Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Eighteen : Totaled

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN

Saturday morning — 10:17 a.m.

“Is Sandy okay?” Jacob asked.

“Not really,” Aden said. “Listen, you don’t have to stay.”

Jacob smiled at him and pulled the truck into the parking lot for the Denver Sheriff’s Impound.

“No, really,” Aden said. “I know you’re stretched and I really appreciate your help with the kids last night.”

“Will you just relax?” Jacob asked. “I’m here. I’ll wait with you for the insurance appraiser and we’ll head back when we’re done.”

“I don’t …”

“Everything is fine,” Jacob said in an exasperated voice. “What the hell is going on?”

Aden undid his safety belt and got out of the truck. Shaking his head, Jacob followed him out of the truck. Jacob grabbed a folded cotton tarp from the bed of the truck.

“What is going on?” Jacob asked as they walked toward the small cinderblock building.

“The car is totaled,” Aden said. “Frame’s bent.”

“You don’t …”

“I worked in a body shop when I was a kid.”

“So you’ll get a new car,” Jacob said.

“Can’t afford it,” Aden said.

“The insurance …” Jacob started.

He held the door open and Aden went through. Aden checked in at the desk and they took seats on the metal folding chairs around the edge of the small waiting room.

“We dropped comprehensive coverage when Lipson lost the state contracts,” Aden said. “It’s six years old. Not terribly old for a SAAB, but we’ve put a lot of miles on it. Hell, the company isn’t even around anymore.”

Jacob nodded.

“I can’t take a company truck,” Aden said. “With all the smaller jobs, they’re used every single day. We’re lucky we invested in buying the fleet of trucks because we’d be screwed now.”

“Val and Mike leave today,” Jacob said. “I’d have to ask Mike, but I’d bet you could drive his Bronco.”

“No airbags,” Aden said. “I’m not taking my kids anywhere near that deathtrap.”

Jacob grinned at Aden, who sniffed back at him.

“What about the other car?” Jacob asked.

“That’s Sandy’s car,” Aden said.

“She hates that car,” Jacob said. “I’d bet it’s not too manly for you. Plus, it has airbags everywhere.”

Aden didn’t respond. From the extent of the sour look on Aden’s face, Jacob deduced that this was the topic Aden and Sandy were quietly arguing about this morning. Jacob ran his shoulder into Aden’s and Aden looked at him. Jacob grinned.

“What’s going on, really?” Jacob asked.

“I promised her a better life,” Aden said.

Jacob nodded.

“That’s it?” Aden asked. “You’re not going to give me sage advice. Tell me how everything will work out and I should just have faith.”

“Nah,” Jacob said. “You know all that stuff.”

“I didn’t think, you know,” Aden said. He lifted his cut eyebrow and then grimaced at the pain. “I saw the guy shoot the handgun and I acted. Just like Charlie didn’t think when he went to help those girls. Just like Noelle didn’t think when she agreed to testify in those trials. We did the right thing and …”

Aden gestured around him.

“Here I sit,” Aden said. “The guys who raped the girls, sold their tapes, and all that crap, they are …”

“In prison,” Jacob said. “And the guy who shot at Noelle? He’s dead.”

Aden scowled. The door to the Impound office opened and the insurance inspector came in carrying a clipboard. He shook Aden and Jacob’s hand before got up to the desk. They waited a few minutes before a Sheriff arrived to take them onto the lot. They had to walk about a half a mile to Aden’s SAAB. The insurance agent began immediately circling the car and writing things down on his clipboard.

“You can get your stuff out of the car,” the Sheriff said. “We won’t release the car until the case is resolved.”

“Thank you,” Aden said and shook the young officer’s hand.

Jacob laid the tarp onto the ground while Aden opened the trunk. Jacob started pulling stuff out of trunk. Aden slipped the broken back seat window to get stuff out of the back seat. He added the stuff from the backseat to the tarp. The agent opened the front driver’s side door and tried the engine. Miraculously, it turned over. The agent made a note and continued around the vehicle.

When Jacob finished the trunk, he went to the front seat and took stuff out of the glove box. The agent helped Aden out of the backseat of the car and then stepped away to make notes. Aden joined Jacob at the front of the car.

“Kids,” Aden said. “There’s crap everywhere.”

“Always,” Jacob said.

He gave Aden the registration and his insurance card from the glove box. Aden leaned down to pick up an aluminum water bottle.

