Wednesday, December 30, 2009


There, in front of her, lying atop several spaced bales of hay or straw hard to tell in this light was a full sized truck cap, standing out white in the fading daylight.

The bales were covered with a blue tarp, flapping slightly in the cold, brisk autumn wind.
During the past spring and summer, in spite of all the rain, Amy managed to find a dry spot here and there in the city, but living on the streets was growing dangerous of late.

There was always someone a little stronger who wanted her spot and she was unable to do battle. She was getting too old and too tired and her body took too long to heal of late.
In the city last night to get out of the rainy weather, she crawled onto the bed of an old pick up truck and into a fairly clean dog box, pulling the small door shut behind her. Air came in through the unobstructed vent holes at the back, but very little cold and blessedly, no rain.

Wrapping her dirty blanket around herself, she fell asleep and even the start up of the engine and the motion of the truck failed to wake her almost a full week had passed since she felt safe enough to do more than catnap.

At the break of dawn, she finally awoke, cautiously opening the door of the box to find she was no longer in the city.

The truck was parked under a tree behind an old weather beaten unpainted house, with no lights coming from any of the curtained windows.

Squeezing herself out of the box, every muscle aching, she knew she would feel better when she stood erect and moved around a little, as the cold had settled in her bones. She

A dog barked, and he sounded close! She was afraid of dogs, and this one's barking might waken someone. May looked over the side of the truck. There it was, straining at its chain, a blazing eyed old lady eating monster!

Quickly, she grabbed her blanket and plastic bag, going to the opposite side of the truck. Jumping out, she headed down the driveway, dodging behind bushes on her way.
The dog was still barking as she reached the road a dirt road! Where the heck was she? Looking down, she saw the marks the truck tires made coming into the drive. She turned in that direction, mostly because there were bushes to hide her retreat down the road.

She walked all day, and as it grew colder, wrapped her blanket closely around herself, one hand holding her bundle outside the blanket. Damn, it was getting colder still! When she came upon a drive, partly overgrown, leading off to the left, she followed it, hoping for an abandoned building of some sort.

That was when she had spied the truck cap in a break in the weeds.

The wind seemed to blow a little stronger as she neared the cap, and she shivered. Looking under it, she saw no spider webs, no wasps nests. It seemed to have been placed on bales because the door at the back was longer than the sides. She found it was a good deal warmer under the cap, when she crawled in.

May was able to stand almost erect, and studied how the bales were arranged for a few minutes. By moving two of the bales, she could cut off all the wind. But to move more, she must lift the cap. She moved the two, standing them on end at the front of the cap, and could not have wished for a closer fit. There was still a small hole near the door, but she stuffed it with weeds.
She wiggled the blue tarp free from over the bales and laid it over the stunted weeds
under the cap.

It surely seemed a lot warmer now. Light came in the side windows, which had screens, and the small window in the door. Grasping the door handle and giving it a turn, it came open like a door to a little house.

She was tired and hungry from her all day walk, having eaten only several apples she
found under a tree. Although hungry and thirsty, she was out of the wind. She rolled up in her blanket and slept. Some time during the night, she pulled half the tarp up over her. Ah, that made it warmer.

This night's sleep surpassed the quality of last night's. There was enough straw mixed with the weeds under her to make her bed much softer than the wooden floor of the dog box, and having a tarp over and under her kept in her body warmth. When mother nature called, she went out into the cold, but hurried back, spread the tarp, and was just rolling up in her blanket when the
door opened.

"Good Lord, woman, what are you doing out here?" A male voice interrupted her doze and the flashlight gleam blinded her,

"I was sleeping, and a fine place to sleep it turned out to be!" she declared.

"It was darned cold last night, not fit for sleeping out!"

"Ah, but much better than the night before when I slept in a dog box on the back of a
pick up truck!" Amy sounded proud of herself.

"Nonsense." Somebody's mother having to spend her nights like that! "Come with me, you're going to have some breakfast."

"And where would that be, and how do we get there, I see nothing out there," she replied, looking out the windows.

He opened the door and beckoned.

"Sorry, I have a natural function to perform, the sooner the better." she said, hesitant to follow him.

"My bathroom is at your disposal. Right this way." He took several steps toward what looked like a big mound of dirt, three steps down, and there was a door, which he opened. "Welcome to my underground home." He stood aside so she could enter.

The warmth hit her in the face, engulfing her. It wasn't dark, light seemed to come from all over. There were no shadows. She stood with her mouth open until he mentioned the bathroom, then she was right at his heels.

It was lovely. There was a sunken tub, a shower, with the stool visible through an open stall door. There were no shadows here, either. She pushed him out and closed the door. As she did, she caught sight of herself in a mirror on the back of the door a nearing fifty woman with hair snarled and filled with straw and other dirt, in rags and pieces of clothing, faced her.

"Oh, God," she thought. "This low in three weeks!"

The young man's voice filtered through the closed door.

"I'll get you some clean clothes. The towels are behind the closet door with the shampoo and bubble bath."

"I have clean clothes in my duffle under the cap." She called back.

Several minutes later, she was shampooing her hair in the shower, the rest of her already pink from the heat and the scrubbing. The shampoo smelled heavenly. She braided her long hair quickly, letting the braid hang down her back.

In clean jeans, tee shirt under a sweat shirt, clean socks on feet thrust into worn shoes, she opened the door. Nothing had ever smelled so good! What was it? Coffee? That was easy. Waffles and sausage took a moment longer to identify. A full plate was on the table beside a cup of steaming coffee when she approached it.

"Please sit. You look great. After you eat, you can tell me all about why you're here. But eat first."

She ate, slowly, savoring every bite, every sip of coffee, the tangy syrup, the rich waffles. She ate herself into a warm, rosy glow! How sweet life was at this moment in time. She didn't want to remember the past, she just wanted to melt into this second, savor it forever. Finally, full to the bursting point, she pushed her plate away, moved her coffee cup into its saucer, and gave a long sigh.

Her host filled her cup for the third time and sat down opposite her.

Looking him squarely in the eye, she asked, "Have you ever been conned? Really conned? To the breaking point? Past the breaking point?"

"Nope, and by the way, I'm Tom Kiting, and every thing I have, I've earned."
"And I'm Amy Wittaker, everything I had I earned. The con lady never labored a day in her life, but she sure worked me over GOOD!"

"Her name?"

"Marjorie McAddams, or that is what she called herself."

"What was Marjorie's con?"

"Let me start at the beginning. I had a beautiful – well beautiful to me, daughter Lydia. My husband and I raised her the way we were raised; to be honest, to help those in need, to trust in the Lord, and be hardworking. It started out fine. Lydia was a worker. She worked hard to make good grades in school. Her friends were nice kids, they all grew up together, went to a good school in a nice neighborhood, their parents were all still together when the kids graduated. But, like most youngsters, they couldn't wait to try their wings. Lydia got a modest scholarship to the State college and several of her friends enrolled with her. They all came home on holidays and vacations. It was a little lonely at other times, so we looked forward to the kids being around. Our house was a big one, four bedrooms. We weren't poor, we welcomed our daughter's new friends as well as the old ones.

"Marjorie was one of the new friends. She was an inquisitive young lady not too worldly, I thought. But she fooled me. She would drop questions that were none of her business in a way that you couldn't refuse to answer, like where do you bank? Could I get a check cashed there without inconveniencing you? Does the bank require funds on deposit before you can get a free checking account? We never held back on general information. The questions seemed harmless enough.

"Lydia and Marjorie both began jobs with the same company when they finished college. Lydia had a designing degree, Marjorie one in business. Marjorie worked in personnel, Lydia for the design engineer. Soon, they were in an apartment together; whenever Lydia came to visit at home, Marjorie came, too. We always made her welcome.

"Lydia bought a used car, on time. Once or twice, Marjorie borrowed it to make overnight trips, Lydia told us. She made no effort to help with the insurance nor upkeep, and only took the car when the gas tank was full. Several times I overheard Lydia remark that they did sell gas at other than their neighborhood station on her, Lydia's, charge account. Marjorie always apologized and said she would catch up on pay day. But I never asked if she had.

"Six months or so after they moved in together, my sister-in law passed away. She left Lydia a small inheritance, and Lydia bought a new car.

"Marjorie borrowed it, was in an accident, the car totalled and Marjorie spent some time in the hospital. She came out in a wheelchair. Her lawyer sued Lydia's insurance company. Marjorie moved out into an apartment with wheelchair ramps. She sent Lydia the moving bill and the bill for first, last and security deposit. Lydia, who felt guilty because Marjorie said the car's brakes were defective and caused the accident, paid them.

"Lydia, now that she had no roommate, felt the pinch in her budget, and her visits home lessened.

