least, gut the foreclosed and abandoned houses on several blocks in their precinct. Several retirees like Lepty had small companies that bid on rehabbing such properties. Jake Lepty and Associates finally got the contract on a large corner house on his block. Jake was special in the neighborhood; he hired guys with records and students on summer break. “Why not?” He explained to the alderman. “Looks good for you. They aren’t perfect, but you got to start somewhere.” They did okay today so Jake gave them an extra hour for lunch, besides the dumpster was full and the replacement was late due to a breakdown. Now he had time to go through the vast collection of old paperbacks and magazines Ms. Hart accumulated. The basement wasn’t damp or musty smelling, but the mice had a field day, nesting material everywhere. Piles of old clothes and antique furniture lined the walls by the furnace and laundry appliances. The rumor Ms. Hart reversed mortgaged the place after her husband died was true and good for Lepty and Assoc. This made the third home on the block, but the block still had a well kept look. All the ranch style homes were fifty feet off the city property line with well maintained lawns due to neighbor’s sense of community.
Who would have thought the little old lady who was daily carrying in a six pack was a writer. There were stacks of boxes full of reference material and magazines surrounding an old oak desk with iron drawer knobs. The light on the table was straight out of a forties movie and pushed to the side an electric typewriter. Whether it worked he didn’t know, but everything he’d seen so far was handwritten in spiral notebooks. At some time was she a professional or teacher or what? He stacked a few boxes on the desk when he heard the crew return. Since they were ahead of schedule he gave them the rest of the day off. If there was something of value here he wanted first crack at it. He brushed dust and mouse droppings off one of many boxes. The contents of the first were paper clipped to copies of research with rough draft edits highlighted by a different color. The majority of the stories were less than three thousand words. Curiosity got the best of him and he pulled up an old worn black recliner and started to read. Her titles grabbed him not to mention the first few paragraphs. She was good; he was jealous, slightly. Maybe this would be the incentive he needed to conquer his writer’s block. He finished several of her twilight zone like plots and by the browning and crinkles in the paper must have been written decades ago. He opened another box for something more recent.
“Hello, Mr. Lepty.” Jake jumped to his feet. He didn’t hear the back door open. Those idiots forgot to lock it. “Mr. Lepty.” A female voice said. “Are you down there?”
“Yes, I’m here.” He hurried to the stairs. A young woman in her thirties or early forties wearing a loose shirt above her knees and a sheer blue blouse stood on the landing. She smiled and Jake tried not to stare at her beautiful thighs and legs.
“I didn’t mean to startle or interrupt you. May I come down?”
“Yeah, be careful the staircase is a bit rickety.”
When she took her first step and grasped the handrail several bracelets slid down her arms and bunched at her wrist. Four gold chains were draped around her long neck and various metal designs hung equally spaced setting on a set of large firm breast. Oversized hooped earrings enhanced her keen figures and close cut naturally curly black hair. She wasn’t cover girl pretty, but attractive with an approachable air about her attached to a curvaceous body. “It’s pretty dusty down here to put it mildly and you are?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Lepty, I’m Linda Mercer.” She stepped close to him with an inviting smile and extended her hand with brightly polished nails. “I’m Ms. Hart’s daughter.”
“Daughter?” He vaguely remembered a little girl around years ago. “Little Linnie?”
“Yes,” she giggled. “All grown up.”
That was an understatement. “Jesus it’s been that long?” That’s what happens when you stop paying attention to the neighbors, Jake. “Didn’t you have a twin brother?”
“Earl.” Her expressions changed. “He’s--.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” He wanted to know what happened, but left it alone.
“That’s okay and thanks.” She perked up again. “I see you’re reading mom’s work.” She walked over and peeked in one of the boxes. “Some of this stuff is ancient. She loved to write at times and then she’d stop. I was too young and wild to pay that much attention, but I recall her passion. ‘Don’t play around in my office yall unless yall want a beatin’ she’d scream.’” Linda giggled. “We obeyed too…see anything interesting?”
