Part 1: Scenes I-IV
“Murphy understood the law and knew justice. He also knew that the two were often not the same. To catch the bad guy and win a confession you had to be willing to step outside the box and take chances. That’s what made him a great cop. But that didn’t give him the right to take the law in his own hands. All he had to do was have a boy examined to confirm his true gender and now his mistake was going to cost him. Maybe his job? Maybe a demotion?
But then nothing in this case was turning out like it should. He should have seen this coming. He should have known that you can test the odds and you can test your resolve, but never pit your luck against Murphy’s Law. Because sure as the devil will get his due, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!”
The Legal Stuff: Murphy's Law © 2007, 2009 by josie.
Originally written in 2007, Revised and Reposted 2009.
All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without expressed written consent of the copyright holder.
October 12th, 1961 . . .
It was late, already past dusk when Jack Murphy spotted him, but it was Spike who went in after him. Running up the steps he pushed open the door unsure of that lie in wait or whether he needed a gun. Spike didn’t carry one. Nor did he need one. He had only his hands and a bite of a rabid dog on the attack as he entered the dark foyer.
Quickly he surveyed the place for signs of lurking danger. Then making his way to the base of the stairs he grabbed hold of the banister to accelerate his climb up the long flight. Three steps at a time, using speed as an ally as he advanced his attack up the stairs and down the darken hall until he spotted a door left half open.
Cautiously he pushed the door open then eyed the plush velvet curtains knowing that’s how things work on Slade Street. He found the curtains drawn and the room illuminated by only the thinnest veil of filtered light. Still it was enough for him to spot a shadowy figure in white suit and tie sitting in a rocking chair just to the right and behind the bed. In front of the bed stood the immediate threat, the man he had come for. The assailant, the man with his trousers gathered around his ankles who, in his single-mindedness, didn’t even know he was there.
Lying on the bed was his victim. Not struggling or crying or thrashing about to ward off her attacker as you might suppose. Nor did he understand why, but it made little difference. Spike was going to see to it that the low-life got his just due. Pronto!
It had taken but an instant for the door to slide open and for the man to be spotted. It only took a blink of an eye longer for Spike to jump him from behind, lock him in a choke hold and haul him back out the door. No screams of despair, no cries of “thank you.” Just the sound of Salazar gagging and Spike’s cold words, “Should’ah listened, Sally, and kept your nose clean.”
Molly made her way past the patrol car and through the gathering crowd of onlookers toward Jack Murphy. Beside him stood Salazar, his pants still not fully secured draped halfway down his hips. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and in his back pocket a pink envelope garnished with hearts and flowers. Jack was just handing him over to the two waiting patrolmen when Molly came up alongside and wrapped her arm around his waist. He looked down at her and smiled.
He had got his collar, albeit one he hadn’t expected. Still, in the long view of things it had turned out to be a pretty good day after all. Jack had got his man, and Spike had earned the humility that comes with wearing the badge. “Well ol’girl,” Jack beamed, “How about that drink.”
SCENE I: A year before . . .
September 4, 1960
Rose heard the familiar clunk of her heels rushing up the steps. Then like a thug, Molly pushed open the screen door and let it slam with a bang.
“Not a lot of finesse in that girl,” Rose thought. “She’s about as refined as raw sugar.” Then again, what more could she expect of her. She’s just a country girl who still hasn’t grasp the do’s and don’t of life in the big city.
“Mornin’ Rosie,” Molly churned out while vigorously working on her wad of chewing gum. “What’cha cookin’?”
Rose looked up from the pan of frying bacon, gave a cursory look then found herself wishing she hadn’t. “What cheek,” she thought, entirely annoyed by what she saw. “It was always the same with this girl. Nothing ever changes.”
“That skirt is unfitting,” Rose grumbled.
“Hmmm, what’s that Rosie?” Molly popped a bubble and flashed a grin.
“Your skirt! Where’s your common sense? This is a reputable Brooklyn home you’re working for, not some Shaddock Street bar. Why Katherine allows it is beyond me.”
Molly sucked in her gum, put her hands on her hips then looked down to see what the fuss was about. Her work clothes appeared in order. Linen blouse, vest, as did her black wool skirt, albeit hemmed several inches higher than Rose might like to see. The added height of the pumps might have exaggerated the look, but as she saw it, nothing to throw a hissy-fit over.
“Don’t yah like it, Rosie?” Molly asked, unsure whether it was just the gripe of an old woman, or exposing the stocking tops was really showing a bit too much leg. She was of the opinion it looked rather cute. This was Friday after all, and she was anticipating a fun evening, perhaps sooner if she was lucky. An evening shared with friends down at the Niles Street Bar where she had in mind serving up just the right touch of flavors atop a very voluptuous cone.
Her point made Rosie said nothing more, choosing instead to again address the less volatile commodity, her pan of sizzling bacon. A wise woman she counted her words carefully, especially around Molly. A girl so single-minded nothing short of a revelation could divert her laser-like focus on her gum and herself.
