Chapter 4

Emma was beginning to get a stress migraine after all her attempts to bring her family together had failed. Baxter and Niki refused to come on principle, Tad was too stoned to know a funeral from his own ass, her father wasn't answering his cell phone and she attempted to call her other brother Walter's only number but had gotten the answering machine for an Orthodox Church in Upper South Carolina and hung up.

She was contemplating a nice long bath in her mother's Jacuzzi tub on the third floor of the Baker mansion when the phone rang.

"Get that Emma! Agda's working my thigh muscles!" Sophia screamed from the other room.

Emma and picked up the phone. "Hello?"

A harried voice answered over the sound of many shuffling papers. "Hello is this –No that's the wrong pile you dumb broad! I'm sorry is this the Baker residence?"

Emma sighed, expecting the worst. "Yes it is."

"Good good good. That's a relief, I've been dialing a lot of numbers today THANKS TO SOMEONE!"

Emma could make out yelling and obscenities in the background.

"Who may I ask is calling?"

"Oh sorry. Pretty friggin' unprofessional I dare say." The man on the other end laughed as if he was sharing a beer with an old friend. "Yes this is the county sheriff's office."

"Is this about my brother Tad?"

"Uhhhhh maybe." More shuffling of papers. "No sorry, not your brother Tad, but one Donald Baker. He's the one we have here. Sorry for the misunderstanding."

"My father? What did my father do?"

"Well I could tell you that if I HAD MY DAMN PAPERWORK!!!!"

Emma held the phone away from her ear as the man at the sheriff's office screamed.

"I'm sorry ma'am we just got this new secretary and she may have legs but she's a friggin' imbecile, you know what I'm saying?"

"So let me get this straight. You work for a government agency but you can't even tell me why my father is being detained?"

"If I say yes will I be inviting a lawsuit?"

"When can we see him?"

"In a couple days. Thursday! You and your family can come to the county jail on Thursday. Do you need the address?"

Emma didn't. Tad's childhood and adolescence had well acquainted the family with the local law enforcement facilities.

After obtaining the details and booking a flight out the next day, Niki and Oliver parted ways, Niki walking lazily back to her apartment, which she shared with a 65 year old Russian Ex-Clog Dancer whom she theoretically cleaned up after and cooked for in exchange for a room in Mrs. Petrov's crappy cramped apartment she had bought with the earnings of her final clog-dancing tour.

"Mrs. Petrov I'm back!" Niki called, closing the door behind her with her foot. "Are you alive?"

Mrs. Petrov's rotund body appeared from around the corner, brandishing a rolling pin in one hand and her old clogs in the other. She wiped her shiny forehead tiredly with her sleeve. "Yes Miss Niki I hang in there."

"Glad to hear it." Niki commented, dropping her keys in the plaster dish by the door and kicking off her heels on the carpet.

"Oh this come fo you Miss Niki." Mrs. Petrov deposited the rolling pin and her clogs in a cupboard (the same cupboard) and picked up a rather large bouquet of green and white roses that had been sitting on the old wooden dresser she had brought from Russia with the dancing ballerinas carved into the corners.

Niki took the bouquet, leering at it like it was a slug that had crawled up her arm leaving a trail of snot like fluid in it's wake. "Oh how sad. Don't worry I'll get rid of them by tomorrow."

Mrs. Petrov's thick cherubin face contorted in confusion and displeasure. "But-"

"Thursday at the latest."

Niki set the flowers back down on the dresser top next to Tuesdays carnation bouquet. The apartment was full of bouquets from men who either believed Niki was head-over-heels for them because of an act she had previously put on or wanted her to be head-over-heels for them. How unoriginal men are, Niki thought to herself. There was rarely a unique arrangement in the bunch and if any of her admirers ever dared to step out of the totally passé flower-giving trend it was only in favour of expensive jewelry, chocolates or undergarments. It was awkward when Mrs. Petrov found those packages.

Mrs. Petrov tut tutted and approached the dresser where she fingered one of the flower petals timidly, rubbing the petal between her thumb and forefinger and breathing in the floral waft with her eyes closed. "But they awe such pwetty flowers Miss Niki." She opened her eyes and let go of the petal. She had transitioned from suggesting to bargaining. "At least tell da senda thank you."

"See that's the thing Mrs. Petrov." Niki said, with imitation sorrow. She also reached out a hand for the bouquet and pointed out a fact the Russian ex-clog dancer had not noticed. "There's no card on these flowers." Niki shrugged her boney shoulders as if she was dully remorseful the man hadn't sent a card for she was aching to thank him for the lovely bouquet. She continued, blowing away any chance at sensitivity. "That means the sender is either illiterate or a big pussy, either way not the best fucking catch out there ya know?"

Mrs. Petrov looked down at her nurse's shoes and folded her hands together against the hip of her apron-like dress. "Miss Niki..."

"Oh damn it." Niki said, hitting her forehead with the heel of her hand and some raw indignation. She pulled her miniscule little black purse up from its feeble strap that had been dangling off her shoulder and fished out a dollar bill. "You sure are reeling in a fortune with that swear jar."

"Indeed Miss Niki." Mrs. Petrov said now happily looking up from her shoes as she accepted the bill and tucked it into the bosom of her dress. "Pwoceeds go to my daughter in Vietnam."

"A worthy cause I'm sure." Niki responded, turning away so her arched eyebrows were hidden.

"So what bout flowers Miss Niki?" Mrs. Petrov reminded her, suddenly sensitive and caring again.

Niki turned and shrugged, holding her slender arms out to her full wingspan like a bird about to take flight. "Stick 'em in a vase, flush em down the toilet, stuff them down my mother's throat, I really don't care." She paused and drummed her index finger against her chin. "Although that last one does sound like the most satisfying now that I think about it."

