Daze in the Valley
by Jay Cantrell
Adam couldn’t figure out why he was rarely allowed to sit quietly on the deck and enjoy the scenery.
But he couldn’t.
This time it was Veronica who came calling, a cell phone in hand.
Adam looked up from ogling Erin and Trinity’s bodies with a questioning expression.
“Your sister is on the phone,” Veronica said. Although their employee was familiar with many aspects of the group’s personal life, Adam’s sister had not been mentioned.
So she was shocked when Trinity and Erin jumped to their feet with murder in their eyes.
“I’ll get the others,” Erin said to Trinity. “You take care of the bitch.”
“I can handle this,” Adam said but it was evident he was among the severe minority in holding that opinion.
Erin stopped in her tracks and gave Adam an appraising look.
“I can,” he insisted.
Erin and Trinity exchanged glances and Erin departed through the doorway. Trinity gave a “have-at-it” gesture with her hand.
Adam sighed and took the phone from Veronica.
His sister was all sweetness and light when Adam answered. He had seen the act before. It was her usual demeanor just before she hit their parents up for some favor.
“Hey, Baby Bro,” Marcia Walters said. “I guess I can’t call you Little Bro anymore, huh?”
She laughed nervously after her not-so-casual reference to Adam’s new life.
“What do you want?” he replied curtly.
“What makes you think I want something?” she asked quickly.
“Because I’m not eight years old anymore,” Adam shot back. “I know the routine by now. What do you want?”
“I think we might be able to work together,” she said finally.
“What!?” Adam exclaimed.
There was a time, when he was a child, that Adam thought his sister was the most beautiful person on the planet. Before she left home, Adam reveled in the attention she paid him.
But in the years preceding their parents’ deaths, Adam had taken to avoiding Marcia completely. He was certain his parents saw her for who and what she was and he couldn’t stomach the way they would fawn over her during her infrequent visits.
Any beauty Marcia once held in Adam’s eyes had long since faded.
“I’ll let Barry tell you,” Marcia said, seemingly unaware that Adam had jumped to the wrong conclusion.
There was silence while she handed the phone off. The rest of Adam’s entourage, including Walt, Sean, Rachelle and Mary, stepped through to the balcony at that very moment.
“Put it on speaker,” Shelly commanded. Adam frowned but complied. In a moment, Marcia’s boyfriend was on the line. Adam couldn’t remember if this was the old boyfriend or if she had somehow found a new one.
“Z’up, Dawg,” a voice said. “I think your sis and I got a good business proposition for you.”
The group rolled its eyes collectively at the greeting and groaned aloud when the last sentence was stated.
Rebecca spoke before Adam could respond.
“First off, using outdated inner-city slang with an Ozark Mountain accent is a really bad idea,” she said. “Someone is likely to pop a cap in your proverbial ass.”
“Second off,” Karlie chimed in, “I sincerely doubt any business you have a part of will interest us in the least.”
There was silence.
“Dawg, I think we need to talk in private,” Barry said. “I’m sure you don’t want all your friends to know your business, you know.”
“He knows and we know,” Allie said. “We’re not his friends. We’re his family. So say what you want to say and then get lost where you can’t be found.”
“OK, Dawg, here goes,” Barry said. There was knowing humor in his voice. He thought he was going to out Adam to his close friends. “Since you’re doing porn and all, Marcie and I thought we could help you out on the supply end. You know, I know some people out here. I’m sure we could work out something.”
Adam glanced around the group. Only a few faces showed anything but confusion.
“What are you talking about?” Mary finally asked.
“Come on,” Barry said. “I don’t want to say it out loud. I know the life, Dawg. I know the shit you’re into. I can get you product a lot cheaper than what you’re paying now. Thing is, we’ll need a little startup cash.”
Barry sounded disappointed that no one seemed surprised by his revelation of Adam’s employment.
Recognition finally dawned for Adam – and for a few others as well. Barry was talking about drugs.
“No thanks to the business idea,” Adam said. “And no thanks to giving you people any money.”
“Since you already stole everything that wasn’t nailed down at the farm,” Allie added. Allie never bothered to hide her anger. If she was pissed off, she thought everyone should know about it.
She was well past merely “pissed off” in this instance.
“Marcia only took what was rightfully hers,” Barry said. Sean started to chime in, thought better of it and bit his lip – literally.
“Uh-huh,” Adam said. “Well, whatever you think. It doesn’t matter. You’re not getting anything else from me.”
The next voice Adam heard was his sister’s. Apparently she and Barry hadn’t learned of the “Speaker” function.
“I left you the farm,” Marcia said. “And, like he said, everything I took had my name on it.”
