Byrd, Bex & Cousins Detective Agency, Chapter 2
Sherry went into her bedroom. The livable half, the light coming through the blue tarps, looked like it should be a seafood restaurant called The Mermaid Grotto, and it smelled like a lumberyard.
She squeezed into the loft created by the tree, which had crashed down from across the street exactly along the seam of the two houses and stopped at a children's-book angle at the Wagenbachs' chimney. Now Sherry, Jim, Jeremiah Wagenbach, and the squirrel Jeremiah had tamed with people food (and named "Stacy," for some inscrutably Jeremiah reason) were all sharing an open-air split-level sleeping area while they waited for the insurances to decide who would absolutely not get reimbursed for what. With the exception of the squirrel situation, Sherry was finding the arrangement surprisingly unhorrible, as Jeremiah knew the constellations, did not snore, and had a lady friend with tiny eyebrows, Luz, whose tastes in cocktails and shameful television closely paralleled Sherry's own.
Presently, Jeremiah was explaining between effortful hrrnrr noises that any pulley arrangement worth a damn should mimic the human shoulder-elbow system. He paused to yell over the front of the house, "Is it caught on something, Jerry Steps?"
"He calls Jerry 'Jerry Steps'?"
Luz didn't look up from Million Dollar Matchmaker: "There was already like four other Jerries or something? Sable, Debevoise, that dude with the mole on his –"
"Sure, but he couldn't call him 'son'?"
"Who does that? Dads on TV, with sweaters."
"Yeah, true. Is he okay?" Sherry nodded at Jeremiah.
"He's purple, though?"
Jeremiah was still hauling with most of his might on a braided bungee cord. From the street, Jerry Steps yelled, "It's stuck on the flagpole housing, Pop," so Jeremiah exhaled and started letting the bungee cord out. Luz did look up then to say, "I told you, sit, have a gimlet, let Jerry Steps bring it up. Not everything has to be hard."
"And I told you I don't like that cheap lime juice you got, and plus the thing won't corner. With that big hooky branch coming down on the landing?"
"I like that cheap lime juice you got," Sherry said, peeking over the tree on her side at an old-school bulbous charcoal barbecue blonking gently against the front of the Wagenbachs' house. "You can't grill in the yard?"
"The s'mores lose their im-med-iacy," Luz said in her Jeremiah voice. "You want a twist, Sherrita?"
"Nah, just gets in the way."
"But so, you couldn't eat the s'mores down th–"
"We want to eat them up here," Jeremiah said. He cracked his old round knuckles. "Under the stars."
Sherry was on the verge of pointing out that the stars were the same in the yard as they were in their stove-in bedroom, then realized no, they weren't. Luz passed her her gimlet in a Graceland coffee mug.
"Chin chin. …This lime juice is great, what's he on about."
"Who knows. What you doing tonight?"
"I don't know exactly. Probably nothing. Maybe a treasure hunt."
"A treasure hunt. What's the treasure?"
"I don't know that either."
"So it could be riches beyond your wildest imagining!"
"Pretty sure it isn't, but yeah, could be."
"Or it could be" — Luz paused to listen to the sound of some round metal something rolling away from Jerry Steps in a downhill fashion down on the street — "some bullshit."
"Could be. It already kind of is. It's my cousin, and there's some sister shit going on –"
"I didn't know you had a sister!"
"Oh, I don't. It's other people's sister shit, my mom's, my cousin's, her mom's, and I don't get it but I have to try to speak the language, lately."
Luz took a pack of menthols out of her cross-body. "Sister shit, it's dark, you know? Nobody talks about it being but it is." Puff. "I ate mine. In the womb."
"You ate yours? How'd you know? Oh my God, I'm obsessed with those cases."
"I'm pregnant with my daughter, and they get all these teeth on the ultrasound. Not hers, these other teeth, like in my spleen or something."
"Sisters, shit always goes down in secret. Boys wrestle, and then they grow up and aren't friends. Just…" A starburst motion with her hand. "Like changing jobs. Sisters, it's different."
"You can't change jobs."
"Or someone's got to die." Luz was going for a jokey tone but missed it.
"This has taken a turn, hasn't it."
"Mmmm-hm. Vodka." Luz aimed a dark red nail at Sherry, then at the Ciroc, then at Sherry again. "Don't make any big decisions, either. Vodka gets things all desperate."
"Yeah, I could end up living in a tree."
"God forbid. This life. Another round?"
"What the hell. You seen my iPad? I gotta Facetime my dad and try to crack me some aunt code."
"Jim took it this morning. Use ours, there's a remote…somewhere. Jeremiah?" Jeremiah, who had rigged up a bar mount of sorts for Luz's iPad using clothesline and a picture frame, had vanished downstairs.
Faintly: "Try the knothole!"
"…'Try the knothole.' This was cute at first, but. …Ah! Here. Look out with the 3, there's sap."
Sherry looked at a photo of her grandparents Jim had hung on an angled-off bit of bark. They were on a boardwalk somewhere, being theatrical in their belted swimsuits. Her eyes throbbed. She peered at the remote. "How do I make letters?"
