Loralee: The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Nine, Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Originally published on June 28, 2012
“Malcolm, Hardy says you’re not telling him something.” Loralee looked at her hands. She couldn’t bring herself to look at her husband. Her throat was dry. Her chest hurt. Never in her life had she wanted so much to be somewhere else.
Malcolm’s tan had faded to a paltry ashen color. “My hair is falling out.” He said. His words rang with a hollow tone, an absence. The corner of his eye was ever so slightly torn, weeping a bit. Loralee wondered if anyone else would have noticed it. “I didn’t do it.” He said. “You should leave. Go somewhere with that ranch hand of yours, you should leave. There’s money, Billy knows where it is, and you can get out.” He looked at the table, at his own hands. “I’m sorry.”
“Malcolm, I will never understand how it is that you’ve made so much money in this life while clinging to such a narrow field of vision. This isn’t just about us. This is about the kids, the ranch, the people who count on you for a living, on us, this is everything. All the people who depend on you, whether you sink or swim. Tell Hardy what really happened. She was there, wasn’t she?” Loralee hated that she knew.
Malcolm closed his eyes, his head hung so low that his chin almost touched his chest. “She’s just a kid. Loralee, she didn’t know what she was doing, didn’t know what she was getting into.”
“Oh, she knew. Don’t ever think that one doesn’t know exactly what she is doing. If you are telling me that you are burning this family over that little tramp, I may finally lose my shit. She’s a piece of ass, Mal, that’s all. Like all the rest. She knew what she was doing, she was trading her tail for what she wanted. Now, she thinks her tail is worth you rotting in here forever. Big Daddy gonna make it all better for her. You’re guilty of a lot of shit, maybe even murder,” Loralee whispered, “but I know you didn’t kill Donna. I know you loved her, God help you.”
“You let me make it all right for you once.” Malcolm was sorry the second the words left his lips.
Loralee’s eyes flashed wide, but she didn’t flinch. “Roxanne read you like a book. Your twisted sense of nobility has about done us in. You want to fry for that little bitch, then you go right ahead. I’ll be fine without your sorry ass. But you’ve got kids. Billy is in this up to his eyeballs.” Loralee took a long breath.
“Damn it, Malcolm. Hardy is coming in here in a minute. Tell me what you’re going to tell him. Just this once, I’d like to have some warning.”
“I’m not going to tell him anything. Pattershaw is a snake, just like the rest of us and don’t you ever forget it, Loralee. If you think you can trust that ranch hand of yours, that’s your damn business, and your neck, but you better think about that too. I’m not telling Hardy anything. But, I’ll tell you, I know that’s the only way you’ll ever shut up about it. I know that’s the only way you’ll understand.” Malcolm was angry, breathing hard through his nose, though he had resolved not to lose his temper with her. He had known that she would be relentless. It had always been the only way to handle Loralee when it got right down to it, he had to deal her in. She made it damn hard to protect her from things at times. It was no lack of trust on her part, only that she understood reality, and didn’t appreciate being blindsided. His posture relaxed. “Roxanne was at the party. She was dressed as one of the caterers, she had dyed her hair. We didn’t notice her for most of the night. This was a serious party, business people. Investors.” Malcolm sipped his water. He looked up at the caged fluorescent standard-issue lights overhead. For some reason, he thought of how pretty the chandelier in the dining room had looked, the way Loralee and Jan always decorated it for Christmas with those little colored things, he always meant to ask what they were.
“Sweet Jesus,” Loralee said.
“That’s why they haven’t noticed her on the camera’s yet, the tapes. She’s there. Was there all night, no telling what she heard, or saw. Donna was drunk or getting drunk. James was being James. I lost my temper with him, quietly, and with her. We went up to the apartment. About an hour later, Roxanne was at the door. I don’t know why Donna opened it.”
“Hardy said that you had sex with Donna before Roxanne got there; there’s evidence of it,” Loralee said.
