Before Claudette and Gates even had time to sit down on the buttery leather sofa or pour a drink from the glass pitcher filled with water and lemon slices, Conor Volkman, Jr. came to the waiting room to fetch them. He was clean-shaven, with a peppering of chin acne, and wore navy-blue slacks which were slightly darker than his sports coat, a mismatch that made Claudette feel a little sorry for him but also confused, because she’d have thought a lawyer of all people would sport a sharp suit. “Come on back to the conference room,” he said, escorting them into a bland, airy room. He sat on one side of a long table. They took seats across from him.
Gates already seemed out of sorts. “You’re Conor Volkman?” he blurted. “Aunt Patty’s lawyer?”
“I’m Conor Volkman, Jr. My father is counsel for your Aunt Patricia’s estate, but he was called down to Olympia at the last minute, so he asked me to meet with you.”
“All right, Junior. I have some questions about my aunt’s will.”
Gates’ Aunt Patty had gone home to Glory some weeks earlier, declaring until the day of her passing that she was on the mend and feeling no pain, conveniently forgetting the morphine drip threaded into her veins. Claudette had kept vigil with the family as the beloved aunt succumbed to the last stages of pancreatic cancer. The final hours hadn’t been so peaceful. A cousin arrived drunk and then passed out on the sofa. Patty’s half-brother had texted incessantly. Low-voiced conversations in the kitchen ended abruptly whenever Claudette came in. Around four a.m., Patty had taken a turn for the worse, slipped into unconsciousness, and passed before the hospice nurse could rouse anyone for final good-byes.
Now Conor Volkman, Jr. was saying, “I’m very sorry for your loss, but I cannot discuss her will with anyone but her executor. Have you spoken to Mr. – “
“I talked to Trent and I’m done talking to Trent. I have her will right here.” Gates tossed a manila envelope onto the table. “Something fishy is going on, Junior. Can you tell me if this will is legit?”
The young lawyer eyed Gates. The muscles in his jaw flexed.
Claudette added, “Junior, Gates and Patty were so close — she raised him after his parents split up. He knew her ATM PIN. There is absolutely no reason she’d take him out of her will.”
Junior squared the envelope corners with thin, obsessive fingertips. “Yes, and I — “
She said, “We don’t want you to betray her confidence. We just need some advice.”
Gates sighed, impatient. He was task-oriented: if a home run was the goal, swinging for the fences was the only thing on his mind. But across the table Conor Volkman, Jr. was loosening his tie and ringing up someone named Josie over the intercom to bring in coffee.
As Junior read the will, tapping his chin with his fingertips, Claudette sat quietly. The scrape of pages turning was the loudest sound in the room. Gates stood, staring out the window.
He was thick, as the girls said. Hot, straight, the total package. He and Claudette had dated just after college. Gates was a bad kisser and selfish in bed, but that wasn’t the problem. What was the problem? she asked herself, on drunk nights when getting back together didn’t seem so far-fetched. They read the same blogs and books and magazines, geeked out over the same museum exhibits, saw the same movies and plays, liked the same bands. The little things had gotten to her, she supposed: his air of entitlement, the guiltless way he stiffed a waiter because his coffee wasn’t hot enough, or pocketed a lighter at the head shop, or never brought booze to a party. It wasn’t that she expected him to be perfect. It was more the way that he did these things, as though he deserved it, like he was owed something. He broke rules that he had decided didn’t matter, and it all added up to something she couldn’t stomach, a grand total of pettiness.
Junior set down the paperwork and looked up, blinking. “And so. Your concern is?”
“My concern? My dear aunt, worth at least a half million dollars, left me an old car and about a hundred rhinestone brooches,” Gates said.
“Yes, go on.”
Gates leaned forward. “The car isn’t the issue. It’s a 1975 Plymouth Valiant and it’s in excellent condition.”
“So — the brooches. They have some kind of collector’s value?”
