For the next three days the world revolved around Cheryl and her family. I worked on Smiley some, but since I hadn’t planned to start the introduction for two more weeks, nothing had to be changed.
On that third day, Cheryl’s father had another stroke and it was fatal. I had been expecting it and I am sure Cheryl and her step mother were as well. I rushed to the hospital the moment I heard. I did it to show my love for Cheryl, but also to be sure nobody tried to bully her. I had no idea what the family would be like, when they all gathered.
When I arrived, I found that Cheryl was a basket case. I tried to calm her down and help her through the ordeal. It was going to get worse, I knew. I had found, over the previous three days, that in general I liked her step mother. She would have been perfect, if she hadn’t look at me as though I was carrying some terrible disease.
Cheryl’s half brother, who was some kind of doctor, was on his way to Tryon. I had not met him, but I knew I would within the next few hours. Step mom told Cheryl that her son was flying in just as soon as he could arrange a flight. At that time I didn’t think he was the practicing type of physician, but he was involved somehow in medicine. I had never really heard that he was in medicine, it was more a feeling than anything else. I expected that I would know it all soon enough. Cheryl had come to lean on me through the tragedy, so like it or not, I was involved.
Cheryl’s Step mother said, “He wanted to be cremated. I will call the people to make that happen.”
I asked Cheryl, “Is that what you want to do?
She said, “Yes that’s what he wanted. He told me that once. I want to do what dad wanted done. It doesn’t matter what that is.”
Lindsay had not been to the hospital, only because it was the way Cheryl wanted it. She had been to the apartment every night for a couple of hours. I didn’t know, or care, what lie she told her husband to manage it. I was just glad that she was there for Cheryl. It seemed that somewhere along the line Cheryl and I had become friends. We were no longer even casual lovers. It hurt a little, but I also enjoyed her as a friend, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Many of my relationships ended poorly. The one with Cheryl had ended in deep friendship.
“Maxine, it’s me Lucas. I called me to ask if I should go to the memorial service, or skip it so as not to be seen with Cheryl?”
“I don’t think it matters to be honest Lucas. You and Cheryl were not friends, so it isn’t necessary. If you want to show up, I am sure it will be fine. It’s really up to you.” I suggested.
Helen, of course, called me several times a day to compare notes on Cheryl’s condition. Cheryl was actually doing better than the soft hearted Helen. Helen was worried that she might not do all that she possibly could to help.. I swore Helen had a heart of pure gold.
Her Dad’s memorial service was a lot like Gunny’s, but with less pomp and circumstance. The people who attended were better dressed. Also they all appeared to be well off, financially anyway. I knew that her dad had invented something that went into the manufacture of automobiles, but I had no idea he ran with the kinds of people who showed up for the service. No wonder Cheryl wanted a place of her own. I can image that it would give me a complex as well.
Cheryl, her half brother, and her Step Mom all agreed that they wanted a place to visit him, at least in spirit, so they had the ashes interned at the outdoor wall filled with niches. They bought four spaces one for each of them, so they could all be together, if that was still their desire when the time came. Odds were good that mom would be the only one to rest beside him. Everyone else would no doubt move on.
“Maxine, I told Helen and now I want to tell you, I need some time alone. I’m going to have dad’s driver take me to Dad’s farm in Carbonville for a few days. Maybe a few weeks I’m not sure. I know you had planned on me helping with the Smiley thing, but I’m just not up to it.” It was obvious that her father’s death was weighing heavy on her. He was the only think in her life that was stable. Everything else was completely different from anything she had known for almost twenty years. I understood completely.
“Do not worry about me and Lucas. We always have a plan b. It’s just fine, take all the time you need, but don’t forget us.” I said.
“Maxine, I know this sounds awful, but please don’t contact me. I need to think things through. My dad was always after me to do something big with my life. I think I need to do that to honor him.” she said.
“You do what you need to do. I will miss you, but I will be fine.” I said sadly.
“Thank you, you have been a real friend. There aren’t many people I can say that about.” she said.
“I’m glad you feel that way, and I want to continue being your friend.” I said it but I knew she was going to move on with her life. Damn it, people were always leaving me.
“I’m going to take the bike and just have the driver leave me till I call for him. I can get around on the bike for a few days anyway.” she said before she turned to leave.
I hated being practical at a time like that, but I had to come up with a plan b for James Smiley. He wasn’t going to slip through my fingers because Cheryl couldn’t help. There were other ways, of course I had no idea what other ways there might be for that particular situation.