He hesitated, who is she to ask? “Well not really, but I must say what I did glance at.” He smiled to himself at the lie. “Your mom was good.” Time to change the subject. “By the way did you know the mortgage company foreclosed on this property?”
“Yes, and I got all the valuable stuff out of here a while ago because of the reverse mortgage. And since you’ve read some I’ll assume you might be or have been a writer.”
“Very intuitive young lady.” It was obvious she didn’t care about foreclosure. “I’ve written a few stories nothing got accepted, but…”
“Me too, sorry to interrupt, but can I take the boxes?” Linda asked and grabbed the nearest. “I’m just starting to write. I guess my mom’s spirit hit me luckily her work is still here. I won’t need it all.”
“Technically, no. This stuff is supposed to go in the dumpster, but since I gave the crew the rest of the day off you can. I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Cool, I’ll pull around back.”
“Ok, and if you don’t mind can I read more?”
“Yeah, fine by me.” She counted. “That’s eight, you can have the one you opened.”
“Ok.” Jake watched her go up the stairs. Somebody’s enjoying her. He stacked boxes on the dolly and maneuvered it up the stairs slowly not to strain his back. She assisted him in arranging them in the back of her black SUV. “That wasn’t so bad. They fit in spite of all the other junk.”
“Junk. Those computers look kinda new to me. You a hacker?” Jake smiled and pushed the last box to the side to leave room for whatever else she might pick up. “I’m kidding.”
“No. Minor repair and virus removal.”
“Linda, I saw a story I’d like to finish and then it’s mine, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Let’s work on one together for the hell of it and see what happens. You can teach me a thing or two, you seem like it anyway. We communicate by e-mail or call me.” Before he agreed his eyes focused on her breast. “Mr. Lepty.” She giggled.
“Oh…uh sorry. That will be fine, what’s your number?”
“So, poking around in Sherry Hart’s business gave you the idea to start writing again. And, I almost forgot her estranged daughter, Linda Mercer?” Helen Lepty questioned, while she dumped a cup of beef stew in her husband’s bowl.
“Remember she’s deceased.”
“You better not be doing that mid-life crisis thing with that young woman, Jake, your heart can’t take it.” Helen chuckled.
“Least of your worries.” He smacked her on the behind. “You got enough to keep me happy. But, seriously, Ms. Hart got great ideas. If I couple them with mine no telling what could come out of it.” He cooled a spoonful of stew and ate. “Good as usual.”
“Stop slurping, I hate that.”
“Sorry.” Telling his wife about their agreement wouldn’t be wise at this time even if she was messing with him.”
“I kind of remember what Little Linnie looked like, but she was a kid. Is she attractive like her mom or what?”
“Yeah, in a sinister kind of way. It’s probably nothing. But, her skin isn’t as smooth as yours; you don’t need or use make-up. Are you blushing?”
“No,” and she turned away.
He didn’t tell her about a few of the guys who drove back down the alley to ask to be late the next day and asked. “Who’s that slick looking female, Mr. Lepty, you better watch that one?”
“Um…you’re in your sixties, tall, distinguished looking light beard and light brown eyes. Don’t think you a player or start going to the health club more than usual.” Helen said. “Did she show you an ID?”
“ID? Helen stop it. I thought you were messing with me.”
She laughed. “I got you, but I’m going to ask the hood gossip what’s up with her. Might be some money hidden in that place.”
He shook his head. “You oughta stop it.”
“All jokes aside check anyway. We could get lucky on your last day in that place.”
“Okay, Helen.” He’d check for loose floor boards; the inspector would be in and out, then he’d scout out his next house down the street. After that business he’d get back to work on one of her outlines. Several were promising, but sharing only one with Linda would be prudent. He left her a voice message to expect an e-mail in a day or so.
