The Broken Line, 57: Paranoia Will Destroya

I NEARED RICHMOND at five in the morning. I took the long way around to the Southside to check on Dad and Dorothy’s houses. I didn’t really expect to find them there, but I needed to see for myself. I couldn’t fully trust my own memories. Too many of them had been tampered with by John and his pets.

John’s claim that he needed to sell the houses on Birch Street to rescue me from Dad’s debt had never rung true. Despite his recent mood swings, Dad had always been responsible to a fault. Now, there was no doubt in my mind that his debt had been another elaborately constructed lie.

As I turned onto Birch Street, the dark began to dissipate, as if someone was lightly erasing the very deepest layer of black. I could see the outlines of dumpsters and construction equipment. Most of the trees were gone.

I had a moment of vertigo, thinking I’d taken a wrong turn. But there was the Victorian on the corner, the outline of its cupola etched against sky. My vision went blurry and I slammed on the brakes. I’d been prepared to see the houses with for sale signs or even new occupants, but this felt like a crime scene.

I rolled down the window and stared up at the Victorian. It had been built sometime in the 1920s, a rich widow’s country house that predated the rest of the neighborhood by at least forty years. Its fanciful design had seemed magical to me when I was little. Behind it, I glimpsed the faint sliver of a waning moon in the east.

Waning moon. Dark soon. Stay inside or you will die. The ghost he moans, cause he can’t speak. The ghost cuts out your tongue and teeth.

Tanesha, Elizabeth, Shasta. They’d all warned me about the ghost they believed was responsible for the deaths at Warrick. Zora had said Wing “committed suicide” last month. I hadn’t thought to ask her if it had been during the dark moon, but I’d bet it was. The month before, it was Shane, a few days late, because I’d interrupted the first ritual.

Feeling sick, I eased my car down the street. Dorothy’s house was now an empty lot. Another house, a Dutch Colonial that had stood between hers and the end of the street was almost gone. Just a pile of rubble.

Across the street, my childhood home had been razed, the wooded half-acre a treeless void. The only thing left was the driveway, ghostly gray in the early morning, leading nowhere.

“Bill Huang,” I said out loud. The name felt like silver on my tongue.

Bill had been my parents’ lawyer and a friend of the family since forever. A short man with graceful hands who used to do magic tricks to make me laugh.

“And what’s this that I found behind your ear?” His eyes full of merriment as he reached his long fingers toward my face. “Yuck. That just looks like a big ball of ear wax.” He pulled back is hand in mock horror and then reached toward my sneakers. “Ah, but it looks like you leave a trail of treasure wherever you go!” He lifted up my foot to reveal a line of gleaming dimes as I clapped my hands with joy.

Amazing what you can remember when you’re not being fed psychotropic drugs.

I flipped a U-turn. If I could trust anyone to help me sort this mess, it would be Bill. He’d never liked John, either. If John showed up at the house, Bill would make an excuse to cut his visit short. And, he kept in touch with Kat. She often mentioned how Bill had visited or sent something: a letter, art supplies, or the dark chocolate she favored.

Kat. Holy shit, what day was it? What month was it?

Another piece of my rusted memory clunked back into place. Kat was supposed to get out of prison and go to the halfway house in April. Was it the ninth?

I groped in my pocket for my phone to check the date before remembering I didn’t have it. Replacement phone, item number two on my list. Strike that. Number three. Item number two, get money in order to get replacement phone.

The sky had lightened to creamy orange-red as I joined the early commuters making their way toward the city. I decided to drive west on Midlothian Turnpike for a stretch to see what I could find. I’d never used a pawnshop before, but I hoped to hell they opened early.

 

CASH FOR GOLD! Best Prices! The posted hours were 6 a.m. to 12 a.m., the window full of electronics, furniture, and, yes!—a display of jewelry. I hoped I could get enough cash to carry me a week or two—however long it would take Bill Huang to help me dislodge John from house, my bank account, and my life.

The clock on the dash read 5:53. Precisely seven minutes later, a dude with a long gray ponytail pulled up on a Harley and unlocked the door. Half an hour later, I had traded the diamond teardrop necklace, along with the rest of the jewelry of my fake-wife life for a hunting knife, pepper spray, and four hundred and sixty dollars.

Second stop was the AT&T store. As I left, new phone in hand, I tried Dorothy’s cell. It went straight to voice mail. “Dorothy, it’s Lacy. I really need to talk to you. I didn’t have my phone for a while, if you tried to call, but I have it back now. Please call me if you can.”

