I pull a small rectangle of paper from the crinkled package and smooth it between my yellowed fingers. A fragrant bag of tobacco is tipped and its contents tapped into place, filling the open gap. Carefully, expertly, I wrap the edges of the paper around it, like a woman’s thighs winding around her lover. Can’t help but crack a smile at this image in my head, but the days of wine, women, and song are long gone. Long. Gone. I have few concerns, now, and have returned to my first love.

Love, a woefully inadequate word to use for this feeling that is glowing hot, in my swollen belly. It rises like a bubble of gas until it releases that blessed euphoria of anticipation in my ancient brain. At my age and condition, it’s the little things. My tongue rolls out automatically and I pass the edge of the paper across it, leaving barely enough dampness to seal the deal.

My son enters the room, nostrils flair, he smells death. A curl of disgust plays at the corners of his lips before his face dons the mask of a suitable reaction for entering a room decorated for my demise. With a slight nod to me, he greets me.
“Dad.”

Rand forced a lot of warmth into that word. For one who is barely 24, he is a pro at charming the weak and worthless. I taught him well. I watch his black pirate eyes, so like mine, as they survey the automated hospital torture rack that replaced my Jado bed made of gold and Swarovski crystals, then flick over to the mountain of pill bottles crowding out the Remington sculpture on my bedside table, and finally resting on the patronizing vultures, or should I say “caregivers” stationed bedside. They’re standing in for my fawning friends and lusty lovers who staged quite a disappearing act when the incantation “throat cancer” was invoked. “Get out,” Rand’s voice cracks like a whip over their bent heads. They scuttle away and disappear like cockroaches.

Rand’s request is a small favor to me. He knows I have wanted to do it all morning, come to think of it – all week, but the removal of my cancerous larynx has made that impossible. These little kindnesses, these little things, add up on my mental tally sheet – rewards and punishments to be meted out at the reading of my last will and testament. My son crosses the room and lays a thin pile of files on the hospital tray, deftly shifts it into place in front of me, and whips a lighter from his pocket as I lift my hand-rolled lover to my lips. A thin smile and slight shake of his head means he gets the joke. I take the cigarette from my mouth, remove my oxygen tube and insert it into the hole in my throat, waiting. Lighter flicks, contact, ignition, and I inhale deeply, floating in the hazy ecstasy of nicotine nirvana.

“You should really use the patch, Dad.”

I tilt sideways with great effort and point to my vanishing ass as a juicy fart escapes.

No smile. Just a shrug. I must be losing my touch.

A pen is produced, the first file is opened, and the papers fanned out, only the signature lines are showing. Déjà vu. How many movies have played this scene? How many scenes like this have I actually been in? Usually, I’m the one armed with the pen. And I mean armed. I found that piracy is more lucrative with a pen than a sword. There is still blood-letting, but not on my cashmere carpet. This kind of blood is the color of money and it is transfused electronically to my offshore bank account.

Yo Ho! Yo Ho! A pirate’s life for me.

I scribble my name on the dotted line without care. I’ll be dead soon. Let my son, my ex-wife and my trophy wife duke it out in the courtroom. I’d love to have a ringside seat for that. But, if justice serves, I won’t be back to haunt this earth, I’ll be fileted and roasted in hell. Luckily for me, there is no justice because there is no God.

Rand is gone. The room is empty now, quiet. They’ve all left me to rest.

Resting is overrated. I’ve worked every day of my life since I was fifteen. It was then I discovered something about myself. When I got a good feeling about something or someone, more like a hunch, and I acted on it, I was rewarded. Not sometimes, every time. Granted, it was at the expense of others, but that never bothered me. Blackmail was the beginning. It was easy to hide in the shadows, peeking and peering, finding out who was an adulterer, an embezzler, or just plain kinky — so easy to stray from the righteous, social taboos of modern civilization. After I plumbed the depths of my neighborhood, I moved on to the next one. Never needed much sleep, my mind was always working on the next plunder. As I got older, I added grifting, extortion, and a little gambling until I moved up to day trading, night trading, buy ins and buy offs. What did my hunches add up to after 35 years? Payoffs. Millions of them.

Thump. Th-thump. What the hell is that? I fumble for my bell and clutch it to my chest, finger ready to punch the button.

A blond head pops up between my sheet-tented feet at the end of my bed. Beneath the platinum bangs, large hazel eyes blink at me in Bambi-like innocence. “Cara-Cara is under the bed, Daddy. Can I get her?”

