So it's been three years. Or something. I don't know. Here is a chapter which is incomplete at best. There are still things left hanging, I realise. It took a lot out of me to write this after so long, so I can only hope it flows. If I have the energy, another chapter will go up giving the final bit of closure. If I do not, a wonderful summation will be provided.
In other news – my fabulous co-writer and I met over the Christmas break in New York! Stephanie is as wonderful as I imagined her to be. I can only hope that we'll meet again someday.
This chapter is for Melcangel and sacasim, who managed to sweetly guilt me into an update... :P
'I don't exist,' Jesse said blankly.
I pouted. 'That's not what I meant,' I assured him. 'You just...don't exist in paperwork.'
A grim smile came to his lips. 'After a hundred and fifty years of real non-existence, I think I can handle this.'
I shook my head. 'It's not really something you just...handle. We need to do something about it. If Paul was still sane, I'd ask him for contacts of some good forgers - God knows he'd have them on speed dial, right up there with the drug dealers.'
Jesse sank into the passenger seat, looking a little defeated. 'Father Dominic mentioned this to me too. He told me he could have dealt with it, had he been alive still... but no one will accept the signature of a dead man.'
Choosing not to reply, I just drove. I had to see Father D tonight. I almost...didn't want to. I didn't want to hear what he was going to tell me. So instead, I didn't think about it. I drove.
Observing that this topic did not sparkle with me, Jesse moved on also. 'So where are we going?'
'To see Robbie,' I said.
Jesse's eyebrow rose. 'Should...I really come?'
'Why shouldn't you?' So sue me if I was defensive.
He smiled, and his hand slid on mine on the clutch. He stroked the tops of my fingers. 'I don't want to intrude. And perhaps he will not talk as freely with me there.'
I looked at him suspiciously. 'You're not just trying to get some more free time to go have banana milkshakes at the Coffee Clutch, are you?'
Unashamedly, he said, 'Maybe. But you know what I mean.'
I stopped the car on the side of the road, and smiled. 'Okay. Out you get then. I'll pick you up in about an hour. Have you got my cell phone?' He nodded. 'And do you know how to use it?'
His eyes narrowed a little. 'Shout at it and hope for the best?' he asked sarcastically.
This satisfied me. Somehow. 'Okay, I love you.'
'Te amo,' he replied, kissing my forehead. 'Tell Robbie I say hello. From all the way up here,' he added, standing up to his maximum height.
I giggled. 'Meanie. Bye.'
Unfortunately, Ms. Gallagher answered the door. I'd forgotten how robust she was until the sight of her was forced down my throat once again. 'Oh,' I muttered, 'Hi. Uh, yeah. Is Robbie here?'
She blinked, not glaring quite as much as she had last time we'd met - that is to say, when I'd apparently got her son's face rearranged. 'No, he's not.'
Getting a rush of indignation that was entirely common in her smothering presence, I said, 'Are you sure? Or are you just saying that because you don't like me that much?'
The woman's hand tensed on the edge of the door a little, before she sighed. 'Suze, right?' I nodded unsurely, and she closed her eyes for a moment. '...Would you like to come in for a moment?'
Hesitantly, I agreed, checking her hands for any sharp implements. She seemed like the type to be able to cover up a messy murder.
Guiding me into a clinical, pale lounge room, she invited me to sit on the couch closest to a glorious fireplace. I wondered whether she'd ever felt the need to light it, given the amazing Californian weather. Back in New York, I would have been all over that fireplace like a rash in the harshest hours of winter. I wanted to compliment her on it – but it probably came with the house, and therefore the intended words stank of forced small talk. But really...what other kind of conversation was I supposed to have with this imposing woman?
She sat opposite me on a tan recliner, staring at me.
'You've got a lot to answer for, Suze,' she said finally.
I flared up. What? After everything we'd been through – Robbie and I, not myself and this questionable human before me - I couldn't help it. How dare she imply that I'd demented her son further than she had?
'Now, look,' I said savagely –
But she just laughed at my anger.
That cacked me off further. My nails bit into her dull couch arms bitterly as I went to through myself into battle, but she held up a commanding hand of silence. I guess she was used to people shutting up when she told them to. Well, she was in for a big surprise –
'You misunderstand me,' she said, a little loftily. Did she think I was simple? That was the impression I was getting. 'You're a fiery girl – just the type of girl I've been trying to protect Robbie from. You're the type of girl who was bound to get him into trouble.'
