Archive | February 2014

Bad Fall – Part 43

Bad FallAfter chatting with Mabel, Frank goes to see Marka in her office.

He closed her door, walking to her desk. He bent over her, face perilously close to hers.

“First, a kiss. Then, a story of love and romance. . . .”

He kissed her deeply for several seconds. When he was sure she was trembling from head to foot, he stopped. Sitting down, he folded his hands in his lap, right foot on the opposite knee. He told her everything from finding the ring to his lineage. She listened with rapt attention, hanging on every word.

“Mabel’s great-grandson, heir to the Cortland fortune. Aren’t I the lucky girl?” She grinned, eyes twinkling.

“I don’t need the money. It would help my sister, though. If Ralph’s stolen from Mabel, he might have pilfered that money too.”

“I doubt it. That was set up in a trust fund. He probably can’t touch it. But I agree, if he’s stolen from Mabel, that money could put it right.”

“Ralph is into something. I don’t know what, but he’s got trouble up to his ears.”

“Maybe you should talk to your father. It wouldn’t hurt to have backup when you talk to him. You have the perfect out. He’s family. You have every right to be there.”

“I’m also authorized to make medical decisions for him since his mother is incapacitated.” He unfolded the document Mabel had signed.

“I think you need to go check up on your great-uncle.”

“I think you’re right. What time is it? I’m starving.”

“Not quite two. You’ve had a busy day. I imagine you missed lunch.”

“Yeah. I’ll grab something on the way to the hospital. Oh, dammit. I don’t have a car.”

“As it happens, I do and I’m not busy. Mr. Penwarren might need to consult a psychologist after that traumatic fall.”

“He might indeed. If not, just seeing you would do any man a world of good.”

“If you don’t stop saying things like that, you’ll make me cry.”

“I’ll loan you my hanky. I can’t stop, Marka. I’m telling the truth.”

“I guess I’ll have to kiss you to shut you up.”

“That works.”

He stood, advancing on her like a giant jungle cat. His lean, muscular body towered over her, She stood to meet him. His arms encircled her, drawing her close. Lips met with a spark. To stop the sting, Frank kissed her harder, his tongue diving into her mouth over and over.

“God, I want you,” he whispered. “It’s this unbearable vice around my. . . .”


“I was gonna say chest,” he finished with a laugh. “I swear, I wasn’t gonna say nuts.”

Frank’s laugh filled the small room, bouncing off the walls. Marka joined him and they laughed at the misunderstanding together.

A tap at the door got their attention. Frank, who was only a foot from the door, opened it. Jeff leaned around the door frame.

“You two okay?”

“We’re good. We’re going to go see Ralph Penwarren.”

“Don’t get in the middle of something, Frank.”

“Jeff, I’m already in the middle of something. The only way out is through.”

“Well, be careful. We haven’t any idea why Penwarren might have wanted the ring. Well, other than the obvious. But how would you fence a ring like that? It’s distinctive.”

“I don’t know. Maybe Ralph does.”

“Oh, I spoke to the techs today. The computer system is secure. They re-did all the passwords. They said you like to set your own, so let them know when you want to do so.”

“Thanks, Jeff.”

They walked out to her car together. Frank was silent, thinking over his day.

“Jeff’s certainly nice,” Marka said.

“Yeah, it’s weird.”

“Weird? How?”

“Jeff doesn’t really care. He’s one of the least interested people I know. He does his job, he’s nice enough, but he’s not considerate. He never has been.”

“That’s rather unkind. He’s been very supportive.”

“Yeah, I know. Makes me wonder what he’s up to.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re cynical?”

“Me? Nah. Now paranoid? I’m that in spades.”

He held her door open, but she urged him to drive instead.

“I have no clue where I’m going and don’t feel like playing a game of hide and seek.”

“Let’s go see Ralph first, then visit my dad.”

“Why? I thought you might want the backup.”

“It could take a lot of time to talk to my dad. I want to get this bit with Ralph behind me.”

“Why the urgency?”

“Because I want it over with.”

Instead of turning left towards downtown, he made a right at the gate and headed to the highway about two blocks away. He drove to the hospital, stopping on the way for a burger and Coke from McDonald’s. He ate in the car, stuffing the food in rapidly.

© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 42

Bad FallFrank’s conversation with Mabel takes an interesting turn. He finds out things that surprise him.

“Twins,” Mabel said with a proud smile. “Two beautiful boys. Tom and I were so pleased. Of course, it would have been a terrible scandal. We paid to send her out of town to have the children. They were adopted, also arranged in advance. My grandsons were raised by Frankie’s best friend and his wife, Richard and Evelyn. . . ..”

“Atherton,” Frank said, stunned. “You knew? All this time? And you never told me?”

“How could I, dear? Your grandfather never told you and I simply couldn’t interfere. But now that you’ve found Tommy’s ring, you have earned the right. So, my beloved, darling boy, you’re my great-grandson, named after my precious Frankie. Your father, the eldest, was named Thomas. You look so much like my Frank. . . . It’s been a delight watching you grow up. You’re becoming the man he never had a chance to be.”

