Having just ordered Thomas Gunn out of her car, Hailey was in a perfect mood for confronting her aunt.
Alicia had been taking tea on the patio. She waved off Eloise, her housekeeper and gestured for Hailey to be seated opposite her.
“Good morning, Hailey. Would you care for some creamed Earl Grey?”
Hailey ignored the question and sat down opposite. She was seething with rage, but determined to remain calm and not give the old woman any advantage.
“I see.” Alicia’s eyes narrowed. “Feeling a little out of sorts today? —A case of the vapors, perhaps?” She pursed her lips and smiled sweetly.
Hailey wanted to throw over the wrought iron table and smash to bits the Blue Willow tea set. It took all her powers of restraint not to toss the contents of Alicia’s cup into her wizened face.
“I didn’t come to take tea, Auntie.”
“No? This is not a social call?”
“I know about Clare’s ashes…my mother’s remains.”
If Alicia was surprised, she didn’t show it.
“So, been doing some detecting, have you?”
Hailey’s eyes flashed. “Is that all you can say? How could you do this to Birdie…to me?”
Alicia stared back, unblinking in her calm defiance.
“I have done nothing. It’s not my concern if your Mother chose not to reveal certain details to you or to Birdie—that’s entirely within her provenance.”
“But after Mother died, you had opportunity to reveal the truth. Why didn’t you? What possible harm could have been caused by letting us know about Clare?”
“You’re an ingénue, my dear. You know nothing of proper protocol, let alone protecting the family name.”
“Protecting the family name—from what, for God’s sake—from Clare’s own children?”
“Exactly. Clare was a renegade who had no respect for our tradition. Her scandalous antics embarrassed us on far too many occasions. She was out of control.”
Hailey could barely control her own emotions.
“What did she do that was so scandalous—marry a Jew?”
“You’re speaking out of ignorance. You didn’t know your mother. Beatrice was more of a mother to you than Clare could ever have been. She was deranged, Hailey. It began in Art College—drinking, carousing, dancing nude in the city hall fountain. I lost count of the times that Thomas Gun bailed her out. But when she took up with that Bernie Sigel…”
“I can’t believe you’d be so intolerant.”
Alicia’s eyes were closed and she was shut in with her recollections.
“Forsaking the faith of her fathers, running off with that newshound—no wonder she lost her mind. Something had to be done before she completely destroyed the family.”
“What did you do, Auntie?”
Alicia stared ahead unseeing. “I did what had to be done—her husband deserted her—ran off to the other side of the world chasing a story—I had her committed and treated for depression.”
Hailey’s jaw dropped. “It was you who recommended the electro shock treatments!”
Alicia lifted her chin in defiance. “I did and I’d do it again. Your mother was sick, Child. What else was I supposed to do?”
“Those treatments killed her as surely as if you had robbed her of her memories. When she couldn’t remember Bernie or even me, she put a bullet through her brain.”
Alicia started to her feet, then stopped and sat back down. “How could you possibly know that?”
“I didn’t, Auntie. I guessed. While I sat consoling poor Birdie the other night, I wracked my brain to imagine a reason why you would cremate my mother and keep her ashes in unhallowed ground. Suicide was the only thing that made sense—the unforgiveable sin. Knowing you, I figured you called in a few favors like you did with Archibald Leech and Thomas Gunn to hush up the whole thing and keep it buried where no one would find it.”
“You’re a clever girl, Hailey. What do you want?”
Hailey looked at her with disgust. “What do I want? —From you? —Nothing. You have done quite enough over the years—to Mother, to Birdie…to me. I don’t know the Bible as well as you, Auntie, but wasn’t there a part where God promised to restore what the locusts had eaten? Maybe that’s what I want—to restore to Birdie and me what you have taken away.”
“I tried to protect you, Child.”
“You tried to protect the family name, Auntie. You’re a scourge, a plague, not a blessing. I will do my best to protect Birdie from you and I promise you, Auntie, if you try to stop me or interfere in any way, you’ll rue the day—and that is a promise you can count on.”
She turned abruptly on her heel and strode angrily away.
She felt Alicia’s ferret eyes following her all the way to the glass doors of the patio. She stepped through them and walked briskly back through the cool downstairs rooms of the house, scarcely taking a breath until she stepped off the front porch into the warm sunlight.
Her SUV was waiting where she left it and she got in and turned the ignition key.
A man’s rough hand clamped down hard on her shoulder. She winced in pain, too terrified to cry out.
“That’s good—don’t you dare make a peep—if you move or scream, I’ll put a bullet right through this backrest.”
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.