Didn’t she know? Didn’t she know?! Hadn’t someone told her? Wasn’t it obvious?
It’s really hard to get your thoughts in order when you’re choking on raisin toast and your mother’s condemnation. I coughed and swigged some coffee.
She was smiling. That pasted-on smile I had seen in Kansas or wherever the fuck we were that time.
I cleared my throat enough to speak. Here goes. “There’s no girl. I’m in a committed relationship with the most important person in my life. He’s a… singer.” I was going to say he’s a man, but you know, the word man was somehow too narrow for Ziggy.
Her smile wavered ever so slightly, that little bit of lip curl that screamed disapproval to me, as she asked the absolute last thing I expected her to: “Is he good?”
A weird sort of relief swept through me as I realized the blow I had been expecting didn’t fall. I honestly don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. “Yes,” I said. “The best.”
She gave a little sniff and a nod. “Well, okay, then.”
Was that approval? It was really fucking hard to tell. It was…at least not terrible, anyway. I felt dizzy.
“When do I get to meet him?” she chirped.
“Oh, um, any m-minute now?” I looked behind me to make sure he wasn’t standing in the doorway smirking at me. Because that was the sort of thing Ziggy would do. But he wasn’t there. “He’s upstairs.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so? He must be famished, the poor thing. Did you leave him up there like a dog?”
Oh my god, normally that turn of a conversation would have driven me up a wall but this time I said, “You’re right. I’m sure he’s starving. He just wanted to, um, give us some space, I think.” I got up hurriedly and almost knocked my chair over. “I’ll go get him.”
In my hurry back through the living room I almost missed him sitting there. He was in an arm chair that his brown shirt almost blended into. He had his legs crossed and a book thumbed open in his hand. An empty granola bar wrapper sat on the coffee table in front of him. He looked up and gave me one of those oh-I-just-noticed-you looks that was obviously fake, but I played along, gesturing for him to come with me into the kitchen but not act like he’d listened to the entire thing. Which of course he had.
Claire meanwhile had gotten up and put another piece of raisin toast into the toaster oven and was humming to herself while she wiped the crumbs off the counter.
Ziggy took over immediately, offering his hand. “Missus…? Oh, Claire, isn’t it? May I call you Claire? I’m Ziggy.”
“Claire is fine,” she said, taking his hand and then trying to pull it away as he kissed her knuckles. “Are you always so forward, Mister… Ziggy?”
“Yes. He is,” I said from the edge of the room, my heels still touching the carpet. “It’s why he’s a front man.”
“I see. Well–”
I don’t know what she was going to say then, because the front door opened and Remo came in behind me. I felt the blast of cold air and then he shut the door firmly.
I tried to use hand gestures and mouthing to ask him: Why didn’t you tell me she was here? But he just looked at me quizzically as Claire sailed past me to take his coat.
Remo gave her a chaste peck on the cheek, but his eyes were on me the whole time. “Call Carynne,” he said.
“She called me because I was easier to chase down. Is your pager off?”
I had to think about where the hell my pager was. Ziggy was the only person I ever expected to use it, and since he was here, I hadn’t even thought about it. “I think it’s in my backpack. What’s going on?”
“You better call her to find out.”
“Go use the phone in the bedroom,” Claire suggested, “while I put on another pot of coffee.”
She shooed Remo into the kitchen, where Ziggy was still eating raisin toast. I tried not to think what could go wrong with the three of them in one small room together while I went to find the phone.
There were two bedrooms besides the one where we’d slept last night. Both of them had queen-size beds, but one had a much larger dresser and the phone on a night table. The bed was made, the white fringed bedspread tucked neatly under the edge of the pillows. I sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and dialed Carynne’s office number.
Her: Carynne Handley.
Me: It’s me.
Her: Oh, you’re alive then, I take it.
Me: My mother and I haven’t killed each other yet, if that’s what you mean.
Her: Aren’t you at your sister’s?
Me: Yes. But I haven’t even seen her yet.
Her: Well, keep your pager on if you can. There’s a lot going on here.
Me: I thought you said no one gets anything done in the industry in December because of the holidays?
Her: I can be wrong. But this is about the lawsuits, anyway.
Her: Here’s the thing. The police have informed Sarah’s mother that instead of them pursuing a criminal case against Digger, she should file a civil suit. It’s not enough money for them to bother with, I guess.
Me: The police said that?
