Baton Rouge, Louisiana – July 2005
Elizabeth Vernier waved off one assistant, handed another a china coffee cup and saucer and held up two fingers before she got back to the man sitting across from her.
“We’ll take fifteen grand as good will to recoup the funeral and sixty days living expenses. Six grand a month maintenance, post taxes and fees, until we put an offer together we can both live with. Say ‘yes’ or he’s a traumatized minor, and you’re a big, bad oil company.” She leaned back into the uncomfortable Victorian love seat, drummed her fingers on her knee. “I can have this in front of a sympathetic judge tomorrow morning.”
“It’s low, but acceptable.”
“What I should be asking is why.”
“So you’ll take it and look like a hero with your homies at Magnolia and buy your child bride something pretty with your bonus.”
“That was low. I can go twelve without touching my phone.”
“I don’t want twelve coming back on me. When I bend you over for the settlement next spring I want you to look like the cheap, uncaring bastards you are. Sign it at six, Brad. Or go to court in the morning where we both know twenty will be a gift and hero goes out the window along with your bonus and happy trophy wife.”
“You’re a gold-plated, sapphire crusted, oil dipped bitch, Liz Vernier.”
“Thank you, Brad. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me this morning.” He signed, pushed the document her way, she flipped it up with a polished nail. “Leave the doors open on your way out.”
“Two coffees, straight and strong.” The assistant set the coffee on an antique table between the curved Victorian love seats, pulled the office doors closed behind her.
“Any questions, Carrie Louise?”
“Why did you go low?”
“Keep them over a barrel, anywhere they look. He can’t argue with us or we go to court. He’s an oil company, your Bobby is a damaged waif kept alive by the charity of neighbors. Court is the last place they want to be right now. We know Bobby’s liabilities and he can live on six grand, easy, and you can give your mother more than enough to feed him.”
“But you said settlement in the spring and that’s all court, ain’t it?”
“Isn’t it. And yes, it’s all court. I’ll ask twenty-five, we’ll puff up and sit on it down to the wire. I know they’ll waste both of our time fighting anything over twenty. When they finally lose we’re a year further down the road, they’ll go buy us a bunch of crap financial instruments that won’t mature until doomsday…” She waved her hand dismissively, tested her coffee, set it back on the table.
“On the courthouse steps I’ll deal us down to seventeen to keep them out of a drawn out court battle with pictures of Bobby dressed like Huckleberry Finn everywhere they look. But only if they’ll write us a check. They’ll bite, I’ll take two off the top and buy that house I’ve been looking at in the wine country. You and I will go shopping for institutions to act as wallets for Bobby’s money that you will learn to manage. We’ll cross those bridges when the time comes. In the meantime, go to the library and read what you can stomach on long-term and short-term interest only payouts from various financial instruments, and the tax burdens on those payouts. Put some scenarios together, see what Bobby’s allowance would be living on the interest. Call me with any questions.”
“Okay.” She closed her new leather folio, dropped it and the $200 pink Italian fountain pen, both gifts from Aunt Liz, into last year’s school backpack. “Shooo-eee, Aunt Liz. Was Bobby’s daddy really worth seventeen million dollars?”
“No, it’s worth seventeen million for Magnolia not to look like shit in the press and have OSHA up their asses for a couple of years levying millions of dollars of fines every time one of their platform workers sneezes.” She tested the coffee again, drank half the cup. “Bobby’s daddy, from what I gleaned, wasn’t worth much of a shit for anything but roughneckin’ and keeping Budweiser in business.”
“He wasn’t mean, though. He just kinda left all that up to Bobby’s momma.”
“And she kinda said ‘fuck this’ and handed it all back to him. And didn’t get a damn thing for eighteen years of indentured servitude but a trash bag full of cheap clothes, a son who won’t talk to her and a pansy greeting card artist.”
“That’s why I’m going to law school? So when me and Bobby get married and he fucks up I get half?”
“So you get it all.”
“All seventeen million?”
“Fifteen, sweetie. I’ve got a house to buy, remember?”
