Here's a lovely little tale about
togetherness, featuring P.I. Joe Angello, nobody's idea of a
looker. But there's ugly, and then there's UGLY...
A Family Affair
A Joseph Angello Story
by Peter A. Parmantie
open my office door as though he expected it would stick. He
stood aside. In paraded two women, one a teen. The man almost
slammed it shut. The three stared at me. The man hadn't knocked.
I didn't care.
........My new office
was in a sleazy warehouse section of town. Its only virtue was
that the rent was about as cheap as I could find. But even so
it would soon be more than I could afford. It consisted of a
single room containing one desk, one filing cabinet, and three
chairs, one a lawn chair. My phone didn't ring much. I am also
my own secretary and my own receptionist, should I ever need
one. It was after five and I was just about to go home, or to
what I called home since Maude died, but no such luck. I licked
my chops and decided to think money for a change.
seated and stared at the trio, a man, his wife and, I assumed,
their daughter. I didn't want to toss them out; I needed the
money. Something about them prodded me into yellow alert, and
it wasn't their abrupt entrance.
is a funny thing, and as old as I am I knew enough to be suspicious
of facile reactions. More than once I'd been dead wrong. Once,
almost literally. And from there my reputation and my income
took a slide. So I sat and evaluated the three, trying to trace
the origin of my repulsion. Well, for one thing, they were snake-like.
They stared, three basilisks. Compared to them, a cat's fixed
glare was homey, warm. I was being dissected.
had dressed carefully, in studied artificiality. Atop the man,
perched a garishly unobtrusive hairpiece. Fingernails manicured.
Tanned and fit with the tiniest hint of a gut. Clothes tastelessly
expensive, making him appear ten years younger than his obvious
forty, or so he thought. Large, tanned military face. Seamed.
........No, not seamed.
Ravaged. I knew what to look for.
to his right, about his age, was a hard enameled doll with pretensions
to Barbiedom, expensively coifed, dress two sizes too small.
Hair done as in undone, one of those fashionable hairdos that
look as though she had risen from entertaining a john. Streetcorner
chic. It must have taken her hours to apply the makeup that seemed
so artless. Plastic surgery, around the neck and eyes. Possibly
breast implants. She had bulges where bulges counted.
had to be--illustrated the last three adolescent clothing fads
simultaneously. Her round, puffy face fixed itself in a pout
of boredom as she inspected her surroundings with eyes dead as
boiled eggs. Heavy makeup couldn't hide the zits. She was homely,
a walking example of recessive genetics.
at me. Since they had money and I wanted some, I stared back.
No one spoke.
........They saw a
balding, large-nosed man twenty-five pounds overweight. I am
five-six when I stand but they could check my height later. I
was too tired to display the amenities. I never did anyhow and
my life was too far gone to begin. Besides, I had to pee, and
if I stood the need would become urgent.
used to such treatment.
........So what? I'm
a misanthrope and about as far from a positive thinker as you're
likely to find. What the hell else would anyone expect of a near-sixty
uninsurable PI with a hundred dollars left in his bank account
and rent to pay?
........The man decided
to break the silence. Maybe he didn't like my stare. "You're
Angello, Joseph Angello?" He pronounced it properly, with
the hard g. It wanted to be a statement but emerged a question.
I had just moved in and the name wasn't on the door and wouldn't
be until I got ready money. Tomorrow I would put a 3x5 card on
the door giving my name and occupation for anyone interested
enough to walk down to the end of the hall then turn right into
an alcove with two doors. One is mine, the other is a storeroom.
........How the hell
had they found me, anyhow? I'd not had the money to advertise
........The wife inspected
me, an up-and-down hooker's stare. The daughter had examined
me as they marched in, without interest or emotion. She looked
away, bored, her plain-pudding face expressionless. The boiled-egg
eyes calculated limits. Unbeautiful and aware of it, she would
some day make someone suffer for her homeliness. But not me;
be on the door one of these days," I said. "What can
I do for you in a hurry?" I felt gritty and I ached with
inertia. Whether you sit or whether you stand, waiting, worrying
and mourning are worse than doing nothing, and I'd been doing
nothing but waiting, worrying and mourning.
........The wife spoke.
"We've lost our son." Her voice was shrewish, nasal,
with an saran-thin layer of breeding acquired far too late in
life to make much difference.
........I knew about
loss. "Sit and we can talk." I'd been sitting and could
for a few more minutes.
the daughter in the lawn chair, in the middle of the group. The
father sat close to her, the wife a few feet away. She looked
steadily at me, pointedly ignoring her family. Or they, her.
