The Bad Samaritan
The Bad Samaritan
LOOKING BACK ON IT now, if Homer hadn't died I wouldn't have been able to move up here to San Valdesto and live a life of boring ease. Then again, if Homer hadn't died I never would have met Maude Marner, an old biddy who could qualify as my favorite person in snug little, smug little San Valdesto.
Homer was my richest uncle. He had become my uncle by marrying my richest aunt. Homer had earned his money; my Aunt Sheila had accumulated her fortune by never marrying a poor husband. Homer was her fourth. He had brought Aunt Sheila to an economic level where she could afford to stop thinking about money.
So she divorced old Texas-bred Homer and married a younger man who could introduce her to the arts and the finer things of life-which included her money.
Homer sat around in that dank castle she had made him buy in Beverly Hills, sulking and drinking. Homer could always handle booze; it must have been the sulking that flipped him.
I had my last look at Homer and my first look at his new Ferrari on a drizzly afternoon in March. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the Ferrari that was going to permit me to move to San Valdesto and become bored.
I was staring moodily out the window of my little pine-paneled office in Beverly Hills on a drizzly afternoon in March, under the letters that read: Brock Callahan-Discreet Investigation at Moderate Rates. My rates were still moderate, but my investigations covered some areas now to which the words "discreet investigation" might not apply. Substitute "muscle."
Looking down at the street below, I saw this smooth machine pull into the parking space below the window. I hoped that some sleek young thing would now step out of it and head directly for my office. I love to fantasize about the upper classes, especially if they're young and feminine.
But Homer stepped out of it, two hundred and forty pounds of Texas flab. He saw me watching him and signaled for me to come down to the street, which I did.
"How do you like it?" he asked me.
"It's beautiful. When did you get it?"
"Ordered it last week, got it this morning. Almost four and a half liters under that hood. Big engine, huh?"
"Four and a half liters," I said, "reads out to roughly two hundred and seventy-five cubic inches. My Mustang has two hundred and eighty-nine."
"Mustang?" He stared at me. "You must be crazy! I could buy half a dozen Mustangs for what that beauty cost me. That is a twelve-cylinder car, Brock."
"And worth every dime they stuck you for it. Homer, I'm happy to see you have rejoined the living."
"I'm going to try," he said. "God damn that Sheila!"
I said nothing.
His face softened. "I'm sorry. I apologize. I keep forgetting that you're her nephew."
"She is what she is," I said, "as we all are, male and female. But I always thought you were too much man to be ruined by a hundred-and-twenty-two-pound woman."
"I love her, Brock. God damn her! I loved her and I still love her and she ran off with that young puke. I ain't got too many years left, man!"
"You're sixty. I'll tell you the deal I'm willing to make you. I'll trade you my age for your money."
"No, you wouldn't. You don't know what I've gone through. It has been one stinking year!"
All over the world, I thought, even among the poor. "Maybe," I said, "you should take a trip back to Texas and show your old neighbors this new Ferrari. A dose of nostalgia might bring you back to normal."
He shook his head. "There's nothing there for me. Of course, I've got only you and Jan here. Those friends of Sheila's dropped me the day she left me."
"No loss, from what I've seen of them."
"You are so right! But this is a big town. There must be some live wires I can mix with. I mean, with a heap like this, a young chick might overlook a few wrinkles."
"Don't do it," I advised him. "Find s