“Aaah, there ain’t nothin’ wrong,” Molly finally decided with an attitude unfit for a girl 35 years her younger. “It ain’t the old times no more, Rosie!”
Then as if looking to rattle the old cook further she reconfigured herself into her version of the latest teen heartthrob, snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet to the sugary tune that poured from her lips. “Oh, the shark has, pretty teeth, dear, and it shows them, pearly white . . .”
“Sharks teeth, indeed,” Rose cut in, “you’ll be lucky if Ma’am doesn’t have me serve up a bit of that sass for dinner.”
“Nah, uh-uh, Mrs. K loves me ta’bits,” Molly said as if fact, fait accompli. She came up behind where Rose stood at the stove, wrapped her arms about her waist and gave her a hug. Then she reached down to scoop up a strip of bacon from the towel and began to gingerly nibble around the edges so as not to soil the lush red paint on her lips.
A moment later the screen door again opened and Gerald entered the scene.
“B’sides, she thinks it’s cute. Told me so herself,” Molly followed as she flung herself in the direction of her son. “Mornin’, Pea’ches.”
Rose turned to watch Molly smoother the boy with her affections and again, shook her head in annoyance. “The boy needs a haircut,” Rose spoke her mind. “Something more fitting a seventeen year old, like a crew cut.” She curtly followed, not at all comfortable with that “girlie mop-top” of his.
“Ah, Rosie, it’s fittin’” Molly pleaded her case. “Anyways, see here . . .” she combed her fingers through its length, “it ain’t got no curl, or nothin’.”
Rose looked again at her bacon remembering Katherine didn’t like hers darkened to a crisp. Besides, she’d win no points with Molly. They saw eye-to-eye on very little. Although there was one thing they both could agree. Long hair or not, her son definitely shared her award winning looks.
In fact he had the whole package, from the deep set cheeks and up tilt of the nose, to the same arresting Irish green eyes. They even dressed alike. His trousers and her skirt made of the same black wool. His shirt made of the same crisp white linen. Even their vests matched. Black silk, sleeveless and cropped at the midriff, they were identical down to the floral-stitch piping. The only difference — one had buttons and one was without.
“Buttons is for girls,” or so Molly seemed to think.
“Country girl,” Rose sighed, wondering why she should expect any more of her. She was lost in that thought when a splattering of hot grease stung the back of her hand triggering an unexpected outburst of exasperation. Something Rose could no longer contain. “If you ask me, it looks down right silly! It’s near long as yours.”
“Gosh, who put a burr in Rosie’s saddle this mornin’? He looks fittin’,” Molly scoffed. “‘Sides Mrs. K don’t mind. Not one bit. She done said so herself, y’know.”
“Rubbish! It’s too long for a boy. The way I see it, he might as well be wearing that bohemian skirt of yours for all the difference it would make.”
“Ya think so, Rosie?” Molly asked, while looking as if studying the boy. “Nay, uh-uh, his butts too skinny,” she giggled, and again, began snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet. Only this time with her sights set on her son. “Come on, skinny butt, let’s have us some fun.”
Rose rolled up her eyes, heaved a sigh and again returned to her bacon, now a golden brown. “You know, if I were you I’d be getting that breakfast cart set before Mrs. Kline comes in. Otherwise you might find yourself dancing your way out the door, looking for a new job.”
“That’s all you be thinkin’ bout, Rosie, work! A girl needs to be stretchin’ her wings now an’ a’gin. Ain’t that right, Sugarplum?” Molly sulked, looking for agreement from her son.
“Is that why you’re all dolled up this morning? Fixing to go out and stretch your wings some, Molly?”
“Ah, Rosie! “It ain’t nothin’ special,” Molly feigned a pout then pursed her lips to highlight her richly painted face.
Molly came about to start setting the service cart. “But . . . I s’pose it’d be right with me if Mrs. K were willin’ to gimme some time off, being its Friday in all. I’m thinkin’ bout askin’. What’cha think?”
Rose turned to hand Molly the servings of bacon and eggs to set upon the cart. The hard work and her 68 years had not beaten her down as yet. Her shoulders were still broad and she still could see eye to eye with her. Definitely not the sort Molly would want to see angrily swinging a rolling pin in her direction. Nor was Rose one to let her forget that fact whenever the need arose to stand toe to toe. “What nerve. You haven’t put in a full day of work in a month of Sundays and you want off today too?”
“What’s the bother, Rosie? Mrs. K don’t mind, none at all. I wouldn’t be askin’ if she weren’t fixin’ to give it. ‘Sides, Gerald’s here if she be needin’ the help.”
“Yes, I can see how he’s learned to fill in for you quite well, with all the dusting and cleaning and all. Got him trained like a pretty little maid and he don’t seem to mind, none at all.”