Frank couldn’t find words to express his feelings. In fact, he didn’t know what his feelings were. He was still trying to sort out the fact that his father was adopted and Mabel was his great-grandmother.

“Do my dad and uncle know?”

“We told them. He wanted the boys to know their lineage. They were in their mid-twenties. Tom offered them his money, but they refused. They said that I should offer it to you children. I was going to wait until your birthday, but things came about differently.”

“Does Ralph know—about me?”

Mabel shrugged, shaking her head. “I don’t know. The resemblance is uncanny—even a bit spooky. You look so like him, even the way you walk, the tone of your voice, your fashion sense. Frankie was the snappiest dresser of any man I’ve ever known. He always was dressed to the nines.”

“Mabel, could Ralph know about the ring? Had he ever seen you with it?”

“After his father died, I started wearing it all the time. I’m sure he’s seen it many times. Why?”

“Do you know the cost of that ring?”

“Heavens no! Why would I ask such a thing?”

“Because it’s very expensive. Jerry’s father is a jeweler, he says that it’s an extremely rare piece.” Frank paused, hesitant to ask Mabel the question he most needed to know. “Does Ralph have any money troubles?”

“Ralph’s always been cautious with his money.”

“Does he gamble—anything?”

“I don’t know, Frankie. We aren’t close. Don’t you have copies of his financial records?”

“Only if he was planning to retire here. We never look at the residents families unless they’re the ones paying the bills. You cover your own expenses.”

“Why are you asking all this, Frank?”

He didn’t answer her question. He couldn’t put his speculation into words—not yet.

“Does Ralph hold power of attorney for you?”

“He did until Rachel took over. Since he lives so far away, someone suggested that I hire a surrogate who could step in if an emergency arose. That’s why I hired Rachel last year.”

Frank nodded, thinking. “I have some sniffing around to do, Mabel. I also need to go see Uncle Ralphie.”

Mabel giggled, patting his cheek. “I think if you called him that, he’d probably have a fit.”

“We need to go, Mabel,” Rachel said.

The old lady’s eyelids drooped and she started to snore softly. Frank kissed her cheek. Rachel patted her hand.

“Why all the questions, Frank?” Rachel asked after they left.

“I think Ralph’s been stealing from her. I don’t know if it’s gambling or bad investments, but I think our Mabel hasn’t got the money she thinks she does. I think Ralph was after that ring in order to recoup his losses.”

“Why now?”

“Because he no longer holds power of attorney, you do. And the financial statements come up for yearly review next month.”

“Oh, my God! You think that sweet, dear lady is penniless?”

“She can’t be completely broke, her room is paid by bank draft. But wasn’t it just last year sometime, just before you took over, that Ralph had her squeezed into that tiny apartment? She had a villa before. He claimed she didn’t need all that space, sold off half her stuff without her permission and had her moved in a week.”

“That bastard!”

“Agreed. I think Uncle Ralphie has some explaining to do. And I’m the man to make him do it.”

“You be careful, Frank. You don’t know what he might be into. Don’t get yourself hurt.”

“Gotta get up pretty damn early in the day to get ahead of me,” Frank replied. “I need to talk to Marka, then I’m heading to the hospital.” He kissed her cheek and jogged back to Marka’s office.

She was just unlocking her door when he arrived, not even breathing heavily.

“Look at you! To what do I owe this timely arrival?”

“I just had a long chat with Mabel.”

“No kidding?” She saw his note on the desk and smiled. “Thank you. Have a seat. Talk.”

© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 41

Bad FallAfter securing the watch and ring, Frank decides to go chat with Mabel.

“Yes, ma’am,” Frank replied, sounding somewhat formal.

“Stop with the ma’am stuff. You’ve called me Mabel since day one.”

He smirked, chuckling. “We found the watch, but we are all in agreement that it wasn’t what Ralph was after.”

“It’s a nice old watch,” Rachel added. “But hardly worth stealing.”

“That’s why it’s not in the safe,” Mabel agreed.

“But we found something else we wanted to talk about,” Frank said gently.

He held up his phone and showed her pictures he’d taken of her ring. Rachel had slipped it on her hand to display it before putting it in the velvet box.

Mabel gasped, holding the phone reverently. Tears welled in the faded blue eyes. “So, at last you know my secret.”

“So, Tom Cortland was your lover?” Rachel asked quietly.

“Oh, my yes. I loved Tom more than I can possibly express! He was a real dreamboat,” she told Rachel. “You saw his picture.”

“He was a hottie,” Rachel agreed. “Broad shoulders and dark brown eyes.”

“He had the body of a god,” Mabel said. “Before men were into all that weight lifting crap, he was built better than Charles Atlas.”

The tears fell. Rachel got a box of tissues, handing one to Mabel.

“Frankie, there’s something I need to tell you,” Mabel said finally. “You know one secret, it’s time you know the rest.”

