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Authors: Steve Rollins

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BOOK: The Evil That Men Do
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Chapter Five

Roberta

 

Despite the oppressive heat and the evident inability of any partner in R3 Recovery to maintain a working air-con unit, neither vehicular nor in a building, Riley was irrepressible.

As children, Roberta had found her bursts of excitement annoying to the extent that on more than one occasion she had press-ganged Ricki into assisting in flushing Riley’s head in the toilet. As they grew up she had recognized that the youngest sister veered wildly from the depths of self-destruction and depression to periods of near mania, and Roberta and Ricki grew kinder with the understanding of that.

As the two sisters traveled across Savannah, Roberta barely paid attention to the roads. She had driven these streets for ten years, ridden bikes around them for ten more than that. For all its flaws with the racial divisions and the economic disparity, she did love the city for all its flaws. On one corner, she had shared her first kiss with Terence Alderman, by a stand of trees she had been caught by Ricki trying marijuana and threatened with summary jail; by the courthouse steps she herself had done the same to Riley. The Vaughan sisters were as much a part of Savannah as it was a part of them.

“Hey, Roberta,” Riley said, after driving some distance in silence. “You mad with me too?” Riley looked up with worried eyes at her elder sibling. Had she been worrying about that the whole time? Roberta checked her watch. Twenty minutes, she had been away in her own past and neglected to pay attention to the moment she was in, which was really the only moment that ever really mattered. In this moment, her little sister was worried.

“Course not kid, I’m sorry. I was miles away, thinking, y’know.”

Roberta flicked on her indicator lights reflexively as she steered her way through the almost deserted mid-afternoon streets. No one with something of importance to do drove at this time. A police car passed, and the driver, a burly black sergeant by the unlikely name of Ernie McMillan waved to her with the hand that he had dangled out of the side of his patrol vehicle, taking advantage of the scant breeze provided by his forward motion.

“You know that guy?” Riley said, gesturing with a lazy wobble of her own elbow propped on the passenger side door.

“I know all the cops in town with chasing bail. I would have thought you’d know them too.”

Roberta kept her eyes on the road as they pulled onto the main interconnecting road system.

“Make friends with the police? Me? Ha! No one would race me if I started hanging out with the pigs. Roberta, I know your man is a cop and you know I like Terry, but you have to know he’s like one of the only good ones in this town. Billy got nightsticked unconscious by some of them last week for nothing.” Riley beat her hand on the glove box for emphasis. “Some of my friends, they don’t like you too much. They see you as a bit of a traitor, you know?”

Roberta almost slammed on the brakes, but instead only reflexively dabbed at them, causing the hood of the pickup truck to dip sharply and jolt Riley out of her seat by a few inches. She yelped in surprise.

“Whoa, I’m sorry, okay?”

Roberta knew that Riley had not meant offense, and that her words were true. It still didn’t feel nice to have her own suspicions confirmed to her. The idea that she and her sisters existed on the fringes of both white and black cultures in the city had long been in her mind, and of course she had certainly transgressed both boundaries by becoming romantically involved with not just a cop, but a white cop at that. She could take it all, the sly glances from white girls, the disdain from black men that told her that she had somehow betrayed her color by choosing a white man over them, and the nature of Terry’s employment with the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department naturally pleased them even less. She buried the emotion as it welled in her now as she had done every other time. Even when alone with Riley, she maintained the veneer over her pain, keep it hidden. Keep it hers alone.

“It’s fine,” she lied. “My foot just slipped a little. I know people gossip, but me and Terry don’t care. It’s no business for anyone to be stickybeakin’ about but ours. Who cares if he’s a cop? He’s a damn good cop.”

“Sure, I know, but some of his friends ain’t so nice,” Riley said.