“That’s his job, Rosie. Gets paid same as me, an’ he likes it. Don’t yah, Pea’ches?”
“Yes’m,” Gerald muttered and Molly punctuated with an ‘I told you so grin.’
“See, Rosie! My Pea’ches is old enough to be takin’ care of himself. He don’t need no babyin’ . . . ummmm, lessen of course, Mrs. K be wantin’ to baby him some. Can’t see there be harm in that. Can you?”
Rose threw up her hands. Doing his mother’s work wasn’t the boy’s job. He was paid to run Katherine’s errands, but there was no point in reminding Molly of something she already knew. Besides, what more could she expect of her. At 32, she was only just a child herself. A beautiful girl with a body fit to be memorialized on the fuselage of a B-17, but that was it. She was a shallow as a birdbath with an inordinate taste for men and the fast life, her seventeen year old son lost in the mix.
Resigned to the inevitable Rose turned to finish setting the cart herself. While Molly continued to work on her gum and fuss with her nails as if unaware it was her job, not Rose’s to do. The pot of tea finished off the setting and then a long stem carnation was placed in a bud vase and set on the tray.
A moment later, Katherine Kline stepped through the door and entered our contentious scene.
“Mornin’ Ma’am,” Rose and Molly chimed out in unison.
“Good morning. Is breakfast prepared?”
“Yes ma’am,” Rose quickly replied with a curtsy. Katherine acknowledged the gesture then shifted her focus toward Molly, still working her gum with a vengeance. Her eyes ringed black kohl and violet, her lips a blood red.
To Katherine, she was too young and too consumed by her own personal psychology to have much of herself to give, neither as a mother nor a good employee. Nor caring, something that could easily be seen in her faint smile and distant look. As if wishing she were someplace else. Completely unaware Katherine stood waiting for her to follow Rose’s example.
“A fitting response,” Katherine though, simmering on low heat. “The girl thinks she’s bomb proof, only she’s not. With her finger already poised on the self-destruct button, she’ll soon fall victim to her own intemperance without help from me.”
So she gave up the wait and politely returned an ingratiating smile. Then taking hold of Gerald’s hand she led him back out through the dinning room door. Any more would have only put Molly on notice, perhaps tip her hand and delayed the inevitable.
Scene II: Katherine Kline
The dinning room was a grand room, and in terms of opulence, mirrored the rest of Katherine’s Brooklyn, Glen Park home. Sweeping and stately, it smelt of old wood and wax. With a high ceiling covered with an ornate façade of beveled tin centered by a brilliant chandelier. Velvet curtains framed the windows and original pieces of art hung on the walls.
It was also a brittle place with a certain sterile quality to the stilted furnishing and the formality of the setting. Especially the floor that seemed so brittle one hard step would cause the fine China and the curios to vibrate with a clink and a clatter. Rosewood floors polished with a luster of mirrored glass and kept that way without benefit of rugs so you could see your silhouette as you walked in the room.
The room was quite beautiful as was her home, but hardly warm and inviting, at least from Gerald’s point of view. The room, like Katherine, had a way of making him feel muted and dependent. As if needing to be told what to do and how it should be done, or risk having something or someone come unglued. Obviously he would have preferred to eat in the kitchen alongside Rose and his mom, but he was the houseboy and no matter how tortuous the slog his job was beside Katherine. To run her errands, do her fetching and yes, to sit and share a meal.
A few moments later Molly followed carefully rolling out the breakfast cart then set the place serving for two. Her job done, she stood at her position behind Katherine looking very much the quintessential mother and conscientious employee, dressed in those nose-bleed heels and a skirt that exposed a bit too much leg. Her lips blood-red, her eyes ringed black kohl and violet, squeezed into a vest on the verge of giving way to her preponderate bust.
The poor girl looked as if she hasn’t a clue as Katherine served-up the eggs and bacon for both Gerald and herself and then sat down beside him, close-in and personal, as if to take possession of her own son, not Molly’s. “There now, Gerald. You may begin, but remember to mind your manners.”
Of course none of this was new to Molly. Gerald had his job, she had hers. Granted, Katherine’s conduct might have raised a few brows if seen from the outside, but for those within the household it was just another breakfast. No different than what otherwise passed for normal in the daily affairs of those who worked in this rather elegant Brooklyn home.
There’s Rose navigating her way through the humdrum with her short gray hair tightly permed, her work boots, bifocals and the years of wear etched on her face. Already years beyond retirement nothing comes as easily to her as it once did. Yet even withered and worn by time, in spirit she’s still as robust and vibrant as a rear vintage port.
Beside her stands Molly, with her pin-up girl figure and a face that could have rendered Caesar to his knees. Her smile is as sumptuous as candy, and inevitable filled with all the ingredients your mother always warned you about. She’s as unpredictable as she is irrepressible. A “Mommy Dearest” in very high heels with a Colgate smile and a cabbage patch brain.