Mabel motioned to Rachel to close the door. She didn’t speak again until that was accomplished. The elderly lady patted the bed, inviting Frank to perch on the edge.

“I fell in love with Tom Cortland when I was a mere girl. He was the best looking man I’d ever met. Every girl wanted him. He asked me to marry him, but his father forbid it. I wasn’t from a rich family, you know. His father was convinced I was a gold digger and put his foot down. He sent Tom away to Europe, but his tour was cut short by all that trouble with the Germans. When he got home, he and I decided to elope. We ran away together, married in secret, but his father found out. He had the married dissolved.”

“Not annulled?” Rachel asked.

“No. Mr. Cortland was able to make it disappear. In the eyes of the law, we were never married. He forced Tom into a loveless marriage to a troll of a woman. They never had any children. To the best of my knowledge, Tom never even slept in the same bed with her. She died a few years later and he never remarried.”

“What happened after your marriage ended?” Rachel prompted.

“Well, what old man Cortland couldn’t control was the fact I was already carrying Tommy’s child. Then Mr. Penwarren took a shine to me. He was looking for a mother for his uncontrollable son. He married me right away and agreed to raise the boy as his own. I named him after his father—his real father. Tom’s full name was Francis Thomas Cortland.”

“When did Tom give you the ring?”

“He had it made when he asked me to marry him. He gave it to me when we married, January 3, 1940. Frank was born in September that year. I married Mr. Chester Penwarren in March. We told everyone that the child was conceived on our honeymoon and premature. No one questioned. When you have as much money as Chester, no one ever questions. He was proud that his pretty, young bride gave him a son, even if the boy wasn’t his. Chester was a hard man, but he loved Frank in his own way.

“My affair with Tom lasted for years. Even after we were both married, our hearts belonged to one another. I loved him until the day he died, and he loved me. We never had anymore children, so that made Frankie even more special to us both. It destroyed Tom when Frank was killed.”

“It must have been horrible, Mabel,” Rachel said, taking the old woman’s hand.

Mabel dabbed at her eyes, then patted Frank on the cheek. “But you’re wondering what this has to do with you. Frankie never married. Oh, he came close. . . . There was a girl he loved more than his own life. Then he was drafted and sent to Korea. That debacle turned into the Vietnam fiasco, but Frank was a soldier by then. He wouldn’t give it up. Every leave he got, he made time with his girl. He wanted to marry her, but like Tom’s father, Chester wouldn’t hear of it.”

“Did Frank know that Chester wasn’t his father?”

“Yes, but Ralph didn’t. He might have suspected, but he never said anything. They were such good friends. Ralph was only ever nice when he was around Frank. He taught him how to ride a horse and sail a boat. He even taught him to drive. He loved that child beyond reason. It nearly killed him when Frank died.”

“Tell us about the girl,” Frank prompted. Something in the way Mabel alluded to her, but didn’t name her, made him curious.

“She was a beautiful girl. Strawberry blonde, big blue eyes, a real beauty. They wanted to elope, hell, I encouraged it, but Chester caught wind of it and locked Frankie in his room. With help, he got out.” Mabel’s lips twitched. “He spent the weekend in the arms of his love. He shipped out the following Monday.”

“She got pregnant,” Frank concluded.

© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 40

Bad FallFrank shares more of his past with Marka.

He stopped, feeling tears of anger in the corners of his eyes. Swallowing hard, he continued. “She dumped me, married another man without telling me and had my son a few months later. He’s being raised by someone else—and calls him Daddy. He doesn’t know I exist. I’m not even listed on the birth certificate. Bitch lied and put his name down.”

“Does he know the boy’s not his?”

“Hell yes. I made sure to tell him. I was drunk and hurting. It wasn’t right. . . . But he already knew. He laughed at me. He told me I wasn’t man enough to keep her. Yeah, well I was man enough to knock her up!” He swallowed. “I can’t imagine watching my son grow up with a man like Chester Penwarren. This guy’s a jerk, but he’s a good father. He loves my son.”

Marka’s arms went around him, her cheek resting on his chest. “You’ll have another son, one you can love and raise—someone to play baseball and football and golf with.”


She gazed up at him, puzzled for a moment. “I promise,” she whispered.

“Marka, right now, the only way I see my life is with you in it. I want my son to be yours.”

“I’d like that,” she replied. “More than anything.”

“I really want to make love to you right now.” He took a step toward her.

“Behave, Mr. Atherton. What will people say?” She put her hand on his chest.

“They’ll say were fooling around in the men’s room. We’d better go.”

“Thank you for telling me. I know that wasn’t easy.”

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought,” he said, kissing her lightly. “Day got a little brighter.” He straightened his suit, squaring his shoulders before opening the door for her.

He walked her back to her office, kissing her in the doorway. It wasn’t an earthshaking kiss, but it elicited cheers and applause from their coworkers. Blushing, Marka dodged into her office and the cheering got louder.

Jeff leaned out his doorway. “I thought it might be your fault.” He chuckled, motioning to Frank.

“You okay, kid?” Jerry asked him.