Helen smiled at the thought of Jake presenting his case to Alderman Hess to accept his bid to finish cleaning out the last two houses on the block. If Jake didn’t get the contract that would affect his crew in a negative way. Those guys deserved and needed vocational training when it became available. She suppressed a sneeze and maneuvered the old feather duster her mother left her along the edges of the ceiling fan blades, entertainment center and her bridge trophies. The neighborhood bridge tournaments disappeared years ago, early deaths of a few of the shining stars and life of the party types who’d attracted many just to say they were a part. Cliques made no sense, but that’s what it became.
Helen hadn’t kept in touch with her favorite club member. Lily who claimed to be having an affair with the alderman, but she preferred the wife who was also a member of the club. If true, was it still going on? Rumors surrounded the influential like flies around honey or shit, depending on the person. But, Helen suspected whatever was said about Alderman Clay Hess was true especially after throwing a kiss at her keister which she ignored. She pushed the button on the dish washer. Chores were finished for the day.
That irritating ring tone of Jake’s shocked her. He forgot his phone on the key tray by the door to the garage. How did he do that? Lately he’d been making unusual mistakes. A senior moment as they say. She slipped his phone in her apron pocket. The urge to call Lily overwhelmed her and she hesitated to hit the speed dial. Would she be surprised, would she answer, but is she still around? Helen drummed her fingers on the kitchen counter. Three rings and no answer, one more time then she’d disconnect. “Hello, leave a message.” The recording sounded like the chipper Lily she was used too.
“Hey, Lily, it’s Helen Lepty. Give me a call back when you get a chance, bye.” Well the number was still connected; now let’s see if she calls back. Two seconds later the phone rang. “Hello.”
“Hey, Helen, how are you? Who died, is the world coming to an end? No, that ain’t it. You got a sex change.” They laughed.
“I’m fine girl, it’s good to hear your voice and you still got a sense of humor.”
“Hell, that’s all I got left. My tits droop, my ass sags, my skin is spotted and I’m old. I tried to be a cougar and couldn’t catch anything young…” They laughed forever. “So here I am being contacted by my.” She cleared her throat intentionally. “So called best friend after all this time and you better not tell me you’re sick either.”
“No, I’m not ill, I was thinking about you and the group.”
“Obviously, now for the truth.” Lily said.
“The truth? I am telling the truth, almost.” She giggled. Lily knew what was going on in the area and she wanted to know more about Ms. Hart. “Let’s get the band back together.” She got silence. “You don’t like the cliché?” Helen asked.
“No, I got it, but I’m surprised after what happened.” Ms. Hart accused them of cheating, but they turned it around and expelled her for it; it got around she had been ousted from a tournament. “Girl, that was cruel and stupid. It wasn’t worth falling out for ever we’re too old for that. But, I did go sign the book. You know I forgot she had kids.” Lily said.
“Who didn’t? You didn’t see much of them. Let’s meet somewhere.”
“Ok.” Lily agreed.
Jake’s phone chirped and vibrated. She dug in her pocket. A text message. “Lily, I’ll call you back in a few minutes.” Don’t get nosy; Helen, but she did it anyway. What was his password? She stared at the screen and nothing came to mind. If she tried too many times it would lock her out. She poured more coffee; a couple of sips later it hit her. Jake wasn’t tech savvy, keep it simple: one, two three, four. It opened. “Whoa, that simple…I’ll take it.” Now let’s see what to see, Jake. She scrolled and read. Nothing meaningful, what was the latest? Jake honey I got a few ideas. Will call you later .Linda. Helen threw the phone across the room.
Jake’s lower back continued to tighten the longer he sat. What was taking Alderman Hess so long? His attractive, home from school for the summer, who wore guy khakis and a green polo shirt secretary, said he’d be right with him. She went into his office. He could’ve sworn he heard a latch flip after the door closed. But, they wouldn’t be that stupid too add fuel to the flames of the usual rumor or myth of boss secretary relationships. Or would they? He concluded they were when the door opened a half hour later. “Alderman Hess will see you now.” She stepped aside. The room was musty and Jake gave her a disgusted glance that she avoided when she walked out. Jake found Hess’s Dumbo like ears amusing. He was taller with narrow sloped shoulders and thin patches of silver hair combed over. Hess sat at his desk full of loose papers and files that had been pushed to the side with pens and pencils on the floor. His office was typical; shelves full of books he’d never read, various sculptures, painting on the walls and a computer. He turned in his high back leather chair.
