No, things haven’t gotten better for Jolene, in fact, hell has frozen over and she’s found herself living in it.
Here’s how the story starts….but, here’s a spoiler warning, you need to read the other three books first!
“You’ll have to speak up, Mother, I can’t understand you.”
“I can’t speak up,” she hissed. “They’ll hear me. I’ve told you they watch me like a hawk.” Lucille paused then said louder, but more muffled as if she had her hand over the phone. “They’re trying to kill me, Jolene. I mean it. You better listen to me this time.”
“I know it’s painful to do the exercises–”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, it’s not that. There are things here that just aren’t right.”
Yes, and I was talking to one of them. “Do tell.”
“Don’t patronize me, Missy. I already told you that Fred Dirkus just up and died for no reason at all not twenty-four hours ago. They gave Darlene Smithers some shot first thing this morning and within an hour she started having chest pains and liked to have died. And just a few minutes ago Helen Williams arm fell down at her side like a dishrag and she’s here for her knees! Do you hear what I’m saying? This is no rehab hospital, it’s a Nazi death camp. You have to get me out of here!”
I reached for my ever-present bottle of antacids still sitting on my now-empty desk. I’d packed away just about everything else in my house, but thanks to my mother, those mint-flavored stomach-soothers had become as vital to me as air and water. I shook two tablets out of the bottle and popped them into my mouth. “Mother, dear, you have a new hip and an old femur held together with steel pins and rods. You need rehabilitating and that’s why you’re there.”
“You aren’t listening to me!”
“I have heard every single word you said, just as I have heard every single word from every single one of your many previous phone calls. Specifically, as I recall, you wanted me to come get you immediately because the place was a loony bin. You were the only sane person in the place–staff, patients or otherwise–and there was no way you were going to get better surrounded by people like Fred-the-chain-smoking-alcoholic and Darlene-the-hypochondria- kook. I could go on.”
“You listen to me!” she said in a whispered shriek. “Things are not right here, and you have to come get me.”
“I will be there in a few days, Mother. But you need help and they won’t release you until you’re ready to go.”
“Well, if you don’t hurry up, they’ll be releasing me to the funeral home, that’s what they’ll be doing.”
I sighed, hung up the phone and reached for another mint.
Unlike some of my other forced sojourns to Kickapoo, Texas, I’d escaped taking a bullet the last time around, which, if I thought about it, might still be the same time around since I hadn’t actually escaped or I wouldn’t be packing my essentials to go back and sort of stay there for a while. (I refuse to use the words “live” or “move,” even in the temporary sense, in the same run-on thought as Kickapoo, Texas.) And, come to think of it, getting shot might have been less painful than what actually did happen.
The skeletons my mother had entombed in the family closet were doozies. I still couldn’t integrate them into any kind of reality that actually pertained to me, so we’re going to ignore the emotional trauma and mental anguish aspects of the situation and focus only on the cold hard facts, such as that I became an heiress of sorts overnight. No kidding.
Yep, it isn’t every day that some attorney tracks you down to hand you the keys to a ranch in Texas peppered with your very own oil and gas wells. Now, given that scenario, there’s not a soul alive who wouldn’t envision herself as the next Jed Clampett. I did.
Well, the first thing you know Jo-lene’s a millionaire…
Then I got right over it about thirty seconds later because the more the attorney talked, the more I realized that what I’d actually inherited was a job, a liability and a royal pain in the ass, and not in that order.
Oh, to be sure there’s a truckload of assets associated with the estate. There were also creditors, liabilities, lawsuits and other sundry vermin swimming in the cement pond trying to drain it.
Technically, I didn’t know what all was in the estate since the attorneys only hit the highlights then informed me that I had to be present in Texas to deal with it. They also informed me that it would not be a speedy process, even if there wasn’t toxic waste buried amongst the pump jacks and mesquites, which, of course, there was.
Said waste presumably came from a large plastics manufacturing plant in Redwater Falls, which to everyone’s dismay now claimed me as major stockholder. There was a pending sales contract for the culprit company, and the lawyers on both sides were scrambling to figure out how the hazardous waste and I fit into their picture of corporate bliss. I got the feeling they were equally concerned on both fronts.
I suppose you’re thinking that I could have just said “no thank you” and declined the inheritance. Well, you would be wrong because Lucille Jackson made that virtually impossible to do by entangling her properties into the mess in some way that I will probably never understand. So, by order of the team of attorneys who now apparently ran my life, I was heading to Texas.
In a moment of delusional optimism, I’d arranged for professional caretakers to live in my house for three months. The attorneys had strongly suggested three years. I’d made strong suggestions for them as well. But the bottom line was, like it or not, I was going to Texas for an extended stay. Damn, but I did not like the sound of that.
