Lifting a Curse (Part 5)

(You can scroll down and see the first four parts just below, all within the last week).

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Well the last time we spoke of the curse, my Creepers, was catching you up on how I made nice with one of my nemeses (nemesises?). Whatever the word is, with one of my enemies. It only set me back a little less than $500, and it left me feeling uncharacteristically good about myself. I found this perhaps the most amazing thing. Growing up in the Mahoning Valley makes you part of a complex kinship system akin to the tribe or clan system. If you know how that works, you have concentric rings of those on the inside, and you always take sides based on these relationships, rather than right vs wrong in any traditional sense. (1) The first ring is your immediate family (in my case, families), next is extended family. This includes both blood relatives like cousins, as well as members of other families your family may have married into. Then you have friends and their friends, and ever-more-distant connections. Like people from your neighborhood vs outsiders. Browns fans versus Steelers. AFC vs NFC. Murrican football vs furrin football (soccer). (2)

After years of avenging the smallest slights, taking sides in other peoples’ brawls, and otherwise smashing others both physically and emotionally, it felt good to actually do something that was morally good. I hope this isn’t a trend, because it would probably make life a lot less interesting.

But anyway, I’ve been stalking my next quarry, the prosecutor. For purposes of this story, we will call her Parquette (I’m feeling French today). So like I said, I set up an account on {DATING APP FOR SHALLOW HOOKUPS} under the name “Big Frank”, got some intel on Parquette, and set up a profile to catch her fancy. My picture was artful. It was taken only two years ago, but I had grown a week’s worth of beard on an extended sailing trip. A lady friend had taken a picture of me in swim trunks and aviator sunglasses leaning against a beach-side bar in Bermuda. The shot was from about 30 feet away, and somehow it actually came out looking pretty good. This lady friend had kept me pretty well drained the past few weeks, and I had a rakish, devil-may-care look on my face. The picture somehow made me look more muscular than I am, and younger. A rare case of the camera subtracting ten pounds, if you will.

I populated all my interests to match what I had heard about Parquette. It was factual in a misleading kind of way, talking about all the good stuff. Sailing, grouse hunting, foreign travel, horses, motorcycles, self-employed. It actually all sounded reputable. It didn’t take long to catch her eye, and before long we were texting back and forth. She was going by a name like “GenieInABottle88”.

We seemed to hit it off, but we didn’t make a date right away. She had been busy with work, some big case or another, and she had punted off a few times. We had made plans to have dinner downtown on Sunday and hang out at a park to see the big lunar eclipse, but she ended up canceling out. I was worried about that, worried she had cold feet, until I went to her house at 2 am and stole her trash. Just a bunch of empty takeout Chinese boxes, single-use No-Doz tabs from the gas station, and an empty anti-diarrheal medicine bottle. Turns out she was just working long hours and suffering a stomach bug. Seemed like more than legit reasons to blow off a date with some unknown. Her recycling was revealing, simply overflowing with empty bottles of Oak Leaf Pinot Grigio and Skyy Vodka. I hoped she had forgotten to take it out for a few weeks, because if not, she would be able to drink me under the table.

Leading up to this weekend, word had it she was very concerned about Hurricane Joaquin. Amazingly, Parquette is scared of the dark, and she didn’t want to be stuck at home with no lights. As fortune would have it, I installed a propane generator covered with lead lining on my armed compound after reading “One Second After” (3), so I made a plug for dinner at my place. Scallops in butter for an hors d’oeuvres; dinner of rare roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed steamed vegetables with hollandaise sauce; dessert of caramelized paw paw; and all the wine, aperitifs and digestifs that one would expect with such a meal. We confirmed for Friday evening, before the storm was supposed to be in full swing, and I began preparations.

First problem is, I’m a mess. Hardly a catch before closing time. So I starved myself these past two weeks to lose weight. All vegetables and protein, minimal carbs, and only drank hard liquor to keep the calories down, which paid off pretty quickly. I had Quimby shave my back, and I borrowed a hot waxing kit without asking from my third wife, and waxed both my balls. That was surprisingly painful, and hats off to you ladies who wax on any regular basis. Then I got a teeth whitener and a good haircut, and let the beard start growing again on Sunday. Parquette is a smoker, but I had been on a bit of a kick smoking Parodi Toscana cigars, and I simply reeked of it. I switched over to chewing tobacco and the occasional Dunhill starting Wednesday, to keep my breath fresh.

With the menu set and my body somewhat in order, it came time to dress to impress. Having lost weight, my black leather Izod blazer fit, and I paired it with new black jeans, a red silk Armani t-shirt and suede Bacco Bucci loafers. When I put on a gold chain, I looked like a semi-retired Lebanese militiaman. Overall, it worked on many levels.