...How exactly was I misunderstanding her? This was heading nowhere, fast.
'But,' she added, 'I think a little trouble was exactly what my boy needed.'
I came to a grinding halt in my angry ranting.
'...Huh?' I said intelligently, thus proving her suspicions that I was a dumbo.
'Robbie was a mouse before he met you,' she elaborated. Her face was a careful construction of barely hidden wrinkles and make-up, but the construction was cracking. She looked away, unable to hold my gaze as she admitted defeat. 'I didn't enjoy that about him... but it made it easier to protect him, so I was grateful for his obedience. But you... the influence you've had over him...' She shook her head, her eyes widening. You know, as if I'd had Robbie riding around on a motorbike with me, Evil Robin to my Corrupt Batman, spraying graffiti everywhere. 'He's sneaking out? Back chatting me? I just... I wasn't used to it. I was angry. You – some girl he found at dying bookstore – were taking him away from me. Leading him down a dangerous path...'
I was a patient woman, holding out for the point of this long rant. She really did not have a way with words.
'Showing him how to live...' she said finally, finding my eye-line again. In that moment, she looked pitiful, ashamed of herself. 'Suze... you showed him how to live. You showed my son how to not give up on life, when I'd written him off. I know his condition is going to...' she broke off again, staring at me helplessly. 'But the way he was going before you... well, he may as well not have had a life to begin with. You changed everything for him.'
I smiled. Glad to see we got there in the end, Ms. Gallagher. I mean, I knew all of this stuff already. It just made me happy to know that his overbearing demonoid had finally clued in. And this meant that Robbie's life wouldn't be treated as fragile anymore. It would be treated as a gift.
'I am glad,' I said simply.
She looked away again.
'You should go now,' she said abruptly. I raised my brows at her dazzling hospitality – at which point I caught the sparkling corners of her eyes. She was a proud woman who had just bowed down to the wisdom of a teenager. It was too much to ask to allow me to watch her cry, or even squeeze a hug out of her. It'd probably feel a little prickly anyway, so I wasn't exactly disappointed with the lack of hugfest.
Just as I was seeing myself out, she called after me, 'He's not here because he's with a girl, you know. A girl...' As if she'd never heard of such an abstract concept before. There was a motherly bewilderment in her voice, but I could hear the saturation of pleasure in each syllable.
I turned and grinned at her. 'He's growing up so fast,' I said saccharinely.
And I hightailed it before she figured out I was poking fun at her.
...Just a bit.
I swung past the Coffee Clutch and was about to walk in when I saw Jesse from outside the window. I was forty minutes early, so he wasn't expecting me – but it was nice to witness him in his natural habitat, minus the Suzatron. Or, you know, abject misery.
As I peaked coyly at him between the letters C and H of "Clutch," I cocked my head and smiled. He had not one, but three glasses of milkshake in front of him. By the looks of it, he was sampling all the flavours. He was even alternating sips, frowning light-heartedly, trying to determine the superior flavour.
It appeared Mango was winning the race this time.
As it turned out, I was not Jesse's only onlooker. He'd garnered himself a gaggle of excitable admirers in the Clutch's wait staff. Not all of them were female.
That prompted me into action. Being a big fan of the penis, I darted in there before Sebastian, who was batting his stumpy lashes at the oblivious Jesse, made him cross over to the other side.
'Hi,' I said wryly, sliding into the booth.
Jesse looked up from his milkshakes in surprise. 'Susannah!' he gasped, a little alarmed at what I saw before me. 'I...uh... they kept bringing out the wrong flavour. Incompetence, I tell you.'
'They're all half-empty, Jesse.'
'Yes, they...they spilled them all on the way over.'
I stared at him, my brow arched. He blinked innocently. He even had a milk moustache from where he'd foregone the straws altogether.
Leaning forward in the booth, I moved across the table to gently kiss the frothy milk from his upper lip. A group groan arose from behind Jesse; the wait staff had clearly been hoping that I was not with their Mystery Hunk.
Well, I was. So boo.
I licked my lips at Jesse, who seemed to have lost all ability to say words. Clearly, I'd just performed a power move.
'Dios,' was all he could manage after a moment of incredulity. 'P-perhaps I should not spend the night with you. I don't think I could keep my hands to myself.'
