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“So she might be interested in selling the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel, to a singular entity.” He laid this statement down like he was placing a hand of cards faceup on a table and watched as the purpose of his questions hit me.
“To you?”
“Possibly. I’m always on the lookout for investments, especially here on the island, particularly small, locally owned businesses. It’s good for my personal property value and my practice that this place maintains its laidback, small-town image. That said, you, as the current key employee, would have to be part of the deal—that’d be an associated agreement. If you’re not game, I’m not game.”
“Are you… suggesting that you’d buy Wynn’s and I’d work for you?”
“I’m planting the idea in your head. We probably don’t have a whole lotta time, but we’ve got a few days. Mull it over. If you are interested, I’ll get my CPA in touch with your mama’s attorney and get a look at those numbers. There’s due diligence that’d have to happen before any deal, you understand, handshake or paper.”
I drove home in a stupor, as unprepared for the next shock of the night as I was for the first two.
• • • • • • • • • •
I’d just fallen asleep when I heard a pissed-off voice—a male voice—that sounded as if it came from inside the trailer. As I grabbed the wooden bat from under the bed and threw my bedroom door open, I heard my mother’s equally worked-up voice and the sound of a slap.
Without a second thought, I ran across the space between the bedrooms and busted through her locked door. A man I’d never seen had her by the shoulders. “Hands off!” I roared, bat up, and he released her and sprang back with his palms in the air like I was a one-man SWAT team.
“What the fuck, Ruthanne?” he yelled, eyes wide. “What the fuck?”
The lights were all on in Mom’s room, which made her handprint on his face real visible.
“Who the fuck are you?” I spat, keeping the bat up and over my shoulder, ready to knock a home run with his head if he came at me. I outweighed the guy by at least seventy pounds. Unless he was armed and fast, I’d kick his ass to hell and back before he could count to ten.
“I done told you I live with my son,” Mom said, chest rising and falling. She jerked the housecoat she wore most of the day, every day, around herself and tied the belt.
“You made it sound like he was a kid.” He pointed at me. “That ain’t no kid!”
“No shit,” she said, a hand braced on her hip. “Better not lay another finger on me.”
Keeping an eye on me, he raked a hand through thinning, greasy hair. I figured him to be younger than her by a decade or so, but that didn’t make him a prize. He had the same weedy look Thompson had when he was sent to Jester—scrawny and lean, no muscle tone. “Why is he here, Ruthanne?” he whined. “Thought you said this place belonged to you.”
“He runs the garage, Riley.”
“So? You’re gonna sell it all off anyway. He’s gotta go.” He glared in my direction and I glared back.
Her eyes flicked to me. “Me and him have a deal. He gives me the cash that garage earns every week, and I let his little spic girlfriend live here for another month.”
I clenched the bat in my hand, teeth grinding, and fought to breathe normally when my mind and body were begging me to swing that bat in every direction, consequences be damned.  “Pearl is gone,” I gritted out. Thank God, thank fucking God. “And I can be gone tomorrow. Hell, I can be gone in ten minutes. In which case you’re responsible for the cars I haven’t finished fixing, settling the end-of-month debts, balancing the books, and figuring out what the fuck everything is worth, because I’m nothing but a fucking employee with no fucking liability for any of it.”
“Shit,” Riley muttered, lowering his hands but leaving them where I could see them. I didn’t lower the bat. “When do we get the fuckin’ money, Ruthanne?”
“As soon as I sell this dump, that’s when—just like I told you.” She spread her hands. “You shoulda kept your damn job and stayed in Amarillo—”
“I don’t need you tellin’ me what to do, woman!” He jabbed a finger at her and started toward her but halted when I stepped forward too, bat at the ready to knock him into next week. Wide-eyed, he twitched and pointed that finger at me. “Goddammit, junior, you best step off.”
Christ on a fucking cracker, my mother had picked another winner.
I arched a brow. “Or else what? I’m the one holdin’ the bat, asshole.”
I did not need this shit. Nothing was stopping me from backing across this trailer, throwing everything I owned in my TA and leaving town in a cloud of dust. There was something to be said for a future wiped blank and laid bare, unhooked from the past. But what if I didn’t want to be unhooked from my past? If I took off, the opportunity Dr. Frank had dangled in front of me would dissolve, and I would never know if Pearl meant those words she’d said.
“I’m going back to bed. I have work tomorrow—starting in about five hours. So if y’all are planning on killing each other, shut the fuck up about it.”
I had Bobby’s waterlogged engine pulled by noon. I hadn’t heard from Pearl, but I was pretty sure she’d spent most of the day cussing the existence of alcohol. She’d probably never remember what she’d said to me, but I would never forget it.
Brain still sloshing inside my head and stomach heaving with any sudden movement, I lay in bed until noon, calculating my chances that Boyce would interpret my drunken admission as inebriated hogwash. And whether I wanted him to.
After wrestling out of my outfit—not quite as cute smelling like stale cigarettes, beer, and sweat—I pulled on a big T-shirt, brushed my teeth to offset the I-just-licked-a-carpet taste in my mouth, and wound my riotous hair into a knot before descending the staircase one slow step at a time, gripping the handrail until my feet touched the cool marble of the ground floor. Mama had left me a note next to a basket of still-warm blueberry muffins—she and Thomas had gone into Corpus for lunch and errands.
Tux purred, winding around my legs until I gave him a fat blueberry, which he ate. Mama always said he was so pampered he’d be toast in the wild. I wasn’t so sure, because that cat would eat anything. On the other hand, macaroni and cheese didn’t grow on low-hanging trees.