“Dude, come on. She owned six rental houses pulling in a good income. There is no way in hell she’d have dissed me and left everything to my assclown cousins. And make Trent executor. Trent? I mean, come on.” Gates nearly smiled at the ridiculousness of it. There was a lifelong pissing match between the competitive cousins. Patty had loved and spoiled them both, with Gates getting a slight edge for qualities he couldn’t help — being tall, attractive, confident.
Junior slouched in his chair now, frowning. “People sometimes change their minds as the end draws near.”
“Not Patty,” Gates said, dogged. “She didn’t trust Trent any farther than the front porch. She wrote him a check for a hundred bucks for his birthday one year and he cashed it for a thousand.”
The lawyer stood up. “If what you’re saying about Trent is true, I advise you to go to the police. I apologize, but there is a very real conflict of interest if I say much more.”
“The conflict is somebody fucked with her will and I got left with nothing,” Gates said.
“Gates. Junior can’t help us. It’s the law.” Claudette got up too.
“Fuck the law,” Gates said.
Weary, Junior said, “My advice: Google L for lawyer, P for probate. It won’t be cheap, but justice never is.”
“And fuck justice,” Gates said, ever the intellectual. “I just want what’s coming to me.”
Patricia Gates Wentwick’s collection of baubles was laid out in her living room in a series of velvet-lined trays, the stones grouped together by color — yellow, blue, jet, pearlescent pink. Claudette couldn’t tear her eyes away from the masses of glittering, luminous rhinestones.
A slender blonde, also eyeing the jewels, held up a starburst pin. “Oh, this one’s gorge.”
Claudette said, “It sure is. Can you imagine if it were real?”
“I sure can,” the blonde said. She wore a gauzy top with a dotted skirt and striped cream tights. Waves of honey-blonde hair framed her face. “I don’t think we’ve met — I’m Andie.”
“Claudette.” They shook hands. “Did you know Patty?”
“Not really — I’m a friend of Trent’s. He said the nephew who inherited the brooches might be interested in selling some of them.” Andie peeked into another case.
So this was why Gates had deputized her to stay downstairs while he rummaged the house for clues — Trent had gotten greedy enough to sniff around Gates’ piece of the pie, too. Claudette examined a green, lozenge-shaped brooch with a gold and pearl clasp.
Andie walked over, her heels making little zinging sounds on the carpet, and looked over Claudette’s shoulder. “That one’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Just like you, Claudette.”
Claudette smiled. Was this trashy Bo-Peep flirting with her? “Um — thanks.”
“You’re shy. How cute.”
“What’s up, ladies?” Trent came in, pushing razor-cut bangs out of his eyes. He was super tan, but not a juicy, sun-drenched beach glow. He had more of a tanning salon toast.
“Who you calling a lady?” Andie said, teasing.
Gates came in then too, holding a plastic grocery bag. His face was darkly pink at the edges, like cooked ham. “Come on, Claud. Let’s bounce.”
She held up the green brooch. “Remember Patty wearing this to the opera gala every year with her mink stole? I bet this one’s worth something.”
“Oh sure, you bet. I’m sitting on a gold mine.”
“You know, I’d be happy to appraise the lot for you, or a few select pieces,” Andie said.
“I’ll think about it,” he said sourly. He went out, leaving the front door hanging open.
Andie turned to Trent. “Oh, dear. Was I out of line?”
“He’s still really upset about Patty,” Claudette said.
“He’s being a moody brat.” Trent took the green brooch, held it up, watched the light splash through it. “I can’t figure it out, Claud. Patty leaving me and Pete all the real estate.”
“I know. They were so close, and he loved her so much. And she loved him.”
Andie placed a hand on Trent’s arm. Her nails were painted a tumescent rose, the pinkies adorned with gold, dagger-shaped ornaments. “Nothing says love like a roomful of jewels.”
“You mean fake jewels,” Trent said, abruptly tossing the brooch back into its case.
Claudette called, “Hey, can I use your laptop for a second?”
Gates yelled back, “I guess. Just don’t be snooping around.”