De Land Marks." He nodded, "My wife Jessie and our
then waited long enough to let him understand that his name meant
nothing to me. When he was about to speak I said, "Your
son is gone, as in disappeared?"
refuses to come home."
know where he is, then."
........The wife cut
in, "He's away at college, going into the second semester
of his freshman year, and I" She hesitated and glanced at
her husband before refastening her Velcro stare on me, "We
think he has fallen under some bad influence. He hasn't communicated
with us since he left."
whined, "And we've been there twice." Briefly her eyes
came alive. She'd been insulted, put upon. It was personal, unforgivable.
continued to look me over, either a streetcorner stare or uncomfortable
contact lenses. I opted for the former.
........De Land Marks
sat close to his daughter. More than distance separated him from
his wife. More distance needed between him and his daughter.
like that only fuzzes the mind. I needed mental clarity, first
to get money from these people, second, to trace my visceral
dislike of them.
my receptionist role. Money first. I said, "You need a family
counselor. I'm a private investigator. If you know where he is,
go pick him up, take him home. You say you know where he is."
not kidnapped or lost, what do you want me to do?"
you to report on him."
you written him, phoned him, faxed him, e-mailed him?" I
was getting impatient.
he receive them? Is he at the address you send them to?"
said, "Jonathan sends them back. He refuses them. They aren't
even opened." The refusal was another personal insult.
her. "Does his signature appear on the refusals," I
asked him, "on the envelopes?"
said, "Yes. And the date." She refused to take her
eyes off me. Her stare had intensified.
her. "Look, Mister... "
ingratiatingly, "Please, call me De Land."
I repeated, "Mister Marks, you need a family counselor,
not a private detective."
hand had crept up his inner thigh. When she saw my glance she
removed it with insolent slowness. I held her stare but could
not break it. I shifted my gaze to the father, whose face was
a mask of solemn attentiveness. His leg had not moved, or his
hands. They were folded placidly in his lap. The mother saw nothing.
"He must have known his regular allowance checks were inside."
he have a job, another source of income?"
never needed to work."
........I said again,
snapping off the words, "Does he have a job?"
........The wife smiled.
"Of course not." They were successful parents, after
you tried visiting him?"
said, "He's never in, always away."
idea why he won't communicate with you?"
........As if in reply,
Marks stood. From an inside coat pocket he extracted an envelope.
Slowly, deliberately, he liberated bills, large bills, one after
the other. Superb attention-getters. Who needs to answer questions
when one has civilization's grease?
want what, exactly?" I asked. He was not about to answer
my previous question until after he dealt out the persuaders.
........At last he
said, "Find out why he won't see us." He held the bills
loose in one hand. Slowly he returned them to the envelope and
placed it in the center of my desk. "Consider this an advance."
after I find your son?"
him to come home," the wife broke in, nervously.
" sniffed the daughter.
glared at her. "He's a part of the family." She mouthed
the family, as if she were naming a rock group, as if it had
some sacred connotation.
........I rose. "I'll
do what you asked first, Mr. Marks. You want a report and I'll
supply a report. I will report on his health and on his general
condition. I will try to discover if he's in any trouble. But
I won't try to talk him into returning home. I'm not much at
persuasion." I wondered if he would also want to know why
he wouldn't communicate with his family.
quick agreement to my conditions. He did not approach the question
of why his son was shunning them. The family rose. The wife was
at least three inches taller than I, and she wasn't wearing heels.
Her glance grew less sultry as her line of sight dipped. Thank
God for short people.
on my desk, fifties all, made a respectable pile. I took them
out and checked them quickly. He'd bought me for a month, fees
and reasonable expenses both. A four thousand dollar retainer
is a lot of grease, more than I'd been used to, much more than
he needed to spend. If he'd heard of me, he would have known
........He did not
ask for a receipt and I did not offer one. The IRS had pretty
much lost interest in me over the years.
........On the way
out Marks handed me a complete list of the particulars I would
require, neatly written out in fountain pen on expensive parchment
paper the color of old ivory. He was thorough enough to have
included a note of permission for me to act in his place, as
his deputy, so to speak. The engraved letterhead screamed that
De Land Marks was a stockbroker.
about the family screamed. Any more of them and I'dbe deveoping
a headache. That on top of having to pee.
........For the advance
he'd given me, he must have assumed that if he directed me to
hog-tie his son and ship him home air freight I would have complied.
With my bank balance, it was an equal chance. Clipped to the
papers was a candid Polaroid of Jonathan Marks taken at a picnic.
I looked at almost a copy of his sister. He redeemed his plainness
by his eyes, alert and questioning. He smiled at the camera as
if he, the camera, and the viewer of his photo shared a secret.
