His days were numbered. He made the wrong people mad.
September 27, 2013
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
Irene found her eldest son and her ex-husband in downtown Mesa, where they were restoring the old bank building. She had expected to share Clark’s message with only Ben Tom, but she felt an urgent need to share her burden and Purcell knew something was on her mind.
The weather was nice, so Ben Tom dusted off three old bank lobby chairs that sat under the awning outside the bank. Irene was noticeably nervous as she addressed Purcell first. “I see you finally made it back to your old stomping grounds.”
She turned to Ben Tom. “He tried to drag me back here many times over the years.”
Ben Tom looked at both parents. “What are you talking about?” He turned to Purcell. “You been here before?”
Purcell laughed as he smiled at Irene. “Grew up not much more than a stone’s throw from where we’re sitting right now.”
“How come I never heard about this?”
“I ran away when I was barely fourteen under bad terms. Didn’t see any need to bother my kids with problems between me and my old man. We never made up. I couldn’t move back here till he died.
Ben Tom thought about this new information for a few beats of his heart, realizing that could be the strong pull that brought him back here.
But Irene did not want to talk about Mesa, did not want to stray from her message. “You can’t ever repeat what I’m about to tell you.”
Ben Tom and Purcell glanced at each other, and then nodded their assent to Irene’s terms.
“Your Uncle Clark has left the country with his wife and we may never see him again.
Purcell smiled. Ben Tom leaned in. “Wife? Left the country? Clark ain’t even married. What are you talking about, Mama?”
Irene asked for a glass of water and Purcell popped instantly to his feet, returning with a snuff glass full of cold water from his water jug. He handed it to the woman he still loved gently and more completely than anyone before or since.
She looked up when her hand touched his and said with loving and playful eyes, “Thanks, you old rascal.”
Ben Tom knew that his parents were still in love, but could not live together. “Okay, now fill us in.
“Clark has been married for about two years. He got married while he was in prison to an heiress who lives in a highfalutin neighborhood in Dallas. One of the Park Cities.”
Purcell stood. “Now why would a rich lady marry a known thief who’s in prison for doing the only thing he knows how to do? Hell, Irene, you forget he stole your own sons’ guns and sold ‘em right out from under ‘em?”
“I don’t know the whole story, but she caught him burglarizing her house one night many years ago, when they were both young. She had just been stood up at the altar by some rich boy. Clark said she was the most beautiful and refined woman he had ever seen. And you know that brother of mine can turn on the charm.”
Purcell’s expression showed his doubt. “Your brother ain’t exactly known for the truth, either. You mean to tell me this gal just fell down next to a sack of her own jewelry and fell in love with the thief who was stealing it?”
Irene looked to Ben Tom for support. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but he said he returned the stolen stuff and threw himself on her mercy. They spent the night talking and somehow sparks ignited between them. The good kind, you know.” She turned toward Purcell. “I know it seemed incredible to me when I heard it, but he called and told me before they got married.”
Ben Tom could not believe it. “But you know for a fact that they did get married?”
“There’s no doubt about it. He swore me to secrecy, then invited me over to her mansion and we had a meal and coffee. I had to sneak off to keep Buck from finding out.”
Purcell scoffed at that. “You couldn’t take that sumbitch to a cockfight, much less a fine home.”
Irene knew that was true. “You weren’t exactly a choirboy when I married you. Kathleen, Clark’s wife, is a beautiful, refined, kind lady. She showed me every courtesy.”
Purcell harrumphed. “Women love a challenge. She probably thought she could change a man who has been a thief since he was in first grade.”
Ben Tom put a hand on Purcell’s shoulder to silence him. “So now this new wife and Clark are gone?”
She showed him the letter and he read it. “Can’t make heads or tails out of this. Reads like some kind of messed up kids’ fairy tale.”
Irene took it back, handling it like it was a treasure. “I couldn’t either, until I found this code he gave me when he went into prison. Said he might need to get me a message that others couldn’t read.”
She pulled a second letter from her purse and handed it to Ben Tom. “This is what it really says.”
Ben Tom’s eyes grew wider with each word, each sentence. He whistled as he handed it over his shoulder to Purcell.
Purcell read it while Ben Tom pondered all the questions that the letter left unanswered. “So he spilled the beans on the Dixie Mafia and on the King of Diamonds. Doesn’t say where they’re going or exactly who’s taking them.”
Purcell handed the interpreted letter back to Irene. “Witness protection. Has to be. I have a friend who did pretty much the same thing. Took off with his wife and two kids. New name, new location. Still in the good old USA, but never heard from again.”
Irene shook her head. “Can’t believe Kathleen would just go off and leave that mansion of hers and all her friends. Course, I understand that if her folks ever found out about Clark, they would take the mansion, anyway. She must really love him.”
Ben Tom ran his fingers through his thick hair. “Guess it was either that or watch him get killed. He told Willy and Trez that the folks he was dealing with would definitely put your lights out.”
Irene was tearful. “Don’t you see, though? He did it to protect Willy and Trez, too. Even you, Ben Tom. He got these bad guys all arrested and their stolen property was returned to the rightful owners.”
Purcell knew his brother-in-law well. “May have worked out that way, but you can bet he was covering his own ass as well. He could have been a kept man, lived out his days in a big mansion. But he knew his days were numbered. Made the wrong people mad.”
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.