“Well I said I’d do it and I mean to. At this point, what do I have to lose?”
“How about your life, hot shot?” Roger said with a tone only a big brother can have while puffing through the smoke his wife didn’t want him to have. “You may not think so but there are a couple of people in this world who would miss you if you went up to meet the Maker.”
I took a long drag off of mine knowing it was driving that sister-in-law of mine crazy. “Yeah like who?”
“Like your nieces. They would never forgive you… and neither would your brother.”
Before the sentimentality could set in I heard a high-pitched shrill coming from outside the siting room. At first I thought they were sounding bomb sirens. But then it started forming words. “ROGER! ROOOOGER.” It was Millie. “Who is smoking in this house?” She knew damn well who was smoking in her house.
He looked at me with the fright only a kid with his finger stick in a pie should have. “Um it’s… Tobias dear. I told him you didn’t like it.”
“Wow, this from a man who chased three armed grease balls down a dark alley without a gun. You need to man up big brother.”
Then the siren sounded again, “TOBIAS, DO NOT SMOKE IN HERE. I CAN’T STAND IT!” I could hear her swishing around in the water trying to push the drain lever up to drain the tub. It always stuck. Even when we were kids it wouldn’t budge.
“Ah button it up will ya, Millie. It was my house first.”
“YOU JUST WAIT TILL I GET OUT OF THIS TUB, TOBIAS FINCH.”
I considered lighting another cigarette, but I thought better of it seeing as I wanted to visit my little girls before I headed out. “How do you put up with this all the damn time?”
“She’s only like this when you around,” Roger said with a sly grin.
“Somehow I doubt that.” I picked myself up. “Take me to those little sweethearts before I leave.”
Roger got himself up to and while I was turning around to head down the hall, he grabbed my shoulder: “I don’t like this Toby. Not one bit. Something doesn’t sound right to me.”
“Yeah, everyone’s been saying that. And I’ve been feeling it. But then there’s something else, a little something further down inside of me telling me I should do it.”
“You’re a smart guy. You know what trouble looks like. What could it possibly be, besides the money?”
I looked at him with a serious look. I didn’t want to say what I was about to say, but I know Roger would understand. “It’s pops. I don’t know why or how, but it is. Like I got to do this for him.”
Roger didn’t say anything. He, especially, could never fight against the ghost of pops. Now all of sudden I was feeling him after all these years.
We walked down the hallway in silence. The bathroom door cracked open and out came a mess wet red hair and steam from the hot holy hell Millie created to make herself at home. “Christ what are we running in here, a low-life gin joint? You both smell like cheap booze and cigarettes.”
I shot back: “And you smell like rotting lilacs but you don’t hear me saying anything about it.”
She whipped that bony head around to Roger, “You’re going to let him talk to your wife that way.”
“Just cool it, the both of yous. It’s too hot for this tonight.” Roger was always the voice of reason in the family. I guess it’s why he became a cop with a decent salary and a family to watch over. He always had his head on straight. If it were me, I probably would have shot that woman in the head and dumped in the river… Of course, I kid.
“When I get out of here, you better be half way downtown heading back to that rat’s nest you came from.” Millie slammed the door.
Roger looked at me like a pouting child, “Really she’s only like this when you visit.
I smirked dying to take out another smoke, “You better watch out brother, she might be sweet on me then.”
I heard something like a glass bottle crashing to the floor in the bathroom, “KEEP DREAMING LOVER BOY.” Came from in there.
“You two are like children,” Roger said opening the door to his daughter’s room. “Uncle Tobias is here to say goodbye kittens.”
Celeste jumped off her bed and ran up to grab my hand. “No you don’t. You have to read us a story first.” Not soon after, with the force of an 18 year old man, she pulled me into the room and sat me at the edge of her bed. Which strangely enough used to be my bed.
Many changes were made to make the room a place for two little girls. The walls were a pale pink where they used to be white. The beds had posts now, all painted white with something of a frilly bed cover draping over the mattresses. The walls were lined with books, dolls, a giant oval mirror and a little vanity table. In the center of the room on a big soft white rug was a table with a dollhouse. When Roger and I shared this place, there were two beds and a dresser. I’m pretty sure that was it.
“What’s on the menu for tonight?” I asked as I saw Roger back out of the room.
Dinah handed the book to Celeste who turned it over to me. This whole affair was obviously planned out ahead of time. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s our favorite right now.” I remember hearing about this broad. Dead mother, evil step mother who abuses her. She runs away and takes up with a couple of small men. I’ve had a case or two that came close to this story.
Dinah smiled. “We like the dwarfs. I want one of my own.”
“Well Princess Dinah, there’s no such thing as dwarfs.”
“Oh yes, we saw them on the screen.” Dinah said. “And daddy said they work in mines to dig up jewels. So we would have to go there to find them.”
“You’re daddy’s a cop. Don’t believe everything he tells you.” I chuckled.
“Yeah well, Daddy took us to the Snow White picture at Radio City. The screen was enormous.”
I propped my self up at the edge of the bed with my feet hanging over the side. “Alright well let’s get to it then. Come over here, both of you, and get yourselves comfortable.” They did. I had Celeste on my left side and Dinah on my right. Both curled up like the little kittens their daddy called them. I realized that this was the only time in my life I felt warm. Not on the outside, hell lately I felt nothing but warm on the outside. This was on the inside. I’m thinking people called that love of the unconditional kind. A feeling that no matter how hard I tried to, I would never be able to shake it.
I opened the book and took a deep breath. “Once upon a time in a great castle, a Prince’s daughter grew up happy and contented, in spite of a jealous stepmother. She was very pretty, with blue eyes and long black hair. Her skin was delicate and fair, and so she was called Snow White. Everyone was quite sure she would become very beautiful just like Dinah and Celeste.”
They both laughed. “It doesn’t say that in there,” Celeste said.
“Yeah but it should.” I kept reading until the end without even so much as a thought to the time.