“How many bottles do you need in the car?” Aden asked.

“Nine so far,” Jacob said with a smile.

“Kids,” Aden muttered and went back to the pile of stuff from the car.

After a few minutes, the insurance agent came over to talk to Aden. Jacob got up from the front seat to hear what the agent had to say. By the time he got there, Aden and the agent were shaking hands.

“Mr. Marlowe,” the agent shook Jacob’s hand and walked off toward the office.

“What did he say?” Jacob asked.

“Totaled,” Aden said. “The engine looks all right, which it should since we take good care of it. But the body’s shot, frame’s bent.”

Aden shook his head.

“We’ll tow it to the garage,” Jacob said. “Mike can take a look at it. He knows every mechanic in town.”

“Mike’s on his way to LA,” Aden said.

“What’s the rush?” Jacob asked. “We won’t be able to get the car for at least a month, probably more like six months.”

Aden gave him an exasperated look and went back to sorting out the stuff from the car. After a few minutes, he gave up. He and Jacob tied the corners of the tarp together. Like Atlas, Aden hefted the tarp bundle onto his back. Jacob followed him in amused silence.

At the truck, Aden hefted the bundle into the bed of the truck and got into the passenger seat.

“So what’s really going on?” Jacob asked.

“Just doesn’t seem fair,” Aden said.

“What doesn’t?”

“Charlie, Noelle, Ivy,” Aden said. “My car. We have to absorb the consequences of this whole thing. That’s not mention those poor girls and their families. God, the girls who killed themselves … My car. We carry the load of this perversion while the men who … They get away.”

Jacob started the truck and they headed out onto York Boulevard.

“You don’t have anything to say?” Aden asked.

“I spent a lot of years dancing with the seductress ‘not fair’,” Jacob said. “There isn’t anything I can say to thwart her. And certainly, you’ve had more than your fair share of difficulties.”

They drove in silence for a while. Before Jacob decided to say something else.

“I gave up my whole life to the ‘unfairs,’” Jacob said. “I could have lured Jill away from Trevor but I was too caught up in the ‘unfairs’. I could have this life, the one I have right now, if I’d only acted instead of …”

“Dancing with a seductress,” Aden said.

“Exactly,” Jacob said. “You want to give up all that you have for that shit?”

“No,” Aden said. “But …”

“That doesn’t make it fair,” Jacob said. “Sure.”

Jacob snorted a laugh.

“What?” Aden asked.

“My mom used to say that maybe a little unfairness is the cost of having so much bounty,” Jacob said. “It’s taken me all this time to actually see what she means.”

“What does she mean?”

“She means that dealing with the unfair things is part of having so much — healthy kids, Jill, the Castle, this business, two hands that work, a mind that can think, hot water,” Jacob nodded.

“Clean toilets,” Aden said with a grin.

“Make your own list.” Jacob grinned and Aden laughed.

Jacob pulled into the Lipson Construction parking lot.

“I don’t need the truck,” Jacob said. “Why don’t you take this stuff home? Sandy’s there picking up some things for Noelle and Charlie.”

“She is?”

“She is,” Jacob said. “Maybe you guys can talk.”

“You sure?” Aden asked.

“I can get a ride from Dad or Tres,” Jacob said. “Ask Sandy about Mike’s Bronco.”

Aden nodded. Jacob stopped the truck and got out of the driver’s seat. Aden went around to the driver’s seat. Jacob waved and went into the building. For a moment, Aden thought about what Jacob had said.

Shaking his head at himself, he put the truck in gear and headed toward the Castle.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 11:37 a.m.

Sandy was standing in the middle of her bedroom wondering if she should do laundry. As she’d done three or four times already, she went to her dresser drawer and peered at her underwear. She walked back to the bag on the bed.

Valerie was leaving today and doing her last loads of laundry. Of course, there was a laundry room at the Malibu house, but the washers weren’t as big or as nice as the industrial washers they had here. Sandy tipped her head to the side and tried to listen for the sound of the household water.

“Washer’s still on,” Sandy said out loud.

If she spent another night at the hospital, she would need … She went back to her dresser drawer to look and then back to the bag.

“Valerie said she’d let me squeeze in a load,” Sandy said out loud.