“Yes, sir. I think I’d better go speak to Mabel. I want to ask her a thing or two about that ring.”

Jeff nodded, understanding that more had gone on than Frank wanted to discuss. “Go ahead. While you’re at it, pop by the hospital and see what you can find out from Penwarren. If he can talk, he’s got a few answers to provide too.”

“I’m going with you,” Rachel told Frank. “I’d like to hear what Mabel has to say.”

They walked to the nursing home together. Frank stopped at Marka’s office, but she was out. He
left her a note, telling her where he was. Rachel smiled, patting his hand.

“That was sweet, Frank. You two really have something special, don’t you?”

“Working on it, Rachel. Trying to take it slowly. . . . Failing somewhat.”

“Don’t give into the lust too fast,” she said quietly as they walked down the corridor. “Build trust, not lust, has always been my motto.”

He chuckled, nodding. “So, you’re like the one person here who doesn’t think we already have.”

“You’ve come close, but not yet. That jaunty set to your shoulders is missing.”

“What jaunty set? I don’t do jaunty, Rachel.”

“All men do. When you finally make it with that special someone, the walk changes, the smile. . . . Oh, you’ve come close, I can see that inner twinkle.”

“You know me way too well. That’s a tad spooky.” He adjusted his cuffs, smoothing his tie.

“Stop fidgeting. That’s what comes of being your mom’s best friend forever. I know you better than my own son.”

“That’s what happens when you’re willing to listen to the ramblings of a traumatized sixteen year old.”

“You’ve never talked to your folks?”

He shrugged, shaking his head. “I didn’t know what else to say, aside from the obvious. I don’t know if anyone but you ever believed me. I told Marka last night.”

“How did she handle it?”

“Like you did. Told me it wasn’t my fault. Sympathized.”

“The important thing is, she believed you.”

“Yeah, she did.” He grinned, putting his arm around her shoulders. “You’ve been a good Mom all these years.”

“Your own mother has been too.”

“But there were things I couldn’t tell her. I could always talk to you.”

“I’ll take your secrets to my grave, sugar.”

“I know.” He kissed her on top of the head.

Mabel was having her vital signs taken when they walked in. She smiled, holding out her hands to them. After hugs and kisses all around, they pulled up chairs and sat down.

“Did you find the watch?”

© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 39

Bad FallFrank and the others go into Mabel’s apartment to look for anything that might prompt Ralph Penwarren to break in. What they find surprises them.

Once the box was secured once more, the three of them breathed a sigh of relief. The bank manager led them out of the vault and they went back to Jeff’s office. They told him about the ring.

“Thank God it’s in the vault! Half a million dollars, you said?”

Jerry nodded. “I snapped some pictures and sent them to my dad. He’ll look them over and give
me a. . . . There he is now.” He put the phone on speaker. “Hi, Dad. What do you think? I figured half a mil?”

His father snorted. “Maybe, if it was made today. As it is, it’s priceless. That ring is a one of a kind, made by Tiffany’s in 1938. No one even knew it existed until a few years ago, when an elderly jeweler died. His heirs were going through his papers and found the plans for that ring. They couldn’t prove it had ever been made, but suspected it had been. They found records of materials purchased and a receipt made out in the name of Thomas Cortland.”

“Why’s that name familiar?” Jerry asked.

His father grunted with exasperation. “Tom Cortland’s money built Sheltering Oaks. He left a third of his fortune to the church. The rest he left in a bequest to his only son. Unfortunately, the boy was killed in Vietnam in 1968. The fortune reverted to the estate pending the death of the mother. She was a widow of independent means and didn’t want or need the money. You’ll never guess who that was.” Jerry’s dad sounded outrageously smug.

“Mabel Penwarren,” Frank said with confidence.

“Aw, dammit, Frank! You took the wind outta my sails! How do you know that?”

“Mabel told me. She said I remind her of her son Frank. He died in Vietnam. His death just about tore the family apart.”

“So, Mabel had an affair?” Rachel laughed throatily. “Naughty girl!”

“Her husband was a lot older,” Frank said. “I imagine a guy like Cortland who was young and rich would be pretty tempting.”

“He was hot too,” Rachel said. “Have you guys ever seen Tom Cortland?”

“Roughly a million times. His picture hangs in the foyer,” was Jerry’s snarky rejoinder.

“I meant when he wasn’t like a hundred years old. Side by side, Frankie, young Tom would give you a run, babe.” She pinched his cheek.

Rachel was old enough to be his mother. Frank laughed at her.

“I’ll take your word for it. I don’t go judging another guy’s looks.”

“Well, trust me, baby. He was ten times better looking than old Penwarren. He was about as handsome as a mud fence.”

“Personality to match,” Jerry’s father said. “He was a mean old bastard. His son’s a lot like him.”

“I’d love to see a picture of Tom and compare it to Frank Penwarren,” Rachel said. “I wonder if the old man knew?”

“If he did, maybe he didn’t care. An old man like that would be proud he had a beautiful young trophy wife who bore him a son in his dotage,” Frank said. “He could let people think what they wanted.”

