Loralee, The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Twelve, Cold, Hard, Cash
Originally published on December 5, 2012
“You handled that like shit, Hardy.” Nevelle rubbed at his wrists and then stopped himself. They’d kept him handcuffed long enough that he was contemplating escape.
“What would you like me to do?” Hardy Pattershaw’s face narrowed to a pinch at his mouth.
“I want you to find me a fuckin’ attorney that knows what the hell he’s doing,” Nevelle said.
“You’re guilty. We all are. There’s only so much I can do at this point. I’ve got a conflict of interest now between you and Malcolm.” Pattershaw held tight to his briefcase, pressed his other hand against his leg inside his pocket to keep it from trembling.
“That’s why I need an attorney.” Nevelle stepped off the curb as McCoy rolled up in the Cadillac. “You might want to think about getting one for yourself, a lawyer, that is. You’re not exactly a shining example of ethics. Get me another attorney, Hardy. Don’t fuck it up.”
Hardy Pattershaw watched them turn the corner before he moved for his phone. Billy answered. Hardy told him to tell his father that James Nevelle was out, and that he knew. He drove to his office listening to the local talk radio station, wondering how it was he’d thought that they were all going to get away with it, but he had thought it. An error of his own ego, perhaps. Hardy Pattershaw had always thought himself to be a brilliant attorney. For him to have acknowledged the guilt of any of them was an admission of defeat. What difference did it make if they were guilty? That wasn’t his job. His job was to manipulate the law for his clients.
The building that housed the offices of Hardy J. Pattershaw, Esquire, Attorney at Law, in a second floor, corner suite, had been a unique find. Retro-fitted with modern elevators, it boasted a feature that he somehow knew he’d one day need, an incinerator at the end of the hall. It was three in the morning when he dumped the last of the files in, making sure to listen for them hitting bottom, catching as the doors closed, and he pushed the button. Back in his office, he unlocked a drawer in his desk and fished out a bottle of Southern Comfort. At his first taste of when he was seventeen, he’d known it was awful and never gotten over it, he loved it. His wife had been drinking Ever Clear that night, sitting under some bushes with another boy along the back fence of the football field, and he’d rescued her from his unwanted advances. Hardy smiled at the memory of her drunken confession that she’d just wanted to try Ever Clear.
Hardy looked longingly at her photo on his desk one last time before turning the picture face down. He thought about where he wanted to be found and realized that it didn’t matter; no one was going to care. The only person likely to shed a tear was Loralee, despite her dalliances, she was a truly decent woman. He thought that ironic, and for her sake, he decided to drive home and pull the trigger there.
“Loralee, you need to tell your boyfriend to go home.” Malcolm was sitting quietly in the corner of their bedroom in a chair that he hated. Loralee stood in the doorway, Henry behind her, his index finger hooked through the back belt loop of her jeans.
“Why, Malcolm? Because you’ve decided to come home and make nice? Where’s Billy?” Loralee turned on the light, and Malcolm lifted his hand to his eyes.
“Because what’s going on here is enough to put us all away for a long time. Because James is on his way here now, with Don McCoy. Because Suzanne is downstairs with my son. Because I’m asking you to.” Malcolm’s tone was like ice. “I sent Billy home. Do you think I’d let him get hung out to dry?”
“Those all sound like good reasons for Henry to stay right here with me. Who is on my side, Malcolm? Who?” Loralee could feel the tension rising through her spine, her jaw tightening.
“I’m on your side Loralee, I am.” Malcolm moved his hand to the arm of the chair.
“Since when? Since Donna died? Since Suzanne started fucking James? Oh yes. I know about that. Since your little side ventures into drugs and being a pimp have blown up in your face?” Loralee said.
“They weren’t side ventures, Loralee. The side venture is the real estate. Ask your boyfriend. Ask him about Roxanne Carole.” Malcolm stared at her. “You’re still my wife, still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t have to ask him about Roxanne Carole. Everything I need to know about Henry is how he treats me, that I’m not second with him. That if I did ask him, he’d tell me the truth.”
“We paid him, Loralee.”