'Like I'd stop you,' I scoffed. 'And don't be stupid. You have nowhere else to go, remember? You're a hobo. A drifter. And my Mum's probably trying to steal you from me, so she wants you close enough to try put the moves on you when I'm not looking.'
At these words, Jesse looked a little ill. I could only assume it was from all the milkshake, because my mum was a muffin of a forty-something.
'And besides,' I said, my voice dropping cheekily. 'How else are you going to work off all these calories?'
Jesse choked on a loud cough. I guess I was being a little mean. I mean, it was a public forum. And he was clearly getting all hot and bothered.
He was just about to say something in reply when my phone started buzzing annoyingly. I sighed and plucked it from my pocket. I'd actually been curious as to Jesse's reply to my little proposition. Not that we could... at home. But maybe, back at that little apartment above STAB, where it had all began...
Oh yeah. The phone.
'Hi, Mum,' I said unsurely. She knew I was on a sort of date with Jesse. Well, technically, I was supposed to still be with Robbie, who was off Gallaghavanting with Mini-Cee. So if she was interrupting, it was probably vaguely important. That, or Andy wanted to know if I wanted the pepper sauce or the wine jus on my steak tonight. Top priority stuff like that.
Wine jus. Duh. I wasn't twenty-one for ages – I had to soak up the alcohol when I could. Even though most of it disappeared in the cooking process –
'There's a man here to see you,' she said uncertainly.
I'll admit, my mind went immediately to Paul, at which point my heart slipped on its tightrope. But it righted itself when it realised that Mum would have just said his name. Or she would have bludgeoned him to death with a waffle iron and buried the body under the hot tub. You know, where Jesse's had once been.
I heard the strangeness in her voice. 'Erm... I'll be there in ten...?
'Thank you, Susannah.'
Whoa. Breaking out the full name. That was oddly formal for my mother. Oh God. What if it was a cop?
'Susannah?' Jesse asked with concern. I looked at him, my eyes wide. I'd almost forgotten he was there. 'Everything all right?'
'Uh, sure,' I said. 'I've just gotta go home. Some guy wants to see me.' I pulled a face, just to disperse any thoughts that I wanted to leave him.
Jesse turned to the gaggle of waitresses, pointing at his shakes. 'I'll get these...er...to go?'
They nearly trampled each other in their efforts to get over there fast enough.
Mum was sitting on the lounge when Jesse and I rocked up at home, next to an official-looking man in a navy, pinstriped suit.
'Who knew Carmel had a Mafia?' I joked.
The man smiled thinly. 'My name is Walter Davis, Miss Simon.'
'...That's nice,' I said. 'To, uh, you know... have a name.'
I thought I was being an idiot, but he seemed to have a knowing glint in his eye. He looked pointedly at Jesse. 'Yes, it is nice to have a name.'
Mum stared unabashedly at all of us, clearly knocked for six.
'Could we speak in private?' Davis requested politely. Both Jesse and Mum went to leave, but Davis nodded at Jesse. 'No, mister. This concerns you.'
Looking even more discombobulated, Mum left the room, clicking the door shut behind her. Jesse and I stood in front of Davis, who picked up his large briefcase and began opening it on the coffee table.
'I believe you knew my client, Dr. Oliver Slaski?'
'Yeah, sure,' I said. 'Not one of my proudest acquaintances, but yeah, I know him.'
Jesse was staring at Davis. 'Susannah... he said "knew".'
Davis smiled. 'See? Aren't we glad we kept the boy in the room?'
Now that my mother was gone, Davis was getting oilier and oilier by the second. And with all this "client" business, that could only mean one thing: his oiliness was due to his profession as a lawyer.
Suddenly, however, the significance of Davis's word choice hit me. I gasped. 'Wait. The doctor's dead?'
'And, the bomb has landed,' Davis said. I was too shocked to glare at him. 'Look, Miss Simon. My client was a very high profile man who fell victim to his very severe symptoms for many years, only to suddenly remerge in time to enlist my services to set his affairs in order. I won't pretend to care what happened to Dr. Slaski, and I am certainly not bothered by the outlandish details of his requests of me. I am under the impression that you will understand exactly what his intentions were in asking me to provide all of this paperwork for you...'
I stared at him. If I was supposed to be understanding something... well, clarity wasn't exactly overwhelming me. All I could ask was, '...how did he die?'
Davis shoved an envelope at me. I ripped it open to retrieve a letter. The writing was loopy, oddly neat, and very small.
