Hush Money

* With this short story, I found myself a bit out of the normal range of tales I enjoy writing. This one has no supernatural, horror or science fiction turn to it. Perhaps that’s why I was a little uncomfortable posting this one. But here it is for those that would like to give it a run through. *

Hush Money
April 12, 2015

***

The loud thumping at the door woke Stewart from his nap. Cursing, he lowered the leg rest of the recliner, pushing himself up from the thick cushioned comfort and toward the front door of his apartment. Grumbling the entire way, he ran a thick hand through the thinning strands of bangs that were hanging to his forehead, damp with sweat. Squinting an eye through the peephole, Stewart could see a hazy profile of someone outside. Male or female wasn’t very clear, but it was broad daylight outside so he unlatched the door and swung it open without much hesitation.

“Yes?” he managed without sounding too groggy from sleep.

The girl stood about 5 foot 5 inches, weighed maybe 125 pounds. Her hair was tied into a ponytail that was curled around to hang from her left shoulder. The paleness of her skin set off a stark contrast against the raven black hair and charcoal sweater that clung to her body like a second skin despite the 69-degree temperatures predicted all week. She did wear a thin pair of stretch pants, sort of like those leotards the dancers wore. In the folded crook of her left arm she held a clipboard with a pen attached by a little chain and some papers resting under the spring loaded catch. A small handbag was tucked under her other arm.

“Mister,” she glanced at her clipboard, as if studying it. “Mister Stewart Dauber?” Her eyes went to the number on the outside of his door, which he now stood beside. “228 Sherwood Court?”

She was maybe in her mid-20’s, if Stewart had to guess. Possibly a college student? He honestly wasn’t sure if a girl in her mid-20’s would even still be in college. She was pretty, though, in a pale, homely girl-next-door sort of way. He’d had worse, if he had to form a crude statement about it.

“Last time I checked,” uttered Stewart, perhaps a bit more harshly than he originally intended. He shifted uncomfortable to balance his weight on the opposite foot, his left.

The girl smiled back and wrinkled her nose, almost as if she appreciated his snarky reply. “Pleasure to meet you, Mister Dauber. I’m Anita Halbreath and I’m a volunteer with the Grace Waldron campaign committee.” She produced a button from nowhere and handed it to him politely, careful to hold it by just the edge as if to avoid contact should he reach for it. As soon as he’d pinched it between thumb and index finger, she released her own grip and returned her attention to the clipboard and paper on it.

“As I was saying, Grace Waldon’s currently campaigning for the Mayor’s office of our fine city, and we’d like to take the time to get to know some of the members of our community. To hear what you have to say and get a feel for the issues that need to be addressed, should she be elected to office. Would you have a moment to spare of your time for the benefit of Mrs. Waldron and our city’s future, Mister Dauber?” She flashed a smile that revealed a perfect set of polished white teeth, straight and untouched by nicotine or soda stain.

Stewart sniffed and ran a finger along side his nose, thinking for a moment. Then nodded his head slowly and stepped back from the doorway. “Sure. Would you like to do it here? Or you can come inside if you’d like. I’d like to have a drink myself, I can fix you one, too.”

Anita smiled and nodded. “That would be lovely. Thank you!” Anita stepped inside and passed Stewart’s wide girth.
Stewart nodded and pushed the door shut behind them both, turning to follow her into his apartment. She paused beside his television, an older floor model that still ran fine, once it was good and warm. The volume was muted, but images of a soap opera flickered across the screen. Anita seemed to take a moment of interest in the happenings then smiled and looked Stewart’s way.

“My Granny loves these shows. Her stories, she calls them,” she giggled briefly.

Stewart nodded his head and offered a quick smile. “It just happened to be on that channel when I turned it on earlier. I don’t watch them myself, don’t watch much of anything lately. Too much evil in the world to keep up with for my taste.” He turned toward the open area of his kitchen, no walls separating it from the tiny living room, just a bar that a couple of cups and a fake bowl of fruit sat on. “What’s to your liking, Miss? I have bottled water, some homemade sweet tea and diet cola. No alcohol or coffee, I’m afraid.” he glanced back at her.