“But wouldn’t it eat at you knowing that everyone thought some other guy’s kid was yours?” Jerry asked the men.

“Beats the alternative,” Frank said waspishly. “Having your son grow up calling some other man Dad.” He straightened his tie, fidgeting uncomfortably. “Excuse me.” He got up and practically ran from the room.

“What’d I say?” Jerry asked.

“No idea,” Jeff replied. “That’s plain weird.”

Marka popped her head in the room. “What’s up Frank’s butt? He flew by my office like his pants were on fire.”

Rachel gave her a five second rundown. Putting together everything Frank had said, or not said, over the last few days, Marka thought she understood.

“I’ll go talk to him.”

“I think he went to the men’s room,” Jerry said.

“Then I’ll knock first,” she replied.

She heard water running when she got to the men’s room door. Someone was indulging in creative cursing and nobody cursed like a military man. She tapped on the door. The voice stopped.

“It’s Marka,” she called softly, cracking the door. “Talk to me, Frank.”

He snatched the door open, pulling her in by the wrist. He shoved it shut, locking the deadbolt. His face was wet, his collar and tie lightly damp. He looked like he’d been throwing up.

“What’s got you so upset? Finding out that Mabel had an affair?”

“No. No. . . . You know that thing—that I couldn’t talk about?”

She nodded, waiting patiently.

“Right before I left for Iraq, I was dating this girl. I’d asked her to marry me. I was wild about her. A few weeks into my tour, she calls me. Tells me she’s pregnant. I was thrilled! I told her I’d marry her right away. We could do it via internet, with a minister and a chaplain. She sort of agreed, but didn’t sound all that excited. I didn’t push. I was thrilled about the baby. I texted her a million names a day, asking for details after her checkups. All that new dad shit. I was bugging the hell out of my battle buddies. They were ready to shoot me themselves.

“Then late one night, she called. Woke me up. She told me she’d married someone else—a guy I thought was a friend. It was my kid she was carrying. My son! She didn’t want to marry me. Said she couldn’t be an Army wife. He was stable, reliable, he was here—you know?”

© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 38

 Bad Fall“Yes,” Mabel’s surrogate, a woman named Rachel Haynes, replied. She handed Frank a picture.

“This looks like an ordinary pocket watch. Anything special about it?”

She shrugged. “Not that I know of. Might be an antique. Maybe it’s worth something to a collector.”

At 10:00, they headed to Mabel’s room. A uniformed officer met them at the door. Frank used his pass key to unlock the door. Taking a deep breath, he opened it. The studio apartment was cozy but crowded. Mabel loved her things and had found cutting back difficult. Her son had insisted upon the most efficient apartment, rather than letting her have something more spacious.

Reining in his sudden flash of anger, Frank walked in. The room was untouched. Everything looked perfectly normal. The uniformed officer stood by the door, arms crossed, looking tough.

Frank, Jerry and Rachel went to the dresser where the watch was supposed to be. Moving the items carefully aside, they found it. It was nothing special.

From what Frank could see, it was an ordinary pocket watch. He thought it would be platinum, encrusted with diamonds, stamped with the Tiffany’s seal. It didn’t even look particularly old, though the embossing was somewhat worn.

“You seriously think this is what he was after?” Rachel said in disgust. “If so, he’s more of an idiot than I thought.”

“It can’t be. This watch is worth maybe a thousand dollars tops,” Jerry said.

Frank remembered that Jerry’s father was a jeweler. He’d worked with his father much of his life.

“We’re here. Let’s look around. If there is something in this room someone would kill to get their hands on, we should find it,” Jerry declared.

“You got it, boss,” Rachel said.

Each of them took a different area of the room. Rachel continued with the chest of drawers. Frank moved to the dressing table where the jewelry box stood. Jerry went to the closet and started looking through Mabel’s clothing.

Frank sat at the dressing table. He started by going through the jewelry box. There were some nice things there, but nothing exceptional. Mabel had said her expensive items were in the safe. That appeared to be the case.

The others weren’t having any better luck than he. Rachel finished the drawers and headed to the desk area. Jerry, frustrated by the clothing, started on shoe and hat boxes. Frank sat at the dressing table, studying the containers. None of them looked particularly promising, but it had been his experience that people, especially the elderly, didn’t always put things in logical places. His grandmother, in her declining years, had kept her wedding band and engagement ring in a plastic film canister on her desk.

With that idea in mind, he lifted the lid of a denture case. Nothing in it. In fact, it looked like it had never been used. He moved to a jar of face cream. A finger dipped in to the bottom revealed nothing. He wiped his finger on a tissue and moved to the power container.

The puff sat on top of the scented talc. The area below the puff should have been fairly flat and even, but the middle looked lumpy. Taking a chance that it was nothing, he dug into the powder with his index finger, sneezing when a cloud of white burst in his face.

“There’s something in here,” he said to the others.

