It’s been business as usual since I returned from San Francisco last week, which is to say, not much business at all. I spent my time catching up on paperwork. Harry, on the other hand, is busy taking his self-imposed role as Bernie’s fairy godfather – ha, now there’s a picture! – very seriously. Were business better, I’d have a problem with him spending so much time poking into the life and times of Mike McGraw. But since he doesn’t have much else on his plate at the moment, I’m all for it. As Harry says often, Bernie McGraw is a sweet kid. I’m happy to do what we can to help her.
Much to my relief, Harry confirmed that Mike McGraw did indeed return to Pasadena. He has apparently been enjoying the bachelor life in Bernie’s absence. He even took one of his conquests into their home. He’ll probably make sure Bernie gets to smell the perfume on her pillow. What a fucking scumbag.
I’ve checked in with Bernie a couple of times. Each time I talk to her, I hear a more confident woman on the other end of the phone. And she sounds happier, somehow, which warms my heart.
Last time we spoke, she told me she was coming back, and made an appointment to come in on Wednesday.
The sound of Steve’s voice coming from the speaker on my phone tells me that Bernie is here for her appointment. It also tells me something is wrong.
When I open the door to the outer office, Bernie is standing in front of Steve’s desk talking. Whatever she’s said has put a look of real concern on Steve’s freckled face.
“Bernie, good to see you!”
Before I can walk over to greet her, Bernie turns to face me, and I’m sure my face mirrors Steve’s. Bernie’s right eye is swollen almost shut, and I’m betting that beneath her make-up, I’d find a rainbow of color. There’s a butterfly bandage across a split in her right cheek.
“Bernie, come in.” I put my arm around her shoulders and lead her into my office. “Steve, will you let Harry know Bernie is here?” I throw over my shoulder.
Before we can get seated, Harry comes through the connecting door.
“What happened? Steve said…”
Bernie turns to look at him and brings him to a dead stop.
“What the hell happened?”
Even as he says it, I can tell that, like me, he knows exactly what the hell happened. Mike McGraw happened.
“Did that son of a bitch hit you, Bernie?” Harry sits in the chair next to her and immediately jumps up again. “I am going to fucking kill him!”
He starts pacing around my office, his face turning redder by the minute.
“Sit down, Harry Let’s let Bernie tell us what happened before we go jumping to any conclusions.”
Grumbling, he sits down.
I look at Bernie and am shocked all over again at the sight of her battered face. “What happened, Bernie?”
No big mystery here. When she got home Monday afternoon, McGraw was waiting.
“When I got home from LAX, Mike was there. I thought he’d be at work, but it was obvious he’d been just waiting for me to walk through that door so he could start yelling at me. And he was very drunk.”
“You should have turned around and walked right out of there, Bernie.”
“I know, Harry. You’re right. But I thought I could handle him.” She gives a little humorless laugh.
“Yeah, right. The whole time he was ranting at me, he was pacing around the living room like an animal in a cage. I had about as much chance of ‘handling him’ as I would have had with a wild gorilla.”
She pauses and asks, “Could I have a drink of water?”
As I say, “Of course,” Harry jumps up and goes out the water cooler. He’s back in a flash, and hands Bernie a glass of water.
“Here ya go, hon.”
She takes a long drink, and then continues. “He went on and on about how he wasn’t about to be cut out; that if I thought I was better than him now, I was crazy; that the Bernice Arms was his as much as mine. I tried to reason with him. When I started to explain the trust to him, he just madder.
She gingerly touches her check. “You can see how it all ended.”
“Bernie, I’m really sorry,” I say.
After his display in the lobby of the Bernice Arms, I can’t say this was totally unanticipated. I knew the guy was potentially dangerous. But to actually see the proof on Bernie’s face is still shocking.
“As soon as he did it, he started crying. He was all apologies, saying he didn’t mean it, it was just the booze making him crazy.”
“They all say that, Bernie,” Harry says, shaking his head.
“I know, right? It’s all such a cliché, like a scene from some late-night movie on Lifetime. Ugh.”
“So what happened?”
“I left him standing there blubbering, got in the car, and went to the emergency room. Alone. That’s what happened.”
Harry leans over and gives her a hug. “Good for you!”
“I’m done,” she says. “He can apologize all he wants. I’ve seen the documentaries. I know the statistics. Most abusers never change, and in many cases, it only gets worse. I’m not about to become a statistic myself.”
As she talks, I can see her jaw tightening.
“Besides, even though this is the first time he hit me, he’s been abusing me almost from the beginning. I know he’s losing all our money at the track. We never have enough. Do you know that we’ve never taken a vacation?”
She takes a breath, and I can see she’s on a roll. “And the women! God only knows how many women. He doesn’t even seem to care if I know.
“And then… And then he has the gall to berate me? Oh, yes, I am done. I am so done.”
“What are you going to do?” I ask.
“I’m leaving him, that’s what. You were right, Marty, I don’t need to put up with it anymore. Thanks to my birth mother, I have a place to go.
“I’m moving to San Francisco, and as soon as I can talk to Mr. Worthington, I’m going to divorce his sorry ass.” As she finished speaking, she gives her head an emphatic nod that sets her hair bouncing.
Harry bursts out laughing. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! Bernie, I knew you were a hot shit right from the get-go.”
Bernie left LA within a couple of weeks. As she told us, there was nothing really keeping her here.
“I have no family and I hate my job. My friends know what I’ve been through and they’ll understand. I know they’ll visit me up there. And I don’t want, or need, anything in that house.”
So with those words, she was gone, taking our best wishes with her. I regretted leaving part of our job undone. We never did help her find her birth father, but maybe that wasn’t important to her.