“Don’t lie.” Henry stepped from behind Loralee into the light, standing between her and Malcolm.
“He’s a hired hand, and he was told that if he could keep you busy in the bargain, well, we’d sure appreciate it. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, Loralee. It doesn’t mean that in some way, this wasn’t all for you, for the kids. For this life and lifestyle that you’ve grown accustomed to. I never wanted you to want or worry about anything. I never wanted you to have to work or scrap.” Malcolm said.
“I am so sick of your lies and your BULLSHIT!” Loralee plucked a figurine off the dresser and sailed it at his head. It shattered against that wall. “It was all for me? For us? So, you fucked other women, left me home alone, made me feel like I was always second fiddle? Me? The beauty queen, who was all about getting those crowns? You made me feel second and thought I’d be satisfied with that, that I’d just sit here and take it? You made a fool of me behind my back, in front of my face, in pretty much every way you could, and now you want me to believe it was all for what? Because you love me? You know that James once told me that he loved me too, did you know that? He wanted me to leave you and run away with him, but I’m not quite that stupid. I know his interest in me would go about as far as the front door of this house, were I ever to walk out it out with him. I know that James only wants to beat you.” Loralee wanted to sit down. She wanted this to not be happening. She wanted to smoke, get drunk in her bathtub, and slither into her bed, not have to deal with any of it anymore. She couldn’t think far enough ahead to determine whether she still believed in anything, but at least with Henry, there had been some honesty, some attempt at it.
“I married you. I didn’t marry any of them, that made you first, always. It seems like you’re the only one who didn’t know it. I wanted you to have a good life. No more pageants, no more blow jobs under the judge’s table. No more Daryl’s. I wanted you to be able to keep all this. What difference did any of the rest of it make? You have all this. Malcolm lifted a glass of scotch to his mouth, and as he did, Loralee noticed his pistol resting against his thigh, and the new contraption he was wearing around his ankle.
“I’ve had everything but the only thing I wanted.” Loralee looked at him and wondered if she still felt that way about him and why was it that men so often understood love as a matter of providing, not that that was nothing, far from it, but why was it that that was how they understood loyalty? Here’s the paycheck and never mind who he was sticking his dick in because that didn’t mean anything?
“What did you want that I didn’t give you, Loralee?” Malcolm said.
“You are a fucking idiot,” Henry said to Malcolm, laughing. He moved back, leaning against the door jamb, shaking his head.
“You, Malcom, I wanted you.” Loralee thought to snuff the cigarette out on her own bedroom carpet but walked to the little dish on the dresser that she usually tossed her keys into and used that instead. She thought then that she was no less shallow, every woman wanted the same thing, to rule her own kingdom without question, to be respected, honored even, adored, and for those things to be real. She laughed at herself.
“Well, isn’t this sweet?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Henry’s fist exploded against the jaw of James Nevelle. Nevelle found himself looking up from the floor while Don and Henry traded blows. Malcolm pointed the .44 at the space between the bottom of the window sill and the bottom of the frame, fired a single shot through the screen.
“Y’all probably want to settle down now. The last thing this room need is for the sheriff to have to come all the way out here and find us all in it together. So cozy.” Malcolm hadn’t moved from his chair. He continued to calmly sip at his scotch.
“What was that? What was that shot?” Suzanne shoved past Henry, through the door. “You BITCH!” She lunged at Loralee, who stepped out of the way, letting Suzanne fall headlong into the dresser. Suzanne scrambled to her feet, her hand at a bloody lip. She lunged at Loralee again, her gold chains and diamond-studded acrylic nails flashing in a tangle as she fell.
“Aaaaahhhhh!” Loralee screamed and kept screaming until she had beat so hard against Henry’s chest that he let go of her, and she slumped to the floor. “God damn every last one of you.” She shook her head at their silence and pulled herself up. She looked at Henry and calmly asked him, “How deeply are you involved in this? How deep?”
“I’ll leave here with you right now.” Henry nodded at her.