"But my husband, Jack Wittaker and I, now that Marjorie was gone, felt free to visit, and when we did, we saw that Lydia's cupboards and refrigerator were never bare when we left. Jack stopped at the gas station where Lydia had her account, paid her 'up to date.' Lydia was always grateful.

"During one visit, Lydia received her charge card billing. She gasped when she opened it, and only when her father insisted, did she hand it over to him.

"Over $500 in one month, for clothes?" he gasped. "Child, do you need all these clothes?"

"I didn't buy the clothes, Daddy, Marjorie did!"

"How did Marjorie get your card?"

"I don't know, Daddy, but all you need is the number."

"Change it!"

"I can't, unless I am paid up to date, and she always runs it up past what I can pay!"

"Let me have your card, dear. I'll handle it. Do you need another card?"

"No, I got that one when I got the car, we had planned to travel weekends."

"Jack got on the phone, went to the nearest bank handling the card, paid the balance and had the teller run the card through the shredder and told her no further charges would be accepted.

"The insurance company settled for the loss of Lydia's car. She and her father picked out a small economy model at a very reasonable price.

"We went home feeling we really had helped Lydia.

"Two weeks later, Lydia was found dead at the foot of the stairs leading to her apartment. Her death was ruled accidental. But her apartment was thoroughly ransacked. It was impossible for us, in our grief, to sort everything out. We just put all her loose things in big boxes, shipped them home, gave her furniture to the Salvation Army, and went home to mourn.

"Jack didn't make it through the winter after our loss. His heart gave out. Loneliness closed in on me."

"After a Sunday afternoon at the cemetery about a week later I arrived home to find a strange car in the drive. It was Marjorie. A very sympathetic Marjorie, who invited herself into my home.

She took over the kitchen, commiserated over my loss, and before I knew what was happening, things that would change my life were occurring.

"I just couldn't seem to recover from my double loss. And somehow, during my worst time, Marjorie obtained power of attorney to help arrange my affairs. It seemed so much easier to just let her handle things.

"The cars needed new licenses, and at the time, I was dreadfully sick, the flu, Marjorie said, so why not just sign this and I'll get them for you. I signed.

"The tax bills came. Marjorie made out the checks for me to sign, explaining that every piece of property needed a separate check. I signed four. There was always something new to sign, and I did.

"Four months after Marjorie came to commiserate, she left. Evidently, she had remained packed. I took a nap at three every afternoon, awakening around four. On the day Marjorie left (in my car), I did not awaken until after six and Marjorie was gone.

"The refrigerator was empty, as were the cupboards. I took my purse and went in Lydia's car, which was in the garage, to shop.

"At the cash register, I found my check book was gone. I had only three dollars and some cents. My credit cards were gone. I picked out enough food to spend the three dollars very, very little, and walked back to the car. There was a policeman standing by the side of the car it seems the plates were out of date.

"I broke down, asked to be taken to the police station to tell my story. The officer took me. The Captain cluck clucked, took me to the bank, where I cancelled the missing cards and found my checking account contained only the interest for the past month, credited to my account that morning, and only $l000 remained in my savings account what was necessary to maintain cost free checking. I was shown my signature on the necessary papers to clean out the accounts. It looked like my signature.

"I called an old friend to get a ride home. She was aghast. Her son dated Marjorie. She would see the story made the rounds so Marjorie would be personna non grata with her former friends. "At home, I was determined to get back on my feet. I started going through Jack’s and my personal papers. Nothing seemed to be where it should be. Deeds were gone, investment papers were missing. Jack handled all our finances, but I went over papers with him enough to know whom to call in case we needed cash, it was all in the files. The files were also missing.

"The full horror of my plight hit me. I sat down in a chair and despair, black and frightening, closed in on me.

"As I sat there, a small light seemed to go off in my head, my vision cleared, I stood up, went to the library to the set of volumes on diets, herbs, nutrition and health. Volume number two on nutrition was just a shell, with the copies of papers I now needed, especially the little black book, inside it.

"It was three in the afternoon, I would have to hurry. One by one, I called our investment houses, only to find the accounts had been closed out during the past weeks!

"There were several things in the false book that were not recorded elsewhere and a sum of cash, my sister's will, which granted Lydia her inheritance, one of Jack's insurance policies, paid up years ago; a set of keys to our deposit box, plus copies of birth certificates, and a packet of other papers I knew little or nothing about. I put everything back when I was finished going through it.

"After a light meal, I went to bed, only to toss and turn until daylight.

"The sun came up, bright and cheerful, which I did not appreciate. At 8:l5 a.m., someone knocked at the door. It was a uniformed officer from the Sheriff's Office, who, without any formality but to ask if I were Amy Wittaker, served me with an eviction notice. It seems I was being granted seventeen days to vacate the premises owned by one Marjorie McAddams, as was stipulated in a deed filed by her with the Court.

"Now with a few dollars at my disposal, I called a cab, took along the papers to Lydia's car and got it licensed. Then I walked to the police station, paid my fine, put the plates on the car, drove to a storage rental place, hired a moving company, rented a fairly large storage facility and made arrangements to move out the next day.

"If it had not been for the cash and papers in the false book, I would have been forced to move out and leave everything behind! As it was, I kept an old bed and mattress, moved them down from the attic to the first floor, hooked up an old refrigerator we only used summers when the house was full. (What a long time ago that seemed!) It stood on the enclosed back porch, and brought up a hot plate of vintage age from the basement.

"As this was no longer my house, it seemed, I turned on every light. Why worry about bills. In order to be ousted, the bills couldn't still be in my name. Or could they? I got on the phone. Aha, they were still my bills. I asked to speak to the manager and asked his opinion.

"We will transfer them over to the new owner as of the date the deed was filed, will that be all right?"


"Consider it done."

"I left all the lights on.

"When everything was removed from the attic, basement, garage and yard and the rest of the house, into storage, I settled down to wait out the seventeen days until eviction. The phone hadn't been disconnected, I was going to use that to engage a private detective to check on Marjorie

McAddams, from her date of birth until tomorrow, in duplicate.

"My clothes and possessions were reduced to two suitcases, and a bag for dirty clothing which I put into the car early on the morning of the seventeenth day. I got a vicarious thrill from leaving the place a mess with no curtains or shades, no throw rugs, just dirty paper plates and cups strewn around the rooms the mess usually left by evictees in the city, I heard.

"At six thirty, I drove off, after disconnecting the phone and tossing it behind the garage. I didn't even glance back. On the seat beside me was the false book and the file on Marjorie McAddams.
"At the storage facility, I got my keys, put the false book and the "Marjorie" file into a drawer in a dresser I had to crawl over boxes to reach, paid six month's ahead on the bill, which according to the contract, gave me thirty days' grace thereafter.

“I took Lydia's car to the park, took a long walk, pausing to let the darkness settle before going back to the car.

There were pillows and blankets on the back seat, my two suitcases in front, my money and keys secure in a belt around my waist, my purse beside me. I went to sleep, intending to sleep only until after dark, then go back to the house and if Marjorie were there, kill her. Or go back every night until she was there!

"When I opened my eyes, the car was moving. How long I had slept, I didn't know. But when I sat up, there was a loud yelp from the front seat, the car slammed to a halt, I hit the back of the front seat and was just getting it all together when the doors slammed on both sides and I was alone!

"I swore I had locked those doors! But hadn't Marjorie driven the car? Probably had a set of keys to it! Why hadn't I thought of that? Stupidity was costing me dearly!

"My suitcases! They were in the front seat. As I swung my feet to the floor, I found the smallest at the expense of pain to my ankles! The other was jammed between the back seat and front, dented in fact.

"It took me a while to extricate myself from the back seat, crawl over to the driver's seat and lock the doors from the inside.

"When I went to start the car, I saw the tank was on empty. All around me were dark tall buildings, the dim street lights seemed miles apart. The air smelled foul when I cracked a window. Where had they left me?

"I spent the night wide awake, scared half to death, ready to panic at the slightest movement in the shadows. Finally, I dozed off, and woke at daylight.

"From a middle class family with a daughter, a house, car, money in the bank, investments, to this! Two small suitcases, one gasless car, very little pocket money. I was alone in a very poor section of town. My God, did I deserve this?

"Marjorie," I thought. "Marjorie McAddams. Just as I rue the day you came into my life, Marjorie McAddams, you are going to be sorry you ever heard of the Wittaker family. I swear it, on my daughter's grave!"

"I took the clothes out of the mashed suitcase and sorted the contents of both down to all fit into one.

"I left the car, walking back in the direction I came, because the neighborhood ahead of the car looked worse. Maybe I could get a room somewhere.

"Just as my legs felt they were giving out, I smelled coffee. Bundles of rags and piles of cardboard seemed to come alive around me. Heads popped up, I passed people doing private things in public, doorways came alive. I fell in line with rags moving in the direction of the coffee smell. Soon their line joined one already formed. It seems the Salvation Army was serving breakfast on the sidewalk.

"When it came my turn, a woman filled a plate and a cup, motioned me inside to a long table with very little empty space left. She found room for me, sat me down, put the plate and cup before me, asked if she might safeguard the suitcase, and at my nod, went through a door and came back empty handed.

"The food was good, the coffee hot, the smell of the people around was almost nauseating. As soon as I was finished, I took my paper plate and cup to the waste barrel and went to find the woman to get my suitcase. She was still serving meals.

"I asked where I might find a ladies room, was directed back inside, found a room with four stools and no privacy and four sinks. Mother Nature overcame my reticence. I washed my hands without soap.

"I lingered until there were no longer lines of people outside the building. The Salvation Army lady found me.

"You don't look like you need us. Not just slumming, are you?" she asked me.

"No, but I will soon look like everyone else, if having nothing makes you look this way!" In a few words, I told my story. When I came to the car part at the end, she asked where the car was parked. I remembered a street name, and she looked at her watch.

"It's probably been towed away already."

"Towed away?" I responded.

"Every morning. Too many people living in old cars."

"But I just put new plates on it yesterday!"
"Then maybe we can save it. Come on."

"We ran to the S.A. van and I directed her. A tow truck was just backing up to it when we drove up. The SA lady yelled for them to stop.

"Not unless it's yours, Ma'am."

"Tell them it is. Here's the title. I'll sign it over to you." I urged.

"It will be ours. This lady owns it and is giving it to us. It just ran out of gas."

"Get it moving in five minutes, then."

"I unlocked the car. We got in. I told her I could move it a block or two, maybe. Which way?"

"They've already patrolled behind us. Turn around and we may have an hour to gas it up."

"The car started. I turned it and headed in a rush back to where the SA Van had first been parked, the van following me. I coasted the last twenty feet, but I made it.

"I'm Laura Kaull," the SA lady introduced herself. "Nice work."

"Amy Wittaker." I hadn't volunteered a name with my story, but it was on the title. "And I am serious about you having the car."

"You're still in pretty good shape, Amy. Want to give us a hand here. We can sure use you."
"For a while, I guess. But I need a place to sleep."

"The benches were too hard, I slept in my former car in an old garage, which had a stool and a shower, and the summer passed quickly for me, even though it seemed time stood still. This might have gone on forever, but a fire put the building out of the food business and the garage lost its roof. That was three weeks ago. The SA lady, Laura, was transferred and I was reduced to doorways until I crawled in the dog box on the truck."

"I'm a little disappointed," Tom Kiting grinned as she finished her story. "Attractive older women usually fall prey to quick witted handsome younger men."

"For the 'attractive' remark, thank you. For the rest, there wasn't time for a quick witted man to come on the scene. I think, somehow, we'd have been taken even if Lydia and Jack hadn't died."

"Lydia could have been pushed downstairs, you know." Tom said quietly.

Amy's face turned white. "And then her room ransacked? By Marjorie?"

Tom nodded. And Amy's hatred took a huge leap forward.

"God help her if I ever see her again!"

"What does she look like?" Tom asked. "Wait, describe her and I'll try to draw her picture."
"You're an artist?"

"So some say. Let's see how good we are."

While the morning passed, Amy scouted out a very passable lunch, and the face grew more and more familiar. At four, Tom called a halt.

"I've got a few things to do in town. You want to come, or stay here. I'll not be too long."
"No, Tom, you're being too trusting, just as I was. Don't ever leave anyone alone in your house. I'll go along or wait outside."

"In the cold? No, come along, I like company."

They spent the time with Tom asking questions about Marjorie and Amy taking notes. Tom was beginning to form a picture of Marjorie's character, as well as little nuances Amy kept remembering and noting under her picture, which they brought along.

Tom wondered if he would have been able to withstand a conn by Marjorie. She sounded, except for those 'little things' like a nice girl.

In town, Amy suddenly yelled "Stop" to Tom. "Why?" he wanted to know.

"Lydia and Marjorie had their pictures taken there." Amy pointed to a studio now some distance behind them. Tom turned the car and went back.

Amy introduced herself at the counter, saying her daughter had her picture taken there with a friend. The daughter was deceased, and she wondered if he kept the negatives of the girls, as the original was a gift for friends and Amy would give anything for a copy of the picture.
The proprietor searched his records. Lydia's negative was still on file. Marjorie McAddams had taken her negative. But yes, she could have Lydia's negatives.

Tom held them up, one by one, to the light. "Tell you what, why don't we have one of each made, my gift to you?" He asked Amy.

"I'd love that." She smiled gratefully at him.

When the negatives and pictures were finished, the clerk came out, smiling. "I've got a surprise for you. The photographer made a trick negative both girls, one in profile behind the other. Your daughter is behind the other girl. Look."

Tom took the picture. Almost exactly as Amy portrayed her, there was Marjorie.

"Hey!" he whispered. "I know that face. But it isn't any Marjorie! That is Faye. Faye Dearing. I know where she lives, right this minute! Come on, Amy, let's go."

But Amy stopped him. "Pay the gentleman, Tom, and ask him not to tell anyone."

"Or we will come back and bust the place up," Tom added with a grin.

"Okay, okay." the clerk rang up the sale.

Amy got in the car. "Tom, let's make a plan before we face her. I'd like to get even, if its possible."

Tom sat very still, not looking at Amy for a long time. "I thought I had forgotten her, but it's been there all this time. Oh, we'll plan, Amy, if it takes years. And we will recoup what she took, more so, we'll strip her bare and send her to jail. That is what we will do!"

Tom offered to drive her to Westwood where her things were stored, if she needed anything. Amy opted for a small village store selling apparel. In the privacy of a booth, she took cash from her money belt. She bought underthings, a man's shirt and a pair of ladies' slacks. A jacket. Her shoes were still in fair shape and she had others stored she could get later.

Amy wore her new clothes out of the store. She also combed out the braid and rearranged her hair. At 46, Amy looked 35. Her figure was slim, and she resumed her former good posture. It would not have done to appear attractive while living on the street.

Tom didn't recognize her until she opened the door and spoke. Then he jumped, startled.
"Amy? You look twenty years' younger. I'd have passed you on the street and never recognized you! But I sure would have looked!"

Amy grinned at him. She didn't know it, but that grin made her look twenty, Tom thought. And she had been living unprotect ed on the streets!

"Tell me about Faye Dearing," Amy asked, once they were back in traffic.

"Her folks lived across the street from us in Norwood when I was a kid. I wasn't paying much attention to girls while she lived there, but she was always around somewhere. There were whispers about the yelling and screaming going on at their house. "Family squabbles, my folks said. Keep your nose to home."

"My brother Cal was fifteen, I was about twelve when Faye Dearing first became a name. She had been dogging my brother and his friends and one hot summer evening, my brother was arrested for raping Faye Dearing. She'd gotten pregnant, it seemed. My brother denied it, denied he even knew Faye Dearing, except having seen her across the street and in the neighborhood."

"My folks wouldn't hear of their getting married, my brother a father at fifteen? They paid for an abortion."

"Faye was back in the neighborhood.

"My brother changed. He was no longer the pleasant outgoing person, the older brother I adored. Cal went around white faced, didn't eat, couldn't sleep. One night, he came into my room and said he couldn't stand the looks on peoples' faces any more. He swore he never touched Faye, seldom even spoke to her, and could not understand why she did this to him. I believed him, and suggested my friends and I snoop around to see what we could see. He refused to believe kids my age could do anything. Maybe help, I argued.

"Two weeks later, just as our spying began to pay off, Cal hanged himself. It seems Faye was pregnant again. This time, she chose Franklyn Dace as her impregnator. I was there when she accused him, and I told his Dad that she and her brother were seen by six of us kids, performing the sex act in their garage every Thursday when their folks went grocery shopping!

"Franklyn's father marched her home, me and Todd Brace with her, to tell her old man. Then it hit me, she murdered my brother with her lies!

"I got the boys together, six of us, not one over half her brother's size, and we got him down and almost killed him. Every time I hit him, I said, "This is for Cal." He spent time in the hospital.
"Later, not knowing he was a reporter, I told my story to an acquaintance, who printed it. Faye and her family left town the day after the paper came out.

"She's guilty of Cal's death, that of my husband, and may have killed my daughter." Amy said, shaking her head over their losses.

"Maybe more my brother died sixteen years ago. She could have been up to a lot more mischief in sixteen years."

"I think, if she has, I know about it." Amy told him about the private detective and the file she had yet to read.

