Loralee, The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Thirteen, Fresh Molasses
Originally published on December 26, 2012
At ten o’clock the next morning, James Nevelle reported Don McCoy missing. Good old Don said he was going to visit his sister. He’d never returned to the ranch, and that just wasn’t like him. “Especially under the circumstances.” Nevelle said. He smiled to himself, thinking how pissed Detective Owen would be.
Nevelle had called Hardy Pattershaw’s office several times that morning, as well as having tried his house and several old cell phone numbers. He’d carefully packed his suitcase and wondered if he’d make it through airport security in Dallas. He had a place in Mexico. The others were dishonest with themselves about their own lies, Nevelle had made peace with his demons when he was still a young man determined to have all that he wanted in this world. He did not count himself to be either a good man or a bad man, only a man who could not afford to fool himself about anything or anyone.
Suzanne’s heels clicked on the tiles as she moved around the living room, gathering her son’s things, stuffing them into a carry-on bag. Nevelle watched. From behind, it was easy to mistake her for Loralee, hair the same color, the same build. Suzanne understood and played the game, whereas Loralee never would, holding out because her moral compass was still partially intact. Suzanne didn’t whine, didn’t complain, her soul was for sale to the highest bidder, every day, and today, that was James Nevelle. The silk shirt, the narrow jeans, she was always tan, dripping in gold necklaces. Nevelle thought that Suzanne would have given her eye-teeth to be Loralee. Nevelle loved fucking Suzanne. He knew that Suzanne didn’t care who he pretended she was. They were the dark side, the shadowed reflections of Malcolm and Loralee. Nevelle would take Suzanne to Mexico with him, with Malcolm’s son. He would continue to run the drugs from there. Suzanne would be perfect at his side, ruthless and cold, and one way or another, they’d finally gotten Malcolm.
“The Buffalo Nickel?” Suzanne asked, touching the box that held the dominoes.
“Take it if you want it.” Nevelle smiled.
“I always wanted it.” Suzanne took a ring box from her purse and dropped the nickel into the slot.
“Why didn’t you try to palm it the first time?” He asked.
“Because I wanted you to give it to me.” Suzanne looked at him sideways, from under a cascade of blonde hair.
“You didn’t really think that I wanted Malcolm, did you? He’s in love with Loralee. He’ll always be in love with Loralee. I want a man who is all mine. Women are stupid. They think that having a man’s heart means controlling his pecker. I know how sweet you think I taste. I wanted you, James. I wanted a man who isn’t afraid to take what he wants, enjoy it, and pull the goddamn trigger when necessary. I wanted a man who would appreciate my loyalty. People get all fucked up about it. At the end of the damn day, sometimes it comes down to one thing, loyalty. Malcolm treats women like interchangeable accessories, and it makes him weak, and look what it’s done to Loralee. What do you think she’s told, Henry? I know that you’ve let me in. I know how important it is for you to have a woman you can trust. Malcolm thinks women are loyal to money, security, so he flirts around and fucks around, while Loralee tells her stupid troubles to the ranch hand of the month. You’re smarter than Malcolm, you always were. They’re still trying to figure out who the top dog in their marriage is. He fucks around to prove that she doesn’t control him, and then she doesn’t leave him so that he isn’t ever totally free. All they really want is each other. Malcolm is a complete idiot if you ask me. Loralee worshipped him. I mean, it was pathetic, and he paid her back for it with me, because she wasn’t right there every second because they had kids or she needed five minutes to herself now and then. Malcolm is a needy man, one who revels in his neediness, has given himself over to it completely because he can afford to indulge himself. Loralee is a hopeless romantic. Fools wasting time while people like us take everything right out from under their noses. The thing is, I think she understands it, but he’s so full of himself that he won’t ever listen to her. In fact, I’d say her weakness is him, and his weakness, he wants to trust people. Hell, he probably thought that you were his friend and that I loved him. With the right man, one that was loyal to her all the way around the course, Loralee could have really gotten somewhere more than this mess. Loralee owned the pageant circuit, and she wasn’t ever even trying, used to piss me off something fierce. She could have been anything.” Suzanne smiled at James. She zipped her suitcase closed and moved it from the sofa to the front door.
Nevelle felt his knees give a little, and he was glad that he was standing behind the counter so that she hadn’t seen it. Suzanne was smarter than he’d ever thought, smarter than all of them, and she was in love with him. For some reason, that fact mattered to him, and that bothered him. It was a helluva time to begin to care. A woman who understood things like that was dangerous indeed.
Loralee looked around her bedroom. She didn’t see much of anything that felt like it belonged to her. Her dressing table overflowed with perfume bottles and jewelry that had never been worn. She thought that she didn’t even really know what all was there and that Jan had taken most of the nice items as it was. On her nightstand was a photograph of the four of them from a Christmas years before, Jan sitting on her father’s knee, her feet barely touching the ground, Billy standing behind Loralee, one hand on each of his parent’s shoulders. What did people do? How did people do this? Was she going to run off with Henry? Get a job while he worked on another ranch? Always be looking behind them? Nevelle was the only one with the means to pull off that kind of rescue. Loralee smiled, tears rolling down her face. James was probably on his way to the exit with Suzanne, and she guessed that those two were as made for each other as any.
