The Squatters (#4/#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
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The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 4 and 5

 

Part 4. A rejected attorney and a new law suit

 

Dodge Rosewall followed his two clients home to Helena’s house so that they could discuss “a defense.” Rick did not like the man but he concealed his annoyance.  Rosewall still had Helena’s deed.

Rick was irritated.  Yes, he knew that Helena had tried to help him.  Still, he did not approve of her telling Rosewall about the mail tampering and the surveillance system he had installed.  Worse, she had underestimated his ability to deal with inferiors and this chaffed him. But ah, he thought, she did not know him well enough to realize his resourcefulness. Rosewall was another matter.  He was a greedy incompetent man and Rick knew that he wouldn’t be persuaded but that he could be outwitted. He went to his suitcase and removed a small digital voice recorder which he put into the shirt pocket of the street clothes he finally changed into.

Over gimlets, they spoke casually about the legal differences between states. Finally, Rick steered the conversation to Rosewall’s retainer and surreptitiously switched on his recorder.

“Isn’t she wonderful,” he said looking at Helena.  “A man is blessed to have a woman he cares for spring into action so quickly on his behalf.  And offering the deed to her house to pay my bail.  Really!  How many women would be so loyal… so generous.”  He paused.  “Have you returned the deed to her yet?”

“Helena came to me because I am her attorney.  She retained my services and in the course of retaining them she admitted to having committed several felonies.  Your bail became secondary in importance.  I’m holding onto her deed to protect her since, as my retainer, it is exempt from attachment.   Especially since she is so involved with you… I mean no disrespect, but throughout months of innjuries inflicted by the people who occupy your property, she never once resorted to childish acts of reprisal much less serious federal offenses. Your past negligence may have lost you your property, but now you have put her ownership of this house in jeopardy by those senseless acts.”

“I did not know that she engaged your services for herself.  I was under the impression that she asked you to help me.  As it happened, I neither needed nor wanted your services.  I concede, that in a moment of confusion, I did retain them.  Now, if you will please send me a bill for your consultation, I will pay it and you can return Ms. Maxwell’s deed.  The matter will have been concluded.”

Rosewall clearly did not wish to part with the deed.  He then made the mistake of speaking to Rick as an equal – which was bad enough – but then as someone who was less than his equal.  Not realizing that he had placed himself in such a hazardous position, the attorney continued to affect superior airs.  “Concluded? Surely you realize that your adversaries are likely to pursue their own claims against you. They will not be content merely to win. After all, you did commit some serious offenses.  The smart thing… the informed thing… is to prepare a good offense and we do that best by finding out all we can about these people.  In short, to investigate them fully in order to discredit them.”

“But my parents already paid to have them investigated,” Helena interjected.

Rosewall looked at her sympathetically. “Dear Lady, the cast of characters has changed.  Circumstances have changed.  You were simply trying to seek compensation for utility bills and an errant fire-cracker.  Yours was not a matter of eviction, a matter which is more difficult to win than you can imagine.”

Rick spoke gently.  “I see; and you expect them to win. Tell me – if I’m not being too inquisitive – how often do you win these eviction cases?

“Less than I like to admit,” Rosewall languorously replied. “I still feel the sting of losing to persons of such low mental capacity – as if I were trying to dislodge a bunch of neanderthals from a cave. But they can be clever. When the squatters include a disabled veteran in an eviction case, they convert a homestead into an impervious fortress.”  He sighed. “It is so difficult… so difficult.  Judges tend to yield to some misguided patriotism instead of following the law.  Law-enforcement doesn’t take these cases seriously.  An abandoned house at least keeps these persons off the streets. Unfortunately, when an absentee landlord resorts to childish acts of self-help, he usually commits more serious crimes than the ones he feels victimized by. No, you two are not out of the woods yet,” he said ominously, looking directly at Rick, “not by a long shot.  Should you be charged with state and federal offenses, your defense will prove expensive, but I’m confident that we’ll prevail.”

Rick had little tolerance for personalities or ploys.  He could sense when he was being played and took for granted that Rosewall was experienced in using “bait and switch” tactics.  The initial enthusiasm of Rosewall’s – that ‘Yes, of course, I can help you!’ – had left Helena in a worse state after July 4th than when he first agreed to help her, getting a retainer of thousands which her parents paid.  He proceeded to bait Rosewall.  “Since Ms. Maxwell was not involved in any of the assault or molestation charges tonight, would you please return her deed to her.  She’ll sleep better when she knows her home is securely in her hands.  I’m sure you want what’s best for her.”

“Ms. Helena Maxwell is a cherished client of mine.  I’m bound by my ethics to care about her best interests.  However, I am not at liberty to discuss my dealings with Ms. Maxwell with you or anyone else,” Rosewall responded cordially.  “It’s that sacred attorney-client relationship. I’m sure you’ll come to appreciate it more if your adversaries bring suit against you or, for example, the feds charge you.  Sadly, you’ll both need representation.”

“Perhaps you misunderstood her reason for coming to you,” Rick responded by reviving the snide tone of indifference that in previous years had been his normal manner of speaking, “but as she will attest, she was asking you to help me.  And I’m simply telling you that I prefer to engage another attorney. I don’t think you can competently represent my interests. I’m therefore discharging you as my attorney.  And Ms. Maxwell has no need of any attorney. You have no right to retain her deed.”

Rosewall retorted, “This business with the child may have helped you at the moment, but you are an ‘outsider.’  The courts will not favor you.  Again, let me stress that you have involved my client in numerous illegal acts. Ms. Maxwell is obviously vulnerable, physically and emotionally, and, let us be honest about this, it’s clear that you induced or perhaps seduced her to help you.  You’re the instigator of these actions.  Someone who has so insouciantly violated laws of privacy that all of us, as citizens, hold dear ought not to criticize a member of the bar who must labor in the fields of jurisprudence.  That is both unfair and unwise.”

“And how would it be unwise?” Rick gently asked.

“You’ve done a goodly amount of law-breaking in the short time you’ve been here, Dr. Dubrosky. Reprisals breed reprisals. Perhaps you should remember the maxim, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”  His tone carried a personal threat. “When you criticize someone, that person is quite able to criticize you, in return. Secretly perhaps… a word here, a word there.”

Rick put his phone on speaker and asked information for the number of Navajo County’s Bar Association. When the call reached voice-mail, Rick identified himself and gave his phone number.  He continued, “I have a problem and don’t know how to proceed.  An attorney, who, a few hours ago, accepted a retainer from me, has responded to my criticisms of his failures to litigate a case obliquely related to mine by threatening me that if I persist in criticizing him, he will reveal confidential information given to him.  His name is J. Dodge Rosewall. Would you kindly return my call and direct me to the proper official?”  He disconnected the call.

