Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

CHAPTER FOUR "Appleseed Of Doubt"

Chapter Four

She sat in her recliner, watching a couple of squirrels play in the lower limbs of the tree outside the front window. She could remember when her late husband had first planted it, thirty-five years earlier. The boys had been small then, thrilled with all the space they had to play in, inside and out. The house wasn't a big one, but it had seemed that way to them after the confines of the small apartment they had all previously known as home.
She longed for those simple days again. She hadn't really appreciated her life then, not like she did now, looking back. The things that had seemed so all important then, really hadn't been. Now, all she really had to look forward to, was death. She was old. What else was there left to look forward to?
Ironic, she though. Back then she could remember chiding herself for having worried so much about what others had thought of her back in her junior high days. She could even remember discussing with her husband how clueless they both had been about real life at age thirteen. For her, it had been the humiliation of wearing generic jeans, instead of the popular name brands. She couldn't remember for sure, after all these years, but she seemed to recall her husband talking about the short haircuts his mother had insisted on, at a time when longer locks were more hip. Whatever it was, they had both laughed about how truly inconsequential such concerns had been, when compared to the real life issues of paying bills and parenting.
The same was true now, she realized. Those bill paying issues especially. Important, yes, but not so much as other things. Parenting? Important, too, but such an honor it had been. She had focused on it as a chore in those days. How wrong she had been! She wondered, these days, if that lack of patience she had shown with her sons back then, had impacted their personalities. They were both good men, though they weren't both successful.
She smiled, recalling Don's surprise visit earlier that day. He took care of everything for her, the kinds of things her husband once had. She didn't need to worry about paying bills or doing taxes, thanks to Don. He regularly called, and the long phone conversations she'd have with him made up for the lack of visits over the years. He lived on the other side of the country with his family, and she had always hated flying, so things had just worked out the way they had. She knew he loved her, and she knew he cared. Certainly his coming on the spur of the moment today had confirmed that.
She hadn't realized how her stressful mood had come through in their last conversation. Life with Doug was nothing but a daily strain, but she would make an effort to cover her feelings in the future. Her older son had taken a lot of knocks in life, and he just needed some time to get back on his feet. His daily drinking was a concern, but she knew he would eventually get over that. It was just a phase. He'd been hurt badly by women, and had come back home to nurse his wounds. She would never throw the poor child out, which Don had suggested doing.
She took a deep sigh, looking forward to going to look at nursing homes with her younger son the next day, as he had planned. The decision was hers, he had told her (and she would certainly decline), but she had agreed to go look with him, so he would think she was really giving it some consideration. It would be nice to get out, too, to some place other than a doctor's office.
She sighed again, realizing that real worries in life were for those you loved. Though she'd been thrilled to see Don, Doug had been very unwelcoming. He had picked petty arguments with his younger brother the entire time he had been there. Doug had felt threatened, she realized, and it had to be because he had nowhere else to go. She couldn't expect Don to understand that helplessness his brother felt. Don had a good job, a loving family, and a beautiful home. Doug had nothing but heartache and disappointment in his past.
Tomorrow, perhaps, her boys would get along a little better. Don had gone to check in at his motel, and Doug had taken the car to see his friend, Steve. She knew he wouldn't be home until the early morning hours.
She would enjoy the time she would spend with her visiting son, but there was no way she would agree to move from her home. Doug still needed her. At least she still had a purpose in life, she decided.