Loralee knew that her marriage was in trouble the first time that Malcolm defended Suzanne, that’s all it takes, that first crack. Malcolm was susceptible to flattery, and Suzanne was a shark. Loralee knew that Suzanne would eventually move on, but Malcolm had destroyed Loralee’s idea of who they were together, and it was never the same after that. Donna, she’d thought, had mattered even less. Malcolm loved Donna was beginning to feel guilty about some things by that time. Loralee realized that was why he’d been distracted at Christmas.
Loralee stayed in the tub until the water turned ice cold, contemplating how much she didn’t like herself. How she hadn’t been enough to keep Malcolm’s attention. How many time’s she’d stood by with her heartbreaking while he defended whoever it was next. How he took for granted that she would stay loyal to him, no matter what he did. He even used it to gain favor with other women, Look, I pissed off my wife for you, he might say, and they fell for it, every time. Maybe he couldn’t figure out who the fuck he was married to. Had she been a fool, had her own ego simply been that huge that she’d thought that she was different? He’d tell her that she was his wife like that meant something while he was defending nasty whores like Suzanne, women who preyed on idiot married men with hungry egos, the richer, the better. And what did they care? Those women, about the damage that they did to women like her? They all moved on soon enough and look what it had gotten Donna. Nobody cared unless it was happening to them, and they lied to themselves about even that, true love being so common and all.
Loralee washed down two Valium with what was left of a bottle of Zinfandel that was in the fridge since God knew when. She crawled into bed with Malcolm for the first time in more than six months. Malcolm was probably going to prison and taking Henry with him. She tossed and turned and dreamed of Henry holding out his hand to her, and of her wedding to Malcolm. She woke up with a pounding headache and took a pill for that.
Dressed again now, sitting on the edge of the bed, she wanted to leave, but there was nowhere and nothing to go to. She hadn’t felt that way since she was trying to leave Daryl, and he’d followed her. The phone in the kitchen started ringing. Loralee made her way downstairs. She knew the deck would be clean, all traces of Don McCoy would be erased. If she just pretended none of it had ever happened, maybe they could go on for a while, at least until the trial. Where the hell was everyone with the phone ringing off the hook.
“Hello?” Loralee lit a cigarette from a pack she’d taken from Henry the night before, with his silver lighter. She’d given up quitting.
“Mrs. Montgomery, this is Detective Owen, I’d like to speak with your husband.”
“He’s in the shower. Perhaps I can help you.”
“All right, Mrs. Montgomery, Mr. Pattershaw hung himself in his living room sometime this morning. He was kind enough to leave the curtains open, a neighbor called us early. We also have reason to believe that James Nevelle and Suzanne Martin have left the country, probably for Mexico. Perhaps you might know something as to the whereabouts of Henry Wellsy?”
Hardy Pattershaw, in his final, frustrated moments, had realized that he had an empty gun and had left the box of bullets in his office desk, that he had looked right at them when he’d been burning the files, and then he’d gone home without them. His wife had loved the beams in the ceiling in the living room, he knew Loralee would remember that, and somehow, that made it even more fitting.
“Jesus! I have no idea where Henry is, nor do I know anything about James and Suzanne. Poor Hardy.” Loralee was looking at Henry as he stood in her kitchen doorway, his hair still wet from the shower. Burying people is a dirty business. “Henry dropped me off here yesterday and went home, but I will ask our foreman if he has come into work this morning or called.”
“Mrs. Montgomery, come on now, at this point you really don’t expect me to believe that you don’t know anything about any of this, do you? You’re just the innocent, beleaguered, long-suffering wife of one of the biggest crooks in Houston?”
“Oh, Detective Owen, sounds like you’re selling us a little short this morning, just Houston? I’ll let Malcolm know that you called.” Loralee hung up.
Henry shook his head at her, not quite a shrug. What was there to say? He knocked his knuckles against the kitchen table, his cuticles were scrubbed raw in places, his fingernails were too clean. She’d heard him leave with Nevelle the night before, the tires doing a slow crunch over the gravel as she’d languished in the tub and wondered if Suzanne was with them or still downstairs with Malcolm and then she laughed at herself for it. She was in love with Henry. Stone cold in love with Henry in a way that she hadn’t realized. Being with him hadn’t been about anyone or anything else, just being together, stealing every moment that they could. He wasn’t saving her from her past, and he hadn’t promised her a future, he had simply loved her for who and what she was. Now she understood, this morning, that she still loved her husband, that they understood each other. She had no idea what time it was when Henry returned to the ranch, and she was glad of it. The lies were already as thick and sticky as fresh molasses. She didn’t want to have to tell another one if she could help it.