Rosewall had smirked throughout Rick’s telephone gambit.  “You do like to play brainless kiddy games, don’t you?” he said.  And then he listed ways Rick’s actions could result in prosecution by the proper authorities who were tipped off to them.  “And all it would take is one anonymous call.”

Rick reached into his pocket and switched off the recorder.  He spoke in a matter-of-fact manner.  “Perhaps, counselor, you should think of me as a brainless mamba or taipan. Brainless but quick to act defensively.”  He took his recorder out of his pocket and held it in one hand as he held the other hand out to the attorney. “The deed, if you please.”

Rosewall grew livid.  Trembling, he opened his briefcase and took out the documents Helena had signed, including the transfer of title to her property, and tore them into small pieces.  He placed her original deed upon the table and took a dollar from his pocket which he tossed on the floor.  “I no longer represent either of you,” he said and proceeded to leave the house, stepping through the large oval hole left by the staved-in stained glass.

“We must board-up that door,” Rick said. “Do you have any wood left over from building your tea house?”

Helena jumped up and went into the garage. “I have a piece of plywood that had been used as a political advertisement.  It should fit.”

Rick followed her to the front door and collected all the stained glass in a heavy garbage bag. “This door was so beautiful, especially when the morning sunlight shone through it.  Let’s take the door off completely and take all the pieces to the glass workers and have them reset the leaded-in section.  We can board the whole area up with the big piece of plywood.”

Working together they removed the hinges, unlocked the door, and carried it into the living room. They nailed the plywood to the jamb. “Darling,” she said casually, as they returned to the kitchen, “do you have another attorney in mind? One to keep on-hand in case those people try something else.”

“Let’s check the internet,” Rick said. “Rosewall is a loser.  We can do no worse than pick another loser.”

Donald Dawson’s wife Olivia returned to #124 Lafayette Street with the wives of Clive and Andy.  As they opened the front door, they were assailed by the stench that Helena had poured down the chimney.  As cold as it was, they turned on the air conditioning units and opened the doors. They knew precisely what had been introduced into their home.  It would take days for the stench to dissipate. Olivia found the source.  “That fart juice got poured down the chimney. We had the flue closed so it hit the back where we can’t reach it to wash it off.

“Light a fire,” Paulina Sue, who was not only the largest of the women but also the most intelligent, recommended.  “The flue plate will heat up and burn-off most of it.  We’ll look pretty damned stupid lighting a fire with all the air-conditioners going, but we’ve got to eat to keep our strength up and nobody’s gonna eat in this stench.”

They opened the flue and lit a fire.

Babs Bristal, the wife of the youngest member of the trio, made a big plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  They sat near the open kitchen door in their winter coats.  “I been thinkin’ ’bout this whole deal and I figure the only person who could have done this stinky-stuff dirty trick is Harry Nicholson.  Look,” she reasoned, “we were outside, standin’ in the street, when all this went down.  Nicholson says he saw the whole thing, yet it took him half an hour to speak up.  Think about it.  Here and at the station, everybody else is accounted for.  Maxwell ain’t the type who’d do somethin’ like that, so who else could have done it? This stink bomb was dropped on us when we all went to the station… all except Harry Nicholson.”

Olivia and Paulina Sue both agreed.  “He’s been out to get even with us ever since his stupid wall got knocked down,” Paulina Sue offered.  “Well, they want to pay rough.  So I guess we oughta  do somethin’ fast.  We need money to bail the guys out… and pay their lawyers. What should we do?”

“They got a couple of pit bulls runnin’ free out the back of their house. Maybe we should poison ’em,” Babs suggested.

“You’re carryin’ a baby,” Paulina Sue objected.  “You don’t want to go messin’ with poison.”

“Now, what we could do,” Babs timidly offered, “An’ I don’t want none of ya’ll blamin’ me if you think this is wong…”  She turned to Olivia, “Shawna’s gonna tell them what that renter we had did to her a couple years ago.  And she’ll spill the beans about what happened tonight and you can bet Don is gonna get blamed for lots of stuff.  You know who’s been messin’ with your Shawna?  Orren, that’s who.  That boy’s at the age when sex is all they think about.  Orren may be Don’s brother’s kid, but he don’t carry his own weight around here.  I can’t get that boy to do nothin’.  So he can make up for all the care we give him by letting one of the Nicholson’s dogs take a little bite outta him. They’s got a homeowner’s insurance policy that’ll pay a whole lot of money.  They woulda paid to have the wall rebuilt, Harry was tellin’ the Thompsons, but he decided to take it all down hisself. So we know he’s insured.  The kid will heal… hell, what’s a little dog bite? Meanwhile I know somebody who got $300,000 for their kid gettin’ bit by a pit bull.”

Olivia made it final.  “If Orren was messin’ with my Shawna, he needs punishin’ and rather than just take a switch to him – which gets us nothin’ – we ought to put his punishment to good use. And he is a lazy little twerp.”

Paulina Sue was more concerned with the stench that filled the house. “Let’s not let on to Harry that we’re upset about the smell.  We’ll just act natural,” she advised.

“Then tonight when everybody’s sleepin’,” Babs whispered, “we can put a couple lamb chops over the Nicholson’s gate on one side, and when the dogs come to get it, we’ll open the gate on the other side.  We can tell Orren we heard a kitten meow and he should go out and look for it.”

“Both those gates got padlocks!” Olivia objected.

“Then we can take the big bolt cutters,” Paulina Sue said.  “Orren can wear new jeans and knee socks for protection.  The most they’ll get is a nip at his legs.  But that’s enough to make them pay plenty.”

Olivia called Babs aside.  They casually walked into the kitchen.  “I’ve got an idea,” she said. “We can rub meat juice on Orren’s jacket. He don’t have to know nothin’.  We’ll run home quick and tell Orren to go out and look for the kitten. The dogs will pick up his scent fast.  So here’s what we’ll do.  We’ll make sure our doors are locked so Orren can’t just run inside. Those dogs are crazy.  Harry had to bring ’em home in a cage.  They’ll fight over a few lamb chops and wolf ’em down and run to hear the noise of the gate opening.  By the time they make it around the house, we’ll be inside ours.  They’ll be sniffin’ and smellin’ and their noses will lead them right to Orren.”

“I get it,” Babs said.  “The dogs will get more than a few nips outta Orren’s legs.  Serves him right.” They returned from the kitchen.

“One thing more,” Paulina Sue noted, “We have to be sure to bring the cut lock with us when we open the gate, otherwise they’ll have evidence that we cut their lock with our bolt cutters. The cops can match the cut marks.  And let’s do it late tonight, while it’s still dark.  And since that new guy must have some special cameras working, we can use the bolt cutters to open their breaker box and shut off the power. We don’t need a record of us crossin’ the street.”