His face was free of the discoloring zits, and, I was ready to
bet, so was his mind.
short good-byes. I exited last, briefly looking back at my office
hole in the wall, then snapped off the light and turned the key.
Jessie Marks was last in line going down the stairs. She turned
to glance at me, then away, uninterested.
and subtly out of synch, all three. But money there, and here.
I patted the envelope in my breast pocket. And no receipt.
was three doors down. I used it.
........Out in the
corridor again, I leaned against the wall and briefly closed
my eyes. I was at rock-bottom, professionally and emotionally.
Why had the Marks family sought me out, all three together when
they could have hired other investigators with better reputations
and for less money? And how did they get my name to begin with?
........Then I patted
the envelope. Who the hell cares? For now.
corridor--third floor of a sleazy office building in a seedy
section of town--was grimy in the evening light. Dust bunnies
and scraps of paper. Dirty windows. And the cheapest of cheap
........I walked down
the stairs. Nowhere to go but home.
Beardsley College was a plane flight away, a medium
distance to the east. It was a commuter hop the family could
have made together for less money than Daddy Marks had spent
to hire me.
was one of those small, homey places that costs thousands per
month, and, for the fees, give their grads a freshly-pressed
school tie and entrance into the upper world of finance and influence,
was out of the nineteenth century. The buildings faced inward,
as college buildings have done since time immemorial, turning
their backs on the hurly-burly of the world outside. They formed
a rectangle, the long sides roughly three times the length of
the short, each side crammed with red brick buildings that murmured
among themselves of age and tradition. Autumn colors tinted the
grounds. Ancient trees bowed overhead, announcing their coming
hibernation in a riot of reds, yellows and browns. Evergreen
bushes stood sentinel duty around doorways. Climbing ivy enhanced
the mellow red brickwork, which complemented the autumn-red of
the trees. The atmosphere alone justified the tuition.
were manicured to perfection. Leaves hadn't yet begun making
their journey to compost. When they did, I figured being on this
campus they'd fall in orderly rows. As I gazed over the rectangle
I could imagine an army of groundskeepers hustling to rake them
almost as soon as they hit.
shone through the branches. The morning chill had lifted.
........It was class
break time. Students hustled across the quad, keeping to the
sidewalks. Domesticated squirrels darted on their errands. One
hurrying student drained a coffee container and walked to an
unobtrusive trash bin out of his way to discard it. The remaining
inch of a sweet roll he shied at a squirrel, which took chattering
charge, flicking its tail like a bushy whip. Male or female,
I wondered. Did it have pups at home? Would they charge if you
got in the way of their babies? I didn't like De Land Marks and
his hooker wife and their world-weary daughter, but even De Land
Marks was concerned about the welfare of his son. I assume the
mother was also concerned.
At the intersection of two sidewalks the roll-tosser met a girl.
I liked the way they looked at one another. They were happy,
even with armloads of books.
........If Maude and
I had kids and the cash, they'd go here, to Beardsley, where
students assumed they owned the grounds. We'd been denied both.
........I'd left the
administration building with all I needed, a copy of Jonathan
Marks' class schedule. The registrar supplied me with it after
inspecting De Land Marks' letter. She read through the authorization,
her nose wrinkling. She sat at her computer and called up a file.
She printed it out and rose with a smile. All very efficient
the schedule and handed it to me, Marks' letter of permission
folded inside. Unconsciously, she wiped her hands on her skirt,
a quick down-up movement.
is a fine boy, you know," she said, "a superb mathematician.
He is a marketing major."
........I didn't know
and I hadn't asked.
know him that well?" She was about my age and an inch taller
in heels, with short, salt-and-pepper hair and clear brown eyes.
Long since she must have substituted a smile, a helpful manner,
and clean grooming for the beauty she knew could never be hers.
But she had interesting features, and she smiled with mouth and
eyes, no look of cold calculation, as if wondering if the effort
of the smile would pay off in some future favor. No wedding band
graced her finger.
been in to talk with Virginia Davies." She smiled maternally.
"Virginia works here three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays,
and Fridays. Jonathan comes in to talk and to pick her up a few
minutes before closing. They are engaged to be married."
She paused. "You represent his parents." She loaded
a lot into those last two words. I've heard scumbag pronounced
with the same intonation.
They want me to check up on him."
been home and won't return there, I guarantee that. Is that what
they're worried about?"
you be, if he were your son?" She'd been volunteering more
than she should have. In my experience people seldom give freebies
of any sort unless they know something too dirty not to share
and expect something in return.
