Blackwood farm, p.22

Blackwood Farm, page 22

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "THAT NIGHT I connected with Nash as I have connected with few people in my life, and we forged a bond which lasted for my mortal lifetime and beyond it. He sat up with me for hours, comforting me as I poured out my soul, as I agonized over my fatal glimpse of Mona Mayfair.

  "I made him privy to every nuance of the panic I'd been experiencing since Lynelle died, and I even dared to tell him in profound words and circuitous sentences of how I feared the recent shifts of emotional temperature in Goblin.

  "Of course I told him about the stranger, the stranger in whom no one believed, apparently, and that I expected in short order to be accused of having actually written myself the stranger's letter to me.

  "I positively raved about Lynelle's loss. I could do no less when I thought of it.

  "Nash's deep voice, his strong arm around my shoulders, his gentle hand on my knee, it was beyond comforting. And there was something about him that was so proper yet relaxed, so inherently gentlemanly yet natural, that I felt I could trust him with my whole soul -- even with the erotic adventures I'd had with my beloved Goblin and my terrifying Rebecca. I even told him about my sleeping with Jasmine.

  "What did Nash really believe? Did he think I was insane? I didn't know. I only knew that he was being very honest with me in every word that he spoke and in every gesture. I knew that he respected me, and this respect counted for everything.

  "I knew that he felt compassion for me just because I was young, yet he took me seriously, and he said time and again as the night wore on that he understood and remembered what it had been like for him at my age.

  "We started our marathon conversation in the front parlor, thankfully deserted early by our few guests, and we ended at the kitchen table, drinking coffee like fuel, though I kept lacing mine with luscious amounts of cream and sugar.

  "Only when Big Ramona ran us out did we walk down to the old cemetery, and I told him all about the spirits I'd seen. I told him the things I wanted to tell Mona.

  "We were under the big oak when the dawn came with its soft silent and shimmering light, and it was there that I told him I would always love him.

  " 'You know, whatever happens with us,' I said, 'as teacher and pupil, as friends, whatever comes to pass -- whether we go to Europe eventually, or we study here -- I'll never forget you listening to me tonight, I'll never forget your inveterate kindness. ¡¯

  " 'Quinn, you're a battered soul,' he said to me. 'And probably the better for it. I can't deny how compelling you are to me, and the challenge that you present to me. Yes, I want to be your teacher. I'd be honored to be your teacher, and I do think there are things we could achieve together. But you don't know me yet, and you may come to change your mind about me when certain things become clear to you. ¡¯

  " 'Nothing will ever change this love, Nash,' I responded. 'Any more than anything will change what I feel for Mona Mayfair. ¡¯

  "He gave me the most reassuring smile.

  " 'And now you need to go in and get dressed,' he said. 'The reading of your grandfather's will, remember?¡¯

  "How could I forget?

  "I bolted down a huge breakfast in the kitchen and then went up to shower and change, half afraid of what I might find in the bathroom in the way of patchwork repairs, but everything was done to perfection.

  "Feeling lightheaded and like a conquistador of grand emotions, I piled into the limousine with Aunt Queen and Patsy, who looked like deliberate and absolute trash in her red leather clothes, and Jasmine, dressed to the teeth in a gorgeous black suit and stiletto heels, and off we went to the lawyer's office in Ruby River City. Big Ramona and Felix were supposed to have come too, but there was no way the house could spare them. Clem, who was driving the limo, had also been alerted to come inside when we got there. And Lolly, who was up front with Clem, was also included.

  "In short order, we settled down in one of those generic legal places of which I've seen several in my time, outfitted with blackberry leather chairs and a big glass-covered mahogany desk for the man who reads the document that is bound to make somebody feel rotten.

  "Our pleasant-voiced lawyer, Grady Breen (Gravier's old and dear friend, and a relic of some eighty-five years in age), made all the appropriate offers of coffee or soft drinks, which we all in our anxiety declined, and then we were off and running.

  "Last time it had been Patsy who was so brutally hurt with a trust-fund inheritance that didn't amount in her mind to a pittance. And everybody was silently betting it was Patsy again who would get scalded and leave the office yowling.

  "But what unfolded surprised everyone. The smaller bequests -- one hundred thousand dollars each to Clem, Felix, Ramona, Lolly and Jasmine -- were no great shock. And that Pops had left them handsome annuities for retirement as well made everyone a little less nervous. In fact, I'm understating the case. This part of the will made Clem and Jasmine and Lolly jubilant. Jasmine started to cry, and Lolly held tight to her arm, tearing up as well, and Clem just shook his head at the marvel of it.