 

Part 5.  Rick outwits the squatters and Helena resumes her career

 

Rick and Helena had been too excited by the evening’s events to sleep.  “My Pet,” Rick said, “I’d have loved to watch you scale that wall…. you cat burglar you!  So nimble! My kitty cat is nimble!”

Helena playfully meowed like a cat.  “Increase your yoga time with me in the morning and you will be nimble too… and slimmer since you insist that you want to lose even more weight.”

Rick, satisfied and happy and feeling more human than he had felt in weeks, agreed to go on an even more stringent yoga regimen with his accommodating hostess. “All right,” he said, “but you must remember to be gentle with me. I’m becoming fragile at 190 pounds.  Maybe we can get one of those rowing machines.”  He drew the drapes to shut out the street’s lamplight, locked their bedroom door, switched off the light that controlled the end table lamps, and padded across the floor of the master bedroom to the bed where his new love waited.

Around 3 a.m., the lovers were jolted awake by a terrible commotion outside.  Both of them jumped up and pulled back the drapes to look out the front window.  There, in the lamplight in the middle of the street, Nicholson’s two new fully-grown pit bulls were attacking the squatters’ teen-aged boy.

Rick pulled on his terry-cloth bathrobe.  He flipped the light switch, but the lamps stayed dark.  Able to see sufficiently by the outside light, he drew a gun from his suitcase, racked it, ran downstairs and exited the house through a side door to get to the street to defend the boy.

There was so much movement, so much rolling, twisting, shaking, so many screams of the boy and snarls of the dogs, that between the confusing noise and the strength of the dogs’ jaws, it was impossible to pull either dog off the boy. A few neighbors came out to look, but no one volunteered to help. Rick pressed his gun against the head of the dog that held Orren’s leg in his jaws, and fired.  The animal immediately went limp and Rick flung him to the side.  The second dog’s jaws were biting the boy’s head.  Rick did not want to fire his weapon too close to the boy’s ear.  He therefore threw his weight against the dog and shot him in the chest.  It required four shots before the animal’s teeth loosened their grip.  Helena called 9-1-1 and Rick yelled for towels and a robe as he sat naked on the ground, using his own robe to press one sleeve against the boy’s head and the other against his leg.  Finally, Jack Thompson – the neighbor on the other side of the squatters – came out with a stack of hand towels; and Helena, wearing only a sheer penoir, brought him a robe that had belonged to her former fiancé who was many sizes smaller than Rick.

One of the renters came out holding a rifle which he pointed at Rick. “What you doin’ to this boy?”

“Trying to save his life!” Rick shouted. “Don’t just stand there!  Get more clean towels!  Emergency services have been called.” The man did not move.  Rick shouted again, “Put that goddamned gun away and get me more clean towels!”

Jack Thompson shouted, “He probably doesn’t have any clean towels.”  The man shrugged and went inside.

Orren suddenly tried to whisper.  His bloody mouth garbled his words, but Rick could understand what he was saying.  “They wouldn’t let me back in.  They knew the dogs was on me but they wouldn’t let me back in.”   Rick pressed down hard on his cheek to staunch the blood and Orren did not try to speak again.

“Did they know you were outside?” Rick whispered.

“Yeah. They told me to look for a kitten that was meowing.  Then the dogs jumped on me and they locked the doors so’s I couldn’t get back in. I knocked and hollered,” he wailed.

Harry Nicholson, dressed in street clothes and shoes, came out of his house, shouting, “The kid unlocked our gate!  Hah.  He tried to turn the dogs on you, Rick, but he got hoisted by his own petard!” Laughing wildly, Harry dragged the dogs’ carcasses to the gutter on his side of the street. Rick noticed that Helena’s entire house was in total darkness.  None of the flood lights was lit.

Rick, scratched and smeared with blood, flipped the gun’s safety on and gave it to Helena.  “Take this inside and just leave it on the coffee table. See if any of our lights are working.”   He turned to Harry, “Those dogs weren’t after me. They were after this young man and they got him.  I hated to shoot them. Were they family pets?”

“Hell, no.  I got ’em from the pound in Phoenix last week.” He looked at the boy’s wounds. “Boy, this is terrible.  Rick, he can thank God you acted as fast as you did.”  Orren was sobbing in pain and in humiliation, yet Harry would not be dissuaded.  “See what happens when you let pit bulls out? Huh!  Huh!  You brought this on yourself!  This man saved your life, son.  What he did was damned heroic.”

Olivia came out.  “What’s goin’ on here?” She pushed Rick away and whispered a warning into Orren’s ear.  “You keep your mouth shut. We gotta ‘nough trouble.  So ‘Shut it!'”

Sirens could be heard in the distance.  Helena came from the house with towels and an old robe that had belonged to her former boyfriend. “I had to use my phone’s light,” she said.  “We’ve got no electricity at all. They must have gotten into the circuit breaker box.”

 

Once the paramedics and police arrived, Harry produced papers that indicated that the dogs had received their rabies shots. Rick gave a quick report and tried to excuse himself saying that he needed to wash the blood and dirt off himself. In fact, his large show of flesh was embarrassing him. Since the robe Helena had brought him was much too small, he could only tie the garment’s sleeves around his waist so that the cuffs covered his genitals. His torso and legs shone moon bright in the street.

The deputy looked him over.  “I see scratches but no lacerations.  Are you sure you don’t want the docs to check you out?”

“I’m sure. Ms. Maxwell will attend to the worst scratches with antibiotic cream and some bandage patches.  I’ll be fine.”

“You gotta permit for that weapon you used on the dogs,” the deputy asked.

“Yes, of course.  But in Nevada.  Does that make a difference?”

“You’re supposed to register it in Arizona. Get that taken care of first thing tomorrow. For the record, what was it?”

“Colt Mustang .38, semi-automatic.”

“Nice piece. Well, the weapon wasn’t used on a human being and seeing how it did save the kid, I’ll let it go now. If the kid’s parents take action against the dogs’ owner, you may have to produce it then.  Around here, a pit-bull’s jaws are regarded as lethal weapons.”

 

Using a flashlight that she propped on a shelf, Helena stayed with Rick inside the shower stall to wash his back. She daubed it dry and bandaged some of the worst scratches, and brought him new lounging pajamas she had gotten him as a gift.  Together, they went into the yard to examine the circuit breaker box.  The shackle of the padlock had been cut through.  But Olivia had forgotten to take the severed lock with her and it lay on the ground.  “Go and get my Colt, ” Rick said.  “I’ll guard the lock as it lies here… in situ.  And ask one of the deputies to return to show him the evidence of this vandalism… say that it pertains to the attempted murder of the boy. Helena returned with the gun, made the call, and in fifteen minutes a detective and a new ADA who had not been present at the attempted “frame” of Rick for child-molestation, arrived.  Helena showed them the boarded up front door and led them back to the circuit breaker box where Rick waited.