........But she didn't
fit the mold. She looked responsible, like a person you'd trust
with a secret.
........Her lips pressed
together, "Of course I would worry, but the Marks family
isn't really worried, not from what I have heard of them. They
are not normal, not one of them. Jonathan is better off here."
rose a fraction. She pointed to the name bar on the counter and
the matching I.D. tag on her blouse, Alma Rittenhouse, Registrar.
"I do not gossip. I have given you information, supplying
it freely to a private detective."
did you know?"
I'm a private detective? I am."
were a lawyer, you'd be a failure dressed like that and Marks
would not touch you. And I am unable to think of another occupation
that would investigate a boy's refusal to go home." She
paused and her eyes wandered over her domain. "Those creatures
I'm sorry. I meant De Land Marks and that wife of his."
She paused. "And that daughter." Her voice was tight,
the word daughter pronounced with venom.
with their money, they could hire better, lawyers and detectives."
she said seriously, "they could. They bought you, you know."
........She was almost
right. I had their money; what they had I was not yet certain.
I let the remark pass.
........I asked, "Did
you ever meet them?"
"Twice. They seemed put out that they could not find their
son. Once they returned to this office asking if the schedule
was correct. I went to the computer and printed out another schedule."
Quite by accident she saw them another time, waiting in the lobby
of their son's dormitory. Of course he wasn't there, she said.
When I asked her did you know where he was, "Of course,"
she said shortly.
came in hurriedly and Ms Rittenhouse moved down the counter.
With a few deft questions and one trip to a floor-to-ceiling
file in the back and another to her computer, she had taken care
of business and the student was on his way. She was worth watching.
In aiding the student, she had not wasted a motion.
her attention to me. I asked, "Why do you think they hired
me? They paid me plenty."
salving their consciences." She shook her head. "No.
They don't have consciences, not those people. For some reason
they are protecting their legal and financial buttocks. Jonathan
won't return home and they are afraid of the legal ramifications."
She paused, thinking. She smiled at me suddenly, "They have
a great deal to hide."
hired me to pretend to search out an answer and file a report
with them that they could use if someone inquires as to why their
son will not return home?"
so." She placed her hand briefly on mine. "Please,
I didn't mean it when I said"
"Yes you did, but I'm used to it. And it's so." I told
her briefly about Maude and the medical bills and one or two
mistakes in judgment I made while trying to pay those bills.
As I spoke she softened. I did not ask her how she knew so much
about the Markses. From Jonathan himself, I assumed, if he came
into the registrar's office regularly. And she had met his family.
Women can read more than men into postures and glances and words.
And she had volunteered more than she should have. She was worried
about Virginia Davies and Jonathan Marks.
not here to return him to his family?"
my job. I said I would confer with Jonathan Marks and file a
report and that's all I intend to do. I don't like them either."
find out why."
you won't tell me."
You're the detective." She smiled in dismissal and sat at
her desk, heavy with computer, folders, and embossed documents.
up. This smile was warmer. I smiled back.
The campus map I obtained in the lobby of the administration
building located Feeney Dorms. The building, outside the Nineteenth
Century rectangle and on the edge of the commercial district,
was a modern steel building with the construction beams visible,
not fit to associate with the red brick aristocracy.
The studious young man at the desk adjusted thick glasses and
looked up from a roster attached to a clipboard. "Jon signed
out yesterday on an overnight."
could I find him?"
at me closely. I told him my name. "I represent his father."
I flipped open the wallet with my PI license. He scanned it carefully.
wherever Vi Davies is."
might I find Jonathan Marks when he isn't in class or here?"
He should be in class now, according to his schedule.
in church or at The Outreach."
this Outreach is a?"
shop." I handed him my map and he x-ed the location.
Virginia will be there now?"
I turned away.
........I turned back.
"Is it easy to catch from them?"
"They probably spent the night praying, fasting and praying.
Nothing else, not with her." He sounded envious.
I'll try not to get converted."
The Outreach projected a trendy religious atmosphere.
Some campus religious group or groups had taken a storefront
location near the campus and painted it with gaudy colours, the
in your face reds and yellows of autumn outside. Easter greens
and yellows inside, with its burden of hope and resurrection.
Pastoral murals decorated the walls. On the far wall facing the
door a skillfully executed mural depicted a bearded man dressed
in leisure clothing and carrying a Bible. He shepherded a flock.
