Read New Title 1 Online

Authors: Ed Gorman

New Title 1 (31 page)

She says, very quietly, leaning forward so she can speak in whispers, "All those other times you stole stuff-that's why he always took the blame for you. Because he loves you. Your folks always expected you to be a success-Bill got the brains in the family, Glen always says-and he always looked up to you. He knew you couldn't help yourself, you know, about stealing stuff. So he took the blame every time you took something. Ever since you were little kids."
"If he told you that, he's lying." But the anger is gone now; there's just weariness. It's kind of funny, actually, little Susan Cramer-at this moment anyway-is in total control of the situation. What's even worse is that she's feeling sorry for him.
"Gee, Bill, calm down. I'm not going to tell anybody and neither is he. He loves you too much and I love him too much to do somethin' like that. He kind of lives through you-he's not the smartest guy in the world-you should hear him talk about you. That's why he had to make sure to return that diamond necklace you took from Mrs. Parker's when you were at her house for the party. He broke in the next night and was going to put the necklace under the couch. But they caught him."
He checks his watch. "I've got to get home."
She reaches out and touches his hand. "Bill, I pray for you every day. I really do. I pray you won't steal anything else so that you'll have a great life and so that Glen won't have to take the blame any more."
Gray, the way this neighborhood is gray; and worn beyond her years. The eroticism he once saw is gone now, at least in his eyes. Gray and worn is all she is. He shakes his head. "You don't know much about criminals, do you, Susan?"
"I know about Glen."
"Criminals always blame somebody else for their troubles. Glen is blaming me."
"He wouldn't lie to me, Bill. He really wouldn't."
"He wouldn't, huh?" He stands up. "I really do have to run."
"Bill. I really won't tell anybody. I really won't."
"Good," he says, throwing a twenty dollar bill on the table. "Good, because you shouldn't go around spreading lies."
As he passes the bar, Briney says, "Bring the wife around some time, Bill. I'm sure she'd like to meet us."
Another sure laugh with the gray and worn men along the bar.
The alien world again. But worse now. Cars stalled in snowdrifts all over the place. Even trucks spinning out of control on the icy snow-packed streets. He feels forlorn, isolated. He should've expected that someday Glen would tell somebody. Shouldn't be any big surprise. And certainly there was no threat in the way Susan spoke to him. God, she was understanding, if anything. Glen always wanted to please the folks. He knew they were counting on older brother Bill to be the one who made it. He had all the poise and polish and brains. Glen, to be brutally honest, just isn't all that smart. They lived long enough to see Bill become a successful lawyer-and long enough to see Glen go to prison. That's probably what killed them (they both died within a year of each other; heart attack for mom, cancer for dad). Now, Glen is out.
Then he's home. Spectacular Christmas lights on his street. His very prosperous street. A huge sleigh parked on one roof top, a beautiful Nativity scene taking up an entire, sprawling lawn. The neighborhood of a very successful man; the most prestigious area in all of Cedar Rapids.
Then he's turning into the long, winding drive that will take him to his Tudor-style house. Modest Christmas decorations here but the house looks gorgeous mantled with snow.
Needs to put Glen and Susan out of his mind. Enjoy himself. Everything is fine, under control. Next time he gets the urge to steal something-well, he'll just have to get the impulse under control, that's all.
He puts the car in the garage, next to Sharon's own BMW, and then walks up to the back door, snowflakes cold on his cheeks. He even opens his mouth, lets the snowflakes melt on his tongue the way he used to when he was a boy. But the air was cleaner back then. God only knows what kind of disease this snowflake is carrying.
He walks up into the kitchen. Sharon is lovely in a very nice, dark dress and a white apron. She is a very, very pretty lady.
"You look tired, honey," she says.
"Long day, I guess."
Then his two daughters burst into the kitchen. Three and four, they are, and even better looking than Sharon. "Daddy, Mommy said that Uncle Glen is a criminal. Is that true?"
"Yeah, is he a criminal like on TV, daddy?"
He gives Sharon an angry look.
She is standing there with a small cooking pan filled with sautéed onions. "I knew you wouldn't like me saying it, dear. But I wanted them to know the truth. I don't have anything against him-I'm a very open-minded person and I think you know that-but I just thought it would be a good thing if the girls knew the truth, was all."
The truth, he thinks all the time he's washing up for dinner.
The truth, he thinks all the time he's watching TV that night.
The truth, he thinks all the time he's lying there in the darkness tonight, unable to sleep. The truth.

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