Million Dollar Momma

Excerpt from Million Dollar Momma
The Deception Series Book 3
by Sherry Morris

Reston, Virginia 2005

On a gusty July Thursday, my telephone reverberated to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. I shuddered because I knew who was calling. I had set that distinctive ring tone to my father’s number. I was screening his calls because he always had something vile to say about my mother and I had listened to too many of his outrageous lies. My stomach churned while I waited for him to hang up after the fourth ring like he always did when the automatic answering machine kicked on. I held my breath, hearing with relief the click of the machine.

The robotic voice said, “Hello, no one is able to come to the phone. Please leave your message after the tone.”

When I heard the beep, I swallowed the big wad that clogged my throat.

“Oh-Donna, she’s trying to kill me!”

I ran to the portable handset and punched the talk button. “Dad! Daddy! Who’s trying to kill you?”

In a strained breathless whisper, he said, “Your mother.”

“What? When?”

“Right now!” he whimpered.

I overheard Momma’s voice in the background. “Nobody’s going to care about you. You damned old fool!”

After a dull thud, the line went dead.

Oh my God. I detected my breath echoing out in audible pants. I couldn’t believe this. What was I supposed to do? Call the police on my own mother? Not an option. No way! I shook my head. This was just too bizarre to wrap my mind around. Momma was a good girl through and through. She might get furious with Daddy once in a while but she’d never ever hurt him. But what if she was really trying to kill him? Lord knows, he’d manipulated, stifled and belittled her for decades. Had he finally done something so dastardly to drive her across the line of sanity? Or perhaps he’d just pulled another one of his everyday mind games and Momma just reached her breaking point? What if she really was trying to kill him? Think, Donna, think! The Meddlesteins! Yes! I would call the Meddlesteins.

Pressing the end button on my phone, I automatically plucked the number of Gloria and Roderick Meddlestein from the cobwebs of my childhood. They’d been my parents’ across-the-street neighbors for more than thirty years. When I was little, I could always count on them to help me when I was home alone and needed an adult to relight the furnace or check out a strange noise that had me frightened. They were such good people. I prayed they hadn’t changed their number. I felt a flush of heat rise up and envelop my body as I dialed with trembling fingers, agonizing in the seemingly slow motion.

Gloria Meddlestein answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Meddlestein?” My voice sounded unnaturally shrill.

“Yes.”

“This is Donna Payne. You know, I used to live across the street from you?”

She cheerfully said, “Yes, of course. Hello, Donna, how are you, dear?”

“Listen, I just received a phone call from my father. He said my mother was trying to kill him.” I faked a laugh. “Will you please go over and check on him?”

Without much of a pause, she said, “I’ll send Roddy over. You want to give me your number so I can call you back?”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Meddlestein.”

I gave my phone number and ended the call.

My mind was racing. Tammy works close by, she can zip over and talk some sense into those two. She is their favorite kid and has them wrapped around her pretty little finger. What is the name of that gym where she works? I frantically punched in the numbers of the telephone directory. A prerecorded voice told me to state the party’s name and city.

“Rocky’s Gym, Washington, DC.”

I waited and waited.

Finally a live person came on the line. “Ma’am, we only retrieve Virginia numbers. You have to hang up and dial one, two–oh–two, five–five–five, one–two–one–two.”

Shoot! I ended the call and tried again. Tears streamed down my face. Big almond-sized drops. This time a computer-generated voice revealed the phone number for the gym.

The surly employee who had answered the phone at Rocky’s Gym had deserted me in the purgatory of hold. Five minutes passed as I waited on the telephone line for my forty-three-year-old adopted sister Tammy, personal trainer to the Capitol Hill pork barrels, all those congressmen, senators, lawyers and lobbyists who thought they ruled the universe. Come on, come on already. Tammy, you’re three minutes from their house. It might be a matter of life or—

I wouldn’t let myself think the last word. My stomach churned and I tasted a burning sourness in my throat. This was taking too long. I punched the button to end the call and then pushed redial. Wedging the house phone in between my right ear and shoulder, I picked up my cell phone and dialed the Meddlesteins. The tiny blue phone on my left ear just rang and rang.

I couldn’t stand this inactivity. I had to do something. I furiously wiped imaginary crumbs off my pistol gray granite countertops. Stomping into the utility room, I threw the damp rag in the empty laundry basket on top of the dryer. As I grabbed the broom and glanced around, I realized there wasn’t anything to clean. I had sterilized the place last evening in preparation for my trip to the writers’ conference in New York today. I didn’t want to get killed in a plane crash and then be embarrassed at the mess I’d left. What impression would that leave behind? No, I was a good, clean girl. I shoved the broom back up into its holder and shut the door.

My neck and shoulder ached from squeezing the portable handset to my ear. Never realized how heavy my head was. I grabbed the house phone and erectly speed-walked into the hardwood foyer. I stumbled over my yellow backpack. Next to it, my pink overstuffed duffel bag leaned lopsidedly against the etched glass front door. A defiant beep pounded in my right ear. I ended the call to Tammy and slapped the phone down on the teacart, beside my purse and plane ticket to New York.