“I like that tie, Clay.” The alderman quickly straightened it and shifted it upward.
“Uh, thanks, Lepty.”
“Open a window it’s stuffy in here.” Hess turned embarrassed red. “Anyway, I thought I’d drop by to check on my bid to finish the contract. I’m somewhat impulsive for my age, but nobody’s perfect and my crew needs the work.” Jake pulled up one of the politician’s fancy old leather chairs. “This is nice, I admire your good taste. I’ll make it short, Clay.” Hess rolled his eyes upward. “Let me guess. You want it all, right?”
“No, the contract for what’s on the two blocks just like the bid says. I don’t want or need the drama if you follow me.” It wouldn’t surprise him if the place was bugged by whoever as crooked as Hess was. “OK?”
“Deal.” They shook and Hess shuffled through the papers and folders. “Where are those papers? Here they are.” He signed and walked over to the printer. He forgot his fly was open. No fool like an old fool. “Here you go, Jake and have a good day.”
“You too.” He could’ve done without the handshake and pat on the back, but Hess was a politician. He couldn’t wait to tell Helen and his crew. He reached in his pocket. No phone. All this time and he hadn’t thought about it. He back tracked to the office. He looked in the car for places he knew it wouldn’t be just in case. Was he having a senior moment or moments? No. It had to be on the table. Damn, how’d he do that? He tried to calm down, but the tightness in his chest persisted. Acid reflux or gas…it had to be. That’s what he got for going to see that asshole, but it was worth it.
“At first I couldn’t believe it. How bold could you get, but when nature calls what can you do? I guess you should’ve been there. You got that look of disbelief on your face, beautiful.” Jake smiled and lifted his bottle of beer skyward. “To my brilliance and the Lord’s grace.” He gulped down half the bottle. “You haven’t said anything are you alright?”
Helen nodded. “Of course, maybe they’re working on a kid.” She giggled.
“A kid! His wife would ruin him. Hell hath no fury.” He picked up his phone. “Thanks for finding this thing I almost panicked.” He scrolled through the messages and calls. “Well surprise at that one.”He whispered.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing, nothing. You want to go out for lunch, dinner or whatever? This calls for a celebration.”
Helen shrugged. “I guess why not?” She went and sat at the table.
Something wasn’t right with his wife. It made him feel funny like something crawled in his gut. Every time that happened the bullshit followed. Ignore it, every things fine, Jake, just fine.
“I’m going to get out of this suit into something more suitable for a celebration, khakis and shirt, be right back.” He dashed past the stair lift. It was a good day when his arthritis hadn’t bothered him. He sent Linda a text: I’ll be in touch later. And don’t call me honey!!! A woman that fine calling him honey gave him thoughts he didn’t need to entertain. What ideas did she have, if any? He wouldn’t share his best; he was smart enough not to trust a stranger, but he’d keep his word and share something.
The dinner and movie were excellent for once usually it’s one or the other. Helen was tired and went to bed, but he decided to get on the computer and do a chapter or two of editing. Linda sent another text: Sorry meant no harm. He shook the fantasy of her cleavage and smiled at his creativity and got to work.
Helen considered herself a wise old woman who didn’t let her imagination run away with her, but didn’t ignore her gut either. Was Jake in a midlife crisis at sixty? Who does that? It didn’t make any sense; he was years past the age for that foolishness and it took a lot of energy, but what he had left he used to chase after her.
They were happy, but check it out anyway, Helen.
