Friday Snippet: The Widow’s Granddaughter

Here’s the beginning of a story I’ve been working on for a very special project, which I will be announcing soon (I hope).

I’m not yet firm on the title, but I’m really liking “The Widow’s Granddaughter.”


P.S. Please leave a comment telling me how you like it.

WARNING: This story contains strong language and adult situations (but no graphic sex).

She was just another job to Jeffrey Tanner, just another loan someone defaulted on, just another automobile someone couldn’t afford to pay for, until she limped into his office.

She was not someone you would expect to make a difference in anyone’s life. She was neither rich nor powerful. She was not vivacious, not young, not beautiful. She was neither a mover nor a shaker. She hobbled along, a quad cane in one hand, dragging her withered frame behind her, arthritis-infested joints creaking with each lumbering step. She reeked of old perfume; a small, black toque sat atop her thinning, black hair, probably dyed; and when she opened her mouth, from her shriveled face screeched a voice like that of the Evil Witch of the West.

“I’m Mrs. Mildred Kramer.”

Jeffrey knew the name. He had handled the account personally. For a fleeting moment, he thought of offering her a seat. But then he thought the better of it.

Instead, he said, “What can I do for you, Mrs. Kramer?”

“I’m here to talk about my car.”

“Well, what sort of car were you interested in?”

Instead of answering, she staggered to his guest chair and collapsed into it.

“My son bought it here, and you handled the loan,” she said, and Jeffrey decided she couldn’t be the Wicked Witch of the West, because the Wicked Witch of the West never had a son.

“Well, I don’t know,” Jeffrey answered. “Let me look it up.” He punched some keys on his computer keyboard. “Awful nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?” he asked.

She eyed him carefully. “I believe we had weather like this in 1982,” she said with a clear air of authority that clashed with the reedy quality of her voice.

“Could be. That’s before my time,” he replied. It wasn’t, but he pretended he didn’t get the joke. He had found the right account on the computer, even though he didn’t need to look it up, and now he was tapping sporadically on the shift key and staring at the screen as though it were doing something useful.

“I do remember weather not too different from this in ’96, though,” he said. “That was also the year of the blizzard.”

“Fascinating,” she said. “But I want to ask you–”

“Here’s the thing, Mrs. Kramer. That account is in default. Unless you remit payment immediately, we’ll need to call the repo man.”

She was unfazed. “That’s what I’m here to talk to you about, Sir.”

“I don’t see what there is to talk about, Mrs. Kramer. If you can’t come up with the money, we need the car back. There’s nothing more I can do. My hands are tied.”

Mrs. Kramer looked confused. “I’m sorry. I thought you were the owner here.”

“I am, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything I can do.”

He rose to see her out of the office, but she remained seated. From the across his cluttered, oaken desk, she stared up at him with puppy-dog-brown eyes, grasping her cane for support.

She said, “Maybe I was wrong about you.”

Jeffrey walked around the desk, toward the door, but she still didn’t move to stand. She just kept staring at him, as though he were a circus attraction, Jeffrey imagined. See the Skunk-Man, the face of a man, the heart of a skunk. Or would that be an insult to the skunk?

Jeffrey pushed open a small space in the clutter on his desk, near the corner closest to Mrs. Kramer, and he leaned against it.

She continued in that same worn, creaky voice, but with the same air of confidence and authority. “In my years–and I’ve had more of them than you might think–I’ve known many people, Mr. Tanner, of all shapes and sizes, and all types. Some were as hard-nosed as a drill sergeant and stubborn as a mule, because that’s what they believed in. But the rest didn’t believe that, not deep down where it counts. They believed in people.”

Now she leaned forward, as much as her ailing body would allow. Her eyes narrowed.

“But I never met anyone who got the way you are, unless something awful drove him to it.”

For just an instant, April’s face flashed through Jeffrey’s memory. God, she was beautiful: skin fair and soft as a cloud on a bright spring day; hair like strands of yellow silk; rich, brown eyes he had felt staring into his soul. Why she had ever paid any attention to him was beyond his comprehension. She had made him the man he now was. This he remembered fondly, however, not as an awful something.

Jeffrey said to the old lady, “I love your hat. Is it vintage?”

She leaned back in the chair. “My dear late husband gave it to me on our third wedding anniversary.” She chuckled, and it sounded as if there were something caught in her throat.

“He gave you a hat for your anniversary?” Jeffrey asked.

She nodded. “He said it would bring me luck.” She paused a moment. “You had to be there to understand, and you had to know him. Alex reminds me of him.”

“Your grandson.”

“My son,” she said.

“Did he buy you a lucky hat, too?”

She chuckled again. “He bought me something lucky, yes.”

“Okay, we won’t go there.”

She continued. “Alex works in a music store, selling musical instruments and such. He makes good money, too, because he works on commission, and he knows how to move product. I’ve seen him work. Customers walk into the store looking specifically for him.”

“Sounds like a good man. Hey, maybe he’d like to go into selling cars.”

“I don’t think that would be wise as things stand right now.”

“Well, of course. He already has a job.”

“Actually, no, he doesn’t.”

That statement had deep implications, but Jeffrey didn’t have time to think about them before the widow continued.

“His store recently came under new management. Then a few weeks ago, a man came into the store. The man represented a charitable organization who had had some of its musical equipment stolen and needed to replace it. Well, Alex had sold them the original equipment, and he put together a wonderful deal for them to replace it, at a deep discount. This was his first mistake.

“His second mistake occurred several days later. It seems whoever had stolen the equipment experienced an inexplicable stroke of conscience. So they left the stolen equipment somewhere or other, and anonymously called the police to identify where it was. So the organization now had two sets of equipment.

“Alex of course gladly accepted their return of the replacement equipment, for a full refund, thinking that this would undo his first mistake, of selling the equipment at a discount. But apparently, the store manager was even more upset that Alex accepted the return than he was at the original sale.

“So, Alex was immediately let go.”

Jeffrey nodded. “Yeah, well, sometimes life sucks.”

“I mentioned that Alex bought me something lucky. He bought me a lucky car. I’m on a fixed income, and I can’t afford the car on my own. But I do need to get around. And unfortunately, Alex’s current situation has left him short of cash. However, Alex will get another job, and we’ll make good on the loan, if you will afford us some leniency.”

Jeffrey wanted to end the conversation immediately. “Mrs. Kramer, I already told you we can’t–”

“Mr. Tanner, you can do anything you want. What you choose to do is another subject altogether.”

“Look, Lady…” Jeffrey became angry. “You think running a business is all peaches and cream, like I have all the money and all the power and I can get away with anything I want. But that’s not how the world works. It’s dog-eat-dog out there. And if I don’t hold my bottom line, I’m going to be in the poor house. Being nice don’t buy you a load of beans in this world. So either come up with the cash, or I’m taking the car.”

Mrs. Kramer sat for several seconds before she struggled to her feet and without a word hobbled out of the office and into the parking lot…

(continued at part 2)

Other Friday Snippets

The way Friday Snippets works is that fiction authors can leave a link to their own snippet on others’ blog posts that are part of the meme. Many of the participating writers are using one of Mister Linky’s Autolink Widgets to streamline this process. See “Friday Snippets” at Holly Lisle’s blog for more information.