Rachel and Jerry were at his side instantly. Even the uniformed officer turned around to see. Frank dug further into the powder. Finally, frustrated, he got a bowl from the kitchen and dumped the powder into it. Sitting in the middle of the pile of talcum powder was a ring.

Frank picked it up, tapping the powder from it. He poured the powder back into the box and put the lid on before continuing. Further tapping and wiping revealed a ring the like of which, none of them had seen. At least six carats of perfect diamond greeted their hungry eyes. The setting was platinum, Jerry confirmed, and very good quality. Frank wiped it with a tissue and the cushion shaped diamond glittered and winked at them teasingly.

“Now that’s something someone would kill over,” Jerry whispered. “That’s the most expensive ring I’ve ever seen. Why do you suppose it’s not in the vault with her other things?”

“Maybe she forgot about it,” Rachel said. “You know how Mabel’s been these last few years.”

“Or maybe she couldn’t stand to be parted from it,” Frank replied. The tissue had revealed an inscription. “To Mabel, All My Love, Tom.”

“Wasn’t her husband’s name Chester?” Rachel asked.

“Yes, it was,” Frank replied.

“So, who’s Tom?”

“Someone who loved her a hell of a lot,” Jerry supplied. “That ring is easily half a million. I could get my dad to assess the value.” Jerry snapped a few pictures with his phone.

Frank gazed at the ring, mesmerized. “I think it needs to be in the safe.”

The others agreed. Rachel found a velvet jewelry box. Frank cleaned the ring as well as he could with tissues, and they handed it to Jerry to take to the bank manager. Rachel had Mabel’s key and a note allowing them access. She opened the box with the manager and placed the ring inside without looking at anything else. Frank set the watch in there too. On the off chance that it was important, he thought it should be put away.© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 37

Bad FallThe relationship between Marka and Frank is growing hotter. Not surprisingly, the staff is starting to notice, particularly when they meet up for breakfast each morning and dine together every night.

It interested him how many of the women on the staff were loitering around that particular sitting room at that exact time.

“Hello, ladies. Nice to see you all this morning.” He flashed a smile, straightening his tie and smoothing his jacket. “Did you need something in particular?”

They bustled away, whispering and giggling.

Talk of the town by nightfall, he predicted cynically. How am I gonna explain this to my mother?

Deciding that he’d better call her, he took out his phone. He was facing the wall, back to the room, when a whisper of movement made him turn around. His mother answered just as he spotted Marka and all the air went out of the room.

“Hello? Frank? Francis!”

“Hi, Mom. Um. . . . How’s it going?”

“Better for me than you. What’s all this I hear from everyone but you? Your office, house, car? Frank, what’s going on? Hello?”

He explained briefly, trying to breathe while he concentrated on his conversation.

Marka was a major distraction. She was dressed in white linen suit. Her blouse was bright red with white polka dots scattered over it. She carried a red patent leather purse. What made the outfit were the shoes. Four inch, stiletto heels supported her tall, slender frame. The shoes were the same shade of red as her blouse. They glittered like the Ruby Slippers. Her hair was pulled back in a loose, sloppy chignon at the base of her neck. She’d done her makeup to go with the dress, her lips a slash of scarlet across her face, enticing and teasing him with their full moistness.

“Francis Joseph Augustus Steven Atherton!” His mother used all his names. She wasn’t furious yet, she hadn’t added his confirmation name, but it was close.

Pulling himself together, he forced himself to concentrate on the phone. “Sorry, Mom. My—uh—colleague just showed up.” Nice save, like she’ll believe that.

“What does she look like?”

Why does Mom have to be so damn smart?

“I’ll bring her by this weekend. So, I guess you heard about—everything.”

“You couldn’t tell me yourself?”

“Mom, I’ve had a rough couple days. About all I thought of was getting through it without another mishap. I didn’t want you to worry, so I thought I’d better call.”

“You’re okay?”

“Not a scratch on me.”

“Stay that way. I worried about you the entire time you were in Iraq. I thought once you were home, I could stop freaking out every time the phone rang!” Her tone changed, rising in pitch and intensity. Mom was near tears.

“Unusual circumstances. I need to go, Mom. We’re going to get some breakfast and go to the office.”

“Okay. You be careful. And you be sure to come by this weekend. I want to meet the woman who makes my son forget he’s talking to his mother.” She laughed, making a kissing sound as she hung up.

He dropped his phone in his pocket. Taking Marka’s hand, he brought it to his lips. “You look absolutely stunning.” He twirled her under his arm.

“So do you. We don’t match as well as yesterday.”

“We’ll have to work on that.”

He offered her his arm. She looped her hands around it. Feeling rather like Fred Astaire leading Ginger Rogers to the dance floor, he walked her to the elevator. They rode down with several other

people, so they didn’t speak to one another until they got to the cafeteria. Despite sitting in a far corner, they were still the center of attention. When they finally had a quiet moment, Frank leaned forward.

“You know we’re the major topic of gossip, right?”

“Does that bother you?” She countered.

“Not particularly. I don’t want you upset by it.”

