A rustling from the other room signals the stirring of my son. Behind me, on the floor, our little Beagle-Lab mix gnaws on a manufactured bone. I struggle to hold my operated hand higher than the keyboard to let its one functioning finger manage a third of the letters and think, This, too, shall pass. Somewhere a fan whirrs, and my coffee cools on the table beside my plate of berries. Saturday, August 17th: My mother-in-law's 83rd birthday.
Older women intrigue me; they show me my future. I didn't see my mother age; she died two weeks before her 59th birthday. I am a year younger than her oldest age. I think I will be bird-like, though; wizened and stringy, with crinkly grey hair and an untamed moustache.
Like Evalyna Lloyd.
I met Evalyna Lloyd in 1985. I spent an inglorious two years on the Jackson County warrant desk, filing cases and doing preliminary hearings. Other warrant officers rotated to the trial side but I resisted. I liked the finite contact with a case. I couldn't make too many irreparable mistakes. An indictment could always be amended by someone with a steadier hand.
I drank a lot in those days. I never paid for Scotch at the bars near the courthouse and sucked down glass after glass. I had a special affinity for the detectives in the forgery unit. One day, one of them brought me a file on Joyce Warwick, whom they suspected had murdered a St. Joseph man after luring him away from his family to Kansas City. She had taken up with another old person after his death, and somehow, checks cashed on that lady's account came to the attention of the indignant mothers' sons in the forgery unit.
Miz Lloyd lives next door to the apartment of the guy who died, the submitting detective told me. This Warwick gal, if that's really her name,, moved in right after the landlord tossed her out of the guy's place. She convinced Miz Lloyd to let her "help", and started "cashing checks" right away. They wanted a warrant to exhume the dead neighbor's body. But first they wanted me to charge the suspect with forgery for Mrs. Lloyd's accounts. I did it all; and we got our exhumation order; and I attended my first and only autopsy in the very dress which I had worn to my mother's funeral. I had to burn it; I could never get rid of the stench.
We couldn't make the murder charge; arsenic doesn't linger after death. But we took the forgeries to the grand jury; got our indictment; and scheduled a video deposition of Evalyna Lloyd, just in case she didn't live to trial.
She sat one end of a long, old Formica table, primly attired in a thin blue cardigan held closed by a metal sweater clip, over a ruffled yellowing blouse and a dark skirt which skimmed her calves. Her bright eyes darted around the room; I doubted she had been the center of this much attention in decades. The videographer adjusted his equipment; the lawyers settled into camps on either side of the table, and a jailer led the defendant into the room in shackles, her long hair streaming, black on the ends but grey showing at the roots; her face no longer powdered, her lips no longer smeared with ruby red.
Evalyna beheld it all, from her thin face, with quick and lively eyes, motionless, hands folded in her lap. She raised one of them to swear, to her God, in a clear unquavering voice, that every word would be true. My boss established the preliminaries, then made the case: No, Miz Lloyd had never given that girl permission to sign on her accounts. The public defender tried -- didn't Miz Warwick bring her groceries, hadn't she cooked her meals. She made me canned tomato soup once, I reckon, Evalyna acknowledged, but she ate half of it her own self. Nobody snickered.
Silence followed the last question, then Evalyna spoke. Don't I get to say what I know, she asked, in a voice high and clear. My boss said, yes, ma'am, you do. What do you know?
Evalyna sat a little straighter. I know how she done it, she announced. We each drew and held a long breath. Me and sister, we done the same, many times. When we was girls. She was older than me by a minute and she was always the boss. And when we would get into trouble, and have to bring a note from our Dad to the teacher, sister would write the note, in her own printing. Then she would get a letter that our Father wrote, from his study where we weren't supposed to go, and she would hold that letter up to the window on a sunny day -- her arms raised, we could see the paper that wasn't in her hands -- and she would put the note she had wrote on top of it, like this -- she placed the second sheet on top of the first, and we all saw it, I could swear -- and them sister, she would trace his name.
We sat there, two prosecutors, an underpaid defense attorney, a murderer, and Evalyna Lloyd. She smiled. No one spoke. And the camera kept on rolling.
Joyce Warwick pleaded guilty to numerous counts of forgery and stealing by deceit. The public defender is now a judge. My boss went over to the feds. I went south, to Arkansas. I sobered up, eventually, and had a child. I pass by the Plaza building where two old people, neighbors, were both hoodwinked by the same slick woman, and I wonder when Evalyna Lloyd died. When I am an old woman, I plan to be just like her, with just that gleam of intelligence in my eyes, as I watch the young folks scurry around, self-important and busy, while I quietly sit in my cluttered apartment, knowing that every crucial thing has already happened.
Happy Birthday to Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin, born 17 August 1930, and her twin, Jeanne Mitchell Menuet
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