The entire week Jake was full of enthusiasm writing and working with his crew on the two abandoned residences. Why complain he looked good especially when he finished a story? Be thankful, but she checked his phone anyway. Nothing. She added two extra drops of creamer to her coffee. She recalled the accusations that were reversed on Hart; they felt she was common. Ms. Hart told them to kiss her ass. Then it really hit the fan, Lily showed an interest in Ms. Hart. She liked big boned women with a heavy chest. The feelings weren’t mutual. Lily didn’t like rejection and before Hart could say Lily was a lesbian she stuck first, again. Ms. Hart confronted her about a lie going around. She denied it and told her not to worry. Certain people can shake off rumors and lies and others don’t. Their reputations mean everything. Did she tell her kids about it or what? Little Linnie came back for revenge. Now her imagination was on the rampage. Forget that crap. She opened the paper and drank her coffee.
Jake told the crew to wrap it up for the day because they were ahead of schedule. Once they all signed their timesheets and left he opened his briefcase and got to work on the final edit of the combined work of Linda Mercer and Jake Lepty. He got a bottle of water out the cooler and sat by an open window to enjoy the late afternoon breeze. He felt good about this story, and as far as he was concerned it was his; he edited most of Linda’s work out. He replaced the water and decided on a beer. He pushed his fingers through the icy water and grabbed one. He drank and worked. To his surprise Linda pulled in the alley and honked. He waved and she parked as close to the fence as possible. Her sexy walk mesmerized him; bare legged in a skirt that blew between her legs revealing the shape of her thighs. She waved and stepped around the dumpster and debris left on the staircase into the nearly empty room. “Wow, you guys have been busy.”
“Yes, we have.”
“How are you? Surprise, I started to call, but since I was in the area I stopped by instead.” She hugged him tight. He smelled the humidity on her flawless skin. He nibbled on her neck and then her lips. He tried to lift her skirt. She moved his hands and broke away. “No, Jake I can’t.”
“I’m so sorry, Linda.” He backed up. “I couldn’t help it, forgive me.” He felt like a fool. Why would she consider an old timer like himself? Dammit, he shouldn’t have drunk that beer. Every time he drank he did something impulsive and stupid. If she loses respect for you don’t be surprised. You’re supposed to be a mentor, Jake. She had the silliest grin on her face. What was that all about?
She laughed. “Oh my God, you should see the look on your face.” She found a chair and continued to laugh. “Don’t be embarrassed, I understand.”
“Yeah, I do. Younger woman…older man, it happens all the time. We’ll see what happens, but in the mean time how’s the final edit?” She dug in the cooler and got a beer. “Do you mind?”
“No, no go ahead.” Jake said, still embarrassed, but pleased by her saying ‘we’ll see what happens’.”
“That’s a nice breeze.” Linda said, crossed her legs and paged through the manuscript. “More pages then I thought.”
Jake calmed his lust as time went by. “Well what do you think? That is our one and only masterpiece.”
“Good, I like it and anything from this we split, right?”
“Mom put together some excellent material. I’ll mention her in the book credits or whatever it’s called. Will you do the same?” She closed the manuscript stood up and adjusted her skirt.
“Maybe. There were notes that didn’t match up or make sense.” If she gets offended so what, she needed help, but would she accept or ignore his advice? Hopefully he’d give it to her in a hotel room. His eyes shifted to her breast and her hips. “I expect to hear from you soon, but this day’s over, I’ll see you later.” He escorted her to her car when she got in she intentionally pushed her skirt higher than usual up her thighs. “Take care, honey.” She sped down the alley way to fast. If he didn’t hear from her in two days it was a “no go.”
Helen stood in front of the full length bathroom mirror and wiped it clear. She dried her short blondish hair and laughed at the joke Lily made about her drooping tits. She had similar problems, but with good legs. But, she wasn’t going to let a thirty something make a fool of her man. “Men are weak” her mom taught her, but if you get a good one try to overlook a slip or two. “They can’t help it.” She wasn’t perfect and avoided thoughts of her own indiscretions. She dabbed her double D’s dry taking pride in the hard work that went into maintaining a flat tummy that Jake appreciated. She wrapped towel around her and noticed Jake rubbing his chest. “What’s wrong?”
