Longball, Chapter 5: Chameleon
The alpha female of a baboon tribe, when holding court, is a calculating machine of underhanded intrigue. Her air of calm repose disguises a cunning wit that cuts with the quickness of a rapier in the hands of a fencing master. She peers with bored disdain at her court assembled before her, and rules with insouciant force. With a simple wave of her arm, she may reward with fabulous baubles or condemn to horrible demise. Her long machinations have crafted such a sturdy straightjacket of obligation, gratitude, hope, and dread that on most occasions she simply watches with languid eyes the fretting and strutting upon her stage as the players perform in exact accordance with her unspoken commands. Yet on rare occasion, her own passion overcomes her, and she plays.
Maria Gelada sat quietly knitting. Her long pink rods of painted aluminum tapping against each other, gradually consuming an endless length of fluffy red fiber. Like an endless linguini noodle getting slurped into a child’s mouth, it was twisted and pulled first into an indecipherable mass of knots and loops, then into sturdy, useful things. Her knitting was ceaseless, occupying every spare moment. She knitted in an eternal loop that weaved vast reams of yarn into a cornucopia of garments, scarves, cloths, and covers, of nearly every size, shape, and color. Her industriousness adorned nearly every friend and relation, from the tender bottoms of her tiniest newborn godchild, to the scabbed knees and elbows her rambunctious nieces and nephews, to the slowly decaying grayness of her plodding uncles and aunts.
On her torso she wore a garment fabricated from the same material that the needles manipulated, a red wool sweater. She sat at a large oak table polished to a painful gleam, adorned with silver candelabra, baskets of perfectly ripe fruit, and generous bowls heaped with nuts. Behind her stood two beefy men in gray suits, their hands folded in front of them in stoic obedience. Before her sat a small, wiry man with a pile of ledgers and notebooks, tapping figures into a calculator.
She glanced, or rather nodded her head, briefly upward in the direction of the thin man, her rapidly working hands continuing without interruption. His eyes darted up to her, and he murmured apprehensively in a squeaky whine, “What excellent stitchwork, what fine embroidery, you have created a masterpiece. The Pope himself would be proud to wear it.” He proffered. Her needles suddenly stopped with a stillness that roared through the room. She began lifting her head from her task with deliberate slowness. “Hmm, apparently not the sweater…” He muttered, furrowing his brow, wracking his brain to determine the shortcoming of his that had caused Aunt G to interrupt her creation. He glanced quickly up at the clock, and then at the appointment book half-buried in his pile of papers. “Councilman. Alley?” he ventured cautiously. Her needles began clicking again in unimpeded smoothness. “Yes, Mr. Alley” he said to himself confidently, “Right away,” he added, and quickly folded up his paperwork, moved it to a side table, and walked out a large polished brass door.
The wiry man closed the door behind him, and proceeded down a hall covered in plush oriental rugs, and hung with mirrors over dark wood paneling and an ornately carved chair rail. At the end of the hall stood another large brass door, adorned with two more husky men in gray suits. As he was about to pass between the two gargoyles, one of them swung out a stout arm, blocking his path, “Who’s coming to see sweet little old Auntie G now?”
“It’s Councilman Alley.” The wiry man informed him with a squeak.
“Anybody else?” he demanded.
“His aide-de-camp is in attendance.”
The wiry man’s interlocutor cracked the door and peeked through.
He saw a thin black man in a brown corduroy suit accented by shining gold rings on his fingers, and a heavy gold chain around his neck. He was peering with annoyance at a large gold watch wrapped around his wrist. Next to him stood a hippopotamus of a man with skin so dark it looked purple. He was dressed in fading bell-bottom jeans and a red windbreaker that stretched unsuccessfully to cover the rolling hills of his gut, the fabric pulled together in tight peaks where the jacket was buttoned, with limp flaps of fabric between. He was rocking slowly, his chin resting somnolently on his chest.
“The fat guy?” The gargoyle asked, a note of surprise creeping into his tone, “He’s the aid in the camp?”
“Well,” admitted the wiry man, “he is slightly heavy-set. But the size and shape of a man are no measure of his character!” He protested.
