The Julius House


Chapter Eleven



A SPRING DINNER at an employee's house; our first social engagement as a couple since our wedding. I finally chose a short-sleeved bright cotton dress and pumps. Martin brushed my hair for me, something he enjoyed doing. I was ready to get it cut. Its waviness and resultant bushiness made it a pain if it got too long, but Martin really liked it below my shoulders. I would tolerate the extra trouble until another Georgia summer. Since the dress was blue and red, I wore my red glasses, and I felt they added a cheerful touch. For some reason, my husband found them amusing.

Martin wore a suit, but when we got to the Andersons', only a few houses down Plantation Drive from my mother's, we found Bill Anderson shedding his tie. "It's already heating up for summer," he said, "let's get rid of these things.

The ladies won't mind, will you, Roe? Bettina?" Bettina Anderson, a copper-haired, heavy woman in her mid-forties, murmured, "Of course not!" at exactly the same moment I did.

Our host took Martin down the hall to deposit his coat. They were gone a little longer than such an errand warranted. While they were gone, I asked Bettina if there was anything I could help her with, and since she didn't know me, she had to say there was nothing.

I was glad we hadn't brought the wine when we were offered nothing to drink stronger than iced tea.

Bill and Martin reappeared, Martin wearing a scowl that he made an effort to smooth out. Bettina vanished into the kitchen within a few minutes and was obviously flustered, but I noticed that when the doorbell rang again, it was Bettina who answered it.

I wondered how long the Andersons had been married. They didn't actually talk to each other very much.

To my pleasure, the other dinner guests were Bubba Sewell and his wife, my friend Lizanne Sewell, nee Buckley. Bubba is an up-and-coming lawyer and legislator, and Lizanne is beautiful and full-bodied, with a voice as slow and warm as butter melting on corn. They had married a few months before we had, and the supper they'd given us had been the best party we'd had as an engaged couple.

I gave Lizanne a half-hug, rather than a full frontal hug, befitting our friendship and the length of time we hadn't seen each other. Bettina turned down Lizanne's offer of help as well; so she was certainly determined to keep us "company." We chattered away while our hostess slaved out of sight in the kitchen and dining room. Lizanne inquired about the honeymoon, but without envy: She never wanted to leave the United States, she said. "You don't know where you are in those other countries," she said darkly. "Anything can happen."

I could see Bill Anderson had overheard this and was about to take issue, an incredulous look on his face. (I was beginning not to like Bill, and unless I was mistaken, Martin didn't like him either. I wondered if this was something we would have to do often, dine with people with whom we had nothing in common.) "Are you enjoying not having to go to work every morning?" I asked Lizanne instantly, to spare her discomfort. (Lizanne probably wouldn't care one bit what Bill Anderson or anyone else thought about her opinions, but her husband would.) "Oh... it's all right," Lizanne said thoughtfully. "There's a lot to do on the house, yet. I'm on some good-works committees... that was Bubba's idea." She seemed slightly amused at Bubba's efforts to get her into his own up-and-coming pattern.

We were called to the dining room at that moment, and since I had my own agenda, I was pleased to see I was seated between Martin and Bubba at the round table. After the flurry of passing and serving and complimenting an anxious Bettina on the chicken and rice and broccoli and salad, I quietly asked our state representative if he had been the lawyer in charge of the Julius estate since their disappearance. It was heartless of me, since the conversation had turned to regional football.

"Yes," he said, dabbing his mustache carefully with his napkin. "I handled the house purchase, when Mrs. Zinsner sold the house to T. C. Julius. So after they vanished, Mrs. Totino asked me to continue as the lawyer in the case." "What's the law about disappearances, Bubba?"

"According to Georgia law, missing people can be declared dead after seven years," Bubba told me. "But Mrs. Totino was able to show she was the sole remaining relative of the family, and since she had very little without their support - she'd been living with a sister in New Orleans, scraping by with Social Security - we went to court and got her appointed conservator of the estate, so I could arrange for her to have enough money to live on. After a year, we got a letter of administration, so she could sell the property whenever she could find a buyer. Of course, this is all a matter of public record," he concluded cautiously.

"So in a few months, the Juliuses will be declared dead."

"Yes, then the remainder of their estate will be Mrs. Totino's."

"The house sale money."

"Oh, no. Not just the house sale money. He'd been saving for a while, to start his own business when he retired from the Army." And Bubba indicated by the set of his mouth that this was the end of the conversation about the Julius family's financial resources.