“I’m tougher than I look.” She smiled, taking his hand. “I’m proud to be paired up with you. If people want to talk and make up stories, I don’t care. Eventually, it will happen.”

“Almost did. . . .”

“It will be epic.”

“It will. I wanted to thank you for last night. Having you there meant a lot. I needed that.”

“You’re welcome. We never had dessert.”

“Another time.”

They cleared their places and headed to their offices. Marka had a session at 9:30. His meeting wasn’t until 10:00, but all the principle players were already arriving. Jerry stood outside his office door. Mabel’s surrogate arrived a few minutes later.

Jeff invited them all into his office. “Frank’s is still more or less out of commission. Do you need me for this?”

“Not unless you want to be, Jeff.”

“I have to admit, I’m damn curious about it, but I don’t think you need me in the way.”

“Do we have a picture of the watch?” Frank asked.

© Dellani Oakes

Bad Fall – Part 36

Bad FallWhile Frank and Marka are getting to know each other better, Kenny and his brother arrive, giving Frank an update on the man who broke into his house. They tell him they suspect that the man worked for some sort of clandestine agency — work that Frank, himself, did.

Marka was there. She held him, kept him strong. Her scent surrounded him and he breathed in, gulping the air like a drowning man. The tears didn’t start right away. He had that much dignity. The men left before that started. As soon as the door closed behind them, they began. He clung to Marka, weeping like a child.

She sat on his lap, holding him, letting him cry. She didn’t speak, didn’t try to make him stop. Her hands smoothed his hair, her bosom cradled his head, her arms secured him, anchoring him to her reality so he couldn’t get lost in his memories.

Eventually, she led him to the bedroom. Lighting the bedside lamp, she turned down the covers and slipped his jeans off. She made him get in bed, wrapping herself around him. He curled up on his side, his head on her chest, clinging to her as the tears stopped. Instead of speaking, she sang to him. He was fascinated by the number of songs she knew. It took a little while to realize she was singing with the songs on his iPod. She knew them all as well as he did.

Finally, more exhausted than he could ever remember being, he fell asleep. He woke once around 4:00 to go to the bathroom. Marka was curled on her right side, facing the door. When he went back to bed, he cuddled up behind her, his arm draped around her protectively, as if she were the vulnerable one. He clicked off the lamp and went back to sleep.

Marka must have set the alarm, because it went off at the usual time. Groaning, Frank rolled over on his back. He was alone in the bed, but he heard someone in the shower. She was singing as she bathed. He recognized Jesus’ Jackson’s “Running on Sunshine.

For a few minutes, he was tormented by the image of her naked body with the water running over it, gathering in her navel, dripping from her pubic hair. He remembered the silkiness of that same hair and the taste of her breasts. Groaning, he tried to purge the memory, but he couldn’t. Almost making love to her had made abundantly clear what he was missing. The water stopped, but the singing continued.

She came out of the bathroom with her hair up in a towel, dressed in the same clothing she’d had on last night. Still singing, she went to the kitchen.
Frank got up quietly, sneaking to the bathroom so he could hide the fact that he really wanted to take her back to bed. He needed a shower. He needed Marka. He needed his life to get back to normal.

The room phone rang.

“I’ll get it,” Marka called from the kitchen. “Hello? Oh, hi, Jeff. He just woke up. Kenny and James told us last night. He’ll be there. Yes, I’ll tell him. Thanks for calling.”

He came out of the bathroom dressed in his jeans. Marka met him with a kiss and a cup of coffee.
“That was Jeff. He called to tell you about going into Mabel’s place. He also wanted to make sure you were doing okay. He’s worried about you, Frank.”
“I’m not a baby,” he said rather petulantly. “No one has to worry about me.”
She smiled, winding her fingers in his hair. “Is it okay if I do? I like taking care of you.”

“That I don’t mind. . . .” He set the coffee down, stepping closer. “Thank you. For everything. I’m sorry we got interrupted.”

“It would’ve been epic,” she said with a grin.

Frank thought about that a moment, pursing his lips, his eyes up to the left, considering. “Yeah. I think epic covers it. Coffee, shower, food. I’m starving!”

“We don’t have time to eat out this morning.”

“I was thinking of the cafeteria.”

“I’ve got bagels at my place.”

“Not in the mood for a bagel. I need a meal. If I can’t have sex, I need massive amounts of food.” He gulped down his coffee. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to bathe.”

“I need to go get dressed.”

“I’ll meet you in the sitting room when you’re ready.”

“You could come down to the room. . . .”

“If I do that, we’ll be late as hell to work.” He held her hips close to his, rubbing against her.

“I’ll meet you in the sitting room.” She gave him a quick kiss and ducked out the door before he could take it any further.

“People are so gonna talk!” he said as the door closed.

He enjoyed a leisurely shower, indulging in some wanton self-abuse. If he was going to act like a gentleman the entire day, he needed the relief. He pictured Marka in his mind, exciting himself more than he’d ever thought possible. Her scent, her taste, the texture of her skin, her hair, her lips. . . .