I know that is not your name, but it seems to annoy you. You will discover very soon why I am at such liberty to annoy you, as I have gone to great lengths for you, Missy. You see, after waiting for so long to die, I've decided I'd finally better do the job myself, now that I am capable. But that begs the question: where does my estate go?
The thing is, I have many other people I am keen to annoy other than you, so don't flatter yourself. Mostly, I want to annoy that pisser of a son of mine and his inane woman. They are both waiting for me to tip over the edge so they can scramble to collect their inheritance like the cockroaches they are. So what would piss them off more than to leave my vast wealth to some random babysitter that looked after their weedy youngest?
I am not completely heartless – though I have often believed that hearts were a liability rather than a strength. Jack, my youngest grandson, will get a sizable inheritance on his twenty-first birthday, assuming he survives that long without any evidence of a spine. He was always good to me, so there is no need to cut him out. And Paul, of course. His medical expenses will be taken care of. Though I don't give two shakes where he ends up in the grand scheme of things, his fate won't be cheap. But that's all my brat and his witch are getting – the all expenses paid trip for their son to the nuthouse of their choosing.
Finally, to the importance of this letter. You'll notice I am rambling a bit. I'll admit, not all of this information is relevant to you, but I do love to build suspense. Not to mention, I have not written so neatly for nearly thirty years. I am milking it.
Davis, that dependable weed of a lawyer of mine, has been instructed to go through some paperwork with you. I am sure you think I'm weak, bowing out of life like this. But I've had enough. Bring on hell. At least it will be warm, and won't make my arthritis play up.
I have legally taken care of Jesse. He is now a free man, and an American citizen. All together, now: "Thank you, Dr. Slaski." I won't pretend to know what the hell it takes to be an American citizen, but that's why I pay Davis so damn much. So you get what you're given.
Lastly, my property has been put on the market. Once sold, the profits will be transferred to my estate which, if I hadn't made it clear before, is going in your name. My only regret in life is that I couldn't see the look on my son's face when he found out he wasn't getting a dime out of me.
It was annoying, knowing you. You were a frustrating little brat at the best of times, but you got the job done. You went through hell for it, so it's high time that the universe gave you a break. I am that universe. Congratulations on your recent windfall, Miss Simon.
Dr. O. Slaski
Once I'd read the letter, I couldn't help but skim through it again. Even on the third read, I still couldn't make sense of it. Surely it was in a language other than English. Like Klingon, or binary. Because there was no way that I had just inherited the wealth of an old git that I couldn't stand.
Speaking of my inability to stand; Jesse had to catch me when my knees gave out.
'Holy mother of–' I began blasphemously, but Davis cleared his throat.
'Now, now, Miss Simon, there is a lady present,' he said, nodding to Jesse.
Jesse, unsure what to say against this slight against his masculinity, stared in great affront at Davis, who appeared to be uncaring as to how offensive he was. He must have supposed that the good news he brought with him excused his terrible manners.
'The Doctor expects his immediate family to protest to these changes in his will, and has produced a time-stamped video documenting his decisions to leave his estate to you, Miss Simon. He has also indicated that, as his house is on the market, Mr. De Silva is free to live there until he finds more permanent residence.'
Davis immediately produced a second, much larger envelope, handing it to Jesse. 'These are your papers, Mr. De Silva,' he said. 'Social security, citizenship, the works. You have been living here since the age of twelve, where you moved from Spain with your family, who both tragically died in a car accident. The rest of Dr. Slaski's colourful invention is in there. Learn it well.'
Jesse looked down at one of the papers in particular. His face, previously perplexed beyond description, suddenly darkened.
'My middle name is Pablo?' he snapped. 'That is Paul. Despicable!'
Davis chortled. 'Yes... The Doctor thought you might say that. He said to remind you that he is a very generous man, and to...er, "deal with it".'
I still was having trouble with the whole vertical thing.
'Jesse,' I breathed. 'This is... oh my God. Do you have any idea what this means?'
Jesse seemed to be "dealing with" the whole Pablo thing. He stared back at me, his brow furrowed. 'It's a name,' he said softly. 'It's...it's my name.'
'Very nice,' Davis said. 'Well, I must be off, Miss Simon. If you and your illegal immigrant need any more edification on the fineries of this paperwork, you have my number. Good day to you.'
And he left without even giving me the chance to deck him one.