I didn’t know what else to say. “Your husband is a lying, lecherous, psychopath,” doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. It was a risk, but I settled for, “You’re in danger. Maybe you’ve figured that out by now. If not, please, please don’t say anything to John or anybody. Just call me. I’ll explain. I love you.”

I worried about John having my number, but I needed my contacts. Hands shaking, I scrolled through the voicemails. The most recent one was late last night—from John. I deleted it, unheard.

Nothing from Dorothy’s old number, but a number that I didn’t recognize kept coming up—half a dozen messages over the past week. Kat. First, she left a message giving me her new cell phone number and address at the Sunshine House. As the week progressed, the voicemails became increasingly frantic. Where was I? Where was Dorothy? Had she changed her number to avoid Kat?

“I know you both think I ruined your life,” she said in the latest message. “But we’re still family. Please text me and let me know you’re both okay.” Her voice was steady, but I detected an undercurrent of despair.

Shit, oh shit. How was I going to tell Kat that I didn’t know where her big sister was?

I really didn’t know what she would do. Freak out and go after John? For all I knew, that was what he wanted, so he could get her out of the way—again.

What if his seduction of me had nothing to do with money or an heir? What if it was revenge? What could be worse for Kat than for me to have John’s child?

My head hurt from trying to sort it all out. Finally, I texted Kat that I had been sick, but was better now. I promised to call her as soon as I could.

There. I hadn’t lied—I’d just omitted every single important detail.

 

NEXT STOP WAS a thrift store. I’d had to leave the gray leggings and dad’s red flannel shirt at Zora’s since they were in desperate need of a wash—stinking of fear and sweat, and filthy from the floor of UrgePool. That left the change of clothes I’d plucked at random on my way out of my house night before last. Preppy pedal pushers and a sweater in fuchsia pink.

I raced into the store and riffled for clothes that matched my current mood. I ended up with two pairs of jeans, a thermal shirt, several tee shirts (one with the anarchy symbol—couldn’t resist), a leather motorcycle jacket, and a pair of combat boots. I paid, changed in the dressing room, and threw the pink shit into the donation bin on my way out.

Feeling stronger and better equipped, I got on the expressway and headed downtown, to Bill Huang’s office. I decided against calling ahead. As unlikely as it seemed that John would have connections at Bill’s office—spies, as Zora had called them—I felt edgy. The closer I got to Richmond, the jumpier I felt.

Paranoia will destroya. John’s voice in my head.

“Fuck you,” I answered. Cursing reminded me of myself as a teenager. That Lacy had gotten away from the family, hiding out in squats—though not far enough, as it turned out. That Lacy had sensed the truth: Run.

But at some point I’d stopped running. Reconnected with the family. Why?

The memory, creeping like an invasive vine, wrapped itself around my brain. Dottie‘s sick. She needs you. The handwritten message, delivered to whatever squat I was occupying, by a kid I’d seen around, but didn’t know. Nothing unusual there. There were dozens of us at any given time, a gradually shifting tide that ebbed in and out. Messages came and went, though most weren’t on watermarked paper and etched with a Mount Blanc.

I wasn’t surprised that John knew how to find me. He was always in charge, always charming, and he always got what he wanted.

She needs you. We all do.

I remember choking on dust as I packed my few things, panicked at the thought of losing Dorothy—the only person I had that was even close to a mother.

After Dorothy got better, I’d returned to live in the squat, but I started visiting my family again. I felt an obligation to keep watch on Dorothy and to regain lost ground with my father. Oddly, I don’t remember how I felt about seeing John. I think, by then, the split between the part of me that didn’t trust John, and the part of me that craved his approval had gone deep into my psyche—hidden from view.

I pulled into the parking deck outside the building that housed the law offices of Huang, Loy and Roach on Canal Street, and parked. But as I opened the door to get out, a rope of fear tightened around my chest. I trusted Bill, but John had ways of worming into the brains of even the best people. He might easily have guessed I would come here. What if he had one of his pets, watching? What if he were here, himself?

Suddenly the low ceilings and narrow ramp of the parking deck felt like a trap.

I slammed the door shut and hit the locks. I craned my head around, trying to see if anyone was approaching.

I started the car and backed out, squealing tires as I drove higher into the parking garage, heading for the rooftop. Up there, it would be harder for anyone to sneak up on me. If I could see them coming, I’d give them a face full of habanera.

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