© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
We Look for Papa’s Money!
Sunday April 25, 1982
Mama talked to Mr. Beauregard on the phone this week. He said she has just four weeks to come up with the money for Plan A or Plan B, otherwise we are stuck with the Public Defender.
Mama decided she better try to talk to the Public Defender. I was in school when she went to meet him at the Courthouse over by Tulane and Broad. She still hasn’t been able to get to see Papa. The Public Defender’s name is James Smith; Mama said it sounds like an alias. She said he is really young, and his blond hair stuck up in a cowlick like Dennis the Menace. The poor guy had a stack of files and folders piled high like Mount Everest. He did give her some interesting news, though.
Mama sank into the couch and kicked off her shoes. “Dani, fix me a cup of tea, I’ve got some Good News.” The Little Kids were eating Cheetos and setting up a Mousetrap game on the floor and not paying much attention to us.
She lowered her voice to a hoarse whisper. “He DID make some money dealing Coke—but he had to. He had to pay off his Gambling Debts.” She sipped her tea. “Honey, find my lighter and smokes.”
I found them and lit a cigarette for her, taking a quick puff and coughing. She rapped me on the forehead. “Listen. . . this is important. He paid half his debts, but he still owes more. I hope those people don’t give us any trouble. Well, maybe Mr. Carlo can keep them off our backs.”
She looked worried for a minute, then her eyes brightened. “But the Good News is, he has enough money stashed, I think we can pay for, what did Mr. Beauregard call it? Option Number Two? The Middle Plan? For Five Grand?”
“You mean where he goes to Prison for a year, then gets out?”
“Yeah, then he’s gotta make four years parole without getting popped.”
Gino looked up from the game. “I don’t want Papa to go to Prison. When’s he comin Home?”
Antonietta started to cry. “I want him to come Home!”
Mama waved them away. “Dani, Papa told Mr. Smith that there’s two hundred dollars in the coffee can in the Bedroom closet, and there’s a Key. Go get the coffee can.”
“OK.” I didn’t tell Mama that me and Dakota had already scoured every inch of the apartment in a frantic search to find Papa’s drug money. We found the coffee can hidden in the dark corner of the bedroom closet shelf. This was Mama’s usual hiding spot, where she hid the bill money from Papa. I gave half the money to Dakota—swearing her to Eternal Secrecy upon Penalty of Death— and I kept half. I never mentioned the small key with the number 27 on it— even to Dakota. I just stuck it in my pocket, thinking it might be my new Good Luck Charm.
The money was now in my sock drawer, in the same dresser I shared with the Little Kids. I brought out the ninety dollars that was left from my half. I spent some of it on candy, colored markers, stickers and lip gloss at Woolworth’s and showed off my ill-gotten goods to the girls at school, bragging that I shoplifted them.
“This is all I found,” I casually handed Mama the coffee can.
“Well, OK. We can make groceries with this.” She counted the money carefully. “I can pay the NOPSI bill too, keep the lights on.” She frowned. “But where’s the Key?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t like lying to her. I was scared because she knew me so well, she could figure me out. I studied my fingernails.
“Dani, don’t bite your nails. It’s Ugly. Brutta.”
“I’m trying to stop. You shouldn’t smoke.”
Mama went into the tiny kitchen and opened the fridge. She pulled out a pack of cheap pink hotdogs. “Listen, I’m still the adult in this house. Boil these up and put some mustard on the bread, I’m gonna take a shower. I’ve gotta work tonight.”
“Mama, what’s the Key for?” I poured water into the pan and turned the stove on.
“It’s for a Greyhound Station locker, keep your eyes peeled for it. The God Damned thing has to be somewhere. Gino and Antionietta?”
“What Mama?” they both looked up, looking for all the world like those Big Eyed Starving Orphans that were always on TV begging for money.
“Did you two take that Key? Did you climb up INTO THAT GOD DAMNED CLOSET AND GO IN THAT COFFEE CAN AND TAKE SOME OF THE MONEY AND THAT GOD DAMNED KEY? WE NEED THAT KEY TO GET PAPA OUT OF JAIL!”
They both looked Guilty and started crying. I felt bad, but scared at the same time. Mama would turn into a Screaming Maniac if she found out that I had that Key in my pocket. She assigned all Three of Us the task of tearing the apartment apart to look for the Key while she was at work, and promising us all Movie tickets and Ice Cream and Cookies at Brocato’s if we found it. I directed the Little Kids in the Search.
I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I planned on going to the Greyhound Bus Station with Dakota to open up Locker Number 27. What in the world was in it?
Photo Credit: “Greyhound bus station,” ibison 4, Flickr, Creative Commons non commercial share alike photo.