“I won’t,” she said, scrolling through his browser history. Match.com. eHarmony. The Stranger personals. Askalawyer.com. Patty’s obituary page. Porn sites. “Don’t worry, I’m not violating your privacy,” she added.
There was a tap on the window and gold yolk oozed down the glass, amid a mosaic of crushed eggshell. Claudette ran to the door and looked out. “Holy shit — Gates!”
“Seriously? Somebody just egged my house?” He went out to the porch, stared at the annihilated egg. “It’s Trent, it’s gotta be.”
“Why would Trent egg your house? He got everything you wanted.”
“Because he’s a miserable asshole.”
“He didn’t seem miserable the other day at Patty’s house.”
“He sure didn’t. I heard he’s getting his cock sucked by that tranny.”
Something clicked. Andie’s hyper-femininity. Fake jewels. Claudette’s pheromonal reaction, her body understanding what her brain did not.
Gates motioned her back into the house. “I know that cross-dressing faggot. His name’s Andrew — ”
“Don’t say faggot — “
“ — I dated his sister in high school. He used to come around Patty’s sometimes when we were hanging out. Even back then he was girlier than you.”
“You are such an asshole.” She’d had no idea Trent was so evolved. Or careless, dating a chick with a dick.
“Can you imagine a roll in the hay with that tangle of hairy balls?”
“Gates. Seriously. Can we talk about something else?”
He reached for his computer. “What were you doing on my laptop?”
She showed him the screen, Patty’s obituary, her lipsticked smile and fuzzy pink cardigan and the ample chest decorated with a pair of sparkling brooches.
“Washington State probate,” Gates read, clicking the other open tab.
“Remember what Junior said? Google L for lawyer and P for probate.”
“Didn’t I tell you? I hired the biggest, swingingest dick lawyer in the PNW. We’re going to get the original will reinstated,” he said, planting a wet kiss on her forehead. Claudette felt a tickle of desire. He looked at her. “You hungry? Help me clean up that mess outside and we’ll go put some sausage in your mouth.”
Claudette tried the door to the Performance Hall. Locked. She looked again at the directions Andie had given her, then tried the unmarked door opposite. It swung open. “Good Times Happy Club,” read the hand-drawn sign posted inside. A whiskey-voiced chanteuse sang Claudette down carpeted stairs. Across to Key Largo, love for sale…
She emerged into a cozy basement — couches to her right, speakers and a mic stand straight ahead, and a half dozen kids in candy-colored skinny jeans and plastic jewelry and rumpled hair, bright-eyed and cool. She drifted toward the couches. Andie skipped off the stage, handing the mic to a guy in braids. The beats changed to hip hop. Claudette stood still. Andie wore mint green stovepipe pants, narrow and fitted, like shrinkwrap on fresh produce, and Claudette wondered where it all was, the jewels, the junk, the cock.
“Hey girlfriend,” Andie said, kissing her on the lips.
Her breath tasted sweet. Her hair smelled beachy and delicious. “Hey,” Claudette said.
“Did you like my song?” Andie asked, bending her knees a little, girlish.
“I floated down the stairs on it,” Claudette said. They settled on a couch. The braids guy rapped on softly, angling his body into the music created from his rhymes and graceful moves.
“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Andie said, smiling.
“Me too.” Nervous, Claudette said, “So Gates was telling me he knows you.”
Andie made a face. “Are you kidding me? You came here to talk about Gates?”
“No — I — no. I’m sorry.” When Andie had called to ask her to meet up, Claudette had started to say no and Andie had said, Just say yes, Claudette, and so she’d said Yes.
The club was filling up. Girls in shorts and tights. A boy with a slicked faux-hawk. Andie tore open a straw wrapper. “Listen. I really don’t want to talk about that boner-factory bro, but I will tell you one thing about him. I feel like you need to know. Okay?”
Claudette nodded. Her tea arrived, fragrant and hot in a cracked cup.
“He’s trying to blackmail Trent,” Andie said, sipping her chai.