Then there’s Katherine, as straight laced and stilted as that dinning room of old wood and wax. She appears resolute and thorough, but beneath that thick upper crust there’s another Katherine. One a bit more distant from the role she plays as lady of the house. Thankfully, only by a degree or two, but it’s enough to open a window of speculation about her person and her character. Let’s have a look.
In her mid 50’s, Katherine’s a widower and considered exorbitantly wealthy by any standards. She also owns the largest of the homes on a very prestigious street on which to live. She could even boast a backyard, a rather large one — quite the novelty in a city like Brooklyn. With a flower garden and richly foliaged trees that provided a privacy to envy.
You would think with that kind of stature she’d be quite the socialite. She’s still attractive, taller than most with a handsome figure. Appearance-wise, she certainly looked as though she would have fit right in the Sunday social circuit. That is, if not for the fact that she was also an intensely private and austere woman who carried herself as though suffering from some lingering despair. Wound up in her own personal psychology she had little to offer in the way of a public face. Now add to the mix the recent death of her husband and you’ve the perfect storm for a recluse. A woman with everything locked away, only her eccentricities left out for show.
It’s quite a cast composing quite a scene. With everyone and everything fixed in place following the form Katherine expected. Excluding Gerald’s occasional shuffling in his seat and Katherine’s curt warning, “Please don’t fidget, young man,” it was also a very quiet affair. At least up to the moment Katherine turned to give Molly her instructions for the day. “Molly, after you’ve set my room, you’ll manage the linens, freshen the flowers and dust everything quite thoroughly.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Molly replied, though halfhearted to a degree. Obviously she had something in mind and it wasn’t work. Katherine could hear it in her voice and see it in the look that had followed her out from the kitchen and betrayed her even more so now.
“Have I mentioned how lovely you look this morning, Molly?” Katherine prompted, wanting to hear more about what was on her mind.
“No, but I do thank’ya ma’am. I be wantin’ t’please, it’s just that . . .”
“It’s just that what, Molly?”
“It’s just that I was wonderin’ since this being Friday an’ all . . .”
“Ah, so you’ve dressed up with the hope of going out?”
“Yes ma’am, I hate to be askin’, but I thought if you was of a mind I might be leavin’ a wee bit early?”
“Of course, it’s no problem whatsoever,” Katherine followed with some restraint. Something she had been careful to show throughout the exchange. “You can have the whole day off if you like. All you had to do was ask.”
“Gerald, would you kindly go up to my room and fetch my purse. You’ll find it atop the bureau.”
“You’ve been working quite hard of late,” she added with a smile, albeit one that was deliberate and guarded, to mask the anger that lay beneath. “I see no reason why a young and attractive girl shouldn’t have ample time to be out and about.”
“Why, thank you ma’am.”
“I always try to reward good work, Molly. You know that,” she offered, again with that same immutable smile. “You just run off, have a good time and I’ll see you promptly at 8 for Monday morning breakfast.”
“Monday mornin’!” Molly swooned as if feeling the rapture. “Why Mrs. K, that’s down right generous!” She radiated a smile that could have melted the armor on a Sherman tank.
“Nonsense, you’re quite deserving, Molly,” Katherine somehow managed to get out without biting her tongue.
Gerald returned with Katherine’s purse and without hesitation she retrieved a fold of bills clipped together as if prearranged. Then leaning in, she pressed the fold into Molly’s palm and with a wink-and-a-nod whispered in her ear. “Just don’t bring your boyfriend back here. You know I do not allow that sort of thing under my roof. Understood?
“You can be a’countin’ on it, ma’am.” She stuffed the fold of bills down the canyon dividing those twin 36 double D’s, beamed a thousand watt smile and that was that. A moment later she made a dash for the door, leaving in her wake her melancholy son and an employer who was just as happy to see her go as she would have been happy to see her dead!
Katherine made her way to the window and peered out waiting for Molly to make her way through the gate and into the street to hail a cab. A few moments later Rose followed on her way home. She lived in a tenement only a short walk way, and given her age and the nature of her work she would not be returning until late afternoon to prepare the supper.
With the two ladies now gone she turned to Gerald and lifted his sullen face with the tip of her long red nail. “So, Gerald, with your mother now gone for the day I suppose you’ll be doing her work?”
“Of course, you do know the rules of the house,” Katherine followed as if from a script. One she had read to the boy many times before. “They hold for your mother as they do for you or poor Rose. Though it’s hardly her fault she’s too old to stand on her feet all day long. The poor woman has to strap herself into those boots in the morning and doesn’t dare remove them for fear of the swelling, and she’s no use to me with lame hoofed feet.”
“Fine, then after lunch I will expect you to fetch your mother’s apron and duster. Now come along.”