“We gotta search these guys?” asked the gargoyle.
“He is a Councilman of the city, a highly respected member of the community and likely future Mayor of our fair city. There will be no need for you to paw him like a South Street shopper selecting produce.” said the wiry man indignantly.
“Yeah, search ‘em” said the other gargoyle.
“How am I gonna search lardo over there? He could be hiding a Tommy Gun in his armpit and I’d need a backhoe and searchlight to find the thing.” protested the first gargoyle.
“Aw C’mon,” encouraged the first, “It’ll be fun, like flapping through a big bowl of chocolate pudding.”
“Geeze,” commented the first gargoyle, looking at his watch, “these monkeys have been waiting out there for an hour. Aunt G kept the mayor waitin’ that long?”
“He is most certainly not the mayor,” corrected the wiry man. “However, he has designs on that office, and may be successful in that endeavor, but only, I suspect, if Ms. Gelada condescends to bestow her support upon him.”
“What’s she doin’ in there that’s more important than the mayor?” asked the first gargoyle.
“Knitting,” the wiry man chirped and slipped quickly through the cracked door before any more barriers or objections could be raised.
“Ms. Gelada will now entertain your presence,” announced the wiry man as he approached the two figures.
“About damn time!” Councilman Alley spat out, jumping up from his seat, his chain jingling with the suddenness of his motion. A shiny medallion suspended from its length swung up from his chest in a sharp arc, slapping his slumbering companion on the cheek.”
“Wazzup boss?” said the hippopotamus in a thick, slurred voice, as he came slowly to awareness.
“Wazzup!” exclaimed the Councilman, “is that this pin-dick mothafucka’ been keeping me waiting out here half the damn day! My ass been sitting so long on that couch I’m starting to get hemorrhoids. I sank so damn low down into that couch that one more fart and I woulda fell right through and slap my ass on the floor! Shit, I been out here so long the roaches started to build a nest with my nuts!”
“I trust your patience and stoic endurance will be duly rewarded.” The wiry man responded dryly as he turned and proceeded to the brass door.
“My fuckin’ limo be double-parked outside. If my ride been towed, your Deigo ass payin’ for it!” whined the Councilman toward the back of the wiry man, who was now halfway to the door.
The wiry man stopped, turned to the councilman, and stated, “We were informed of the inappropriate repose of your vehicle, and instructed the attending officer to ignore the infraction.” He pivoted back toward the door and began walking toward it again.
“Da fuck he just say?” the Councilman wondered, turning a puzzled look at his companion. The Hippopotamus scratched his head slowly and replied, “Something about doing fractions, I think.” “What you talkin’ bout? Say it straight up you crooked Whop!” Demanded the Councilman, but seeing that his complaints were having no effect, he waved an impatient hand at his bodyguard, croaked “C’mon” and began to follow the wiry man.
As they proceeded through the door, the first Gargoyle blocked their path. “We need to check you for weapons and such.” He explained with a bored drawl.
“As I explained,” interjected the wiry man, “Councilman Alley is an esteemed member of the community with impeccable character and can be trusted in all regards.”
The gargoyle, however, had already begun to pat down the councilman.
“What the fuck, you garlic-stinking Guinea!” shouted the Councilman. “This a damn business meeting, I aint got nothing in my pockets but a pen!”
“Aunt G is a sweet old lady. She’s a fragile little thing, and we gotta keep her safe,” explained the second gargoyle condescendingly. “Besides, you ever seen the damage somebody can do with a pen? When I was in Moyamensing, I saw a guy shove a pen right through another guys eyeball, all the way in, until you couldn’t see the pen no more. What a sight! The eye was all ripped up and dripping down his face in stringy bits, and then gooey gray brain pus started oozing out.”
“I think your pen is only good for drawing periods,” interrupted the first gargoyle, pulling a small pistol from the Councilman’s jacket pocket.
“Hot little 22 caliber periods, from the look of it,” smirked the second gargoyle.