“Water would be great,” Anita smiled, comfortably.

Grabbing two bottles of water from the refrigerator, Stewart crossed back to the living room and handed one to his guest. “Would you care for a seat, ma’am?” he asked, motioning to either a straight-backed cloth chair, his recliner or the love seat. “None of them are very comfortable, but they do their job.”

Anita took the tan, straight backed cloth chair and Stewart settled back into his recliner, glad she hadn’t chose it for herself. He gave her a moment to look back over her clipboard, as if she were searching for a place to begin, before he cleared his throat and took a swig from his own bottle.

“How long have you lived in the community, Mister Dauber?”

Stewart swished another swallow around in his mouth before answering. “Oh, since I was a little boy, I reckon. We moved here when I was about 8 or 9. Lotta things have changed since then, but a lot has stayed the same, too. My parents use to own a house over on Lowell Street, but once they both passed on I sold it. Times have been hard for me, I’ve done what I could to keep money in my pocket and a roof over my own head. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep the one they’d provided all those years.”

Tapping the pen on her lower lip, Anita nodded thoughtfully. “And just how old are you, Mister Dauber? Have you ever been married? Have any children?”

Another swallow and a moment of silence. “I’ll be 47 in June. Never been married, ma’am, no. Come close a time or two, but dodge both those bullets. As for children, none that I’m aware of,” he smiled real big and chuckled, absently swirling the water in the bottle.

Anita shared his laugh and jotted a note down on her pad. “How active in the community are you, or have you been? Do you vote or attend any public meetings? Have you ever petitioned the town council for any requests or problems?”

Stewart shook his head. “No, can’t say as I’ve ever been real big into politics. I sort of keep to my self. Easier that way. No one else to worry about or likely to step in my way. What with my hip and back problems, I don’t get out much anyways. Taking in what little disability I can get is pretty much my only interaction with any type of official.”

“Oh, and was that related to work injury?” she asked.

Stewart shrugged. “You could say that. I met with the wrong end of another vehicle. Broke my hip, did a number on my back. Can’t stand for very long period of time, can’t sit for very long either. Kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.”

“Oh my, I’m sorry to hear that,” whispered the girl, her eyes wide and she stared at him. She sniffed and scratched a note down onto her clipboard. “One last thing. Have you ever heard of or met mayoral candidate Grace Waldron before? Went to school with her? Worked with her anywhere? Bumped into her at the super market, anything? Do you know her and would it affect your voting decision if you were to cast a vote right now?” Anita leaned in, as if anxious for his answer.

Steward cocked his head back and took down nearly half the bottle of water in a single chug. He exhaled sharply and slowly twisted the top back on his bottle before turning to make eye contact with the little girl sitting almost across from him. He smiled a large grin and revealed a couple of empty slots where teeth should have been before belching. Then he laughed. Not a long drawn out belly laugh, just a chuckle that would set some folks on the edge of their nerves.

“Let’s cut the crap, honey. What do you really want? What does that whore boss of yours want from me this time? I already gave her some of the best shagging she could have ever dreamt of, and now here you are asking me all kinds of questions about if I know her and from where.” He didn’t even bother to move, and he was surprised that Anita Halbreath didn’t bother to move either.

“I – I’m sorry, sir? What are you -“

“I said cut the crap!” his voice raised a bit. “It’s obvious you know that I know Grace. That’s why you’re here. I knew when I saw she had thrown her hat into the mayor’s race that I’d be hearing something from that white trash tramp.”

Anita finally let her little smile fade away and she sat her clipboard down on the arm of her chair.