As I’d done a thousand times before, but would not be doing again for a very long while, I swiveled my chair around and looked out my big bay window. The mountain peak in the distance had a smattering of snow still in the upper crevices. Framed by the deep blue of the high altitude sky, it was picture perfect. The temperature outside was about 70 degrees and the air was crisp and clean and bug-less. And tomorrow morning I would turn my back on all of it and head south.
Yes, I know I told my mother it would be a few days. And yes, I know lying is bad. I also knew that I needed some time to get adjusted to my own internment before she started badgering me in person to break her out of hers. Truth be told, a disabled mother and a patch of mesquites with pump jacks might have forced my hand, but what really pushed me south was the need to know if Jerry and I could sustain a relationship that wasn’t based on my mother’s propensity to commit felonies. Yes, Sheriff Jerry Don Parker was the carrot in a whole mess of sticks getting me to Texas.
There was a slight snag, however. Staying a few days together was one thing, but Jerry had asked me to move in with him. He’d also strongly hinted at something more definite and definitely more permanent. Okay, the man had actually asked me to marry him. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. But it isn’t that simple.
On the one hand, the fact that he wanted to marry me sent my heart and other parts fluttering like a wide-eyed school girl. On the other, it scared the crap out of me. Just the mention of living with him had opened a whole can of emotional worms and reality checks that I hadn’t seen coming and certainly wasn’t ready for. It had taken me years to work my way out of the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial abyss that I’d found myself in after my divorce. Say what you will, marriage is first and foremost a legal contract and I wasn’t ready to give up everything I’d worked so hard for and that’s how it felt at the moment. I also liked living by myself, doing what I wanted when I wanted. And yes, I’d admit to a bit of fear of losing myself again as I had with Danny. Apparently when I became “wife” some switch flipped in my brain and it was not a pretty ride down that track. It goes without saying that giddy school girl Jolene and her mature but jaded counterpart had some things to work out.
Consequently, it was sort of a mixed bag of relief and disappointment that Jerry lived 30 to 40 minutes away from both my mother’s house and the rehab center. It made it impossible to move in with him on a permanent basis, and absolutely perfect on a temporary one. Yes, until Lucille was released from captivity, which the doctors had assured me was a month at the very least, I was free to be with Jerry in Bowman City. I had a pretty good picture of what I wanted that to look like. Yes, there were some fun times ahead–except for the pesky estate problems I’d inherited.
Pesky wasn’t really what I meant, of course, but I have been attempting to ration my profanities. With what I was facing on this trip, it wasn’t a realistic goal, but I am all about self-improvement even in the most trying of times. Yeah, I laughed too. Because seriously, about all I could say about the whole entire situation was WTF.
I had a 5,000 square foot house filled with the personal effects of dead people I didn’t know. Ditto the four-car garage and barns. Just the thought of driving up to the house felt creepy, so one thing was for sure, I wouldn’t be moving into my new old ranch house. Indeed, whether either of us liked it or not, I would be living with Lucille when she got out of rehab. I had envisioned what that might look like too, and while there were surely worse things to be subjected too, I couldn’t really think of any.
I’d rented a small pull-behind trailer to haul personal essentials and few favorite things with me, hoping it would help me feel less like a fish out of water than I usually did. At the very least, the stuff would be a reminder of the world beyond the bubble I was walking into. I’d also brought other things that I just didn’t want to leave with caretakers in my house. Where I was going to put my treasures, I didn’t know. I certainly had the option of hauling the stuff up the hill to the rambling ranch house to co-mingle with the possessions of my newly discovered and recently dead biological father, Bob Little. Birthmother Glenda Hicks Little had apparently died shortly after giving birth to me so I had no idea if there was any trace of her left there. Maybe I’d get curious at some point, but for now, the whole situation was simply surreal, and the idea of stepping foot on the place was weird enough without thinking of leaving something of my own there. The stuff had to come out of the trailer, however, and that left me with the option of renting a storage room in Redwater or putting it all in the room at the back of Mother’s garage, AKA my old playhouse. This option was only slightly less disturbing because moving stuff back into my childhood home didn’t sound good or feel good no matter what the reason. Nevertheless, it was the most expedient and convenient choice, so, playhouse it would be.
I really hated leaving Colorado. In so many ways, I’d found myself here. I’d grown into myself after my divorce and I liked who I’d become. I wasn’t so crazy about who I was when I was in Texas—with my mother.
I was also afraid. Sheriff Jerry Don Parker and I had been crazy about each other in high school, but ego, pride and plain stupidity on both our parts caused us to go our separate ways. Having Lucille become the county’s most wanted after my dad died had come in handy for reuniting us—and there is no doubt it had been great—but the majority of interactions we’d had with each other had been around just that. What would a normal everyday full-time relationship in non-homicidal investigation setting look like?
Yeah, I couldn’t picture it either.