The Incognito Parallel -6-

Why is the most difficult question in the world ... except for why not.

The Incognito Parallel

by Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 6
Why or Why Not


I checked on our car as I passed. A practically brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee, it looked okay or at least I couldn't see that anyone had bothered it. A lot of our luggage still lay piled in the back behind the seats.

I still wondered a bit about what all Mom had packed since the first I'd know about us leaving was her waking me up just after midnight and telling me to grab anything I didn't think I could do without for a long trip. I packed some books and games, my baseball equipment, a few clothes and some of my favorite action figures. Most of that stuff was still in the Jeep.

I walked on down the covered walkway in front of the motel. I'd noticed that most buildings here had such walkways in front of them. Having felt the midday summer sun now, I understood why. I found our room and let myself in quietly but Mom had already woken up. She sat in a pile of pillows and covers and smiled at me. "Hey, kid. Did you have a good time playing?"

"Um, yeah? I'm sorry I didn't come back sooner?" She looked and sounded better, not as congested and I knew she had been out of bed cause her face looked less puffy; she'd put on a bit of makeup, too, I figured.

"I took a look outside earlier, saw you playing," she said. "I knew you were okay." But I could tell she was worried about something.

I sat on the bed next to her. "You want me to get you something from the restaurant?"

"In a bit, maybe we'll both go over there. A good dinner and another night's sleep and I think we can go in the morning." She reached a hand out to ruffle my hair. "You got kind of dirty playing, didn't you?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess so. All the kids went home for siesta or something, we might play some more later?"

She laughed. "Well, you can wash your hands and face now and take a bath later tonight?"

"Okay. You're not worried about me playing?" I asked.

"No. You looked like you were having fun; they even let you play second for awhile, huh?"

I grinned. "I'm the best second base they got."

"That's good," she said. "You should have fun if you can. I'm sorry about this, punkin."

"I know," I said. "I just don't really understand it?"

She sighed.

"Are you and Dad ever going to get back together?" I asked, trying to keep any quiver out of my voice.

She shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe. But probably not soon."

"Why? I mean, why not?" I knew my voice caught that time but it hurt to think Mom and Dad would not be my Mom and Dad together again, as soon as possible.

"Go wash up," she said. "We'll go get some burgers or something."

I shook my head. "Not till you tell me what this is about?"

She looked at me and her mouth got thin and flat. "I'm the mother, you're the kid, Drew. I don't want to talk about this right now."

"I want to know," I insisted. I didn't want to sass her but not telling me just wasn't fair.

She sighed, then coughed several times, took a tissue and wiped her eyes. I didn't know what to do when I realized she was crying. "Go wash up, honey. Wash up, and then I'll tell you."

I got off the bed and went to the little bathroom to clean the dirt off my hands and face and clothes. I heard her sniffling and crying in the room and I felt really bad about making her cry.

When I came back out, she was just putting away her lipstick. She'd put her makeup back on after crying. She didn't usually wear much at all but I guess she still wanted to cover up the bruise around her eye.

I sat down on the bed and she sat in the straight chair in front of the little desk/vanity table. "Are you going to tell me?" I asked.

She nodded. "Your dad's uncles have gotten into something that could cause your father to go to jail. I told him he had to quit or I would leave him."

I blinked. "I thought this was about you being jealous of each other." That's what all the arguments I had heard had been about.

She shrugged. "That doesn't help. But I'm not really worried about your father, uh, sleeping with someone else. I just say those things 'cause he's jealous about me and I want him to see it cuts both ways. But it makes him crazy." She rubbed her cheek where I guess it still hurt from when Dad hit her.

"What --" but she stopped me by holding up her hand.

"I'm not going to tell you exactly what's going on. You're too young and, and the fewer people who know about it, the better."

"Uncle Randy and Uncle Kevin are doing something illegal?"

She sighed but didn't answer.

"Does Granddad know?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know. Probably."

Granddad is Charlie Kelley. He started a chain of video game places called, "Only-a-Dime," back before I was born. The idea is that kids pay to get into the place and then games are only a dime. Or a ten-cent token. You can win tokens by winning games and you can buy prizes with the tokens you've won, too. Cheap stuff, like cockamamies and little toy cars, or bubble gum.

They sell hotdogs and soda and potato chips, too, and everything once you're inside is just a dime for the first hotdog or the first soda. Like that. It costs about $6 to get in, most of the places, more some places where the rent is higher, I guess.

I thought about that for a bit.

Granddad had some great stories. He was the oldest brother, ten years older than my dad's uncles. His father had run a bar in Cleveland, "Good Time Charlie's," back a long time ago and his name had been Charlie, too. Actually, John Charles Francis Andrew Kelley, come straight over from Dublin, Ireland, but I guess there were too many men named John around. Granddad's best stories were about the wiseguys who used to come into his father's bar. It took me a long time to figure out that wiseguys was Granddad's word for mobsters.

I didn't know exactly what might be going on but I did know that criminals had money they needed to hide. The news called it money laundering and I went and looked that up because it didn't sound like something that ought to be a crime. What it means though is to hide where money comes from by running it through a cash business or a crooked bank or something.

And Dad's job for the family business was going around the country, checking the books in all the videogame places and fixing things if they needed it. All the company places used mostly cash; I figured a lot of money could be hidden doing something like that.

I grabbed my own arms and hugged myself. I'm only eleven and if I could figure that out, the cops would figure it out sooner or later. Then my Dad would go to prison.

Mom stared at the brown air conditioner while I cried. "I can't hug you, honey. You'd catch my cold," she said.

"I don't care," I sniffed. I held my arms out to her and we did a quick hug, at least. We didn't kiss each other though.

We cleaned our hands and faces again and Mom fixed her makeup a third time, then we went over to the Denny's and had a late lunch or early dinner. I had a kid-size cheeseburger with fries and a salad. Mom had baked fish with steamed vegetables and salad. It was pretty good but I didn't eat all the fries.

We didn't talk about our problems in the restaurant and Rosie, the nice lady who had served me breakfast wasn't there. A younger woman waited on us. She sort of ignored me and just talked to Mom but that's okay. I didn't mind.

I thought about some things in between telling Mom about the softball game. She thought the idea of three teams was pretty neat. I didn't mention Rosie or the ball players thinking that I was a little girl, that was kind of embarrassing.

Mom complained that she couldn't really taste anything and she made several gross noises because of her cold. Mostly, I tried to ignore that so I could enjoy eating. "I hate having a cold," she said. Then she blew her nose and it sounded like a taxicab honking. "It's breaking up," she said.

I didn't want to think about big, slimy masses of snot coming apart like an old pair of jeans inside my Mom but like I said, I didn't eat all the french fries.

I tried to think about our situation. Why we had left home in the middle of the night and why Mom had pulled money out of several bank accounts before we left. She told me that when I got scared about how we would live on the run. She had a lot of money in cash with her. So far, we hadn't put anything on a credit card and she hadn't had to visit an ATM once we had got out of the city limits back home.

That meant she was afraid of being followed. And if Mom was afraid of something, that meant I should be scared, too.

What kind of guys had Dad gotten mixed up with?

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