Chapter 4

Jim noticed that his father was staring at something. He craned his head around to look, but no one was there. There was only one of those fake coats of arms with two crossed swords beneath it, hanging on the wall. Perhaps his father was looking at that.

"I'm...I'm sorry your mother is in the hospital, Jim." His father finally said. Albeit, a tad begrudgingly. Having finished his beer, he poured himself another glass from the pitcher.

Turning back his attention to his father, Jim studied the man's expression intently. He seemed sincere enough. But then, his dad, sadly, was a bit of an emotional weather vane. An insecure and selfish man. He could feel things like love and grief, when it suited him. And, sometimes, those feelings were quite genuine. However, his father could just as easily shed those feelings, with his next breath. He could blissfully leave them behind in a heartbeat, if a different need or desire arose to take their place. Jim knew his father was a bit like a child. Quick to grasp the first shiny new thing which came along. And just as quick to discard that, in his desire for anything he thought of as newer and better.

"Thanks, dad. I needed to hear that." Jim said quietly, after a long pause. He took another drink of his soda. His fingers traced a circle around the wet ring it left behind in the tablecloth. Putting the glass down, he asked, "Have the police interviewed you, yet?"

"The police?" His father said, looking oddly startled by the question. "Why would the police want to speak with me? You're mother and I haven't spoken to each other in years."

"I just assumed that in a case involving murder and an attempted murder, they'd want to interview anyone connected with the victims." Jim shrugged.

"My god, James. I hope you're not implying that I would have anything to do with that." His father scowled.

Leaning across the table, Jim whispered earnestly, "Did you, dad?"

"Whether I like her or not, I would never want anything bad to happen to your mother. Well...nothing fatal, anyway." Jim's dad tried to make a joke out of it. Yet, he saw he'd failed miserably, by the hard edge which suddenly glinted in his son's eyes. "For Christ's sake, Jim! Your mother and her...whatever, were victims of a violent robbery, that's all. It's not like men in masks are going around, attacking...those kinds of women. That sort of thing doesn't happen around here."

"Masks? They were wearing masks?" Jim asked. "You mean, like ski masks?"

"No, the rubber kind, like for Halloween." His father answered. "I think it was Bozo the clown, a gorilla, and Richard Nixon."

"Good lord! Richard Nixon? That's just sick!" Jim exclaimed. "I'll tell you one thing, though."

"What's that, son?"

"Whomever these scumbags are, they'll pay for what they did." Jim said angrily. "I hope they get locked up in a small cell with a really lonely motorcycle gang. Because mom truly loved Prudence. I've never seen her so happy and contented. And, I don't think it was robbery. I think the cowards did it out of pure, ugly meanness. Prudence didn't deserve to die like that. Just for her sexual orientation. I only wonder how I'm gonna' tell mom she's gone. But, I can do one thing for her."

"Do what?" Jim's father asked, half-listening, drumming his fingers on the table. "What the hell's taking our pizza so long? Did they have to send out to Italy for it?"

"I said, I'm going to do something in Prudence's memory. Worse case scenario, if mom does die, I'll use my part of the inheritance to set up a charity for women like mom and her lover. In the meantime, I think I'll buy another bar, make it Texas' first gay and lesbian joint. Hire security guards to protect my patrons from mindless thugs...like you, dad."

"You do what you want with your inheritance. I'm using mine to...wait a minute. What did you just say?"

His dad was about to light up another cigarette, but held the burning match aloft, in surprise. He gave a startled yelp when it burnt his fingers. Shaking it out, he dropped it into the ashtray. The cigarette too, fell from his lips to the floor.

Before Jim could answer, the bartender came up to them with an apologetic smile upon her face. 'I am sorry, sir." He addressed Jim's father, "But I'm afraid your credit card didn't go through. Perhaps you'd like to use another?"

"Can't you try it again?" Jim's dad asked irritably. "You're system must not be working properly."

"I'm sorry, sir. I did try it several times. Each time it came up as declined. We do also take Diner's Club and Mastercharge."

"I only have my American Express card. I never leave home without it." Jim's dad explained.

"Oh. I see. Well, cash will be fine. If you like, " She smiled nervously, perhaps a little to brightly, "you can pay now, or I can ring you up at the bar , as you're leaving."

"No problem, dad." Jim reassured him. "I can pay my own tab, Dutch treat."

"Erm—I'm afraid you'll have to pay for us both, Jim." His dad murmured, his face growing red with embarrassment. "I don't have any other credit cards or cash on me."

"I'll just let you two discuss this, and I'll be back in a few moments." The bartender said softly, quietly slipping away.

"Yes, please." Jim told her. However, his eyes remained on his dad, growing darker and angrier as the seconds ticked by. "I thought you said business was good, dad."