“And the account book you used to steal my money had ‘Adam’s College Fund’ across the top of it,” Adam countered. “At least it did three weeks earlier when I deposited all the money I made last summer into it. Yeah, Mom and Dad put money in there. But so did I. You not only stole from their memory but you stole every damned cent I worked for since I was 14 years old.”
“I didn’t know,” Marcia whined.
Finally Sean had all he could take.
“You did more than steal from your parent’s memory,” he spat. “You stole from the farm.”
“I did not!” Marcia said.
“Someone did,” Sean pointed out. “Adam’s dad kept money in his ‘Weekend Fund’. That wasn’t personal funds. That money belonged to the farm. It was corporate assets. It was missing from the strong box and I know the state police want to talk to you about it.”
Adam shot his friend a questioning glance. He had no idea what Sean was talking about, but Sean simply shook his head sadly and mouthed the word “later.”
“I don’t need any more trouble with the cops,” Marcia said hurriedly. “It’s why we came out here in the first place.”
Adam’s throat went dry.
“Out here?” Adam asked hesitantly. “Where are you?”
“We’re in L.A., Dawg!” Barry said.
“Son of a bitch,” Adam muttered.
It took Adam several minutes to reconcile himself to the fact his sister was living in the same city he was. Sure, Los Angeles was a mammoth place. But she knew where he went to college and would eventually be able to track him down.
It finally dawned on him why she had called the business phone. It was his old number and the only one she had for him. Or maybe she pulled it from his PornLife profile.
While Adam was putting together the pieces of the situation in his head, the rest of the group was taking up his defense.
“You probably should pack up and head back to wherever it is you came from,” Sarah warned. “Because you have a lot of people out here who wouldn’t think twice about sending you home in a box.”
“People like the two or three dozen that Adam interacts with daily,” Rachelle added icily. “There has never been a moment that your brother wasn’t willing to stand up for me or anyone else out here. If you think we won’t do whatever we have to do to protect him, you’re dead wrong.”
Marcia – who had figured out how to use the speaker function – decided a direct plea to her brother was best.
“Adam, just give me a little of the farm money and we’ll be gone,” she said.
Allie had reached the end of her rope.
“You ignorant bitch,” she yelled. “Farm money? What fucking farm money? You ran off with whatever you could carry before your parents were even buried. You didn’t bother to start the legal process. That farm is languishing in limbo because you decided stealing from your family was more important than doing what was right. Adam has been busting his ass out here to keep that farm going in hopes there might one day be some ‘farm money’ for you or your kids. But that is a hell of a long way off. Probate won’t even start until you show up back in Missouri.”
“And she’ll be charged with grand theft if she ever does that,” Sean said simply. “They found $25,000 missing from the corporate funds. That’s what I was saying, Marcia. You might have a viable legal claim to what you stole from Adam but you do not have any right to what you pried out of the strong box. That belonged to the farm and the people running the farm want it back.”
Finally Adam found his voice. Everyone was surprised his interjection sounded so calm and reasonable.
“Where are the kids, Marcia?” he asked.
He was greeted by silence.
“Marcia?” he asked again. His voice rose slightly.
“The state took them,” she admitted. “They’re with a good family. Adam, I’m in some trouble. That’s why we needed a new start. You have to help me.”
“He doesn’t have to do a God-damned thing!” Mary roared. Like Allie, she had been sitting almost silently, but Mary had been reliving in her head the day Adam found out about his parents. “You … you listen to me. I swear if I ever see you I won’t stop hitting you until you’re down for good. Your brother is one of the finest people I’ve ever known. He is that way because of your parents. I wish to God I could figure out how a piece of shit like you ever came out of that family. You’re a walking, talking poster child for abortion and, by God, I’ll perform one 30 years after the fact if I ever see you.”
Adam reached over and put his hand on Mary’s. He hadn’t realized his friends were so protective of him. He realized he should have known and he added the entire group to the small smile he offered Mary.
“Where did the money go?” he asked. “I mean, well, I’m sure my friend here can give me the figures down to the penny but I estimate you wandered off with close to $350,000. It’s been less than a year. You can’t have gone through that amount of cash in such a short time.”
“We did,” Marcia said. There was defiance in her voice. She had come out here for money and she was leaving with money. “Look, let’s get together and talk. We can figure out a way for this to work out.”
Adam closed his eyes.
“Have you been listening, you stupid cow?” Shelley said. “There is no money. He couldn’t give you money if he wanted to because he doesn’t have any. No one can touch anything from the farm until probate is over. You fucked him over there, too.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s got some funds from his new life,” Barry said. “C’mon, he’s in the movies. I’ll bet he pulls down a million a year.”
“You’re an idiot!” Trinity said with incredulity. “He does what he does so he can survive. A million a year? He makes $800 a week before taxes most weeks.”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“If you want to try to get the kids back, I’ll see if there is a lawyer who can help,” Adam offered. “Outside of that, there is nothing else I can do.”