“Man, that is my own damn personal property, and you fucking whops need to show me some goddamn respect!” protested the councilman vainly as the first gargoyle continued pawing at him and exploring his pockets. He began pulling various items first from his coat pockets and then his pants. A hodgepodge of treasures began to accumulate on a table just inside the brass doors as the gargoyle uncovered more contraband. As he proceeded, the collection gained a brush, a handful of loose coins, a pair of sunglasses missing one lens, a roach clip attached to wilted, fraying feather, a pocket knife, a half-smoked joint, a small wrinkled bag containing a white powder, an empty syringe with a needle projecting from its tip at an odd angle, a crumpled centerfold of Miss August, a half-empty box of menthols, and a lime-green rabbits foot.
“This guy must be one of the long lost Collier brothers,” observed the first gargoyle.
As he reached into one final pocket, the expression on the gargoyle’s face shifted from grim determination, to puzzlement, then to sheer disgust.
“No way.” The gargoyle stammered as his hand emerged. Dangling from a finger was a stretchy tube of translucent pinkish rubber.
“Why is it not in its wrapper?” demanded the second gargoyle. “You can’t use it now, it’s got lint and stuff on it.” Then, as the realization dawned on him, he demanded in disbelief “Is that thing used? Do not tell me that thing is used. What is wrong with you!”
“That is a special memento, of a special night, with a special someone,” stated the Councilman proudly.
The first gargoyle tossed it onto the growing mound of inequities on the table, where it landed in limp repose at the top.
“Be careful with that!” admonished the Councilman. “That’s a prized possession!”
“Once it’s been used,” explained the second gargoyle with deliberate slowness, “you throw it away! You don’t put it in scrapbook for the memories! You don’t save like a family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation!”
“I think I need a shower.” Moaned the first gargoyle, and he unceremoniously wiped his hands on the Councilman’s jacket.
“Watch what the hell you’re doing! I’m sending you the damn dry cleaning bill.” threatened the Councilman.
“I’m done with him,” said the first gargoyle, motioning weakly toward the councilman, “He can go in.”
“C’mon” said the councilman to the hippopotamus.
“Wait!” commanded the second gargoyle. “He’s gotta’ be searched too.”
The first gargoyle looked at the slick, greasy, dark skin of the hippo, with its voluminous flaps and folds of blubber. Around his midsection, between the straining snaps of his windbreaker, a hairy navel pushed out, yawning widely around a cavernous blackness, with beads of sweat dotting its periphery. Then he looked over at the pile of unsavoriness that he had pulled from the Councilman’s pockets, like some morbid monument to debauchery, topped with a pink piece of nauseating lasciviousness glazed with congealed bodily fluid.
“No, no, no, no….” droned the first gargoyle wearily.
“All right, all right” announced the first gargoyle, relenting in the face of the mental defeat suffered by his compatriot, “Fatso doesn’t get searched.”
“’Bout damn time you wiseguys came to your senses!” observed the councilman. But as the Hippo began to lumber forward, the first gargoyle stepped into his path and commanded, “He stays here!”
“This man,” began the councilman, “is indispensable to all my dealings. He must be at my side at all times and for…”
“You got two choices,” said the second gargoyle calmly. Either you go alone, or we throw both of you out on the street.”
The Councilman stared angrily at the second gargoyle for a moment, then the wiry man, seeing that things were at an impasse, said simply, “This way please,” and proceeded down the hall without looking back. The Councilman, seeing his opportunity for the meeting he so dearly needed receding from him, followed the wiry man, muttering a string of curses, while the hippo waited helplessly by the brass doors.
The councilman started berating the wiry man once again as he caught up to him, hurling a cacophonous stream of insults and protests at his retreating figure. They passed through the gleaming brass doors, the councilman continuing his tirade, while the wiry man stoically ignored the avalanche of blustering invective. The doors clanged shut behind them.
“Franklin!” Aunt G. scolded.
The shock of her voice immediately silenced him. His eyes widened as he took in the elegance of the massive table, the opulent decorations, the enticingly perfect edibles artistically arranged, the impressive bulk of the bodyguards attired impeccably in well-tailored suits, and the simple, pleasant figure of Aunt G. at the center of it all. He took off his hat. He gulped. Then his eyes dropped down and his shoulders slumped into a posture reminiscent of a penitent at the threshold of a confessional.