Don unpacked the remains of his suitcase, hanging his clothes up in the small closet in the motel room. Though he'd only arrived that day, he was already eager to go home. It had been depressing to go back to his childhood home. His mother's appearance had been somewhat shocking. Talking to her on the phone, he always tended to picture her as he remembered her. Her voice still sounded the same. In person, though, he could see how much she'd aged. The hair completely gray now, and the face visibly wrinkled in spite of her excess weight, he'd been surprised to see the difficulty she had in simply walking from one room to the next.
It explained the lack of cleanliness in the once spotless home he'd grown up in. It was clear his brother, Doug, took no part in doing housework. Or yard work, either, he thought bitterly. The lawn he remembered his father laboring over every Saturday, was now overgrown with weeds. Were it not for the car parked in his mother's driveway, one would think the home was abandoned by its appearance.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up the phone to call Dana. He needed to hear her voice, and hoped she was somewhere that she would be able to answer her cellphone.
She answered on the second ring. “Hi, Honey. How did it go?”
He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice as he answered, “Great. She agreed to go look with me tomorrow.”
“I think it was more for show.”
“Was Doug any help?”
“Are you kidding me?” he answered incredulously. “You should see the place. Trust me, that lazy brother of mine is no help to anyone.”
“How did he take the news about trying to move her into a retirement home?”
“Acted insulted, basically. Feels he's doing a great job of taking care of her. What he believes he's doing to help is beyond me. It was awful, Dana, just filthy and awful.”
“If you're right, and she won't agree, what are you going to do?”
“I figured I'd look into some house cleaning and lawn care services, so at least she doesn't have to live like she is now.”
“What about the car?”
“Didn't broach that subject yet. With either of them. Actually, given the way Doug acted today, I think I might be better off taking the car and then tell him. I don't know. He isn't the brother I remember, Dana. He really isn't.”
“I'm sorry, Honey,” she murmured, not sure what she could say to make him feel better.
Don was silent a moment, before changing the subject. “Any word on Jenny?”
“She's doing better, but they still don't know what's wrong. They're going to release her from the hospital again.”
“Maybe she'll continue to get better, Dana. Maybe she won't relapse again.”
“If only they knew what was wrong with her, that's the problem.” Dana felt a little guilty that she and her sister were so close, while Don and his brother were nearly estranged.
“They'll find something, Dana. She's going to be okay.”
“I thought I'd take some freezer casseroles over for them, so they don't need to worry about cooking or anything else for awhile.”
“That's a great idea. Hey, make that chicken tortilla casserole of yours! That's one of your best ones.”
“Thank you . . . . . is that hint for when you come back?”
“Could be,” he answered, grinning.
“I miss you already.”
“I miss you, too.”
A few minutes later he hung up the phone and picked up the phone book to look for local housekeeping services. He'd gather the phone numbers he might need to call the next day, before heading out someplace to get a bite to eat. It had been a long day.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Chapter Three of "Appleseed Of Doubt"