“He says Trent stole from Patty. And that if Trent doesn’t deed him a third of the houses, he’ll go to the cops.”
Claudette sighed. Was Gates trying to get himself arrested? “He just can’t believe Patty changed her will.”
“Maybe she was trying to help him.”
“Maybe she was coerced,” Claudette said loyally. “She changed her will right after Trent kited that check.”
Andie’s penciled brows flickered. “I say let him go to the cops. Call his bluff.”
“So. Tell me about you two,” Andie said, flashing a dimple.
“Me and Gates? There’s nothing to tell. We used to date. Now we’re friends.”
“But you’re still hitting it.”
How did Andie know this? She wasn’t proud of the late night texts, the familiar, dissatisfying sex. They’d hooked up the other day after breakfast. He’d come on her stomach. She’d masturbated later in his bathroom. Claudette shrugged. “A girl needs to get laid.”
“It keeps you off the market,” Andie said.
“Well,” Claudette said. “We both know the other person is dating around.”
“You’re not. And if you were, he’d be upset, wouldn’t he?”
She said, annoyed, “Is this about me or Gates?”
Andie leaned closer. Her eyes were guileless. “I don’t have a hard-on for Gates.”
Claudette looked away. In her body’s dictionary, arousal meant sex meant Gates. She could almost feel his breath on her face, the hairy scratch of his chest against her breasts. “No, I’m not — ” she said. She stood up, confused about how to get out.
Andie said, “I think you are, Claudette — ”
The beats swelled. Someone had lit a joint. Sweating, Claudette pushed through the tangle of club kids, past a cross-eyed white poodle and up the carpeted stairs and out to the street.
Claudette looked at the shards of eggshell stuck to the side of Gates’ house, creamy white and jagged. “Again? Jesus, what a mess. Did you call the cops?”
“Yeah. They told me to go to their website and file a report.” Pointing the hose at the house, Gates soaked the siding until yolk ran freely and dripped into the hydrangea bushes.
Walking along the parking strip, Claudette looked at the grass, staring intently — looking for what, a clue, a receipt for eggs, conveniently discarded by the perp?
A FedEx truck lurched to a stop at the curb. The driver hopped out, tracking gadget under one arm, an express-mail envelope under the other. “Gates McKittrick?”
Gates crossed the lawn, handing the hose off to Claudette. He was ripping the packet open before the driver was even back in the truck. “Well looky here. Papers are filed and served. Trent can go suck a bag of dicks. I’m going to own his ass.”
Claudette approached the bar, saw Trent busy at the till. He flipped up a hinged section of the counter and came out to meet her, his expression hard. The lone guy sitting at the bar stared into his beer. She felt nervous. “Hi, Trent.”
“Hey, Claudette. Did you know women’s shoes are phallic symbols? You wear two penises around on your feet every single goddamn day.”
“Which means your girlfriend has three dicks,” Claudette said.
He laughed and scratched his bicep. “Who, Andie? No wonder you and Gates went tits up. He’s way too much of a pussy for a chick like you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Motioning her to a stool, he sat down. “So, what’s up? Gates send you on an errand?”
“He doesn’t know I’m here.” From her bag she pulled a copy of Patty’s will, where Gates and Trent inherited the real estate equally, and the car, brooches, and everything else were liquidated into a trust benefiting a girls’ home. “Does this look familiar?”
Trent flicked through the papers. The bartender approached, swabbing the bar with a towel. Trent put a hand on his arm. “Go on and finish up that FSA order, Larry.”
“Yes, sir,” Larry said, and melted away to the far end of the bar.
Trent handed back the document. “So Patty changed her will, so fucking what? I inherited six rental houses, whoop-de-do, now I’m sitting on a pile of cash, ain’t I? Except that I got to pay property taxes times six and insurance and mow everybody’s lawns and evict the meth heads in the Shoreline condo and the thirteen Bangladeshi truck drivers holed up down in Fife. That sound like fun and profit to you?”
Claudette pushed her drink away. “He told me you stole from Patty.”
