MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY, CH. 5

360
0
Submitted Date 12/06/2019
Bookmark

Photo credit: United States Government Printing Office; scan provided by Pritzker Military Library, Chicago, IL [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

 

Jean woke up sometime around ten the next morning, wrapped a robe around her slim frame, and shuffled into the kitchen. Almost without looking, she filled the coffee pot and started it brewing. A quick peek out the front window assured her Ruth wasn't lurking about, so she opened the door quickly to grab the milk and newspaper from the porch. The idea of an omelet was appetizing but cereal was much faster. As she put the new milk away and withdrew a half-empty bottle from the fridge, the heavenly aroma of fresh caffeine helped her eyes open a little. Jean found a mug from Pinkey's in the cupboard and filled it with the life-giving liquid.

As she crunched on mouthfuls of cold cereal, her eyes skimmed the Daily Press first for naval battles and then for the news from Europe. Having assured herself that Teddy's ship hadn't been torpedoed out in the Atlantic, she worked her way down to the more regional happenings. Three gangsters in New York had been sentenced to murder, Tennessee was drying out, and Orson Welles gave another radio interview. There was a small piece about the holiday dance and she was reminded of her promise to Margie. Jean mentally added "get hair done" to her list of errands for the day.

Her first stop was the bank, but she had to go and collect Rose first. She pulled the Cabriolet up to her mother-in-law's house and put the car in park. Rose was out the door before Jean could make it up the walk. The two women shared a polite hug and kiss on the cheek before loading into the car again. Rose didn't drive. In fact, she had never driven in her life. Her husband had always been her dutiful chauffeur and when he was gone, Teddy took over. It seemed Jean was taking over now. Today, at least, they were headed to the same place.

The echo of their heels clicking against the marble floor of the Virginia Industrial Loan Corporation reverberated through the bustling foyer. Rose and Jean made their way through a pair of ornately-carved glass and oak doors into a room dominated by a grand marble staircase. To the right stood a set of teller windows and to the left was a carpeted reception area. Centered in that space was a modest desk attended by a blonde secretary, who Rose and Jean walked over to address.

"Good morning," said the blonde, "Welcome to Virginia Industrial. Do you have an appointment with Mr. Bartholomew?" She was busy shuffling papers and didn't look up as she spoke.

After giving their names and appointment time to the secretary, Rose and Jean were ushered to a pair of rigid chairs and told to wait. It was 45 minutes before they were called into the office. A heavyset man with a smoking cigar clenched in his teeth sat behind a large polished desk with a large polished nameplate. He didn't speak or look at them and instead accepted a file folder from the secretary. With a few puffs and grumbles over their file, now open on his desk, he finally addressed the two women directly.

"Mrs. Bell," he began, "It seems you're late with your payment to the bank. Would you care to explain?"

Both women began speaking at once, as a reflex response to "Mrs. Bell." Jean let Rose take the lead. The older Mrs. Bell explained the death of her husband and her son's enlistment in the Navy. She explained that customers were buying cheaper cuts of meat these days. Finally, she explained that she and her daughter were selling their cottage and moving to less expensive accommodations. They were only waiting on the final sale of the house, she concluded, before they'd be able to bring the mortgage on the shop current. Throughout all of this, the portly banker chewed on his cigar. He nodded and offered a few grunts now and then, to show he was following the story.

"Mrs. Bell," said Mr. Bartholomew, "these are hard times for us all."

Jean looked around the posh office with its ornate carpeting and polished oak surfaces. From the looks of things, she doubted the banker understood what "hard times" were.

He continued, "That being said, I see no reason why we can't offer you an extension, provided you agree to sign the house over to the bank. My associate will draw up the paperwork if you'd be so kind as to wait in the lobby."

Jean was startled to see a man rise from a chair in the corner of the room. He'd been so motionless she hadn't noticed him sitting there. As he gestured for them to exit Mr. Bartholomew's office, Jean realized she'd seen him before. She recognized his thin lips and the sallow complexion from the diner the day before. He had been sitting in the booth with Arnold Barnes and left in a huff. The man showed no signs of recognizing her, though, and he strode off to another office after depositing them again in the waiting area. Jean supposed he knew about the death of his colleague, but judging from what little she overheard of their conversation, there was no love lost there.

He came out of his office long enough to talk to the blonde before returning behind closed doors. The sounds of typewriter keys emanated from the reception desk. Now that she took a closer look at her, Jean thought the secretary looked familiar too. Before she could place her, however, Jean was distracted by Rose.

"I doubt that man ever saw a hard day in his life," she was saying. "Sign over the house. If I thought I had a choice, I'd tell that cigar-smoking toad where to go."