Something heavy slithers and repositions itself in my stomach. I always have this reaction when faced with my seven-year-old daughter, Ivy. I know, I’m a walking cliché; young wife to prove I’m not old, young daughter to prove I’m not dead . . . yet. I shape-shift my face and smile, playing the indulgent Daddy. The flat of my hand pats the bed beside me and I crook my yellowed finger, beckoning her to sit with me. Her eyes narrow into slits. I lift my eyebrows, pleading silently for her company.

Eyes flashing, she blurts, “No.” Her head bobs out of sight and I hear her cooing to the cat beneath the bed. Within seconds she is up and ambling across the Persian carpet toward the door, the giant Siamese curled in her tiny arms.

I stare hard at her narrow back. I’ve never been able to read her – not one stinkin’ hunch about my own daughter. My hand raises to my chest, my finger extends and rings the bell sharply. Ivy stops in her tracks and hesitates before she turns around. Her eyes are usually warm and flecked with green fire, but she reserves an icy glint just for me. I can feel the chill of it seeping into my bones, clutching at a heart that is “two sizes too small” — or so I’ve been told. How can this little person be the only human to defy me? Powerful men have bowed to my clout, beautiful women have begged for my attention. Not her. Immune to my cunning and charm, wary of my flaccid attempts at affection, she has always lived in this house as if my presence is a temporary inconvenience.

“I have a hunch, Daddy.”

Her chirpy voice surprises me. We rarely talk. I lift my brows into a question mark.

“I get a bad feeling when I think about you. I have dreams that you are a bad man. I look inside of people and somehow I know about them. When I look inside of you, your heart is black like the flag pirates fly on their ships.”

No, no. I shake my head from side to side, with all the innocence and charm I can muster.

“My hunches are never wrong,” she argues. “My brother wants to be like you, but he can’t see inside people like we do.” She leans down and opens her arms, freeing the cat. Back arched, it hisses at me before scampering out of the door.

I mentally hiss back. I hate that cat.

Ivy straightens up, smooths her dress and squares her back. She appears taller, older, much more than her seven years. It shocks me it has taken her less time to discover her gift than it took me. If only I was younger and had longer to live; the things I could teach her, the money we could make together. She is worth far more than my son the pretender to the throne. Rand is ruthless, yes. Greedy? Without a doubt. But gifted? No. Not like her. He will lose his inheritance at the speed of light. Ivy will be the one who rakes in the chips. Perhaps she’ll begin a dynasty validating my gift, venerating me in perpetuity. I need to change my will. I’ve got to get a hold of my lawyer and . . .

“I have a hunch, Daddy.”

This interruption is unnerving. I’ve got to act fast, before . . .

“It came to me just now. Want to hear it?”

This is my girl in action. I reach over, pluck my hand-rolled cigarette from the ashtray, and nod enthusiastically, in my feeble way.

“You’re supposed to live another six months, but I have a hunch your throat is closing up so tight right now that you can barely breathe.”

I gulp for air that suddenly isn’t there. My free hand slaps back on my pillow and picks up the oxygen tube. My fingers jab at my throat as I attempt to replace it in the evasive surgical hole. It won’t fit. I flick the cigarette away and try to insert the tube with both hands, which by now, are shaking badly. I can’t inhale. The air won’t pass through. Blocked. Hands grappling at my throat, eyes watering, I signal to my daughter for help.

“I have a hunch your black heart is slowing down.”

My chest thumps erratically, decelerating the already threadbare rhythm. Black stars float across my vision. My mouth opens and closes silently like the trout I used to catch and leave gasping, slowly dying, in the bottom of my boat while I baited my hook and fished for more. Always more. My left arm is on fire. I fling it out, blindly searching for the bell. I hear it crash to the floor with a muted thunk.

“Slower and slower,” she murmurs sweetly.

My hand grasps at empty air.

“Until it finally stops.”

Blackness surrounds me. I’m trapped in a tunnel with light at the end; a pirate’s telescope with my young daughter caught in the cross-hairs at the opposite end. She will inherit my entire fortune after her hunches about her brother and mother come true. To think, the richest treasure I uncovered was buried in the gift of my own DNA. I took one, last appraising look at her. My daughter, Ivy. So young, so little. So deadly.

As I’ve always said,

It’s the little things.

THE END.

 

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