The artist conceived them walking down a gentle mountain slope
directly into the coffee shop, the next area in which to graze
his sheep. I assumed the Bible-carrier was ready to search for
more sheep among the patrons here. The sky was an almost invisible
Highlighter yellow. The sun was a warm red.
whole thing fitted nicely. Even the makeshift coffee bar to the
right with its wire holder filled with religious tracts seemed
a part of the scheme. In one corner a raised platform with a
lectern looked out over the assembled students. It was unoccupied.
........The air was
smoke-free. Of course.
sat just to the left of the mural. With him, seated across the
table, could only have been Virginia Davies. They held hands
over the small table and devoured one another with their eyes.
Beside his chair crouched an overstrained book bag. On the table
to her left lay a spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen. A Bible
lay under their clasped hands, propping them up.
hummed with tranquil conversation. I stood aside for a moment
to let others shoulder in and out the narrow entrance. Jonathan
Marks and Virginia Davies. I could see why they were in love.
........He was homely,
but with a masculine ruggedness that women would find appealing.
Virginia Davies was beautiful, an olive skinned brunette. She
radiated an exotic aura that was hard to pin down. It wasn't
any one feature. Thick hair hung over her shoulders. Her nose
was long, curved over full lips and flanked by prominent cheekbones.
Her slim frame was intense and coiled, a spring wound down tightly.
........A slim gold
cross hung around her neck, an engagement ring graced her left
hand. She was innocent of any other jewelry or makeup. Either
the lack of ornament was a religious thing, or here was a girl
secure with herself. What she didn't need she didn't use.
cups sat by the wall. I'd bet the coffee was cold.
should have been in class directly across campus. He wouldn't
last long at Beardsley if he cut classes. He didn't seem in any
........I moved through
the press and pulled up a chair that stood against the wall.
"You ought to be in class, Jonathan Marks."
........With a start
they came to. They stared at me, newly awakened to the low-key
hum and reality of the people surrounding them.
........I sat. "You're
Jonathan Marks and you are Virginia Davies." I turned to
each as I spoke.
slid apart. He nodded, watchful. Virginia Davies stared at me
through wide-set dark eyes, cataloging me. Her eyes traveled
back to Jonathan.
a private investigator. My name is Angello, Joseph Angello,"
I began. I reached for my license and his father's note. "Jonathan,
eyes snapped back to me. She said, "The answer is no."
........In that moment
I had become her enemy.
let me, please," Jonathan Marks said.
was low, intense, "Those damned, disgusting"
hon," he said.
........She sat back,
eyes smoldering, feral. She'd used damned in its literal sense.
Her hands were clenched into fists. For once, the gilt-edged
book on the table comforted me. I did not associate the Bible
with sudden assault. I had last seen one in Maude's hospital
room after she eased into the merciful coma that took her from
me. It hadn't been there when I'd fallen asleep. I remember awakening
to place a box of Kleenex on it. I'd needed the Kleenex.
I addressed them both, "I'm not here to do anything except
write a report. All I leave here with is a report, okay? That's
what I said I'd do when I accepted this case and that's all I'm
nodded. Virginia Davies sat upright as if prepared to spring.
She placed her right palm on her clenched left fist. From the
position of notebook, pen and fist I made her out a lefty.
........She sat to
my right. To attack me she'd have to swivel in my direction,
giving me a few seconds. If she was a clawer she'd open both
fists and use the nails, going for my eyes. Or she'd punch me.
Either way, I'd have just sufficient time to duck or, better
yet, throw myself backward.
........I turned to
Jonathan Marks. "You're in good health."
soul-sick." He shuddered, as involuntary a reaction as I'd
ever seen. His face reddened. For a moment I thought he might
cry. His hand reached for Virginia's. She relaxed her fist and
grasped it. He winced at the force of her grip.
Whatever he had told Alma Rittenhouse through Virginia Davies--or
had he told her firsthand?--would come out eventually, if I were
patient. And it had something to do with my first impression
of the Marks family. I might even be aiding in some sort of catharsis
begun by Virginia Davies' religious beliefs.
continued to murmur along in the background. Three students in
the corner linked hands over coffee and bowed their heads.
not returning home, and that's of your own free will?" Virginia
Davies was about to reply but I stopped her with a gesture. I
said to Jonathan Marks, "Is that correct?"
he said firmly. Color had returned to his face but they still
........I turned to
the girl. Time to get down and dirty and hope she didn't go for
my eyes. I had visions of the ballpoint sticking out of one of
my eye sockets. "And you're not knocked up?" Her mouth
opened. Shock. Jonathan Marks pulled in a sudden breath. They
released their grip on one another. I drawled sarcastically,
watching first her hands then her eyes, "De Land Marks and
his wife are worth lots of money, you know. With a bun in your
oven you could get a nice piece of that." She went white,
and that you can't fake. "Even if you'd been screwed by
someone else whose daddy had less money, and even if the Marks
family knew it, at a posh college like this who'd want to pile
publicity on top of an easily hushed-up pregnancy?" It wasn't
that much of a long shot. Any college that signed out dorm residents
on overnights in this day and age had to be strait-laced.
