A Different VoiceChapter 8
Bud wanted to look in on Arbutus the next day to see how she was doing. And to ask her if she would keep the kids when we went to buy off Rhonda. Charles wanted to show her his new toys.
She didn't answer the door right away.
Bud tried it; it was open. "Arbutus?" We heard a faint "Come in".
She was sitting in her parlor. Her eyes were red, and her nose, and she looked like she'd been crying for a while.
"Children don't do nothing but tear your heart out," she said, and then flapped her hand at us. "Don't worry 'bout me. I was feeling lonesome, anyway, and then I had a call from Angela. And she asked me how Donny was doing."
She sniffled into the hankie she was holding. "I'd like to just shake Arlene. I wish I'd done that before she left. She didn't call her sister and tell her like she said she did. She lied to me. She told me Angie didn't wanna come. Poor Angie. Here I was thinking she was just heartless; but they didn't come for the funeral 'cause they didn't know about it."
Charles patted her shoulder.
"Why, look at you," she said. "Sheriff Charles of Dry Gulch."
"Don't cry, Granny. I'll let you play with my guns." He looked like he might change his mind about that, though, after she kissed him; he was thoroughly disgusted.
She said she'd be glad to take the children for as long as necessary, whenever we needed; and she didn't ask any questions.
Doctor Graham drove up as we were leaving. He kissed her on the cheek. She looked at me when he went on inside, and wiggled her eyebrows a couple of times.
It took longer than Bud thought it would to arrange the money. He'd left Mabel's money in L.A., and there was no way to get it here in time, so he and Mr. Morris at the bank had a long conversation. And then he went to the lawyer's.
The kids and I went to the five-and-dime and picked up a few things, and then to the dress shop to say Hi to Patty.
"I'm gonna need a vacation pretty soon," she said. "My doorknob has dust on it when I get home." She sighed. "It's always just one thing after another, isn't it?"
Late the next night, there was a knock on the door. A banging, a pounding, sounded like maybe somebody was kicking the door.
We were already upstairs. Bud jerked his pants on, grabbed his gun, and went down. I stayed at the top of the stairs, in case…….just in case.
I heard Richard's voice; I figured it was safe to go downstairs.
Richard was in the doorway…….groveling. On his knees on our front porch, crying, sobbing, his nose was running…….he smelled bad, even from where I was standing..…….a royal mess.
I couldn't make out what he was saying, but it was pretty clear he was drunk.
Bud looked back at me, and I shrugged my shoulders. He said, "Can't just leave him on the porch."
Bud dragged him into the house. I went in the kitchen and stayed there. Bud came out when he smelled the coffee. "Could you call the Rev for me, baby? I think this is something I can't handle.""What's going on?"
"I guess Nancy threw him out. It sounds like he's been screwing up and blaming it on us, but couldn't make it stick any more, so she booted him."
"Doing something besides drinking?"
"Oh, yeah. You don't wanna know."
I called the Reverend, and went to bed. I didn't want to know.
In the morning he was gone. I didn't ask where he went.
Another motel, on the opposite side of town. Roxanne's car was parked in the parking lot. Number 27's curtains were open.
Bud tried to get me to stay with Arbutus and the kids. You probably already know what my answer was. Every time I let him out of my sight, something happens. Trouble just follows him, like a bloodhound sniffing out his trail. Can't seem to get away from it.
And I didn't trust that woman as far as I could throw her. If I were her, and I needed Bud, I'd do whatever it took to get him. I trust my husband; he's a good man, he loves me, and he'd never intentionally stray……but he's still just a man, with a man's weaknesses; and she'd meant something to him once. I didn't think she'd be able to get him into bed……but you can't be too cautious.
And maybe I'd get that chance I'd been waiting for…….to slap her real hard…..maybe once for Bud and once for Charles.
She called "Who is it?" through the door when Bud knocked.
He said, "It's me."
She looked out the window at him, and opened the door. "Wendell."
I still can't get used to that. He's always been Bud to me. He just doesn't seem like a Wendell.
Uh-huh, I was right. She was wearing a slinky little black number when she opened the door. She went right for him, and would have kissed him except he wouldn't let her. "What happened to you?" She tried to touch his bruised face; he jerked away from her touch.
And then she noticed me.
She was about as mad as I expected. "What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay out of it!"
Bud pushed her back into the motel room, and we went in and closed the door. It probably had been a nice room once. Had that window in the front, a sagging couch in front of the window, and a little round table substituting for a coffee table.
"OK for you, sister," she said. "I guess you didn't believe me." She turned to Bud and said, "Guess what Susie Homemaker there used to do for a living? She used to be part of Pierce Patchett's stable. I can show you a list of the guys she used to fuck on a regular basis. I got all kinds of stuff on her."
"Yeah?" Bud said. "Let's see it."
She went to her suitcase and pulled out a fat manila envelope. He took it from her, and handed it to me without opening it. I put it in my purse.
Took her a second to figure it out. "You already knew." Suddenly she wasn't so sure of herself.
"Cut the crap," Bud said. "I'm here to do business."
Bud sat down on the couch, and after a hesitation, Roxanne did, too. I picked a chair against the opposite wall. Not too far away, it was a small room, but far enough.
"What kind of business did you have in mind?" Said in a throaty murmur. Unbelievable. She was going after him again. Or maybe it was just habit.
