The outcome was she beat my socks off. Scrabble tip: anatomy terms are really good for triple word scores and using up letters like X and Z. We’re playing Clue next time – she still doesn’t get that game. I might stand a chance.
It was getting late and I had to be back in bed. Thompkins nodded as I entered but was still glued to his computers. I made a mental note that I’d be installing those burglar bars if he ever wanted them and went into my bedroom.
Visitors came and went. Marta stopped by for the shop – she wanted a play by play of my recovery so far. Fortunately, Momma had come with her and provided all the non-existent details. In the process, she told not a single lie. She recounted everything that had been done for me – all true if unnecessary – and her very real and equally unnecessary discussions with a rehabilitation center in Meridian Mississippi that the new neighbor Mrs. Abernathy had spoken highly of – and went on to discuss Mrs Abernathy’s career as a nurse. Marta left just as in the dark as before but completely satisfied. My mother missed her calling – she should have been a politician.
A few more folks, mostly neighbors not living in the building, dropped by. Nothing I couldn’t handle myself although Momma stayed through a couple more. I still didn’t like this and still felt like a heel for doing it.
Poppa came to relieve Momma on the last two. When Mrs. Jameson from the next block over left, Poppa pulled out the cribbage board. We played a few games, mostly to stay busy in case of more visits. We ended up in a tie, rare for us.
“Jack, what’s eating you, Son?” Poppa asked after I made a particularly boneheaded move.
“Nothing, Poppa, just been cooped up too long.” I replied, more concerned about how to save my game from my stupidity.
“Hmm, you were looking kind of funny at that Jameson woman.”
“Was I?” I still wasn’t paying attention to what Poppa was saying because I had realized my cribbage game was now in a hopeless mess.
“When I told her you might go to Mississippi, you looked like you ate a frog. Now, me, I wouldn’t mind a trip down South. See one of them big houses and try some fishing, maybe.”
“Fishing?” I looked up confused.
“Michael says there are some pretty good places, especially for bass and catfish. They don’t do so much fly fishing as boat fishing which suits me – my right hip doesn’t feel right for a day or two after being in the river nowadays.”
“I didn’t even realize you’d met Mr Abernathy.” I told Poppa.
“Oh sure, he came by a few days after they moved in. Paid his respects, sounded me out about some boy interested in his girl.” Poppa winked.
I laughed, “Okay, that I believe.” I grew more pensive, “But Poppa, you know I’m not going down there.”
“Not right now, but maybe later. Things go well, you should go meet the girl’s friends and family. Not rushing, mind you, but she’s a good girl and if you’re lucky, maybe she’s the one. And a few grandkids wouldn’t hurt – maybe a boy that likes racing.”
“You sly – Tina is still in Middle School! What do you need grandkids for?”
“A man can want what he doesn’t need. Besides, I was thinking about that year you kids did the derby. I have an idea…”
“Well, you don’t need to wait for grandkids.” I chuckled as I explained about Jo-jo.
Cribbage done, Poppa settled back in the chair, “I still want to know what’s up with you, Son.”
Poppa doesn’t do this often but when he does its like talking to a clairvoyant. There’s also no fighting it.
I sighed, “Poppa, it – it doesn’t feel right, letting people think I’m sick.”
Poppa looked out the window, “How… how close did you come, Son?”
I paused. I didn’t want to talk about this any more but I knew I wasn’t going to get out of it. “Pretty close, Poppa.” I admitted. “I wasn’t so sick when I got up but if I’d gone back to bed like I planned, I probably wouldn’t have woken up.”
He nodded, “This plan of yours, you think you can get that thing that killed Daniel?”
I nodded solemnly, “Yeah, I do. I could be wrong but I don’t think so and if I’m right, he should play straight into our hands.”
“So, you’re feeling bad about letting people think you are worse off than you are which you are doing to get the thing that killed Daniel and stop the … man … that keeps trying to hurt you, your friends and your family.”
Technically, that summed it up pretty well but I wasn’t quite ready to agree with where he was going, “Well, yes, but Poppa…”
“Boy…” Okay, now, I knew to shut up. Poppa only called me boy when he was deadly serious – or about to wear out my backside.
“Do you really think all your friends and family are stupid?”
“Um, what?” I thought I knew where he was going but I couldn’t recall Poppa ever even using the word ‘stupid’ let alone asking that question before.
“Lying – which you haven’t done yet – to protect others isn’t wrong. No one is dumb enough to be mad at someone for telling them something that keeps them safe or helps them get safe even if it isn’t true. As long as there’s good cause – and nearly losing your life is pretty ________ good cause in my book – and will be in everyone else’s when the time comes.”
I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t. In a minute or so, it would sink in that he was right. But that was the first time in twelve years that I’d heard Poppa curse.
I finally managed to mumble something in agreement. Poppa stood up and told me good night. As I watched him leave, it hit me – he’d lost his best friend, had his little girl try to leave and nearly lost a son. Vinnie’s little campaign of misdirection had cost my father dearly. It had cost all of us much too dearly.
I stopped feeling like a heel for doing what needed to be done. I started thinking a lot more clearly than I had in a while. Vinnie had hurt everyone I care about, either directly or indirectly. He had used people that had enough pain in their lives like little Ayami. Crystal had been wounded. Little Grace Myers was still nearly inconsolable for the loss of her precious kitties. That __________ Vinnie was one hundred percent rat and he had to be stopped. It was past time that he got more than a little of the pain he had been dealing out.
It was time to let the rat take a bite of poisoned cheese.