Rick pointed to the severed lock. “We haven’t touched it.  But the person who severed the shackle no doubt did.”  The deputy carefully placed the useless lock into an evidence bag.

“Can you think of any reason why anyone would have done this?” the ADA asked.

“Only that they didn’t want any video recording of the event.  They probably thought the Nicholsons, being the only homeowners around who still had a homeowner’s insurance policy – Helena’s and mine certainly have not been renewed – were still able to pay the large sums of money they need for attorneys and bail. They probably drew the dogs down to the fence on one side of the house and then went to the other fence and cut the padlock and opened the gate. Then they left the kid outside to be bitten.”

“Are you suggesting that they deliberately left the boy outside to be attacked by two pit bulls?”

“I’m saying that you should talk to the boy before they get a chance to. When the boy is able,  he’ll tell you what happened… assuming they don’t intimidate him into lying.”

The ADA smiled and nodded condescendingly. He considered Rick’s theory a bit too far-fetched.  “I’ll see that no one is permitted to visit him.  How old a kid would you say he is?”

“Fourteen, maybe.”

Helena brought a replacement padlock from the house and as Rick fixed it in place, he began to get a nagging sense that his judgment was as useless as the lock that had been vandalized.  “Why the hell didn’t you get that battery generator?” he asked himself.

At dawn, as Helena went downstairs to make breakfast, Rick, stiff, scratched, and disturbed by

the cruelty of the squatters, began to think coherently.  He realized that his “petty reprisal” or “get down to their level” attempts to dislodge them was beneath him.  A shift occurred in his perspective.  He had wanted to be “good” – to turn over a new leaf – but he had merely reverted to a child’s way of dealing with the world.  Childhood and goodness were not the same things, he reminded himself.  The old Rick would have found a way to poison them, sell them into slavery, leave them on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, frame them for murder… ah, he didn’t know at the moment, but he’d have harmed them seriously.

He asked himself, When there is no legal remedy, just how the hell does a mature person act when confronted by such a problem?  How does a person do a necessary evil?  From what interior font of wisdom does he draw so that his actions flow naturally in a way that befits his age and station?

He imagined the dignity and grace of a Samurai committing seppuka.  And if the Samurai’s master had commanded him to do this and sat and watched, what grace and dignity would he display?  That was what was needed.  Intelligence.  Culture.   Dirty little tricks?  No. No. No.  Either fight them head on, man to man, and use his own intellectual weapons or sit back and surrender and let the enemy hack him and Helena to pieces.  The Samurai had a code.  They thought ahead. They could see centuries of shame being brought upon their offspring. “Ah,” he said aloud, “that’s the secret. Futurity. The historical record pored over by one’s descendants.” That thought depressed him. “Ah, you might as well be the palace eunuch,” he muttered.  But then he walked to the window and looked down at the street. What a sad fate! To be literally thrown to the dogs by one’s family. They would be getting a cash settlement from the insurance company. Now, without resorting to those mechanical devices that get the user sent to federal prison, how could he gain access to Dawson’s bank account.  Did they use a debit card when they went shopping?

He could smell the coffee brewing.  Helena would soon bring up his breakfast tray and he’d ask her then.  He’d also have sex with her. He rather liked the accommodations, but here he was, insouciantly having unprotected sex with a woman who might still be fertile.  He had never asked her about menopause.  Damn! he thought.  I don’t know anything about her.  I’m just using her the way I’ve always used people.  Never thinking ahead.

They had breakfast at a table in the master bedroom’s bay window. “Have you any samples of your work around the house?  I’d really like to see some of the portraits you’ve done.”

“No. I’m afraid not.  I got rid of everything.  Just didn’t want to be reminded, I guess.”

“That’s such an egregious response.  Talent is an internal thing… a gift from God.”

“My talent’s end came with the end of my will to live… after the Fourth of July.  I was heart-broken.  I had lost so much. And to be honest, when I got home I couldn’t paint if I wanted to.  There are little movements you make looking between the subject and the canvas and the canvas and the palette.  I sustained some neck damage… bone… tendon… nerve… something. I couldn’t stand or even sit and make those movements for any length of time.  And really, who would want to have a portrait painted by someone who looked like me?  I owed so much money. Rosewall’s services cost my parents a fortune.  I gave away all my brushes and tubes of oil paint. I had big cans of turpentine and I was told that if they threw another Molotov cocktail at me and the turpentine got involved, I’d have a household conflagration instead of a back yard fire.”

“Plastic surgery could repair much of that damage,” Rick noted gently.

“Yes, but who can afford it?  As I’ve said, I’m up to my neck in debt.  My parents have given so much already.  My brothers and sisters look at me as though I’m a thief… robbing them of their inheritance.”

“Tell me, are you still… of the… child bearing age?”

Helena sat up.  “Yes… I suppose I am. I’m thirty-six.  It wasn’t a problem before because my fiancé had a vasectomy.  He did not want more children.  I’m not on any birth control pills.  But I suppose I ought to discuss not taking them with you.  It’s just that I never…”

“Don’t change anything for me.  We’re all in God’s hands.  If the Almighty decrees that we should be fruitful and multiply, then let’s be fruitful and multiply.  I have no children, at least none that I know of…  well…  yes…  I do have one.  Years and years ago I was paid handsomely to impregnate a lesbian… but that’s another story.  I signed away all my parental rights.”

A maternal light suddenly shone from Helena’s eyes.  “And if I did get pregnant?  Would you want me to have an abortion or be a single parent?”

“Woman! What do you take me for?” The new Rick was sincerely indignant, but in that glimmer of light the old Rick saw the future and needed to clarify her income potential before committing himself.  “You said that your movements were inhibited by the explosion.  Are you still unable to move your neck properly?”

The question seemed strangely non-sequitur to Helena. She preferred to interpret it as being able to care for a baby.  “How sweet you are!” she said.  “Well, I’m happy to remind you that I do yoga.  Yoga cures all sorts of things of this nature.  Of course I can carry and diaper and feed and do whatever is needed.  I lost my desire to paint, that’s all. I’m not a glutton for pain.  So, of course, I solved the muscle problem.  But dear… you haven’t answered my question.  How would you feel about the…  the pregnancy thing?”

“Oh, that..  Well, I totally disapprove of shotgun weddings.  I’m a man of the cloth. It’s understandable that I sin… those things are always so spontaneous.  But that I was so careless! As though it didn’t matter whether or not I brought another life into the world?  That is not understandable.  So if there is a possibility that I will impregnate you, I insist that you become my wife.”  He grinned. “I am not some cheap one-night stand!  You’re surely not thinking, ‘Any port in the storm,’ eh?”

“Darling… do you realize you just proposed marriage to me?”