  "But then there came the real meat of the feast and no one could have been more amazed than Patsy. It seemed that Great-grandfather Gravier had left a trust fund to Pops which was bound by its original terms to go in its entirety to Pops' only child, Patsy. The principal of the trust was in the high double-digit millions, and the income so handsome that Patsy positively screamed with astonished laughter.

  "As to Pops' remaining trust funds, also enormous, one went to Aunt Queen until her death and then to me, and the other was mine immediately. It was a dizzying amount of income.

  "In summary, Pops had disinherited Patsy, but it made no difference because he couldn't stop Grandpa Gravier's trust from going to her. And his frugal ways over the years, his paying himself a pittance of a salary and rolling back into the big trust its earnings, had even increased Patsy's fortune. Of course Patsy couldn't touch the principal of the big trust, and when she died I would inherit it.

  "Patsy was so delirious that she threw her arms around Aunt Queen, squealing and giggling and stomping the floor with her red leather boots.

  "And even I felt happy for her.

  "Aunt Queen kissed her cheek and told her warmly that it was indeed wondrous news, and now Patsy could buy some new clothes with her newfound money.

  " 'Oh, am I going to buy new clothes!' she declared. She ran out of the lawyer's office before anyone could stop her. How she found transportation without Clem I couldn't guess, except that she had her cell phone with her always these days, and Seymour was back at the house with her van. Whatever the case, never sensing the irony of Aunt Queen's gentle words, she vanished.

  "I sat there absorbing the fact that I now had a substantial income in my own right, some one hundred thousand dollars a month immediately available to me, though it came with strict and nonbinding advice that I take Aunt Queen's guidance in everything.

  "There was some fancy language pertaining to all that, something to do with Aunt Queen's advanced age, and my precocity, and I interpreted from it that I was being entrusted with my income now because of my obedient nature and the fact that my mother could not be relied upon to provide the proper guidance.

  "I was given two credit cards on the spot, each with a line of credit of a hundred thousand, a checkbook for a checking account which would carry a rolling balance of twenty thousand dollars a month, a money market account into which would be deposited eighty thousand a month, and I filled out some important papers, signed bank forms and cards, signed the credit cards as well, slipped them into my wallet, pocketed the checkbook, and my part of the transaction was over. I was intoxicated with new-funded manhood.

  "What followed had to do with the various other employees who were left handsome amounts, of which they would soon be apprised, as Aunt Queen, appointed executrix for these, had some six months to make them available to the designated persons. It was wonderful to hear of this. The men were going to be mighty pleased.

  "Then came the description of the household trust, which had been established by the Old Man himself, Manfred. It had grown enormously over the years, and its sole beneficiary was Blackwood Farm. And try as I might I could not understand all its complications.

  "That Blackwood Farm couldn't be divided, that its house could never be pulled down, that any architectural changes must be in keeping with its original designs, that all who were employed in the management and maintenance of Blackwood Manor and Blackwood Farm were to be well paid -- all this was rolled out in complex language, spelling security for the estate that I loved, and making it very clear that the income we received from our paying guests meant absolutely nothing.

  "There was also considerable language about the responsibilities for the farm trust now falling upon Aunt Queen, and then passing on to me, but this was also too complicated to follow. That Patsy would never own or control Blackwood Farm was the gist of this, and of course Patsy wouldn't give a damn about it.

  "As for the present, the pure ownership of Blackwood Farm itself, including all buildings, swamp and land, passed from Pops to me, with a grant of usufruct to Aunt Queen, meaning she could live there throughout her lifetime.

  "This left me astonished. But immediately Aunt Queen explained the wisdom of it. Were she to marry, she said, her husband might try to bring a claim of ownership against the land, and this was what Pops wanted to protect against. Of course, she was seventy-eight (or so she said) and she wasn't going to marry anyone, she remarked (Except perhaps the charming Nash Penfield. Laugh. ), but Pops had to do it this way to protect me.

  "But I couldn't help but note that Patsy didn't even have the right to live at the property, which Aunt Queen did. I kept quiet about it. Patsy would never know. And I certainly wasn't going to put her out on the porch with her bags packed.

  "Besides, with her high monthly income -- some half a million -- she wasn't likely to be around much.

  "What funded all of our trusts were enormous investments in such diversified instruments as railroads, international shipping, worldwide banking, precious metals and gems, foreign currencies, U. S. Treasury bills, pharmaceutical companies, mutual funds of every imaginable name and description and random stocks of all kinds, from the most conservative to the most speculative, the entire holding administered by the investment firm of Mayfair and Mayfair, in New Orleans, an arm of the law firm of Mayfair and Mayfair, which managed only a handful of very select private fortunes.

