The Egg Scam
At the age of twelve, Vanessa Billingsworth Anderson clenched her teeth and puffed up with self-importance. During the next twenty years, neither her jaw, nor any other part of her anatomy, relaxed. Clenched features aside, the woman inherited granddaddy's millions, making her not rich, but filthy, stinking rich. Unlike her gentleman father, Vanessa flaunted her millions in a county where the median income didn't approach the poverty line—and that's one of her better qualities. The diva is also married to my wife's brother.
Despite her lack of compassion, I didn't hate Vanessa until our stables hit hard times. When the bank refused to tide me over with a loan, my wife, Cara, conferred with her brother about our cash shortage.
"Please, Herb." I hung my head, feeling the full weight of my failure bearing down on my Southern male pride. "You know we're good for it."
Cara didn't ask for much, just a pittance really. "We'll pay you back as soon as George sells some of the horses."
Herb said all the right things. "Of course, little sis."
The sudden matrimonially infusion of massive amounts of cash hadn't changed my brother-in-law one iota. Probably because he never saw any of the aforementioned cash. That worried me.
Two days later, we got the news. As I feared, Vanessa got wind of the impending loan and kyboshed our temporary financing. In her benevolence, she offered an alternative—she'd let me mortgage my soul. "Our handyman recently resigned," she stated stiffly."
Translation—the man endured more Vanessa than he could stomach and told her to do unnatural things to herself. "George can work on the estate and earn the money. He needs experience doing a real job." To her way of thinking, staggering out of bed at 4:30 A.M. to spend a twelve-hour day training horses hardly compares to a strenuous activity like inheriting millions.
My wife and kid needed to eat, so I suspended self-respect and accepted my new role as servant-in-law. Vanessa's idea of a realjob consisted of every nasty chore she could imagine. I didn't mind the grunt work, but spending all my time at the mansion meant no time to train the new foals. I couldn't sell untrained animals for a profit, thus I had no choice but to remain in Vanessa's employ.
My resentment festered, growing into an ugly and massive cancer. That resentment controlled so much of me, I didn't hesitate the day I watched her take the four-carat canary diamond off her finger. I stole Vanessa's huge rock. I don't know what I was thinking. Obviously, I wasn't—thinking.
I'd come through the back door to beg for my measly salary just as the ice queen took off her piece of bling and laid it on the granite countertop. Engrossed as she was in kneading dough with her fifty-dollar manicure, Vanessa didn't see me at the door. I'd opened my mouth to alert her of my entrance, but the phone rang and my lips closed.
When she cradled the phone in her shoulder, the bauble winked at me from the counter, glittering in the afternoon sun and practically begging me to heist it. Vanessa, engrossed in her gossip, remained unaware of my presence when she turned her back to wash her hands in one of the kitchen's three sinks. I'd already taken off my boots because nobody, and I do mean nobody, walks into Vanessa's house with shoes on, so she didn't hear me slip up behind her and snatch the thing from the counter.
Clutching the demon diamond in my fist, I grabbed my boots with my other hand and dashed through the servant's entrance to my truck. I jumped into the old pick-up, shifted into neutral and allowed the vehicle to coast until the mansion was no longer visible in the rear-view mirror. Once out-of-sight, I cranked the engine and hightailed it out of there.
Alone in our little bungalow, my act of revenge seemed more like a colossal act of stupidity. Some part of my sanity realized I had to return the ring, but first, I needed a place to hide the large rock. I harbored no illusions about not being a suspect—my house would be searched the minute Vanessa discovered her gem had vanished. I'd never even taken an extra napkin from a fast food place, but my nemesis would point her bony, albeit ring-less, finger at me and the local law would respond.
I opened the refrigerator, thinking I could bury the ring in the stew meat. No one would look there. I dismissed that idea since Cara probably intended to cook the tough beef for dinner.
I started to close the cold storage box and look elsewhere when my eyes focused on the colored eggs sitting in an open Styrofoam container. Tomorrow would be Easter Sunday and Cara had splurged on dyes for our four-year-old daughter, Betsy. Most of the eggs bore designer paint, clearly decorated by my talented wife, but a single cholesterol sphere stood alone in its ugliness. Little Betsy had dipped the egg into so many colors it had turned a morbid gray.
Perfection. I'd hide the ring in the hideous egg until the heat was off, then I'd sneak the diamond into Vanessa's purse.
