After the death of his estranged father, middle-aged insurance investigator Lazarus McKenna leaves Chicago and moves into his father's house—the house he grew up in—and establishes his business in Omaha, NE. Eventually, his lonely life is invaded by a young woman and a small boy who may or may not be on the run. Finding them in a bus station, he takes them into his care—and home—on a cold winter night, hoping to discover what their trouble is so he can help them with it. At the same time he is hired by a woman to discover whether or not her murdered husband was cheating on her at the time of his death. McKenna's once boring, quiet life is shattered as both cases turn deadly. This Randisi novel—his 620th—displays a whole new level of depth and heart.
A different kind of private detective novel
Available from Crossroads Press e books
“What the fuck are you doin’ here?”
My father’s words didn’t surprise me. I wondered what the fuck I was doing there, too ...
The call had come early in the morning, never a good sign. “Hello? Mac?” a woman said, when I grunted into the phone. I cleared my throat and said, “Who’s this?” “Mac, it’s Isobel,” she said. “Your—your father’s neighbor?” My father’s neighbor and my neighbor as I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. “Isobel, I don’t—um, what’s going on?” “It’s your dad, Mac,” Isobel said. “He’s very ill.” I dug the forefinger and thumb of my right hand into my eyes. “What’s wrong?” “It’s bad, Mac,” she said. “It’s very bad.” “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” “I knew you’d come,” she said, and hung up.
Omaha was a straight run on I-80 from Chicago. It was a 7 hour drive under the best of circumstances. I made it in 6.
I could smell the sickness in the air as I entered. I’d smelled it before, when my mother had died of cancer eight years earlier.
Isobel gave me a quick hug as I set down my suitcase. Always a thickset girl when we were growing up, she’d grown even heavier in the hips in middle-age.
“You made good time,” she said. “Where is he?” “In his room,” she said. “We have a nurse, and ... well, you should prepare
yourself.” “Okay,” I said. “Thanks for the call, Isobel.” I knew it wasn’t a call my father would
ever have made on his own. “I’ll take your suitcase to your room. Go and see him.” I nodded. She grabbed my things and rushed off, her eyes filling up.
When I was a kid my parent’s room was off limits. That made it a place I wanted to see, but getting caught in there meant a meeting with my father’s leather belt. Those were the days when a kid expected to get hit and parents didn’t get arrested for it.
When I got to the door all those memories came flooding back and I stopped, as if a force field had suddenly appeared. From the hall I could see my father in his bed, couldsee tubes and wires, hear the beeps and moans of the machines which were either monitoring him, keeping him alive, or both.
A solidly built woman in white pants, sweater and shoes—moved about the room, but stopped short when she saw me standing there. She came toward me, a questioning look on her plain face.
“I’m his—uh, I’m the son,” I said.
“Come,” she said, waving me in. “He’s awake.” We passed in the doorway and she put her hand on my arm. “I’m Nurse Chapman. I’ll be right outside.”
I approached the bed with no trepidation whatsoever, because I pretty much knew what his reaction to me was going to be. As I reached him he turned his head to look at me. And that’s when he said, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
It was no coincidence that the nurse wasn’t present to hear that. This was nothing new. My father had said the most outlandish things to me during my formative years, things I could only assume were designed to scar me for my whole life. But no one else ever heard him speak that way. My teachers, my friends, they all thought my dad was a great guy. He spent his life in construction and attacked all aspects of his life with macho fervor—including being a father. That meant challenging—or ridiculing—me at every turn, which was his way of toughening me up.
So what else would he have said to me? “Hello, Dad,” I said. “You look like shit.” “So do you,” he said. “You drive all the way?” “I did.” “Isobel called you, didn’t she?” “Yes, she did.” “Busybody bitch,” he said, although he’d never say it so that she could hear. One thing surprised. My father had always been a robust man, tall and barrel-
chested. When my mother—a statuesque beauty her whole life--contracted cancer she shrank down to almost nothing by the time she died. I’d expected the same from my father, but there he was, as large as ever, even while lying in his bed with tubes going in and out. I have to say, though, his pallor was almost grey and his eyes were bloodshot.