Bud didn't seem to notice. "Somebody's after you. You need money. Right?"
She nodded. "I'm going to South America."
"I've got the money." He took the packet of $100 bills out of his jacket pocket. I watched her eyes. She wanted it. "You can have it on one condition." He unfolded a document and showed it to her. "You sign this."
"What is it?" She took it from him and read it. "No." She shook her head. "No."
"You planning on taking the boy through Mexico with you? He'll slow you up. And if you let him out of your sight even once, you'll never see him again."
She laid the paper down on the table. Looked like she might actually be thinking about it.
"I might sign it. But I got a condition of my own. I wanna know……I wanna know what it was that made you so mad at me back then. How come you hated me so bad all of a sudden. It couldn'ta been just because of Roy. I just wanna know what it was."
Silence. More silence. Then Bud almost laughed…..not quite. "You're trying to make me think you don't remember," he said. "I'd have to be pretty damn stupid to fall for that."
Roxanne folded the document up and held it out toward Bud. "Then no dice."
He looked at me. I was afraid he was going to ask me to leave, and I was going to have to say no. No way was I leaving him alone with her now.
He took a deep breath. "It wasn't a big deal. You just told me the truth. How you really felt about me, what you really thought."
She looked mystified. Either she really didn't remember, or she was a hell of a good actress. "When?"
"In the hospital. When I came to see you the first time. When you told me about Roy."
She looked down at the floor. Seemed to be thinking. "I know you won't believe me, but I really don't remember that…...What did I say?"
If this was a play to get Bud to remember how he used to feel about her, it wasn't very smart. No wonder she let him go….she didn't understand him at all.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw through the window a big expensive sedan pull up almost right in front. Seemed out of place at a seedy joint like this……
"Wendell?" she said when he didn't answer. "I thought we had something going, you and me. I thought…….You told me once that you loved me."
"Well, what can you expect? I was just a big, dumb, doughnut-eating cop. That got the wrong idea." His hands were clenched; his face was getting dark. And his expression…….an ugly grimace I'd seen before…….and if I'd been Roxanne, I think I'd have shut up.
Four men in suits got out of the car. They stood for a minute and looked around.
She didn't get it; didn't know what the look on his face meant. She just kept talking. "Did I say that? Wendell, you knew me, how could you believe I meant it? I loved you. I was on so many pain-killers, I don't remember-"
She was going too far. Pushing him too much. She'd done enough to Bud already. I stood up; I was getting ready to let her have it. 'Cause if I didn't, I had a feeling Bud might.
I was just a little late……..
"This is bullshit!" The little round table went crashing against the wall. Roxanne ducked. She got up and backed away from him, toward me. He stood up too. "Shut the fuck up and sign the fucking paper!"
She and I saw it at the same time. One of the men reached inside the car and brought out a shotgun. Pumped it and pointed it at the window……..that Bud was standing with his back to.
We both screamed; we both ran toward Bud. Roxanne was only a couple steps away; she shoved him out of the way. The window exploded as I dropped to the floor. Glass and stray shot spattered around me. Bud crawled over to me on his stomach, pulling his gun out of his belt. Aimed it at the window, at the door, waiting……
And then we heard the car drive away.
He waited a few more seconds, but when nothing happened, he scooted over to the window and took a quick look out. He shook his head and then came back to me.
"You OK, baby?"
I couldn't say anything. I sat up slowly and looked down at myself…….and glass and shot weren't the only things that had fallen around me on the floor. I was splattered all over with blood.
I couldn't help it. I started to whimper. Cry. There was blood everywhere.
"Are you hurt? Lynn…..talk to me, baby…..Jesus…." He scrambled over to the phone and yelled at the operator to send an ambulance.
Blood, all over Bud, all over me, all over the floor……..and when I looked for Roxanne…….oh, my God…..
I screamed. More than once. I couldn't help it.
We left the blood-soaked packet of $100 bills on the floor where it had fallen.
The ambulance drivers insisted on taking us to the hospital because of the glass. We showered off there, and besides the occasional piece of shot embedded under our skin, we both had cuts we hadn't even felt. The doctor at the hospital took a good-sized chunk of glass out of Bud's shoulder, and stitched him up. I had a cut on the side of my head that needed stitches and another one on my back. That's besides the little ones that they didn't bother with. Patty brought us some clean clothes. The Reverend showed up, and tried really hard not to say anything judgmental.
We decided to leave the kids with Arbutus until tomorrow.
Bud was really quiet.
He didn't say anything all the way home. We went upstairs and I got into my nightgown even though it wasn't dark yet. Bud sat in the chair next to the bed for a long time.
"Come to bed with me," I said finally. "Please."
He took a deep breath, let it out, took his clothes off and got under the sheet. I snuggled up to him. "You gonna be OK, baby?" he asked.
I nodded. "Are you?"
He didn't answer me right away. Then he said, "She pushed me outta the way."
"She coulda saved herself."
"Why didn't she?"
I couldn't answer that. The question hung in the air all through that night. I don't think Bud slept at all.
Just before morning, he said, "The next time I tell you to stay home, you're staying home. What if it woulda been you insteada her in the morgue now?"
"What if it would have been you?"
He kissed me.
"How are we gonna tell Charles his mama's not coming back?"
I don't think he expected an answer. I lay my head on his chest and listened to his heart beating, steady and strong. Steady and strong.