CHAPTER #15 EPILOGUE
They forced me to commit myself to one year inside the protective walls of Sunvale Sanitarium, fifty miles south of Phoenix. From within those walls, through my lawyers, I negotiated a long-protracted settlement with the affected parties. To pay the settlements, I was forced to sell off more properties for less money than I’d ever considered or admitted.
I worked hard to find a place of peace and understanding about myself. I was becoming a new man. I no longer carried those old feelings of desperation. I had daily therapy session with Conrad Ilrad, the one person who truly was able to help. I had come to terms with my dysfunctional childhood, with my parents’ single-minded focus on money who didn’t want me around. I’d delved into the deep-seated feelings that no one liked me. I realized that living my entire life in Marysville perpetuated my feeling of self-loathing.
It took the next six months, longer than it had ever taken to write a simple two-page note to my old nemesis. I’d rewritten it more times than I cared to remember. In some way the letter was my revival, though I never told Conrad I was writing it, nor Margaret Flader, the woman I met a few weeks after my forced incarceration.
Margaret had come from Hollywood where she attempted suicide every time she didn’t get a movie role. I knew her by her more famous stage name. Over the years, I’d seen her many times in many roles. She was older, but then so was I. She didn’t seem to mind my one wandering glass eye, my cueball head, nor my ever-nervous, toothpick-chewing habit.
Once I dropped the letter in the mailbox, I felt lighter. The next part of my life could unfold. I hoped it would include Margaret Flader.
Sundog and me, though we were due to receive a substantial compensation from Harry, once free of the Stalworth house, went straight to Fred’s sport shop, in the darkness of night of course. With his new set of picklocks, Dog Man jimmied the back door and we borrowed two full sets of scuba gear. Fred, who lived upstairs in his bachelor apartment, didn’t hear a thing. At dawn, we slipped into the freezing water and dredged every inch of the area in front of Tenican Heights gate. We’d retrieved eleven of the seventeen bags by the time we ran out of oxygen.
We surfaced a few hundred yards from the submerged guard shack and The Dog Man, the maniac that he is, spit out his mouthpiece and looked at me. “Tonight The Dog and Billy go back to Fred’s and trade these tanks in. Dog Man wants those other six bags.”
I grinned. “Six more bags means that much longer we stay in Peru.”
Fred lay in wait for us with his twelve-gauge and two rounds of rock salt.
The salt stung for days. The little punctures took weeks to heal.
While recuperating, we watched Yamelda do endless reports about the full-scale manhunt for the two suspects who’d cleaned out Tenican Heights during the flood. Both Sundog and me were forced to hide out in the hills at a friend’s house.
Once we could sit again, we drove to San Francisco and fenced three hundred thousand worth of slightly questionable goods. For our services, we negotiated a total sum of thirty-two thousand and change plus Trunk’s cash. It wasn’t exactly the best deal we could have made, but for obvious reasons we were in a bit of a hurry to get south.
We abandoned Sundog’s weather-worn Honda Civic at the airport and booked the next flight to Lima, Peru.
When the plane landed, there was an entire platoon of Peruvian military waiting at the bottom of the ramp.
Without the constant harassment of Harry S. Trunk ripping up my garden, poisoning my well and otherwise making a total nuisance of himself, I was able to concentrate more freely on Flamenco dancing.
A month after the flood, because the owner and his wife just happened to be my first audience in the window of Dickerman’s Drug that rainy night, I was booked to do a one-hour set at the Knight’s Landing Bar and Grill. It wasn’t exactly Albert’s Hall, but it was a start.
Late one afternoon, while driving north on business first to bo-hunk Woodland, California then on to Ashland, Oregon, I not only got lost on one of a maze of back roads, but I blew a tire close to the town of Knight’s Landing. I hobbled into that minuscule river town looking for an open service station, ruining a two hundred dollar tire in the process. Since only the bar was open, I was forced to stay the night in the meager accommodations of the local hotel.
Later, when I came down for dinner, I witnessed the most fantastic sight. The Flamenco dancer, Cassandra Liltkey spun and twirled, snapped her castanets and stomped her feet in an amazing display of gypsy dancing.
When she took a break, I stepped outside and called my boss, Frank, a twenty-three-year veteran talent scout for the Los Angles video firm, T.V.A.
“Sol, what the hell do you want?”
“You’re not going to believe what I’ve found.”
“You’re supposed to be in Ashland getting that rap group signed on.” His voice came through a scratchy phone. Not much reception in Knight’s Landing.
“I blew a tire. I’ll be in Ashland tomorrow.”
“I don’t give a shit, Sol. Rent a car and get to Ashland.”
I ignored his demand. “She’s a Flamenco dancer.”
“What the fuck do we know about Flamenco?”
“Nothing, Frank, but she’s great.”
“Get your ass to Ashland and sign those guys–”
I interrupted for good reason. “I’ll be in Ashland tomorrow noon, but I’m sure we could get her for peanuts. I’m flying her back to make a demo.”
As usual, a long series of shouts came through the line.
“I’ll pay out of my pocket if you don’t like her.”
I hung up the phone half way through a long series of angry threats and abusive language, but I was used to Frank.
When she finished her set, I took her aside and talked her into meeting me in our Los Angeles studios two weeks later.
Of course, Frank liked her and by the end of the first afternoon, Cassandra Liltkey had a signed contract and I gave her a check for nine hundred seventy-three dollars. Her twelve best dances had been recorded on video and we owned the rights. I love working with greenhorns.