Roberta decided to drop it. It wasn’t worth defending the honor of Terry’s workmates to her own sister. There had surely been enough arguing for the Vaughan sisters that day. She pulled off the main road and into the sprawling mess of apartment complexes and cheap houses that made the west side of town. Here, people were seen more on the streets now the sun had passed its highest point, but no one moved with any speed or urgency. Most of the people were elderly, or the very young. Employment was high, even if most people in this area still struggled to make ends meet. The people of working age in this area, lolling up against lamp posts and sitting on porches drinking malt liquor were quite often Roberta’s prime targets when it came down to the business of retrieving bail jumpers. Guys like Mark Lewis. It felt good to return him into custody, lecherous creep that he was. The people here who were too sick with addiction to work and turned to crime to sate the crippling thirst of heroin or crack cocaine were painful to bring in, both for the jumper and Roberta herself. She forced her mind away from the tragedy of human life in the South as Riley pointed out the house at the end of the road, where they were due to repossess the vehicle of another recently impoverished person. Was that the American dream? Did it really have to be about taking from people to ensure that you kept your own sorry head above water? The news said people had never had it so good.

The address where they were due to collect a 2013 model Ford pickup truck had no vehicle parked in the yard or on the street in front of the property. The single story building was easily in the front running for most dilapidated abode in the region, but both Roberta and Riley were well used to the results of the recession; not from their own experience, but from the nature of R3 Recovery’s recent spate of work. Despite Ricki’s best efforts to steer them more into the realms of genuine recovery with an emphasis on making positive changes to Savannah, money talked and bullshit walked. Roberta and Riley disembarked from the pickup and made their way to the door. Roberta left her shotgun on the back seat of the vehicle, as was usual. There was no threat here, save for the prospect of some poor junkie trying to mug them for a fix, and that would only end up badly for the junkie.

The door opened before they arrived. A clean cut man, well dressed by local community standards to the point of gaudiness in comparison to his neighbors, stood smiling in the doorway. He was forty, give or take five years, a smooth pale complexion with no obvious signs of drug or alcohol abuse, steady hands and clear blue eyes that shone with the bright warmth of intelligence. He looked like he would be more at home making a mortgage deal or lecturing students on economics than living in this dilapidated hovel.

“Mr. Cavanaugh?” Riley said, producing her identification for the man.

“I am he; what can I do for you lovely ladies on an afternoon like this? Would you like a glass of lemonade, perhaps? I just made some; a whole fresh pitcher.”

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Cavanaugh.” Riley’s tone was entirely professional. A natural actor, thought Roberta. “I’m afraid we’re here on business matters. We’re here to take possession of your car; the payments haven’t been made for three months, you see.”

The man’s brow furrowed and his smile dropped, but not completely. He was confused, not angry as most victims of repossession were. Something felt very wrong to Roberta, but she couldn’t place it. Tingles of unformed ideas and warnings jangled like spiders up her spine.

“Oh, I’m afraid there must me some mistake,” said Mr. Cavanaugh. “My car is currently in the shop, something to do with the transmission, they say. I really have no idea about cars. That’s why I bought a Volkswagen, you know, they said it would be super reliable, but…” He trailed off.

His voice was not local. It sounded to Roberta that it was an affected Bostonian accent. Perhaps he had once been a resident of Savannah, but there was little evidence of that in his deportment or speaking voice. Realization hit her at the same time as Riley spoke the words that were forming in her mind.

“Excuse me, you don’t own a blue four door Ford?” she said.

“Oh, I see the confusion,” Cavanaugh said serenely. “You are looking for my father, I am afraid. He’s not here at the moment; could I take some details and ask him to call you when he gets back?”

“Where has he gone?” Roberta said, “I’m afraid we don’t arrange appointments. Kinda goes against the whole idea of repossession if the person who is getting their property repossessed knows when we’re coming. You understand, I’m sure. Tell us where he is, and we’ll give him a ride back here when we’re done.”

Cavanaugh looked a little taken aback, looking Roberta up and down with a strange, unreadable expression, but he relented and told them that his father had gone courting. This was a cause for great merriment for Riley, as she was young enough to still consider the idea of an elderly man who must be in his sixties at least chasing skirt to be hilarious. Roberta thanked Mr. Cavanaugh Junior and led Riley back to her vehicle, with the address of where Mr. Cavanaugh Senior had gone; cherche l'amour.

