Authors: Shelia M. Goss
My mouth flew open. “That can't be. Royce told me he, not Jason, made some bad investments and that's why our funds are low.” It made me question Royce's loyalty.
Would Royce cover up for Jason?
“On the surface, it appears that way. But after going back over the books and checking the market for the dates listed on the
printouts Jason provided, Dad didn't lose any money. In fact, he made at least a twenty-five percent increase on top of the money he originally invested.”
I hit the desk with my fist. “Wait until I see that Jason. I'm going to kill him and then bury him in a pine box full of lead.”
“Mom, calm down.”
“Calm? How can I be calm? Your father trusted that man. How could he steal from us?”
Lovie looked at me. “We can alert the police about this, but if we do I doubt we'll get our money back. He's hidden the money in an offshore account.”
“Jail is too good for him anyway. After I make him sign over his life insurance to me, I'm going to kill him.” I thought of a thousand ways to kill Jason, but each one resulted in me getting caught.
“Mom, the last thing I need is for you to get yourself locked up. Let me and Dad handle this.”
“I hate to say this, but I don't think Royce is going to believe you. I remember years ago I tried to tell Royce about something Jason did and he nearly bit my head off. I think this is something that you and I need to handle.”
Lovie pointed at the computer screen. “This is the proof right here. He can't deny it.”
“Son, trust me on this. I know your father better than you do. The only way he's going to believe it is if he hears Jason confessing with his own mouth.”
“Oh, that can be arranged. Trust me,” Lovie said.
I placed my hand on top of his. “I do not want you getting any of your thuggish friends involved in this. I can't lose you to the system in the process.”
“Mom, I'm not a little boy who you have to cradle. I know how to handle things without getting caught.”
“I want our money back, and I want Jason to pay and get out of our lives.”
With confidence, Lovie said, “I will figure out a way to make it happen.”
Lovie gathered his stuff and went to his office. It was hard for me to concentrate. Little did Lovie know, Jason's betrayal went far deeper than stealing money.
his day hadn't gone well at all. I did my best to provide comfort to the families, but sometimes facilitating funerals back to back could be overwhelming; especially when having to bury a child.
Seeing Lexi sitting behind the receptionist desk reminded me of old times. My dad thought giving teens in the neighborhood jobs would keep them out of trouble. He'd seen something in Lexi that others didn't. He gave her a part-time job as a receptionist.
I smiled at the memory because for me, it was love at first sight.
Lexi greeted me with a hug and kiss. “You okay?” she asked.
“Let me wash up and we'll talk.” I grabbed some extra clothes from one of the closets in my office and went into my personal bathroom.
After showering and changing, I walked back to the front of the building. “So, how have things been here at the office?” I leaned on the desk.
“The phones have been ringing steady. I counseled the couple you told me about. They will be using us to preside over their aunt's funeral.”
“I appreciate you doing this for me today.”
“Royce, you can count on me to always have your back.”
“That's why I love you so much. You're one of the few people I can depend on.”
Lexi tapped on the desk. “Before I forget, Shannon called. She's doing better, so she'll be in tomorrow.”
“Too bad. I wanted to be able to see your pretty face all day.”
“Dad, we need to talk,” Lovie walked up behind me and said.
“Lovie, he just got here. Whatever it is, can wait.” Lexi shifted so Lovie could see her face.
“It won't take long,” Lovie responded.
I turned and faced Lovie. “What is it, Son?”
Lovie looked at Lexi and remained tight lipped. I wondered what that was all about.
“What is it?” I repeated.
“I just wanted to let you know that I like being here. I'm glad you allowed me to work with you. I promise I won't let you down.”
I patted Lovie on the back. “I'm glad you're here, too. You've proven to me you are a hard worker.” I smiled. “You stopped dragging in after noon and started coming in on time.”
“I admit that it was hard at first. It was an adjustment for me, but you got to remember I was used to working nights.”
“True, that's why I didn't complain too much. But since you're standing here, I wanted to find out from you how the research was coming along.”
Lexi started coughing out of control. “Mom, you all right?” Lovie asked.
“I'm fine. Somebody get me some water,” she said, in between coughs.
I rushed to the water cooler and poured her some water. Lexi took a huge gulp. She placed her hand over her chest. “Thank you, baby. I'm all right now.”
“You sure? I hope you're not coming down with what Shannon has. Lovie, go get some Lysol, so we can disinfect this desk.”
Lovie did as I instructed. By the time all three of us sprayed and wiped off Shannon's desk, there shouldn't have been any germs left.
“Isn't this pretty? The Joneses working together.”
We all looked up at the sound of Jason's voice. I reached out to greet him, but forgot I had gloves on.
“Jason, did we have a meeting?” I asked. I glanced at my watch. It was after three.
“No, I was just in the area and since I'm here, I wanted to go over your latest earnings.”
“Cool. Lovie, come on. We can do it in my office.”
Jason said, “This is something that we should discuss alone.”
“Lovie's going to be taking over, so he might as well start being in on these meetings.”
Jason seemed reluctant. He could run his business like he wanted, and I would run mine the way I deemed fit. Lovie would be in the meeting.
A few minutes later, we were all seated at the conference table. I glanced at the printed spreadsheet. I scratched my head. “Jason, explain this to me.”
Jason looked between Lovie and me. “It's simple. I'm having to pull your money from your other account to pay for some of the losses resulting from the market failure.”
Lovie said, “I'm looking at these numbers and they aren't adding up.”
Jason said in a stern voice, “Son, I've been doing this for years. You just got your certification, so I think you better look at those numbers again.”
“Uncle Jason, I mean no disrespect when I say this.” Lovie placed the papers down in front of him and looked Jason directly in the eyes. “I think you and my dad need to separate your business relationship from your personal relationship. It is my recommendation that
we terminate your services. There's no need to use you when I'm here.”