"We'll get it tomorrow," Tom said. "First thing." Tom invited her to stay in his spare bedroom, adding that he liked her company, they had a project in common, and she was a darned good cook!

The private detective's file contained a copy of Marjorie's college records, where he got the names and dates of her parents' deaths, and found Marjorie McAddams, their only daughter, died in an automobile crash sixteen years ago with both of her parents. He did not know who this Marjorie McAddams was.

But Tom knew. She was Faye Dearing.

Tom remembered all the young people at his school, Faye included, were fingerprinted at the time a young girl was kidnapped.

On the pretext of needing information for a class reunion, Tom contacted an old school chum and once close friend who had participated in the beating of Faye's brother. He copied Faye's entire school record for them, and copped her fingerprint card.

Meanwhile, Amy got copies of Marjorie's death certificate, which showed she was killed on the same date Faye Dearing was supposedly killed in a house fire, along with her parents. Somehow, Faye became Marjorie. Tom visited Marjorie's tombstone, took pictures of it, which
dates showing when she died.

Newspaper files revealed the circumstances of Faye Dearing's death, enabling them to obtain a copy of her death certificate. Armed with those and a copy of fingerprints supposedly those of Marjorie McAddams from her place of employment long after the date of her supposed death, they searched out Faye's brother Raymond.

He was broke, in need of a job, and easily pursuaded that Faye was still alive, and perhaps responsible for the death of their parents. He was only too eager to help in Amy's revenge on Faye. With little fanfare, Raymond Dearing proved that Marjorie McAddams was legally deceased, that one Faye Dearing for years had been using her name (evidenced by fingerprints) and was also deceased (the date on her death certificate had been struck over and was easily misread) and he was her legal heir.

As such, in a matter of days, he cleaned out her bank balance. closed her checking, had
her car put in his name, returned Amy's house to her, informed the credit card companies of her
decease, shut off any utilities in her name, and quickly left town.

Tom and Amy took their evidence to the police to prove Marjorie McAddams was really Faye Dearing, a suspect in the killing of her parents and setting their house on fire to cover the fact.
When the McAddams automobile accident was investigated, the police found evidence of tampering with the brakes, but as no one, to their knowledge, benefited from their deaths, the matter was dropped.

Faye Dearing's adopting Marjorie McAddams identity may or may not have been just a matter of coincidence in the eyes of the authorities, but they would look into it.

Meanwhile, she was charged with two murders.

Tom refused to allow Amy to live alone in her house until after Marjorie/Faye was sentenced, insisting she remain with him.

By the time the trial was over, Tom had no intention of ever letting her go. Amy sold her house and remained with him.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Present

Tom and Jerry (Max's choice of names for the boys it was his favorite drink) were without a father, his love, plus any contribution to their welfare in the way of child support ordered by the Court. Once gone, Max never once returned to see his boys.

As if all this weren't enough, Martha lost her job – ten years of seniority, benefits and insurance, all of which had biased the Judge in making Max's support payments miniscular all down the drain with the company's collapse.

Still staring at the empty refrigerator, Martha was so lost in her situation she didn't hear the knock on the front door until it was no longer just a knock, but a pounding.

"Okay, okay!" She was still in her robe and slippers having no energy and no reason to dress after getting the boys off to school. So what could this be, more bad news?

Imagine her surprise to see Max's snooty sister on her deck, the very sister who looked down her nose at her brother's wife when introduced at the reception line. During the eight years of her marriage to Max, Martha never saw this sister again. Her name escaped Martha Max never mentioned her. Everyone in Max's family were complete strangers to Martha, their names lost in the excitement of her marriage.

Martha resisted the temptation to just ignore her knock and go back to bed, instead, she opened the inner door, asking in a disinterested voice "Do you have the right trailer house?"

"Come on, Martha, let me in. It's cold out here."

"You will find it cold in here, too. In fact, it's frigid." Martha told her, as she pushed open the storm door.

"I don't remember your name, but I remember you as being HIS sister and that is no recommendation in this house."

"I came only to deliver a message " her visitor began.

"If it's from Max, forget it!" Martha turned her back and seated herself in Max's favorite chair.

"No, it's not from Max, it's from our mother."

"Ooh, the lady who looked me over carefully, snorted with disdain and remarked, "Why did Max marry you, you obviously aren't pregnant?"

At the time, Martha, a happy bride, ignored the question to say sweetly, "Oh, don't worry, I'll be happy to give you grandchildren."

Well, she'd foolishly done just that! What could Mrs. Ridley, her mother in law, possibly want.

The entire Ridley family ignored Martha and her sons as if they did not exist, never calling, sending gifts, or in other ways acknowledging them. It hurt, and when she mentioned it to Max once, he remarked they had surprised him by even coming to the wedding.

"My name is Helen, Helen Dexter, Martha. I am sorry for the shameful way Max has treated you." Helen broke into Martha's journey back in time.

"Then be kind enough to ask him to pay, at least once, the child support the Court ordered." Martha shot back.

"If I knew where he was, I would be glad to, for you and the boys. But we haven't the faintest idea of where Max might be."

"I don't know, either. If I did, he would be in jail. We would all know where to find him." If she hoped I could lead her to her precious brother, she was mistaken.

"The reason for my visit, Martha, is our Mother has asked you to tea this afternoon at four."

"I don't have a car." Martha said proudly, "And the proper clothes to attend a tea at the Ridley's aren't in my closet."

"I'd say, 'Come as you are', but your slippers might get lost in the snow." Helen smiled warmly at Martha, and Martha just couldn't stand the kindness in that smile, and quickly wiped away a tear.

"Wear what you do around the house or wear to work "

"Make it wore to work, Helen. I've been laid off."

"I could check your closet ..."

"Don't, please. Would a pants suit do?"

"Of course. I will be back to give you a ride "

"The boys will be home from school early today, it's the last school day before Christmas, and I have no sitter."

"We'll take them along." Her tone was final.

"Helen! Tom and Jerry are not two mild mannered boys, they are six year old hellions!"

"Serve Mother right for not getting acquainted with them years ago. The boys will come along. I'll be here at three thirty."

After she left, Martha sat for a while thinking about what Max's mother might want. Then smiled at the thought of that grim faced lady coming face to face with Tom and Jerry. Let's hope she didn't have heart problems.

The boys were impressed with Helen, Helen's luxurious car, that she greeted their introduction to her as one would an adult with a handshake, and no admonition about treating her Lincoln with respect. Just the smell of the leather impressed the boys to be on their best behavior.

Martha and Helen spoke about Christmas plans while they rode Martha answering Helen's inquiry as to whether she was going to decorate by putting up a tree, did the boys hang stockings, did she plan a turkey for Christmas dinner, quite honestly.

"The boys may use what decorations we have if they want to decorate, we have a small artificial tree in the closet. Without a mantle piece, we don't hang stockings. I doubt if we can afford a fancy Christmas dinner, I lost my job along with everyone else at Spirit Industries." Her voice was unemotional, and Helen didn't think the boys were listening.

They were. Tom and Jerry exchanged knowing glances. Without a father around, they didn't expect much of a Christmas. Mother's unhappiness was in her voice, and they caught her last sentence.

It had a very sobering effect, and a surprised Martha found both her hands held protectively by her sons as they walked from the car to the door of the Ridley's imposing residence.

Chairs were added at the tea table for the boys, and their Grandmother never stopped looking at her identical grandsons. Her scrutiny was returned in kind. When she asked one a ques
tion, the other answered. And they asked questions of their own.

To her "How old are you boys now?" Tom answered, "Six," and Jerry asked "How old are you?" (Their mother said it was an impolite question.) When she asked if they would like to call her "Grandmother", they answered together "We already have a Grandmother."

"But all children have two Grandmothers and two Grandfathers."

"Where is this Grandfather?" they asked in unison.

She answered "He died many years ago." After a pause, she asked, "Do you miss your father?"
Jerry answered "No more than he misses us."

There was another long pause. When Martha saw the boys were getting restless, and not wanting them to say anything they would be sorry for, she asked outright, "Mrs. Ridley, I was told you asked me here for a reason, may I ask what it is?"

"My mother, the boys' Great Grandmother, lives alone in a house not far from here. It's a big house. She has no wish to leave her house to a Grandson who never brought his wife and children boys, who will carry on the Ridley name, to see her.

"My mother in law does not leave the house, she is in her late seventies. As you have no telephone to allow her to call to ask personally, she is inviting you and the boys to Christmas dinner. She did not invite my daughter and myself. She has a full staff of servants, so will need no help. My son was not on her favorite person list, we do not blame you for the break up of your marriage, so have no hesitancy in accepting. May I please tell her you will be glad to visit her?

She is a lonely and very stubborn lady."