I rushed into the living room, a.k.a. dining room, a.k.a. Cara's studio and grabbed an Exacto blade. Using skill gained from a youth spent building models, I cut a hole in the eggshell. Holding my breath, I extracted the tiny bit of shell, praying it wouldn't crack. Then, my thumb pushed the $50,000 ring into the egg white. Relief washed over me so intense I almost dropped the damn egg. Not wanting to push my luck, I used a dab of super glue and reapplied the bit of shell, lickety-split.
I pretended to be surprised when the cops showed up an hour later. No doubt, Vanessa talked to daddy and daddy talked to the chief of police. Detective Dinwinkle shrugged, not comfortable with his assignment, but Alexander Billingsworth owned the town and the lawman would follow orders. With my guilt a foregone conclusion, Dinwinkle had been dispatched to obtain proof.
"Do you mind if we take a look around?"
Cara responded before I could stop her. "Be my guest." My wife is a bit naïve.
Her "a-ok' allowed the detective to "pass GO.' Dinwinkle whistled and a team of investigators descended on our house like ants on an open bottle of molasses. Four hours later, sweat had depleted all the moisture from my body, but the cops had found nothing. Detective Dinwinkle ran his hand over the bald spot where he used to have hair. He apologized profusely for the shamble that used to be our house. Feeling sorry for the man who'd likely lose his job, I almost apologized to him.
After watching the last squad car pull out of our driveway, I replaced one of the sofa cushions and collapsed. I needed to rest, to breathe again. I needed to find a way to return the ring, but Cara had other ideas. "Your folks are coming tomorrow and we have to clean this place." We cleaned.
Hours later, we sunk into the freshly-made bed. I waited for Cara to fall asleep, still trying to fathom what possessed me to steal the ring. Lord knows I had no idea how to fence a diamond. Whatever my reason, I had to put it back and make it right before my little whim cost me everything.
Despite my intentions, I fell asleep and dreamed of 6x9 cells. Cara shook me out of my nightmare. "Get up, George. Everyone is here." Crap. I'd slept through the entire night.
I assumed everyone meant my parents since they always presented little Betsy with a basket at Easter breakfast. Mistake. You can imagine my horror when my sleep-crusted eyes encountered Queen Vanessa sitting primly on our ratty sofa, surrounded by her mangy hounds she insists are pure bred. Pure drool if you ask me.
I pulled Cara back into our tiny kitchen and hissed, "What's she doing here? That woman calls me a thief and you invite her to breakfast?"
Cara grabbed me by the ear and tugged. "Be quiet. Herb is my brother and he's always welcome—even if that means his wife comes with him."
"Well, she's got to go." I insisted, using my best macho tone.
She gave my ear another tug. "Don't you say a word. I'm not so sure you aren't a thief." Cara let go of my ear and gave me that look. She knew. Suddenly prison looked like a viable alternative. I dropped my head, muttering to myself as we reentered our living room.
"The sleeping beast has awakened," Vanessa twanged in her phony Bostonian accent, which sounds odd since she's never been north of the Mason-Dixon. "I can't believe Bobby Dinwinkle actually searched your house."
Her smug expression implied she not only believed, but knew exactly why Detective Dinwinkle ransacked our humble abode. Vanessa sniffed, making it equally clear she didn't care what harm had been done.
"Let's not spoil breakfast," Herb said. "Our insurance will cover the ring." I got the impression Vanessa's husband gloated over the missing diamond. It couldn't have helped his manhood to know his wife bought her own engagement ring.
Cara, as always, changed the subject to avoid unpleasantness. "Let's go watch the children hunt eggs."
The coffee in my mouth made a u-turn and burned into my nose. "You've already hidden the eggs. I…I was going to do that." My wife eyed me curiously.
"If you'd gotten up at a decent hour, you could have," Vanessa snarled. "As usual, you're too late."
My heart raced too fast to acknowledge the insult. Oh, shit, oh shit, oh shit. If one of Vanessa's spoiled brats found the egg …oh, Lordy. I did some serious Easter praying.
The hounds smelled fresh air and raced through the open door, almost knocking me over. The children followed. I hung back, trying to decide how long it would take me to get to Mexico.
"George," Cara whined. "Are you coming?"
The kids were having a grand old time, I thought about doing time. Easter was my favorite holiday and the day was ruined. I could blame no one but myself—I'd ruined it by stealing the equivalent of forty pieces of silver.
The next hour passed in a blur. I made a nuisance of my big quivering self when I insisted on seeing every egg. I fussed over each decorated oval, but in truth, only the ugly gray one interested me. It never surfaced.
When the hunt ceased, I eyed Vanessa's oldest boy suspiciously. He sat by the hounds in a pile of egg shells, stuffing a chocolate bunny into his mouth. My mind did some quick plotting. If the little pig discovered the ring, no one would believe the brat found it in an egg.