  "It was quite impossible to find anyone superior to Mayfair and Mayfair when it came to investing, and it was also impossible to solicit their services today. The deal had been struck with them in 1880 between Manfred Blackwood and Julien Mayfair. And nothing but good luck and high profits had followed down to the present time.

  "Since I was in love with Mona Mayfair, all this made a very favorable impression on me. But in the main it was over my head. I had always known I was well-off, and how well-off had never been a matter of concern.

  "Now, when all this was complete and done, came the biggest shocker. Pops had confided to his lawyer something of which we didn't even dream. But before we were asked to hear it, Jasmine, Clem and Lolly were invited to excuse themselves.

  "Aunt Queen, on what instinct I'm not sure, asked Jasmine to remain. Lolly and Clem seemed unperturbed by this and went out immediately to sit in the parlor. Jasmine moved closer to me as though to protect me from whatever was coming.

  "Our lawyer, Grady Breen, laid aside the many documents he had before him and started to speak to us with a note of sympathy in his voice that seemed genuine.

  " 'Thomas Blackwood' (this was Pops) 'confided in me a secret before he died,' he said, 'and he made a verbal request of me as to this secret, that I advise you of it and ask of you that you do right by it. Now, as you may or may not know, there is a young lady in the backwoods hereabouts, name of Terry Sue, who has about five or six children. ' He glanced at his watch. 'Probably six children. ¡¯

  " 'Who on earth hasn't heard of Terry Sue?' asked Aunt Queen with a faint smile. 'I'm ashamed to say every Shed Man on the property knows Terry Sue. She just had another baby --. ' Now Aunt Queen looked at her watch. 'Didn't she? Yes, I believe she did. ¡¯

  " 'Well, yes, she did,' said Grady, slipping off his wire-rimmed glasses and sitting back. 'And it's a well-known fact that Terry Sue is one beautiful young woman, and a young woman who likes to have babies. But it's not that new baby that I want to discuss now. It seems that Terry Sue had a child by Pops about nine years ago. ¡¯

  " 'That's impossible!' I said. 'He would never have been unfaithful to Sweetheart!¡¯

  " 'It wasn't a thing he was proud of, Quinn,' said Grady. 'Indeed, he was not proud of it, and he was deeply concerned that the rumors about it would never disturb his family. ¡¯

  " 'I don't believe it,' I said again.

  " 'DNA has proved it, Quinn,' said Grady. 'And Terry Sue of course has always known it, and out of affection for Sweetheart, for whom Terry Sue did baking, you know --. ¡¯

  " 'Those big Virginia hams,' I said. 'She'd soak them and scrub them and bake them. ¡¯

  " 'What tenderness,' said Aunt Queen. 'Seems she soaked and scrubbed something else. But Grady, you have a point to make with this revelation, don't you, dear fellow?¡¯

  " 'Indeed, I do, Miss Queen,' said Grady. 'Pops was in the habit of taking an envelope of cash over there to Terry Sue every week or so, and though whatever man she's with tends to run off the old ones, no one was ever tempted to run off Pops with his envelope. It was about five hundred a week that he gave her. And this keeps the boy in a good Catholic school -- St. Joseph's over in Mapleville -- and that was the one term exacted for it, as far as I know. The boy's nine years old now, I believe. He's in the fourth grade. ¡¯

  " 'We'll continue this, of course,' said Aunt Queen. 'Can we see this child?¡¯

  " 'I recommend you do,' said Grady, 'because he's a beautiful boy, handsome as you, Quinn, and he's bright too, and Terry Sue, for all her faults, is trying to bring him up right. His name is Tommy. One thing that might help, if you'll take my suggestion. Now Pops never would but. . . ¡¯

  " 'But what is it?' I asked. I was flabbergasted by all this.

  " 'Give her enough money to send all those children of hers to good schools,' said Grady. 'Equalize things, you know what I mean? If you take toys or video games or what have you out there, take it for all the children. ¡¯

  " 'I see, yes, I understand,' said Aunt Queen. 'You'll have to give me a written report as to the size of the family and then we can arrange. . . ¡¯

  " 'No, I wouldn't do it in writing, Miss Queen,' said Grady. 'I wouldn't put anything in writing at all. There's five little ones out there now, no, six as of this morning, and the latest boyfriend is a piece of trash, pure trailer trash, I should say, and in fact they do live in a trailer, the whole gang, and such a trailer you wouldn't believe, and there are the proverbial rusting cars up on blocks in the yard, it's just a classical situation out there, a regular motion picture set --. ¡¯

  " 'Cut to the chase, my man,' said Aunt Queen.