Aunt G. gestured toward an oak chair, ornately carved with leaves, trees, and forest nymphs, and upholstered with fine red velvet. He shuffled meekly to the chair and slouched into a sitting position.
“Speak.” Aunt G. said simply, her needles whirring and clacking without pause as she formed each stich and knot, placing each length of yarn into its fated position.
“Well, uh…” the councilman began, hesitatingly.
Aunt G. glanced up reassuringly from her work, and he continued.
“I got an opportunity for you, one you can’t pass up.” He continued. “I been rising in this city, going up like a sky rocket, getting higher and up. I crawled my way up this mountain, all the way to the top, all by myself. That’s right a self-made man, with talent and abilities.” Her implements clacked away, nonplussed by his braggadocio, but Aunt G. cocked a doubtful eyebrow at the councilman, then glanced at the wiry man.
“Your honorable councilman, might I review the history of your most recent, and glorious electoral victory?” interrupted the wiry man.
“Yeah, now you talkin’,” said the councilman with pride. “See, everybody know about me, I’m a legend hereabouts.”
“Quite so,” said the wiry man encouragingly. “Your election victory was most serendipitous.”
“Sara who?” squealed the councilman scornfully.
“Serendipitous, that is, lucky,” explained the wiry man dryly. “As I recall, your opponent’s automobile was in a terrible accident involving a sanitation vehicle, just days before the election.”
“Yeah, that was just too bad, getting squashed by a garbage truck, but that bitch had it coming,” gloated the councilman.
“Yes, the implement of her demise was, I believe, owned by a certain business associate of Ms. Gelada,” the wiry man explained.
“Oh yeah, small world isn’t it.” observed the councilman enthusiastically.
“Unexpected interconnections do impart the illusion of diminution to the globe,” agreed the wiry man. “Yet, with a deceased opponent, the election still turned out to be a cliffhanger. As I recall, you were still trailing in the polls on election day.”
“That’s the power of my persuasion, and the rising power of the blackness in this city and in this nation,” the councilman retorted.
“It certainly appeared that you would be defeated by a cadaver, but then a judge ordered that polls be kept open late in certain districts.”
“That’s luckiness, that’s my other power.”
“Fortuitous indeed, and another example of astonishing relationships. The judge has a son, who is a rather well-compensated employee at the firm of another of Ms. Gelada’s associates.”
“That’s more luck, yessir,” responded the councilman, with markedly less enthusiasm.
“And the narrow margin of victory, some 7,500 votes,” continued the wiry man. “I recall an inundation at the polling places with extended hours by unions associated with the stonemasons, plumbers, pipefitters, meatpackers, and some other concerns. Once again, all associated with Ms. Gelada’s partners.”
“True that,” responded the councilman sheepishly. He paused a moment, then gathered his courage.
“True that. But I’m a councilman now, I got votes, sit on committees. I got power. And soon I’m gonna have real power, gonna be a real big man in this city.” He boasted. “I’m gonna be the next mayor. So you need to take this chance now, throw in with me, back me, and then you’ll have a powerful friend in this town.”
Aunt G. placidly continued her knitting.
“We both been in this city a long time.” The councilman continued, pleadingly. “We been here a long, long time, and coming together to do right by the city all the while,” he continued. “We got history. History in the City of Brotherly Love. We been showing each other our brotherly and sisterly love, together, for the good of the city. But we got more to do. Bigger, better things to work to. You see, we can come together to make the city great. Great for our people. A coalition of the oppressed rising up to make this city do right by its minorities, Coloreds and Italians, niggars and deigos, coons and guineas, beautiful black people from the heart of Africa, and short little brown people from that country that looks like some kinda high-legged boot, like maybe the ladies hustling Penn Square be wearin–”
The pitter patter of Aunt Gelada’s stopped, filling the room with an oppressive stillness. Aunt G looked the councilman in the eye, smiled pleasantly, and said, “I may ask you for some things, from time to time. Please be a dearie and be sure to say ‘yes’.” Her voice was the pleasant singsong of a kindly grandmother, but her stare contained the threatening coldness of unsheathed steel.
