Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 3

* * *
Of course Elaine didn’t have the heart to ask her mother to leave.
For the next half hour, Nick and Kathy made small talk while Elaine continued to sit there, listening to her mother ramble. Now that Elaine had adjusted to the shock, the anger that she felt about her long-lost parent, simply barging into her house was slowly building up inside her, like a pot of water coming to boil. The notion that Kathy had suddenly been worried about her, after all these years, was almost laughable. Elaine wondered if she had some ulterior motive for coming here.
Kathy had changed significantly, that was evident, and not just in appearance. The young woman that Elaine remembered from her early childhood was a sloppy, chain smoking supermarket clerk who drank too much and wallowed in self-pity, a washed-up, former teenage beauty whose only accomplishment in life had been winning the title of homecoming queen at her high school.
But there was almost no trace of that Kathy Brogan in the woman who sat on the other end of the kitchen table. She still spoke with a Texas accent, dropping her g’s, but it was much less pronounced. In fact, it sounded almost refined. The lady sitting there in her kitchen seemed worldly, sophisticated, well mannered, and confident in herself. This was both puzzling and irritating.
However, below this refined, self-assured veneer, Elaine thought she detected anxiety. Was it just nervousness about being in this situation, or something else? Elaine noticed that Kathy purposefully kept the conversation focused on small talk.
Once the kids were napping, Tony came back downstairs and served a round of his homemade bruschetta, the bell on the security console rang again, indicating someone else was at the front gate.
Kathy visibly jumped, nearly dropping the toasted bread on her plate.
“I answer,” Tony said, and he sashayed out of the kitchen.
The crack in Kathy’s composure only lasted a split second. She regained it so quickly that Elaine wasn’t even sure Nick caught it.
Romeo and Juliet were stirred by the sound of the new arrival. When they gave only a couple of perfunctory barks, as if they somehow knew it was a friend, Elaine was sure it was Luna.
“So how’s-a life in the LBGTQ community?” Elaine heard Tony quip.
“As if you’re not one of the founding fathers,” Luna replied in her deep voice. “Or should I say mothers?”
The banter caused Kathy to raise an eyebrow.
“It’s one of Elaine’s colleagues,” Nick explained to her. But Elaine was sure Kathy already knew Luna from the newspaper article.
When the towering half-African, half-Native American woman entered the kitchen, her hulking form nearly filled the doorway. Luna was dressed in a chocolate and red-trimmed jogging outfit and trainers, a large duffle bag slung over her shoulder. Whenever she came to visit, she always put Elaine through at least one intense martial arts training session, sometimes two, and they usually went jogging together along the path that led to the village.
“Hey,” Luna said to Nick, setting the bag down on the floor. Only then did she notice the unfamiliar woman sitting across from him. “Oh...I didn’t realize...” It took her only milliseconds and a subtle glance at the faces around the room to understand that there was something very wrong with this picture.
“I’m Kathy,” Elaine’s mother said, rising from her chair and offering her hand. “Kathy Brogan.”
Luna seemed taken aback by the last name, and she shot a quick glance at Elaine as the two of them shook hands.
Elaine stood up, Luna hugging her with a powerful arm. “How you doin’, baby-doll?” Elaine couldn’t answer. For some reason, when she sat back down at the table she felt like a small child. It was clear that Luna had already made a good guess about what was going on. She knew the basic details of Elaine’s past.
For some reason, Luna’s touch also made Elaine feel emotional, and a lump formed in her throat. “I’m fine.” It was the first word she had uttered since they’d all come into the kitchen, and she was shocked at the meekness of her own voice—she not only felt like a little girl, she sounded like one, too.
“Double cappuccino?” Tony asked Luna, already priming the espresso machine.
“That would be great,” Luna said. As she seated herself next to Elaine and glanced at Kathy again, a fierce, protective look flickered across her angular face.
Kathy smiled amicably. “So do you work for the FBI, too?”
Nick, Elaine and Luna exchanged glances. Tony looked over his shoulder from the espresso machine.
“They don’t work for the FBI,” Nick said. Then, after a couple of seconds of hesitation, he apparently decided it was okay for her to know more. “They work for the Secret Service—that article you read was wrong.”
Elaine frowned at him disapprovingly. She didn’t need to know that.
Kathy smiled at Luna and Elaine, as if impressed. “Well, FBI, CIA, Secret Service—I don’t really know the difference. That must be very interestin’ work, even though it’s obviously very dange—”
“I’ve had enough of this,” Elaine snapped. The words just seemed to fly out of her mouth, unbidden. She stood up so abruptly that she bumped her hip against the table. Nick’s coffee cup clattered against the saucer. Elaine’s eyes bored into Kathy’s. “You and I need to talk.”
Kathy looked as rattled as Nick’s coffee cup, and she stood up, too. “Yes. Yes of course we do, honey.”