  " 'But there is that little boy whose father was rich, and he's growing up out there and Terry Sue is doing the best she can, and this new baby, this new baby makes six, I figure. I'll take the envelopes of cash for you, that much I can do, but don't put anything in writing. ¡¯

  "Of course Aunt Queen and I both understood this. But we were eager and curious about this little boy, still unbelieving though I was emotionally. A little brother, no, a little uncle, named Tommy and with Blackwood genes in him, and maybe a resemblance to the many portraits all over the household.

  "It being agreed that we were finished, Aunt Queen had risen and so had Jasmine, who had remained subdued throughout, and I was still sitting there, deeply preoccupied.

  " 'Does the little boy know?' I asked.

  " 'I'm not sure,' said Grady. He looked to Aunt Queen. 'You and I can discuss this further. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, indeed, we should; we're talking about a family of six children living in one trailer. Good Lord, and she's so beautiful. The least I could do would be to purchase the good woman a decent house, if it wouldn't offend the pride of anyone squeezed into the trailer. ¡¯

  " 'How come I never heard of her?' I asked. And to my bewilderment, they all went into peals of laughter.

  " 'Then we'd have double trouble, wouldn't we?' said Jasmine. 'Men just fall over flat at the feet of Terry Sue. ¡¯

  " 'Well something stands up straight in those circumstances,' said Aunt Queen.

  " 'There's one last thing I should say,' said Grady, flushed with merriment, 'and I am taking a bit of responsibility here. ¡¯

  " 'Out with it, man,' said Aunt Queen gently. She didn't much care for standing in her spike heels and sat down again.

  " 'The man that's living with Terry Sue now,' said Grady. 'Sometimes he takes out his gun and waves it at the children. ¡¯

  "We were aghast.

  " 'And he did fling little Tommy up against the gas heater and burn his hand pretty badly. ¡¯

  " 'And you mean to tell me,' said Aunt Queen, 'that Pops knew of this sort of thing and did nothing about it?¡¯

  " 'Pops tried to be an influence out there,' said Grady, 'but when you're dealing with the likes of Terry Sue, it's pretty much hopeless. Now she herself would never raise her hand to those children, but then these men come in and she has to put food on the table. ¡¯

  " 'Don't tell me another word,' said Aunt Queen. 'I have to go home and think what to do about it. ¡¯

  "I shook my head.

  "Little Tommy? A son living in a trailer.

  A gloom had come on me, a feeling of unrest, and I knew it was as much from lack of sleep as it was from learning all this and how rich Pops was, and thinking, though I didn't want to think of it, of those terrible arguments he would have with Patsy when she begged for money.

  "Why, he could have set up the band. He could have bought the van. He could have hired the pickers. He could have given her a chance. And as it was, she begged and cursed and fought for every dime, and what did he do, this man whom I had so loved? What did he do with his powerful resources? He spent his days working on Blackwood Farm like a hired hand. He planted flower beds.

  "And there was this child, this little boy, Tommy, no less, named after Pops, living on a pittance in the backwoods, with a passel of brothers and sisters in a trailer, a little boy with a psychotic stepfather.

  "How had Pops seen his life? What had he wanted from it? My life had to be more. It had to be much, much greater. I would go mad if my life weren't more. I felt pursued by the pressure of life itself. I felt frantic.

  " 'What's his full name?' I asked. 'You can tell me, can't you?¡¯

  " 'Please do tell us his full name,' asked Aunt Queen with a decisive nod.

  " 'Tommy Harrison,' said Grady. 'Harrison is Terry Sue's last name. I believe the child is illegitimate. In fact, I know the child is illegitimate. ¡¯

  "My mood grew even darker. Who was I to judge Pops, I thought. Who was I to judge the man who had just left me so much wealth and who might have done otherwise? Who was I to judge him that he had left little Tommy Harrison in such a situation? But it weighed on me. And it weighed on me that Patsy's character had perhaps been shaped by her lifelong struggle against a man who did not believe in her.

  "Our farewells were being exchanged.

  "I had to come to the surface. And off we went to lunch with Nash at Blackwood Manor.

  "As we came out of the office Goblin appeared, attired as I was, my double again, but dour as he had been in the hospital, though not sneering, only solemn if not sad. He walked beside me to the car, and I felt that he knew my sadness, my disillusionment, and I turned to him and put my arm around him and he felt firm and good.

  " 'It's changing, Quinn,' he said to me.

  " 'No, old buddy, it can't change,' I said in his ear.

  "But I knew he was right. I had things to do now. Places to go. And people to meet. "
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