Blurred (Connections #3.5)

4,365
05.03.2019

She looks at Trent. “Here, go help him so we can get out of here.”

I unlock the door and hop up on the platform. I move a few boxes aside and drag the desk to the end. We ease it out of the truck, but it’s top heavy and tumbles over, crashing to the ground.

“Fuck!” I yell.

“Fuck,” Trent mutters.

“Trent!” Serena says with her hands on her hips.

Something shiny catches my eye as I survey the damage and I bend down to retrieve it. It’s a key.

“What’s this?” I turn around to show Serena, who is still scowling at Trent.

She takes it from me. “It looks like a safety deposit box key.”

“Did Mom have one?”

“Not that I know of,” Serena answers. “But I’ll call Hale on our way to the church and see if he knows.”

I nod at her and think about how long it has been since I’ve seen my mother’s attorney. I motion for Trent to get in the truck. He points to the pile on the ground.

“We’ll clean it up when we get back. Let’s go,” I holler back as I hoist myself into the cab.

I pull out of the large circular driveway and glance back at the heap of wood in my rearview mirror, hoping I can put the desk back together.

As Serena and Trent argue about what station to put the radio on I reflect back on the last two weeks and how my life has changed. After Dahlia and I left the beach, she drove me back to LA and dropped me off at the impound lot. She was shocked to see I had a motorcycle, but then just grinned and said, “You always did like to feel the wind against your face. So it makes sense.”

“Don’t say it,” I teased her as I got out of the car.

“Say what?” she called back.

“That I’m a dog,” I said.

“That you’re a dog,” she said in unison.

It was an inside joke we’d had since we were kids. She always made fun of me for loving speed—the speed I felt while pedaling fast on my bicycle, the speed I felt taking a steep hill on my skateboard, or the speed I felt catching a wave on my surfboard. I glanced at her one last time before I walked away from her that day. There was no discussion as to when we’d talk again, but I knew we would and I knew that somehow we would be all right—that we would find our way back to a friendship that worked for both of us.

After the arrest, I promptly gave my two weeks notice to the LA Times, opting to freelance for a bit. My last day was probably the most interesting one of my stint as a wedding columnist. I had the very distinct pleasure of meeting with the infamous Damon Wolf. Damon Wolf and Ivy Taylor were engaged sometime last year, but hadn’t set a wedding date. The wedding column doesn’t usually run stories on engagements, but Christine made an exception. I guess when you own a magazine you get special treatment.

My interview was with Damon only and he wanted to meet at Sound Music Magazine. When I arrived he was reaming out Dahlia’s friend Aerie for forgetting to arrange a lunch date for him for some interview. I tried not to get involved, I really did, but I’ve known Aerie for so long that I had to step in. Let’s just say when I did—my day and my job ended early. What an assshole!

“Did you hear me?” my sister asks, pulling me out of my thoughts.

I put the truck in park and turn toward her. “No, sorry.”

“Hale said he’s been trying to reach us for months. I’m pretty sure he was calling Mom’s house phone. Either way he wants us to meet him at the bank as soon as we finish. He wants to read Mom’s will.”

I blink my eyes and try to take what she said in. “Did you know she had a will?”

Serena shakes her head. “He seems to know what’s in the box though.”

“You should have let me take Uncle Ben’s motorcycle,” Trent tells his mother as he hops out of the truck.

“I told you, you are never allowed to ride that. And I’m not kidding!” she yells to him.

“Come on, Trent. Let’s unload and we’ll drop you at the coffee shop while we go over to the bank.”

He smiles. “Hell, yeah. Hot chicks are always in there.”

I just grin and shake my head. I notice my sister roll her eyes.

Serena and I file into the conference room with Hale Reed behind us—box in hand. He’s been our family’s attorney for as long as I can remember. He’s been in and out of the hospital so it’s understandable that we haven’t connected until now. My sister takes a seat at the table and I choose to stand at the window. Hale sets the box down and pulls an envelope out of his pocket, along with a pair of reading glasses. He clears his throat. “Serena and Ben,” he says, as he slips his glasses on and then unfolds the document in his hand. “This is your mother’s will. She hadn’t updated it in a while. It was drafted more than ten years ago, but I am confident these were still her wishes.”

I lean back against the sill and thump my fingers nervously on it.

He unlocks the box and takes out a dark blue bankbook. I walk over and glance in the metal case to see if it contains anything else, but there’s nothing there.

“Hale, what’s with the formality of meeting us for a bankbook? I already have all her account information. Ben and I just haven’t sat down yet to figure it all out,” Serena inquires.

“No, Serena, you don’t have everything. I manage this account. I’m the trustee.”

“Okay, why?” Serena asks.

He clears his throat again. “This account contains a ten million dollar settlement fund issued to your mother. She never touched the principle; but rather she lived off the interest. Your father didn’t have life insurance, so this was how she supported you both. Every year since the year your father died, I’ve dispersed the interest to her but she never wanted more. She said it was for you both.”

My mouth drops and Serena pales. I make my way to the table and sit next to my sister and take her hand in mine. I’m speechless. Ten million dollars. How could we not have known this?