........I paused again.
"Or maybe get the cash for an abortion?"
years or more out of date, my argument might be weak at another
college. Today a girl would be a heroine if she did not abort
the baby but brought it to term and gave it up for adoption.
Morals have advanced since I was young.
grasped the edges of the table with both hands as if trying to
break off a chunk. A tear crept down her face.
........So. That was
that. I sat back, still on yellow alert.
sorry," I said to her, then to them both, "I apologize,
but I had to know, or at least have a good idea."
was shaken. "We're Christians," he said.
what?" I'd had dealings with people who called themselves
religious. Faith waited on action, as far as my experiences went.
found Jesus," she said softly.
her a handkerchief. "It's clean," I said. She took
it, a good sign. She wiped her eyes and handed it back. I essayed
a smile. Again, "I'm sorry, Virginia." She smiled back.
at the mural. If that was Jesus, he looked like a man one could
confide in, one who would never betray a confidence. "And
........As if he expected
some anti-religious slur, Jonathan Marks said, "We're engaged.
And Ginny is a virgin."
again. The young man had one hell of a load on his conscience.
Virginia said, "Jonathan is a virgin now; he's reborn. He
will never return to that Sodom, never."
time, I assumed. "Meaning what?" I said again. Christian
I could figure out. Sodom I needed help with.
me, alternating the telling, slowly, in cathedral voices and
in clinical detail, of the Marks family, of incest and perversions
with appliances and without, in every conceivable physical combination
among the four of them, before select and appreciative audiences,
no cameras permitted. We leaned across the table, but not in
prayer. We did not clasp hands. When Virginia took over the telling
from her fiancé she continued in the same dry voice. She
knew all the words for the appliances, the names of all the positions.
family was liberated.
and Virginia spoke, I wondered at the strength of the adhesive
De Land used to secure his hairpiece. Did he worry about its
falling off as The Family gyrated? They were a rock group, some
hellish collective from the excesses of the seventies. I could
envision them as nothing else. I thought of the lines etched
in De Land Marks' face and the jaded eyes of the daughter. Did
those eyes come alive during their sessions, or did she rely
on porno grimaces to mask their stagnation? And the mother, a
naked, siliconed Barbie, getting it on with her own son, who
now was considered a virgin by his fiancée, who was herself
things were less interesting as a trio and they wanted to resume
as a quartet, at least on holidays.
........I'm no prude,
but I felt ill. The quiet, clinical narration was horrifying.
I said at last, straightening up, "confession over."
The prayer group in the corner was now sipping coffee and meditating.
........I had a good
idea now of why I'd been hired. I was at the bottom of the heap,
professionally and financially. I had no reputation worth mentioning.
What would be my word against the word of De Land Marks should
anything come out, now that their act was broken up? Apparently
they hadn't given much thought to Jonathan's leaving for college,
escaping from the menagerie, so to speak. Liberated people were
not accustomed to dealing in long-range consequences. Might Jonathan
be prompted to tell someone of their circus act while away at
college? Joe Angello was a card to play should word of their
sexual proclivities somehow emerge. De Land Marks could flourish
my report--I was apparently paid handsomely to inform the family
that all was well--and say he was a good father. Having bought
what he needed--me--dutiful dad had done his bit. Everything
else he could deny, using me to write fake reports, I supposed.
He could worm out of me in private what I knew about their private
club act. Money would silence anything, especially if the man
you've hired is a detective down on his financial luck. He probably
figured I'd be easy to buy off.
I was meant to be a pawn and resolved to be a pain.
have," I said to Virginia, "a quick temper." I'd
wondered at her remark that Jonathan was a virgin. In my line
of work, once it was gone it was gone. Her belief took more than
a faith in Jesus. It took something else, a sword of strength
that only a woman could lift, let alone wield. I had no name
for the sword.
but Jesus has" she began.
........I waved her
remark aside. I was forming a plan. "Listen to me,"
I said, "both of you. Forget about Jesus, just for a moment.
Virginia, you have a fiery temper, isn't that so?" I stared
at them both, first at Virginia then at Jonathan.
........He said, "I
guess so, but we never"
........I said, "No,
of course not. And you never will. You've both found Jesus, correct?"