“No. I think Donna and James were together at the party. And then Roxanne came up to the apartment looking to start something with us both, but Donna wasn’t having it. Donna wasn’t like that. She was different.” Malcolm’s chin sank to his chest again.
“Oh, Malcolm. What a mess we’ve made.” Loralee closed her eyes, tried to squeeze away the tears, but they were coming. Malcolm had fallen in love with Donna, and now she was gone. What could Loralee say, with Henry waiting for her outside?
“Roxanne got pissed. Donna wasn’t acting right, she said that she didn’t feel well. She went into the bathroom. Roxanne was hot on her heels. You’d think I’d have been able to get hold of her, but it happened just that fast.” Malcolm shook his head.
“Tell me all of it.” Loralee had resigned herself to the fact that every dream of the life she had once imagined was now gone forever.
“They fought. Donna slipped. Roxanne collapsed in a heap on the floor like a rag doll. I used her phone to call James. Don McCoy showed up wearing maintenance coveralls. Can you beat that? We set it up to look like a plumbing issue. I waited until morning to say I’d found Donna.” Malcolm shook his head. “If I talk, we all go down, and everything we built goes away. I don’t know what James will do. There’s money, the Cayman account, but you’ll have to get out to get to it. It’s Bill, I know Jan’s set well enough money-wise at least with Bob, but Billy, he just wants…”
“Wants to be like his Daddy? I think you underestimate our son. Malcolm, where would Roxanne go? No one can find her.” Loralee was telling herself to think, think. But there didn’t seem to be a way to reconcile it, any way to save any of them. Henry had worked for James too.
“You mean if McCoy didn’t leave her in a ditch somewhere? I have no idea where she would go. It’s more like where wouldn’t she go. Biggest mistake of my life, that girl.” Malcolm pulled at his handcuffs. “I can’t talk, Loralee. I’m a liability to James as it is. All I can hope is that there’s not enough evidence. I don’t sleep. You know James has long tentacles.”
“You’re sure you didn’t have sex with Donna that night? What about earlier in the day? Don’t lie to me.” Loralee’s brain was kicking in.
“No. I did not.” Malcolm looked at his wife, realized what she was thinking. “It won’t be a match for me.” He said. A glimmer of hope.
“Let’s pray the lab didn’t screw that up too.” Loralee got up, touched his shoulder as she walked passed him to the door.
“I never meant to hurt you, Loralee, or the kids. Swear to God. You were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.” Malcolm didn’t turn his head to address her. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a divorce.”
“Oh, I suppose I will. One problem at a time.”
Loralee couldn’t help but recall how she had come home one night, after being with Henry, to the sound of splashing coming from her bathroom. It had taken Scorey Timmons, and two other men to get the suds-soaked Roxanne Carole out of the house after Loralee and a maid had dragged her from the tub and forced a robe on her. Scorey had wanted to call the police. Roxanne giggled and squealed, threatened, all little girl with big boobs petulance. She demanded to know where the apartment in Houston was, where Malcolm was. Malcolm, who’d been in Louisiana on business. Malcolm, who had told Loralee to lighten-up, that he’d take care of it when he got home.
Roxanne Carole, buxom brunette cheerleader, five-foot-six with a waistline Vivien Leigh would have choked every debutante at the ball for. Everyone knew about Roxanne Carole. The whispers at the club were deafening at times. The cracked crab salads picked over with monogrammed forks beneath slurs of, “Oh, I heard, and did you know?” Loralee avoided involvement in such conversations, having been the topic of them a time or two herself. But it was impossible not to hear them. Roxanne had been making the rounds since her arrival. What could any of them say, really? How could any of them judge the scrappy little tramp and all her plays? She was that girl who would never be “Roxy” or “Roxanne” until and unless she went somewhere else, or, God forbid, managed to trick someone into marrying her. As a topic of conversation, she would always be both names, Roxanne Carole, said with an ever-present air of disdain and disgust. Notorious. Hated. Loathed. Lusted after in all her maladjusted glory. She was looking for love in all the wrong places, but, Loralee knew better; they all did. The Roxanne Carole’s of the world don’t know from love or lust or trust, they know from poverty. They know from what they can trade for whatever it is that they want, and what they want is security, by any other name. Even if they can’t name it at all. Most of them burned themselves up and out before they got that far into their self-actualization. Loralee had heard it all her life, “If you marry for money, you earn every penny.” She didn’t know what they said about marrying for love.