Again, there was no reply for a moment or two. Then it was Barry who spoke.
“You’ll have to do a lot better than that,” he said. “Or else.”
Walt had not spoken during the episode. He believed – rightly, perhaps – that this was Adam’s business to resolve and he shouldn’t get involved.
But now he stepped in the middle of things.
“Or else what, motherfucker?” he growled, his voice low and menacing as it tended to become when he was angry. “You better take a fresh look at the situation. You’re on the run from the cops or the cons or probably both. If your kids are with a good family, there isn’t a single person in this world who will miss you or bother to look for you if you somehow disappear.
“You two are out here – alone. Adam is here with two dozen people who love him and respect him. We would all go to the wall for him because he’s proven he’s willing to go the wall for us. So make your threats. But you better think about the promise I’m making you.
“If you so much as cause him to miss a moment’s sleep worrying about this, I will make it my personal crusade to track you down and make you pay for it. I’ll have 25 people at my back. Twenty-five people who make the people you’re running from look like a daycare center picnic. So pack your sorry asses back up, head for the nearest bus station and head back the way you came. Otherwise, I promise you – I promise you – the day I find you will be the worst day of your lives.”
Adam realized Walt had stood while talking. He had assumed his fighting stance and he rolled his muscular neck to loosen it when he finished speaking. Then he noticed Allie and Mary were also on their feet and preparing for a battle.
“We don’t want trouble,” Barry said.
“Well you found it anyway,” Allie said. “I’m sure we can track your cell phone and be at your flea-bit motel in an hour. What’s it gonna be?”
“We don’t have money for a bus ticket anywhere,” Marcia admitted. “We don’t have money for anything. We spent the last of it to come out here. We have about $12 left.”
“That’s enough to get you downtown on the bus,” Allie said. “Pick a destination. I’ll pay for bus fare and there will be a ticket waiting for you. Hell, to get you out of our lives, I’ll spring for the train. So long as it’s heading east and away from Adam, I’ll pay your way.”
“I got family in Galveston,” Barry finally said.
“There will be a ticket waiting for you in an hour,” Allie declared. “It will be on the next train headed toward Galveston. Take it. It’s the best offer you’re going to get. Adam has your number, Marcia. He’ll call you if he wants to discuss anything. But, bitch, don’t call here again.”
Adam pondered the situation while his friends let the tension drain off of them.
The attached group from the house – Katya, Anya, Leslie and Meredith – had appeared through the doorway and looked just as angry as the rest. It wasn’t 10 minutes after the phone call concluded that Timm, Jason, Cameron, Veronica, Tyanna, Katey, Lucy, Beth and Elena arrived. Mike and Celina had called to see if it was necessary for them to drop what they were doing and come out.
All seemed prepared for a battle that wasn’t necessary.
Adam was certain he could have handled the situation in a satisfactory manner. But, if he was being honest with himself, he probably would have drained his bank account to be rid of them – only to have them show up three times a year for a fresh donation.
He was heartened by the fact his friends cared about him enough to stand up for him. He offered a rueful smile to the group. Not surprisingly, it was Shelly who spoke up first.
“Can it,” she said simply. “I know you could have taken care of things. Well, like Allie said, those days are over. Never again will you face something on your own. None of us have to.”
“I was just going to thank you all,” Adam answered. “It was nice to have you on my side.”
“Oh, never mind then,” Shelly said, plopping down on Adam’s lap.
Allie called the Amtrak station minutes later and charged two tickets on her credit card. She even paid extra so Adam’s sister and brother-in-law could eat on the trip. She called back later that afternoon to ensure the tickets had been picked up and used.
She was happy to learn that they were and she was surprised when the clerk at the office told her the couple had left an envelope to be picked up by one Adam Walters.
The group barely made it to the station before it closed at 5 p.m. but they were glad they made the effort when Adam opened the envelope.
“She left me power-of-attorney,” he said as he read the note attached.
“‘Adam, ‘” (it read)
“‘It looks like you’ve built a wonderful life out here. I wish I could say the same for my life. Maybe Texas will be better for me than Missouri and Arkansas have been. I hope so. I printed this from the Internet. This should let you take care of the things that need to be taken care of. I’m sorry that everything was left for you to do.’
“‘Maybe the next time we talk it won’t turn out like this time. After all, we’re the only family either has left.’”
Adam stared at the note for a moment before folding it and putting it into his pocket.
“She’s right about the wonderful life I have,” he said as he glanced around at the faces that surrounded him. “But she’s wrong about family. I have mine right here.”
Edited by BlackIrish; Proofread by ZoltanTheDuck and Lee.