She was going to come over at 6, after work, but the County let the workers go at 2 due to the danger of flooding. She called up, sounding a little concerned, and asked if it was okay to come over early. “I know my way around a kitchen!” she said, almost sounding desperate. So it was agreed to. I immediately kicked out Squirrel, who was just there to suck up all the beer in my fridge that had been sitting idle for the past few weeks, used the clipper to get the lines of my beard straight, and hopped in the shower.

About an hour later, she pulled up in a taxi, waved the driver away impatiently with a good tip, and walked unsteadily up to the door with an overnight bag on her shoulder and six-bottle tote bag of wine. The rain was coming down pretty good, and she was hustling, with her head down. The taxi backed out like a rocket, and the wheels spun a little bit as it headed out to catch it’s next fare.

I took a deep breath, knowing the next few minutes were going to make or break it, and opened the door. As I took the bag off her shoulder, she gushed, “Frank! Hello! I’m so glad…” her voice died out as she recognized me, and she took a step back involuntarily, eyes widening.

“Parquette?!?!” I asked, feigning that I was stunned.

She looked back at the road. The taxi was gone.

“Well,” I said, “This is a bit of a surprise.”

She swallowed, her tiny Adam’s Apple bobbing.

“Come in, come in!” I said, as if regaining my manners, “It’s pouring out!”

This was going badly. You could tell she was trying to figure out if I was crazy enough to kill her with a taxi just having dropped her off. She was probably going through her conversation with the taxi driver in her mind, deciding whether she had made enough of an impression on him that he’d recognize her if she went missing.

“Come on,” I insisted, “You’re getting soaked.”

She took a deep breath, and tried to make herself look big. She was obviously trying to take over the situation. “Well, this is unfortunate. But it is raining out.”

We stood in the foyer, looking at each other for a moment while the tension built. She spoke first, rather severely.

“Your name is not Frank.”

“My friends call me that,” I insisted, “And anyway, your name isn’t Genie.”

“You don’t have any friends, just associates. And nobody calls you Frank.”

“Nobody calls you Genie.”

“I really shouldn’t be here.”

“Yet here you are.”

We stared at each other a bit longer.

Finally I said, “Parquette, I had no idea. But dinner’s in the oven. And there’s a storm coming. You may as well stay.”

“You’re a psychopath.”

“Wrong. I’m a sociopath. Psychopaths are dangerous people with amoral and antisocial behavior. Sociopaths are shallow and egocentric narcissists. Unable to form normal bonds with their fellow men, they are often charming and eager to please on a surface level. Medical science terms them the perfect date.” (4)

The tension broke, and she laughed, “OK. And we met on {DATING APP FOR SHALLOW HOOKUPS}, not {HIGH-PRICED WEBSITE AND APP FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR AN ACTUAL SOULMATE}. So I suppose occasional surprises like this should be expected.”

“Would you like a drink?”

“Mr. Daley, unfortunately I can’t stay. If it’s okay with you, I’ll just wait here until a taxi comes to get me.” She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a phone, “As a prosecutor, I can’t very well have a social engagement with someone I’m likely to bring up on charges this very calendar year…”

Just then lightning cracked right outside, the thunder sounding for all the world like a bomb going off. Parquette dropped the bag of wine and jumped five feet to me, grabbing around my waist as I held her up with my arms.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice, “The lightning…”

“Look,” I said, keeping hold of her, “You can’t bring me up on charges anyway. You came here to stay the weekend, and my lawyers would have you yanked off the case anyhow.”

“You wouldn’t!” She hissed, eyes wide.

“I wouldn’t,” I said, “But my lawyers would. Think about it, I’ve been going to court since before you were born, just from the other side. I’ve been persecuted for years, fought all kinds of bullsh1t charges across four continents, and none of them ever stick. As far as I’m concerned, if this County has a case with me, and you’re involved, it will go straight to dismissal.”

She thought about it a moment, and was about to say something when lightning struck again, a little further away. She cowered in my arms, then hid her eyes as the lights flickered.

“Fuc7!” she said, “You have a point.”

“How about you give me your jacket, and we have that drink?”

We retreated to the kitchen, and I poured us both full, tall glasses of Amontillado. We were at the island in the kitchen, and we made small talk while we ate the scallops, which were unusually fine. Weather, kids, cars, football, food. She rinsed the vegetables and cut them up, layering them carefully in the steamer with unexpected skill for someone who seemed to never eat at home. It was all very safe in terms of conversation, and she did have the psychological comfort of having a knife in her hands. Soon she was rather relaxed, and she sat to wait. She drank quickly as she looked around the kitchen, and I filled up her glass. The smell of cooking filled the air. “This place is nice.” She ran her fingers on the countertop. “Granite?”

