middle finger through the circular hood ornament and pumped the finger in and out. His followers burst out
laughing at his antics and high-fived him.
He withdrew his finger and raised the bat. Oh my! He’s going to—
She plunged her hand into her purse and wrapped her fingers around the handle of the Colt Cobra .38. She was about to yank the revolver out when the teen, his humorless eyes still fixed on hers, gave her an air-kiss and went on.
Simmering with adrenalin, she released her grip on the Colt and watched the three punks saunter away.
Part of her wished she had pulled the gun and shown them that an older woman could be deadly. But then, they might have seen that as a challenge and pulled their weapons. And, confronted with their three drawn weapons, what would she have done? Fired? Driven away? Froze? If she had escalated the situation, would she have been shot? Or even worse, car-jacked, stripped and raped? If her life had depended on it, could she have used her gun on the boys? Her mother had used her weapon when threatened? Did the apple fall far from—
She shook her head. Ridiculous. Move on.
Hayley stepped out of the car into the summer heat and slung her bag over her shoulder. Above her, gnarled branches of an old oak tree soared, swooped and snaked overhead. The tree looked as if it had thrived in Savannah soil nearly as long as her family.
The snub-nose revolver inside the purse bounced reassuringly on her hip as she headed toward Maxine’s building at the back of the shabby complex. Over the years, the Falcon family of lawyers had made some powerful, vengeful enemies. Unfortunately, a concealed carry permit had become a necessity.
On the way to Maxine’s building, Hayley spotted a dime on the cracked sidewalk and picked the coin up. Pocketing it, she thought she must look foolish, but at least her daddy would have been proud. “Understand the big picture,” he had always said, “but pay attention to the details.” She supposed a dime qualified as a detail. As did Maxine’s idleness.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Maxine had lounged and lingered just above the poverty level all summer long. If she wasn’t going to law school, she needed to get off her butt and get to work.
Hayley stopped on the mildewed steps fronting Maxine’s building. Water-stained wood veneer peeled off the warped door. She pushed the yellowed plastic entrance button.
When the lock buzzed open, she climbed the frayed stairs to the second floor, took the knocker for 2A in her fingers, and struck the base hard enough to be heard over the loud music inside. Wham! Wham! The sound reverberated in the small hall.
When there was no answer, she struck the base again, harder this time to be heard over the pounding percussion.
Hayley raised her hand once more when the off-white door swung open. Maxine. Her long blonde hair was dirty as was the grey tee-shirt that hung like a bag over her skinny torso. Her grimy bare feet looked like she hadn’t bathed in weeks.
“Mom, what’re you—?”
“Are you okay, honey?” Hayley stepped in, took her daughter’s thin arms, and stared into heavily-hooded, dull, green eyes. They used to sparkle. Drugs? God, she hoped not.
“I’m fine,” Maxine said in a husky voice.
Though two in the afternoon, the smoke-stained drapes were drawn and the lights were low.
Maxine cleared her throat and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She hadn’t learned that in prep school.
“You missed your birthday lunch,” Hayley said.
The apartment reeked of stale smoke, sweet incense, and pungent cat urine. Meth? Were they cooking meth in here? No way. Not Maxine.
Dissonant music filled the air. The shrill, off key singer sounded tortured. Not music. Just a wet clump in the litter box of Maxine’s musical preferences.
“Um. Something, like, came up.” Maxine glanced down and cleared her throat again.
What could be that important? Though curious, Hayley didn’t ask. After all, kids grow up and acquire new priorities.
“I have a card for you.” Hayley pulled the ivory envelope from her purse. “Happy twenty-third birthday.”
Maxine looked up, blinked, brushed a strand of limp hair from her eyes, and took the envelope. Her face brightened as she tore open the seal, fumbled the birthday card out, and removed the check without so much as a glance at the greeting.
“Uh ... thank you.” Her words sounded forced, like she had something else on her mind. She fingered the $1,000 check. She seemed distant and disconnected. Something was definitely wrong.
Her daughter flinched and dropped the check on the cluttered end table, next to the ashtray piled with crunched cigarette butts. She didn’t smoke. A new habit?
“Who are you living with now?” Hayley asked as she looked over her daughter’s shoulders at the littered living room. A tattered, blanket-strewn sofa. Dirty dishes piled on a chipped Formica end table. Magazines and mail tossed here and there. Discarded shirts and jeans. Some much too large for her daughter. A torn curtain hung askew on too few hooks. The squalid conditions tugged at Hayley. What was Maxine doing with her trust fund money?
She wanted to rescue her daughter from this hovel. She wanted to bring her home. Wash her up. Hug her. Hold her. She wanted to liberate Maxine from all this. Make up for all the precious moments missed in her childhood. Make up for all those years spent away at private schools. They’d both sacrificed so much for so long, but not for this.
“Look, Mom,” Maxine said. “Uh ... I have someone coming over. I have to take a shower. I’ll call you later.”
Maxine gestured toward the door and moved nearer. Hayley backed up to avoid being nudged, then stepped out to the landing. “Lunch tomorrow?”
“We’ll talk.” Maxine grabbed the door and closed it a few inches. “I really have to go.”
The door clunked shut.
Hayley pounded on the metal door.
“What?” Maxine asked from the other side.
“I’m your mother and I want some answers.”
“Open the door.”
The music intensified.
Hayley drew in a deep breath, turned, and stomped down the stairs to the lobby.