As for us, I’m happy to say that business picked up a little. Both Harry and I had enough to do to keep us off the streets. In Harry’s case, this is a good thing for both him and LA.
About three months after Bernie left, Steve stuck her head in my door, a huge grin spread across her face.
“Marty! You’ll never guess who’s on line one!”
It's the first time I’ve spoken to Bernie since she left, and I’m happy to hear her voice. She sounds terrific. I guess being a real estate mogul agrees with her.
“How’re you doing, Bernie? You settled in?”
“I’m great, Marty. I’m better than great.” Her voice has all the effervescence that had been missing when I first met her.
“I have a new job, one I think I’m going to like a lot, and the best part? I can walk to work.”
“I’m glad to hear it. What’s happening with Mike?”
“The divorce is in the works. It’ll take a while, but that’s okay.”
“He leaving you alone?” I've been worried that McGraw might follow her up to Frisco.
“He is now,” she says. "He showed up here once and tried to force his way in, but Al escorted him out to the street in short order. After that, I got a restraining order, and he hasn’t been back.”
I have to smile at that. I’m betting the idea of facing Al again was as effective as the restraining order at keeping Bernie’s bully husband at bay.
Bernie went on to tell me that her half-siblings were beginning to accept her.
“We not best buds or anything, but at least they are reasonably nice to me. And Marty, I think Mark is going to turn out to be a friend! Can you believe it? He loves the garden. Turns out he’s the one who put in some of the plants. I asked him if he’d come over and give me a little horticulture lesson, and presto! That turned him right around. I think he was more upset at losing the garden than not inheriting the building.” She laughs. “I gotta tell you, I’m pretty relieved about that!”
“That’s good news. Are you liking your apartment?”
“Oh, yes! This is such a great place. Everyone here is so nice. And I’ve learned so much about my birth mother. I feel like I know her.”
The words were tumbling from her mouth at a hundred miles an hour. She finally pauses for a breath before continuing excitedly.
“And Marty, get this! Remember the last letter from her that was part of my bequeath? She said my roots were in the building, that it had a lot to tell me.”
“And did it? The building tell you things, I mean? You were confused about what she meant.”
“Well, I’m not really sure, but Louise Fennimore – remember her? – sure did. She told me so much about my mother. Marty, it turns out I was born there! When my mother got back from school in England, she stayed in the apartment, and they brought a doctor in when she went into labor. I can’t tell you how weird it is to live in the place where I was born.”
Another breath, then, “But listen, the reason I called was to ask you something.”
I chuckle. “And here I was thinking you just wanted to chat with my charming self.”
“Well, that too,” she laughs. “But what I really want is to ask you and Harry if you can come up here for a day. We have unfinished business, right?”
A week later, Harry and I present ourselves at the Bernice Arms and a beaming Al greets us. “Nice to see you again,” he says as he punches the elevator button for us.
While we wait, Harry gives a low whistle.
“You weren’t kidding, pal,” he said. This is some place. She really is a grand old dame.”
We get on the elevator, and I hit the button for the eleventh floor. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
I didn’t think there was much that could surprise Harry Carrold, but when the elevator doors slide open and he lays eyes that garden, his mouth falls open.
“Yup. Told you.”
He pushes through the glass doors and steps out into the late morning sunshine. “This is…” he sputters. “This is… Well, this is un-fucking-believable, that’s what this is!”
While he tries to get his mouth closed, I take Harry’s arm and lead him around the corridor toward the gate. “Come on. Let’s go see Bernie.”
This time, when I press the button on the gate, there’s a buzz and the gate pops open. Up ahead, Bernie steps out of her door to greet us.
After giving me a hug, she turns to Harry, eyes sparkling, and laughs. “Why’s your mouth hanging open, Carrold? Catching flies?”
He’s back to stammering again. “I’m… I’m… I’m just overcome by your beauty, darlin’.”
Uh-huh. Good recovery. I have to admit, though, Bernie looks terrific. She’s glowing. She’s wearing her favorite outfit of jeans and a T-shirt, but gone is the stress that had been hanging on her like an accessory.
She giggles, a delightful sound. “Oh, you slick talking rascal!”
We follow Bernie into the living room. Everything looks pretty much the same, though she’s added some personal touches here and there. On a bookcase, I spot a few framed photographs. Bernie sees me checking them out and smiles.
She walks over and picks up a picture of a brunette woman. “This is Sarah Lahey. Funny, I always thought I looked like her.”
She replaces the photo, and picks up another, this time of a woman with the same dark blonde hair as Bernie. “This is Marjorie Mitchum, and I do look like her.”
She tells us to sit, and disappears into the kitchen. When Harry manages to tear himself away from the windows, he plops down in one of the easy chairs.
“Well, I gotta say, my friend, this time you didn’t exaggerate. This old gal is everything you said, and more.”
“You’d better not be talking about me,” Bernie laughs as she returns with a tray holding frosty glasses of ice tea and a plate of cookies.
She sits on the couch and raises her glass in a toast. “Let’s drink to my new life. I feel as though I’ve been reborn.”
We drink, and then she laughs again. “Twice in the same place! Imagine that!”
We chat a few minutes, and then she says, “Now, about that unfinished business… But first, come on.” She jumps up. “I want to introduce you to someone.”
We ride the elevator to the lobby, and she leads us over to the doorman’s desk. Al steps around the desk as Bernie says, “Marty Tremaine and Harry Carrold, I’d like you to meet Aloysius Joseph Unger.”
She smiles broadly. “My father!”
~ The End ~
Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 9: "Renaissance."