"I'll do it, gimme."
"brigbyrd at gmail."
The sound came in before the picture, a tinny wash of George Benson and Sherry's uncle yelling, "Brig, do we know a Luz? Because this profile pic is moo-ee callie-ent–"
Sherry yelled through a facepalm, "SOUND'S ON UNCLE GAGE! Hi! It's Sherry! Hearin' ya great! Okay!"
"Sher Bells!" Gage and his nose filled the screen and then stepped back to reveal the rest of Sherry's parents' kitchen. Behind him, a man wearing a double-breasted blue blazer and a scarf of knockwurst strolled through the kitchen to the back patio.
Luz squinted. "Was that the governor?"
"Former. …Hi, Uncle Gage. This is Luz's iPad; this is Luz. Dad home?"
"Course he's home, it's SCS night! Yarright? Why aren't you here?"
"I'm not an old guy and I don't eat steak?"
"Frangipani brought chicken sausage."
"And I don't play poker."
"Neither does Frangipani, technically. It's why I have all his money."
Luz whapped Sherry's arm, partly to hand her the second gimlet, and said, "That Frangipani?"
"Straight flush yourself, you fat fuck," someone told Gage out of frame. "And while you're up, tell your mayo fuckin' brother to get some olive oil that isn't from fuckin' Edison New Jersey. What is this, Applebee's?"
"It is that Frangipani!" Luz said, and slurped. "That: is cool. What is he doing in your dad's hou–"
Brig Byrd materialized, holding a barbecue fork. "Gage, go help Frange while I talk."
Gage leaned sideways to tell Sherry, "Come out. It's the only time he gets out the good whisky."
"I'm standing right here, you know," Brig said to the back of his little brother's head, and on the left edge of the frame Father Scotto said, "And you could bring your own bottle, you know. …Well, hello, Sherry."
"Hi, Father Scotto. What's going on?"
Luz said, "Is that a priest?" Sherry shushed her.
"I was told to inform someone that something is happening with arugula."
"Again with the salad foof." Gage stood upright and listened, then hollered, "YOUR mother's a foof!" and stumped away, calling, "Sher Bells, one hour 'til we cut the cards!"
"Hi." The doorbell rang. "Scotto'll get that. What's up?"
"Should I come for real?"
Brig shrugged. "You're always welcome. I think Scotto's boyfriend brought an ice-cream cake."
"The priest has a boyf– ow." Luz rubbed her elbow and muttered, "Fine," and Sherry gave her the "I'll explain later" palms out.
"Aren't you still eating the last one?"
"Well, then bring your brother too, he's supposed to clear out that storage area anyway."
"Yeah, about that actually. Ellie found a key while she was cleaning out at Jane and Dale's. It's a little white key. Can you think of any of Mom's boxes, like a jewelry box or a keepsakey kind of a thing, that she never locked or –"
"Sure, that sewing kit," Brig said. "She keeps the hasp taped down with medical tape."
"Riiiiight, that thing. Do you know where it is?"
"I…don't know? I think there's something in it, a note or a –"
"Look at this shit." Gage lumbered into frame with his plate. "My dinner looks like Jurassic Park. You gotta talk to this guy."
"Your mom looks like Jurassic Park," Frangipani said. "Oh! Sherry! Our love!"
"Hi, Mr. Frangipani."
"Holds on! Holds on!"
"Sherry, you gonna let this jamook talk about your grandmother like that?" Gage boomed, relocating a softball of arugula from his own plate to Frangipani's.
"She does look like Jurassic Park, probably, now," Sherry said, and Luz kicked her, and Sherry pinched Luz's leg.
"You should come play, Sherry. Defend the family honor, help us eat this…fuckin' monstrosity Isaiah brought."
"It's not that big, Michael," Isaiah said, retying his sweater sleeves precisely. "Hi, Sherry. You should come so we can have the good whisky."
"I am still standing right here, you asses."
"It has a congressman, this fuckin' thing."
"Michael, it does not, and why is there chianti in the freezer."
"Because Gage is a fuckin' animal."
Luz leaned over and whispered in Sherry's ear, "Do they remember we're here?"
"Maybe I should just go," Sherry whispered back. "Except I'm sort of drunk now. …Dad?"
The kitchen had emptied. Sherry and Luz leaned forward, straining to hear.
Isaiah tiptoed back into the room through the butler's pantry, finally.
"Isaiah! Can you tell my dad –"
"Gotta go, hon, the governor's wife 'dropped by' and she thinks there's an actual chautauqua instead of just poker, so. Show time. Frangipani's coming by later with the kit, 'kay? Call your dad later."
"Okay. Good luck?"
Isaiah shook his head and blew a kiss and rang off.
"Frangipani is coming here?" Luz struggled up out of her beanbag. "Gimme a push, Sherrita, come on!" Sherry pushed. Luz pinwheeled to the front of the house and pitched her torso over the sheared-off front wall and wailed, "JEREMIAHHHHHHH! FRANGIPANI INCOMIIIIIIING!"
Then everything became something else.
Tags: byrd bex and cousins