It was not meant as sarcasm, and neither took it as such. "Virginia
does not approve of your former life." I turned to her.
she said. Jonathan smiled at her.
could," stressing the could, "do anything to keep your
fiancé from returning to that Sodom?"
she said, "but not"
I said slowly. She turned to me. Our gazes locked. I nodded slowly.
I saw the light of understanding. Maude was like that. She had
been a great reader between the lines. Virginia was weighing
she whispered. She had shared Jonathan's hell and here they sat.
She had not deserted him. She even considered him a virgin.
her indirectly to estimate her own potentiality for violence.
Virginia Davies nodded ever so slowly. In spite of Jesus, she
could and would defend her own. Her fists, relaxed briefly before,
were again clenched on the table. Her face had paled during her
part of the telling of Jonathan's bondage and reddened now when
she realized what she could do--would do--if she believed her
family threatened by the aliens from Sodom.
........As they alternated
their dispassionate telling of his former life, she'd even corrected
one small lapse of memory on his part. She loved him and even
considered him virgin--one hell of a jump as far as I was concerned,
but I'm not particularly religious.
around us grew as students prepared to leave for class. I looked
at my watch. My sense of time had deserted me.
thing now, was that Virginia understood. I would bet all of Daddy's
retainer that she was the stronger of the two.
........I said to
Jonathan, "You start cashing those checks when they come.
Don't send them back. The money you returned I'll get back and
send to you." I avoided the word father.
........He began an
........I cut him
off. "And get a job."
We'd planned to wait until I graduate."
........I shook my
head, a strong negative. "No, as soon as you can."
I looked at Virginia Davies. "And a soon as you can after
the ceremony, start a family. You intended to, right?"
and a smile crossed her lips. She took my meaning instantly.
Never mess with the cubs of a mother tiger, or come anywhere
near them. Virginia Davies could become a dangerous woman, capable
of anything to protect her own. She understood that now. She
and I had come to a tacit agreement. I doubted that Jonathan,
as young as he was, could understand. He would when their first
child was born. Virginia would become a lioness where her husband
and children were concerned. Any attempt to harm the family she
would meet, head-on. And heaven help the agressor.
........I nodded to
them both and stood. To Jonathan Marks I said, "Legally,
he's your father, but not morally, okay?" He nodded without
enthusiasm. "De Land Marks owes you support until you're
twenty-one. That's the law, okay?" I waited until he nodded
again. To Virginia Davies, "Make Jonathan yours, Virginia.
Soon." She nodded, her face radiant. I was an enemy no longer.
........I envied Jonathan
I said, "and don't cut any more classes." A few tables
away I paused and turned back to them. "And cash those checks,
hear?" I waited. Reluctantly, he nodded.
........I waved goodbye.
There was a great deal of plastic veneer in the
office of De Land Marks. Even the potted plants were plastic.
Looked quite natural, considering.
........De Land Marks
finished my report. He prodded it with a forefinger. "You
say she's dangerous and my son is too?"
I said. Then I lied, "but not as dangerous as your son.
Lots of hostility there. You know why. Jonathan told me about
the family act. He wants to go public, or worse." He appraised
me, his face carefully blank. I smiled blandly, informing him
that I was in on their little secret, which he realized was now
our little secret. "Surprisingly enough, she has been restraining
him. He's the one you really want to avoid, you and yourfamily."
He noted my hesitation, as I'd meant him to. "Virginia Davies
was the one who kept your son away from you when you visited
Beardsley. If she hadn't," I let solemnity creep into my
voice, "he would have attacked you, your wife and your daughter.
Lots of hostility there, in both of them, but she's a civilizing
influence on him, a restraining influence, if you will. They
are now more interested in one another than in your family. I
warn you that you interfere at your peril. You don't want either
of them to refocus on you."
a billiards professional estimating angles.
........I handed him
my second report. As he read it he turned white.
"And another person who wishes to remain anonymous knows.
Everything." I smiled politely at his growing discomfort
and realized I would have to invent that person. Alma Rittenhouse?
She knew some of the story. Maybe she knew it all. But I didn't
want to drag her into it. "Is my report accurate?"
at the Xerox again.
........I had not
spared the clinical detail of what Jonathan and Virginia, between
them, told me. I omitted the location of our interview and the
fact of Jonathan's religious conversion.
have suspected his son might spread family secrets. There could
have been some friction among them before he left for college.
His first choice when we met--never stated in so many words--was
to return him to the family menagerie. Since I did not seem immediately
agreeable to the first, he opted for the second, a report to
demonstrate--to whom I wondered?--that all was well.
is the original?" The Xerox was as smeary as I could make
it. I assumed he did not quarrel with the contents. If I'd had
any doubt as to the story Jonathan and Virgina told me, his silence
screamed confirmation. I smiled.
piece of shit."