* * *
Elaine led her mother out of the kitchen, past the living room, and into the workout room. In her humble opinion, the crude woman didn’t even deserve the comfort of a chair.
They walked only a few feet across the squishy exercise mats before Elaine stopped and whirled around to face her mother. She unleashed a flurry of angry words that seemed to come out of nowhere, but all the sentences had been thoughts that had run through her mind thousands of times before over the course of her life.
“How dare you barge into my house like this! You walked out on me when I was ten years old, ran away with some boy-toy coworker of yours at the supermarket, never to be seen or heard from again! I was only a little girl! Do you know how much that hurt me, how selfish you were, and probably still are? If you think you’re going to waltz back into my life now, as if nothing happened, you can think again!”
Elaine was so outraged that she was only half-aware of what she said.
Kathy just stood there next to the red EVERLAST punching bag. It hung between them from the ceiling, perfectly still, like a silent referee. Her mother seemed completely unfazed by the verbal onslaught. Then one lone tear ran down her cheek.
She wiped it away with a finger. “I know you’re angry with me, honey.”
“‘Honey’?” Elaine mimicked. “I don’t even know you! You have no right to use endearments with me! After all this time, you may as well be a total stranger who walked in off the street.”
Now Kathy looked hurt. “That’s not true, Elaine. I was always there, watchin’ over you, makin’ sure you were all right and ready to come to your rescue—you just didn’t know it, baby.”
“Ha! Sure you were.”
“It’s the truth.” Kathy sniffled, then pulled a frilly handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her eyes. Despite her crying, she beamed at Elaine. “I always kept track of you, made sure you were okay, at least until you finished at Bromley.” She paused. “Did you know I was there when you graduated?”
Elaine blinked. “You were?”
“I certainly was. I was sittin’ in the very back of the auditorium. And I was there when you graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, too.” Kathy paused, beaming again. “When I watched you walk across that stage and take that diploma into your hands, it was one of the greatest moments of my life—I was so proud I could have burst! The first person from my family ever to graduate from college!”
Elaine was a little thrown by all this.
Kathy blew her nose into her handkerchief, her eyes now bloodshot and teary. “I know that leavin’ you and your father was a terrible thing to do—an unforgivable thing, really—but you have to understand, honey, when you were born, I was eighteen years old. Why, I was just a child myself. When Patrick got me pregnant in the back of his van in Pensacola—”
“Spare me the sordid details, will you?”
“The point is, I wasn’t ready to be a mother, Elaine. Can you understand that? You’re a mother, too, but you were smart enough to wait until you were older. Can you imagine what it would have been like if you’d had a baby when you were only eighteen?”
Elaine found it hard to sympathize with any of this. Kathy was basically telling her that she was an unwelcome accident and that, finally, after ten years of raising her little girl, she had gotten fed up and decided to leave.
On top of that, Kathy wasn’t even being honest. The real reason she left was because she was jealous of Elaine, jealous of all the attention that her husband showered on his daughter. Elaine would never forget the night when her mother said “Maybe you would rather little Lainie sleep in our bed and I can sleep in her room?” and her father then slapping her so hard it had knocked her off her feet. Elaine wasn’t actually in the same room with them at the time, but, through the wall, she’d heard both the comment and the sound of her mother hitting the floor. As far as she knew, it was the only time Patrick had ever struck Kathy, but it was such a heinous thing to say that Elaine thought her mother deserved it. A couple of weeks later, Kathy disappeared with a checkout clerk from the local supermarket, where they both worked.
“What exactly do you want, Kathy?” Elaine said. She refused to call her Mother or Mom—Kathy had not earned that privilege. “Why did you come here?”
Kathy looked surprised. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“No, it’s not.”
Kathy sniffled again, wiped her nose, and put her handkerchief back in her pocket. “I can never make up for what I did to you, honey, I know that, but I can make it up to your children.” With her blue eyes brightening, she said, “I’m more than ready to be a grandmother now—have been for a long time!”
Well that’s just wonderful, Elaine thought. She wanted to ask: and do you really think I would trust you with my precious children?
“I’ll be the best grandmother that’s ever lived, too,” Kathy went on, swept away by her fantasy. “You’ll see that, if you just give me a chance. Please?”
Elaine’s first impulse was to tell her mother to get the hell out of the house. But as these words formed on her tongue, she hesitated, remembering how much Nick had always wanted the kids to have a grandmother. And she had wanted that for her children, too, honestly. She and Nick had lamented that neither Ryan or Amelia would have the experience of a relationship with grandparents. This issue was especially important to Nick, because he’d been quite close to his grandmother on his mother’s side of the family.
Elaine glanced down at her mother’s tanned arms. “Where do you live now, anyway?”
“I—I’m in the process of movin’ to Florida.”
“From where?”
“Well, until just recently, I was livin’ in Greece, with my husband. He’s Greek. But we’re, um, gettin’ a divorce.”
Aha, Elaine thought. That’s the real reason she showed up now. She was all alone. And probably broke, too.
“Don’t worry,” Kathy said reassuringly. “I have plenty of money, if that’s what you’re concerned about. I’m fully capable of taking care of myself. And after the divorce settlement I’ll be even more financially secure. I was thinkin’ that I could sell the house in Florida and move to Nice or Cannes or somewhere nearby—not too close, of course, I know you and your husband want your privacy. He’s amazin’, by the way, so strong and handsome, but with a heart of gold, too, just like your father, God rest his soul.” She paused. “Anyway, if I moved somewhere nearby, I could see my lovely grandchildren more often than just once a year.”
Elaine considered all this noncommittally.
“Please let me be a grandmother for your two precious children, honey. Please?” Kathy looked a little desperate, Elaine thought. “They’re both so adorable, and every child needs a grandma to dote over them and spoil them a little. Just give me a chance—that’s all I ask.” Kathy gave a winning smile, and in that instant Elaine saw her own smile in it, as if looking into a mirror.
Kathy did seem sincere about wanting to be a grandmother to the children. And it was impossible for her not to soften a little towards someone so intent on making Ryan and Amelia happy.
“I’ll think about it,” Elaine finally said. “I have to talk to Nick.”
“Yes of course you do.”
        Kathy tentatively stepped forward, as if to give a hug, but Elaine did not welcome it. Instead, she took Elaine’s hand. “Thank you for even considerin’, it honey, and being so forgivin’.” Her eyes welled with tears. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re bein’ much kinder to me than I deserve.”

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