There are sounds sputtering out of Serena’s mouth, but none are comprehensible. I make an effort to speak. “Hale, why would our mother have ten million dollars from a settlement? And why wouldn’t she tell us?”

He slides the box to the side and pushes the stack of papers toward us. “Ben, Serena, a couple of weeks after your father’s death his boat was found.”

My heart pounds at the news. “Was he alive?” I ask.

“No, son, he wasn’t. The boat was new and when he took it out and tried to raise the sail, one of the lines malfunctioned. Faulty mechanics—so the company stated.”

I look at him feeling terrorized by this news and squeeze my sister’s hand tighter.

“He was . . . ,” he pauses before saying, “hung by the sail’s ropes.”

I don’t say anything, I can’t.

Serena’s hand flies to her mouth. “Oh my God, my Daddy,” Serena cries.

I hear a voice that I think is mine comforting my sister. I pull her to me and hold her. After a few moments I lean away and look at Hale. “Why wouldn’t Mom have told us?”

“She didn’t want her children to picture their Dad the way you are right now.”

I nod and draw my sister back in to my arms. All the while hushing her cries and trying to will away my own.

The shock took us both a while to absorb. Over the past few weeks we discussed in detail why Mom would never have touched the money. All we could surmise was that she didn’t need it. We’d talk about our parents again and again and how lucky we were to have had them. We talked about Dad’s surf shop and our parents’ love for each other. We talked and helped each other through the rough spots. It took us months to be able to go back to the bank and transfer the money into three separate accounts—per my mother’s will. But we did it last week. And now, as we sit together at the kitchen table in the house we grew up in, we watch through the glass as fireworks shoot off into the dark sky and the country celebrates Independence Day.

Trent closes the pizza box in shock. “We’re f**king rich?” he asks.

Serena snaps her head toward him and my eyes dart to his.

“Trent!” we both say.

He shrugs. “We are,” he answers.

We hadn’t told him about the money when we first learned about it. We both needed to wrap our heads around it first. And also, truth be told, we were watching him, looking for signs of any possible relapse. But there were none—he was clean and as far as I can tell, he was going to stay that way.

Serena reaches across the table and pushes the hair from his eyes before putting both her hands on his face. “Honey, we are not anything. That money has been split between the three of us as Grandma wished, but yours will be put in trust until after you finish college.”

“But, Mom . . .”

“No buts, Trent. After college we’ll discuss your best investment opportunities.”

He stands up and tosses the paper plates in the trash. “For the record, you should know I think that sucks.”

“Trent . . .”

I leave my sister and nephew to argue about the fairness of having money and not being able to spend it. I pass through the family room and see that the TV is on. The news report catches my attention. Bass called me earlier and informed me about the news. But I still stop in my tracks to watch the reporter share the details.

“Two more members of the Mexican drug cartel have been arrested. Along with the bust—more than one hundred pounds of methamphetamine, ten pounds of cocaine, and half a pound of her**n was seized in the raid. Vice squad detective Jason Holt said he estimates to have removed nearly five million dollars of trash from the streets. The almost five-year long investigation culminated late last night when a long undercover operation targeting the remaining members of the Cortez Family was brought to a successful end. The Department of Justice said that they believe the trafficking organization run under this family is now shut down. In related news, Josh Hart, believed to be linked to the cartel, was found guilty of aggravated assault and battery in March and was sentenced to three years in prison today.”

It looks like Jason’s involvement is out there for the world to see now. He called me right after Bass this morning. I’m still not convinced there isn’t more to it. His being in the courtroom when Hart was sentenced placed doubts in my mind.

I push all that aside for now and walk out to the beach. I think about the last couple of months. Beck and I talk often. He and Ruby are still together. He took her out of town back when I was arrested because her ex-boyfriend was still harassing her. But once they returned the ex never showed his face again. I guess Jason did what he said he would.

Last month I opened a corporation, naming it Plan B. I’m going to buy small struggling magazines, and the first one on my list is Surfers End. I had written a number of freelance articles for them over the past few months and knew they were in trouble. I think I can actually help them put their mark on the world—or at least I hope I can. Either way, I’m excited to try.

Aerie has kept in touch with me since I met up with her and her boss that day a few months ago. Kimberly, or Kay, as Aerie calls her, quit sometime at the end of April to work at an LA radio station. The offer was one she couldn’t pass up, is all Aerie would say. Fuck me if Kimberly’s not going to be the next Ryan Seacrest.

Anyway, Aerie needed a freelance writer to help out. With Kay gone, she was absorbing the responsibility of both divisions, and on top of that, so many employees had quit. I said I would help and have actually done a lot work under my pen name—my New York City name—Alex Coven.

Yesterday she contacted me to see if I could help her with something important . . . of personal interest to her. She needed some research done right away on Damon Wolf’s companies—I jumped on it like a bulldog. I managed to obtain access to Damon’s company, Sheep Dynamics, under the guise of writing an article on his rise to the top. I knew that would get me in. I perused all of Sheep Dynamics subsidiaries’ financials. I found what she was looking for in no time—information on Nick Wilde’s career. The more I learned through my research the more my stomach turned over for the swine that Wolf is, and the more I knew I could help her. I also discovered that Sound Music Magazine was in the red and they were financially vulnerable. So I decided to take it. Why not?