The councilman’s mental balance was so staggered by the power of her gaze, the all he could muster was a stuttering, “uh, um, ah…”
The wiry man interjected, “The appropriate response is ‘yes’.”
The councilman croaked out weakly, “Yah, yah, yah.”
The wiry man placed a hand on the councilman’s shoulder, bent low to his ear, and whispered, “Yes”
“Yes,” repeated the councilman mechanically.
Aunt G.’s face softened back into pleasant smile, and she said, “Come over here and let me take a look at you.”
“Yes, Aunt G.” said the councilman with grateful relief, and he stood and walked around the plateau of polished wood between them.
Aunt G. held up the sweater she had been knitting, which revealed that it was about three-quarters complete, missing only one sleeve. She pressed it against the councilman’s torso, measuring it against him.
“It’s much too big,” she observed. “But you’ll wear it for me anyway, won’t you sweetie?”
“Yes, Aunt G.” said the councilman meekly.
Aunt G. pulled the garment back down into her lap, suddenly preoccupied with continuing her stitching.
The wiry man cleared his throat, and announced, “The interview is concluded.” He took the dazed councilman by the arm, steering him back through the brass doors.
Out in the hallway, the two gargoyles erupted into jeers at the site of the councilman. “Coming to reclaim your valuables?” and “Hey, a couple bag ladies came by, wanted some of your stuff, but then they saw a dead rat in the corner and took that instead.”
The wiry man announced, “Ms. Gelada has come to an agreement with the councilman, and he should be treated accordingly.”
“Well then,” said the gargoyles, with mock obsequiousness and making exaggerated bows to the councilman. “Please step forward, Your Honor, and we will reunite you with your junk, ah, that is, your valuable possessions.” The first gargoyle began plucking items from the heap and stuffing them into the councilman’s pockets.
“Stop that you grease-ball monkey!” protested the councilman. “I can get my own shit back in my own damn pockets!” The councilman began collecting his pile of paraphernalia, from which a certain lascivious memento was conspicuously absent. The councilman suddenly realized that wafting around him was the smell of burnt rubber.
“Hey, where my damn special night… special memory thing gone?” demanded the councilman.
The first gargoyle explained, “We got a strict policy on hazardous materials and infectious items. Wouldn’t want the health inspector dropping by and writing us up. It had to be properly disposed to protect the community.”
“You mother fuckers!” the councilman shouted. “You sonofabitch—“
But he was interrupted by the wiry man, who noted, “We are all quite grateful that the councilman and Ms. Gelada will continue their fruitful relationship. But perhaps you gentleman could explain to the councilman the unfortunate consequences that tend to befall those who betray Ms. Gelada’s trust.”
The two Gargoyles stared thoughtfully at each other a moment, then the first gargoyle said, “What about Briefcase Bertolini? You remember what happened to him, don’t you?”
“Oh yeah, I remember him real well. How could I forget? He used to walk around town, carrying this black leather briefcase. Nobody ever knew what he had in it. Aunt G. was a little disappointed he didn’t make good on a favor he owed her. Well one day, I remember hearing about this, it seems he decided to eat everything in it. Turns out he had some notebooks, pencils, a box a cigars, a map, a compass, couple grand in cash, all kinds of stuff in there. So as the stuff is going down his throat, his eyes keep getting bigger and bigger, and his middle is swelling up, like a big zit,” the second gargoyle described, a note of nostalgia in his voice. “It’s amazing how much can fit down there, and he’s growing and growing, like he’s gonna pop at any moment. Finally, the last thing to go in, I think it was a wafer-thin little mint, then POW!” The first gargoyle made an explosive gesture with his hands, and the two gargoyles began laughing. “But the thing is,” the second gargoyle continued between laughs, “it came shooting out the other end!” The gargoyles erupted into an uproar of guffaws. “Yeah, it was amazing, intestines, guts, liver, some parts couldn’t tell what the hell it was, mixed up with the cigars and pencils and cash. Shot out maybe 5 feet!”