“I don’t have a ring to give you.  Let’s not discuss it again until we can do this properly… so that we can look family and friends in the eye and say that we proceeded as God intended.  Tell me more about those beasts next store.  Now… now… that parenthood has become a possibility, things are looking different.  No more childish games.  Come sit on my lap, you naughty kitty. Let the world know that officially I am your very own Tom Cat.  Perhaps I will get you a diamond studded collar instead of a ring.”

“Whatever you like, my love,” she said, straddling his flabby thighs.

“One more thing,” Rick said.  “I need to know if the Dawsons use a debit or credit card.”

“Debit,” Helena answered, kissing his ear.

“How do you know?”

“They buy food and they drive cars. I’ve seen Olivia at the supermarket.  I’ve been behind her in the cashier’s line many times.  She has long acrylic nails… they must be a half-inch long.  She stabs in the pin number.  He just fumbles and pushes the buttons at the gas station.  But I never look to see what the number is. That’s considered impolite.”

“You good sweet kitty cat.”

Before lunch, Rick, wearing a dark brown curly wig, mustache, and glasses took one of several identification document envelopes he kept in his suitcase, and, choosing the one for Julius Markovitz, drove Rocinante to a mobile home park and rented space for two months. He paid cash.  Helena followed in her car.   She then drove him to a bank so that he could open a checking account.  He explained, “It’s for our future use. In a few weeks we’ll be able to use the account without any unusual delays.   It’s worth a few hundred dollars to have such a resource.”  Helena did not quite understand the purpose of the mobile home address and checking account, but she went along with Rick and waited in the car as he went into the bank and completed the Markovitz transaction.

Despite Rosewall’s threat, Rick and Helena continued to pick up the mail.  They now knew which people were most often called and they knew the local bank the squatters used.  They also knew Donald Dawson’s mother’s maiden name.  More, they also learned Olivia Dawson’s and Babs Bristal’s maiden names if they indeed were married to the two men.  Welfare checks had been included in the mail and it began to seem that all those children were officially fatherless.  Rick copied every document.  “You can never tell what is going to become important,” he told Helena who tended to enjoy their “great adventure.” Fully armed with documentation, they went to the offices of a young criminal lawyer in Holbrook, Thomas Wauneka, Esq.

“I’ve got a criminal problem,” Rick said.  “I understand that there’s a law that makes squatting or trespassing a crime.”  He outlined the problem, gave the attorney the retainer he requested, and confessed to the few dirty tricks involving syrup, a dead rabbit, and “stench-in-a-bottle.”

Wauneka laughed.  “Don’t, for God’s sake, do anything like that again. Ok. If they’ve never had a lease with you, they are squatters. Have you accepted any money or services from them?  Have they made any improvements?”

“No, and they’re destroying the house.  It is uninhabitable as far as I can see.” He also told Wauneka about the recent dog biting incident.

“These are tough people.  Be careful,” the attorney advised.  “The IRS and state welfare will be interested in their rental income… and those air conditioning units have serial numbers that can be traced.  Their original owner may be interested in that.  Mainly, you don’t have to evict squatters.  They are simply trespassers.  So, since they haven’t met the requirement of two years of continuous hostile or adverse possession, subsequent to a legal demand to vacate, and with the condition that you are accompanied by at least one law enforcement officer, you may enter your premises and change the locks.  But you must stay inside, and it is also wise to engage a professional guard service.  I will research current law and make sure they receive a proper certified letter of your demand that they remove themselves from your property within two weeks and that you intend to occupy the house as your residence.  Don’t be big hearted and offer to put them up in a motel for a week until they find new accommodations.  This tends to indicate a guilty conscience.  And wait until they’re away from the house before you take possession of the place.”

“What about the disabled Vets?” Rick asked.

“Do they get mail at your house?”

“Actually, no,” Rick answered.  “I had the Post Office hold all my mail for personal pickup  and no mail has come for them.   Maybe they just haven’t had a chance to file a change of address.”

“Then we can’t lose any time.  I’ll get the letter out immediately.  At the moment, they’re also just trespassers, too.  I’ll alert the V.A. for whatever that’s worth.  Are they native Americans?”

Helena answered.  “One of the women squatters seems to be part Indian… but I don’t know from which nation.  She’s a big gal with long brown hair.  The others, including the vets, are all lily white. Hill-billy types.”

“There are shelters here in Holbrook for the vets.  If they’re disabled, they probably get checks, so they’re not impoverished.  I should also add that the sheriff’s department is usually not too cooperative in such matters.  The owners leave.  The squatters return.  Back and forth it goes.”

Helena groaned.  “I’ve suffered so much from them.” She indicated her scars.

Wauneka asked her to tell him about the burns and scars. He took notes as he listened to her entire story of the fire and the water and electricity theft and then the terrible Fourth of July.  “At least,” he said gently, “you have a good man to care for you.  I think about that poor boy who will also have many scars and will then have to return to the very people who arranged for him to get them.  There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll sue your neighbors for those dog bites. And we can be sure they’ll collect millions from the homeowner’s policy… or whatever the maximum amount is and then, should the award exceed that figure, they’ll get a judgment against the neighbor’s house. As far as your particular problem is concerned, I always tell people to treat their homes like Pandora’s Box.  Don’t open it for anybody. Only evil comes out.”

“I was so stupid,” Helena said.  “I brought this all on myself.”

“You didn’t know.  It’s like secretly recording a conversation.  One person knows the script. The other speaks casually.  The one who’s recording knows how to get you to let your guard down.  Your first mistake was in allowing them to use your water which gave them permission to enter your property.  This is just like allowing someone to live in your home.  Let’s say a friend tells you she’s having marital trouble and needs a place to stay. She cries and you empathize, imagining yourself in her position. You say that she can stay with you until she finds other acceptable accommodations. She says, not unless you at least let me pay the water bill.  You think that she just doesn’t want to feel like a parasite and you say, ‘Ok.’  Well, that’s a contract… she stays at your house until she finds accommodations that suit her, and the consideration is the monthly water bill.  A month goes by and she gets mail at your house. Oh, she pays the water bill and maybe she also registers to vote at your address.  But then she becomes a slob or a drunk or brings strange men home, or helps herself to your food, or she snorts cocaine, or some money or jewelry goes missing. You ask her nicely to start looking for her own place.  She says, ‘No. We have an agreement. I’ve paid the water bill every month. I have rights.’  The smart person will see an attorney immediately. And then it is a tough battle to get her out. You can win the legal battle and lose the war if she decides to pour cement down your drains. You can’t evict her for non-payment of rent – which is the best way to win an eviction case.  The average homeowner or lessee goes a little crazy and puts her clothing and possessions in boxes and puts them on the front porch and then has the locks changed. The unwanted guest just gets a police officer, shows him an envelope mailed to her at that address or cancelled checks from the water district, and then files a complaint against the owner.  Enraged at the ingratitude, the owner may easily be goaded into having a physical altercation with the unwanted guest.  The guest bangs herself up a little more and goes to the hospital to get records of the assault, files a restraining order, and guess what?  The owner isn’t allowed to come within fifty yards of her own property.  The guest sues for damages and pain and suffering and punitive… on and on… and winds up getting a judgment and owning the house.  Never do favors.  If someone’s homeless, there’s a reason.  And that reason just might bite you. If you really do want to help someone, put a limit on your charity.  Pay for a motel room, give them money to buy food, or pay to get their car fixed.  Whatever.  Don’t expect repayment.  And send them away. Don’t let them spend the night, and don’t get sentimental.  If half of the marriages – in a church and after having kids – end in divorce, just how sure can you be of someone who says she’s your friend?”

