Short Stories

THE LAST HURRAH

 

According to Roger Hancock’s watch it was 11:45 a.m. when the courthouse doors opened and clunked dully against the worn sandstone front. The Martin clan straggled out from the building’s dark recesses, their faces pale, eyes squinting in the summer light.
Slapping the man beside him on the shoulder, Hancock barked, “All right, Corcoran, time to earn a living.” They moved away from one of the frilled Victorian lampposts that penciled the town and crossed the street.
Corcoran jogged ahead, pointing his camera at the center of the crowd. He filmed the family milling at the top of the ten steps leading to the sidewalk. His target seemed oblivious to the press. Her eyes scanned the crowd as if searching for bearings in  treacherous shoals. Hancock winced at her obvious vulnerability. The dark-haired woman took a tentative step forward. She reached out a hand to stop a gray-haired woman from descending the staircase. They embraced. It was a full minute before the women parted, the older woman cupping the younger’s face and kissing her cheek so tenderly that Hancock felt the sorrow in it.
The July sun, bouncing off the street’s asphalt, momentarily blinded the younger woman as she stepped away and aimed for the sidewalk. Her foot slipped on the marbled stairs. She gripped the metal handrail.
“Still a drunk,” Hancock heard. The statement came from behind the crowd of Martins but Hancock knew the voice. The tone, hard-edges with a dollop of whine cause him to crane his neck and spot the blonde in halter-top and mini skirt.
She heard, he thought as raven-tressed Kathy Martin-Rollings woodenly stared at the brilliant summer day. Her sapphire-blue gaze drifted over to Hancock. A flash of recognition stirred on her face. Mrs. Rollins straightened her shoulders and popped on her sunglasses. She glided through the congregated family moving with her and started up the sidewalk.
Hancock imagined her heels clacking out the rhythm, I must get away, I must get away. He sauntered behind her keeping her within earshot.!” a look-a-like brother called.
“Hey, Kath, wait up!” a look-a-like brother called.
Hancock tried to place him. One of the middle brothers–Danny, maybe he decided. The man jogged past him and took his sister’s elbow. They stopped by a planter box filled with purple and yellow pansies. Not Danny…Brad, he remembered. Brad Martin had a crescent-shaped scar by his lip. He’s gotten it after passing a game-winning touchdown for the high school playoffs. Brad Martin was still, trim, muscled, and moved like an athlete. Hancock grimly smiled and sucked in his size 35 waist.
“No time for a celebratory cup of coffee?” Brad asked.
“I don’t find the demise of my marriage something to celebrate,” Kathy whispered.
“Okay,” her older brother shrugged. “The judge was sensible. Until the papers are finalized, you’ll be safe.” Hancock could see her jaw working in a circular movement. The pair began to walk again.
A headline hovered in his mind. Distraught During a Messy Divorce, Kathy Martin-Rollings Ends Her Life.
     “No matter what legal shenanigan’s good ol’ Dexter cooks up. at least you can keep Jeeves,” Brad said. Brad Martin affectionately patted the fender of a freshly-waxed black 1954 Jaguar. “Nice to keep Dad’s little car in the family. Wise not to have it in your name.”
“Dad’s idea, Brad,” she said, searching in her purse for keys. “He never trusted Dex. Said to keep everything I could in his name or Mom’s.” Hancock turned his back on the siblings and studied the interior of a local book shop. “He still gets Bertie,” she said in a a sad voice.
“Bertie howls at thunderstorms and chews chair legs. You may have an overwhelming love for the mutt, but you’re better off without him.”
“He’s my dog, Brad,” she sniffed, dabbing at a tear with her finger tip.
“Just be glad you don’t have kiddies to dissect. Nasty bit, child custody.” Hancock jerked his head around and studied the pair.
Kathy Martin-Rollings turned the pewter color of bodies in morgues. There had been a headline with a grayish picture last years. He’d written it while his editor was down with the glue. Front and center just before the Christmas holidays. Kathy Martin-Rollings’ Premature Baby Hovers Near Death in the Unit. A week later it was replaced by, The David Martin Family Loses Patriarch and Preemie Grandson at the Same Hour.
     “I’m making a hash of this,” Brad continued. “We, meaning the family, don’t want you to be alone just now.”
Kathy Martin-Rollings slipped off her sunglasses. “I’m going to the office to finish the sketch of the Barrington’s kitchen, then do a cost analysis. I’ve yogurt in the fridge for lunch. Tell Mom I’ll come to the wake later.” Her voice was tender.
“Alright, kiddo. I’ll tell her dinner.”
A Rockwellian picture from his youth bubbled up in Roger’s mind. Ten Martin children lined up like tin soldiers, shortest to tallest marching to Mass most Sunday mornings. Now Hancock looked behind him at the gathering of the Martin clan wondering who was who. He hadn’t lived in the area for the last twenty years and people change. The Martin’s stuttered to an uncertain halt on the courthouse lawn.
“We just don’t want you to be along right now,” her brother continued.
“Don’t worry, Brad. There isn’t anything but coffee and Diet Coke at the office.”
“I didn’t mean…”
“Sure,” she interrupted. “Tell Mom I want to lick my wounds in private.”
Head down in defeat, the former All-American quarterback walked away. Kathy unlocked the car door and slid into the low seat. As the Jag roared to life Hancock pushed off from the side of the storefront he’d lounged against, then settled back as Kathy Martin-Rollings turned off the engine and placed her head on the leather seat back. She studied her hands. He saw they were trembling. Her pain immobilized him, reminding him of his own.
“My name is Roger,” he practiced. “We met at an AA meeting. Just wanted to make sure you’re all right.” He hesitated, thinking she would resent his presence and suspect he wanted a scoop.
The Jag eased out of the parking space. Hancock’s hands dropped to his side as he headed toward the newspaper office.  The Jag passed him then stopped at a red light in front of the courthouse.
“Hey, Hancock,” shouted Corcoran. “You through with me?”
Roger Hancock turned to the photographer. ‘Looks like we’ve got it,” Hancock said. He heard the pedestrian signal bleep and knew the light was changing. A high pitched screech of tires made him jump. Dexter Rollings and his girlfriend stood flat footed in front of Kathy Martin-Rollings’ car. From the corner of his eye Dexter Hancock saw two of the Martin men begin to jog in his direction.
“Come on Dex,” Angela Fogerty said, tugging on the sleeve of  his linen jacket. “Let’s go celebrate.”
Rollings said something Hancock didn’t quite catch.
“Don’t be a fool, Dex,” said his newest lover. A driver behind the Jag stepped out of his maroon Audi.
“Stick around, Corcoran. This might be interesting,” Hancock suggested. Corcoran began to fill the car, occupant and pair on the street blocking traffic. Hancock backed into the shade of a chestnut for a better view of the action.
The Martin brothers stepped onto the sidewalk beside Hancock. “Hello, Danny,” Hancock said, extending his hand. “I suggest you wait a minute. There are plenty of witnesses if anything happens.”
The middle-aged brothers exchanged uneasy glances then shrugged. The oldest brother, hair sprinkled with white, clapped Hancock on the shoulder.
“Been along time, Rog,” he said. “How was your stint with the spooks at Langley?”
“Can’t say I had many dull moments at the agency,” Hancock answered.
“I’d like to say a proper good-bye,” Dexter Rollings said as he moved to the driver’s side of the Jag. “A last hurrah.” Dexter Rollings spread over the door frame like a cancerous tumor.
Kathy Martin-Rollings swung her slim legs out of the car. “Sure, why not,” she said.
“I meant the car, sweetheart.”
“I know,” she responded, tossing him the keys. “Drop it off at the gatehouse, Dex. And don’t go any further up the drive. They have orders to shoot you on sight.”
Her brothers retraced their steps, joining the first family of the city. Kathy laughed softly and brushed past the blonde clinging to Dexter Rollings’ arm. Staring at the sidewalk she careened into the broad chest of Roger Hancock.
He watched a tear spread on his maroon tie. “Look kid,” he said. “Maxine sent me to see that you don’t go it alone today.”
“I don’t need any help,” she said.
“That’s not what you said last night,” Hancock said quietly.
“Last night I repeated my litany. My name is Kathy and I am an alcoholic.”
“That makes two of us, kid,” Hancock said. “You need lunch. I need lunch. Might as well have it together.”
“No, Dex,” Angela protested loudly, interrupting their conversation. “You promised me lunch at the club. Let your ex drive the car.” Dexter shrugged Angela’s fingers from his jacket sleeve and plopped behind the Jag’s wheel. It rumbled to life.
“About time,” said the Audi driver.
Out of the driver’s window Dexter waved nonchalantly. Angela jumped back as he stepped on the gas. Her mouth moved but no sound came out. Angela remained in traffic until the Audi horn hooted. Angrily, she spun on her heels and crossed the street. Aiming her red Mustang in the direction Dexter had driven, she passed Hancock and his lunch date as the entered the Café au Lait.