The Hippo began chuckling along with the gargoyles, but noticed the look of pale uneasiness on his boss’ face, and suppressed his mirth behind a cough. The gargoyles continued guffawing as the wiry man escorted the councilman toward the door, while the hippo followed, a snort occasionally escaping his self-control.
As the wiry man walked with the councilman across the room, he made a few recommendations. “In the lead up to the election, it would be most embarrassing if any scandals erupted. I strongly urge you to make certain lifestyle changes.”
“Say what?” asked the councilman.
“In particular, you might refrain from unsavory and illegal activities, such as narcotics, prostitution, houses of ill repute, and establishments with unwholesome entertainments.”
“What you talking ‘bout?” queried the councilman.
The hippo chimed in, “I think he means no drugs, hookers, whorehouses, and strip clubs.”
“Damn, can’t a man have no fun?”
“Anything you consider fun should clearly be avoided at all costs,” counseled the wiry man.
As the Councilman perambulated toward the door, he caught sight of another man coming into the establishment. He was a tall man with dark hair and dark eyes, dressed in a tattered maroon sweatsuit with parallel white stripes running down each arm and leg.
“Ain’t no hobos allowed in here.” Scolded the councilman.
“Hey, it’s the alley-cat” observed the man, smirking with amusement, which inflamed councilman Alley’s ire. “Hippo, throw this bum out on the street,” he commanded. The Hippo moved toward him, when suddenly from behind him the second Gargoyle shouted, “Hey, Snake! Where you been? Ain’t seen you around!”
The Snake slithered brusquely past the councilman, who shoved a shoulder into him. Snake ignored him and strode amiably toward the Gargoyle.
As the councilman trudged out the door, he muttered disdainfully, “Damn Diego house, welcome some bum off the street like he’s a brother, then treat real brothers like slaves.”
The Snake and the Gargoyle hugged and planted a brief kiss on each cheek in succession. The Snake repeated the same friendly ritual with the first Gargoyle amidst back-slapping and expressions of comradery.
The wiry man interrupted dryly, “Mr. Condoletti, I see you are punctual.”
“Yeah, I know, a bad habit of mine,” retorted Snake.
“Ms. Gelada has a full calendar today, and I must warn you that your wait may be considerable.”
Suddenly the brass doors cracked open, and a graying head poked out from not very far above the doorknob.
“Anthony?” Aunt G squawked. Then she came through the doors, and trotted up to the snake and caught him in a warm hug.
“Aw, it’s great to see you Aunt G.” Said the Snake with heartfelt emotion.
“Come in, come in,” welcomed Aunt G., beckoning to Snake with one hand. She led the way to the inner sanctum, where she resumed her usual spot, needles clacking with amiable industry. She had moved on from the red sweater and now worked on a garment of opulent purple. It was about half done. The Snake sat down opposite her, grabbed a bunch of plump purple grapes from the nearest bowl, and started popping them into his mouth.
“Good!” encouraged Aunt G. “Mange, mange. You’re too skinny, you need to put more meat on those bones.”
“Thanks Aunt G., these are delicious!” The Snake complimented around a mouthful of grape flesh that garbled his pronunciation. “Where do you find ‘em so ripe in the middle of winter?”
“Don’t settle for anything less than the best.” She instructed.
“But tell me,” she continued, “when are you coming to work for me?”
“You’re too good to me, Aunt G.” the Snake demurred.
“I need you here Anthony,” she informed him with a tone that was more command than request.
“You need me?” the Snake replied with a note of surprise. “You have people from Conshohocken to Camden to Chester. You have politicians, policemen, and priests at your beck and call. Just in this room you have one of the sharpest minds,” he nodded toward the wiry man, “and strongest toughs,” here he bowed toward the suits perched motionlessly behind Aunt G., “in the City of Brotherly Love. Why do you need me?”