“Yea, I’m not stupid. I knew folks would come snooping around to keep my mouth shut. So let’s just get to the good part. How much do y’all want to offer me, and how much am I really going to take to keep my mouth shut about her whoring past?”

Anita shrugged innocently. “What past would that be, Mister Dauber? Enlighten me.”

“You -“ he shook his head. “Well, you may not know, come to think of it. Maybe she didn’t give you all the information you need. Maybe that’s why you agreed to come into my home and question me. Maybe she didn’t tell you just how bad a man I am.” He sneered, but his guest didn’t budge. “I know Grace. I knew her years back. We dated for a brief bit, but she tried to break it off. Tried to tell me we weren’t in love. She wanted to be with a higher class of people, even then working her way to sleeping to the top. She had goals, and they didn’t involve a poor old boy like myself.”

He snorted and pulled a handkerchief out of his front pocket, spitting into it. “We’d done some wild things in our short time together. Even then she didn’t think she could trust me. So her new boyfriend, some fancy attorney, sent her to have a final meeting with me, see if they could pay me off. Well, all that got her was one last fling with the king.” Stewart chuckled a deep throaty laugh before clearing his throat.

“You raped her?” Anita asked.

Waving his hand absently, Stewart sneered. “Rape. Not what she called it all the other times. Either way, I should have killed her right then and there.”

“But you didn’t.”

“But I didn’t,” confirmed Stewart.

“That’s how she was able to climb across into the front seat of her car and run you down, breaking your hip and damaging your spine. Not paralyzing you, but hurting you enough to keep you down.”

Stewart had a grim look come across his face as he remembered the night. “They paid to keep me quiet then. Paid for my operations, had my disability approved so I’d never have to work again.” he nodded to himself more than anyone. “But not anymore. I think it’s time I got a little more compensation for my time and suffering. After all, that’s was near 20 years ago. I’m due a new judgement.”

Anita stood up. “Funny you should say that. And, for the record, it was 25 years ago. That was the night I was conceived. Born of a hateful act of jealousy and rage between my mother and a man that would overshadow her entire career all my life.”

Stewart sat stunned for a moment. He didn’t utter a word as he slowly slid to the edge of the recliner. “I can see her in your eyes,” he whispered to no one in particular.

“I’m sure you can. However, I wasn’t sent here to renegotiate a new contract with you.” She reached into the small handbag and withdrew a handgun. “I’m actually here to terminate the current one.”

Stewart burst into a deep gutted laugh and threw his head back at the site of this little girl holding a gun on him. “I’m sure you did, sweetie. I’m sure that is what you thought you were going to do.”

Anita cocked her head to one side then pulled the trigger. The muffled shot made them both jump, but it was the look of shock on Stewart’s face at the growing stain of red blood forming beneath his t-shirt that captured both their attention. She looked up and managed to force her own mouth closed, meeting his gaze. His large form started to move, despite the wound. Anita lifted her arm again and put a hole in his forehead. He fell back into the recliner, the springs creaking under the force of the weight.

She glanced around the small apartment and saw nothing of interest. Nothing to show the man that lay bleeding and dead before her was anything but a twisted ball of hate. The apartment, much like his life, was empty. Devoid of any one thing or object of affection. Some people lived only to serve as obstacles to others in the world. Forcing themselves upon people that no longer wanted or needed them. Standing in their way when they tried to move ahead. This man, this stranger – her father – had been nothing but one obstacle after another for as long as she could remember. A cause of pain and agony in her mother from his past indiscretions. And he’d willingly taken money to keep his mouth shut for all those years. Now, even upon discovering he’d had a daughter with the woman he supposedly loved, all he could think about was money. Just like mother had said.

Anita dialed her mother up and waiting until she picked up on the other line. “Yes. Yes, just like you said. I know, I’m sorry, too. It’s okay, mama. Yes. Just give me 15 minutes and then they can come in behind me to clean up. Okay, love you, too. I’ll see you tonight. Bye.”

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