“I have to leave, Loralee. I don’t see any way that they don’t come after me. I figure that it’s every man for himself about now.” Henry didn’t move from behind the table.
Loralee’s hand went to her necklace, the jade rose. She’d taken it out of her nightstand that morning. It was a gift from Daryl on their wedding day. She’d put it on to remind herself who she’d been, what she’d done, and who she’d become. Her own flawed compass, unless she were to forget and think herself above it all. She’d gone that route once, believed her own lies, and it had been a long way to fall.
“Hardy hung himself.” She said, picking up the cigarettes and walking outside to the deck. She sat down in the same chair that she’d been sitting in the night before, Henry followed her. He was taking his chances with every tick of the clock. She looked at him thinking of the last time they’d made love in the hotel room in Houston, wanting nothing more than to be back at his house with him, to feel him again, an ache so deep that she knew it would wear his name for the rest of her life.
“It’s okay.” She said quietly after a while.
“If they don’t find James or can’t extradite him, they will burn Malcolm. If they get James, there’s no way that he’s not going to hand them me or try to have me killed before it gets to that. Hardy was partners with them in this, Loralee. I think they could charge Malcolm with trafficking, but he’s smarter than I thought, and he’ll get another lawyer. It’ll be a scandal but no more than it has been, and he’ll take care of you, Loralee. Malcolm will protect you. I know that you still love him.” Henry never looked away from her face. “They will come after me for murder, probably more than one at this point, and I am not going to be the scapegoat for Nevelle, certainly not for Malcolm.” He shook his head “no” and said, “There’s no other way.”
“I know.” She smiled a sad smile. She wanted to tell him that she loved him and all those things that they both knew without saying. She took off the jade rose and slide it across the table to him. He caught it on the reflex before it slid off the end.
“I don’t want this. I don’t need it. I want to know that it’s where I remember seeing it last whenever I looked up at you.” Henry smiled.
“And I want to know that you have it, it means something to me. It has to do with whatever part of me that ever managed to believe in anything at all. I want to know that it’s with you.” Loralee stood. She straightened her shirt and smoothed her slacks. She picked up Henry’s cigarettes and lighter. She put her hand on his shoulder for a moment as she walked past him on her way into the house.
Malcolm sat at the kitchen table with the newspaper spread out in front of him. “How’s the deck look?”
“Looks like Scorey’s a good man. Did Detective Owen call back?” Loralee poured herself a cup of coffee.
“Yes. He’s not in a hurry to get out here since I can’t leave. Owen is having a busy morning, looking for your friend, though Henry’s probably long gone by now.” Malcolm sipped his coffee. He had a way of claiming a moral high ground that was really quite beyond his reach. When she was younger, it had been exactly the kind of remark that would have made her feel terribly guilty. ”I hope they don’t find him.” Malcolm didn’t look up. “I reckon you know that I love you.”
Bastard. She thought. “I reckon I do. I love you too, Malcolm.” It was true, but it was different now.
“What do you reckon we ought to do about that?” He smiled. It was the conversation they’d had when he proposed to her. “You reckon we ought to make it official?”
“You are out of your mind.” She couldn’t keep from smiling.
“I reckon you are too. Wontchoo come over here and show me how crazy you are. I was in jail, you know, might be going back there. I’m feeling kinda lonely.” Malcolm was grinning ear to ear. He stopped smiling. “Only you, Loralee, for the rest of my life. You know there never really was anyone but you. I don’t want to insult you with an apology that isn’t going to cover it.”
“Bunch of saints we are. No one but you.” What else was there, but this love? This life? She lit a cigarette and sat down across the table from him, snaked her foot up into his lap. “Do you think they’ll get James?”
“Oh, I know that they will. You didn’t think Suzanne was going to go down in flames for any of us, did you? Do you think she’d give up years of child support, security, for life on the run in Mexico being Mrs. Nobody-Left-to- Stick- It- To? She was playing both sides of the fence from the word go. She agreed to help them get James in exchange for immunity. She’s loyal to a dollar, not her heart. That’s how I always knew I could trust you, Loralee. You fall in love, and you make a mess caring about people, and then the rest of it doesn’t matter. I bet you been on the phone lying all morning for everybody. You’d lie for Suzanne if it got down to it, because of my son. You’d do the right thing by everybody, but yourself.” Malcolm studied his paper.
“Am I that easy?” Loralee wanted to be angry about the tears that kept betraying her, but she didn’t have the energy for it anymore.
“Not by a damn sight. That makes you tougher than anybody I ever met because you know what matters and what it’s all actually worth, what it means. We’re going to be all right, Loralee. Everything is going to be okay. Things got out of control, but I am not a stupid man. We’re okay.” He reached across the table, wrapped his hand around hers, and looked her in the eye.
She believed him.
To read the previous chapters of Loralee, click here.