"Mrs. Ridley, do you have a phone in a quiet place where I may call your Mother?" Martha asked.

"Yes, please use my study, and thank you for asking."

"I'll need her number."

The study door closed, with Martha and the two boys standing just inside it.

"Tom, Jerry, I am going to call your Great Grandmother. She is an elderly lady who lives alone with just her servants. She wants us to have Christmas dinner with her. If we go, we must be on our best behavior. What should we do?"

Tom spoke first, "We heard what you said in the car, about not having money for a regular Christmas dinner. If you don't want to go..

Jerry broke in "we wouldn't mind peanut butter and jelly, as long as we have it together but I like old ladies.."

Tom added, "so do I. No one should be lonely at Christmas."

"Thank you, boys. I'll call her and say we would be happy to have Christmas dinner with her."

The elder Mrs. Ridley was overjoyed at their call. "Why not let me have all Christmas Day with you don't bother decorating at home, we'll have a big tree, presents under it how old are you're boys? Ah, six is a wonderful age. I hope they are noisy, have big appetites and can sing Christmas carols? Would they be up by seven? Breakfast at eight, Christmas morning then. I'll send the car. Thank you, Martha, you have made me very happy oh, and their names? Tom and Jerry? Were they named after members of your family? You let that rascal Max name Ridley heirs after his favorite drink? How preposterous! If they would like, we can change those names with no trouble at all oh, you think they are Tom and Jerry, well, I can see why you might think that. Martha, I look forward to a wonderful Christmas day, thank you!"

"Oh, boy," Martha put the phone back in its cradle, "I hope she still thanks me later, and not just because I am taking you two home afterward. Let's go watch our favorite TV program, boys, after we bid your Grandmother and Aunt goodbye."

In the spirit of the season, Tom and Jerry both kissed their Grandmother's cheek, which flustered her no end, took their mother's hand and followed their Aunt Helen to the car. All plans for Christmas Day made for them, Martha turned her thoughts to what she and the boys might wear. Their school had a dress code, white shirts and black pants, which should do nicely. Their shoes would need shining. Hadn't her mother given them bright ties for their birthday, still in the boxes? Time to tie them around their six year old necks if they misbehaved, she could always grab them by the ties and crack their heads together! Martha laughed at the idea.

Her sons were sensitive to her moods since early childhood, and the last six months, even more so. A frown had them running to her side to ask "What?" in unison.

When Martha asked what Santa could bring them to make them happy, she expected them to say their father's return. She was very surprised when they asked for a puppy. They knew where there was a whole litter of cute little ones, but they had to stay with their mother until New Year's at least. They were willing to wait.

"I don't know if we can afford to feed a puppy it will need shots, collar, leash, lead line if we put it out by itself when it gets a little older, a bed, flea powder..

The boys spoke together, "Gosh, we didn't know.."

"Puppies also eat shoes, gnaw furniture, wet the carpet, and they aren't allowed in the park! I'm sorry, sons, really sorry."

Tom punched Jerry on the arm. "You can be my puppy, Jere, if Mom will let me put you out on a lead line!"

"And you can be mine. I'll feed you kitchen scraps and make you pee outside!" Jerry retorted with a big grin.

"Okay, that will do. While you think of something you want and can have, I'm going to the beauty shop."

"What for?" they asked, in disbelief. And turned on the TV to watch Scrooge.

Martha couldn't believe how excited they were to be going to their great grandmother's to spend Christmas day. They woke at five, made their beds, showered, dressed in the clothes Martha laid out for them Christmas Eve and woke her at six, ready to go!

A chauffeured limousine called for them shortly after seven, and the chauffeur was pleased they were ready to go and seemed rather nervous driving out of the park.

While Martha sat quietly in her seat, the boys asked enough questions of the driver about the knobs on the dashboard to make the trip seem just around the corner.

The house was much more imposing than was Grandmother Ridley's, and the boys nudged one another when a butler came to open the door before they even knocked.

Martha caught the gleam of mischief in their eyes as they mimicked a TV movie, "Good morning is it Jeeves?" Tom asked.

"No, it's Walter."

"Good morning, Walter, and a very Merry Christmas to you." Jerry took over. "We trust your family is well. We're sorry to see you working on this Holiday." and Martha could have used the tie trick if she hadn't been behind them. "We hope your Christmas Bonus was sufficient to cover the occasion."

"Boys! You stop this nonsense immediately! I am embarrassed to have to apologize for your conduct this early in the morning."

Much to Martha's surprise, Walter turned to her with a wide smile on his face. "Madam, I look forward to a very interesting day a relief to the boredom of many days past."

When he opened the door at the end of a long corridor, the boys gasped in amazement. "Wow!"
Martha thought their Great Grandmother had outdone herself the tree was ceiling high in a very tall room, and there were three stacks of presents under the tree. As the lights twinkled, the boys pointed out to each other various ornaments on the branches. Their voices rang through the room, and Martha leaned against a chair, watching them in their excitement.

She didn't hear the approach of a small figure until she felt a hand on her arm.

"Merry Christmas, Martha. Aren't children wonderful? I have missed so many Holidays without them. Just look at their faces! They're identical twins! Oh, you are so fortunate, my dear. Do you think we should ignore breakfast for a while?"

"No, they won't know what they're eating but I find them much easier to handle when their stomachs are full. Boys! We go in for breakfast NOW." Martha ordered.

They backed away from the tree, each to a side of Martha, took her hand, and chorused "Have you ever seen anything like it, Mother?"

Martha had never met this elderly woman with the sweet smile, and now introduced herself as Martha Ridley, mother of Tom and Jerry Ridley.

"How do you wish the boys to address you, Ma'am?

"Well, Great Grandmother is a trifle stuffy. Mother Ruth would be just fine with me."

"How do you do, Mother Ruth." Tom and Jerry chorused.

"How do you do, Tom and Jerry." she answered. "Martha, would you call me Ruth, please."

"If you wish it." Martha answered, but thought there should be some title before it, like Dame. This was a very imposing woman, small, but she carried herself erect, and wore her hair piled on her head to give her height. Even then, Martha was almost two feet taller. On impulse, she bent and gave Ruth a hug.

"Thank you, Ruth, for making my boys happy this Christmas morning."

Ruth smiled warmly as she led them to the breakfast room, where a maid took the covers from enough food to feed an army. The boys had their plates filled several times, and Martha thought maybe she must have been starving them as she watched them eat.

Later, they confided to her they had overeaten because there were only four at the table, and all that food might go to waste. Martha explained in a big household, she doubted if anything went to waste.

When breakfast was over, Mother Ruth asked the boys if they would like to open their presents, and stood to one side as they raced back to the tree.

"The packages are clearly marked, Martha, sit for a moment with me, please, while the boys are otherwise occupied."

First, she complimented Martha on her children's table manners, their deference to her, the politeness to each other and their healthy appetites. Then she paused.

"May I be frank, my dear?" At Martha's nod, she continued, "The boys' father is a disgrace to the Ridley name no, don't try to defend him, if that was what you were going to do. His negligence in introducing you to the family was not because he thought you wouldn't be accepted but because we had long ago given up on him as a son and grandson. Max was a difficult child, and grew up to be a difficult human being. None of his interests ever lasted long. I am very surprised he remained a family man as long as he did. I, for one, watched him carefully during your first years together. He seemed to have changed, except for not letting his family mingle with his wife and children. Perhaps it was just as well, you seemed to be getting along splendidly and this family has a way of putting their noses where they don't belong. I thought Max had settled down.

"I knew you worked after the boys came, you both seemed to be handling matters just fine and then I saw the divorce notice in the papers. When I read the place where you worked was to close, I knew I must do something quickly. I did not want you moving away, either to your parents’ home or to some distant city looking for work, perhaps meeting another man who might want to adopt the boys and change their name. They're the last of the Ridley children I will see and I want the Ridley name carried on. What I really want is selfish. I want you and the boys to move here, with me. I will put my holdings in their names and make them my heirs immediately."

Martha was stunned. But not speechless. "Mother Ruth, do you know what you're getting yourself into? These two will race through your halls, jump on your lovely furniture, keep the servants busy cleaning up after them, drive you up the walls..."

"But they don't do that at home, do they?"

"No, I..."

"Of course, you don't allow it. And where do you think you will be? Certainly not working. You will be here every moment of every day, keeping me company while they're in school we can send them to private school if you wish "

"Definitely not!" Martha was vehement in her reply.

"And I have separate quarters where I can retire if it becomes too much for me. Martha, I am an old woman, and still in good health, I want you and the boys with me, now if possible." There was a pleading in her voice.