"Rose," Jean said, "think of it this way, if you give the bank the house, they'll have to deal with the hassle of selling it. Then, you can relax a little while we figure out what to do with the shop." She wasn't sure what her husband would do in her place, but she would have to get used to making decisions without him. After all, if he'd told her about their financial situation sooner, things might not have gotten this far. As much as she loved Teddy, she had some lingering resentment over his lack of communication.

Rose seemed to consider what Jean said for a moment. She'd lived in that house for years, raised both of her children there, and all of the memories she shared with her late husband were wrapped up in it. She wouldn't let it go lightly. But the fact remained, she'd have to let it go whether or not the bank took ownership. The shop was more important, financially, at this stage. It still had the potential of bringing in money, once the economy started to perk up.

Jean tried to imagine giving up her own home. The only place she'd ever really felt attached to was the home she made with Teddy. After her parents died, she never stayed in one place for more than a few years. She wanted to settle, to put down roots, and to raise a family of her own. Jean promised herself that she'd do whatever it took to hold onto that dream. She would defend that home with her life if she had to. As soon as Teddy came home, they'd make a start on that family.

The thin banker from the diner opened his office and motioned for Jean and Rose to enter. They came in and sat down. This man's office wasn't as opulent as his boss's. It was at least half the space and had a modest desk. A shiny nameplate - not nearly as shiny as the one that said "Bartholomew" - bore the name "Bloomfield." It was a few moments before he spoke.

"I'll just need you to sign these, Mrs. Bell."

He slid a stack of papers across the desk and pointed to a place for Rose to sign. She wrote her name on the page and he flipped to the next one.

"And here, please."

She signed again.

"And initial here."

It seemed to go on forever. Jean was hoping Rose could read as fast as Mr. Bloomfield was turning pages. She had no legal rights as far as the butcher's shop was concerned. Jean was there mostly for transportation and moral support. Still, she had an active interest. Jean felt that Rose and Margie were just as much her family as they were Teddy's and she didn't want to be left out of the loop any more than she had already. But, it wasn't her signatures the bank wanted, so she sat and watched Mr. Bloomfield conduct his business.

His suit was as crisp and his hair as neatly parted as it had been yesterday, but his face was considerably more relaxed. He was actually somewhat handsome, though not really Jean's type. His desk was orderly and there wasn't so much as a speck of dust on his navy blue jacket. She noticed there were no pictures of family in the room. He wasn't wearing a ring either. The man seemed just slightly older than herself. She wondered briefly why he wasn't married. Maybe he was too absorbed in his career, too ambitious?

The signatures were finally collected and the women were free to leave the bank. It was a relief to be out on the sidewalk again, outside of the stuffy environs of the financial sector. Rose and Jean agreed to rendezvous for tea in a few hours and they both went to do their separate errands. Jean's next stop was the hair salon. It was a stark contrast to the Virginia Industrial Loan Corporation. For one thing, the space was decidedly female-dominated. For another, people were laughing and chatting. The smell of ammonia and other chemical hair treatments filled the room. The wait wasn't nearly as long as it had been at the bank either.

"Good Afternoon," the lady at the front counter crooned. Her hair was over-bleached, but her curls were impeccable. "Are we a walk-in today?"

"Yes. Do you have someone open by any chance?"

Jean was in luck. Another girl had just phoned to cancel and there was an open slot with a woman named Betty. After a brief exchange with the stylist, she sat down in a swiveling chair. The cacophony of the salon was remarkable and a little overwhelming, but soon she was able to pick out individual conversations. While her hair was delicately handled, brushed, curled and styled, she pretended to flip through a magazine. Two ladies were under the dryer, practically shouting over the noise of the machines. Someone's husband had been wandering. The stylist behind Jean was talking to her customer like they were old friends. They gossiped about a neighbor's inability to hold her liquor.

Just as Jean was about to tune them all out and read the magazine's advice column, a woman sat down in the seat to her left in front of the mirror. A brunette stylist with her curls tied up in a scarf assessed the woman's hair texture. Once they'd determined how short of a cut the girl wanted, she turned her attention to Betty. Clipping and chatting at the same time, the two stylists picked up an unfinished conversation.

"Anyway, there they were, stumbling out of the place, laughing their heads off. They got into a cab and rode off. Hell of a way to act, if you ask me."

Jean acted like she wasn't paying attention, but she took a sideways glance at Betty's coworker.

"Well," said Betty, "maybe that's just their way of grieving. People are funny that way."

"But if my husband had just died, I wouldn't be drinking and carrying on. Besides, doesn't she have arrangements to make?" said the other girl.

"What I want to know is what the sister's husband had to say about it. Why's he letting her galavant around town?" asked Betty.

"Those Larson girls have always been bossy. How much do you want to bet Judy wears the pants in that house?"

"They're both going to be able to buy a lot more pants from the sound of things. I hear Arnold was loaded."


 

Related Stories

Comments

Please login to post comments on this story