"Did you like him?" I asked, after we'd eaten quietly for a minute. "He was a tough man," Bubba said thoughtfully. "Very much... 'everything goes as I say in my family.' But he wasn't mean."

"Did you meet the others?"

"Oh, yes. I met Mrs. Julius when they bought the house. Very sick, very glad to be within driving distance of all the hospitals in Atlanta. A quiet woman. The daughter was just a teenager; not giggly. That's all I remember about her." Then our host asked Bubba what was coming up in the legislature that we needed to know about, and my conversation with him about the Julius family was over. On the way home, I related all this to Martin, who listened abstractedly. That wasn't like Martin, who was willing to be interested in the Julius disappearance if I was.

"I have to fly to Guatemala next week," he told me. "Oh, Martin! I thought you weren't going to have to travel as much now that you're not based in Chicago."

"I thought so, too, Roe."

He was so curt that I glanced over with some surprise. Martin was visibly worried.

"How long will you be gone?"

"Oh, I don't know. As long as it takes... maybe three days."

"Could ... maybe I could go, too?"

"Wait till we get home; I can't pay attention to this conversation while I'm driving."

I bit my lip in mortification. When we got home, I stalked straight into the house.

He was just getting out of the car to open my door, and I caught him off guard. He didn't catch up to me until I was halfway down the sidewalk to the kitchen side door.

Then he put his hand on my shoulder and began, "Roe, what I meant..." I shook his hand off. "Don't you talk to me," I said, keeping my voice low because of the Youngbloods. Here we lived a mile out of town, and I still couldn't scream at my husband in my own yard. "Don't you say one word." I stomped up the stairs, shut the door to our bedroom, and sat on the bed. What was the matter with me? I'd never had open quarrels with anyone in my life, and here I was brawling with my husband, and I'd been within an ace of hitting him, something I'd also never done. This was so trashy. I had to do some thinking, and now. Our relationship had always been more emotional than any I'd ever had, more volatile. But these bright, hot feelings had always served to leap the chasms between us, I realized, sitting on the end of our new bedspread in our new house with my new wedding ring on my finger. I took off my shoes and sat on the floor. Somehow I could think better. "He's still not telling me the truth," I said out loud, and knew that was it. I could hear him faintly, stomping about downstairs. Fixing himself a drink, I decided. I felt only stunned wonder - how had I ended up sitting on the floor in my bedroom, angry and grieved, in love with a man who lived a life in secret? I remembered Cindy Bartell saying, "He won't cheat on you. But he won't ever tell you everything, either."

I had a moment of sheer rage and self-pity, during which I asked myself all those senseless questions. What had I done to deserve this? Now that I'd finally, finally gotten married, why wasn't it all roses? If he loved me, why didn't he treat me perfectly?

I lay back on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. More important, what was I going to do during the next hour?

A creaking announced Martin's progress up the stairs and across the landing.

"I won't knock at my own bedroom door," he said, from outside.

I stared at the ceiling even harder.

The door opened slowly. Perhaps he was afraid I'd throw something at him? An intriguing mental image. Maybe Cindy had thrown things. He appeared at my feet, two icy glasses of what appeared to be 7- and-7 in his hands. I saw the wet stain on his off-white shirt, where he'd tucked the extra glass between arm and chest while he'd used his other hand to open the door. "What are you doing, Roe?"

"Thinking."

"Are you going to talk to me?"

"Are you going to talk to me?"

He sat on the stool in front of my vanity table. He leaned over to hand me a drink. I held it centered under my breasts with both hands gripping the heavy glass.

"I still..." he began. He stopped, looked around as if a reprieve would come, took a drink. I looked up at him from the floor, waiting. "I still sell guns."

I felt as if the ceiling had fallen on my head.

"Do you want to know any more about it than that?"

"No," I said. "Not now."

"I don't think Bill Anderson is who he says he is," Martin said.

I cut my gaze over to him without turning my head.

"I think he's government."

I looked back at my glass. "I thought you were government."

His mouth went down at one corner.

"I thought I was, too. I suspect something's changed that I don't know about.

That's why I need to go to Guatemala. Something's come unglued." I struggled with so many questions I couldn't decide what to ask first. Did I really want to know the answers to any of them? "Are you really a man with a regular job with a real company?" I asked, hating the way my voice faltered.

He looked sad. "I'm everything I ever told you I was. Just - other things, too."

"Then why couldn't you be satisfied?" I said bitterly and futilely. I sat up, tears coursing down my cheeks without my knowing they had started, not sobbing, just - watering my dress. I took a drink from my glass; yes, it was 7-and-7.