I closed the never-ending ringing of the Meddlesteins’ call on my cell phone. Thunder cracked outside. The rain commenced its devilish needle pricking on the cedar shake roof of my end-unit townhouse. I folded the cell phone and clipped it onto the canvas belt on my sleeveless khaki shirtdress.

I shuffled into the powder room and yanked tissues out of the box to blow my nose on. Looking in the mirror, I tried touching up the black rings around my powder blue eyes but the mascara kept running through the tears. Blue eyes. How come I was the only one in my family with blue eyes? Momma’s eyes were green. Daddy had brown eyes. Oh God, Daddy! What’s going on between you two? I knelt on the floor, grabbed my curly blond hair back and lost my breakfast. Momma used to hold my hair back when I threw up. I remember when Tammy had her tonsils removed and was so sick afterward. Momma made me hold my sister’s ebony black hair back. I thought it was so gross and mean at the time but now I knew she was teaching me compassion and nurturing. Eventually calming down, I cleaned myself up.

After strapping on the backpack, I slung my crocheted purse strap over my right shoulder, maneuvered the overstuffed duffel away from the front door and opened it. The wind gushed in. I flinched as I watched lightning strike the field behind the townhouses across from me on Spyglass Street. Heaving the bag over the threshold and onto my brown brick stoop, I propped it against my foot, shut the door and locked up.

I pressed the automatic key twice and listened to the doors unlock on my black Chevy Suburban. As soon as I stepped out from under the portico, I was drenched. Running to the vehicle, I opened the rear cargo door and heaved in the duffel. Struggling to free myself from the backpack, I pulled one of those unthought-of muscles in my side. Grimacing and wincing, I stowed the luggage, slammed the cargo door and raced to the driver’s side, climbing in as another bolt split the Bradford pear tree in my front yard. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I really loved that pear tree.

I started the engine, shifted into overdrive and accelerated through the narrow winding, private streets of my planned community. After switching the front and rear wipers on, I fumbled in my purse to make sure that I’d remembered my ticket. A paper cut cinched that mystery. I sucked on the index finger of my right hand as I stopped at the red light. I spun the dial to defrost while trying to see through the fogged-up windshield. Soaked and shivering, I slid the temperature lever to high. I switched on the seat warmer as I floored it through the intersection on Route Seven.

Darn it, Daddy. Why do you always have to pull one of your stunts just when my life is going so well? Am I not constitutionally entitled to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? And if Momma is trying to kill you, I can’t say she wasn’t provoked by all your years of manipulation. I don’t have time to run over and referee. I’m going to miss my flight.

As furious as I was at him, I knew there were shuttles leaving for New York every hour. I’d just have to pay a fee and stand by for a later flight. Damn it, Daddy, you’re costing me extra money and I’ll miss early registration. I hated attending conferences without a name badge identifying me as one of the group. If I was late today, I wouldn’t be able to get mine until tomorrow morning.

I tensed up even more as I approached the exit for the Dulles Toll Road. If I turned here, I might be able to make the next shuttle flight to New York. Or a few more miles down the road, I could squeeze onto the conveyer belt they called Route Sixty-Six, the road to the Nation’s Capital, Washington, and the misery of my parents’ house.

Before I had made up my mind, my cell phone rang out. I fumbled, unable to unhook it from my belt. I unlatched my seat belt and wrestled to get the phone loose.

Simultaneously, I heard a thud and then glass shattering. I shielded my face with my hands as a deer hurtled toward me. I felt the air bag inflating against me and the sharp stab of the antler piercing my right shoulder. I slammed on the brakes with both feet. The vehicle skidded to a lurching stop as the air bag deflated. Impaled on the deer, I was ejected out of the Chevy.

The buck and I bowled down a prickly embankment. The searing pain in my shoulder was alternately overwhelmed by the weight of the beast when he reigned on top. I felt the antler breaking loose from my shoulder just before my world somersaulted into darkness.

Hearing a thumping whir, I blinked my eyes open. I struggled, unable to move. Someone was holding me down. I focused on his thickly haired brown arms and then down to his blue latex-gloved hands.

“She’s coming to.”

I screamed. Screams of fright, frustration and burning agony. Screams that I couldn’t hear.

“Calm down, Miss. You’re gonna be all right. We’re flying you to Fairfax Hospital. We should be landing momentarily. What’s your name?” The man removed the oxygen mask from my face.

“Ohhh…”

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. You’re really beat up. Can you tell me your name?”

“Ohhh…Donna.”

“Donna? Good. Do you know what today is?”

Teardrops spilled. I didn’t know. The rhythmic whoop of the helicopter distracted me.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. You’ll be just fine. The trauma team will take good care of you.” He replaced the oxygen mask and wiped my tears with gauze.

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