RED SAID TO TELL YOU no hard feelings,” says Betty, or, as she was known to Lee and me, Mrs. Moose. “He must really like you, brown-eyed boy.” She’s just brought our order of burgers and fries, so we can eat while we bowl.
“Except he did say no food on the hardwood,” she adds, lighting up again and motioning with her cigarette toward the ball machine and the wooden approach. “Only at your seats.”
Lee waits til Betty’s headed back to the grill.
“No hard feelings? For what?” my sister asks me.
But Moose’s wife hears her, stops, and turns around.
“About the divorce papers,” Betty calls back. “You didn’t know about that?”
“What?” Lee shrieks, her voice rising above the crash of pins around us.
“Can we not talk about it, Lee?” I say. “I just want to forget about those two. And bowl.”
She’s still talking, but I’ve tuned her out. I want to concentrate and get my mind off my miserable life. Even my bowling is miserable. Three games and I have yet to break three digits. Even with my lucky ball–ten-pound 703, black with white speckles–nothing’s going right.
I overcorrect for all my gutter balls to the left, swinging it all the way to the right, and hear the only sound worse than the dull rattle of a ball hitting the gutter: the sadly comical, hollow clunk of a ball taking out the ten pin.
I drag my feet back and reach in front of her to flip off the overhead projector. Nobody wants to see this.
“I don’t think you understand what you’ve done,” she continues. “That has to be illegal or something. I’m sure of it.”
“So what are they going to do to me?”
“I don’t know. Arrest you? Put you in jail? Child molest you maybe?”
“If anybody was going to do something to me, they would have done it by now. Anyhow, I still think it was worth it. It bought us some time, didn’t it?”
“Maybe. But who knows what Red’s going to do once he and Mom get back.”
“You heard Betty. Red told her no hard feelings. Besides, he’ll be busy with his lawyer, cleaning up that mess I made for him.”
“That’s what I’m saying, Jamie. I don’t care what he says about no hard feelings. He’s got to be pissed as hell.”
“No, actually, he’s in pretty good spirits,” comes Betty’s voice all of a sudden, making us both jump.
She drops down into one of the molded plastic chairs behind Lee.
“Damn these things are hard,” she says. “You heard about the golf clubs, right?”
“Heard about the golf clubs,” I say. “I saw ’em.”
“Yeah, something went off and blew them sky high.”
“Sure did. But now he’s trying out every golf course in Vegas with a brand new set. A gift of the Pittsburgh Sports Writers Association.
“Huh?” I say. “How come?”
“I don’t know. They fixed his upholstery, too. They just love Red in Pittsburgh.”
“I’m glad somebody does,” Lee says.
“Yeah, Betty,” I say. “Whoever booby-trapped his golf bag was no friend of Red’s. That’s for sure.”
“Well, yeah that cop got hung out to dry,” Betty smirks.
“A cop?” Lee asks.
I remember a cop.
“Yeah. I guess he was the only one who didn’t get the memo. By the time they brought your mom and Red back here from Dayton, the word was on the street. They thought everybody knew they weren’t to lay another hand on Red. Everybody except that poor guy.”
“Dayton,” Lee mutters. “If I never hear anyone mention that place again, it’ll be too soon.”
Betty looks to both sides, scooches up on the edge of her seat, and leans in closer.
“Yeah, Red really came out smelling like a rose on that one,” she half whispers.
“That one?” Lee whispers, too. “Betty, how do you know we’re talking about the same thing?”
“Lee. You think everybody in Columbiana County doesn’t know about their little skedaddle halfway to Chicago? Boy, oh, boy. Red really stirred up a hornets nest that time. When the Youngstown family heard he was gettin’ a little light fingered with their cash, they went after old Red hammer and tongs. A couple of rogue Liverpool cops went in on it with them, too. But you never heard me say that. Anyhow, they all came down on Red’s place in the middle of the night, but one of his own guys down at City Hall got word to him in time. He and your mom gave ’em the slip. They were in Dayton, all ready to cross over into Indiana, when those damn hoopies finally caught up with them. God, I’m glad your mom wasn’t along when they found Red. They liked to beat the bejesus out of him. But true to your mom, she was back in some motel room, filing her nails or something. So anyhow, they were hauling the two of ’em back to town when they stopped in Columbus so one of the cops could find a pay phone and call in. When he did, they told him that Pittsburgh had gotten wind of what they’d done, called City Hall and said to bring Red home safe and sound or heads were gonna roll. And you know when they say roll, they do mean roll. Luckily, he still had most of the money, so when he got back they settled up somehow, who knows how, and there you go. Now he and Marie are off in Las Vegas, guests of Old Man LaRocca, having a good old time. Go figure.”
Lee and I look at each other.
“Betty,” I say. “Should you be telling us all this?”
“It’s all in the family, kiddo,” Betty says. “And believe me, there’s more where that came from. Oh, and by the way, congratulations.”
She tousles my hair.
“Don’t rub it in,” I say, pulling the score sheet out from in front of Lee and crumpling it up.
Betty gives me a quizzical look.
“Can we put our burgers on Mom’s tab?” Lee asks her.
“Tab? What tab?” Betty says, smashing her cigarette butt out in a recessed ashtray in the counter behind her.
“Oh, sorry,” Lee says sheepishly. “I thought Mom said she has a tab.”
“Nah, Lee,” Betty says, blowing smoke out through the side of her mouth. “I’m just givin’ you a hard time. You don’t have to pay a red cent. If you’ll excuse the pun. You’re part of the family now.”
“Thank you,” Lee smiles.
“Get used to it,” Betty says. “Wainwright’s a name that opens doors all over town. Shuts some in your face, of course, too.”
She laughs at her own joke.
“And you can tell Red I didn’t say that,” she adds, winking.
“I’m not going to use the Wainwright name to open anything,” Lee mutters.
“Why not?” Betty says. “If ya got it, flaunt it. Besides, Red’s such a pain in the ass, you gotta get some kinda benefit from having him in your life.”
“Well, we’ve been doing our best to keep that to a minimum.”
“Oh, well,” Betty sighs. “All good things must come to an end.”
Lee and I look at each other again, and then at Betty.
“What’s ending?” Lee asks her.
“Ending? Ended all ready, you mean,” Betty says. “Your mom’s very brief career as a single woman.”
“What?” I say.
“Uh-oh,” Betty says. “I thought you knew.”
She grimaces and nervously begins to tidy up around us, cutting here eyes back to our faces a couple times.
“Knew what?” Lee asks.
Betty stops her busy work and lets her hands drop to her sides
“You are Wainwrights,” she says. “I thought they would have called you, too.”
“What?” I say. “Called us about what?”
“Dammit, Red,” Betty winces.
Our mouths are hanging open, waiting.
“It’s official. Red and your mom. They got married last night in Vegas.”
If my story strikes a chord with you, please help me share it: