Read Cold Shoulder Online

Authors: Lynda La Plante

Tags: #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction

Cold Shoulder (6 page)

BOOK: Cold Shoulder
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‘Well, I was hoping as I’ve got a few days off this weekend if we could make it Saturday? I can get the bus over…’

The call went on for a while longer, then Lorraine heard the thudding footsteps, and a door slamming. She went inside and opened the fridge. Rosie appeared dressed in a white blouse and circular cotton flower print skirt. Her frizzy hair was wet, and she tugged a comb through it.

‘Water was still cold! And you had the last Coke yesterday. I’m not a charity, you know. Now, we’d better see which meeting you go to…?’ Rosie began making a series of phone calls and talked at length to someone whom she described as her sponsor. Eventually she hung up.

‘Jake figures I shouldn’t be your sponsor, but since I’ve taken you on, I’ll give it a try. Any time, day or night, if you feel the need for a drink, or someone to talk to, then you just tell me. Have you wanted a drink this morning?’

‘What do you think?’

Rosie sighed irritably, and warned Lorraine that she did not have enough money to ferry them both all over LA. ‘Don’t you have any money at all?’ she barked.

‘No, but I’ll manage…’

Rosie pushed past her, into the tiny kitchen area, took cereal and fruit, and began to munch noisily. Slowly, the warm, friendly Rosie began to surface. She complimented Lorraine on how she looked, and started counting dollars from her purse. Lorraine watched, trying to work out how much money it contained. As soon as she had a chance, she would steal it and get the hell out of the apartment.

‘How about social security? Can you claim any benefits?’

Lorraine shrugged. Said she couldn’t recall any social security numbers, but declined to admit to Rosie why she didn’t want to — the skipped bail, court appearances, debts… If she tried to apply for financial assistance she’d be arrested. Rosie gulped her coffee and began to make a long list, chewing the end of an already gnarled pencil.

‘Okay. We got enough here for a few days, but we’ll look around for jobs, see about taking you to the social security to see if they can trace your numbers and maybe you’ll get some benefits. Not that you can live on what they dole out, I know, I’m on it—’

‘We? I can manage on my own.’

‘No, you can’t. I can’t go off to the hospital and leave you, well, not until I can trust you. So here’s some suggestions…’ She had jotted down waitress, cleaner, mostly menial jobs, and then listed all the addresses of AA meetings. Lorraine wondered idly if all this effort was to help Rosie keep on the wagon, never mind herself.

‘I thought you said you were something to do with computers. Can’t you get a decent job?’ Lorraine enquired.

Rosie looked up. ‘Oh, yes. I can get into any bank and they’ll make me head cashier! I lost my job, my respectability. I’ve got no references, not even a driver’s licence, they took it away. I thought you’d know that — if you were a cop like you said. If you were, why can’t
you
get a decent job?’

Lorraine began to chew at her nails. She’d finished the pack of cigarettes; now she craved not only a drink but a cigarette, too. She suddenly felt tired, and yawned. It was as if she had been up for hours, which indeed she had, but it was still only ten o’clock.

‘Can I use your toilet?’

‘You don’t have to fucking ask me to go to the john, for chrissakes!’

When Lorraine didn’t show for fifteen minutes, Rosie went to check on her. She was curled up on her bed, deeply asleep, her hands cupped under her chin. Rosie studied Lorraine’s sleeping face, and realized that she must once have been beautiful. You could still see glimpses of it: in repose, Lorraine’s face lost its hardness. Her mouth was closed, so you couldn’t see the missing tooth, and the deep scar was hidden by the pillow. For the first time Rosie really wondered about Lorraine’s past, still certain that the cop line was just that — a line.

She crept out, then searched through Lorraine’s belongings. Nothing. The brown paper bag was empty of any personal mementoes. No letters or cards, no make-up — and the plastic purse they had given her was empty, she hadn’t lied about that. But Rosie was sure she had lied about having no family; a girl who had been as attractive as Lorraine must have had someone — had maybe even been somebody.

 

 

Rosie let Lorraine sleep for almost the entire day. She read, made some calls, cooked lunch for herself. Food was one of the few pleasures she had left in life. At four o’clock the phone rang. She snatched it up, afraid it would wake Lorraine.

‘Hello, is this you, Mommy?’ The high-pitched voice tore at her heart. At last he had called. It was her son.

‘Yeah, it’s me. How you doin’, Joey? We gonna meet up? I kinda thought maybe this weekend?’

‘I can’t, I got a big game, I’m on the second division basketball team, and so I can’t. I gotta go now.’

Rosie started to panic. He was going to put the phone down. She wanted to tell him she would drive across LA to see him play, but she stuttered, ‘Wait, Joey, what about you gettin’ a bus out here to me? I can meet you at the depot, Joey? You still there, Joey?’

‘I’m goin’ to Florida. Me and Dad are movin’ there, we got a place sorted and everything.’

‘Florida?’ Rosie screeched.

There was an ominous silence. She could hear Joey whispering. ‘Is that woman goin’ with you, Joey? Is — put your dad on the phone, Joey, you hear me? I wanna speak to—’

Rosie was shaking, she knew that cheap bitch was there, knew she must be putting her ten cents in. Her hand clenched round the receiver as she heard her son calling his father, and then the phone being put down. ‘Hello? Hello?’

Her ex-husband came on the line — she could even hear his intake of breath as if he was preparing himself to speak to her. It always got her so mad, the way he talked to her, all calm and coming on like he was a shrink, or as if she was ten years old. ‘Rosie?’

‘What’s all this about Florida? You never said anythin’ to me about Florida, takin’ my kid to Florida.’

‘Rosie, just calm down.’

‘I’m calm, for chrissakes. I’m angry too.’

‘When we’re settled we’ll write. This is a good job for me, a lot more money.’ The voice was smooth, saying each word too slowly.

‘I wanna see Joey. I’m not interested in what you earn — you never paid a cent to me, anyway.’

There was the sound of heavy breathing and then he repeated slowly and painstakingly that as Rosie had not been awarded visitation rights, never mind custody, she had little say in where her Joey lived. That was up to him and he was making the best decision for his son’s welfare and if she didn’t like it then she should hire a lawyer.

‘Oh, yeah? And where do I get that kind of money?’

‘You got it to buy booze, Rosie. Maybe you’re stewed right now — you usually have been in the past when you’ve called. It’s been six months since your last call and Joey doesn’t wanna know, Rosie. It’s not me and don’t think it’s Barbara either, he—’

‘You bastard.’

Again the heavy breathing. ‘Rosie, I’m sorry, let’s not be like this. We’ll write, we’ll be in touch and I’m hanging up now because I don’t want to get into an argument. I’m hanging up, Rosie.’

She looked at the receiver as she heard the line go dead and replaced it gently on the cradle. She patted the phone with the flat of her hand, wishing it was her boy’s head. She didn’t even know how big he was now, it had been such a long time… One day, she told herself, she’d hold him in her arms and he would forgive her. She felt so empty she wanted to cry, for all the lost years.

 

 

Hours later, Lorraine woke up, heart pounding. There had been a violent crash, as if the front door had been knocked down. Music thumped out, the volume on maximum. She sat up, and eased herself off the bed. She didn’t recognize the screeching, confused voice, and the sound of breaking glass topped even the music.

Lorraine pushed open the bedroom door, and gasped. Rosie was reeling around the room, falling into furniture, drinking from a quart bottle of bourbon. She leered at Lorraine, and waved the bottle. ‘You wanna drink? Come on in, sit down, have a drink with me!’

Lorraine watched, incredulous, as Rosie crashed into the kitchen, smashing glasses as she attempted to get one from the cupboard. She swore and kicked at the jagged pieces. Her eyes were unfocused, her face bright red and sweating. She swayed as she poured and held out a half-full tumbler. ‘Have a drink, skinny!’

Lorraine was about to take the glass when the front door opened. She had no idea who the short, squat man was, who knocked the glass out of Rosie’s hand, snatched the bottle from her and began pouring the contents down the sink. Rosie screamed and lunged at him with a punch, missed, and fell into the closet. Brushes tumbled around her as she slumped on the floor, weeping. Her sobs came louder as he ran water into the sink, making sure every drop of liquor was gone. Rosie’s head fell forward onto her chest and her breath came in terrible, heaving rasps.

‘Help me get her into the bathroom and
turn that fucking music off!’
Lorraine did as she was told, and between them they dragged Rosie into the bedroom then the bathroom by both arms, like a beached whale, and inched her into the base of the shower, before the man turned it on full blast. When Rosie finally came to, she began to vomit. The man held her head up, getting soaked himself in the process. He snapped out instructions for Lorraine to pass him towels and a pillow. When the vomiting subsided he stuffed a pillow under Rosie’s dripping head, and stood up. ‘She’ll sleep it off now.’