By the end of the year, after a successful nationwide distribution campaign, T.V.A. had netted three hundred fifty-seven thousand dollars from that single video, of which I got eight percent. Not bad for one video. I wished all of them were that easy.
A few weeks after the release, when the flamenco video reached San Francisco, I found my first booking agent. Maybe I should say he found me.
It wasn’t long after, when a New York agent ran across my tape, and I was on my way. He set up a private performance with me in a small off-Broadway theater. He and six of his co-investors sat while I danced and twirled to the music of my first live Flamenco guitarist.
From the performance that afternoon, I took a short, almost vertical rise to Flamenco stardom.
By the end of the next year, I’d received enough money from Trunk’s estate to reopen my drug store. In January, I flew to New York to meet Cassandra and see her first Broadway performance.
The thwarted night in my secret sex den had not been repeated, though I would have given anything for one more chance. But, through it all, we had become friends. In itself, our friendship was a cherished miracle.
In a small Italian restaurant a few blocks away from Broadway, we sat at a table behind a frosted front window overlooking the shoppers and street hustlers traipsing in a light snow.
Cassandra smiled. “I’ve eaten here often. It’s very good and, best of all, it’s close to the theaters.”
I held my wine glass in the air. “Here’s to a great performance.”
We clicked glasses. She nervously swirled her wine and took sips while I watched the liquid slosh in my glass. It had been ten months since she’d spirited off to New York. Although we talked on the phone, I hadn’t seen her since she’d left. I was always a little nervous when she was around. Wished I was twenty years younger.
I broke the awkward silence. “I saw Marie Ollinski the other day.”
“Oh, really. She still working in the restaurant?”
“Yes, but it doesn’t look like she’ll be there much longer.”
“No kidding?” She continued to swish the glass absently. “Where’s she going?”
“Eventually to the hospital.”
She got a worried look. “What happened? Is she sick?”
“She’s going to have Sam Kitridge’s baby.”
“Sam Kitridge? Should I know him?”
“The tall German guy at the house that day.”
A grin spread across Cassandra’s face. “Well, there’s symmetry to that union, don’t you think?”
“I do. They got married a few months ago, but she looks eight months pregnant.”
“A perfect end to the story.”
We both giggled.
An awkward minute went by before she broached another subject. “Whatever happened to those two sleazeballs who ripped off half of Marysville? You know, that weird guy, Sunwolf and his surfer buddy Bobbie.”
“Sundog Anderson and Billy Marlin. They made it to Peru and that’s the last we’d heard of ‘em.”
“I don’t know the particulars, but they’re buried in some Peruvian jail awaiting a trial that may never come. Something about smuggling money into the country.”
She lifted her glass and took a sip. “There is a God after all.”
Another awkward minute went by. The rotund waiter with a long handlebar mustache and a booming voice delivered our dinner. He told a short Italian joke, then, while we were giggling, turned on his heels and sauntered away from our table.
She sprinkled Parmesan cheese on her pasta. “You know that lunatic Harry Trunk sent me a letter the other day.”
“Does he send you letters often?”
“No, no, just the one. It was very sweet though. He said that going to the funny farm was the best thing that ever happened to him. He told me about his emotional progress and thanked me for my part in forcing him to get help.”
“What was your part?”
“I don’t know exactly, except maybe providing a house into which he could shoot holes. But, here’s another piece. He sent me a heartfelt apology for all the dirty tricks he’d pulled over the years. He asked if there was any way he could make it up to me.”
“Wow, what a turnabout.”
She grinned. “The best part of all is, of all people, he’s learned to dance the Flamenco.”
One more slightly awkward moment and Cassandra asked, “How’s your new drug store?”
“It’s great. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the energy to rebuild after the flood. With Harry’s settlement and the minuscule amount of insurance I got, I was able to lease a storefront out by the new mall. The day I decided to open another store, an energetic young man sent me a letter saying he’d just graduated from Sacramento pharmaceutical college and he wanted to work with me. I agreed to make him a full partner if he would set the store up. It’s been open four months. With my experience and his business school savvy, we’re giving the big discount guys a run for their money.”
A long silence passed while we ate pasta and garlic bread.
I asked, “Heard anything about Billy’s young girlfriend?”
“I got a letter from Tammy last summer. She took Harry’s money and went to nursing school. She’ll graduate at the end of this year.”
“Another symmetric ending. She’s a natural as a nurse.”
A minute went by as we finished our wine. My eyes perked up. “The other day I heard about the cameraman and his sidekick.”
“Oh sure, Henry and Shawn, I remember.”
“Last week they chucked their jobs, went to San Francisco and got married. They’d been lovers for six years and no one knew.”
She smiled. “You know, the way Henry protected Shawn during those tense moments, it makes sense.”
When lunch was cleared, Cassandra asked, “I haven’t seen Yamelda Keating since our little incident. You heard anything about her?”
I finished my bite of pasta. “Yamelda is the only sad story. Apparently, she’d never been in love before she met Billy. Once she fell for him and he disappeared, her whole life crumbled. When she heard that Billy and Sundog had left the country, she tossed her job and took a plane to Peru. The first time she went, she couldn’t find him.”
“Wasn’t he in jail?”
“Yes, but it took a few months for the information get back to the states. During that time, she searched every little town and village. When she returned, the town was just getting wind of the duo’s mishap.”
“The day she found out, she booked a second flight for Peru. It was the last Marysville has seen of Yamelda Keating.”
Cassandra lifted her wineglass in salute. “Ah yes, a woman in love is unstoppable.”