Saturday, 11 September 2004
Wrapped in a blanket, Gus hugged himself as he waited in the ambulance until his siblings arrived. It was not due to the unseasonal chill of the early cold snap.
“You okay?” Skip demanded, looking at the bandage on his brother’s head.
Gus nodded. The emergency technician said as he signed the forms, “He should be fine. Bit of a bump on the noggin, but no concussion.”
“My thick head served me well for once, I guess,” Gus said, attempting a joke.
“What happened, Augie?” his sister asked.
“I guess I arrived here just in time. I left campus as soon as I could; just couldn’t take any more illiterate freshman papers parroting poorly-written web pages.”
“Yes, go on,” Allie urged with as much patience as she could.
“I heard glass break while unloading the truck,” Gus said. “I thought Jesus came back, so I raced around the corner and wham! Somebody tall smacked me hard, and down I went.”
He looked at Skip, frowning, as if seeing him for the first time. “What are you doing here, brother? I thought you had a South American shoot soon.”
Skip helped Gus stand. “Oh that, no, the timing’s not good. Maya never liked my job, now she’s using it to try to keep me from seeing Darla. I decided to cancel.”
“Oh sorry,” Gus said. “Allie, why so down? You look worse than I feel.”
His sister tried to smile. “Me? Aside from occasional bad dreams, crying jags, and fits of depression, I’m fine. Couldn’t be better.” Behind her glasses were bags under her eyes.
“A happy bunch we are.” Gus shook his head. “You’ll love this.”
They shuffled into the ranch house past the yellow tape. The word “FAKERS” was spray painted across the front of the house in bright red. Several policemen were still poking through the bushes. A brick thrown through the sliding door had knocked loose one of the panels of the Ark model but there was little other damage. The police shooed them outside. They found themselves standing on the driveway under hard twinkling stars.
“No fun,” Gus mumbled, “but I somehow feel less violated than after the last confrontation with Jes�s, or the talk show. This, at least, was an honest ambush.”
“You were lucky, you big dumb lug.” Allie said. “You could’ve been killed, brother.” She gave him a quick hug. “Speaking of which, have the police said anything more? Why can’t we get Dad’s autopsy results?”
“I don’t know.” Again Gus shook his head. “They just give me the runaround.”
“There’s more bad news,” Skip said. “Gerry finally returned my calls. Nobody’s interested in MacLantis Mysteries without Doc MacLantis. How’d he put it in his charming way? ‘It’s like a dead cat; nobody wants to go anywhere near it.’” He jammed his hands in his pockets. “Face it, guys, without Dad running things, we suck.”
“Not even a situation comedy?” Gus said. “I guess we’re done.” He kicked at the cracked pavement. “We tried, just like he wanted. Why, I still have no idea.”
“For us,” Allie said, patting her brother’s arm. “He wanted to keep the family business going. Dad always believed we loved it as much as he did.”
Gus smile was forced and harsh. “I wonder if it wasn’t about himself. The Vault was unfinished business. It must have rankled him to have it ended that way.”
Allie disagreed. “I’m not so sure, Gus. Once while you were in Europe, I tried to get him to talk. I mean, we’d never really talked heart to heart since Mom died, which means ever, I guess. He didn’t open up much, but I never saw even the slightest regret over that.”
“Me neither. Dad didn’t shrug off the flop like the pyramid uproar or the other stuff,” Skip said. “Maybe it was all bluster, but he laughed like the Vault was a joke on everyone else and he was the only one who understood the punch line.”
“Maybe that’s what he meant to tell us before he died.” Gus gave his brother and sister a long, somber look. “But now I realize why Dad wanted us to stay as far away from the Bellegraal business as possible. Because it looks like evil Jesus spoke the truth: They won’t leave us alone either.”
“Mother of God,” Allie said, “we’ll have to deal with this forever?”
“Not unless we call it quits, wash our hand of it all in public,” Skip suggested. The eldest expressed what they knew, unexpected but yet somehow inevitable once uttered.
The proposal hung in the motionless air. “You mean, not go to Bellegraal?” Gus asked.
“No, I’m saying maybe we should sell the Ranch first.”
Allie was shocked. “The museum? Everything?”
“You have anything better to do with this stuff?” Skip said with harsh practicality.
With a trace of indignation, Gus said, “Wait a minute: I might be the one stuck living here, but you’re not pinning this on me. Whatever we do, we have to do it together.”
“Nobody’s pinning anything on anybody.” Allie hugged him. “You don’t have to be the family hero. Let’s not be rash or stampeded, but talk to Imelda first, then decide.”
“You’re not claiming all the best stuff, either,” Skip added.