Chapter 15: Family gathering

 Until the Monday cookout, Memorial Day Weekend was a quiet one. Artie rented his parents’ cottage to frat boys, then flew to Vegas with Butchie Block for a week of lunatic gambling. On Sunday, Taylor hung out at Dad’s, amusing The Cousins while Dad went flying “just to log some hours.” On Monday, Taylor played grill-master, and the family watched the sun go down from the backyard patio.

Taylor asked Dad what he was going to do with his months off, and he growled: “Teach summer school. Money’s tight.”

Mariana began busing the dishes, like she worked there, which she once did. While she was in the kitchen, Dad said: “We should talk about the lot.”

Mari and Dan.

“Okay,” Taylor said, and suddenly needed another beer.

“Your mother made up that will when she was in a vindictive mood.”

Vindictive mood.

“You know how she was.”

Yeah, I do, she didn’t want to follow The Captain’s orders, did she?

Taylor could think, but not voice, the words: The Captain. That was the appelation Mom used when she found her husband contemptible. The Captain meant the man who was obsessed with control. Captain was the rank Dan Burns was stuck on for 7 frustrating Air Force years. He had been spurned by the Major Board twice before he could admit his career was over. 

“She meant to change that will,” Dan said, “but never got around to calling her attorney. We talked about it, even in the week before she went missing. I know she intended that all five of us have a share in that property.”

Not according to the will.

“If we sold that lot and split the money, Jamie and Annie would each inherit a substantial sum, maybe a hundred thousand each, in a college trust fund. You could start paying down your debts. I don’t know why you borrowed so much money for college when I … oh that ship has sailed, so never mind.”

Jamie sat at the shady picnic bench, absorbed in his video game console. He was 14, myopic and skinny. Taylor saw in Jamie an echo of himself, a kid who might major in video games. He lived a few blocks from the bay beaches, but his pale skin seemed untouched by the sun’s rays. 

Jamie vs. the Gods of War.

It was a strange situation for Taylor, to have power over his father, instead of the other way around. All told, Mom left more than $700,000 in cash and property to Taylor, and only a mortgaged house to her husband. Taylor saw right through Dad’s scheme: A Cessna Skyhawk, with the latest avionics, cost $400,000. An even split of his mom’s money would give Taylor, him, Mariana, Jamie and Annie $140,000 each. But Dad would essentially control $560,000. A factory-new Skyhawk, his impossible dream, would be within reach.

Taylor paced the patio, drank beer and said over his shoulder: “Did you send Billie McGinn to see me?”

“Who?” he said.

Taylor turned to face him.

“Billie McGinn.”

“Uncle Dan!” Annie butted in. “Do you have ten dollars?

Annie asks for ice cream money.

“Sure I have ten dollars? What about it?”

“Jamie said you gave him ten dollars.”

“That was to buy ice cream.”

“So?”

“For the family, not for himself.” Dad sighed, reached into his wallet, and flipped her a $10 bill.

“Billie McGinn,” Taylor said after Annie screeched in delight and ran off.

Dad raised his eyes to the skies as if he’d just remembered something important. “Oh, you mean that real estate woman?”

Yeah, the one you were drinking with downtown.

“Did I send her to see you, no, why?”

“She has a plan to develop the property.”

“Does she? Tell me about it.”

“It would be a two-story, two-family house. Probably worth a million bucks. And Billie can pull the strings to get a variance.”

“No doubt,” Dad said. “It’s who you know over there.”

“Somehow she knew that control of the property was going to me.”

“Well, those real estate people have their ways. As your poor mother found out.”

Jamie’s head swiveled away from his cell phone game. “Poor mother? Are you talking about Auntie Liz?”

“Jamie,” said Dad, “this is an adult conversation.” With a nod of the head, he indicated that he and Taylor should move toward the fence, and aurual privacy.

“These kids,” said Dan. “I don’t know what to do with them. I’ve enrolled Jamie in grief camp. Actually, they call it Experience Camp. Annie won’t go. She says she’s just fine. But she can’t sleep unless she’s in the same room with her fishes. We’ll end up moving the aquarium into her room, I guess. These children hadn’t recovered from their mother’s death, and now this? Thank God for Mariana, she’s got the patience of a saint.”

“The thing is, Mom wanted Jamie and Annie to have a place on the island, so they could spend summers by the sea. Maybe that would help them cope.”

“How would the finances work? With all your debt, you have no credit, son. And God knows, I don’t have two nickels.”

“If Billie’s company finances the construction, she can lease back one of the units to us, and rent out the other. Nine years from now, when Annie is finished college, we can sell, pay Billie back, and all split the money. This way, the kids will have a beach house while they’re growing up  … that was Mom’s dream.”

