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     Perkins’ parking lot was fairly full. The restaurant was less than a quarter mile east of the interstate and accessing the six lane divided boulevard was simple and direct. Bryan and Sandy walked in and a hostess asked, “How many in your party?”

     “Three,” Sandy had answered, “but my mother may already be here.”

     The hostess held up her index finger, turned her head to the dining area and said, “Oh! I think she is. Follow me, please.”

    Hester Priam looked a lot like Sandy with all the beauty and effervescence eviscerated. Desiccated was the word that popped into Bryan’s mind. She looked dried up, spent. When she stood to greet them it was as though she did so out of rote rather than desire. She took Cassie’s hands and air kissed her cheeks and then extended her right hand to Bryan with her palm horizontal to the ground rather than vertical to it. “Oh. Hello, Cassandra. Yes. Happy birthday?”

     “Thank you, Mommy.”

     “Ah. And, oh. Bryan?” she greeted him, her handshake the epitome of dead fish flaccidity. “Yes. Oh. A pleasure to meet you. Oh. Please sit,” she said, as she sat.

     “Yes, Mrs. Priam,” Bryan responded with a beaming smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you too. Cassie’s told me a lot about you.”

     “Oh. She has? Oh. That’s nice. How was your flight? Oh. And thank you for wanting to see us, Cassandra. We haven’t really spoken since the move, have we?”

     “No, Mommy. We haven’t. I haven’t seen you or any of the family in a while. The flight was nice. It’s beautiful here.”

     “Oh. Good. Yes. It is nice here. At least so far. April was wonderful. Oh. May gets a little hot. Oh. But we have air conditioning of course. Oh. And our lanai.”

     “Lanai?” Bryan asked.

    “Oh. Screened in area. Oh. Very popular here. Oh. We can spend time outdoors without all the bugs. Oh. Or snakes. Oh. Especially during the crawling season.”

     “Crawling season?” Sandy asked.

     “Oh. When the snakes and lizards and such are slithering everywhere. Oh. We’re just finishing the spring one and we’ll have another late fall.”

     “I see. Mom, where is Alachua? North of here?”

     “Oh. Yes. Our home is about ten miles from here. Oh. There’s no interchange for I 75 though. Oh. We usually take 241 to 26. Oh. That’s West Newberry. Oh. The road we’re on now? We live just north of a lovely preserve. Oh. San Felasco Hammock? Oh. It keeps development down. Oh. That’s what your father says.”

     “How is Daddy?”

     “Oh. You know. Oh. The same? Oh. He forbid you from coming to our house. Oh. I. Oh. Didn’t tell him the truth. Oh. He was going to the church. Oh. I said I was meeting friends for brunch. Oh. We’re friends. Oh. So not a lie? Oh. Oh.”

     Their server asked if they were ready to order and as no one had as of yet looked at the menu they all asked for coffee and she replied that she’d come back in a minute. When she returned they ordered breakfast. Sandy ordered a veggie egg white omelet, Bryan blueberry pancakes and Hester a piece of apple pie. “Okay. I’ll bring this out as soon as it’s up,” the waitress had said with a smile.

     “Where is Daddy?”

     “Oh. At church. Oh. Our new church. Oh. Citrus Grove Baptist. Oh. ‘New’ isn’t really true. Oh. Very small. Oh. But now that he’s retired Arthur volunteers a lot. Oh. In the schools too. Oh. We have two elementary schools in town. Oh. Helps kids in need. Oh. I was a little surprised, you know? Oh. Because they are public schools? Oh. But he said we shouldn’t discriminate. Oh. Nice of him, yes?”

     “Yes,” Sandy whispered.

     “So. Bryan? What do you do?”

     “He’s the assistant manager at a lovely animal boarding facility. I left Ninja there,” Sandy answered hurriedly. “You remember Ninja?”

     “Your cat? Yes. Oh. Very sweet girl. Affectionate without being pushy. Rather like you as a little girl. How long have you been doing that, Bryan?”

     Bryan looked at Sandy out of the corner of his eye for a moment and then answered, “Oh, gee. I’ve been there going on three years now, right Cassie?”

     “Yes. It’s such a nice facility I decided to drive clear across town rather than use my usual place. I’m quite pleased.”

     “Oh,” Hester said nodding. “Isn’t that nice?”

     Their server arrived with their food and after serving everyone said, “I’ll be right back with more coffee.”