Kathy sat, ordered a salad, then nibbled around its edges. She spoke in monosyllables, only answering the questions Hancock asked. Lunch, he thought halfway through, this is a disaster. Next time Maxine sends me on a rescue mission I’ll bring my dog. At least we’ll have something to talk about.
     Kathy was pushing a lettuce leaf around her salad plate and listening to Hancock retell his football playing days when a waitress signaled to Hancock.
“Be right back,” he said as he rose. “Not good timing Sarah,” he said as he stood by the counter.
“Life never is,” Sarah replied, pointing to the television above the coffee bar. “You’d better hear this and then take care of that sweet Martin kid.” She turned down the volume and then urged him toward the screen.
“I told him not to go,” Angela Fogerty sobbed hysterically. A siren wailed in the background. “Car wasn’t safe. Not the way he drives. Look at the rubber on the road before he went over the embankment and into the river. His brakes didn’t hold.”
Roger drew a finger across his neck and the waitress turned off the news.
“What’s up?” Kathy Martin-Rollings asked when he returned.
“Nothing. Someone just wanted to share some news.” He took a drink of ice tea and and set the glass beside his empty plate. “By the way, when was the last time you had your car serviced?”
“Last week when I took it to The Racer’s Edge. Tim Fogerty is obsessive about keeping Jeeves in perfect shape. He called and said it was due for a check up.” Kathy looked at Hancock with uncomplicated blue eyes. “That is an obscure question,” she said.
“Writers tend to ask obscure questions,” Hancock replied as he reached for his cell phone.