She walked to the window and opened the curtain to looked out. Mike was standing on the grass with a shovel in his hand. The winter had been warm enough that he thought he could turn over the beds now to help out Jacob and Aden later in the season. Mike was laughing at something Delphie said. Sandy flicked the curtain closed.

She went back to her dresser drawer.

“Whatcha looking for?” Aden asked.

Sandy yelped with surprise. She spun to where his voice came from. Aden was standing at the door. She gave him an annoyed shake of her head and went to the bed to look in the duffle bag.

“I’ve watched you do that a couple times,” Aden said.

“Do what?”

“Look in your drawer and look in the bag,” Aden said. “It’s not in there.”

“What’s not?”

“A solution,” Aden said.

“I’m looking for underwear, you jerk,” Sandy said.

“Mmm,” Aden said.

He sat down on the bed next to her duffle bag. She scowled at him and went to look in her drawer. After another look in the bag, she dropped down on the bed. They sat in silence with the duffle bag between them.

“Moving out?” Aden asked.

“I’m trying to figure out what I need for another night in that fucking hospital,” Sandy said.

“Mmm,” Aden said.

“Yeah, thanks for being so helpful,” Sandy said.

“What help do you need?” Aden asked.

She gave him an indignant look and went to her dresser drawer. He got up and shoved the drawer closed. She spun around to look at him.

“Yes, I closed the God-damned dresser drawer,” Aden said. “It’s not in there!”

“My underwear?” Sandy asked. “It is too in there! Where else would it be?”

Despite himself, Aden chuckled. She gave him a sour look and plopped back down on the bed. They sat in heavy silence. The household water turned on and off indicating the washing machines were still going. Outside the window, Mike yelled something at Delphie and she laughed. The silence got heavier.

“It’s too much,” Aden said.

“You think?” Sandy’s voice was so bitter that his head jerked to look at her. “I assume you’re home to tell me that your car, one of our only assets, is totaled.”

“It’s totaled,” Aden said.

“Of course it is,” Sandy got up from where she sat and started toward the bathroom.

“Jake said that we could drive Mike’s Bronco,” Aden said. “I told him …”

“That’s nice of him,” Sandy said. She crossed her arms and turned back to him. “I don’t know what we would do if we weren’t living here. We just paid off my hospital bill. Now we have Charlie’s bill. This is Noelle’s second bill in less than a year.”

She looked down at the ground.

“I need to work more,” Sandy said. “We should sell my condo. We …”

He got up and put his arms around her. She didn’t move to hold him back. Out of nowhere, a sob came out of her mouth. She pushed him away.

“I can sell my store or get more renters or …”

“Stop,” Aden said. “Just stop.”

“How can I stop?” Sandy asked. “We have to do something!”

“Not really,” Aden said.

“What are you talking about?” Sandy’s voice rose.

She felt her exhaustion and sorrow transform to rage. Rather than scream at him, she spun in place and went into the bathroom. She slammed the door and sat down on the edge of the bathtub. He opened the door.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m hiding from you,” Sandy said.

“Why?”

“Because you piss me off!”

“Why is that?” Aden asked.

Her mouth opened and closed like a fish before she stalked out of the small bathroom. When she passed him, he grabbed her shoulders and held her in place.

“Why are you angry with me?” he asked.

“By your own admission, you gave no thought to your own safety or our family’s financial life,” Sandy said. “You just sprang into action to catch a shooter and save the day, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces again.”

“I stopped them!” Aden said.

“For who?” Sandy asked. “For Noelle? No, she was there bleeding on the ground while the police detained you to chat about what you’d done.”

Aden let her go and looked down at the ground.

“You’re off playing hero while we’re …” Sandy shook her head and went into the bedroom. “AGAIN!”

“We’re?” he asked. “We’re what?”

She threw her hands over her head and plopped back down on the bed. He stood in the doorway staring at her.

“I can’t believe you’re mad at me for stopping the shooter,” Aden said. “How hypocritical can you be? You jumps at any chance to help anyone anytime. Now you’re pissed at me for …”

His voice faded and he stared at the ground.

“For what?” Sandy asked. “What am I angry with you for?”

He scowled at her and tried to remember what she was mad about.

“For risking yourself,” Sandy said. “That’s reasonable.”

He gave a slight nod of his head.

“For wrecking the car,” Aden said.

“For making things harder,” Sandy said. “Everything just gets harder and harder and harder. First there’s that stupid Detective and then Charlie and now Noelle and you! Isn’t it hard enough? Aren’t things hard enough?”