I nodded, “Egyptian. I know some guys who do good work. Cash only.”

There was more lightning, this still further away. She winced. “Sorry about that. I just hate the noise. And the dark. God, I hate the dark.”

“Ever since you were a child?”

She nodded and laughed bitterly, “My parents went out one night for dinner. Their anniversary. The babysitter fell through at the last minute. I was maybe nine, and I said it was okay for them to go out. There was a big storm, and the power went out. The roads flooded, and they got stuck. I sat home in the dark for hours. The flashlight died right away, and they had always harped on me not playing with matches. I didn’t even know how to light a candle.”

I rubbed her arm solicitously, with well-simulated concern and interest. “What did you do?”

“I hid in bed, under the covers,” she admitted, sheepishly, “I still do that to this day when there’s a storm. It’s the only way I feel safe.”

Seeing an opening, I ran my hand from her shoulder up along her jawline, and lifted her chin, pulling her gaze to meet mine with my face about a foot away, “Your fear makes me feel protective. I want you make you feel safe.”

“You’re old enough to be my father,” she protested, weakly. Her breath was hoarse.

“You have a daddy complex.”

“But dinner…” her words faded as I leaned in and kissed her gently.

“You came early. Dinner has another two hours to go.” We resumed kissing, slowly, and I savored the taste of the amontillado in her mouth. Her passion ignited suddenly, and her breathing quickened, one hand caressing the roughness of my beard as the other held the glass. Having initiated the seduction much earlier than planned, I didn’t want to rush her further, and kept my hands at shoulder level or above. After several minutes of passionate kissing, she was leaning heavily in on me, and finally stood up, pulling in close. She always seemed so tall before, but that was just her personality, and my head was bent down to kiss her open mouth. Her hands ran all over my back, and I let mine drift to her waist and a little below. Her breaths were rapid and shallow, and her eyes closed as instinct took over.

She broke away for a second and downed the rest of the glass in one gulp. She laughed, her eyes full of challenge and lust. At this point, were she wearing a bodice, I would have ripped it like a rich landowner’s son taking his first serving wench. (5) I downed my glass, and swept her off her feet like a groom carrying a bride across the threshold. She let out a little shriek of surprise and delight. She was light, all of 110 pounds, and I grabbed the bottle off the counter with one hand and the empty glasses with the other. I stormed up the stairs with her in my arms, and threw her onto the bed. She rolled side to side, kicking the bed and punching it, giggling giddily while I set down the Amontillado and glasses, and jumped in next to her.

We fell back to kissing, our hands exploring each others’ bodies greedily. She was wearing a pink sweater and knee-length skirt, which was soon bunched up around her waist as I ran my hand along the inside of her thighs and the between her legs. I realized she wasn’t wearing any panties when she let out a small moan and her hips rose to meet my hand.

Now, at this point I must allow the scene to fade to black. Not due to a power outage or anything, but simply to preserve the dignity of a woman who is possibly going to one day be Attorney General or even Governor of the Great State of {NAME OF MEDIOCRE SOUTHERN STATE REDACTED}. While I’m the type who simply glories in kissing and telling, this is an exception. It is however fair to say that she is voracious in all of her appetites, whether liquor, men, or food. After requiting our passions like teenagers on Viagra, we finished up the bottle of Amontillado, then sampled several of the wines she brought. We then polished off copious amounts of the dinner that had been cooking all the while. She even ate half the dessert.

Saturday, we got up at 1 pm and had a mimosa-and-screwdriver brunch, rounded out with eggs benedict and a bacon quiche. (6) It was another gloomy day, but we were luckily spared the high winds and massive flooding there could have been. We spent Saturday enjoying every physical comfort known to mankind except chiropractic adjustments.

Sunday was much the same, although we did fall to talking about our attitudes regarding one another. Parquette admitted that she had seriously misjudged and pre-judged me, based on me showing up unannounced from Youngstown and making myself visible at all the notorious dens of iniquity. When she mentioned dens of iniquity, I thought of my final enemy, the strip club owner.