I want an eight-year-old to take the rap for me? Lord, help me Jesus. What rotten thoughts I had.
I raced into the house and downed four aspirin and then went in search of another bottle. I heard Vanessa's scream. Oh, shit. She's found her ring.
Chaos ensued. I didn't stick around to find out what had happened. I hopped into my truck and drove like a tornado chased me. I'd call Cara from Tijuana.
A couple of miles clicked on my odometer before the old pick-up sputtered, whined, and died. "I get it," I muttered skyward. The abrupt halt likely occurred because the gas gauge sat on empty, but my mind believed the Gods of Cartier punished me.
With punishment looming, I considered running for it—on foot. If I could make it to the mountains, I might avoid jail. Heck, Eric Rudolph managed to hide there for years.
I didn't run. Visions of bloodhounds nipping at my heels kept me in the truck—that and the unseasonable heat. It might have been only April, but the thermometer hovered around ninety degrees. The interior temperature increased, but I stayed in the truck, in my own private hell. After a couple hours, the bright sky turned gray, the air turned more oppressive. Still I waited for my jailors.
My eyes glanced at the digital readout on my watch and I wondered how many minutes of freedom remained. I'd melted in the truck for over two hours when a car emerged against the horizon.
I braced myself, waiting for sirens, but only the chugging noise of Cara's old station wagon echoed through the air. Hallelujah. Maybe Vanessa hadn't pressed charges.
My wife got out of her car, walked to my vehicle and leaned her head through the open window. She stood upright and covered her nose. I'd been sweating profusely—the interior probably didn't smell like jasmine.
"Ran out of gas, huh?" She spoke through her fingers. I nodded meekly, not deluded by her calm voice. I might not be a smart man, but I knew enough to keep my mouth shut.
"I can't believe you ran off like that, George. I know you don't like Vanessa but—"
I made a fatal mistake. I made eye contact. Prison would definitely be better than the disappointment looming in Cara's baby blues. "I know, I know. I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."
"You've done some lousy things to get out of spending time with Vanessa and Herb, but this takes the cake."
"So what's Vanessa going to do to me?" I asked.
"Do to you?" Cara's stands five-two, but she seemed to rise to seven feet tall. "I should wring your silly neck, you selfish jerk." I saw a little hanging noose in Cara's pupils. "Vanessa is too worried to think about your raggedy ass. You should be more concerned about what I'm going to do to you." She harrumphed at my expression. "We needed your truck because we couldn't get Buela into the car. And where were you—off pulling a Houdini."
"You always were the articulate one."
"Who the hell's Buela?" I whispered.
Cara flicked my ear with her thumb and index finger. "Her dog, you dimwit. The poor animal almost died."
Poor animal? Prison loomed in our future and Cara fretted over Vanessa's slobbering mutt?
"The dog is fine. Nice of you to ask, George."
I glanced at the sky, trying to look contrite while I deciphered the strange conversation. Storm clouds had multiplied and the sky had grown dark, but the weather didn't compare to the turmoil in my head. Cara kept talking but my mind quit receiving.
"…Vanessa is giving us the loan."
I choked when the words penetrated my semi-consciousness. "What?"
Some of the anger left Cara's face. "I think she felt bad about accusing you of stealing her ring."
"Huh? She doesn'tthink I took her ring."
Cara gave me a where-the-devil-is-your-brainlook. "Do you ever listen to me? I just told you the dog got violently sick. The vet had to surgically remove the ring."
A myriad of thoughts whirled in my head. The dog ate the egg? The egg with the ring? None of them made sense, but I had a weird urge to roll on the ground and giggle. I was safe. I'd escaped detection.
Cara's face materialized in front of my nose and my mental fog evaporated. "Anything you want to tell me, George?"
"Eh…tell Vanessa I said…thanks?"
I would tell Cara the truth soon, but not today. Thoughts of a prison term no longer held me hostage. I felt too happy.
"Better get in my car," Cara shouted as a puff of wind blew her hair across her face. "We can come back for the truck later. It's going to rain."
Sprinkles of precipitation dotted my face when I got out of my vehicle. My spirits soared and whirled with the impending storm. I felt absolutely no remorse, just a strange sense of elation. I'd taken the bitch's ring and made her look like a fool with her accusations.
"Thank you," I whispered to the heavens.
In response, lightning hit the ground, not thirty yards from me. My feet froze, unable to move.
"George," Cara screamed, already in the station wagon. "Get in the car."
