“Twins,” Mabel said with a proud smile. “Two beautiful boys. Tom and I were so pleased. Of course, it would have been a terrible scandal. We paid to send her out of town to have the children. They were adopted, also arranged in advance. My grandsons were raised by Frankie’s best friend and his wife, Richard and Evelyn. . . ..”
“Atherton,” Frank said, stunned. “You knew? All this time? And you never told me?”
“How could I, dear? Your grandfather never told you and I simply couldn’t interfere. But now that you’ve found Tommy’s ring, you have earned the right. So, my beloved, darling boy, you’re my great-grandson, named after my precious Frankie. Your father, the eldest, was named Thomas. You look so much like my Frank. . . . It’s been a delight watching you grow up. You’re becoming the man he never had a chance to be.”
Frank couldn’t find words to express his feelings. In fact, he didn’t know what his feelings were. He was still trying to sort out the fact that his father was adopted and Mabel was his great-grandmother.
“Do my dad and uncle know?”
“We told them. He wanted the boys to know their lineage. They were in their mid-twenties. Tom offered them his money, but they refused. They said that I should offer it to you children. I was going to wait until your birthday, but things came about differently.”
“Does Ralph know—about me?”
Mabel shrugged, shaking her head. “I don’t know. The resemblance is uncanny—even a bit spooky. You look so like him, even the way you walk, the tone of your voice, your fashion sense. Frankie was the snappiest dresser of any man I’ve ever known. He always was dressed to the nines.”
“Mabel, could Ralph know about the ring? Had he ever seen you with it?”
“After his father died, I started wearing it all the time. I’m sure he’s seen it many times. Why?”
“Do you know the cost of that ring?”
“Heavens no! Why would I ask such a thing?”
“Because it’s very expensive. Jerry’s father is a jeweler, he says that it’s an extremely rare piece.” Frank paused, hesitant to ask Mabel the question he most needed to know. “Does Ralph have any money troubles?”
“Ralph’s always been cautious with his money.”
“Does he gamble—anything?”
“I don’t know, Frankie. We aren’t close. Don’t you have copies of his financial records?”
“Only if he was planning to retire here. We never look at the residents families unless they’re the ones paying the bills. You cover your own expenses.”
“Why are you asking all this, Frank?”
He didn’t answer her question. He couldn’t put his speculation into words—not yet.
“Does Ralph hold power of attorney for you?”
“He did until Rachel took over. Since he lives so far away, someone suggested that I hire a surrogate who could step in if an emergency arose. That’s why I hired Rachel last year.”
Frank nodded, thinking. “I have some sniffing around to do, Mabel. I also need to go see Uncle Ralphie.”
Mabel giggled, patting his cheek. “I think if you called him that, he’d probably have a fit.”
“We need to go, Mabel,” Rachel said.
The old lady’s eyelids drooped and she started to snore softly. Frank kissed her cheek. Rachel patted her hand.
“Why all the questions, Frank?” Rachel asked after they left.
“I think Ralph’s been stealing from her. I don’t know if it’s gambling or bad investments, but I think our Mabel hasn’t got the money she thinks she does. I think Ralph was after that ring in order to recoup his losses.”
“Because he no longer holds power of attorney, you do. And the financial statements come up for yearly review next month.”
“Oh, my God! You think that sweet, dear lady is penniless?”
“She can’t be completely broke, her room is paid by bank draft. But wasn’t it just last year sometime, just before you took over, that Ralph had her squeezed into that tiny apartment? She had a villa before. He claimed she didn’t need all that space, sold off half her stuff without her permission and had her moved in a week.”
“Agreed. I think Uncle Ralphie has some explaining to do. And I’m the man to make him do it.”
“You be careful, Frank. You don’t know what he might be into. Don’t get yourself hurt.”
“Gotta get up pretty damn early in the day to get ahead of me,” Frank replied. “I need to talk to Marka, then I’m heading to the hospital.” He kissed her cheek and jogged back to Marka’s office.
She was just unlocking her door when he arrived, not even breathing heavily.
“Look at you! To what do I owe this timely arrival?”
“I just had a long chat with Mabel.”
“No kidding?” She saw his note on the desk and smiled. “Thank you. Have a seat. Talk.”
© Dellani Oakes