........I smiled some
more and a trifle wider. "Yes, and you will kindly not forget
to send Jonathan his allowance. He will not return your checks.
He will cash them. I assure you he will not approach you or your
wife or your daughter, but if you attempt to contact him, he
will not be responsible for his actions and his fiancée
may not wish to intervene. She also has a temper, and a violent
one. She despises you. But you've read that in my first report.
Remember, you son hates you, but he has a woman he loves now,
and they both despise you, your wife and your daughter. I told
Jonathan I would give you fair warning. Your money delivered
regularly will buy his silence." I smiled. "He also
told me that he would not reveal family secrets, as long as the
cash kept coming. I believe he means it."
and sat down. I love improvisation, especially when the victim
is a man like Marks. The other report I was still working on
I particularly liked, the one by the counselor whose name I had
taken from the catalog, a report on Jonathan and his explosive
proclivities. In a day or so I would have it completed, larded
with enough psychobabble to confound a layman and warn away a
stockbroker. In a few days I would return to the college and
Alma would edit it and type it up on official Beardsley stationery,
after which I would mail it. She was willing to help once I explained
my plan. She'd also agreed to a date.
........In the week
since we'd met, Marks' tan had faded. Perhaps he had begun to
worry about consequences. I had laid it on thick in the first
report, making his son a near-psycho when it came to the Marks
family. The chances Marks himself would investigate the truth
of my creation were slim. To do so would reveal his activities,
which the second report confirmed. And I had the fictitious third
person, whom I would be obliged to clothe in flesh sometime soon.
That third person would mail the letters with copies of the Xerox
if he or she did not hear from me and so on and so on.
........I was having
a good time, now.
........He said, "I
am not to contact my son?"
goes through me."
that. You will mail his checks to me. I will inspect them. They
must not be less than the amount I specified there." I gestured
at the second report, to an addendum clipped to the back.
over the report, removed the paper clip. He read the note. "That's
but you'll pay, of course. Never send less than that amount,
which will remain constant, unless you choose to send more. Check
only, no cash. They won't bounce, naturally." My eyes widened
innocently. I rose, leaned over the desk, and tapped the report.
De Land Marks moved back.
........I sat. I rubbed
my right thumb and forefinger together.
........His eyes narrowed.
"You're exacting a fee for this service, of course?"
My fee for transmittal, and for silence naturally, will come
monthly, in cash, clipped to each allowance check." I told
him the amount. He gaped. "If you don't send the checks
with my fee attached, and send them each month without fail including
the summer months, I make a phone call, my associate slips a
few letters in the mail and the Marks financial empire is ended."
Sunlight glowed on the potted plants behind him. They'd been
dusted carefully. "Also the family." I paused dramatically.
"You think you're paying now? Miss a payment to either of
us and you really pay. In spades." What I meant by that
I would work out later. It would be more than just mailing a
few letters, but what more I wasn't certain, yet.
........I stood in
I would have three and a half years in which to build up our
respective nest eggs. He needed the money if he were to marry
Virginia so far ahead of schedule. The job he had was barely
adequate to cover a college student's expenses, even if he were
wedging himself in the door of some prestigious financial firm
by doing their scut work, and it wasn't nearly enough to marry
on. I wanted John and Virginia to have a good start in life.
feather both our nests. I had shown him consequences.
hairpiece was still immaculately real, like the potted plants.
I wanted to reach over and tug it off, look for a manufacturer's
label. Instead, I studied his face.
As I nodded in dismissal, he said, "My son is a shit."
must have made a wonderful quartet. I assumed they could still
function as a trio as long as De Land remained in shape and worked
harder at his tan.
........I turned to
the door, then back. I liked Jon and Vi. In a sense, I'd adopted
them. This was too good to pass up.
I smiled, "but one way or the other, keep those checks coming.
And the cash." I began to ease the door closed then thought
of something else. Poking my head back in I said, "Comes
by it naturally, doesn't he?"
........I left, holding
my smile for the secretaries in the outer office.
Copyright (c) 1999 Peter A. Parmantie
Peter A. Parmantie is a retired teacher who has decided
to write. He is a compulsive reader, starting almost from birth.
He cut his teeth on thrillers as an adolescent, kicking his regular
studies overboard and educating himself by reading what adults
then considered trash. They were wrong. Now he wants to try his
hand at the genre. He promises more stories of Joseph
Angello for the future...
And head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct comments on the above story
and inquiries about submissions to
the editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking
to a man that likes to talk."
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