     “And how is your new place?” Hester asked. “Oh. And the real estate thing?”

    “Both are great. Bryan and I are searching for a new place for him right now. Something larger. I’ve really made a home for myself. It was nice in Vilagon but the view from my new place is gorgeous.”

     “Yes,” she answered. “That was nice. Larger, eh? Moving up, young man. Do you hear from Jon?”

     “Not much. Birthday card, Christmas, that sort of thing. Email now; so much faster and easier. How’s your place? Leona said it was beautiful.”

     “Oh! Did you speak to your sister? How nice! Yes, very posh. I was sad to move. All my old friends were in Iowa but I’m adapting. I’m so glad you spoke to Leona! And Hector? Do you see him?”

     “No, more’s the pity. Houses must cost a lot less here for you to afford such a big place, huh? I mean, Daddy’s pension wasn’t that nice.”

     “No, no. Rather comparable to Rapida Cedro. Arthur said he has investments that are flowing in. Now that he’s retired he’s taking care of all the finances. Oh. I don’t have a lot to do except keep house here. Except when you and your brother and sister visit. And the grandchildren. Oh. Sorry. Do you have family, Bryan?”

     “Not immediate. I was an only child and my folks were killed in a car crash. Drunk driver.”

     “Oh. How sad. Oh. How long ago?”

     “Not very. Just over two years. February of thirteen.”

     “Oh. How sad. They couldn’t have been very old.”

    Sandy interjected quickly with, “Late fifties, right? Very sad. Your dad was a little older though, right.”

     He nodded slowly and said. “Yes. Dad was a few years older than Mom.”

     “So, do the grandkids like the house?” Sandy redirected.

     “Oh, yes. Especially the pool. I’m always so happy when they visit. I wish you could… Oh.”

     “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

     “Oh! Are you two getting married? That would be so-“

     “No, Mom! At least, not yet. We only met this year,” she said, taking Bryan’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “There’s no sense in rushing.”

     “I’m sorry! Oh. It was the talk about grandchildren. They are such a blessing. Arthur loves having them around.”

     “Yes. That’s what I want to talk to you about. I wish we could do this at home. Or that park. This is very public. My visit here wasn’t just for a vacation. I saw a police detective. About something that worries me. About Daddy.”

     Hester’s face fell and she remained passively mute for nearly a minute. “That again? I don’t understand why you think such vile things,” she whispered. “Your father is a God fearing, upright man.”

     “Again!? He told you?”

    “Your father? No. Hector did. And Leona. Oh. Oh. They said you accused Arthur of having dirty pictures on his computer. And intimated worse.”

     “Mommy. Mommy, I’m sorry. I didn’t imply anything I told them what I saw. Pictures. Videos. Of the worst possible kind. The sickening kind. And I deleted them. Destroyed them. And I left a message and I let Daddy know who did it. And then you moved. Right away. Fled. Doesn’t that seem suspicious?”

     Hester did not meet Cassie’s eyes as she answered, “No. Oh. We had an opportunity. Oh. It was time. Oh.”

     “An opportunity? You sold your house for twenty percent less than market value. How is that an ’opportunity’?”

     “How did you know that?!”

     “Public record.”

     “Well. Oh. Well, we’re not hurting. We have three times the house we did before.”

     “How?” she asked.


     “How? Where did the money come from?”

     “I don’t know! Ask your- Oh.”

     “Yes. ‘Oh.’ I think Daddy sells child pornography. Worse yet, I think he makes it. I think he stars in it,” she hissed.

     “No. No, no, no, no, no! He is a good man! He loves those children!”

     ‘“Those Children.’ I know what I saw. I know what I reported and we are going to get to the bottom of this. You’re not allowed on his computer are you?”

     “You know I don’t understand-“

     “You’re not allowed on his computer, are you?!”



     “Oh. Oh. No. No?”

     “I’m sorry. If I’m wrong I will do everything I can to make up for this. But I’m not wrong. He is the devil incarnate, Mom. He is.”

     “No. No?”

     “Show me, Mom. Take me to your house. Let me see if I can find the same vile, gut wrenching filth he had before.”

     “No. No. I can’t, can I? Oh. No.”

     “You can,” Mrs. Priam,” Bryan said. “I think you need to.”

     “Yes? Oh. Oh. Alright. Yes. But we don’t have much time. Arthur will be home soon.”

     “Alright. Let’s go,” Sandy said and lay two twenties on the table. “That should cover it.”