Dan lectures his son.

Dan leaned toward his son and whispered: “Jamie won’t go near the water as it is. He’s afraid he’ll see his aunt’s body floating.”

“Oh, man.” Taylor shook his head. 

“Son, do you have any idea how many things can go wrong during a real estate deal? Cash is king. This McGinn woman is a licensed realtor, yes? Why not just sell her the property, and keep it simple. We could negotiate a good price.”

“I know what Mom wanted.”

“And I know what she was capable of in her anger, her spite, and her rebellion.”

“Rebellion?”

“Rebellion!”

He shouted that. Annie, wheeling her bike toward the gate, looked at them in shock and fear. Taylor winked at her, and she rode off, as if she couldn’t get away from the family fast enough.

Dad stalked the patio, turned his back on Taylor, pretended that his purpose was to scoop the ash out of the grill. He muttered something.

“What was that?” Taylor asked.

“I never thought I’d raise a disloyal son.”

It was a soft, lovely spring evening, so Lisa set up her massage table on the rooftop garden. She and Taylor were alone up there.

Taylor enjoyed for a moment being naked in the night breeze, and then lay face down on the table and Lisa draped him. Staring at the rooftop pebbles, he muttered into the face cradle: “How much do you really know about Billie McGinn?”

Lisa warmed oil in her hands. “Mean. Cheapskate. Pushy. We didn’t socialize, that’s for sure. I dealt with her through Stephanie.” She laughed. “Steffie is her servant, pretty much.”

“Would you enter a business deal with Billie?”

Her hands caressed Taylor’s neck. “Would I? No.”

“Why not?”

“Taylor, she poisoned her own husband to get her hands on his property.”

“You know that for a fact?”

“Uhmm.”

“How do you know?”

“Common knowledge.”

“Well, she’s never been convicted or even arrested.”

Lisa sputtered. “The cops in this town?”

“I think my father is scheming to get his hands on my mom’s inheritance. He wants his own airplane. Even a small airplane is a lot more expensive than I realized. He claims he needs a new one because of the avionics. Don’t ask. I barely understand that myself.”

Lisa stepped back. “Is this a massage or an inquisition?”

Taylor rolled onto his side so he could look at her. “Billie McGinn approached me with a plan to build on Poke Island. Dad wants to sell the land outright. Maybe I’m paranoid but I wonder if the two of them are playing me.”

“Playing you?”

“Dad claims he barely knows Billie but they’ve been seen drinking downtown at Scotty’s.”

“At Scotty’s? My, that is serious.”

“Why would he deny knowing her?”

“Because he’s putting the wood to her but doesn’t want you to know.” She scoffed. “Don’t look surprised. Men are men.”

She slipped behind him, rested a hand on Taylor’s waist. As if to prove her point, her touch gave him an instant hard-on. 

He said: “I can’t trust my own father, how do you like that?”

“Settle down, cowboy, and enjoy your massage.”

“I’m afraid.”

“We’re all afraid, Taylor. It makes us human. Imagine what monsters we’d be if we weren’t afraid.”

She spread lilac-fragrant lotion over his lattisimus dorsi.

“My dad can be sneaky.”

“Him and you former housekeeper, right?”

“Mariana.”

“Right, they’re shacking up. Not married, though, right? Maybe your dad is exploring the jungle. Billie’s single. What the hell. “

“Why would he deny it?”

“Because he’s embarrassed. He’s a big man in this town. Hell, after the Jeff Road thing, he could have been mayor if he wanted. He’s got a reputation to defend and you’re his son, so…”

“So what?”

“Don’t be dense. He’s playing Father Knows Best. How many flings have you had? You of all people should understand the fling. Sober up, that’s my advice. Off the booze and drugs completely. See what develops.”

“I can’t face him, my own father.”

He sat upright.

Lisa gives advice and a shoulder rub on the rooftop.

“Somebody murdered my mother, my sweet happy mother, and what have I done about it? I’m hiding in my shell like one of Artie’s turtles. The cops don’t care and my father doesn’t seem to care either. He’s fucking the housekeeper, he’s fucking Billie McGinn, he’s buying a new airplane, it’s like a party for him. He’s glad she’s gone. The prick.”

“Grief takes many forms, Taylor.”

He glared at Lisa. “Did they teach you that in witch school?”

“You really are hurting, aren’t you?”

“Whose side are you on?” he said. He jumped off the table, slithered into his trousers, threw his shirt over his shoulder and strode for the exit.

“Artie’s drugs,” Lisa called after him. “They’re making you paranoid.”

CHAPTER 16: A DATE WITH PENNY