When I could bear to, I looked at him.

"Will you stay?" he asked.

We looked at each other for a long moment.

"Yes," I said. "For a while."

I never finished that drink, yet the next morning I felt I had a hangover. I had to take my mind off my life. I dressed briskly, putting on powdered blush more heavily than usual because I looked like hell warmed over, and went to Parnell Engle's cement business.

It was a small operation north of Lawrenceton. There were heaps of different kinds of gravel and sand dotting the fenced-in area, and a couple of large cement trucks were rumbling around doing whatever they had to do. The office was barren and utilitarian to a degree I hadn't seen in years. There was a cracked leather couch, a few black file cabinets, and a desk in the outer office. That desk was commanded by a squat woman in stretch pants and an incongruous gauzy blouse that was intended to camouflage the rolls of fat. She had good-humored eyes peering out of a round face, and she was dealing with someone over the phone in a very firm way.

"If we told you it would be there by noon, it will be there by noon. Mr. Engle don't promise nothing he can't do. Now the rain, we cain't control the rain... . No, they cain't come sooner, all our trucks are tied up till then. ... I know the weather said rain, but like I told you.... All right then, we'll see you at noon." And she hung up with a certain force. There was an old Underwood typewriter on the desk, and not a computer in sight. "Is Mr. Engle in?" I asked.

"Parnell!" she yelled toward the door behind her. "Someone here to see you." Parnell appeared in the door in a moment dressed in blue jeans, work boots, and a khaki shirt, his hand full of papers.

"Oh," he said unenthusiastically. "Roe Teagarden. You enjoying all that money my cousin left you?"

"Yes," I said baldly.

After a moment of Dodge-City staring at each other, Parnell cracked a smile. "Well, at least the Lord has shined on you," he said. "I hear you got married last month. God meant for woman to be a companion to man." "Amen," I said sadly.

"You need to talk to me?"

"Yes, if you have a minute."

"That's about all I do have, but come on in." He made a nearly gracious sweep with his handful of papers, and I went across the creaking wooden floor to Parnell's sanctum. I felt a surge of fondness for Parnell; his office was exactly what I expected. It was as dilapidated as the outer room, and there was a large reproduction of the Last Supper on the wall, and plaques with Bible verses were stuck here and there, along with a huge map of the country and a calendar that featured scenery rather than women. "You know I bought the Julius house," I said directly. Parnell neither expected nor appreciated small talk. "I want to know about the day you poured the patio there."

"I went over and over it at the time," he remarked. "And I don't know why you want to know, but I suppose it's none of my business. It's been a long time since I thought of that day."

He leaned back in his chair, wove his fingers together across his lean stomach. He pursed his thin lips for a moment, then began. "I was still working most of the jobs I got myself. I've prospered in the last few years, praise the Lord. But when T.C. called, I was glad to come. He'd made the form himself, it was all ready, he told me. I knew he was trying to set up his own carpentry business, handyman work, that kind of thing, so I knew he'd have done a competent job. So I went out there with the truck and the black man working for me then, Washington Prescott, he's dead now, had an aneurysm. We got there. The form looked fine, just like I expected. There was some rubble down in it, like people throw in sometimes, extra bricks, things you want to get rid of; but nothing like a body or anything that could have held a body. Stones, old bricks, seems like I remember a couple of pieces of cloth, rag. The girl Charity came out and said hi, I'd met the family before at church so I knew her. She said her dad had gone on an errand and called to say he wouldn't make it back in time, I should just go on and pour and send him a bill."

"You never saw him?"

"Just said that, didn't I?"

"Did you see other members of the family?"

"I'm about to tell you. You're the one wanting to know all about it."

"Sorry."

"Charity's boyfriend, Harley, came out to help if I needed him. And the mother-in-law, don't remember her name, came out of the garage apartment and watched us for a spell. While we were pouring, Washington was in the form getting everything to flow right, and then we were both finishing it. I could see in the kitchen window. Hope was in there wearing an apron, fixing supper, looked like. She waved at me but didn't come out to speak. I thought, She must be in a hurry. They must be going out later."

"She was usually friendly?"

"Hope? Oh, yes, she was a friendly woman, meek. That cancer was really draining her, but that day she looked better and moved easier than she had in the month or two I'd known her."

He'd seen every member of the Julius family but T.C.

"Was the light in the kitchen on?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so. There was still plenty of light. I got there at four, and it was late October; it wasn't real bright, come to think of it. But it was Hope I saw."

"And there's no way that after you left, bodies could have been put in the concrete."