Her animosity to me made sense. She was a public servant, dedicated to the safety of the fine people of {RANDOM EARLY SETTLER’S LAST NAME} County, but she didn’t have much experience with the outside world. Word of the depth, breadth, and casual acceptance of criminality in the Mahoning Valley had made its way through prosecutorial circles throughout the country and somehow lodged in Parquette’s brain. She had been worried that I was going to launch of one-man wave of drugs, gambling, political corruption, nepotism, ticket-fixing, counterfeit Cuban cigars, misuse of handicap parking passes, abuse of corpses (7), people disappearing, and other Youngstown-centric social problems on this little semi-rural/half suburban pocket of stability. She now understood that I had selected this location, somewhat randomly, to raise my brood of children on the proceeds of my international wanderings in a place where they could get an education and all the finer things I had missed out on. I was going to keep my nose clean, or at least wiped regularly, until all of them were settled in a reasonable station in life. And I realized that it wasn’t just the Mahoning Valley that had tribes and clans, it’s human nature. And here, I am the Outsider.

My original statement on the visit, that Parquette would be recused from prosecuting me, was probably bluster if she hadn’t stayed. What the hell did I know? But at this point, you could tell we wouldn’t be facing each other in court. A first-year law student would have the case tossed out and sent to another jurisdiction. And from her own admission, she was behind this ridiculous wave of failed bills that the chief prosecutor wouldn’t even release to the Grand Jury. Charges of aggravated mopery and other nonsense fed to the sheriff and her office by a confidential informant. Without her pushing, all seemed well unless I did something truly stupid. One way or another, the Hex’nmeisterin had steered me to a resolution of my disgraceful circumstances. And there was no doubt the possibility of date nights whenever bad weather threatened.

Now all that seemed to be left was to wait patiently for the resolution of the final enmity. I made it an early night Sunday, calmly re-reading Psalm 109 (8), then dashing out this tale as the exhaustion of the past few weeks took over.

And anon to bed.

Sincerely,

Finnegan

 

(1) “Traditional” would mean something like the Bible, Poor Richard’s Almanac, or judicial code.

(2) I read this really interesting article in the news once about the tribal system; it possibly referred to Somalia. Can’t find it now. Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have much in the whole tribe/clan entries, so it’s entirely possible that this article is a figment of my imagination. Yet it serves its purpose and still seems like a convincing argument.

(3) http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=One+Second+After and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Second_After Good book, but only read it if you have some cash on hand to move to the mountains and stock up on food, vitamins, lead plates, a hand-pump well, generator, medicine, guns and ammo, bow and arrow, fishing poles, a flock of milk goats, a henhouse, and everything the Amish have.

(4) Wow, based on my research on reputable medical sites, this statement was utterly wrong. Sociopaths are apparently worse than psychopaths. Who knew? But the statement served it’s purpose, and must remain intact for purposes of historical documentation.

(5) http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bodice+ripper Yeah, it was kind of like that.

(6) http://allrecipes.com/recipe/17205/eggs-benedict/ You’re welcome.

(7) Legendarily, an old prosecutor’s trick in Youngstown. Charge a murderer with “abuse of a corpse” rather than murder, citing lack of evidence. The individual pleads guilty, and they get probation or some other slap on the wrist. If you throw in a bunch of details into the bill of particulars about the murder and they’re convicted, they can’t be tried later for murder under double jeopardy. Even if new evidence comes up. The rumor has it, this is done when the prosecutors have incentive to not actually prosecute the case, yet want to be able to cite some success. Despicable if true, even by my jaded standards.

(8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_109 and of course the verse can be found on the Internet and in the nightstand drawer of all the finer hotel rooms.

Lifting a Curse Part 4

Truth be told, the whipping set me back a lot worse than I thought. It always kicks in afterwards. People love to say, “You’ll feel THAT in the morning!” But it was more like a car wreck, the stiffness set in and lasted a week.

Anyhow, my instructions were clear. Go to Confession, make amends with two of my enemies, and avoid the third. As for the Confession…ah, well, if I recall right, the Priest always ends that with “Go and sin no more.” Let’s face it, that’s problematic, for any number of reasons that aren’t hard to figure out. That box remains unchecked.

As for the first two enemies? Well, this is where it gets interesting.

The first hates me because I bought something at an estate sale that should not have been for sale, and I ended up selling it for two grand. She’s been making my life hell ever since with nuisance lawsuits. The second one I must have rubbed wrong, which is really only a problem because she’s an assistant county prosecutor with some ambitions.

The first thing I did was go out on eBay and noodle around. I pulled up some old records, and was able to track down the gentleman who had bought the item in question. For the sake of the story, we’ll just call it a moss-covered three-handled family gradunza. The buyer is apparently undergoing a change in life, and is now selling off his gradunza collection. And out there for sale is the specific gradunza that has been the point of contention with the librarian, with like three days four hours and 23 minutes left on it. And apparently interest in gradunzas is falling, because it’s out there with zero bids on a starting price of $474.99, with only 2 people watching. So I was beside myself; couldn’t believe my luck. I had long since lost the two grand and then some on legal fees, but I was going to be able to get out of this for a lot less than the next visit to civil court.