I had gotten used to soaking in the tub while my leg was in the bandage, so I went home to soak and think. I was in the tub a half hour and nothing came to me. I was at wits end, but I wasn’t ready for some actress to fuck it up. When I thought actress, I remembered the other offer Mike had made. Well I’m sure the network made it. They offered me a makeup person. I could get a quick course in theatrical make up in a few days. It might be enough to help me later, when I was forced to try working after the TV show hit the airway. It seemed like a much better idea at that moment than it had when Mike first suggested it.
“Mike,” I said into the phone. I called to tell you that Cheryl won’t be able to help with the Smiley thing. I am going to need your makeup person after all. How quick can you get her down here?”
“I’ll call the network when we hang up, then I’ll call you back and tell you when to expect her. So what happened to Cheryl, she catch you cheating on her?” he asked.
“Her father died a couple of days ago. She has gone into seclusion to search for the meaning of life,” I said seriously.
“If she finds it please let me know. I have been looking for that answer since I was 21,” he said.
“It’s faster horses, younger women, and older whiskey,” I said remembering the line from a song on the Cowboy’s jukebox.
“Sounds about right, I’ll be back with you in an hour or so,” he said.
“Fair enough,” I replied.
It was mid afternoon and I was miserable and antsy. I almost went into a chat room just to masturbate, but decided to save that to help me sleep later. Instead, I went out the rear door and into the storage room. I filled the bike with gasoline. I had drained it before the pirate trip. I was surprised as hell to find that the bike still ran. Marty had said, “If you run all the gas out of the carby. it will store just fine. If you don’t empty the tank and run the gas out, odds are you were going to be cussing the bike and me.”
Since I didn’t need to pedal too much, I took the bike for a long ride. It was one of my favorite things to do. I would love to have killed the motor and gone into the park, down the nature trail, but I knew that I wasn’t up to that much pedaling.
As I rode through the nice part of town, I thought about Smiley. I decided that since Cheryl didn’t want to be herself, I would be her long enough to pop Smiley. Lucas could get me a fake ID easy enough. If we could get Smiley on tape, then it would be time to turn everything over to the cops. Since I had a new a cop friend, I felt better about doing that. He was young and ambitious like Blevins was when I met him. Yes even Anya, or Anna as she liked to be called these days, had been over ambitious. That is the one thing they all had in common.
The small cloth bag strapped to my handlebars began to play that horrid song again. “Hello,” I said after I got the bike stopped and the motor shut down
“Surprise, I got your makeup person approved. The only one they have, who would take the job, is a guy named Bernard Apple. Maxine Bernard is a homosexual, that won’t be a problem will it?”
“You know it won’t be with me. I can’t speak for anyone else,” I said.
“Well try to take care of him please,” Mike said seriously. He had really gotten to be a stick in the mud. “Since we are all in a hurry, he will be on the first plane out of New York in the morning. He is going to have to go to Atlanta then fly back to you. It was the best they could do.”
He acted as though I cared. “Fine what time will he be in Tryon?”
“Believe it or not he is going to be bouncing around airports all day. He won’t be on the ground there until 6:30 tomorrow evening.” he said.
“Well that’s fine. I’ll pick him up at the airport.” I informed him.
“Then, it’s set you are going to do the Smiley blackmail?” he asked
“Yes, I’ll be pretending to be Cheryl, I think.” I said.
“I am going to feel better with you there instead of your girlfriend,” he said.
“She hasn’t been my girlfriend for weeks, but that’s fine that you feel better. Can either of these two camera people, that you have down here now, think on their feet?” I asked. “You know there isn’t going to be any script.”
“They are supposed to be the best, or so I’m told. Earl is a little burned out, but he is reliable. Even if it comes to a dangerous situation.” Mike said.
“What about Willy?” I asked.
“They tell me she is smart as hell. Knows all about cameras and sound. She should be able to handle the equipment just fine. She can even help rig up stuff, if you need it. How about that apartment have you had time to talk to your tenant?”
“No, I have been busy, send Willy over, if you need it in a hurry. Maybe she can convince Lois to leave.”
“I’m going to do that. So keep your powder dry,” Mike said as he hung up on me.
I put the phone away then started the bike. I rode around the nice neighborhood a while longer, then went back to the slums where my building was located. It wasn’t really a slum, just in transition. It seemed to be transitioning into slum.