On arrival at the address, which was across town in a much more affluent area, they found a scene that was bittersweet in its pathos. An elderly gentleman was on one knee on the porch of a grand town house that had seen better days. In the doorway, an even more elderly looking woman was gesticulating wildly at him. It appeared that Mr. Cavanaugh Senior was no Casanova, and from his downcast expression it was evident that he knew he was beaten. His handsome face wore the features which his son would obviously inherit one day, right down to the slightly large ears.

Roberta and Riley could eavesdrop on the conversation as they pulled up to the curb, right behind Cavanaugh’s old Ford which would soon be driven away by R3 Recovery.

“Maddie, c’mon, baby! One date, whaddya got to lose, huh?” Cavanaugh said, throwing his arms out. One hand held some withered flowers that had clearly been bought at the gas station.

The old woman was clearly unmoved, her arms now folded beneath an improbably large diamond necklace that seemed likely to snap the scrawny retiree’s neck at any moment.

“Never, Joseph Cavanaugh! I will never! Get off my porch, or I will call the police on you again, and this time I’ll ask them to beat you! Hard!” She hopped a fraction of an inch off the floor with her last word.

“Should we…” Roberta began.

“Stop them? Hell no, this is going to be great. When was the last time you saw anything like this?” Riley said, grinning, and then felt a little bad as she was about to repossess this lovelorn geriatric’s wheels. Riley again, as she often did, seemed to read her elder sister’s mind.

“Oh, no! Hell, no! We are doing this. There’s no room for soft hearts in the repo business, just like there isn’t in the bail jumping business,” Riley preempted.

“But just look at the poor guy, his suit is a wreck, we’ve seen his house, and he’s lost his girl, if he ever had her. While it’s a great blues song, it’s pretty miserable in real life. We gotta let him go, we can’t do it. It’s not even worth anything to us really,” she replied, glumly.

“I know, Sis. I understand, but Ricki would have a fit, and we need the money. If we don’t do the repo, someone else will, and they probably won’t be as kind about it as you will,” Riley said, putting her arm round Roberta’s shoulder.

“We have to keep our focus here. We have to look after our business, even if it sucks to make it work. It’d kill Ricki to lose it. You’d be ok, you’re tough. But she’s put everything into R3. We gotta do it for her, OK?” Roberta smiled at Riley’s words, but it was weak.

“Alright, I’ll do it. Let’s get it over with.”

Joseph Cavanaugh was so embarrassed when Riley presented him with a receipt for his car, he got into the passenger side of his own vehicle without complaint, handing the keys to Riley. Roberta knew that Riley was heartbroken for him. She was about to return to her pickup truck, having gotten out to back up Riley more out of habit than any fear that Riley would be under any danger of attack from Cavanaugh, when a thin, shrill voice came from behind her.

“Hey, are you the police? Is he a criminal? I bet he is a criminal, the dirty mick swine!”

Roberta turned. It was the old woman. She decided to ignore the anti-Irish sentiment, and no doubt the further implication of a wider racist mindset.

“No ma’am, we’re just repossessing the car. Is he a friend of yours?”

“Pah!” she said as flecks of spittle were sent flying from the corners of her mouth. “That wimp is no friend of mine, my name is Miss Madeline Frome, of the Frome family, and we come from old money. He has none, and has delusions that I would marry him! The cheek! Who are you, then? Company, then personal names, please.” Madeline Frome stood in her haughty cross armed pose again. Roberta had never heard of the Frome family in her life, but judging by the evident former grandeur of the home of Miss Frome, they had once been quite powerful.

“We’re from R3 Recovery, downtown Savannah. I’m Roberta Vaughan, that’s my sister Riley.”

“I shall remember. Good day, Roberta Vaughan.”

With that, she spun alarmingly fast, and tottered back up the steps to her house, went inside, and slammed the door.

BOOK: The Evil That Men Do
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