“It really isn’t that simple.” James Nevelle smiled. “Let’s say we all go downstairs, maybe sit outside on the deck, get some fresh air. This congregation in this house right now isn’t the smartest idea. Malcolm’s right, I don’t think anyone would believe it’s his coming home party.”
They made their way down the wide staircase. Loralee made herself look at the family photos that she had taken so much time to get on the wall just right, the distance between them perfectly measured, the matching frames had cost a fortune and filled the trunk and the back seat of the Mercedes she’d been driving the year the house was finished. She’d bought extra frames, for pictures they hadn’t yet taken, memories they’d yet to have. She had believed it all, the fairy tale was hers, and there before her was the photographic evidence that some part of it was real, only now she knew, there were other photos too, pictures of Malcolm’s secret life.
Malcolm’s first affair hadn’t been an affair at all, really, a waitress at the Country Club who had worked at one of their Christmas parties serving champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The young woman was quietly fired, sent on her way, or so Loralee thought. As her foot hit the bottom of the stairs, it dawned on her that the girl had likely been a prostitute, working for her husband and James Nevelle. The Country Club, the real estate, it was all a façade that at some point, their house, their home, their American Dream life, had become the cornerstone of. Loralee had played the part to the hilt without ever knowing it. The stoic wife, the steadfast wife, raising her kids, doing charity work. The years she’d dragged them all to church until that one Sunday when only Billy had still been willing to go with her, and she’d realized they’d been humoring her for some time. Malcolm went to Houston that day. Jan was smoking pot in her bedroom by then, some boy or another climbing in and out the window most nights. Loralee told them to go ahead and use the front door. Billy was apologetic, almost pitying her, his mother, and that broke her heart, that her son should be the one to understand. Had it always been a dirty business? Had she just not wanted to see it? After all, she’d shot Daryl, and they’d lied for her, buried that secret. Who exactly had she thought she was dealing with? Who had she thought she was?
Loralee felt dizzy. It occurred to her that she hadn’t had a drink yet today, and she realized how much they’d really been drinking. What was this world that they had so much and nothing at the same time? Wallowing, every last one of them. Was there any hope to be had, was there anything good in the world? Was it all just one phony scene after another that by some silent agreement they all went along with, playing their parts? Malcolm made a fool of her, but he was a fool too, the bigger fool, so was Henry, so was James, the whole lot of them. Her daughter Jan just might be the only one who wasn’t a complete idiot. Jan didn’t care about anyone or anything but herself, and she never really had, so none of it ever mattered to her. Jan openly joked about having gotten pregnant on purpose, trapping her husband, and had nearly spit in Loralee’s face on the day of the wedding. “You know what makes the world go around, Mother? Money. Cold, hard, cash, and the hot, hard, cocks that control it. That’s the difference between you and me, Mother. I’m not all caught up in the warm fuzzy glow that you tried to spoon-feed us.” Jan used to say, “I’m getting my kicks, Mother. I’m just getting my kicks.” Quoting a line from “Grease,” Rizzo. Jan and her friends had watched it over and over again, they were just getting their kicks.
She could leave, Loralee could leave. Whatever was going to happen with Malcolm and James had nothing to do with her, but there was Billy, and there was Henry.
Had any of them ever told her the truth about anything? Henry was the only person who had ever even come close. It was all just one big con-job after another, wasn’t it? Her entire life was a lie that she had believed, and they had all thought they were doing her a favor in humoring her about. She wanted the truth, in plain English, she wanted to matter that much to someone, for someone to finally have that much respect for her, to stop treating her like some simpering housewife who couldn’t deal with reality while they all lived it up behind her back. All they ever did was lie, and it was adding insult to injury. They faked it. They faked everything and insisted that she do likewise, that was the game, you find your role, you picked your role, and you played it, drown the pain. Loralee stopped in the kitchen and poured herself a glass of Jack, downed it, poured another. She hated the taste of whiskey, and somehow that was part of the point.
“Well, let’s go.” She said, leading the way out the back door, bottle in hand.