Rick shook his hand.  “You don’t get paid enough.”

A week after the dog bite incident, the Nicholson’s were served with papers.  They were being sued for 5 million dollars, damages and punitive. They had no defense.  Pit bulls were known to be aggressive.  They should have taken extra care to prevent them from getting loose from their home.  The boy’s hospital bills had already passed Sixty thousand dollars and would doubtless go higher. His skull had been damaged and the emergency room sutures to his face and ear would have to be refined by a plastic surgeon.

The first part of Rick’s plan required that he visit a Christian supply store and buy himself a shirt with a clerical collar, a couple of Bibles, and several “get-well” cards.  He then bought a black suit at a uniform store and, properly attired, he visited Orren as a prelude to contacting Don Dawson.

Aside from persons interested in his claim against the Nicholsons, the boy had not had any visitors.  He thanked Rick for saving his life and Rick assured him that he would have done the same for him had their positions been reversed.  They spoke about the incident briefly and, without going into any detail, Rick voiced the opinion that Don Dawson had nothing to do with the incident.  Orren was glad to hear it. “I’m going now to make a pastoral call on your uncle,” Rick said.  “Do you have any message for him?”

Orren smiled.  “Tell him I’ll take the Cardinals over the Lions.”

“Will do!” Rick said, ending the visit. “Here’s a Bible for you.  Read it in your darker moments.  You’ll feel better.” He patted the boy’s shoulder and told him to keep his chin up.  Then he headed for the detention center attached to the sheriff’s station and assumed a pastoral air.  He introduced himself as “The Reverend Richard Dubovsky, a servant of Christ, an appellation I much prefer to ‘the pit bull killer,'” and questioned the deputy about the prisoner’s well being. Informed that the prisoner was doing as well as could be expected which, of course, told him nothing, he replied, “We’re all sinners, but we don’t all have the benefits of forgiveness.” He averred his uncompromising belief in the power of forgiveness, which, in his opinion, “benefited the one who forgives more than it benefits the one who has erred.” He pointed to several bruised areas on his face that were still discolored. He asked to speak to Dawson and for permission to give the prisoner a Bible and a few greeting cards to send to his hospitalized nephew. The sheriff’s deputy frisked him, examined the cards and Bible, and let him enter the visitor’s room.

Dawson was surprised and suspicious. Rick was effusively sincere. “I know, Mr. Dawson, how bad you feel about the kid.  I’m sad to say that I’m the only visitor he gets.  He knows that none of this was your fault and he misses you and hopes you don’t get into any trouble over the dogs. He did give me a message for you.”

Dawson had looked at Rick with complete distrust. “What’s the message?”

“He told me to tell you that he’ll take the Cardinals over the Lions.”

Dawson grinned and nodded approvingly.  “He knows I’m a big Lions fan. He’s funnin’ me.”

“He also knows, as do I, that you’re not the kind of man who would turn dogs loose on your brother’s boy.  But Orren is alone there in the hospital, and I’m sure he feels bad about not hearing from you. Incidentally, he is healing nicely.” He produced the greeting card from Loving Uncle. “You go ahead and write what you want.  I’ll see that he gets it.  I’ll wait in the outer office.  The bailiff can bring me your letter when you’re finished.  And here’s a Bible for you to read if you’ve a mind to consult the Good Book.”

Dawson had not known of his wife’s plan and was furious with her for offering up his nephew to those dogs. He was also grateful to Rick for intervening and shooting Nicholson’s dogs.   Rick chatted with the deputy as Dawson sat alone behind the protective screen and committed to pencil-stump print his well-wishes and love to the recovering boy.

Helena, Rick learned, was a natural forger. Ever though she was a trained artist and had an eye for detail, she bought a comprehensive book on handwriting, and after only a few days’ practice, she was able to imitate Dawson’s crude handwriting perfectly.  Rick also contacted several real estate agents in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and asked, in Don Dawson’s name, to be sent brochures about property he could invest in.

It was November 19th, three days before Thanksgiving that Rick, accompanied by a locksmith, a glazer, a chain link fence installer, a home security guard, a carpenter, and two deputy sheriffs, planned to raid his house. They waited inside Helena’s house for Rick to give the signal to hop the fence and enter the rear of the house. Wauneka’s certified letter had ordered them to leave the premises immediately, but two weeks had passed and the squatters had not complied.  The men had not been able to make bail, the boy was still in the hospital, and the women were either visiting the men or, at Dawson’s order, the boy, or they were out buying groceries. A truck from a housing charity stood by to accommodate the disabled veterans if they were still inside the residence.  The renters’ cars were gone, although it was possible that they were inside the dwelling. There had been hope that Orren would be released from the hospital that day, but the doctors, forewarned about the intended raid, postponed his release date.

“The object,” Rick said, “is to avoid confrontations inside the house.”  He therefore made a large donation to a high school marching band that was rehearsing for Thanksgiving’s big football game.  In exchange for the money, they agreed to march down the street while he and the others waited.  All the neighbors came out to watch the band come trumpeting, with fifes and drum beats and majorettes throwing their batons in the air. Even the veterans rolled out of the garage in their wheelchairs to see the spectacle.   Rick went into the Helena’s back yard and put the ladder against the fence. He and a deputy climbed it, dropped down onto his property, and entered the house through the back door.  While the deputy went through the house to lock the front door, Rick signaled the others and lowered the garage door.  The men from the shelter got out of their fan to assist the vets.

Photographing each room as they went, Rick and the deputy searched the filthy debris-choked rooms.  No one was inside the house. A technician changed the frequency of the garage door opener and gave Rick a new remote opener.

The deputy escorted the vets into their room to gather their belongings and helped them to carry everything out to the waiting shelter van.  He then positioned himself at the front door while the locksmith installed a new lock.  Immediately a post hole digger and a concrete mixing machine came to install the posts for the new chain link fence.  The air-conditioning units were removed from the windows and in a truck Rick had rented, were delivered to the sheriff’s department as “recovered stolen property.” The deputy also removed as evidence a bolt cutter which had cutting ridges that might be matched microscopically with the lock cut from Helena’s circuit breaker box. Everyone searched for the Nicholson’s severed lock but it could not be found.  “Maybe it’ll turn up later,” Rick said.  “Right now Harry’s case can’t be helped.”