My limbs turned leaden, my eyes remained skyward. My brain urged my body to run, but my body couldn't obey. Another bolt of lightning fried the ground in front of me, freeing my petrified legs.
I raced to Cara's station wagon and jumped inside. Maybe I could manage a little remorse.
Copyright © 2010 by Robin Weaver
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By Robin Weaver
Wine or chocolates? It’s a difficult choice. If I take wine and the members are teetotalers, I’m out. If I take the chocolates I have to worry about dieters. I don’t want to be left out but fitting in is a problem. I don’t know how. Twenty years of bliss with one man makes it hard to be friends with women.
I’m surprised I’ve been invited to the Women’s Auxiliary Club meeting, and I’ll be really surprised if I’m invited again. Even the most closed circle of females will extend one perfunctory invitation to a woman whose husband has died. If they don’t like me, they won’t bother again.
I take the chocolates and wine, hoping I will be able to make the correct decision when I arrive.
It’s a short drive and I park my Honda next to the Lincolns, BMWs and Lexus sedans. There are no SUVs here; these women are beyond the soccer-mom years. The smell of roses lifts my spirits as I approach the cobblestone path to the large brick Georgian. While I admire the beautiful old house, which is much larger than my Victorian, I almost walk into the lady in front of me. carrying a fruit basket. Why didn’t I think of that? At the door, I present both goodies to the hostess. “You shouldn’t have!” We both know she doesn’t mean it.
As I enter the large parlor, my nasal passages close, overwhelmed by mustiness and nerves. I try to concentrate on greeting the hostess but my eyes keep darting to the huge poppies that litter the wallpaper. I can only mumble when I’m introduced to the ladies I don’t know. One I do know, sneers, “Annabelle is from Boston.” A collective gasp silences the room. Even the insects momentarily cease their endless drone.
Oh no! They think I’m a Yankee. “I grew up in Mississippi!”
The gaspers release their breaths with a collective, “Whew.” I’ve dodged the first bullet. Their facial expressions confirm they believe I’m basically a southerner, although not one of the brightest. William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and Elvis are all from the crook-a-letter state, yet I get no respect. I went to Vanderbilt, for God’s sake!
I take a finger sandwich and try not to gag; I hate cucumbers. I dribble red liquid on my blouse as I chase the unnatural combination of bread and vegetable with a cup of punch. No one offers any suggestions for removing red stains from silk so I cross my arms to hide the spots. As my bra begins to ferment, someone mentions that I’m a widow and I’m grateful when a flurry of conversation ensues. I neither expect nor get any sympathy. Most of the women are widows.
“He was wonderful!” It takes me a few seconds to realize that the large woman in the paisley dress is my second cousin and she is talking about my late husband. I try to look appreciative since she is responsible for my invitation, but my appreciation is superficial. Although her words sound kind, I suspect she revels in reminding me that he is gone.
I know each move I make is being judged, but I can’t seem to do anything right. I’m a journalism major but I can’t even make small talk. Every polite question is an exam in disguise and I’m failing miserably. I need to join the ‘Wit-Less Protection Program’ and disappear. I’m ready to give up when the group starts talking about faux painting. I talk about a new technique and some of the women actually listen. Just as I begin to relax, it comes without warning. “Why bless your heart.”
I tense and the finger sandwich, still in my hand, becomes dough. Angry, I respond to this new assault. “Bless my heart? Did I do something wrong?”
My question silences the group until the leader speaks, “Ah, you understand.” She says nothing more, but this statement is an unofficial concession to my understanding. ‘Bless her heart’ is the gentile southern way of insulting an outsider.
The conversations shifts to Mamie Elliott’s gardenias and I whisper a silent thanks to the floral gods. I wasn’t sure when the meeting formally started, but finally it was over. The hostess suggests, “Perhaps we’ll have the next meeting at Anabelle’s.” The group murmurs its approval. and I go into shock.
I don’t remember starting my car, but somehow I arrive safely at my Victorian. I’ve achieved my objective, but I’m miserable. Those women don’t want me! They want a peek at my old mansion, my house that’s on the historical register. They want the house my man and I lovingly restored. The beautiful old lady I’m not about to share with a bunch of old biddies.
I feel myself growing a new backbone. I decide to call and cancel; On second thought, I decide to call the day before the next meeting. I can’t believe the person thinking such evil is me. “I dial a friend who works for the local newspaper. “Calvin, do you still have the opening for a social reporter?”
I’ll be at the next Auxiliary Club meeting, but I’ll be there as a reporter. This might be fun.
Copyright © 2010 by Robin Weaver