"I went out late the next day after I'd talked to the police. That concrete was exactly like me and Washington left it, and no one had touched it." Parnell said this with a finality that was absolutely believable. He leaned up in his chair to a squeal of springs, and said, "Now, I think that's it, Roe." He got up to walk me to the door, so I slung my purse over my shoulder and obediently preceded him. I thought of one last question. "Parnell, why did you think Mrs. Julius was going out later?" "Well," he said, and then stopped dead. "Now why did I?" he wondered, scratching the side of his nose with the papers he'd picked up again. His narrow face went blank as he rummaged through his memory. "Because of the wig," he said, pleased at his ability to recall. "Hope was wearing her Sunday wig."

Next I went to the church.

I couldn't think of anywhere else to go.

It was unlocked. I could see across the right angle formed by the church and the parish hall, where the office was. Aubrey was seated at his desk. But I went in the church. It was warm and dusty. I sat at the back, let down a kneeler, and slid down on it.

I was hoping to bring order to chaos.

I'd promised Martin to stay with him, when we married. I loved him.

But he was - a Bad Guy. Or, at the very least, a Not-So-Good Guy.

I winced as I formulated the thought, but I couldn't deny its truth. If someone came to me - say, Aubrey - and told me, "I know a man who sells arms illegally to desperate people in Latin America," what would I assume? I would assume that this man was bad, because no matter what else was good in his life, it would not balance that piece of - evil. This man who was doing that evil act was my husband, the man who had made alternate honeymoon plans so he'd be sure I was happy, the man who thought he was extremely lucky to marry me, the man who'd fought a horrible war in Vietnam, a man who loved and supported an ungrateful son. I was convinced Martin was doing what he was doing not because he was intrinsically evil but because he was addicted to danger, adventure, and maybe because he thought he was serving his country. But what he was doing would poison our life together, no matter how much good that life contained. He was my sweetheart, he was my lover, he was an agricultural company executive, he was a veteran, he was an athlete, but I could not forget what else he did. I cried for a while. I heard the door of the church open quietly. I felt someone standing in the narthex behind me: Aubrey. He must have noticed my car. But I didn't turn around because I didn't want him to see my face. After a while I felt his hand brush my hair in a caress and rest lightly on my shoulder. He gave me a pat, and I heard the door squeak shut behind him.

Peachtree Leisure Apartments. A different security guard, also black, less formidable and less good-natured. This man's name was Roosevelt, which I was sure pleased Mrs. Totino. She was less pleased with me, however; her voice, which I could hear crackling over the lobby phone, was not enthusiastic. Perhaps she was regretting the purple and silver placemats. "You been crying," she said sharply, standing back from her door with none too gracious an air. Why the sudden coolness? I remembered she had a reputation for being disagreeable. Maybe she'd just reverted to character. "I wanted to ask you something," I said. "I'm sorry I didn't call before I came." Actually, that had been a stroke of luck, I now considered. She wasn't going to ask me to sit.

"What?" she said rudely.

"The day the concrete was poured for the patio .. ." She nodded curtly, her thin bent figure outlined in the sun coming through the one window in the cramped and crowded living room. "Can you think of any reason why your daughter would be wearing her Sunday wig?" "Go!" she shrieked at me suddenly. "Go! Go! Go! You bought the house! That's an end of it! You can't leave it alone, can you? We'll never know! You know what one old fool here told me? Told me they'd got eaten by Martians! I've listened to it for years. I just can't stand it!"

Utterly taken aback and deeply embarrassed at having provoked such a ruckus - doors were opening up and down the hall - I stepped back and gave her the room she needed to slam the door in my face.

To cap off a perfect twenty-four hours, Martin telephoned from work to say his superior at the main office in Chicago had called an urgent meeting of all plant managers for as soon as everyone could get there. He'd come home to pack and I hadn't been there, and no one had known where I was. Whom had he asked? I wondered.

"So I'll have to fly straight from Chicago to Guatemala," he said. I made a little noise of protest. I couldn't reach any decision about my life with Martin, but I knew I would miss him and I hated for him to leave the country before we could resolve our problems.

"Roe," he said in a more private, less brisk, voice. "I'm going to quit."

Unfortunately, I started crying again.

"Promise," I sobbed, like a nine-year-old.

"I promise," he said. "This last trip is it. I'll start disentangling myself while I'm down there. There are people I have to talk to, arrangements I have to make. But it's over for me."

"Thank God," I said.

I thought I'd wept more in my four-week marriage to Martin than I had in the previous four years.

Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.