“Heart burn, third time this week.” He rolled over. “I love that towel.”
“Thanks. That heartburn’s from peppers on that Italian beef and for waiting to tell you made a deal with Linda to write a story.” She climbed in and massaged his chest and gut. “It’ll go away after I finish. Since it was an acceptance with no money what will she do move on or what?”
Jake moved her hand. “Thanks that feels better. She’ll move on and work on her mom’s other stuff and I’ll do the same. We aren’t partners or anything.”
“If you say so.” She still didn’t like his association with Linda whether he was interested or not. If Jake got a drink in him he was prone to impulse. “Wash up, I’ll go fix breakfast.”
“Pass the salt and pepper.” He sprinkled too much.
“Too much sodium, Mr. Lepty. You know I got in touch with a few of the old club.”
“Oh yeah, and how’s Lily? She’s too crazy to be dead.”
“Ok.” Surprised he asked, she sipped her coffee. “We were talking about Sherry Hart or Ms. Hart and her twins.”
“You all did the neighborhood gossip, so what’s happening?”
“Long story short Little Linnie moved away, but unfortunately she was killed in a fire in California.” Helen said.
“Her twin who had female attributes took her place.”
“You are lying! What…what have you and Lily cooked up now? You know what you’re saying? Wait a minute let me get this right. That sounds like something out of the movies. Are you saying Linda’s a man?”
Helen shrugged. “Could be, you never know. What do you think?” It was working the look of dismay on his face said it all. “Things are crazy nowadays with all this high tech in some cases you can hardly tell one from the other. Transsexual, transgender, gay marriage and the digital age. They even got gay cartoon characters.”
“I don’t know what to say, what do you say? She…he is part of the, what do you call them community?”
“LGBT and some say LGBT and Q.” She answered. Now he was getting political. Jake was old school keep it in the closet behind closed doors, cross dressing and all that other stuff was a bad influence on the children. Same sex couples adopting kid was criminal and ungodly. Change the subject and let the lie fester. “Want more food?”
“No, I’m finished…I’m going to my office and get some work done.”
Jake couldn’t type and pecking away at the keyboard tired him. Dredding the goal of at least three pages into the system daily, he soldiered on trying not to give Helen’s theory, or lie, a second thought. But, it came back.
Linda’s a man!
Ridiculous, he’d been in the city all his life and he had street smarts. He could tell a man from a woman. This needed analysis. He slammed the laptop cover. Helen was playing mind games.
Yes, Linda was tall and solid.
She didn’t have large bones and knees, but she did have an Adam’s apple.
She had no five o’clock shadow.
She didn’t have a she male voice.
She wasn’t overly feminine.
He’d never seen her naked, but she wouldn’t let his hand under her skirt. That didn’t mean she had a prick.
What if she did? You been kissing and hugging a guy. The thought turned his stomach. It’s best to leave it alone. He’d probably never hear from her again. How often would a guy his age get a shot at a female that fine? Maybe never without paying a big price.
Had that rumor spread in the hood? That damn Lily ran her mouth all the time. A couple of guys in his crew lived on the block. Had they heard the rumor? That could affect the business. Screw them and everybody else. It was a lie and he’d prove it. He sent her a text: Meet me at the same place after 5 pm. He’d be the only one there and it would be settled.
Linda caught Jake by surprise when she gently pushed him against the wall and her long tongue explored his mouth. They bumped and grinded like teenagers, but every time he tried to get between her legs she caught his hand. “Not yet, not here, I got a big surprise for you, honey.” What kind of big surprise? Was Helen right or what? He stopped nibbling on her neck and looked deep into her eyes. “How are we going to do this your place or a hotel?”