The carpenter and his helper began to restore old sills and sashes and then turned their attention to the cabinets. A glazier replaced broken windows. A general contractor had been called to give Rick an estimate on restoring the kitchen and installing a complete Spanish tile floor throughout the building.  An evaporative cooler expert came and installed a new fan belt, motor and straw pads, and soon cold air was temporarily blowing through the house, removing much of the stench of the once trash-filled house and the residual fart and skunk scent-in-a-bottle. A chimney sweeper came and loosened years of carbon deposits most of which settled on the hearths. All of the squatters’ clothing and personal possessions were carefully placed in boxes and all of the furniture in the house was loaded into a truck to be taken to a storage unit Rick had paid for.

Another deputy came to stand guard at the back door, a towing company took the vehicles off the lawn and those which were parked on the street and did not have current tags, were impounded.  Since Rick had engaged a professional guard service to be on the premises 24/7, a relief guard came and took his position, walking the perimeter.

An agent from a new home owner’s insurance company came and said that when the repairs were completed, he’d issue a policy.  Rick immediately hired a landscaper and told him to make his house the envy of the block.  The front yard chain-link fence, he explained, was only temporary.

At the post office, he told the clerk to begin again to deliver the mail directly to his house. The squatter women and children would have to find a place to live and they’d be checking with the post office who would have to direct them to Rick. He planned to give them the complete collection of mail that came since he moved into his own home.

The ADA had thought Rick’s theory about deliberately leaving the boy outside to be bitten by the dogs was a great cocktail party yarn; but he did not take it seriously and did not trouble himself to question the boy in a timely manner.  His Aunt Olivia got to him and told him what to tell the authorities when they questioned him. “If you don’t tell them what I say you should tell them, you’ll go to jail for messin’ with Shawna.”  He therefore claimed he had gone outside because he thought he heard a lost kitten cry and tried to look for it when the Nicholson’s dogs got loose.

By the time he was released, he had the scars of 52 stitches in his head and leg, and the insurance company had agreed to settle immediately for 1.5 million dollars, which included his legal and his present and projected medical expenses.  The squatting women and children had found another place in nearby Apache County to occupy. The men were still in jail when the insurance company agreed to settle the claim.  They notified the attorney and hospital administrator that they would meet with Olivia Dawson, who, along with husband Donald, was a legal guardian of the minor child, at the hospital on December 8th at 2 p.m. The attorney would be paid his fee, the hospital bills would be paid, and the balance of $700,000 would be given to Olivia to be held in trust for Orren Dawson.  Rick and Helena, having learned of this through opening Dawson’s mail, sat outside in her Lexus and watched the hospital as the meeting occurred. They loosely followed Olivia to the bank, knowing in advance which bank Don Dawson kept his account.

Rick regularly visited Don Dawson and always stayed with the deputies to chat about life, the power of prayer, and the schedule of events Dawson could expect. Cincinnati had not decided whether or not to extradite Dawson on an assault case and Dawson’s bail hearing could not occur until Child Protective Services issued its full report. Although Rick claimed to be inclined to drop all charges against the three men, he could not speak for Helena who still had signed complaints against them for vandalizing her circuit breaker box and for breaking her front door.  Christmas season had arrived and things at Child Welfare moved slowly especially since Shawna had no legal address to be returned to. The owner of the building from which the air conditioners had been stolen, had contracted with a salvage company who had intended to sell those units. Their damaged condition at recovery made them unsalable and their insurance company insisted that charges be filed against them.  Calculating all the charges and determining a bondable amount was no simple matter.  Worse, Don Dawson and his friends Andy and Clive, had no legal address and this fact, alone, tended to inhibit the cooperation of bail bondsmen.  Jurisprudence wisely took its time.

At the mobile home park, Rick received the new printed checks in the name of Julius Markovitz. “It’s time,” he said to Helena, “that you write a counter-check to Julius Markovitz.” He handed her Dawson’s bank statement that had been mailed to his address.  “You can get the account numbers from the statement.  Before Dawson gets out on bail, we need to collect the money those people have cost us.”

Helena immediately forged a counter check made payable to Julius Markovitz in Dawson’s handwriting for $650,000 for the purchase of a property located in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, information Helena managed to squeeze on the check’s explanation line.  Dawson’s bank, taking the extra step of securing their customer’s verification of the payout, made several calls to Dawson whose cellphone was turned off as it lay inside a bag on a shelf in a jailhouse property room. They left urgent voice-mail requests for call-backs and when they did not receive a call, they immediately sent a certified letter to Donald Dawson at Rick’s house.  Rick, wearing a long sandy blonde wig, mustache, and glasses opened the door for the mailman and, having practiced signing Dawson’s name numerous times, signed for the certified letter.  He opened the letter and promptly checked the approval box.  In the explanation space, Helena wrote in Dawson’s clumsy hand, “Me and my wife bought property in Mexico from Mr. Markovitz. It’s legit. Pay him.”  She then signed his name, placed the form into the bank’s self-addressed and stamped envelope, and drove to the post office to drop the letter into the post office’s mail box. Both of them were careful to wear latex gloves.  The bank had conveniently enclosed an envelope with a self-sticking flap.

Using a “burner” phone, Rick had made reservations at many Navajo hotel-casinos for Mr. and Mrs. Julius Markovitz using a credit card that was issued in that name. When he was certain that the check had been deposited into Markovitz’s account and was considered good, Rick, in his Markovitz disguise, and Helen wearing a red wig and glasses checked in at a nearby Indian-owned hotel-casino on Navajo land. Registered as Mr. & Mrs. Julius Markovitz, they gradually began to wipe out the Markovitz bank account. They would gamble, ask that instead of a “marker” being run – an unlikely possibility – the casino simply have funds transferred from their account into the Casino’s.

On the first afternoon of their Navajo vacation, something unexpected happened to Helena Maxwell.  She had seen the beautiful wife of the hotel’s CEO at the indoor swimming pool. “May I paint you?” she asked Anita Begay, astonishing herself that she had finally desired to paint a portrait.  “If you like,” the surprised woman replied.  Helena, in love with the divine Rick, alive, and feeling powerful, drove immediately to a hobby supply shop in Holbrook and purchased a professional set of oil paints, pigments suitable for glazing, “madder lake” for the red sandstone cliffs that she planned to use in the background, charcoal pencils, brushes, cleaning supplies, palette, easel, and waited until the clerks in the art department created a full length stretched canvas.