Trent looked hesitant. “Listen. One time I took money from her. Once. I was hella broke, and she chewed my ass for it, and I paid her back.”
“So why would she short-change Gates?”
Trent said, “Maybe she didn’t. I’m not supposed to talk about the will until we all get together at the lawyer’s office, but Patty definitely left instructions about what was what.”
“Maybe you should give him a hint.”
Trent laughed. “Yeah, right. Why should I? He’s a royal dick. Or haven’t you noticed?”
“He’s not a dick to me,” she said, without conviction.
He pushed his drink away. “I know he hired a dirtbag lawyer to put Patty’s will on ice, but I’m telling you, I got no idea why Patty changed her will. Lucky me, I get to play slumlord and pay the bills while your boyfriend spends all his time and money whacking off in court.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said. Trent was so convincing. Was he telling the truth? The more questions she asked, the less sure she felt about everything.
“I figured out who’s egging my house.” Gates was pumping gas into his 4Runner.
Claudette leaned against the bumper, light-headed from the fumes. “Who?”
He stared across the hood of his SUV at some invisible point on the horizon.” A skinny guy in green pants. I caught him on webcam. Couldn’t see his face, though.”
Andie? She frowned. “Why would a guy in green pants egg your house?”
“Who knows? Who the hell knows anything? Why did Patty fuck me over for Trent?”
“I saw Trent’s bar in the paper Saturday. Shut down for non-specific fire hazards.”
He smiled. “Don’t forget the L&I complaint.”
“So it was you.”
“You think I’m going to stand around with my dick in my hand while Trent rakes in all the cash?”
“What about giving it some time? Trent said Patty wrote about why she changed her mind.”
“ ‘Trent said?’ Fuck Trent. I want what I deserve. And it ain’t a pile of old-lady pins.” Here it was. The entitlement. I’m owed. The gas nozzle clicked. He closed up the tank. “You want to have dinner? I got some sausage left over from the other day.”
“I can’t,” she said. She hadn’t felt this close to him in a while, though. She and Gates, they got each other. They believed in the impossible.
Looking out from behind her door, Andie said, “What are you doing here?”
Claudette said, “I just wanted to drop something off. If it’s a problem, I’ll go.”
A smile eased her lips. “No.” She ran a bare toe over Claudette’s sandal. “What’s up?”
“You’ve been egging Gates’ house.”
“I told you, I don’t want to talk about Gates.”
“I don’t either. I think it’s kind of funny, though.”
“Eggs are symbols of fertility, Claudette.”
“Eggs are shell embryos pooped out of a chicken’s ass,” Claudette said. She held up a satin drawstring bag. “Anyway, I thought you might like to have this.”
Andie teased open the bag. The green brooch tumbled out. Even in the dull hallway track lighting, the stones glimmered. “Does Gates know?”
“Gates has no interest in rhinestones,” she said.
“Nor do I, when there are real gems on the table.” Andie slid the brooch back into its sack. “Typical dumbass, sitting on the family jewels and too fucking stupid to realize it. What’s he doing with the rest of the diamonds? A few more and you and I could be on a Mexican beach by the weekend, Claudette.”
“You ready to come in?” Andie thrust out a hip. She wore pedal pushers in a silvery gray fabric and a little top printed with poppies and she looked like now, of the moment.
“Okay,” Claudette said. Andie opened the door wider, and she went in. Somewhere deep in the apartment music was playing, something spare and orchestral. It felt like the subconscious moment before a muscle twitched into movement.
Elise Glassman has been a reader since her Grandma Marguerite gave her a subscription to Highlights Magazine and a writer since she began penning teen-aged angst into a blue flowered notebook. She’s studied fiction with Laura Kalpakian and others at the University of Washington Extension, and with Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop. Her work has appeared in magazines such as the Colorado Review, Neon Beam, The Summerset Review, Main Street Rag, the Portland Review, Tawdry Bawdry, and Switchback. Her essay “Touch” was included in the spring 2013 anthology “Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religion.”