Jason looked at me. “Royce, are you agreeing to this? We've been working together since I graduated from college.”
I scratched my head. I wished Lovie had discussed this with me before firing Jason. I wasn't in total agreement with the decision. “Jason, I'll call you later.”
Jason pushed away from the table. “I'm serious, man. This is some bull.”
I stood up and walked Jason to the door. “You know how these youngsters are. They come in and think they can run everything.” I patted him on the back. “We're cool. There won't be any changes.”
“You need to let that boy know who is in charge. You or him.”
Jason patted me on the shoulder. “Good. I'm glad we could work that out.”
I watched Jason walk to his car. I turned and saw two sets of eyes on me.
“What?” I asked.
“Dad, I feel you're making a huge mistake.”
“If I am, I take full responsibility. But remember, I, Royce Lee Jones, am the man in charge.”
“But, Dadâ” Lovie stuttered.
“Lexi, talk to your son. I got to get ready for another funeral.”
I left them standing in the foyer as I prepared for the six o'clock funeral across town.
ope and I were in the living room with the television blasting. She seemed to be engrossed in her own little world on the opposite end of the couch. I flipped through the latest issue of a party planning magazine to get ideas for an upcoming event.
The doorbell rang. “Will you get that?” I asked.
“I'm not your personal servant,” Hope responded.
“You're the closest.”
Hope rolled her eyes, but got up to answer the door. She walked back in the room with Lovie on her heels.
“Good, you're both here,” Lovie said, as he took a seat in the chair.
“If this is about me sleeping in the car, I promise you, it won't happen again,” Hope blurted out.
“I'm missing something. When did this happen?” I stared at Hope.
“I'm sure Lovie came over to blast me about it.”
“I came over here about something else.” Lovie looked annoyed with Hope. “But since you brought it up, let's address it.”
Hope looked back and forth between me and Lovie. “I got mad at this guy. I was too tired to drive home, so I took a quick nap. There's nothing more to tell.”
“But in your car?” Lovie asked.
“I told you I was tired.”
I ignored Hope and looked at Lovie. “Maybe you can get Hope
to tell you more about this mystery man. Every time I ask her something about him, she gives me a smart-aleck response.”
“Oh, so here you go with the double teaming. Just in case you both don't realize this, I'm over twenty-one. In this country, that means I'm grown.” She moved her neck. “And as a grown woman, I don't have to answer to either one of you.” Hope crossed her arms and leaned back on the sofa.
Lovie leaned forward and looked directly at Hope. “The moment I got a phone call from my friend about you sleeping in the car is the moment your business became mine. Now, spill it.”
Hope rolled her eyes. “This dude and I got into it. I think he's cheating on me, so I was waiting outside to see if this other woman was going to drop by.”
Lovie didn't have to respond, I did. “Hope, if you got to do all of that, you don't need the man. You're beautiful. You're smart. You don't need that type of drama.”
“I can't turn my feelings off and on like a faucet,” she blurted out.
Lovie shook his head from side to side. “Don't tell me you're in love with this joker.”
Hope's head fell down. “I didn't plan this.”
“Who is he? Do we know him?” I asked.
“No. He's nobody you know. Until I find out for sure if he's cheating, I think it's best I keep his identity to myself.”
“I'll let you handle it for now,” Lovie responded. “Besides, there's something far more pressing I need to discuss with you two.”
Lovie had my full attention. “You rarely stop by, so it must be important.”
Lovie looked back and forth between Hope and me. “As you know, I've been working with Dad.”
“If we didn't know, we would have to be under a rock. Mom talks about it all of the time,” Charity said.
Lovie continued, “I found out some things that lead me to believe Uncle Jason has been embezzling money.”
I almost fell out my seat. “Are you serious?”
“I wouldn't make these accusations if I didn't think they were true. I found it hard to believe myself.”
I rubbed my temple. “How could he? What is Dad going to do?”
“Dad and I sort of got into it earlier. I fired Jason, but Dad didn't agree. So, I don't know what's going to happen.”
Hope said, “You can't go around accusing a man without proof.”
“I got all the proof I need. I'm not going to let that man steal any more of our money. Dad doesn't know this, but Uncle Jason is no longer authorized to make any type of transactions on RJ Jones Funeral Home's behalf.”
“When he finds out, he's going to be pissed.” I couldn't help but think about how this would affect Lovie and Dad's relationship. Things were going so well between the two of them.
“I'm not worried about it. Mom will handle Dad,” Lovie responded.
I frowned. “I'm not going to be able to look at him the same anymore. He's like Dad's brother. This is the ultimate form of betrayal.”
“That's why Dad's not looking at this situation objectively. He doesn't want to believe the man he's called a brother for over forty years is stealing from him.”
Hope picked up her phone. “I'm going to call Dad now. He has to come around.”
Lovie removed the phone from Hope's hand. “No. Let me handle this my way. I just wanted you two to know what was going on.”
“He's the cause of all of our financial problems. I will never forget the embarrassment I felt when my credit card wouldn't go through that day at the store.”
“Because of him, I've been stuck here in Shreveport. I can't
remember the last time I took a trip with my friends. I can never forgive him for that.” Hope pouted.
Lovie held up his hand. “I hate to break up your pity party, but it's past time for both of you to stand on your own two feet. What he has done was mess with our family legacy. Dad and Big Daddy worked hard to build RJ's and I will not let anyone tear down what took them decades to build.”
“What do you plan on doing?” I asked, as I crossed my legs under me.
“Whatever it is, count me in on it,” Hope added.
“The less details you know, the better. But know this, I'm on top of things. Dad's problems will soon be over. If things work out the way I want them to, all of his money will be returned.” Lovie looked at me and then at Hope.