Aunt G. dropped her knitting into her lap, looked down and sighed, “So young, and so naïve.” She looked up at the Snake. “I have the loyalty, and if not the loyalty then at least the respect of many people in this city. Even here in this room, I have the best of the best, and you know I settle for nothing less.” The suits remained motionless, but blushed slightly at this praise. The wiry man continued working on his books obliviously. “But you have something rare Anthony. Where you go, other men follow. You have the natural gift of command. The blood of the Caesars runs through your veins,” she lectured.
“Besides,” Aunt G. continued, “you’re blood. Thousands of people call me ‘Aunt G.’, but you’re one of the few who can say it with real truth.”
She stood up, walked around the table, and held the purple sweater she had been knitting against his skinny frame. “It’s still a little too big for you, but in time you’ll fill it out.” She informed him. “Keep eating,” she encouraged, pushing the bowl of fruit toward him as she trundled back to her seat.
“I need to make my own way,” the Snake shot back. “Lottery winners go broke in less than 5 years. You taught me that a man needs to earn what he has, or he won’t keep it, he won’t protect it, he won’t cherish and nurture it. He’ll never appreciate it, it will all go to squander and waste,” the Snake explained tensely.
“I also taught you a man’s got take responsibility according to his gifts,” Aunt G. chided. “you’ve been shirking too long.”
“I don’t shirk,” the Snake argued back. “I make my own bones.”
The suits behind Aunt G. looked on in open-mouthed shock. They had never heard anyone take but the most deprecating tones with Aunt G., and the Snakes insouciance left them confused.
“Some bones!” Aunt G. shot back, her voice rising from her usual sweet tones into a harsh squawk. “I send you off to college, and you come running back with your tail between your legs!”
“That wasn’t a tail between my legs!” the Snake shouted back, “That was a suitcase loaded with cash!”
The sharp tone of voice taken by Aunt G. caused the suits behind her to shift their weight to the balls of their feet, ready to spring to attack or defense, whatever might be needed. The rising clamor also caught the attention of the wiry man, who looked up from his obsessive figuring and surveyed the room. He motioned a calming hand toward the suits, and they relaxed.
“I made an investment in you! I taught you to stick things through to the end and you quit on me!” Aunt G. scolded.
“Hey, you taught me to find opportunity and grab it with both hands, no hesitation, no regrets!” Retorted Snake. “I paid you back your investment plus interest, taxes, tags, fees, and bonus. You never had an investment so good.”
“I didn’t invest in you to make money!” Aunt G. shouted.
They both fell silent, for a few moments. Then Aunt G. looked down at her knitting, and said softly, “My investment was a gift to you. I wanted you to have a diploma, a token of legitimacy, a key that would open doors for you that I could never open.”
She went back to her knitting as they sat quietly in thought.
“Come here and give me hug.” Aunt G. finally relented.
The Snake walked around the table, bent down and encircled her in an awkward embrace.
“You know I love you Aunt G., and I am truly grateful for all you have done for me.”
“So did you just come here to give me heart attack, or do you have something else on your mind.”
“I need an investor,” the Snake said plainly.
She began to wave toward the wiry man, indicating he should give him whatever he wanted, then stopped herself and looked up at Snake. “Tell me,” she requested.
Snake pulled a binder out of his track suit, and laid it on the table. He paged through it, explaining to Aunt G. a series of diagrams, background on the target, a Gannt chart showing a detailed schedule of activities, lists of required materials and costs, coded names of team members, potential risks and problems, backup plans, and expected revenue, profits, and return on investment. Aunt G. sat in quiet attention, asking no questions and making no interruptions. When he concluded, she raised her eyebrows in appreciation, and said, “Maybe you did learn something in college.”
As the Snake closed the binder, in a matter-of-fact tone she said, “I’m part of the team.”
“Of course you’re part of the team,” replied Snake. “You’re the investor.”
“No, I want to be on stage. I want to be part of the troupe.”
The wiry man interrupted, “Madame Gelada, with your responsibilities and health, I hardly think…”
But Aunt G. cut him off with “A girl’s gotta have fun once in a while.”
The Snake broke into a broad smile, and added, “This is gonna be fun!”
By Stirling Edgewood