She couldn’t believe that this pathetic, stained creature was her daughter. The daughter she loved and would love forever, regardless. She wanted to kick something, but she had on open-toed shoes.
Hayley paused at the dented mailboxes inside the lobby. Hands shaking with frustration, she removed a small pad from her purse and made a note of the male name added to her daughter’s box ... Elvin Tait. She’d have one of her legal aides check him out as soon as she got back to the office.
Hayley ran her fingertip over the coin in her pocket. Sure, life could turn on a dime. Her life. Maxine’s. Sometimes life didn’t make sense, but people had to follow their hearts, had to live their own lives and face up to their own demons. Even Maxine.
Hayley touched the scars on her forearm. Faint now. But the memories were vivid. Probably always would be. Memories of her mother. Of confusion. Of rebellion. Of consequences. Memories of—
* * *
Everything centers on Mom. Even my damned birthday. Maxine Falcon fumed all the way to the kitchen. Damn Mom. Life isn’t just for her. Mom isn’t the freaking center of the universe.
So what if I’m not carrying the Falcon family legacy into the next generation? I’m living my own life, not a dictated one. I’m free to do as I please, and if people don’t like it, so be it.
She opened the cabinet, pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels and poured herself a stiff one. She took a swallow, savoring the warmth and the burn.
Like wearing too-tight jeans, her mother had always squished and squeezed her every move. Mama’s constant infringement had made living parent-free Maxine’s top priority for years. Unemployment had made living with Tater a necessity.
Well, living in an iffy neighborhood with an occasionally abrasive boyfriend wasn’t the life she wanted, but it effectively separated her from constant vigilance by her intrusive mother. Sort of.
She took another sip. She had no need for power, wealth or prestige. She didn’t want the hassle. She just wanted to enjoy life.
Like the whiskey, her life was simple and pleasant. She didn’t have that much responsibility. Tater took care of whatever problems popped up. He worked. She didn’t. With a one-bedroom apartment, her housekeeping chores didn’t take long.
She noticed the check. Mom was generous, she’d give her that. Even though Maxine treated her like crap, the money and her visits continued. Was Mom sick or was that love?
She cringed. She’d probably been too hard on her mother. It wasn’t Mom’s fault. There was no reason to berate her. Behaving like a spoiled brat was unbecoming.
To ease her guilt, Maxine took another swallow of raw Jack and sank into the worn computer chair. She turned on her computer and brought up a blank page. She stared into space for a couple of minutes, then her eyes welled as she typed:
There are many who would view a stray kitten with compassion ... who would feed it, befriend it, and provide it shelter.
She wiped the tears from her eyes, then continued to write.
Yet how many of the very same people would be indifferent or, perhaps, even repulsed by a homeless person? Your compassion is needed. Get involved.
She settled back in her chair and smiled. The underlying concept of her new ‘homeless’ piece was good, but the expression needed more work. Raw pain had tangled her words.
The words, however crude and unpolished, spoke to her ... of her. She once had a home. A tear dribbled down her cheek. A loving home, full of joy. Then she went to college. No joy there. When she finished college and returned home, the door was closed to her. Get a job. Get an apartment. Get a life of your own. Suddenly she was homeless. Out of necessity, she found a cheap apartment. It could have been a dumpster or a cardboard box. It certainly wasn’t home.
She couldn’t criticize her parents for pushing her out. They were right to do so. But however logical it was to close the door on her, she was homeless and didn’t like it. So she took up the plight of Savannah’s homeless and now ranted daily at society, releasing the pain in her heart. The heart-rending pain of rejection.
She hit ‘save’ on her new composition. She’d polish it tomorrow. Then she brought up the document she’d composed yesterday, made a few corrections, copied the final draft, and directed the browser to her Savannah Solewebsite.
As always, she first checked the hit counter. Wow! Yesterday’s blog had more than a thousand views. A new record. She had no idea people would be so interested in the plight of the local homeless. Now, if the visitors would just do something to actually help the street people. Anything. That would be great!
She pasted today’s blog into the website, and read:
An emaciated woman sits in the dense shade beneath the historic oak. She looks thirty, but says she’s sixteen. Her name is Mary and, as of yesterday, she’s homeless. She feels beaten down and worthless. She acts bewildered. “I don’t want to live like this,” she says. “I want to get my life back on track.” Mary is just one of many Savannah homeless in a city with more bodies than beds. Get involved. You can help. Pick a shelter or kitchen from the list below. Give a buck. Feed a lost soul.
Satisfied, Maxine saved the entry.
Her smart phone signaled a new text message. She looked down at the phone display and read:
Hey, Tigress. Are you purring today?
She hastily redirected her browser to the Facebook login page, then removed her crystal bracelet, turned on the video camera, and plugged in the microphone. She keyed in her password and waited for her “Wild Tigress” profile to load.
As her imagination swept her away, her senses sharpened. She licked her lips. Her body heated. This could become an exciting day. Yeah, she liked that. Excitement.
With a sigh, Hayley pulled her Mercedes into the weed-rimmed lot that serviced her daughter’s low-budget apartment. She turned off the engine just as three teens in grimy tank tops and baggy jeans swaggered into view. One, a boy with a baseball bat, was taller, broader than the others. His tattooed biceps bulged. He angled toward her car.
She shivered. Why weren’t these boys in school?
His cold eyes never leaving hers, the big teen slapped the bat on his palm as he approached.
He stopped at the front of her Mercedes. His eyes darted catlike. Tentative but precise. He eased his