Chapter Three

“It's what she doesn't say, that bothers me.” Don closed his cellphone and set it down on the end table, concern creasing his forehead.
“I think you worry too much,” his wife responded. “You do a lot more than most kids do for their parents.”
“She belongs in a home.”
“She doesn't want to be in one.”
“But she needs to be. It's only because of Doug that she won't agree to it.”
“Honey, maybe your brother is doing a lot more for her than you think.”
He looked at his wife with a mixture of sorrow and pity. “I know you want to believe that, Dana, but I know better. He may talk a good talk, but it's all lies. Always has been.”
“Maybe he's changed.”
“Maybe the tooth fairy will pay for Mom's new dentures.” He stood up, gazing out the front window at some boys playing outside. He remembered when he and his older brother had done the same, so many years ago. Doug had been his hero then, more inspiring to him than any comic book super hero. But he did recall the older boy had a penchant for lying, even then.
“Don, what exactly is it that she said? Or didn't say, as you put it?”
“She took a cab to the appointment. Said Doug lost his license, because of the last DUI.”
“Well, then, what's wrong with that? She can't drive herself anymore.”
“He didn't go with her, Dana. Mom said he was busy.”
“Maybe he was.”
“For God's sake, Dana, the man lives there rent free. The least he could do, is go with her when she needs to go places. She wouldn't say what he was busy doing, but he wasn't at home.”
“How do you know?”
“She let that slip, then wanted to change the subject. Doesn't ever want to say anything against her precious, oldest child.”
“Don. . . “
“Dana, you know I'm right. It's not a jealousy thing, no matter what you may think. I'm willing to bet he was drinking his afternoon away.”
“Don't assume . . .”
“Probably drove the car there, too. I don't picture him walking through the neighborhood, and there isn't a bus that goes through it.”
“If you really believe that, Don, then maybe it's time to sell the car. You do have power of attorney over everything.”
He smiled over at his wife, grateful. “You read my mind. I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Do you think she'll be upset?”
“Only if my brother puts her up to it. I can take care of everything from here, though, and I'll make the arrangements for the car to be picked up before I tell them.”
She looked down at her lap for a moment, carefully choosing her words before speaking again. “You realize you could have her put in a home whether she wants to go or not, don't you? If you really think that's what's best?”
He took a deep breath. “I don't want my mother to hate me, and that's also a decision I could never make without physically being there. I do understand her wanting her independence, but I truly believe that if Doug weren't there, she would be more receptive to the whole idea.”
“Maybe you ought to consider going out to visit. We can't all go, I know, but maybe you should. It might be a little easier to handle the car situation, too.”
“Might be a good idea,” he mused.
Don reflected over the last phone conversation. His mother had sounded strained, but insisted she was fine. He was well aware of her deteriorating health, but it was something else in her voice that had bothered him. A tenseness.
He made a point of talking to her at least twice a month, sent money every month, and occasionally spoke with his brother as well. He handled all of her bills and finances, the money he sent going into a checking account strictly for groceries and everyday needs. He knew she spent a lot more than he would have expected, even considering Doug's presence, but he suspected she gave him an allowance of his own. That was her option to do so, of course. Still, seeing things in person, especially during an unannounced visit, might give him a truer picture than he could gain through phone calls and paperwork.
“Really, Don, I think you should. You'll feel better about any decisions you make.”
“Maybe I can get her to really consider a retirement home. I need to talk to Doug, too. The sooner he realizes that he can't live with her forever, the better.”
When Doug had first moved back in with Mom, they had understood it to be just a temporary situation. His fiance had thrown him out, and although Doug had made himself out to be the victim, Don was sure it had been justified. Two failed marriages and an arrest record tended to discredit any explanations his brother had provided. Still, Mom would always believe her eldest son was perfect, no matter what the facts might be.
“I'm surprised he hasn't moved out and gotten a life of his own.”
“You don't know my brother very well, do you?”
“Maybe not,” she conceded. “It doesn't matter, Don. You do what needs to be done. I trust your judgment, and deep down, your mother does, too.”
“I really appreciate your understanding, Dana. It would be so much easier if she lived close by, like your parents do.”
“But she doesn't, so if you need to go, then you need to go.”
Grateful of his wife's support, worried about what he might discover if he went, but determined to do the best he could for his mother's welfare, Don nodded in silent agreement. He cast another wistful glance at the boys playing outside.
“You know, I may not know your brother very well, but something I do know, ” she said slowly, as she got up and came over to hug her husband, “is that I got the best one of her boys!”
In spite of himself, Don grinned. “I got pretty lucky myself. I should thank your parents sometime.”
“You should.”
He stroked her cheek gently before turning his head to kiss her. Nineteen years of marriage, three kids of their own, and they still enjoyed each other in every way. He had been lucky to find her, and sometimes did feel a little pity for his older brother. With a good woman behind him, perhaps Doug would have turned out a bit differently.
Dana pulled back, smiling up at her husband. “We do have the house to ourselves tonight, you know,” she reminded him, eyes twinkling.
Don raised an eyebrow, chuckling quietly. “And I hear there's nothing on t.v. worth watching.”
“Guess we'll have to find something to keep us busy.”
“Apparently so. . . . .any suggestions?”
“I was hoping you might have some ideas.”
“Oh, I have ideas. . . .”
They were both giggling like high school students when the catchy melody of Dana's cellphone interrupted them. Recognizing the tune, knowing who was calling, she answered it quickly, watching Don's face as she listened to the caller.
“Jenny's back in the hospital,” she mouthed to him, as her eyes began to fill with tears.

Have a good week, and Chapter Four will be available next Monday!