“My place, my roommate’s gone until tomorrow.” She kissed him and buttoned her blouse. “You Ok?” He nodded. “I’ll send you a text with the address it’s not far. See you soon.”
“Wait a minute.” He pulled her to him, cupped her behind. The more he squeezed the harder she moaned. Her hand intercepted his every time he went for her crotch. A hard squeeze of disapproval convinced him something wasn’t right. He broke it off. “You know what, Linda maybe we should wait.”
“I wasn’t planning on doing it on a workbench, of course we wait?” She rubbed his face. “I’ll text you.” She hurried around storage equipment to the exit.
Twenty minutes and two beers later Jake got the message: 925 Harlan Ave. Apt. 2. Was Helen right? Earlier one of the guys who had a feminine air about him asked, “What happened to that big butt guy, I mean girl that came through on the last job, Mr. Lepty?” He said he didn’t know and he told them before that was the deceased owner’s daughter who came for a last look at the place. Whether they believed him didn’t matter, at least not yet anyway. Who knows what those guys who’d been in jail were thinking. If he went over Linda’s and found out she was a he, he’d shoot her…him. He wasn’t penitentiary material. He struggled to make the right decision and finally ignored several texts and went home.
The Lepty’s raised the crystal champagne glasses and toasted to the success of Author Jacob Lepty. The gentle breeze on the balcony of their suite rekindled romantic moments that they hadn’t experienced in a long time. The huge ship was a day out of the Bahamas, a destination Jake dreamed of his entire adult life. “The Love Boat” they jokingly called it. But, he spent two hours a day, at least, writing the sequel, in a three book deal. Who would’ve thought that six months after the Hart foreclosure and the discovery of her writings would cure his writer’s block and give birth to his novel? He told friends and family, but using a pen name made them not believe it. Why lie? He wasn’t trying to impress anybody? Envy, that had to be it. That’s a shame, share an accomplishment and you’re bragging. But, he cashed the checks. A knock on the door ended those thoughts and the young female waiter wheeled in dinner. “Helen dinner is here.”
He tipped the boy and uncovered the plate. “Filet mignons medium well, looks good to me.”
“Me too.” They dug in, both were starving.
“I’ve been thinking when I finish book two let’s sell the house and move to Vegas where it’s nice and warm.”
“Warm? You mean hot.” Helen said.
“Ok, hot. The heat will help with the arthritis.” He rubbed his elbows.
“I guess, but we’ll leave all our friends and family.”
“That’s another reason far as I’m concerned. They can visit us instead of gambling, not that they can’t do that at home, but you know what I mean.”
She nodded. “I’ll think about it, but for now let’s enjoy this vacation.”
“I still want you to get away from that gossip machine, Lily. That grin tells me something, let me guess.” Jake mimicked the Jeopardy show jingle. “I got it you’re the head gossip.”
Helen laughed. “No, no I’m not.”
“Yeah you are, but I still love you. And, now back to our vacation.” A text popped on his phone. Linda, what the hell does she want?
“We agreed to ignore those things.”
“Sorry, force of habit.”
They lay on the sofa exhausted from all the day’s activities. Helen started to snore and he grabbed his phone and read Linda’s text: How are you? I love the way you stood me up.
Sorry, but it was better that way I’ve had my day. It’s best I enjoy my old age like someone with sense. Jake smiled at his sleeping beauty and prayed she didn’t wake up.
Congrats on the novel. I’ll get to the point; it was my mom’s work.
No it wasn’t. Remember our deal?
No, but we did a short story together.
And that’s all. What was she up to? Somebody else was with her. How’s the computer business? He got nothing back for an hour.
We shared thoughts and I’m writing a book and plan to self publish a collection of short stories. You promised to mentor me. Remember?
No and no, I can’t, God bless you and your endeavor. She must think he’s stupid. The publisher’s legal departments told him don’t be surprised. The world is full of parasites. Tons of people have the same ideas, it’s who gets it out there first that counts. Back to his vacation, his curiosity was satisfied.