She had done everything right. She had been a good mother, a good wife, had tried to keep her family together and was, at last, abandoned for it. Abandoned for tight-assed ex-cheerleaders and ex-beauty queens like Suzanne, women who hadn’t played it straight, who hadn’t given up being the whore to try to become the Madonna on the home-front, relegated to fucking ranch hands and drinking in the afternoons just to pass the time. Abandoned for what amounted to so many younger versions of herself. Jan joked, “Daddy likes to play Captain Save a Ho.” It was hitting home harder than Loralee had thought possible. Malcolm had saved her from one life of whoring and introduced her to another, wasn’t that something? He had asked her to marry him, and she thought that was it, that was everything, they were in love. Real love. She had played that part only to find out that it wasn’t the part she thought it was. Malcolm had wanted a wife to adorn himself with. Loralee laughed out loud. She was an appendage. She was part of their game, part of Malcolm’s playing at life.
“Malcolm, you want to tell us what you told Detective Owen?” Nevelle sat down at one end of the long patio table. “How do we get out of this one?”
“WE don’t.” Malcolm had brought the .44 downstairs with him. “I told them everything I know.”
“Jesus Christ.” Henry’s hand went to his jaw. He took a step backward, teetered on his boot heels.
“When push comes to shove, I’ll rescind my statements and refuse to testify, but I told them everything, and thus, my new anklet. Hardy got me out so I could settle my affairs. I’m a very important man, just ask the judge who wants his name removed from our client list. It’s you they want, James.” Malcolm said.
“Well, they’re not going to get me.” James Nevelle reached under his sport coat, it was a Western cut that suited his broad shoulders and narrow waist, it made him look even taller. It hid well the familiar bulge of the shoulder holster under his arm, he drew down on Don McCoy and pulled the trigger without hesitation as both Loralee and Suzanne screamed. Nevelle stood, turned to Henry. “Grab his feet.” He said.
“Fuck you,” Henry said. His insides turned to gooseflesh, but he stood his ground as James leveled the gun at him.
“I don’t think so, James.” Malcolm had a bead on Nevelle’s head with the .44. “I think we’re all three going to take care of this latest mess of yours, and then Loralee is going to leave with Henry.”
“Just like that, you decide my life?” Loralee glared at her husband.
“Isn’t that what you want?” Henry asked.
The silence that seemed to linger too long was finally broken by Suzanne’s laughter. She slapped at her knees, stomped her feet on the deck and roared, as Don McCoy bled out at her feet. “And after that, it’ll be time to put up the Christmas tree again and decide who gets to put the star on top! What a hoot! If Loralee cries now, it’ll make my decade.”
“This can’t be happening.” Loralee shook her head. “We danced here. Under the lights, we danced here and we…” Her vision blurred as she scanned their faces, trying to see that other time.
“We danced here,” Henry said quietly. He looked at her, and she realized she had danced with him there, and that she was completely in love with him. James Nevelle had cornered her in the pantry at one of those parties, and she’d danced with Henry and made love to him in the garden at yet another party. How long had she been lying to herself?
“They know about Mexico. They know about Dallas. They know about what Dixon Roget was setting up in New Orleans. They know about the mine being worthless, that the fighting over it was all a diversion. They know everything, and they can’t prove anything. But, we’ve got to stop dropping bodies everywhere if any of us are going to get out of this.” Malcolm said.
Loralee stood up and started walking toward the house, deliberately putting one foot in front of the other, as if it were an automated act of self-preservation. Her house, her home, her bathtub waiting upstairs. Something, somewhere, had to make sense again. There was a man bleeding to death on her deck, a man she had known for years and, yes, he was a very bad man, but what were any of them? Good? She didn’t think so anymore. Her husband was a pimp, a drug lord, who knew what else, her son was aware of it, her daughter was a spoiled, ungrateful, brat, James Nevelle was a criminal of every sort, and her lover was a killer, a hired henchman. She kept walking.
“Elle?” Henry said to her.
“I am taking a bath. I am home. I am taking a bath. You will all have to leave me alone now, you’ll all have to go away now and let me take my bath. I want my deck cleaned off. I want it looking like new. Tell Scorey I want it looking like new.” Loralee closed the back door behind her, disappearing into the house.
To read previous chapters of Loralee, click here.