Chapter 17: A Message in the Park
'Pssst', a hiss had come from the bushes one afternoon in the middle of summer. 'Pssst, you there. Yeah, you', a hand had beaconed, a round face had smiled nodding approvingly as Darleene hesitating stopped, turning to the bushes, keeping her distance. She had heard about bushes and strange men hiding in them and been duly warned several times.
'Wise girl', the shadowy form in the bushes smiled, giving her a toothy smile. 'Tell your grandma we have not forgotten. Payment is due. And nice outfit, if I may say so. Shows off your legs nicely.' Another smile, then the shadowy form turned and started to walk away with some crashing through the bushes.
Darleene blinked, a 'hey' on her tongue, and at the same time glad he was walking away, not a word coming out of her mouth as she stared after the rather short, shadowy form weaving his way between the trees of the park, like doing slalom on dry ground, before he disappeared out through the gate which was not so much a gate as just two pillars where there had once been one.
Darleene shook herself, suddenly feeling the need to get home with the groceries she had picked up a little bit faster.
No one was at home, expect her brother who was playing chess in the living room, trying to beat himself on both sides at the same time which was not going too well, Darleene noticed, pointing it out.
'I am smart, both of me', Darwin grinned. 'Of course it's not going well when both players are smart, dumb-dumb. 'Anywho, it's no fun. Knubb?'
'No. It's a stupid game', Darleene told him, disappearing up to her room, to call her best friend and ask her about what she thought about the strange, shadowy man.
'Do you think it might be the mob?' she mused, laying on her bed, staring up into the roof quite fancying the thought.
'Don't know. Dad always says politicians would be nowhere without 'em', her best friend Sarah told her, popping her gum loudly. 'Talking 'bout which, the warehouse party tonight, you're coming or no'?'
Morning had already broken when the car had pulled up outside the house, dropping her off in a blast of loud music and giggles before skidding down the street. Her hair was a mess. Her clothes was in disorder. She really should wash off her make-up and brush her teeth, but Darleene barely made it out of her clothes before hitting her bedsheets falling asleep like a log.
An hour or two later, the alarm bell rang. Loud, shrill and too early.
'Uuurgh', Darleene grunted, reaching for it, silencing it, slumping down again, head heavy against the soft mattress as she pressed her pillow over her head, trying to drown out the morning sounds of cluttering plates, chattering family and a blasting television. Six o'clock. She had nearly two hours more of sleep...
'Muu-um, have you seen my shoes?' Deardie's voice sharp as knives through her head, calling down the stairs, an elephant as she rushed down them.
'Look in the chest in the living room. I just stuffed a lot of things in there so I could clean the floor', Cecily called back, going back to frying her apple and vanilla pancakes, flipping the last one over and calling up the stairs:
'Darleene! You will be late!'
The eldest girl pressed her pillow harder over her head, trying her best to sleep just a for a little while longer...
Her bed started shaking (56). Violently. The cackle of Bertram filling the room, as he shook her out of the bed before disappearing through the wall, to the urn standing by the TV.
'That hurt!' Darleene called after the ghost, rubbing her bum, getting to her feet (57) and grabbing yesterday's clothes from the floor, dragging her heavy, clunky feet downstairs eyes all bleary and head throbbing.
Things were as they always were in the mornings in the Quirke household. People everywhere, blocking everything besides there being two full bathrooms and a toilet. Everyone always decided to have that shower at the same time, to brush their teeth simultaneously, to reach for the milk as one.
So, it was with hair brush in one hand and shoes in the other, with too little sleep that she dragged herself to the impatiently honking bus, trying to seat herself in the middle, where it was usually quiet, for just another ten minutes of sleep which her best friend, getting on a stop later, would not let her have, asking her what her grandma had said about the shadowy figure, a figure which Darleene had forgot all about.
'Well, you have to ask her tomorrow', was her friend's helpful reply, changing topic.
Darleene meant to, but as she got home from work police cars were crowding the streets, men and women in uniform pouring in and out of the house, carrying things in boxes, neatly put in plastic.