Malcolm had never really taken care of it, the Roxanne Carole problem. Loralee suspected that when he had taken up with Donna, Roxanne had not done well with the news. Her antics in Loralee’s bathtub had been a precursor to months of stalking Malcolm that were, thankfully, centered in Houston, as she had figured out that Malcolm was never home. Loralee had heard Lila Turner say, from the next row of lockers over at the club, that Roxanne had gone after James Nevelle, that she’d thought she could land him with her tight little ass and willing to do anything attitude. Loralee knew then that real trouble wasn’t far off.
Nevelle the Devil, they called him. The trail behind him, not a string of broken hearts so much as a road map of degradation, lost souls, discarded bodies, innocence spilled out like the blood of the South at Sharpsburg. With the prostitution and the drugs, there was no way to know for sure how far Roxanne Carole had managed to get with her plans, or how much she really knew. Now she was the potential powder keg. She was convinced that her wild ways would work, would get her where she wanted to be. James would have taken full advantage of that. He would have called her “Triscuit,” and she’d have thought it a pet-name particular to her.
Suzanne Martin seemed to be the only one of them with anything on the ball. So, it was with beauty queens, maybe it was all the Aqua Net and stick-um spray. Maybe it was the leftover taste of Vaseline on the teeth and learning to hold one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth for every smile to avoid showing the gum line and looking like a horse whinnying at the vet. Maybe it wasn’t savvy so much as good, old-fashioned, whore’s manners, because the best worst whore knows to go to the bathroom by herself and close the door, no matter what her business in there is, even if it’s just putting on a fresh coat of lipstick. Roxanne Carole hadn’t figured that out. Suzanne had born Malcolm a child, and that was the second-best thing to marrying a rich man outright. No such fate would ever befall James Nevelle, his vasectomy at twenty-two had guaranteed him as a perpetual playboy and hot company in some circles. Loralee had never been a part of that, the Lila Turner Hot Tub Circuit. But that didn’t stop James Nevelle.
At Jan’s “Sweet Sixteen” party, Nevelle backed Loralee into the Butler’s Pantry, slid his hand up her thigh, under her skirt, forced a kiss on her, and pulled away with a bloody lip he’d never forgotten and said he liked very much. Loralee never said a word about it because that was exactly what James wanted her to do, say something, so he could stir the pot. Loralee was ashamed of all of it, of all of them, as much as she had the energy for it anymore. How had so much become so little, so fast? But there was still a chance, moral high ground notwithstanding, there was still a chance.
Loralee looked at Henry, where he sat waiting for her, but she didn’t stop walking. Instead, she marched forward straight out the doors and down the steps to the sidewalk where Bert Barlow had met his end.
“I want a cigarette, Henry.” She said, taking a lit one from him with a shaking hand. “When this is over, I want to leave here. I want to go someplace that isn’t ugly, someplace warm and calm. I want to feel clean again, Henry.”
“What did he tell you, Elle? What’s got you so shook?” Henry brushed a strand of hair away from her face.
“Well, if it isn’t the sweethearts on the steps of the Po-leese Station.” James Nevelle and Don McCoy approached the steps. Tipping their hats as they walked past them.
“How-do, Ma’am. Henry.” Nevelle nodded after Don’s remark.
“You son of a bitch.” Henry spat, just missing McCoy’s boot.
“You watch yourself now. Watch yourself real close.” Nevelle’s eyes were as black as charcoal, reflecting the bottomless pit of his soul.
To read previous chapters of Loralee, click here.