Thanks to all you generous readers, Kelley has hit her $2,250 sponsorship goal for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. So as a special thank you, here’s more Aud. It’s follows on from yesterday’s opening, the next bit of the original beginning of Always.
Drenched in late afternoon sunshine the garden smelt like paradise: forsythia, honeysuckle, jasmine, turned earth and falling sprinkler water, abandoned birds’ nests, and, so faint it was probably imaginary, the fur of small mammals venturing above ground for the first time in their short lives. I surveyed my newly mown lawn. The imperfect geometry of its clean edge and wide stripe pattern reminded me of the evenly spaced white crosses in an army cemetery. I wondered if Karp would be buried or cremated.
Behind me on the deck Beatriz fussed with two long planters that she had been filling with pansies and impatiens all afternoon. She sighed.
The grass cuttings on my calves itched. I couldn’t understand why I had reacted to Laurence the way I had and why Karp’s death was bothering me so much. Beatriz sighed more heavily.
I turned round. “They look fine.”
“They are not right.” The Spanish softness was leaving her accent, and the English overtones had almost wholly been replaced by American ones. She adjusted something in one of the planters, stepped back to look, sighed again.
It was a waste of time to plant afresh every year a lot of little flowers that didn’t smell of anything and would wilt under the weight of summer sunshine unless you moved the tubs into the shade and watered them once a day, but this time last year she had planted annuals for me as a thank you, and today she had shown up ten minutes after I’d got back from the museum, announced that I needed “Some pretty flowers, something cheery and bright,” and dragged me out to her car to unload the flats of petunias and impatiens, marigolds and pansies she had brought.
She tilted her head to one side. “They are not balanced, but I think… Yes, I think they will do. Tomorrow I will put marigolds and petunias in hanging baskets, for the porch.” And no doubt plant an excess of the useless, optimistic things in raised beds which I would have weed and water ceaselessly all summer, and which made my house look as fussy as a chintz sofa. But she was right, they were cheerful, and they attracted butterflies and bees.
We cleaned the tools, and washed, and ate in the kitchen. I divided the smoked salmon and sun-dried tomato dish I’d prepared that morning, before Eddie’s call about Karp. At least I wouldn’t have to share the half-bottle of white Bordeaux; Beatriz liked only sticky, brightly-coloured concoctions. This afternoon she had brought herself a six-pack of strawberry wine coolers. No doubt she would drink only one and leave the rest in my fridge. No doubt they would sit there taking up space, garish and out of place, until I threw them away.
We ate. She told me about her boyfriend, Pete, and how they were moving in together next week. I nodded. They’d bought a house, a craftsman bungalow. I nodded some more. She sipped at her drink and told me she had been promoted to account executive at Perrin & Norrander. There was one bite of salmon left on her plate. A plate should be full, then being eaten from, then empty: a pleasing, rational progression. Kitchens should be orderly. And finances. And legal affairs.
“I think you are not really listening today,” she said. Her lips were bright pink.
“You’re right,” I said, and stood, and carried my plate to the sink.
She watched while I scraped and rinsed and put away. “I understand, I think,” she said, lifting her drink so I could wipe the table.
“Why you’re restless. I think you’re bored. I have Pete, and a new house, and my job: new things, changes. You need some changes in your life, also.”
What I needed was for her to leave.
After a few more minutes I pushed her out of the door and took a shower. I stood under the water for a long time, soaping away the dirt and grass clippings, Karp’s death, Laurence and his financial statistics, the cold museum with its dead air, Beatriz and her prattle.
I half-dried my hair with a towel and walked naked through the house to throw the dirty clothes in the laundry. My workroom door was ajar. The sun shone on the arm of the chair I had made for Julia, the one she hadn’t lived long enough to sit on. I closed the door, went back to the bedroom to get dressed.
Not quite six o’clock. I took the folder Laurence had given me and walked through to the office.
When I called Bette’s work number, I was shunted straight to voicemail, which surprised me. Bette was almost always at the office, it’s how I imagine her: behind her big teak desk, lizard-brown and stick-thin, chin wattles hidden by pearls, her Prada and Chanel suits always two years out of date. Seven years ago she had looked sixty-five; she still did. I dialed her home number and she picked up on the first ring.
“Aud? Well, hell, somebody call Ripleys. It’s only been two weeks since I saw you last. What’s up, girl?” Her incongruously lush, Lauren Bacall voice was always startling.
“I just had my quarterly holdings review with Laurence.”
“Are you broke?”