Lorraine followed him into the sitting room. He was attempting to dry himself with one of the kitchen towels. ‘You started her on this binge, huh?’

Lorraine shook her head. He began to brew coffee, and fetched cups, treading warily over the broken glass. ‘What brought it on, then?’

‘I dunno.’ She folded her arms. The smell of the bourbon hanging in the air made her swallow because it smelt so good. ‘You got a cigarette?’

He tossed over a squashed packet, and rubbed his shoulder. ‘She must weigh a ton. I’m getting too old for this — she’s put my shoulder out before now, and my back. Once she knocked me out stone cold… So, if you didn’t bring the bottle in, did she get it herself?’

Lorraine lit the cigarette and pocketed the packet. ‘I dunno. I was asleep.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ he sneered. ‘Sleeping one off, were you?’

Lorraine was annoyed by his aggressive, punchy manner. His neck was short, his greasy black hair thinning, even his hands were podgy. ‘You her boyfriend or something?’ she asked.

‘Her what? You kiddin’? Need a bigger man than me to take that rhino on. I’m her sponsor, but I dunno for how long. They called me from the liquor store — little arrangement we have, saves them from one of her visits. You get her started, did you? Then she went for a bottle? After she’s finished one bottle she’s only after the next, and those bars they got up may have kept them safe from the riots but they wouldn’t from Rosie.’ He helped himself to coffee, and poured some for Lorraine. ‘I’m Jake Valsack.’

‘Lorraine.’

Jake eased his square backside onto the sofa. ‘Well, you made it through a night, then? And…’ He looked at his watch and smiled. When he smiled, his face changed from something that resembled a chimpanzee into a cute pixie. ‘You been dry almost a whole day. We’ll go to the meeting — she won’t be round for a while yet.’

Lorraine had no desire to go to another meeting, so she said she’d stay with Rosie. Jake hooted with laughter. Once again she grew increasingly irritated with him.

‘So, Lorraine, what kind of work did you do before drinking?’

She crossed to the kitchen and poured more coffee. ‘I was a secretary.’

He swivelled round. ‘So you can type, huh? You got a job? Rosie said you’d need one.’

‘You going to give me one?’

Jake hooted again. ‘What you think I am — nuts?’

Lorraine sat on the sofa arm. ‘So what did
you
do before drinking, Jake?’ she inquired sarcastically. He looked up at her from round, dark eyes — he was a dead ringer for a chimpanzee.

‘I was a doctor. Still am a doctor only I can’t practise any more. Now I help run a clinic for junkies and alkies and anybody who needs help, like Rosie.’

Lorraine looked away for she could read the pain in those animal eyes. Maybe Jake could see something similar in her own because he seemed to relent. He opened his wallet and passed over a card. ‘You can call me on that line. I know somebody who needs a bit of clerical work done, be a few bucks in hand — or you can work for me. I’m a glutton for punishment. We need as many helping hands as possible, but there’s no money in it.’

As she pocketed the card, she felt Jake’s cigarettes. She didn’t dare bring one out in case he asked for them back. He stood up and glanced at the broken screen door. ‘Tell Rosie I’m around.’

Lorraine watched his stocky figure strut off down the road. Then she searched for Rosie’s handbag. She was opening the purse when she heard moaning from the bathroom. Rosie was trying in vain to stand up. Lorraine looked at her, in no way disgusted by the spectacle: she’d seen and been in a lot worse states herself. ‘I guess I just tied another one on, didn’t I?’

Lorraine laughed. ‘Yep, you sure did. Your pal was here — Jake.’

‘Was he? Well, are you gonna stand there gloating or are you gonna help me get up off the fucking floor?’

Lorraine tried to pull her up but fell forward on top of her. Rosie felt like a mammoth blanket. Eventually, after much tugging and heaving, she managed to get into a sitting position, where she held her head in her hands and groaned. Lorraine fetched a glass of water and held it out. Rosie gulped it down, and then demanded another. She drank four full glasses before she rested back against the shower. ‘Did you say Jake was here?’

Lorraine nodded, and Rosie began to cry, guilty and morose. She sobbed and sobbed, a jumbled, incoherent stream of adoring phrases about the chimpanzee man, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes.

‘I’m off to see if I can find a job, Rosie. Did you hear me?’

Rosie hauled herself slowly to her feet. ‘Sure. Do what you like.’

‘Can I take a few dollars?’ she called from the sitting room.

BOOK: Cold Shoulder
11.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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