Helen powered up her late husband’s desk top. Neither one of them suspected Jake’s heart burn nor occasional chest pain was heart disease. What was supposed to be a routine by pass turned into complications that took his life? He’d almost completed the third novel and told Helen where to find the outline if he didn’t make it. The password was one of the last things he shared with her. She thought nothing of it, but now here she was. She knew writing was complicated and required patience and a lot of love to offset rejection. Organizing his notes and info took enough of the loneliness and grief away for her to make it. She told the kids to go back to their lives, “I got this.” They disagreed, but agreed.
She hadn’t seen Lily or any club members since the funeral. Lily seemed happy accompanied by a couple of attractive young women. The tall one reminded her of someone Jake described. Maybe she was Alderman Hess’s secretary or Ms. Hart’s daughter? She got to work, finished a chapter and decided to reach out to the club.
“Where you been hiding, Lily. I’ve called you a thousand times?”
“I thought that now your hubby is, was a famous author, you might not have time for us little people. Lucky you, or blessed you, for the religious types that have a spouse.”
“You’re kidding right?” Helen didn’t like the sarcasm or whatever it was. What was that all about? Envy, jealousy. Lily didn’t want a husband. She was still promiscuous and enjoyed as many sex partners as possible, even though she complained about not having anyone. Disgusting behavior for her age.
“No, but anyway since we talked about the old club I bumped into Sharon Hess…”
Helen giggled. “Bet that was interesting.”
“As I was saying, trying to say anyway.” Lily snapped.
“Sorry.” Why was she being short with her?
“It was awhile ago and she introduced me to Ms. Hart’s daughter, Linda. I was impressed by her wit and determination. She’s quite a talented writer too and she said she met Jake.”
Where was she going with this? “Oh, I remember him mentioning her jokingly.” Helen came up with the theory Linda was a transsexual or she male. One day you see Earl Hart and the next Linda pops up. It was a lie and other crazy stuff they made up over a bottle of scotch. She didn’t mention to anyone that she was going to use it to keep, if possible, Jake in check. He told her about that one story that got published. One thing about Jake he didn’t share his ideas with anyone not even her. Every now and then he’d read aloud portions of a story.
“You forgot, obviously. And, if I know you, you did a hand on inspection, concerning our theory right?” Silence.
“Linda she deserves credit and if you think about it, it was her mom’s idea. Jake took advantage of her being a novice.”
“Prove it.” Helen raised her voice louder then she liked, but the bitch was lying. Whatever Jake found in Ms. Hart’s house had nothing to do with his two novels. But, Linda didn’t know that, obviously she hadn’t read them. “Put her on the phone, she’s lying.”
“She isn’t here I’m just saying.”
“That your wife or husband now?”
“What if she is? It ain’t your business, besides Linda’s good to me and for me. If she says he stole the ideas I believe her.”
What happened, Lily? We were friends.” Helen asked, trying not to sounds hurt.
“I got old this is my last chance to be happy and settle down.”
“With a thirty something? Good luck with that. Well, I’m just saying whatever her…your plan is, it isn’t going to work. When this crap fails she’ll drop you like a hot potato leaving you with a broken heart and minus a good friend. Don’t call me to cry on my shoulder. You and her lawyers know where to find me. You should know the publishers know what they are doing. See you in court, but first answer a question?”
“And what is that, Helen?” Lily spat the question in the phone. “Is she or isn’t she, big or small. You can tell me.” Silence. “Hello…hello.”
Helen positioned her walker carefully with every step up the slight incline to Jake’s grave site. He insisted she not spend too much on his funeral. She agreed, but purchased the plot next to him. She placed the flowers just right and planned on protecting her husband’s legacy no matter what and finishing the book would do that. And, it would introduce a new writer on the scene, Helen Lepty. “Don’t worry; Jake that parasite can try whatever she likes. I got your back. They don’t know who they’re messing with.”