Her: Well, the prosecutors. It kind of sounds to me like a matter of resources. They’ve got drug dealers and shit like that to track down. Trying to go after a two-bit con man like Digger isn’t worth their while.
Me: Okay, so you’re calling to tell me Digger isn’t wanted by the police, but he’s still wanted in court?
Her: No, I’m calling to tell you that because Digger’s missing, they’re suing the other partial owner of his business.
Me: Oh shit.
You might recall that approximately a billion years earlier, Digger had improperly used some of Moondog Three’s funds for setting up his own agency. At the time I’d thought I was pretty tough and smart to demand he give me something for it instead of just letting him walk all over me. One afternoon in San Francisco at the end of that cross-country warm-up tour we’d done, we’d sat down in the hotel restaurant at the Parc 55 and I’d stood up to him.
No good deed goes unpunished, eh?
“Daron, are you there?” Carynne was still on the phone.
“Um, yeah. Why would Sarah sue me?”
“It’s not her. It’s her mother. Who you know doesn’t approve of you.”
“She doesn’t? I’ve barely even met her mother. And doesn’t her mother know I’m not an actual boyfriend but a publicity front?”
Carynne snorted. “I am not really sure Sarah’s mother has that much grounding in reality. Sarah says she lives in her own world.”
“I can only handle one mom who lives in her own world at a time.” My head hurt. “What should I do?”
“Right now, nothing I guess, unless you want to call Sarah and see if she can call off the dogs.”
“I’m kind of busy here. Can you talk to Barrett to talk to her?”
“I will, but I also really think you should call her.”
So I got off the phone with Carynne and tried calling Sarah. I got her machine. “Hey, Sar’, it’s Daron. Real quick since it sounds like you’re not there and I’m in Tennessee–”
Two things happened at the same time then. One, Sarah picked up the phone after all. Two, Janine burst into the room. She was still wearing her coat. I almost didn’t recognize her. She had gained so much weight she didn’t look like the same person. Her brown hair hung as limp and straight as mine around a rather plump face. But her voice was the same. I didn’t hear what Sarah said, because Janine shouted at me, “That better not be long distance!”
“Um, Sarah, I’ll have to call you back.”
She sounded very distant. “Okay…? Hope everything’s all r–”
Janine literally plucked the phone out of my hand and slammed the receiver down. “Do you know how expensive that is?”
Okay. You know I’m speechless a lot. There are a lot of situations where I can’t get the words to come out, or where I can’t think of what to say, or where I’m afraid to say something. This was not exactly like that. This was like there was a ball of white hot rage behind my eyeballs and I was afraid if I opened my mouth I might incinerate her with fire like a dragon.
“Don’t give me that look,” she snapped. “This is my house. You’re in my room! I say–”
“Jan!” Claire said from the hallway, voice sharp. “Give it a rest. I told him to use the bedroom phone.” Then as Jan glared daggers at her, she smiled sweetly at me through the doorway. Her voice was just as sweet. “Everything all right back in New York, honey?”
Honey? When the fuck had my mother ever referred to me as honey or darling or anything like that? Never. Well, okay, maybe a few times when she wanted something from me or for me to do something, like “be a darling and take your little sister to piano lessons.” Let’s put it this way. She’d called me a little shit many, many more times than she’d ever called me honey.
Which meant now I really was speechless. How was I supposed to react to that? “Um, uh, I…I need to make a couple more calls.” Jan’s dagger eyes swung back toward me, but I was finally ready to answer her. “If you’re worried about the cost of long distance calls, jeezus, Janine, just say so. Here.” I stood and dug in the inner pocket of my leather jacket where there was pretty much always a wad of unspent per diem cash.
I sorted out the foreign money from the dollars and tossed the rest onto the white bedspread. There was probably a hundred bucks there: four or five twenties and some smaller bills. Janine eyed the pile of cash the way a hungry bulldog looks at a steak.
“That about cover it, you think?” I said as I pushed past her and into the hallway. I headed toward the stairs down to the kitchen again.
“You think you’re a big shot, is that it? Huh?” she shouted after me, as Claire tried to shoo her into the bedroom.
“Jan, Jan, let’s have a little talk, shall we?” was the last thing I heard my mother say before she shut the bedroom door firmly behind them.
I went down to Remo and Ziggy hoping that maybe some raisin toast would alleviate my urge to put my fist through a wall.