Sunday, August 5, 2012


“G'night, Johnny!”
“Later, Johnny!”
Detective Ristrom nodded an acknowledgment without actually looking up from the report he was finishing. He wondered whether the departing detectives were as thorough as they should be, particularly since they rarely stayed late. Then, again, he had to admit he tended to be a bit of a perfectionist, and probably poured over reports more than he needed to.
Then, too, it wasn't like he had anyone to hurry home to. He and Denise had divorced a few years earlier, and though he had dated sporadically since, no woman had interested him enough to make her a permanent fixture in his life. He was a workaholic, and he wasn't going to apologize for it. He was happy with his life the way it was.
Johnny wasn't his real name, but it was a nickname that he had been tagged with years ago, following a specific case he had worked on. It had been early in his career, almost ten years now, and he had gained a reputation for paying attention to even the tiniest details because of it.
He leaned back in his chair, thinking back to how closely he had come to charging an innocent man with the murder of his wife. The victim had died of cyanide poisoning, in small doses and over a few months' time. It had been purely a stroke of luck that Ristrom had realized she had gotten the lethal poisoning by eating large quantities of appleseeds.
It still struck him as so ironic that in trying to maintain a healthy, organic lifestyle, she had died by eating homemade candies that she, herself, had made out of the seeds.
The day that he had anticipated arresting Decker Wilson, he had, instead, solved the mystery. He had immediately earned the nickname of “Johnny Appleseed,” and over time it had been shortened to just “Johnny.” He doubted that most of the men in the department now, even knew his real first name.
He did know that none of his coworkers, then or now, knew just how deeply that case had affected him. Always sure of himself, Ristrom had been cynical of the people he investigated before the case. He'd paid attention to detail, but he had also paid attention to his ability to read people, too, and he had learned that most suspects were liars. Some were better at it than others, but if the evidence pointed to a suspect, there was generally a valid reason that it did.
The grieving widower he had encountered during that investigation was about to earn a financial windfall through his wife's death. So sure about arresting the man that day, Ristrom had mentally awarded him an Oscar for his acting ability. It had been a fluke, that he had found out about the candied poison she had been eating.
Putting his elbows on his desk and pressing his palms together with his fingers against his lips, anyone walking by would have thought the detective was praying. A longtime agnostic, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Ristrom was thinking back, remembering how horrified he had felt at how close he had come to ruining the life of an innocent man. He had accepted the compliments and congratulations of dozens of colleagues during those days, even as he went home at night to dwell on what might have been.
He had taken to drinking not long after, too, though he never got drunk. Instead of talking about the day with Denise when he got home, as he had in the past, he'd begun locking himself in the den with a drink for twenty minutes each night, before then joining her for dinner. He'd refused to discuss work anymore with her, telling her that he didn't want it intruding anymore in his personal life.
That had been a lie, of course. He never stopped thinking about work, not even in his sleep. During the weeks following that case, his dreams had focused on the grieving widower strapped in an electric chair, begging for his life.
He never shared those dreams with Denise, and had firmly refused to discuss that case (or any others) with her, until she finally got tired of asking. Instead of both of them sharing their day, he began to let her do all the talking at the dinner table. He tried to listen, to really hear what she would tell him, but his mind was always on his own work. Eventually, the only sound heard during their meal was the sound of chewing.
His guilt over nearly charging Mr. Wilson in error had caused Ristrom to begin bottling his feelings inside, refusing to share them with his wife. The truth was that he didn't want to admit out loud to anyone how close he had come to making a mistake, not even now. Let them think he was clever, but never let them know he was human.
The last couple of years, though, he'd begun to wonder that if he had spoken with her, or even with the department shrink who was always available, perhaps, then, things might have been different.
Not that it really mattered anymore. Denise had remarried last year, and he'd heard they were happily expecting a child in a few months. He was glad for her.
He remembered the constant disappointments when they had been trying to conceive, and her refusal to consider any other options. Constantly invited to various baby showers, Denise was often depressed over it. She, too, had begun to bottle her feelings up. He knew that the deterioration of their marriage had been the result of many things, and he knew he didn't need to shoulder all the blame. She was happier now, and things had worked out for the best.
The divorce had been difficult, but not bitter. They had maintained a friendship of sorts, something that amazed many of their divorced friends. Few of the detective's friends could understand how he could genuinely want his ex-wife to be happy. He couldn't explain it himself, but he had no regrets. Curiosity, yes, about all the “what ifs,” but no animosity.
Perhaps it was because they had parted in a somewhat amicable manner, that he didn't berate himself for his failings during the marriage. Guilt from the failed marriage didn't keep him awake at night, then or now. They had tried. It was no one's fault.
It had taken Ristrom a long time to forgive himself, however, for nearly charging an innocent man. It had also made him a better detective because of it.
Closing up the report folder, he placed it into his outgoing box. It was time to go home, relax with a drink, and mull over some of the recent crime statistics in the various neighborhoods while he ate.   
Chapter Three will be next Monday.  Have a great day!