I can’t tell you the mental agony, weighing the “Buy it Now” price of $699.99. I finally decided to put in a low bid and see what happened. One thing, I try to never panic. The other thing, the pain and anxiety of watching this thing was kind of an extension of the whipping the Hex’nmeisterin administered. It ended up coming to me for the minimum bid.

It arrived in good shape, and now came the question of how to deliver it. Take it to her house? No knowing whether she would be there, answer, or call the cops. And the latter might bring me into the clutches of enemy number two. Mail it to her? No, that would be too impersonal, and possibly show cowardice. Without context, what would she think?

Arrange a meeting at her lawyer’s? Not bad, but I really wanted to put her at ease, and that wasn’t going to happen at her lawyer’s. Plus no knowing if that prick was going to charge some billable hours to me. Call her and ask to meet her in public? It just seemed dodgy. So I decided to go that night to the library, and if she was working, give it to her right before the library closed. And if she wasn’t there, keep coming back until she was. That was her home turf, and everyone knew she was a librarian. It wasn’t really stalker-like.

So I found myself in the parking lot, out of sight under a tree, watching moths and bats flitting around a light. At 8:45, people were starting to leave. I gave one last look at the gradunza in its box, carefully picked it up off the car seat, and went in. She wasn’t at the checkout desk, so I circled around. No one gave me a second look. I found her in the children’s section, tiredly shelving returned books.

I looked at her for a little while, and she just looked defeated, like she was having a terrible day. And very possibly, this was her every day. A life of regrets or longing or empty dreams. Bad pay at a county job, a minor functionary in a dying institution. I couldn’t believe I had such animosity for someone who looked like life had kicked the sh1t out of them and sent them a dry-cleaning bill for the blood stains.

“Excuse me, Ms. XXXX?”

She looked up, smiling expectantly, and then frowned and stepped back when she saw me. “You!”, she spat.

I held up the box to show her, then set it on top of the low kids’ book shelf and took a step back, “This belongs to you.”

She looked back and forth between me and the box, uncomprehending.

“The box,” I said slowly, “Look in the box. It’s your gradunza.”

With a look of a woman in a dream, she stepped towards it and looked in. She started, obviously stunned, then gently lifted the gradunza out. She held it up, and slowly turned it around, inspecting it. Then she turned to me, and stammered, “Thank you!”

I smiled back, and said, “You’re welcome.” I took a deep breath, wanting to just walk away, but needing to say more. “I also want to apologize. I knew how much that meant to you, yet sold it anyway. It wasn’t the right thing to have done, and it’s put you through a lot. Now that I’ve tried to make amends, I was hoping we could just bury the hatchet. We don’t have to be friends, but at least let’s not be enemies any more.”

A tear slipped out, and she brushed it away, “Mr. Daley, I’d like nothing more than stop fighting!” She took another look at the gradunza and smiled, “This means more to me than you know. It’s…it’s…never mind. It’s just something that means a lot to me.”

She straightened up, “Now how much do I owe you?”

“Nothing! It’s yours!”

“No, no, I have to pay you back. It must have cost a fortune!”

“Not really. Prices have gone down, and I still made money on it.”

This went back and forth for a bit, and she finally insisted on paying me what I had bought it for years ago at the estate sale. There did seem to be some rough justice there, and she didn’t want charity, so I agreed. She went to get her purse, and somebody announced over the loudspeaker that the library was now closed. I made my way out front, and she came out, leaving someone else to lock up.

“Mr. Daley, can we at least go to Starbucks or something? I’d love a cup of coffee, and frankly it will be easier to write out a check on a table in a well-lighted place.”

“Sure! But you have to call me Finnegan.”

So we went around the corner to Starbucks, and had an amiable chat over venti mochas. She had left the gradunza in the car, and her gaze kept going out the window. She was distracted by the thought of her gradunza, and before long we were running out of words. We finally parted ways with a handshake, exchange of business cards, and a friendly wave. She really looked much better than she had at 8:45.

I drove home the back way, window down and the air ruffling my hair, the screeching of the katydids in the trees louder than the road noise. There was a huge weight lifted, as if the curse were breaking down around the edges, getting ready to crack and fall away.

And soon my thoughts turned to the time I had spent out on {DATING APP FOR CASUAL HOOKUPS}, setting up a profile, scoping out a certain prosecutor. As I drove, I worked through some details of my plan to fix things with her. Tonight was a great success, and I felt the promise of better things to come.

Sincerely,

Finnegan