Martha was tempted to say yes. Her boys had friends at the school they now attended, friends who were allowed to visit even when it wasn't convenient. They came in the late afternoon, stayed for supper, rough housed in the boys' room but were always polite, and talked freely about Max's not being around. Those friends wouldn't feel free to enter a house where there was a butler, a maid to serve lunch....

A transition from a third hand trailer house to the Ridley Mansion seemed out of the question.
Martha talked long and seriously to Mother Ruth about what the move would mean to the boys. Ruth seemed to have an answer to them all a suite near the tennis courts with an outer door with just a knocker, a kitchen where Martha could cook if she pleased, bedrooms furnished for growing boys.

They were interrupted by Tom and Jerry after a considerable time.

"Mom, we thought you were coming with us. We haven't opened anything yet. Please?"

"Of course, children, right now." Martha could give no answer to Ruth until she discussed it with her children.

Except for some personal possessions the boys held dear, they really had no reason to even go home. But that was her opinion and this was not up to her alone.

Let the boys enjoy the day, get acquainted with their Great Grandmother, spend a few more days at home during the Christmas vacation, asking questions and discussing all the changes to be made and adjustments they would have to make.

It would be their decision. They would have to realize that, once made, it couldn't be reversed. Could her six year old twin sons handle that? Although Martha thought they adjusted well to their father's departure, less than a year had passed since he walked out without a backward glance. Had the wound even started to heal?

For the moment, Martha watched with pleasure as her boys opened their gifts. If this were any indication of Christmases to come, would Tom and Jerry remain the same unspoiled pair of rascals in the years ahead?

Ruth invited Martha to open the third pile of gifts with tags addressed in her name, and as the opened gifts surrounded her, she wondered if she, herself, could remain unspoiled.


Visit at Christmas

Janice didn’t really want to go home for Christmas, but her mother begged her to come, as she was lonely and wrote she missed her terribly.

She well knew why she didn’t want to go. Her father was a fault finder, not so much of her, but of her mother, and always had been.

If her mother, Mary, baked a pie, it was never good enough for him. He professed his love for lemon meringue, and in Janice’s opinion, her mother’s crust melted in one’s mouth. The pie was just tangy enough, the meringue always lightly browned.

But one taste, and her father complained – but every time, it was something else. It was either too sour, crust too crisp, meringue rubbery, always something.

Janice always praised her mother’ baking, and when she went to live with her Aunt Alice (her mother’s sister) and Uncle Ray, she found, indeed, that her mother’s baked goods were perfection.

Aunt Alice made card board crusts, lumpy lemon filling and her meringue WAS rubbery. But Uncle Ray smacked his lips and praised her to the skies.

Janice sighed. Uncle Ray and Aunt Alice had no children, he ran a thriving business and offered to put Janice through college, if she would work for him weekends and during breaks and summers. It was pleasant work, and the love her Aunt and Uncle shared rubbed off on her.

Why couldn’t her father praise her Mom occasionally, instead of always finding fault?

At the moment, she was wearing a slightly large sweater her Mom had knitted for her Dad last Christmas.

When he unwrapped it and put it on, his only comment was: “Too pretty, and the sleeves are too long.”

She was annoyed enough to ask, “Let me see it, Dad?” She tried it on, turned up the cuffs, stood in front of a mirror and told her father:

“I think it is BEAUTIFUL! I like large sweaters, and all those I buy have no cuffs. Make him another, Mom, I’ll take this one.”

Her Dad started to protest, but she cut him short. “You said it was too pretty for you, and the sleeves too long. It is perfect forme. Make him another one, Mom, I’ve got some dark gray yarn you can use.” She kissed her mother’s cheek. “I appreciate the time and effort it took to make it, and I shall wear it with pride.”

She remembered her father’s open-mouth at the turn of events.

To help her in her studies, her Uncle bought her a miniature tape recorder to clip on her belt or slip in her pocket.

She showed her gratitude for this and other gifts profusely, trying to explain that their putting her through college was gift enough. They kept on giving.

Her Uncle Ray bought a new car for business use, and give her the used one so she could visit her folks at Christmas. It was a three year old Tempo, and she argued that Aunt Alice should have the car, not her. But her Aunt hated to drive and refused to hear of it.

Janice would go home for Christmas, then, leaving Thursday night. Christmas was on Saturday, and she and her mother would have all day Friday to Visit.

When the offer came from home to bring her Aunt and Uncle along, they refused to go, saying they felt they had Janice for months at a time. She shouldn’t have to share her time with her parents with them.

Immediately upon her arrival, wearing the sweater her mother made and she loved, her Dad met her at the door with a remark about the car.

“Driving Ray’s old Tempo, huh?” he asked.

“Yes, he’s kept it in great shape, Dad.”

“Needs a good wash.”

“The road are full of slush. The semi’s cover a car with every passing. I”ll have it washed later to get the salt off.” She assured him.

“See you’re still wearing that sweater.”

“Still love it. Where’s Mom?”

“In the kitchen, baking.”

“Oh, yes, I can smell it now – pumpkin pie!”

“Smells like too much cinnamon.”

Oh, no, Janice thought. He’s starting already.

“Her recorder was taped to her belt, and she wondered how many faults he could find over the holidays and if she should record them?

From the state of the kitchen, Janice could see her mother had been there most of the day.
After a warm embrace, Janice asked if she could help, was told ‘no’, and so puit a stool in a corner out of the way.

She and her mother talked for almost three hours, quietly enjoying an exchange of news and views.

Then her father joined them.

“You women through taking everyone over the coals yet?”

“You and our neighbors finish with the neighborhood gossip?” Janice countered.

“We don’t gossip!” he said, indignantly.

“Didn’t I hear old Snealytelling you about the three boy friends Clarissa has now, and how he thinks Willie might have poisoned the Woodley’s dog? Not gossip? Come on, Dad.”

As her Dad reached for a Christmas cookie off a tray, Janice snapped on her recorder.
“Tastes like cardboard, Mary. You would think, after all these years, you could make a decent cookie.”

“All Christmas coodies taste alide, Dad, and that one tastes like anise.”

“Anise cardboard, then.”

“Did you make Christmas cake, Mom? I can’t wait to eat some.”

“It’s been curing since Thanksgiving, dear.”

“Why anybody would waste all that money on a Christmas cake, I’ll never know,” her Dad said.

“If I remember rightly, you ate the last couple pieces last year Mom saved for me.” His daughter remembered.

“Never did, don’t like it.” He protested.

‘Good, Mom, just wrap it allup and I’ll take it back with me. Uncle Ray loves your cake.”

Janice used her recorder over and over again and caught all her father’s negative remarks while she was there.

She was leaving on Sunday morning.

First, though, she asked her Dad to spend some time in the library with her while her mother was busy.

“Dad, seven kids in my class reported their folks are divorcing. I wonder if I’ll be the eighth?” she asked.

“What are you talking about? I have no intention of ever divorcing your mother?”

“I’d testify to that. But what about Mom?”

“Your mother divorce me? Why? We get along perfectly.”

“Listen to this, Dad. If I had a husband who did this to me, I’s sure get a divorce.”

Janice played the first five minutes of the tape, saw her father would listedn and left the room while it played out.”

She was all packed, had bid her father goodbye, kissed her mother soundly and thanked her for all she had done to make it a wonderful Christmas, then left in her Uncle’s used car, which still hadn’t been washed.

At her Aunt and Uncle’s house later that same day, she received a phone call from her father.

“Janice, I never realized . . .

“Mom and I did.”

“Your mother is willing to forgive me, will you?”

As long as you try with Mom. But I’ll never let you do that to us again. Remember, I don’t have to come home, but Mom lives there.”

“Give me a chance, girl?”

“Keep the recorder and play it back a lot, Dad. Remember, it’s hard to live with negativity, even when you love the person being negative. Bye now, Dad.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

See to Billy

By I. C. Talbot

Dave and Sue Winton considered themselves lucky, with a capital L. Sue entered a drawing for a new van by dropping a form into a box, and doggone if she didn't win it!

The small economy car they owned was on its last legs, and crowding their six kids into it for a trip even to the grocery store was a chore. Not only was there a problem with where to put all the groceries they bought, but the younger ones wanted to sit by a window, or ride up front with Mommy and Daddy.

The latter was solved by letting the littlest, Billy, sit near his mother, because the minute the car got a good start and everyone was settled, Billy was off to dreamland.

To sit by a back window meant getting there first.

All six kids were born healthy, stayed healthy, weren't too hard on their clothes with three girls and three boys, hand me downs were common. No one said: "I don't like that," where food was concerned, all had hearty appetites, and Sue was a good cook, having been presented with cook books early in their marriage, with special sections on good, but nourishing low cost meals.

Today, they were taking their new van into the City forty miles away, for Christmas shopping.

