78. She Knows Tricks

“People gossip,” Doris said.

“I know they do, baby. Lot of half-truths out there. No-truths, even.”

“Sometimes what they say is true. Or there’s a kernel of truth.”

“That happens.”

I didn’t like the sound of this.

“After Artie died. After I gave Duke’s money away. We had an understanding.”

“You made decisions,” I said.

“We made decisions.”

Sometimes silence is the best response.

Sometimes it’s not.

I waited her out. It wasn’t easy, being stared at like that.

Finally she said, “The idea was we go back to where we were. We were happy. Remember?”

“We’re happy now.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“We’re back home. You got your job back. We’re working things out.”

“I don’t want this to be an interrogation, Charles.”

The truth is, a chat with Doris can be like a chat with the cops. She knows tricks.

I sloshed the brandy in my glass. I waited.

“I thought you were done with Duke. We’re up here. He’s down there. His schemes, we were going to ignore them.”

“What do you mean?”

She examined the floor, as if something interesting was going on there. She looked at me, took a breath. She said two words.

“Jen Litely.”

I closed my eyes. I pictured two paths. In one I dropped to my knees, crawled across the floor, sobbed, begged, confessed to everything and then some, prayed that I could salvage the rest of my life.

The other? Do my best to still my heart, to continue to breathe. Then open my eyes, put on a look of confusion, and say, “What about Jen Litely?”

Which is what I did.

There were surely other options but they did not occur to me.

Doris looked down into her glass briefly. She lifted it over her head and threw it at the wall, where it exploded.

She stayed in her chair. I stayed in mine. I looked at the flames in the fireplace. The thoughts that came to me were of purgatory, hell.

She said, “Let me tell you what I heard.”

She paused. I let myself be distracted by the sweet smell of the brandy that dripped down the wall and ran to the floor.

So accurate was her account that I wondered if she had heard it from Jen herself.

The day and the hour. The adjustment thereof. The hand of the ancients in the underworld. So fantastical. So ridiculous as a description of reality. Yet true.

“Is that all?” I said.

Hoping that it was.

“Is there more?” Doris asked.

Not that I intended to admit to.

Instead I said, “Can I try to explain?”

Tomorrow: What does money mean?

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