Here’s the conclusion to the short fiction I began last week. I hope you’ll enjoy.
Laundered Money (part 2)
He watched her face. So, she didn’t recognize me.
“My God, what have you been doing? With yourself, I mean.” Her face turned red. “You still live around here? Well, I guess you do, here you are.”
“Guess I’m just living the glory life, and you’re still watching me work.” Her face paled. She’d watched him plenty back-in-the-day. Got a beating from her staring. Dad said I’d screw us getting paid. It was always Brant’s fault when the old man had been drinking.
“I heard you got out of Dodge.” He leaned against the washer and crossed his arms, exaggerating his pecks. “But you just couldn’t stay away.”
“Not exactly my idea.” She turned toward the house. “Well, I’ll let you get to work.”
Brant turned to his task. Finally. I don’t need a handler. He removed the remaining screws and set the back panel to one side. “What the Hell?” A large wad of plastic was wedged between the housing and motor. He pulled out the balled mess and examined it. Not a mouse, that’s for sure. He pitched it toward the wastebasket—missed.
Attaching some loose wires, he plugged in the unit and pulled on the knob. The machine began to hum. Immediately he hit the button, shutting it down. He looked toward the house and checked his watch—forty-five minutes. No way. Goody Cheapskate owes me more than that. The utility company was threatening to cut service, not to mention he owed probation fees. If he didn’t pay, he’d go back on a technical.
He glanced at the scarred Timex he’d inherited from his dad, then, pulled out a smoke. The Old Man wouldn’t have allowed a break this early. Brant rolled the cigarette back and forth between his finger and thumb. His dad had hoped he’d get a football scholarship. Go to college. Brant sucked the butt for the last drag and squashed it under his boot heel. He grabbed a broom and swept the wall and floor where the appliances sat, pouring several dustpans of trash into the wastebasket. Cleanest this place has been in months, maybe years. After reattaching the back and the water hose, he shoved the washer into the corner. Why would somebody stuff shit in here?
He walked over and picked up the offending ball and unfolded the plastic. Davis’ Super-Mart was stamped on three bags, one inside the other. At the bottom of the last bag was a rolled up Lotto ticket.
Brant checked the date on the ticket and leaned against the wall, looking at the spot where the dryer usually sat. They say the old lady was loony-tunes. He thought about the space between the two machines. She could have gotten her skinny ass between them. He went out and ducked around the corner of the building. Lighting a cigarette, he pulled out his cell phone and Googled the date on the ticket. “Shit.” It’s a winner. A winner! Cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, Brant checked to see if the ticket was still viable. He took another long toke and smiled.
His dad’s voice came like a slap in the face. “They might pick a man’s pocket, but we don’t steal.”
He stubbed out the butt on the edge of the concrete. “I fixed the damn washer—what I was hired to do.”
He walked back into the laundry area. She’s not even paying me what I’m worth. He slammed his palm on the washer. I’m not going back to jail.
Linda came running from the house. “Are you alright?”
Brant smiled and patted his pocket. “Yes, ma’am. I believe it’s fixed. ” He picked up the Davis grocery bags. “Just need to run it through the cycles.” He grinned and held up the tattered plastic. “Seems a mouse made a nest.”
“That’s great.” She looked at her watch. “And less than two hours.”
“That’s right. A bargain.”
The next morning Linda crossed the carport with an overflowing laundry basket balanced on her hip. No more laundromat. Humming, she set her load on the hood of the car. Opening the laundry room door, she turned and noticed Brant’s truck parked halfway down the long shaded drive. The hair on her neck stood up. Jared was still out of town.
Her eyes darted around the covered parking area. Heart pounding in her ears, she reached in and flipped the light switch illuminating the darkened laundry room. She had called an old girlfriend yesterday and gotten an ear full. Brant had been in jail off-and-on for years, either for farming, selling or manufacturing drugs.
She squinted at the truck. In the early morning shade of the oak, it appeared he was sitting inside. What’s he doing? She waved and pulled her phone from her pocket. Answer, Jared, please. What should I do? It went to voicemail.
Was it the money? I’m not paying him anymore. She smiled and waved, again. Punching in 911, she didn’t hit send. Maybe he just wants more work? I’ll look like a fool. “Okay, Mamma, we know this guy,” she mumbled. Act cool, smile.
The gravel crunched, as she tried to walk with confidence. Damn these azaleas. She had argued with Jared not to cut them. She had wanted to keep out the nosy neighbors—But now…
Brant was leering at her, his windows down. She clutched the cellphone in her pocket and walked to the passenger’s side. “Hey, Brant. I haven’t got…” His eyes were open, vacant. Linda leaned into the truck. It smelled of lemon and Amour All. “Brant? Are you okay?”
He wasn’t okay. He’s dead. She blinked and stepped back. He’s dead in my driveway. Linda stared. A needle hung from his left bicep beneath a red bandana tied around his forearm. She stood there until a tear ran down her check. Why here? She sucked in a sob and pushed the send on 911.
Linda gave the dispatcher the circumstances and her address. About to cry again, she hung up. This is going to be all over town. She could hear the gossips now, “Her husband is out of town, and she hired a man—an old crush. He O.D.’d, or did he kill himself over her?” Why in my driveway. Oh, God.
She looked at Brant. A crumpled piece of paper was in his left hand. Guilt cut like a knife. Did he leave a suicide note blaming me being cheap? She put her hand on the door handle but stopped. Thoughts of Mark Harmon and NCIS, she looked around and wiped the handle and window frame with her shirt. Thinking the police would be there any minute, she ran around the truck. Trying not to look at Brant, she reached in the window…, slowly. Eww. She touched his gray fingers and jerked the paper from his grasp.
It was a Lotto ticket, she knew, maybe before her arm slipped out the window. Mamma played all the time. Did you lose, and kill yourself for this? Why here? She checked the date. The ticket was six months old. According to her friend, the gossip mill, Brant was in jail then. Six months ago, Mamma, we were playing find the Lotto ticket.
Sirens wailed in the distance. Linda stuffed the ticket into the pocket of her jeans. She stepped away from the truck, hands on her hips.