They sold their old car to a young man in their neighborhood for enough to allow a shopping spree without dipping into either their Christmas Club or their savings.

Everyone enjoyed the shopping while Billy, the youngest, ogled at the toys, Santa, decorations, trees. He spent almost the entire day just looking. Billy was three, going on four quiet, not too talkative. He had little chance, with five others chattering all the time. He was an easy keep child, and Ellen, the oldest, Bobbie, Leeann, Davie and Chrissie all adored him.

He returned their affection.

For growing kids, they seemed able to function together with little friction. Their parents were grateful. Six kids could be an awful handful if they didn't get along.

When they were exhausted from shopping, Billy was still gawking at the windows of the stores when they reached their parked van.

The stroller Sue had taken along in case Billy tired, but hadn't, was loaded with packages.

They slid the van door open, loaded first the packages from the stroller, then the stroller itself. All the kids helped in loading, except Billy, who was still fascinated by the display in the window across the span of sidewalk.

"See to Billy," Sue directed without turning her head or speaking to anyone in particular as she entered the van. Everything was loaded, everyone seated, the doors closed. They were soon out in heavy traffic.

Billy stood against the telephone pole, deep in scrutiny of the window, attracted by a stuffed puppy. He turned to call his mother's attention to the window, only to find Mother was gone! The van was gone! Ellen, Bobbie, Leeann, Davie and Chrissie were gone! Daddy was gone!?

Billy hugged the telephone pole, tears as big as marbles sliding down his cheeks. His family was gone, and he was left all alone!

Minutes later, the store closed, and legs attached to the shoppers and then the store employees passed by his telephone pole. No one seemed to notice the little boy leaning against the pole, sobbing his heart out.

Millie's move to the City was just prior to the holidays on Thanksgiving weekend, in fact. She found an apartment, invested in a month's rent, deposit, utility connections, and had no trouble finding a job at one of the larger department stores. WalMart was a fairly new store in town, just down the street from the store next to the curb along which Dave had parked.

Today Millie had a question for her supervisor, and remained behind as the others rushed off on their way home. Now she, too, was ready for the walk to her apartment a few blocks away.
The apartment, like her job, was newly acquired. Millie had few possessions beside her warm smile and the ability to sell snow to the Eskimos. She was from a large family and this would be her first Christmas on her own.

As she explained to her mother, "I guess I either grow up and find my place in the world, or die by the side of the road."

Her mother laughed, "You may falter, my child, but I have every confidence in your making good even though we couldn't afford to send you to college. I know things will always go well for you."
So here she was, and here she would stay, until she could drive home in her own car, or invite her family to her neat apartment at some future date.

She stepped out of the doorway, and crossed the street at the light you don't jaywalk in the big cities, it costs you money.

Walking along the now deserted sidewalk, Millie heard some one crying it seemed to come from around that telephone pole, and she looked down.

A little boy's bright blue eyes, clouded with tears, met hers. Millie looked around for his mother, or someone but he was quite alone. She bent her head to his level. "Sweetie, where's your Mommy?"

Billy's tears welled afresh. "Everybody went away and left me!" he sobbed.

Oh, gee, thought Millie, opening her arms and the little boy walked into them.

Millie had dark brown hair like Ellen, she smelled good like Ellen, and suddenly Billie didn't feel so alone any more.

"Okay, its okay," whispered Millie in his ear. "What's your name?"


"What's your Daddy's name?" Whoops, thought Millie, that was a mistake, as Billy answered,


"What does your mother call him when she wants him to come to dinner?" she tried again.

"Honey." The blue eyes looked directly into hers. No help there, thought Millie.

"How old are you?" He held up three fingers, "going on" four fingers.

He was still clinging tightly to her neck, and Millie grabbed the telephone pole to steady herself, stood up, and up came Billy, too, still clinging tightly.

"Billy, I won't leave you, but I can't carry you, you're too heavy. Shall we walk to my house, where its warm and we can get something to eat?" she asked.
His grip loosened, and Millie slid him to the ground. "It's this way," and started off, holding his hand.

Just what I need, thought Millie, is a visitor. My only furniture is a table and two chairs, one overstuffed chair, a bed, dresser, and a six inch, black and white TV, a clock radio, no telephone. But I do have the next two days off, my shopping is all finished and sent home, so maybe I can get Billy back to his family.

Meanwhile, Dave and Sue were well on their way home. Worn out from shopping, the kids were quiet for a change. Dense snow driven by a brisk wind, blew against the windshield, and as this was Dave's first experience driving a van in the wind, he drove slowly as heavy gusts hit the van.
It was fast becoming slippery, and although the tires on the van were new, they were not snow tires. Dave relaxed a little in his seat, confident he could control the vehicle despite the wind.
Suddenly he was passed by a truck, which cut him short. The van went into a spin, and before he realized what had happened, they were off the road, the van on its side, sliding down a hill.

"Oh, God, hang on kids." he yelled, unable to do a thing to stop it.

They banged hard against a tree, the front doors popped open when the van was lifted into the air, and Dave remembered no more.

The kids were badly shaken; the youngest two, Davie and Chrissie, began to whimper. They were asleep when they were dumped against the windows, which miraculously did not break. Leeann was crying. Ellen and Bobbie were trying to crawl forward from the third seat toward the open passenger door.

The sight of their parents, on the ground just outside the open doorway, unconscious and bleeding, stopped them.

The driver's door was also open and bent back. Bobbie crawled over the seat, shut off the engine, and lifted himself up and out the doorway to sit on the side of the van.

"Ellen," he called, "pass the kids up to me. Is anyone badly hurt?"

No one seemed to think they were. Ellen handed up Davie, then Chrissie, and although she was still crying, Leeann climbed out, too.

Ellen also handed out the two blankets lying on the seat. She knew there was danger
of fire, but her parents were in no position to be moved, and she prayed there would be none.

"Can you smell gasoline?" she asked Bobbie.

"No, and I don't see any leaking either. I guess the gas
tank is on this side and slamming into the tree didn't hurt it." he answered, calming her a little.

"Okay. Let's see if we can get someone to help us with Mom
and Dad." She was looking down at their bodies in their uncom
fortable position.

"Where's Billy?" she asked suddenly. "WHERE IS BILLY?" she
screamed, hysteria rising in her voice. "He's not under the folks, at least I can't see him. Oh, Bobbie, he didn't fall out, did he, and is under the van?"

"He's got to be here someplace. I'll get some help, Ellen,
you keep looking. Kids, wrap those blankets around yourselves to keep the snow off," he told the girls.

Bobbie had just gotten down from the van when he was asked
if he needed help by a deep voice in a tall body on the slope above him.

"Yes, my folks are unconscious and we can't find my three
year old brother."

"Where was he when you last saw him?" "He was riding up front with my folks." "Sitting up or lying on the seat?" "I didn't actually see him. I was in the very back of thevan it has three seats."
They followed the path dug by the van as it slid down from
the road, but found no trace of Billy. As they reached the roadway, they heard the sound of sirens.

The two girls and Davie were standing with a woman on the berm of the road when the EMT Unit drove up.

The man with Bobbie conferred with the driver briefly, as the others went from door to door of the unit getting equipment to carry down to the van. Soon they were carrying Dave and Sue up the hill on stretchers.

"They're both unconscious, but there's no sign of heavy external bleeding. You children get in that ambulance just pulling up and ride to the hospital to be checked out."

Bobby resisted. "My little brother is missing and I'm not leaving here without him."

"We'll find him," a police officer at his elbow assured him.

"The wrecker is here and we'll get the van out in minutes."

"What if he's under it, crushed. You could kill him lifting the van." Bobbie was crying openly now.

"Son, I'll see that every precaution is taken before we move it an inch, I promise you. Go along, you don't look so good."

"I can't, don't you see that? Billy needs one of us here to be with him. He's never been alone before."

"Okay, go sit in the cruiser where it's warm. I'll keep you informed so you can comfort your brother when we find him."

He opened the cruiser door, cautioning, "Don't touch any thing," and ran to the wrecker, asking the driver to shine his light over all the terrain near the van.

Bobbie watched from the cruiser, but he saw no sign of Billy, nor did the officer or wrecker operator, before or after they moved the van.

On the way to the hospital, Ellen asked the others, more to get their minds off their parents' condition, "When and where did you see Billy last?"

By the time they reached the hospital (as no one was seri ously injured nor bleeding they were not breaking any speed records nor even using the siren), they all agreed the last time they saw Billy, he was entranced by a display in a store window. Ellen remembered her mother calling "See to Billy" as she was helping load the car and packages into the van.

"Who saw to Billy? Bobbie was in the van helping put the cart in. Leeann? Did you help him into the front seat?"