Katherine plucked the carnation from the vase, took up his hand and negotiated the way toward the base of the stairs. They made their way up the long flight and down the long upstairs hallway toward the room where Katherine spent her mornings. Outside the door there was a single straight back chair. She handed him the carnation and asked him to sit and to knock if she were needed. Then taking her keys she unlocked the door and entered, again locking the door behind.
Scene III: The Cab Ride
“Hot dog, if it ain’t my ol’friend, Molly! Fancy us meeting up,” beamed the cabbie flashing his gold capped tooth. He was turned around facing the rear seat watching Molly slip into his cab. The sight of her preponderant bosom and shapely legs was something he wouldn’t have missed for the world. They didn’t call her ‘Good-Time Molly’ for nothing.
“Hey, Romano, seems you be campin’ outside my door,” Molly laughed and Romano grinned in that detached sort of way he always did. Looking like some dreamy eyed Romeo imagining himself playing a little back seat bingo with the girl. Molly rather fancied the look. With a pack of camels rolled up in the sleeve and the duck-tail at the end of his slick back pompadour, he looked like a James Dean wan-a-be dressed in those infamous blue Jeans and undershirt a size to small.
“Well I think camping outside your door might be a better way to make a living with all the gallivanting you be doing. Where you headed, Tommy’s or the Niles St. Bar?”
“Niles Street. Got me a date with Mr. Daniels,” Molly managed to get out with a laugh before Romano stepped on the gas.
“Don’t forget Nick. . .” Romano cut in as he weaved in and out of traffic, “. . . and Charlie and Frank and that Fabian look-a-like fella . . . what’s his name?”
“Milton,” Molly laughed. “He’s chrome-plated, for sure. Works at the Mo’bile station on 23rd, but since he don’t get off till late I reckon its first come first serve.”
“How do you do it, Molly? Most folks have to work for a living, but you . . . you’re out gallivatin’ without a care in the world. You sure got some sugar, girl! Even better, you’ve got’em gobbling it up right out of your pretty little hand. Especially that boss of yours.”
“Naw, it ain’t like that, Romano,” she said while holding her hand up to examine her nails. “She’s a loony.”
“My boss, y’know, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, th-th-th-th-that’s all folks, loony. Crazy like . . . always be wantin’ everthin’ just so-so. Ain’t never happy bout nothin’ an’ she’s got this room she be hidin’ in for hours. Ain’t got a friend in this world, no company ever, or lookin’ to invite none either . . . that kind of crazy.
“Sounds like an eccentric old biddy.”
“Yeah,” Molly craned up her neck and pouted her lips. “Since her ol’hubby done died. Now she’s just an ol’black wid’ah all alone in her web. A rich one too!”
“You don’t say. Well, I kind’a figured with the name Melvin Kline the third still tacked to the front gate. The more of them numbers you got after your name the more it smells like old money to me.”
“Yeseree-bob, an’ she be keepin’ oodles of money in that office of hers too.” Molly added, still working on that gum. “Seen it myself and it ain’t even locked up or nothin’!”
“Is that so,” Romano peered back at her through the rear view mirror showing an active interest in what she had just said. Romano wasn’t one for paying much attention to the traffic laws as he zoomed in and out, but he was plenty attentive when it came to discussing opportunities like that.
“You know, a lady all alone like that should be more careful. Not every fella has got them same scruples as me. Know what I mean?”
“Ah-hu, would be easy as pie too,” Molly churned out a small pink bubble. “I reckon he could plonk her on the head while he’s at it. Wouldn’t bother me none,” she summed up her point with a pop of her gum.
“Down girl!” snapped Romano, but he wasn’t so sure speaking up was the smartest thing to do. You could never tell with Molly. Her mood and her opinions were subject to change more or less like the wind, making her a very hard read. “It ain’t right to be wishing that on nobody. Besides, I’ve picked her up plenty of time and she don’t seem so loony to me. Plenty nice and always got a big tip too.”
“Well, she is, I ain’t lyin’!” Molly replied, her childish pout turning from playful to disgruntled.
Romano would have liked to pry her for more details on the setup. The thought of all that unguarded money just sitting around was an intriguing proposition. On the other hand he was also a smart man and he knew the least said the better. In matters like these, it’s one thing to hear the deal and quite another to show you’ve an interest. So he changed the subject.
“Well maybe she just likes my looks. What’cha think, Molly?” Romano looked back over his shoulder, pointed down toward his crotch and beamed his gold plated smile. “Think she might have a hankering for some of this fine Brooklyn Kielbasa?”
“Hey, be watchin’ where you’re going!” Molly shouted out the alarm.”
“Oh, yeah, well,” Romano turned back around just in time to avoid an imminent collision with a delivery van. “Sorry ‘bout that. So, what yeah think? Think she be wantin’ to sample some of this here fine Polish cuisine?”
“Nah, uh-uh, not that wrinkly ol’prune.”