Anita Begay had not taken Helena seriously and was therefore surprised to see the artist approach, leading a bellman who carried the easel and canvas.  “I’m not dressed and my hair’s a wreck,” the startled subject complained.

“Those are mere details, Madam,” Helena replied.  “What I need is a room that has northern exposure. Any room will do.  A store room… an old office room.  I’ll fill in a proper setting later.”   Anita led her to an old storage room.

“I’ll paint you full-length,” Helena said in a matter-of-fact way.  “What would you like the viewer to see.  In other words, how do you wish to appear… what kind of social message would you like the pose and expression to convey?”

Anita laughed.  “Something regal, I guess… but not that traditional “Navajo regal”…  no over-blouse and long gathered skirt with a silver and turquoise belt and squash-blossom jewelry.”

“Diamonds are my specialty,” Helena replied.  “I’ll use as a model for pose and jewelry a photograph of a young Queen Elizabeth II that I think is particularly beautiful.  It hangs in Buckingham Palace.” Anita googled images of the Queen.  She thought the portrait was beautiful but dated. “Oh,” Helena said, “I intend to change the dress and you can think about how you’d like your hair to be styled beneath a diamond tiara.”  She had Anita stand upright but relaxed, her hands touching gracefully at her waist.  “Fix your eyes on that–” she looked around the room… “that calendar on the wall and try to convey the expression that you are looking into eternity with confidence.”

Helena deftly began to outline the figure in charcoal. Occasionally, Anita Begay turned her eyes to look at Helena and sensed immediately that this strange woman knew precisely what she was doing.  She relaxed and began to wonder how she would have her long black hair styled.

Rick looked for Helena and finally asked the help of the hotel manager.  He was directed to the storeroom.  Not knowing what to expect, he entered and saw what Helena had accomplished in charcoal.  “My God,” he exclaimed, “the body’s outlined and you’ve already captured her face.  I’m amazed.  The likeness is uncanny.”

“Please don’t interrupt us, my dear,” Helena said.  “My subject will tire soon enough and I’ll have to work without her.  Can’t you carry on without me?”

“I’d be delighted to. It’s wonderful to see you work… and at this superb level.  You just forget all about me.  I’ll be here and there… maybe spend a night or two at some other tourist places.  I won’t even disturb you with a phone call, but if you need me, just call.”

Rick left to check into another hotel-casino, ostensibly with his wife who would possibly arrive later.  Helena often met him at night and then at dawn they’d breakfast and gamble.  Rick would write large checks to whichever hotel-casino they were registered in. Not until the bank transferred the cash into the casino’s account would Rick be given chips.  He and Helena would walk around the casino gambling small amounts before Helen would drive away in her rented car. Before he checked out, Rick would cash-in his chips. Three shifts of cashiers issued and cashed the casino’s chips, and alone or together, they never cashed in their chips from the same shift of cashiers that had issued them.

Helena ceased to meet him when all the nearby casinos had been visited.  As Rick went farther away, she was free to attend to minute details of her composition and to stand before her easel for twelve hour stretches.  The air in the storeroom was so dry that no time was lost waiting for a coating to set.  Anita’s brother, an amateur photographer, had taken a series of hill-top views of the Reservation landscape.  She picked the one she liked best and Helena agreed to use it as background. Anita would appear to be a monarch surveying her domain.  “The Queen of England wore a strapless white bouffant dress with a blue sash, but I will make the dress a sleeveless, pale green satin A-Line gown with a low round neck.  Instead of that blue sash of rank… since the eagle is the official Navajo bird, I’ll create a band made of eagle feathers.”

Anita’s hair had been pulled back into a braided bun.  The tiara gave Helena endless trouble until she decided that Anita, who had a high forehead, should wear an inch-wide band of two-deep marquise cut diamonds, as a fila, across her forehead. A similarly designed diamond bracelet was on her left wrist and her earrings were a simple design of two vertically stacked marquise cut diamonds that matched the width of the band. She needed no necklace since the black tips of the eagle-feather sash ran from her right shoulder-neckline diagonally down across her chest.  The sash was fixed at the left side of her waist with a silver and turquoise Navajo clasp and terminated about six inches below the clasp. Helena had perfectly captured the woman’s beautiful face and figure, and the effect of the gown, jewelry, and sash was stunning.  The glazing technique that she used lent a luminosity to the figure that arrested the eye of the viewer.  When the portrait was unveiled, it was impossible to look away from it.  When Helena formally presented the portrait to Anita, the young woman gasped in admiration and Helena thanked her for “having given me back part of my life that had been lost.”  At Rick’s reminder, she had signed “M” only in the corner.

“Can you make ten more?” the CEO, Dave Begay, tearfully asked.  “I’d like to hang one in the lobby, one in my home, one in my office… everywhere.”

His assistant stared, open-mouthed, at the portrait. “You ought to put a guard on it or I swear somebody will try to steal those diamonds.”  It was a great compliment to Helena.

Begay pretended anger.  “Steal the diamonds?  What about trying to steal the gal who’s wearing ’em?” Everyone laughed.

Helena studied her work.  “I’ll let you know if I do resume my career.  It would be nice to paint your wife at intervals, to see how she mellows with age… like fine wine.”

For nearly two weeks, Rick, alone or with Helena, made the rounds of hotel casinos in seveal states.  When they finished, they had cashed in more than $600,000 worth of chips. At their last stop, Rick called the bank and asked that the Markovitz account be closed when the final service fee for transferring money into another account was deducted.  The amount the bank required was $48,543. Rick wrote the check and the casino cashed it after the bank made the required transfer.

They returned home with Rick contented to have been able to replenish the cash he had thus far laid out since moving to Lafayette Street and with Helena happier than she had ever imagined she could be.  She had decided that she would resume her professional career.  This naturally suited Rick since it would guarantee them a steady income.  “Perhaps, my dear,” he said, “it is time for us to consider marriage.”  Helena gasped in delight.  Rick continued, “but there are a few things that we must do first.  For example, I’d like you to place your home in both our names.  Then I can order the renovations to make it an artist’s studio and maybe a yoga center.”

“Of course,” she gushed.  “Anything you want.”

“And then we can look for a good plastic surgeon to take care of those scars.”

“Oh, darling.  I know that finally we have the money, but I didn’t want to be presumptuous and ask.”

Olivia Dawson had thought that Don would be returned to Ohio on the old warrant, but the authorities in Cincinnati decided not to prosecute because their principal witness had died from causes they determined were unrelated to the assault.  She instead was able to pay 10% of the bail bond for each of the three men.  The total came to $45,000.  Since Rick’s Markovitz check for $650,000 had already cleared the Dawson account, after writing the bail bond check she felt far richer than a woman who had only $5,000 in the bank had a right to feel. The $700,000 insurance check she received for the dog bites was nearly gone.