Leeann shook her head. "Davie?" who shook his head, too. As she went down the line, she was certain that if Bobbie hadn't put him in the front seat with his parents or he hadn't crawled in by himself, either up front or in back with the packages (and was still there), Billy had been left back in town. When she got to the hospital, she asked to speak to a police officer. The officer who was with her folks came to talk to her. She explained about Billy.

He took her out to the cruiser and made a call to the scene of the accident. The officer with Bobbie had signalled the wrecker to go out into traffic when he took the call.

Bobbie heard it. "Yes, we looked in the back of the van for Billy, but it was dark and there were purchases everywhere."

They took off after the wrecker, and Bobbie was soon looking in the back of the van. No Billy.
"I think he somehow got left in town, son," the officer com miserated. "I'll call the police there and see if someone has turned him in."

By the time Bobbie got to the hospital, he knew no little boy had been 'turned in'.
Dave regained consciousness and was arguing with the nurse that he must check on his children. He was assured they were all fine, and would be taken care of, not to worry. They did not tell him the youngest was missing. They were all quite certain Billy would turn up safe and sound.

Meanwhile, Millie and Billy were in her apartment, Billy was curled up in her easy chair while she was making hot chocolate and toast for him. He was watching a Christmas program on Millie's TV, half asleep, warm and well cared for.

After Millie fed him, she got him out of his coat and boots, put a pillow under his head and let him finish watching his program. When he was sound asleep, she took off his shoes, socks, shirt and trousers, put one of her T shirts over his undershirt and shorts and tucked him into bed.

There was a pay phone at the bottom of the stairs near the door in the apartment building. Millie took her spare change and placed a call to the police station, where there had just been a shift change.

The officer on duty knew nothing about the call from the hospital, but he dutifully made a report of a boy named Billy found by a girl with no phone number. He advised her to keep him until morning when they would send someone to unite Billy with his family. Unfortunately, he inverted the street number on his report.

Both lost boy and his 'finder' slept in. Billy was looking for the bathroom in the wrong direction, calling for Ellen to get up and get his breakfast, he was hungry, when Millie woke. He looked at Millie with surprise.

"I dreamed I lost everybody. Did I?"

"You just mislaid them for a while, Billy. But we'll find
them together. While you're having breakfast, you tell me all about your family."

Billy did. Although Millie didn't know their ages, she heard all about Chrissie and Davie, Bobbie and Leeann, and Ellen. Billy certainly liked Ellen, her name came up forty times more than any of the others. She wrote down all the names and other information she could gather from his chatter.

Millie realized it was almost ten o'clock, and the police officer said they would pick Billy up around eight. Hadn't he been missed yet by all those people whom Billy talked of so fondly?! Could something have happened? Millie couldn't believe they just walked away and forgot him. She darned sure knew how to find them!

When Millie was living at home, the local radio station disk jockey was able to find the owners of lost dogs, so why not the family of a lost boy?

"Come on, Billy, I think I know a way to get you home." She picked up her coin purse and headed down the stairs.

The operator gave her the local radio station number, and she dialed it.
"May I speak to someone about a very special Christmas story?" she inquired of the receiver.

"What kind of a story?" she was asked. "About a lost boy named Billy." "Is this some kind of a joke, maybe?"

"Do you have a newscaster?"


"May I have his name and may I speak to him, please, let him be the judge of whether this is a joke or not?"

"His name is Jack Clark. I'll put him on." Jack Clark believed her story. In fact, he sent a taxi over to bring her and Billy to the radio station.

Millie told her story again of finding Billy, the names of his brothers and sisters. Billy said they all went to school, so someone might recognize a family with six children with the youngest missing?

"Tell you what, Millie, you two can go on the air if my boss okays it. Wait 'til I get him."
Soon Millie was speaking into a microphone. Jack told her to tell her story in her own words.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," she began after Jack asked for his listeners' attention. "I work at Walmart in Pine Ridge. Last night I got off work, crossed the street, and heard a child crying. I looked down on the other side of a telephone pole and there were two bright blue eyes looking up at me through a veil of tears. He wore a bright red stocking cap, a blue jacket, blue sweat pants and brown four buckle artics. I stayed several minutes after work to talk to my supervisor, so the street was pretty clear of shoppers. There was no car parked near the little boy. He told me his name is Billy and he's three, going on four. We waited a while near the pole, but no one came looking for him. I live only a short walk from work, I took him to my apartment, fed him and he fell asleep. I tucked him in, called the police station, reported my find, gave my name and address to the Desk Sergeant. He said there was no report of a lost boy, could he stay with me for the night, and they would pick him up at eight this morning? They never came.

"From talking with Billy, I think he has two brothers and three sisters. Chrissie, Davie, Leeann, Bobby and last but most important to Billy is Ellen. You sound like a wonderful family, and I know something dreadful must have happened for you not to have reported him missing. I don't have a phone, so you can't call me, but if anyone knows Billy's last name and where he lives, will you please call Jack Clark at this station. Billy needs his family. Thank you."

As Jack Clark said later: "She handed me the microphone and the telephone rang. I think every student in every class those five kids attended and every teacher in their school called the station. But it wasn't until the tenth call or so that someone told us about the accident."

"It seems the officer at the desk who took Millie's call recorded her address incorrectly, and the Sergeant's report from the hospital was buried at the change of his shift."

Jack Clark took his phone off the hook long enough to get back on the air to report they now knew who Billy's family was and where to take him, and the calls could cease.

As Millie owned no car, Jack asked for a break long enough to drive them both to the Winton's.
The five Winton children were waiting at home, taken there by the police from the hospital, as no one was seriously hurt. Billy had the warmest welcome Jack ever witnessed. After everyone had hugged and kissed him, he sat on Ellen's lap, smiling contentedly at Millie and Jack. Ellen was not the sixteen or seventeen year old Millie had imagined, but a twelve year old whose responsibility rested heavily on her shoulders. When Jack mentioned he had to get back to the station,
Millie thanked him for his time, effort and support, said she hoped to see him again she certainly would listen to his radio station from now on but she was going to stay and help Ellen. Later, when she found Ellen in her room quietly sobbing, she was glad she stayed.

Ellen hadn't slept the previous night, she felt she had betrayed her mother's trust in not "seeing to Billy" and if something happened to her folks, how would they all stay together?

"Cry," Millie said. "It'll make you feel better. I'll get lunch and when you're cried out, let's check on your van. Better not let anyone make off with all those precious gifts. And your parents will need a vehicle when they get home."

Giving Ellen something else to think about, and with Millie helping, they found out where the van had been taken, that it was locked up, and everything inside was secure.

They could prepare an estimate of the damages for the insurance company, if Millie wished.
Millie questioned Ellen about car and hospitalizationinsurance her family might have.

Ellen said her mother kept all their records in a drawer in a filing cabinet. With five pair of eyes watching her (Billy was napping), Ellen slid open the file drawer. There were about fifty labelled files, and Car Insurance was clearly marked on one. The van was recently covered.

Millie called the Agency and reported the accident. They would send forms in the morning mail; meanwhile, an adjuster would look at the van. Their insuror would need a copy of the police report and the doctor's report on the injuries sustained, as they were covered, and 'thank you for calling so promptly.'

Next, Millie called the police department. When she identified herself, she was put through to the captain who apologized for his department's laxity, said he would be glad to put the accident report in the mail immediately.

"Merry Christmas to all the kids, their parents and especi ally to you, Millie, for your help."

Millie wasn't sure exactly what the insurance on the van covered, nor what injuries the parents had sustained. They had no hospitalization that she could discover, and she hoped Christmas wouldn't be grim for the family. She must get those gifts from the van. Who, she wondered, had the keys.

Millie was cleaning up lunch dishes when an ambulance with no lights blinking nor siren shrieking, brought the elder Winton's home. They both limped in surprised and happy that someone was with their children.

Millie asked if she could make coffee, if it wouldn't interfere with their medication?

"That would be fine," they chorused. "We thought we'd be coming home to starving and upset children just how do you figure in, young lady?" Mr. Winton asked.

Everyone started to explain at once until their father shushed them. "May I hear it from Millie, please?"

Between Millie and Bobby, the elder Winton's learned for the first time how Billy was lost, and how Billy was found.

When the story was finished, everyone except Millie was crying. She got hugs and thank you's from grateful parents and all the kids.

The coffee was poured, and Millie offered to make supper.

She explained she had tomorrow off, her parents were far away, she missed her large family and kids underfoot, and she was lonesome for company. She really would appreciate it if they allowed her to stay until she had to go back to work.

At dinner, she told Mr. Winton what she and Ellen did about the insurance and appraisers, that the van was locked and all their purchases safe.
"Millie, I always wanted a secretary. How are you at filling out insurance forms?" Mr. Winton asked.