Very funny. “Everything’s fine, except he thinks there’s something off in my Seattle real estate portfolio.”
“Well, I have to say that Laurence always struck me as pretty smart. If he’s concerned, could be there’s good reason. But money’s more his province than mine, unless we’re talking about taxes, or your last will and testament. Which reminds me–“
“Not now, Bette.”
“Fine, fine. Back to Laurence. What’s his concern, exactly?”
“He says that my real estate holdings in the northwest aren’t bringing in as much as comparable holdings in the industry. When he called the local property manager to discuss it, she said, more or less, Hey, the economy’s bad, what can I tell you? Apparently he doesn’t think that’s the whole story, and the Northwest property index backs him up.” I looked at the printouts in my hand. “Statistically at least my returns are way off.”
“And you want me to do what?”
“Start the preliminary paper trail. Get some documentation.”
“You think someone’s taking you for a ride?”
“Laurence seems to.”
I heard the faint tick-tick that meant she was fiddling with her big clasp earrings, which also meant she was frowning. “And you don’t want to take a look at this yourself?”
“Why in hell not? It sounds right up your street. And I hear Seattle’s lovely at this–“
“As I told Laurence: you two can deal with this between you from here just as easily as I can from there. More easily. I don’t see a single reason for me to get on a plane and fly out there to look at some dilapidated warehouses just for the sake of a few dollars.”
“Whoa, there. Steady down. Just asking.”
“So you’ll handle it.”
“Well, sure, I can start things off: sniff around, see what’s what. I’ll have Laurence fax me the details and get you a preliminary report in… Let’s see, ten days suit you?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Hell, it’s what you pay me for. Now, how’s that little girl in Arkansas?”
“Luz is fine.” Karp’s dead, I wanted to say, he won’t be bothering her anymore, but found I couldn’t. “I was out there in February, for her tenth birthday. The Carpenters are treating her kindly. She’s adapting well to school.” Alarmingly well. A Mexican child who was sold by her family to a psychopathic abuser in New York and then fostered for money to a fundamentalist English-speaking couple in rural Arkansas should be showing more signs of stress. The stress was there; it would manifest sooner or later. Payment always came due. “No signs of Goulay resuming her activities?”
“Nope. That woman won’t import any more children, not while I’m around. I have a good buddy in the INS who’s keeping tabs on things for me.”
“Don’t let up on this one, Bette.”
“I guarantee it.”
“And keep me informed.”
“Don’t I always? Which is more than can be said the other way around. When are you going to get around to telling me about that envelope from Norway?”
“Now don’t ‘Bette’ me, not this time. I didn’t trouble you with it last year because your friend just died. I didn’t trouble you with it when you came in for your year-end taxes because you still looked thin and peaky. I didn’t even trouble you with it last month when you were here to talk about trusts and endowments–have you talked to Laurence about that yet, by the way?”
I didn’t say anything.
“But, look, sweetie, it’s been a year. You’re looking good again, and I need to know what it is exactly that I’m holding in my safe. It smells bad, for one thing. It has blood on it.”
The day I had written that letter, had bled all over the envelope, Julia had still been alive. Twelve hours earlier she had sat on my lap in her blue dress– Or had it been grey? And I couldn’t remember how she’d worn her hair.
“I heard this morning. I need to know if he has a will.”
“And if he does?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“That letter,” I said, “the one from Norway. It’s… insurance.”
Silence. More earring fiddling. Finally she said, “If it’s the kind of thing I think it is, then you’d be better getting it properly typed and witnessed and notarised.”
“Ummm,” I said. “So. You’ll take care of that Seattle business?”
“I will. And, Aud–“
“I’ll think about it.”
“You do that. Can’t be too careful.” Click.
Last year, the contents of that envelope–dates, places, names–had kept the Tijuana Cartel from killing me, but most of the people named in the letter were now dead. In the drug world, things move fast. It was probable that Luis Palma, the Federal Police commander who had run the Tijuana operation, was also dead, which would mean there was no one left who would recognise my name. If I did nothing, it might stay that way.
That last paragraph, by the way, is the root of the plot outline I have for Book 5. Book 4 would all be about Aud and Kick, plus some saving-the-day, wild affairs with bad girls, and explosions.
If you keep giving, I’ll post even more.
Kelley’s latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece is up. “Love Story,” is just that, a story of how love really is and why that’s good. Go read it. Remember that she just wrote that whole thing after rolling out of bed this morning, just as she’s written all the other nineteen pieces: fresh, from scratch, to raise money for the students of Clarion West. Consider sponsoring her.