"So, I made a few bad investments. Fiddled my taxes, got the IRS breathing down my throat. It can happen to anyone. I'll bounce back, Jim. You'll see."

"Is that why you tried to have mom killed?" Jim said, almost casually. Though his tense expression, gave away his true feelings. "For the inheritance money?"

"Yeah, right, son." His father snorted in derision. He took a long pull on his beer glass. His hand shook slightly, spilling a few drops of beer on his expensive silk tie. "I was gonna' off your mom and her...you know, and toss their bodies off the Menands Bridge into the Hudson River. " He added sarcastically, "Your mother always did say she wanted to go to the ocean."

The bartender came back. The waiter hovering nearby, in the background. "I'm sorry to bother you again, sir. But, did you still want that pizza?"

"Jesus, will ya' quit bugging me about the food!" Jim's dad yelled at her unreasonably, "Take your freakin' pizza, and shove it up your..."

"Three masks." His son interrupted him, slapping his hand on the table. It made the candle flame waver and the glasses tremble. "Damn it! Look at me, dad!"

The father jerked his head around, his eyes staring wilding at his son. "What? Why are you still going on about those stupid masks for?"

"Three very specific types of Halloween masks." Jim said, his face pale, his breathing now hoarse with pent up emotions.

"What about them?"

"How did you know what they were, dad?"

"What do ya' mean?" His father shrugged.

"The police didn't release that information to the press. They kept it back. So, how the hell did you know what types of masks were used by mom's attackers?" Jim asked tensely, leaning almost halfway across the table. .

"Maybe I heard it from one of my clients. Maybe I overheard it in a bar. Maybe I'm clairvoyant. How the hell should I know, where I heard about them?" His father said in heated denial.

"You hired those goons, didn't you? Maybe you were there, maybe you weren't. But you paid them, and you bought them those masks to wear. Admit it, dad." Jim growled.

"Listen to yourself!" His dad said, his face now beet red with anger, starting up from his seat. "Little Jimmy mama's boy!"

Jim cringed. It had always hurt him deeply, when his dad called him that.

"Always sidin' with your mother, aren't you? His father yelled. "I'm tellin' ya', I wasn't there! Those three guys from the Troy projects were probably just..." He caught himself, almost staggering as he stood there, gripping the back of his chair.

"Were just what...?" Jim shook his head in disbelief, rising in his chair to face his father. His eyes were blinking back tears, but Jim's face remained calm and controlled. "I didn't want to believe it, dad. " He said in a choking voice. "But they caught those three guys, two days ago. They confessed. The game's over. You're going to have more than just the IRS to worry about. And, I'm sorry, dad. I really am very sorry. But, it looks you're going to prison for a long time, dad. The police have been taping this entire conversation. They're here, right now."

Before anyone else could react, Jim's father charged off. Pulling one of the swords from the fake coat of arms on the wall, he lunged at his son. "You son of a bitch! Ruining my life. You're just like your mother!"

Out of pure reflex, Jim also grabbed a sword off the wall. Having taken fencing in college PE class, he easily parried his father's first few blows. Then, he tripped against a chair leg. Jim cried out in pain, as his father's sword sliced through his upper right arm. Fortunately, it wasn't a real sword and had a blunt edge. Though the point was sharp enough. As Jim's father made to ram the point of his sword through his son's unprotected chest, the bartender's voice cried out.

"Stop! Police!" She called out.

Jim's dad paused, confused by her sudden shout. It was just long enough for her to leap in, and grab his sword arm. The policewoman posing as the bartender was knocked to the floor, but not before she managed to pry loose the weapon from him.

"Hold it right there, or I'll shoot!" Commanded the old man, who had been working as their waiter. In reality, he was a police detective. He had his pistol trained on Jim's father.

Jim's dad hesitated a moment. Without warning, he turned and threw himself at the police detective, trying to wretch his gun from him. They struggled some, before the gun went off. Jim stared, horror-stricken, as his father and the policeman stood together, toe to toe, for a fraction of a second. Then, Jim's dad slowly slid to the floor.

The policeman looked down at the body, his breath coming in gasps, his face unreadable. The policewoman bent over Jim's father. He saw his dad's lips move, as he said something to the woman. Then, he died.

The woman stood. She glanced at her older counterpart. Putting away his revolver, he muttered, "I'll go call the cororner's wagon." Without looking at Jim, he parted for the kitchen. Leaving the policewoman alone with a confused and stunned son.

"I'm sorry, sir." She said sadly, placing a consoling hand on his arm. "We didn't want it to happen this way, believe me."

"He said something to you." Jim whispered, "Before he died. What was it?"

The policewoman paused, then said, "It didn't make much sense to me. But, he told me, 'Don't forget to feed my fish.'"

THE END