“Well I guess being all alone can do things to yah. You know, having no one but yourself in that big ol’house can play tricks on the mind. Still she’s gotta be a generous ol’biddy to open the cage door to let the bird fly free.”
“Nope, ain’t like that either,” she followed, now with a compact in hand searching for traces of gum stuck to her lips. “She’s lucky to be havin’ me and she be knowin’ it. I work when I be wantin’, if I be wantin’, an’ the money is mine. My mama done give it to me when she died.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that, Molly,” Romano replied, then redacted himself fearing his expression of sympathy might be misconstrued, “. . . I mean, sorry about your mom, not the money.”
A moment later he pulled his Checkered Cab up to the curb that fronted a dingy brown building. In front, a small neon cocktail glass and a sign that read Niles Street Bar. “Hey, Molly, I get off at 5. Think you might still be around if I stop by?”
Molly handed him 2 dollars plus a quarter tip and stepped out the driver’s side. Romano rolled down the window and leaned out eager as a cat ready to pounce on a saucer of milk.
“D’pends, Romano,” she said with a flirtatious swish of her hips, “. . . if Romano wants ta be naughty or just nice.”
He left his cab in park long enough to watch Molly skip across the sidewalk and enter. She was eager, anyone could see that, and even before the twin oak wood doors swung closed behind, she was swept up off her feet and flung in mid-air by a man with a pool cue still clutched in his hands.
Scene IV: Hillbilly Laureate
Back at home Gerald sat patiently awaited Katherine’s return. Supposedly he was there to insure she wasn’t disturbed. At least that’s what she had told him. Although with nothing more than the occasional marauding fly to worry about he didn’t see much need of that. If anything it seemed as though she just wanted him out of the way, yet close enough to keep an eye on him. Sort of like a teacher making a kid sit outside a classroom door.
Or so he imagined, because in actual fact, he hadn’t really spent all that much time in school. Although that wasn’t what his mother had told Katherine; “Yes, Ma’am, he’s near 18 an’ one of them high school grad-u-ates!” She lied!
That was last year when Molly came looking for employment. She said it with a ton of conviction too. Endeavoring to conceal the fact he was actually just 16 and hadn’t been past the 8th grade. Not that Katherine or any person of sound judgment could be that gullible. She had in fact a very discerning and knowledgeable eye. A very low tolerance for chicanery too, and had thrown out many for less. She would have done the same to Molly, if there hadn’t been something about the boy.
“Hmm, you’re near eighteen, a graduate and you’ve yet to steal some poor girl’s heart? My, but that does show initiative.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Molly answered for him. “I know he don’t shave none an’ got soft hands, but he don’t be takin’ after no girl’s, ‘cept his mama.”
“An’ he’s oodles sweet an’ smart an’ he’s wantin’ ta please, ain’t that right Sugar Plum?” His mother tried to sound reassuring.
Not that there was anything unusual about any of this. Where he came from boys entered adult life earlier than most. Boys his age already had families of their own and worked long hours on hard physical jobs. Tending to the family farm or doing what work they could for the only business in town, the Rayburn Mine. Where it was said, “the black-soot of the hobgoblin consumes men and spit out their bones” in a ghastly cave just north of town.
Fortunately that wasn’t in the cards for Gerald. That coal-mining town was too small for Molly and just as soon as she could get out of town she made a sprint for the big city, her sixteen year old son in tow. A big up-tick in the social climate for his mother, but the uprooting made little difference for Gerald. Instead of his grandma, he now had Katherine’s hand to hold. Plus he still had to be there for his mom when she decided to come home, usually too inebriated to manage on her own.
It might not sound like much, but it wasn’t paradise back home either. The backwoods town he came from was a very tough place. As his mom liked to remind him: “If them folks had teeth they’d be tougher then them be’ars.” She’d joke, but she was right, and he knew it. It was a scary place, especially for a kid who by popular consensus would’ve looked better in lipstick than Gretel McCracken — the perennial belle of the Harvest Dance.
Though, thankfully, he was graced with some survival skills. He was fast on his feet. Small blessing perhaps, but hey! When you’re wiry as a fence post a guy has to go with whatever he’s got to cover his butt, otherwise the bigger kids will be covering it for you.
“Hey, Twerp, slow the f*** down!” What more incentive did he need? “Else you be gettin’ it good!” Well now, that’ll provide some getup n’ go.
Which it did, you know, quick as a flash he’d dart off across the fields hoping at best to outlast them, or if he was lucky, they found interest in something else. Like scaring the shit out of the hens in old man Hick’s chicken coup just out of range of the buck shot. Although not always. Sometimes the chase lasted until he reached his doorstep where defended by his mom she’d send them scurrying away with a word or two about their “limp dick” relatives.
She was never one to mince her words. Not with the boys, their ingrate fathers nor her own son.
“You don’t take none after your papa,” she seemed quite sure. Although not quite as sure about what gene pool he could have emerged from. “I think you was meant to be a girl, Pea’ches, ‘cause there ain’t no man I ever saw as girlie as you.”
