Chapter 14 - Respecting Wishes

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“He’s grounded,” Frank explained to his mother, standing in her living room in front of the console television. “That means he’s not going anywhere except to school for two weeks.”

“I still don’t understand what it is, exactly, that he did wrong.” Stella raised her hands in the air in a fluttering motion to emphasize her point. A commercial on TV announced more local openings for Great American Superstores, part of a massive advertising blitz saturating the airwaves.

“He picked a fight with Maguire’s kids.”

She shrugged. “Sounds like they were bullies who had it coming.”

“But his teacher says Johnny has problems beyond that. He’s distracted at school. He doesn’t apply himself.”

Stella shrugged. “What difference does it make? School is a waste of time, anyway.”

“This is exactly what I was afraid of, Mom. This is why you and Johnny need to spend some time apart. I knew you’d stick up for him and say that school is a waste of time. You always take his side and plant these crazy ideas in his head.”

“What’s wrong with my ideas? You act like there isn’t any truth in what I say. You can’t rely on school to teach him about the world. Remember his book report on the girl, the grandma, and the wolf? The story doesn’t always end happily, does it? The teacher didn’t want him to know about that.”

“Mom, I don’t even know what you are talking about sometimes. You’re really losing it. And Johnny mentioned something about a gun. You promised you’d get rid of the gun, Mom. I don’t want you trying to play Dirty Harry anymore. Those days are over.”

“Frank, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Are you keeping a gun in this house or did you get rid of it?”

“The gun is history, Frank. I told you that.”

“I don’t want Johnny to hear about you using a gun. I don’t want him to know what you did in that store all those years ago. I don’t want him to see that side of you.”

“What side of me are you talking about?”

“I am talking about the dangerous side, the side of you that can’t control your emotions. I am talking about when you get angry and try to take things into your own hands.”

“I am not going to apologize to you or anyone else for who I am. I have to stick up for myself in this world.”

“Mom, I am not asking you to apologize. I am asking you to respect that I am Johnny’s father.”

Stella took a moment to reflect and then nodded in acquiescence. “OK. That’s fair. I can do that.”

“I think you and Johnny need a few weeks apart.”

She sighed. “I don’t like that idea one bit. But like you said, you are his father. So I’ll respect your wishes.”

When Frank left, he walked along the path that cut through her front lawn to his car parked on the sidewalk.

Frank recognized Lester Cummings’s black Mercedes across the street. The sight of Lester’s car in his mother’s neighborhood was terrifying. It marked the intrusion of one world into another, the spillover of his business ventures into his family life. He’d been worried about this for a while and now it seemed inevitable.

Frank approached the Mercedes. “How did you find me here?” he asked.

“I’ve known about this place all along, Frank,” Lester sneered in the driver’s seat. His scary henchman, Rudy, sat in the passenger’s seat, hiding his hands in his jacket pockets, along with God knows what else. “This was all part of my due diligence. This is where your mother lives. She’s lived here for thirty years. Her name is on the title at the county recorder’s office downtown. She drives a burgundy Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and she goes to Saint Jude’s Church every Saturday evening to beat the Sunday crowds. She plays cards on Tuesday and Thursday. She attends the Italian Women’s Club on Wednesday. Should I keep going?”

“I’ll pay you back your money, Lester, but leave my family out of this. This is between you and me.”

Lester laughed and shook his head. Rudy began chuckling as well. “You still don’t get it, do you? Everyone is involved until you pay what you owe.” He pointed an index finger at Stella’s house, sticking up his thumb and angling his hand as if it were a pistol.

Frank raised quivering hands in a gesture of surrender. “Give me one more month and you’ll have all your money. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Copyright 2013 Dmitri Ragano

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