Darleene stared, overcome with it all, her brows furrowing, her mouth trying to form a sentence but not managing leaving her gaping like a goldfish on dry land, chipping for air as her heart thumped with anger and disbelief, her brother right beside her the one taking action, tapping an officer on the shoulder thrice before she turned.
'What are you doing?' he asked, incredulous.
'Police work', the woman informed him briskly, brushing him off as just another in the ever growing crowd of onlookers.
'But...' Darwin began, running after her, mouth open to point out that he actually lived in the house, that they could not just stomp in. He was almost trampled by another constable, balancing several boxes overflowing with papers. His mother's manuscripts, he recognised the heading on one page flipping to the ground before it was snatched up and put haphazardly in one of the boxes by another constable.
Darwin turned, trying to find someone, anyone to ask, to explain, to put things right, spotting a neighbour, leaning against the white fence, thankful for a familiar face.
'Mr Keaton!' he called. 'What is going on?'
'Darn if I knew, they are digging up me backyard, the devils', Mr Keaton answered, pointing over his shoulder. 'Waved papers in me face. In came the boots and machines and shovels. Rude, too. Me poor dandelions will prob'ly survive but me roses?' the lean man shook his head. 'Care for a cup, you and your sister while they do their dirty work?'
Darwin looked over to his sister, still standing, gaping like a goldfish. 'Thanks, Mr Keaton. And...can we borrow your phone? Mum will probably want to know.'
'Of course. Of course', Mr Keaton nodded, straightening. 'But I think she already does. Seeing the devils got her at the station. First thing they did. Poured into here, taking people with them. Think they own the darn place, wavering those papers. Which they don't! Hear that, you devils, eh?! You don't own this place! You don't!' Mr Keaton blushed at this, clearing his throat. 'Sorry, laddie. I just...you know. Tea? Yes, tea.'
It hadn't been long until it was in the news, the disgrace of the former Leader of the Free World.
'I did it just to get the laws through, and they all were for the best!' Darleene threw down the newspaper on the breakfast table, sinking onto a chair heavily. 'You believe that, mum?' she asked her mother, frying pancakes as she did each morning. 'You believe she made deals with the Mafia to grease all those palms just for the greater good?'
'I believe your grandma was a good woman, yes', Cecily replied, flipping the hot cake over. 'And I do think she meant it well enough.'
'Yeah, sure. They never did return my package of seeds from France, you know.'
'You go on about that', Darwin joined them, stretching his muscular form, greeting them with a tired smile. 'I don't think they would be much good after five years, do you?'
'Still, it is the principle', Darleene began on an oft repeated speech, interrupted by her two younger sisters rushing into the kitchen, Deardrie first waving a blue headband triumphantly while Dawn demanded she hand it back.
'It is not yours!' she complained. 'Mum, tell her! It is not hers!'
'Deardrie, really', Cecily didn't even turn from the stove, throwing the hot cake into the air, catching it. 'You have your own drawer with blue headbands.'
'You don't have any sense of fun', Deardie sat down, handing her sister the blue headband, shaking her head of red tresses. 'Mum, can I go over to Ruth after school? She said she had some lovely pictures of the blue stake-out car for me to see. Please, mum? Please?'
'You know, I can't see how grandma didn't see that rusty, blue old thing hanging around all the time', Darleene pointed out, taking down plates from the overhead cupboard and placing them on the table. 'I mean...'
'You didn't either', Darwin quickly rose to the defence of his grandma. 'None of us did, did we?'
'I thought it was Mr Keaton's car, parked in the street, seeing as he has no room for parking by his house', Dawn agreed with her brother.
'Still', Darleene insisted, pulling out a drawer of cutlery, handing them to Deardrie while she got milk from the fridge. 'I don't see what business they had going through my stuff!'
'My little terrier! Never letting go!' her father laughed, joining the rest of them in the kitchen, the scent of his aftershave almost overpowering that of the vanilla pancakes.
'I'm not a terrier!' Darleene stomped her foot, one look from her father shared with the rest of her family making them laugh. 'I'm really not!'
'Don't let it get to you, sweetie', her mother instructed her. 'Have a pancake.'