That was his mom. Not the brightest firefly in the jar, but for all her shortcomings he knew where her heart was. Well, in general terms anyway. Leastwise enough to know she was only trying to help as best she knew how. So it wasn’t asking much of him to sit and wait outside that room holding his ground against the occasional marauding fly. Besides, as Molly liked to say, “Its good paying work, an’ plenty better than that nasty ol’mine.”
The room that Katherine liked to lock herself away in supposedly belonged to her daughter, Amelia. That’s what Rosie had told Molly because that’s what Katherine had told Rose, or supposedly so. At least that’s what he thought he heard in the kitchen when he and his mother were on break and Rose was busy scrubbing her pots and pans. Of course Rose was never much for small talk. Especially when bent over a hot sink as she was when Molly began pestering her for the details.
“The room is just like Amelia done left it two years ago, ain’t that right, Rosie?”
“Don’t be askin’ me!” Rose finally came alive, rising up from her sink to wipe away the perspiration from her brow.
“That ways when she comes home from that fancy finishin’ school everythin’ will be just like she done left it. Right, Rosie?”
“Like I said,” Rose turned about in a huff, “don’t be askin’ me! I ain’t got wings and I’m too old to be climbing a ladder to peek in some upstairs window.”
“Jiminy, Rosie!” Molly laughed. “Do yah mean Rosie done lost her feathers too?”
Rose wasn’t laughing. “Yes!” She menaced, waving the frying pan she had been scrubbing in Molly’s direction. “I’m an old bird, but I still got my claws so watch your sass, girl.”
“Golly, Rosie, I was just teasin’.”
“Well . . .” Rose relented, “Katherine has all but said as much, though I haven’t seen it myself with my own eyes. I suppose she’ll tell me for certain when she’s ready.”
“You see, Pea’ches, she’s just be rememberin’ her daughter, that’s all,” she sounded quite sure.
Then again, nobody knew exactly what was true and what wasn’t. Rose was just as slow on the details as Katherine was in passing them on. For all Gerald knew she could have had a dead body stashed away in there. The only thing certain was that no one was allowed in the room and the mystery permeated through everyone and everything in that grand Brooklyn home. Especially Gerald, but then he was just the houseboy and as Molly frequently reminded him, it came with the territory.
“Don’t be snoopin’ none ‘cause her business be her business.”
“I ain’t ma.”
“That’s my Pea’ches. Just don’t be payin’ that room no mind. Lessen you be seein’ ghosts or hobgoblins or somethin’ walkin’ round.” Molly cajoled and Gerald laughed as she walked in a circle like a zombie, stiff-legged and her arms stretched out.
“If it be scarin’ yah, just tell Rosie an’ she’ll giv’um a good whack with her fryin’ pan.”
Consoling words. It was like adding fuel to his already smoldering imagination. Not unlike those notions of dead bodies that occasionally occupied his thoughts. Or those of the hobgoblin his mother had said lay in wait for him back home. While at other times he thought of nothing more than that carnation he had been asked to hold. Katherine had said it had “the bloom of my daughter’s cheeks, the fragrance of her hair and the beauty of her smile.”
What Molly had said! What Katherine had said! The two diverging thoughts were as different as the two women who owned them. One was hedged with trepidation and laced with images of dead bodies that chilled him to the bone. The other was a pleasant, wistful thought, comparing her love with the beauty of a flower. He wondered what it would be like to know love like that.
He was lost in that thought with his eyes closed and head resting back against the wall when Katherine reemerged, relocked the door and picked up the carnation.
“Very well, Gerald. Have I found you sleeping, young man?” She asked, only it was uttered in a voice a bit more distant than usual, as if distracted by her thoughts. An aspect of her that emerged whenever she stepped out of that room, something she didn’t share with others, but reserved for him alone.
“I think I’ve caught you in a little white lie, but you needn’t feel ashamed. My Amelia liked to take a nap after lunch. She liked to curl up on my lap and I’d sing her a lullaby.”
“Would you like that?” she asked, again sounding as if championing his cause, and again with that same detached voice.
“Pardon, ma’am, but I’m ready to work if you be wantin’ me to.”
“That’s quite alright. Now come along and we’ll see what soup Rose has ready for lunch. Afterward you can rest a bit before you begin your mother’s chores.”
Downstairs, the carnation was returned to its vase and Gerald again seated. In the kitchen Katherine found the covered pot of soup still warm sitting on the stove, the bread, jam and tea already waiting on the cart. Katherine finished putting the meal together then poured a little something from her painful past into his afternoon tea before wheeling the cart out.
After the jam had been spread on his bread and his bowl filled with the soup, she withdrew a bib from the drawer of a nearby buffet. Promptly she tucked that bib into the collar of his white linen shirt, while Gerald, accustom to the babying held his chin high.