"I put in vase." Mrs. Petrov said, quickly grabbing the bouquet from the dresser top and holding it defensively to her chest like a newborn baby in need of nourishment.

"Okay fine you win."

Niki, thirsty from walking all the way from the bar to her apartment, grabbed a beer from the small rusty fridge and snapped the top of with assistance from the kitchen counter. "Oh by the way I'm going to be out of town for a little while. I got a flight booked for tomorrow."

Mrs. Petrov's face fell slightly. "Oh Miss Niki I miss you dearly. Where awe you going?"

Niki took a tentative sip from her beer. "I'm going to South Carolina, little meet and greet with the family."

"You never went to see them before."

"Yeah well, my uncle Andy never died before."

Mrs. Petrov's chubby hands flew to her cheeks like an overdramatic woman's on a soap opera when she finds out her sister is sleeping with her boyfriend. "Oh my goodness that is horrible!"

"Yeah. Just tragic, just taken much too soon. Do we have any cheese? I thought a saw a couple of those individually wrapped ones that taste like plastic." She hung tentatively over the fridge, scanning its contents.

"No Miss, you finish those three days ago."

"Fu..." Niki stopped herself. "I mean fiddlesticks. I was really jonesing for a grill cheese."

"Sorry Miss.…" Mrs. Petrov turned to eave for her cramped room in the apartment but turned on her heel. "Oh I almost forgot your sister...Em something… what was her name?" She appeared genuinely confused as she puzzled over the name of Niki's sister. What had it been?

Niki waved dismissively. "It's not important."

"Em-something called earlier."

"Like around 11?" Niki took a long drag on her beer. "Yeah that's when she got to me about uncle Arnie. She must have called here first the anal little bugger."

The Russian ex-clog dancer shook her head back and forth vigorously. "No not eleven. Just half hour ago. I remember time cause she interupt my soap opera."

Niki sighed and shrugged once again. "Middle child what can you do, I'm awfully sorry." She paused. "Was it Bud Brothers?" Bud Brothers was a popular daytime Pilipino soap opera that Mrs. Petrov had become addicted to. Niki watched whenever she had a free moment, which was very often.

"Yes!!!!" Mrs. Petrov shrieked, practically exploding all over the room.

"Oh my God what happened?"

"She admit why she was on the farm and her boss de crazy model comes and tells boy how much she love him!"

"And?"

"And then the episode was over."

Niki made that clicking sound she made with her tongue when disappointed. "Fuckin' figures."

Mrs. Petrov grinned priggishly and gestured towards the swear jar.

"DAMN IT!"

Niki slammed a dollar down into the jar and returned to the center of the room, wiped her bangs out of her eyes and trying to remain cool and calm. "Anyway, so I'll be out of town for a little bit. Not quite sure how long and do not take that as an opportunity to steal all my things and sell them off to your relatives ya hear me?" Niki said, waving her bottle

"Yes Miss Niki."

"Damn straight."

Mrs. Petrov muttered angrily to herself in Russian. The direct translation was "Like I would steal from a dirty whore".

"I love you too!" Niki called back from her room in singsong.

Niki's room wasn't so much a room but four walls placed too closely together that kept in several pieces of half-broken IKEA furniture covered with clothing, makeup, cheap paperback mystery novels and unwrapped gifts from male admirers.

She let herself fall back onto her faded Charlie Brown comforter in exhaustion, only to discover there was a very sharp implement buried somewhere underneath the comforter.

"Ow!" Niki grappled underneath the red-dog house and found a Mickey Mouse themed thumbtack sitting there. "Shit bucket!"

"That be ten more cents Miss Niki!" Mrs. Petrov called from the kitchen.

"God she has good ears."

Niki buried her head underneath her Charlie Brown pillow and plotted her next move. She could do the job for Oliver, fly in, see the family –or more accurately the insane grab bag of nut bags bound together by shared DNA-, bury a perverted uncle and hopefully get out before her mother set her on fire.

Before she could put her master plan in motion and call her sister back, her sister called her back.

"Hello?"

"Hi Nik it's me Emma." Emma said breathily, as if she had her mouth pressed against the phone and was hyperventilating.

"Okay Em, I'm calling because I've checked my schedule and it turns out I can make it down there for uncle Andrew's funeral."

"What are you talking about? I called you."

"Yeah sure Em."

Emma's breath came out in short panicked bursts. "Well okay I guess that's good that you're coming. It's Uncle Alfie by the way."

"What?"

"Never mind."

"I've got a flight booked for tomorrow at six and first class too since you said mom would pay. I'll talk to you soon okay-"

"Hang on Nik-"

"Too late sis, you said mom would pay so she's paying. I don't care if she blew it all on Pamela Anderson boobs and gingko extract for her tea, I'm getting reimbursed."

"No Nik that's not-"

"What the flights too late? I got the first one that was available and I had to twist some arms to get it so I don't appreciate you getting all huffy with me just because I didn't channel my inner Amelia Airheart and hijack an airplane as soon as I got the news."

Emily abandoned her paper bag for the moment and let her anxiety take the form of rage. "Niki! Let me talk for God sakes! You need to get down here now, dad's been arrested! He's in jail right now!"

"You know Em, I always thought better of you. Whenever Mom insulted your hair or Tad sneezed in your soup I was there for you. I said, hey, so what if she dresses like a poor lesbian librarian? She's our family and she deserves our respect. But no here you are, putting on a Cirque Du Soleil level performance that involves lying about the welfare of a close family member just so I'll hightail it down there and help you plan Uncle Andy's funeral!"

"What no. And it's uncle Alfie-"

"No it's low is what it is Emma. Really, really low." And with that Niki hung up on her sister for the second time that day and for the second time that day her sister considered breaking her ban on pharmaceutical drugs.