Bobby’s Living Room Houma, Louisiana – July 2005
“But you won’t will you? Fuck up and make us get divorced?” Carrie Louise switched off the Charlie’s Angels re-run and shook Bobby’s knee again, harder.
“Hey! Come on –”
“Bobby, you need to be listening.”
“It’s okay. Only the half stupid one would have made it twenty minutes in a real swamp. Fifteen million dollars, that’s what you said? No shit, CL, that’s honkin’. When?”
“April. Maybe May. Nobody stalls Aunt Lizzie much. And you still weren’t listening to me.”
“Yes I was. You wanna know will I maybe have a girlfriend on the side ‘cause of you not sexing me up like a millionaire deserves. And the answer is no.”
“Good. Because –”
“I’ll sure as hell have more than one, CL. That kinda money? I can afford a butt load of girlfriends, spread out all over.”
“Bobby, you listen and listen good. I won’t –”
He reached around, pulled her into him on the couch, kissed her.
“Well gawl-damn, Bobby Buisson. Why didn’t you just tell me to shut the hell up?”
“’Cause I’m only half stupid?”
She chewed “Right answer” out on his lower lip and smashed him into the back of the couch.
Houma, Louisiana – September 5th, 2005
Bobby, Carrie Louise and Momma Roche, all in new rubber waders from the WalMart in Meridian, Mississippi where they’d waited out the hurricane, stood in the street in front of their houses. Momma tried to cry, was so shocky she couldn’t. Carrie Louise was about to squeeze Momma and Bobby’s hands off. Everywhere, houses were covered in a chocolate pudding mud, like the sky had taken a giant shit and covered their town with it. Windows broken, chunks of roof gone. The bayou behind them was still sloshing out of it’s banks, choked with debris and dead livestock. There was an upside down cow where Bobby’s detached garage and his daddy’s workshop had been. His car, like Carrie Louise’s daddy who’d decided to ride out the hurricane in place, were nowhere to be seen.
“Eldridge Junior said his front loader came through okay. He’ll be by in a day or two to carry off the cow.” Bobby had a hard time believing what he’d just said. “I heard they’re truckin’ plywood all the way from Montana. We oughta have it all fixed up by Mardi Gras. Christmas, maybe.” Bobby wasn’t sure he believed either of those, what with having to live in one of Aunt Liz’s condos with Carrie Louise and Momma Roche and go to school somewhere outside of Phoenix. He shook CL’s death squeeze. “We ever do get married, and have us a daughter? Katrina is out of the name pool. Just sayin’.”
Momma Roche broke, hugged them both like they would blow away, and cried so hard they were afraid she might choke on it and die.
Almost Halloween 2005, a golf resort condo outside Phoenix, AZ
Bobby pulled his phone out of his jeans. Unknown and an area code he didn’t recognize. All the calls from insurance companies and contractors over Katrina, he answered it anyway, listened, stepped out on the balcony. He talked for a minute, left his phone on a chair, slid the door closed when he came back in.
“Momma R? Mr. Roche turned up. Passed out drunk in my car at a rest stop outside Memphis. The cop said it looked like he’d been living in it for at least six weeks. Puke and vodka bottles and trash all over, gone to taking a leak and laying cable in the back. He’s in the hospital, crazier than a hoot owl, might not make it. I told them to burn the car and I’d get online when they told me it was scrap and kill the title. He said they’d had him about a week and apologized, but what with Katrina fucking everything up…Sorry. What the cop wanted to know from you was did you want to post his bail and claim him, in case he makes it?”
“Is the policeman still on the phone out there?”
“Yes ma’am. He said he’d give you time to –”
“You go back out there and tell him no. I don’t mean any kind of maybe no, or polite no, Bobby. You tell him Virginia Roche is on record saying Fuck. No. That miserable son of a bitch can rot in hell and don’t anybody need to apologize to me. His sorry drunk ass is Jesus’s problem now, not mine.” She waited, caught Bobby’s hand before he left. “When I’m gone and folks talk about all this, you tell them Katrina might have fucked up a lot of things, but she fixed a few things can only be fixed by a hurricane.”