Keep in mind this wasn’t the same resolute woman who served up the morning meal. This was the wistful, yearning woman decidedly more removed, though equally meticulous as she fastened that child’s bib about his neck — and, albeit not the same, as securely as a hangman would fasten a noose. When snug fit she pulled up a chair and sat down beside him.
Now Katherine didn’t partake in the meal. She never did, but it was important for a growing boy to get a proper meal. Or so she explained as she draped one hand about his waist and with the other, picked up the soup spoon to insure he did. While Gerald, seemingly lost in his revere sat patiently waiting for the trap door to open up beneath his feet.
Well, not really! The poor choice of metaphors aside, there really wasn’t much of a trap door there. At least one that Gerald wouldn’t mind falling through. If he had any reason to fear the floor opening up beneath his feet it would have been that none of this would be here for him tomorrow. Of course he hadn’t always felt that way.
Nope, in fact he didn’t feel comfortable about it at all, at least not at first. Although you have to wonder why since his grandma and mom did the same. You know, treating him like a little boy when he wasn’t, and they knew it, but did it anyway because that’s just what grandmas and moms are supposed to do. Only Katherine wasn’t family and he worried she might be doing it just to poke fun of him, or something.
Over time however that slowly began to change. That is once he began to realize it was just in her nature. It was just the person she was. Now whenever they were together the moment generated an energy all its own. Especially when alone with her, when he felt like straw close-in to the fire ready to explode with a wisp of her breath.
It wasn’t easy keeping those kinds of feelings hidden. Not from the keen eyes of Katherine nor his own mother when she happened to be in the same room. As she often was, standing at her place behind Katherine and always with that same inscrutable smile. A smile that was no more helpful than the tortured opinions she was occasionally known to cough up.
“Don’t be frettin’ none. She just thinks kids is s’posed to be babied,” was the usual refrain. “Just let the eccentric ol’biddy have her peace of mind.”
“’Sides, there ain’t no harm in it. Same as grandma be doin’. You’re just a sweet lil’baby to grandma too,” she’d tease, pinch his cheek and offer up a “coochie-choochie-coo.”
“Ain’t no different, Sugar Plum.” Then she’d step back, wag her finger and offer up in a more solemn tone, “’Sides, its good payin’ work!”
That too was his mother, the hillbilly laureate, his wellspring of wisdom. Nonetheless, with or without her help he eventually began to feel quite differently about it all. Now it felt as warm to him as the mouthfuls of soup she spooned out.
A rather unusual accommodation, some might think. The world is nothing less than long on opinions. As was his mom. Yet even as simplistic and self-servicing as her logic tended to be, Gerald found it hard to disagree. “B’sides, it’s plenty better then that nasty ol’mine.”
Which by chance, happened to be absolutely true. So he was quite willing to follow her script at the dinning room table. Just as he did while he sat out the hours outside that room. Or when she prompted him to “open wide,” or while she led him about by the hand.
It seemed the least he could do for this woman who was so different from his mom. One woman was caring, sensitive to his needs, while the other was an unfinished product and not likely to be anytime soon. Worst of all he saw no hope in his mother’s eyes. At least not with the same promise he saw in Katherine’s.
So after lunch he’d curl up with his eyes shut, his head on her lap. Katherine in turn would hum her melody, while he, alone in his warm, coddled, babified world would try to sort through his feelings. Uncertain about most, but quite certain about how special her attention made him feel.
Oh True, even a backwoods country boy knew this wasn’t the way normal folks conducted themselves. Not here in this fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood. Not in the Virginia foothills. Still, that didn’t diminish his feelings for her. She was a titanic force in his life, one he didn’t mind reckoning with or going the extra half-measure just to please.
Of course neither he nor his mother nor Rose really knew the whole truth about Katherine. That she kept carefully locked away. Buried beneath the great pain she suffered from all the years of torment in trying to conceive a child. The blame and the guilt she bore. The efforts and all she had to endure with the doctors and untried fertility treatments that had left her physically and mentally ravaged by the effects to this day, but barren nonetheless.
Now with her husband gone, she had nothing more to show for it. Except for the scares, that one room upstairs and the countless bottles of fertility serums still unused. That was Katherine’s legacy now: A lifetime of hope that once burned like a fire had grown cold, and Gerald, with a spark in his eyes that in some odd way rekindled it.
Lyrics: “Mack The Knife,” Bobby Darin, Curb Records, © 1959.
“Only The Lonely,” Roy Orbison, Monument Records, © 1960.
“Annie Hall,” TM & C @ 1977, United Artists Pictures, lic. MGM.
Acknowledgment: I would like to gratefully acknowledge cs. for her editorial support, guidance and infinite wisdom, all dispensed with a heart as large as her titanic talent. Thank you cs, you represent all the best our community has to offer. (*_*)
©2008 by josie. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without expressed written consent of the copyright holder.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.