Feeling marginally better, he looked at his suit selection and wondered if the trashing of his home had included his closet. He has a small fortune in suits that he’d collected over the last few years. He chose a golden, raw silk suit, pairing it with a spicy mustard shirt and a pale yellow tie with tiny, dark red flowers scattered across it. The handkerchief matched the flowers exactly. He puffed it carefully, stuffing it into the breast pocket. Satisfied with his appearance, he headed to the sitting room.
© Dellani Oakes

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Bad Fall – Part 35

Bad FallReady to finally consummate their relationship, Marka and Frank are interrupted at a crucial moment. Kenny and his brother arrive to talk to Frank about the dead man at the bottom of his ravine.

Marka joined them. Her hair was in a ponytail, her makeup neatened. She sat on the arm of Frank’s chair. His arm snaked around her protectively.

“It took awhile to get a team down there and longer to get him back up,” James said. “Looks like he’d broken in and was leaving when he fell.”

“Local?” Frank leaned forward, interested despite not wanting to be.

“No. His prints set off a bunch of bells, whistles, red lights and stop signs when we ran them.”


“Meaning, what the hell have you walked into, boy?” James asked.

“I have no idea,” Frank replied honestly. “Monday, Penwarren shows up and starts harassing people. A day later, he’s lying in a heap at the bottom of a long fall. Next day, my life is chaos on a half shell with a side order of dead guy. I don’t know, James! I’m completely in the dark.”

“Cool it, kid,” James replied.

Frank almost laughed. James wasn’t any older than he was. They used to play football together. Kenny was a couple years older and played on the same team, giving up his position as team captain to Frank when he graduated. There was trust between them. The three of them had been friends a long time.

“What I think is you need to call in a few favors from those folks you know in Washington. This guy’s got spook written all over him.”

“Just because of the red flag? Could be anything.”

“Don’t be coy, Frankie,” James chided. “If I ran you through the system, I’d get a similar reaction. The computer takes on a rapid case of constipation where guys like you are concerned.”

“I’m not a guy like that, James. I did a job.”

“You did a job that’s so secret, you can’t tell anyone. Not even your best friends know what you did. And you changed, man. You’re not who you were when you left.”

“If you’d seen half the hell I’ve seen. . . . You’d be a different man too, Jimmy. I’ll make a couple calls, but I can’t guarantee a thing. I’ve been out almost four years. That’s a lifetime in those circles.”

“See what you can find out. Why the hell would someone like that be coming after you?”

“How the hell would I know? I’m not in that life anymore. I didn’t want it in the first place, but I was too damn good at it. Tell me what else. I know that’s not all of it. This could have waited until morning.”

His hand ran up Marka’s back, lingering at her waist. The other men didn’t miss the gesture. James took a deep breath.

“Your house was searched. Completely trashed, like your office. Your computer’s missing, your movies, CD’s, anything electronic that could possibly be used to hold electronic data. I hope there wasn’t anything incriminating in your e-mail.”

“Nothing. I use Gmail anyway and the password isn’t saved. I use a ten character alphanumeric code. If they actually hack it, they won’t find anything more interesting than Facebook updates.”

“Did Penwarren give you anything the other night?”

“Not a thing. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I didn’t get too close. I didn’t want to hurt him by accident and there was all that blood. I talked to him and kept my distance. Maybe the ambulance drivers know something? All I know is he was hot to get in his mom’s apartment.”

“Jerry made arrangements to do that tomorrow,” James told him. “It took time to get a judge to allow it and for Mabel’s surrogate to be there. She’s been out of town.”

“Does Mabel know?”

“Yes, I talked to her today. She gave her permission, but there were some other legalities, so we had to ask a judge. Jeff’s on top of it.”

Frank looked away, trying not to make a rude noise. “That’ll be the day,” he mumbled.

“Mabel wants you there. Tomorrow morning, ten o’clock.”

“I’ll be there. Did you run a check on Penwarren?”

“Yeah. Boring guy. Owns a small business, makes a comfortable living, has a few conservative investments. Makes about sixty thousand a year.”

“He told me he made eighty-five thousand last year,” Frank said.

“Man’s a liar,” James replied, checking his notes.

“Or he’s hiding something. He was very specific. I know he was trying to one up me, so I figure a little padding. But sixty thousand does not eighty thousand make.”

“So he pads it some.”

“But twenty-five thousand in padding? Please. He might pad by five, maybe ten. . . .”

“So, you think he had more going?” James asked.

“I’m saying, he’s hiding something from us. Shit, I told Mabel I’d go see him.”

“Go tomorrow. I called. He was having tests today. He’s a jigsaw puzzle. They want to make sure they got the pieces back in the right spots.”

“How did my life get here?”

Frank rubbed his face, fighting tears of frustration. He rarely ever cried. Even when Clay died in his arms. . . . Images of the tattered body that used to be a man haunted him. Overwhelmed by the memory, he gasped, holding himself as the pain lanced his chest.

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