COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part One: 3 (Cont'd)
We were way beyond salvaging my job. I couldn't shake the image of that bunk at Marion Federal Penitentiary. I was scared shitless.
So I'm not proud of what I had to do, but you see, I had no choice. Either I reached deep inside and spun my very best tale for this security creep, or I was going to be someone's prison bitch.
I took a deep breath. "Look," I said, "I'm going to level with you."
"Here's the thing. Jonesie—well, Jonesie has cancer."
Meacham smirked and leaned back in his chair, like, Entertain me.
I sighed, chewed the inside of my cheek like I was spilling something I really didn't want to. "Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable."
Meacham stared at me, stonefaced.
"He got the diagnosis three weeks ago. I mean, there's nothing they can do about it—the guy's dying. And so Jonesie, you know—well, you don't know him, but he's always putting on a brave front. He says to the oncologist, 'You mean I can stop flossing?' " I gave a sad smile. "That's Jonesie."
The note-taking woman stopped for a moment, actually looked stricken, then went back to her notes.
Meacham licked his lips. Was I getting to him? I couldn't really tell. I had to amp it up, really go for it.
"There's no reason you should know any of this," I went on. "I mean, Jonesie's not exactly an important guy around here. He's not a VP or anything, he's just a loading dock guy. But he's important to me, because ..." I closed my eyes for a few seconds, inhaled deeply. "The thing is—I never wanted to tell anyone this, it was like our secret, but Jonesie's my father."
Meacham's chair slowly came forward. Now he was paying attention.
"Different last name and all—my mom changed my name to hers when she left him like twenty years ago, took me with her. I was a kid, I didn't know any better. But Dad, he ..." I bit my lower lip. I had tears in my eyes now. "He kept on supporting us, worked two, sometimes three jobs. Never asked for anything. Mom didn't want him to see me at all, but on Christmas ..." A sharp intake of breath, almost a hiccup. "Dad came by the house every Christmas, sometimes he'd ring the doorbell for an hour out in the freezing cold before Mom let him come in. Always had a present for me, some big expensive thing he couldn't afford. Later on, when Mom said she couldn't afford to send me to college, not on a nurse's salary, Dad started sending money. He—he said he wanted me to have the life he never had. Mom never gave him any respect, and she'd sort of poisoned me against him, you know? So I never even thanked the guy. I didn't even invite him to graduation, 'cause I knew Mom wouldn't feel comfortable with him around, but he showed up anyway, I saw him sort of hanging around, wearing some ugly old suit—I never saw him wear a suit or a tie before, he must have got it at the Salvation Army, because he really wanted to see me graduate from college, and he didn't want to embarrass me."
Meacham's eyes actually seemed to be getting moist. The woman had stopped taking notes, and was just watching me, blinking back tears.
I was on a roll. Meacham deserved my best, and he was getting it. "When I started working here at Wyatt, I never expected to find Dad working on the fucking loading dock. It was like the greatest accident. Mom died a couple of years ago, and here I am, connecting up with my father, this sweet wonderful guy who never ever asked anything from me, never demanded anything, working his fucking fingers to the bone, supporting a goddamned ungrateful son he never got to see. It's like fate, you know? And then when he gets this news, he's got inoperable pancreatic cancer, and he starts talking about killing himself before the cancer gets him, I mean ..."