Christine’s daughter, Stella had gotten up to great them. Elly said, “You are as pretty as ever.
The dinner table was set with the fine china that their mother had passed down, actual glass water goblets, and wine glasses at the adult plates. There was a bottle of red wine in a decanter and Jenkins reached over to pour himself a glass.
Elly said, “Not too much. We’ve got a long drive home.”
Jenkins said, “Is that your professional opinion?”
Stan said, “Come on Elly. It’s just a glass of wine. We don’t do this every day.”
Christine said, “Yall are welcome to stay the night. The couch pulls out into a bed. And if that is not nice enough one of the kids can sleep in the living room.”
Elly said, “We don’t want to impose.”
Stan said, “You know, just play the cards where they lie.”
Jenkins said, “Stan, sounds like you have had a few already yourself.”
They all held hands and to say a blessing over the food. Stan stood up to carve the turkey. It looked a little too brown, but at least it wasn’t undercooked. He said, “Why don’t we go around the table saying what we are thankful for over the past year?”
Freddy said, “Me first. Me first.” Stan served a small portion of both the white and dark meat first to Freddy then to Stella. Christine asked for all white meat. Freddy said, “I’m thankful for video games.”
Christine said, “OK, how have videogames improved your life this year?”
“Easy,” Freddy said, “I don’t have to watch all of Stella’s girly shows.” Jenkins and Elly both asked for dark meat.
Stella said, “I’m thankful for my new boyfriend, John. He is really focused on going to college next year, and he has been helping me with my homework.”
Christine said, “I’m thankful for family. Without them I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today.”
Stan said, “I am thankful for all the new clients that I recruited this year. My last raise has helped us to pay off the SUV two years early. And it helped pay for the gas to drive it.”
The candied yams made their way around to Elly and she picked around the marshmallow topping. “I’m thankful for all the good work that I am allowed to do for the people of Silver Gate City. Last month alone, I have gotten three people to promise to attend Narconon, and one guy voluntarily checked himself into rehab.”
Jenkins plate was so full when the green bean casserole made it to him, he piled them on top of his mashed potatoes. With all that cream of mushroom sauce in the green beans they were a bit like gravy anyway. “I’m thankful for all the criminals in the city. Without them, neither Elly nor I would have a job.”
Elly said, “Addiction is a disease. They are sick, not criminals.”
Jenkins said, “As long as drugs are against the law someone who puts a drug up their nose or in their arm is a criminal.”
Elly said, “Most of them are addicted to narcotic painkillers.”
Christine said, “I never understood the appeal.”
Stan said, “Elly he is just being a good husband. He is worried about you. You do have security guards around if any of those druggies get out of line, don’t you?”
Jenkins looked at Stan and laughed to himself.
Elly said, “Really? You think that a woman is just a delicate flower. We need to be protected by some man….”
“Elly. Elly,” Christine said. “Stan didn’t mean it. He’s had a few too many. I’m sure you have seen it before.”
Stan said, “So I like a drink now and then. Christine, I’ve told you before. I’m not an alcoholic.”
Christine said, “Why don’t I tell a story? Can we all just take a break and listen to a story?” She looked around the table. “It should be funny. Elly you reminded me of it. I haven’t thought of this in years.”
She continued, “Jenkins, when we were growing up. We most of the time. We weren’t in the same school. Excluding a couple years in grade school, Jenkins didn’t get into high school until I was a junior. This scrawny little freshman, Jenkins. He was always sticking up for the little guy. Excuse my gendered langue. But you know, it kinda fits in the context of this story.”
She said, “Jenkins was always sticking up for the little guy. That is why I wasn’t surprised when he said he was going into law enforcement. And mom was so proud when he graduated from the academy. Our dad, he would have loved it too. He always thought highly of the police.” Jenkins nearly cracked a smile. It had been so long since he had gotten anything but pressure to find some other occupation.
Christine said, “We were in high school and Jenkins was so small for his age, but he was always trying to fight the boys that talked to me. This was just the way he was. That was why I was so surprised when he told me he was going to marry you.” She faced Elly. “I expected some sort of shrinking violet, a damsel in distress. No, I think you’ve been the best thing for him. But you know how high school boys are. They are just learning to talk to girls. I would get so mad then, but it really wasn’t their fault. They would say something they shouldn’t, or get a little handsy. Jenkins would be there trying to fight them. He was so small then. Most of them laughed him off, but a few of them gave him a good walloping. This is the man you married.” She looked again at Elly and smiled.
Christine said, “Jenkins hit a growth spurt that summer and when he came back as a sophomore, he wasn’t taking wallops anymore. Anyway. Early in the school year, Jenkins was there by the lockers when the new kid, his parents had just moved into town. Nobody knew anything about this kid, but he bumped into me in the hall. Jenkins saw. He thought the guy had copped a feel, or something. So Jenkins jumped on this kid. Jenkins wasn’t so small this time but the other kid, he was big.”
Jenkins started to remember this story. He said, “Come on sis. I don’t wanna talk about this.”
Stan said, “It’s just starting to get good.”
Elly said, “I wanna hear what kind of chauvinist I married.”
Christine said, “He knocked this kid to the ground and started wailing on him. His mouth started bleeding. I think he lost a few teeth.”
“He was retarded,” Jenkins said. “He was fucking retarded. The kid shit himself. It got all over me. I beat the fuck out of some retarded kid. I fucking hurt him too. I hurt him bad. You don’t remember this part, Christine? I went and apologized to his parents in the hospital. They almost had me arrested. I fucking hurt that kid. And you think this shit is funny.” He turned to his wife. “Elly were getting the fuck out of here.” He knocked the chair over when he got up.
Stan said, “It’s OK buddy. It was a long time ago. We all do things we’re not proud of.” Jenkins left the chair on the ground as he stormed out through the living room and out the front door.
One night Jenkins got home from work and Elly had an especially elaborate meal ready for him. She had cooked him a juicy porterhouse with fried onions just the way he liked it. She had baked him a potato and steamed up a mix of fresh squash and zucchini. She had even gone out and bought him a six pack of the microbrew they seldom could afford to keep in the fridge. After he had eaten and opened his second beer, Elly said, “I messed up.”
He said, “What happened?”
“Just promise you won’t get mad.”
“I don’t even know what you are going to tell me.”
“It depends on what you are going to say. I will listen. I will make a judgement call. I will keep an open mind, but if I get mad. I can’t help it.”
“Just don’t be mad.”
“Tell me. I’m listening.”
“I fell for a scam.”
Jenkins felt a lot better. He had been steeling himself to hear that she had been with someone else. “What kind of scam.”
“They got our money.”
“How did they get our money?”
“They said that we qualified for a grant. I thought you could use it to go back to school. He told me we could qualify for up to fifty thousand dollars.”
“But he needed money first.”
“I need you to be clear. Was it a he or a they?”
“It was both. The man showed up at the clinic. One of my coworkers, Bill, told me about him. Bill said that he worked for the federal government. He said he was an auditor. He said he could tell you if you could get any money.”
Elly said, “The man was in a suit and tie. He had a briefcase with all of these official looking papers. Here’s his business card.” She started rummaging through her purse. “His last name is Johnson.”
“You don’t need to show me the card. They never use their real names.”
“It has the phone number of his home office.”
“The phone number won’t help. These people use burner phones with cash. They throw them away when they get their money. How much money did they get?”
“Eight thousand dollars.”
“Eight thousand dollars? Elly, that’s all the money we have. How did they know how much money we have?
“First he said that I had to give him three thousand dollars.”
“Elly, you know better. You don’t have to pay for someone to give you a government grant.”