“You coulda killed yourself, drivin’ here that fast,” he complained. “Are you in that much of a hurry to see me die?”
“Relax, relax,” he said, cutting me off. “I’m just foolin’ with you. You always were too damned sensitive. Lord knows I tried to toughen you up.”
I was in my late 40’s, living and working in Chicago—a pretty tough town—and he still managed to make me feel like a ten year old who was disappointing to him. I found myself wishing there was somebody else in the room so I could ask, “Are you hearing this?”
“So whataya gonna do now that you’ve seen me?” my father asked. “Head home?” “No,” I said, “I thought I’d hang around for a while.” “What the fuck for?” the old man said. “I’ve got that useless nurse and busybody
neighbor around all the time. Too many goddamned people in my house, if you ask me.”
“Would you like us all to leave and just let you die in peace, Dad?”
My father hesitated before answering then said, “You know, I’ve heard worse suggestions, lately.”
He fell asleep after that and Nurse Chapman came in and suggested—strongly— that it was time for me to leave.
I went to my room, which hadn’t changed much since I‘d left for college. My mother kept it that way, because in her mind I was forever her little boy who was comfortable in that room. Why my father kept it that way, I never knew.
Isobel had put my suitcase on the single bed, which was going to be as uncomfortable as hell, but I was as uncomfortable as hell being back in my father’s house.
Ever since my mother died I started thinking of it as my father’s house. I hadn’t thought of it as my home for many years.
“Mac?” I turned quickly, stared at Isobel, who was standing in the doorway. “I—I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to startle you.” “It’s okay,” I said. “I was just thinking.” “You must be hungry,” she said. “Would you like some dinner?” “I’d love some. I’ll unpack later. Lead me to the food.” “The kitchen,” she said. I followed her there. She’d already set the table. There was a bowl of salad on it. “Can you toss the salad?” “I can,” I said, “and I will.” While I was doing that she finished bringing the food to the table, then poured two
glasses of red wine. I would rather have had beer, but I didn’t say so. We sat down across from each other.
“I remembered you like meat loaf,” she said. “Yes, I do.” Used to, actually, but I didn’t say that, either. “Isobel,” I said, around a mouthful of mashed potatoes. I still liked those. “Yes, Mac?” “Why are you here?” “I told you,” she said, poking at her food, “I figured you’d be hungry.” “No,” I said, “why have you been looking after my father?”
“Actually,” she said, “the nurse is—”
“Don’t make this like pulling teeth, Isobel,” I said, cutting her off. I almost said “fucking teeth,” but I didn’t want to sound like the old man.
“All right,” she said, putting down her fork. “I know you never had a good relationship with your father, Mac. I know that. But damn it, I miss mine. So I decided to ... borrow yours.”
“How did he feel about that?”
“Your father has always been nice to me, Mac,” she said. “He still is, even though he’s in pain.”
I wondered what she’d say if I told her he called her a “busybody neighbor?” “My God, you’re not paying for the nurse, are you? And all that equipment?” ”No, of course not,” she answered. “I couldn’t afford that. It’s all your Dad’s
Medicare and Insurance.” The smell of Isobel’s meat loaf had chased the cancer stench from the kitchen but,
God help me, it was still in my nose. “Okay,” I said, “okay.” “What are you going to do, Mac?” she asked. “Go back to Chicago?” “I don’t know.” I looked across the table at the woman who had borrowed my
father. “Mac, if you’re not here when he dies, you’re going to regret it.” I wasn’t there when my mother died. I had gone back to Chicago, back to work, and
I did regret it. Was I being given a second chance with the old man? Did I want to stay around and leave myself open to more of his abuse? And how would I actually feel when he did die? Grateful that the abuse had finally stopped?
“He’s going to die, Mac,” she said. “There’s nothing they can do—nothing any of us can do—but try to keep him comfortable.”
If he died, and I felt relief, what would that make me?
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