He gave her a long look.

“We’re completely broke,” Sandy said.

“We could use the money we get from your father’s pension,” Aden said.

“Charlie and Sissy need that for college!”

“Sissy’s not going to college,” Aden said. “No matter what you think, Sissy is not going to college. And we need the money now. That’s what his pension is for!”

“And what? When Charlie gets to school, we say ‘Tough luck, Charlie. You shouldn’t have been beaten up?’” Sandy asked. “It’s bad enough that we mooch off my best friend for a place to live!”

“We stay here because of me.” Aden shook his head.

“Yeah right,” Sandy snorted.

Aden opened his mouth to argue with her but she turned away from him.

“I can’t work more!” Sandy said. “I can’t work more! I …”

“You don’t have to!” Aden said.

“Yes, I do,” Sandy said. “You make less than half what you did when I met you.”

“The state …” Aden started.

“I know!” Sandy said. She took a breath and slowly let it out. “I know. The state, the bullies, the feds, the people who beat up Charlie and the asshole who shot Noelle. I know.”

She flopped back on the bed.

“The game is rigged against people like us,” Sandy said. “They screw us and there’s nothing we can do about it. They get away with it and …”

She covered her eyes as tears slid out of her eyes.

“I think we should have another child,” Aden said his bright idea.

Sandy threw a pillow at him.

“I see you agree,” Aden said. “Would you like to get started?”

Sandy couldn’t help but chuckle. She leaned up on an elbow to look at him.

“People who screw people have to live with the ugly nature of their own actions,” Aden said. “They are awful, ugly people who never know the smallest moments of …”

“Joy, laughter, and love,” Sandy said. She gave a slight smile. “‘Ugly, awful people never know the small wonderful moments of joy, laughter, love, and music.’ Andy wrote that on the cover of each of her journals.”

“She was right,” Aden said.

“She was killed by that stupid Detective,” Sandy said. “Thrown off a building.”

“After her fondest dream came true,” Aden said.

Sandy scowled.

“She and I have that in common,” Aden said.

“What?”

“You are our fondest dream,” Aden said.

Sandy gave a small smile. She wiped her tears.

“I have to …” Sandy started.

“You don’t really,” Aden said.

“But …”

“It can wait,” Aden said.

Sandy sat up to look at him.

“What?” Sandy asked.

“We’re okay,” Aden said. “You’re okay. I’m okay. The kids are okay. Everything’s changing, that’s true. But all in all, we’re okay.”

“Noelle’s going to have to leave town,” Sandy said.

“Nash too,” Aden said.

“And Charlie,” Sandy said. “At least until they testify.”

“What about Ivy?” Aden asked.

“No one’s said anything about her,” Sandy said. “I don’t think anyone considers her.”

“She should probably go too,” Aden said.

“Sissy’s going to New York,” Sandy said.

“That’s why we need another child,” Aden said.

Sandy groaned and flopped back on the bed.

“What?” Aden grinned. “Why did you groan?”

“Just because they are gone, doesn’t mean they won’t need us,” Sandy said. “They will need us more than they do even now!”

She lay staring at the ceiling for a moment.

“If we’re going to do this, we need to do it on our terms,” Sandy said.

“What does that mean?” Aden asked.

“The DA wants to meet with us tonight,” Sandy said.

“And?”

“We need to have the kids out of here by then,” Sandy said.

“Can we do that?” Aden asked.

“Just watch me,” Sandy said.

Aden grinned.

“What?” Sandy asked.

“That’s my girl,” Aden said.

“And the hopeless, overwhelmed me?” Sandy asked. “Who’s she?”

“Oh, she’s you,” Aden said. “Learned helplessness.”

Sandy scowled at him.

“You can’t let the bastards beat you,” Aden said.

Sandy grinned.

“What?” Aden asked.

“You think Mike will let me take his Bronco?” Sandy asked. “So cool.”

“It’s dangerous!”

“You should have thought of that before you wrecked the SAAB,” Sandy said.

Aden scowled and nodded.

“Val’s Mustang is pretty sweet,” Aden said.

“Oooh Celia’s Mercedes!” Sandy said.

“It will be hard to be a bad ass in a tank of a diesel Mercedes,” Aden said.

“Just watch me,” Sandy said.

Aden laughed.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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