Bad Fall – Part 39

Bad FallFrank and the others go into Mabel’s apartment to look for anything that might prompt Ralph Penwarren to break in. What they find surprises them.

Once the box was secured once more, the three of them breathed a sigh of relief. The bank manager led them out of the vault and they went back to Jeff’s office. They told him about the ring.

“Thank God it’s in the vault! Half a million dollars, you said?”

Jerry nodded. “I snapped some pictures and sent them to my dad. He’ll look them over and give
me a. . . . There he is now.” He put the phone on speaker. “Hi, Dad. What do you think? I figured half a mil?”

His father snorted. “Maybe, if it was made today. As it is, it’s priceless. That ring is a one of a kind, made by Tiffany’s in 1938. No one even knew it existed until a few years ago, when an elderly jeweler died. His heirs were going through his papers and found the plans for that ring. They couldn’t prove it had ever been made, but suspected it had been. They found records of materials purchased and a receipt made out in the name of Thomas Cortland.”

“Why’s that name familiar?” Jerry asked.

His father grunted with exasperation. “Tom Cortland’s money built Sheltering Oaks. He left a third of his fortune to the church. The rest he left in a bequest to his only son. Unfortunately, the boy was killed in Vietnam in 1968. The fortune reverted to the estate pending the death of the mother. She was a widow of independent means and didn’t want or need the money. You’ll never guess who that was.” Jerry’s dad sounded outrageously smug.

“Mabel Penwarren,” Frank said with confidence.

“Aw, dammit, Frank! You took the wind outta my sails! How do you know that?”

“Mabel told me. She said I remind her of her son Frank. He died in Vietnam. His death just about tore the family apart.”

“So, Mabel had an affair?” Rachel laughed throatily. “Naughty girl!”

“Her husband was a lot older,” Frank said. “I imagine a guy like Cortland who was young and rich would be pretty tempting.”

“He was hot too,” Rachel said. “Have you guys ever seen Tom Cortland?”

“Roughly a million times. His picture hangs in the foyer,” was Jerry’s snarky rejoinder.

“I meant when he wasn’t like a hundred years old. Side by side, Frankie, young Tom would give you a run, babe.” She pinched his cheek.

Rachel was old enough to be his mother. Frank laughed at her.

“I’ll take your word for it. I don’t go judging another guy’s looks.”

“Well, trust me, baby. He was ten times better looking than old Penwarren. He was about as handsome as a mud fence.”

“Personality to match,” Jerry’s father said. “He was a mean old bastard. His son’s a lot like him.”

“I’d love to see a picture of Tom and compare it to Frank Penwarren,” Rachel said. “I wonder if the old man knew?”

“If he did, maybe he didn’t care. An old man like that would be proud he had a beautiful young trophy wife who bore him a son in his dotage,” Frank said. “He could let people think what they wanted.”

“But wouldn’t it eat at you knowing that everyone thought some other guy’s kid was yours?” Jerry asked the men.

“Beats the alternative,” Frank said waspishly. “Having your son grow up calling some other man Dad.” He straightened his tie, fidgeting uncomfortably. “Excuse me.” He got up and practically ran from the room.

“What’d I say?” Jerry asked.

“No idea,” Jeff replied. “That’s plain weird.”

Marka popped her head in the room. “What’s up Frank’s butt? He flew by my office like his pants were on fire.”

Rachel gave her a five second rundown. Putting together everything Frank had said, or not said, over the last few days, Marka thought she understood.

“I’ll go talk to him.”

“I think he went to the men’s room,” Jerry said.

“Then I’ll knock first,” she replied.

She heard water running when she got to the men’s room door. Someone was indulging in creative cursing and nobody cursed like a military man. She tapped on the door. The voice stopped.

“It’s Marka,” she called softly, cracking the door. “Talk to me, Frank.”

He snatched the door open, pulling her in by the wrist. He shoved it shut, locking the deadbolt. His face was wet, his collar and tie lightly damp. He looked like he’d been throwing up.

“What’s got you so upset? Finding out that Mabel had an affair?”

“No. No. . . . You know that thing—that I couldn’t talk about?”

She nodded, waiting patiently.

“Right before I left for Iraq, I was dating this girl. I’d asked her to marry me. I was wild about her. A few weeks into my tour, she calls me. Tells me she’s pregnant. I was thrilled! I told her I’d marry her right away. We could do it via internet, with a minister and a chaplain. She sort of agreed, but didn’t sound all that excited. I didn’t push. I was thrilled about the baby. I texted her a million names a day, asking for details after her checkups. All that new dad shit. I was bugging the hell out of my battle buddies. They were ready to shoot me themselves.

“Then late one night, she called. Woke me up. She told me she’d married someone else—a guy I thought was a friend. It was my kid she was carrying. My son! She didn’t want to marry me. Said she couldn’t be an Army wife. He was stable, reliable, he was here—you know?”

© Dellani Oakes http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=Dellani+Oakes

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