Aunt Loretta finally delivered her baby whom she named Tina after her sister, Eva’s mother. Eva’s activities that summer consisted primarily of helping Aunt Loretta with the baby and her part-time job at the Dairy Queen.
Between the new baby and her growing fondness for drugs, Aunt Loretta couldn’t find a job, and she eventually stopped looking completely. Eva’s inheritance money was rapidly depleting and her minimum wage salary was not nearly enough for the three of them. So, Aunt Loretta became a hooker. She brought men back to the apartment. They would stay one evening or several nights depending upon the man’s circumstances.
While Eva stayed with Tina, Aunt Loretta would sit in the bus station waiting for a bus to arrive from anywhere. She explained to Eva how she would carefully scan the arrivals, looking for a man alone who might be interested in a good time and willing to pay for it. She bragged to Eva that she was a “first-rate judge of male achievement and means.” In mere moments, she said, she could sort men with money to spend and willing to spend it from those with just enough to get by or too tight to part “with a dime,” and she was rarely wrong. She told Eva how she sized up the men: clothes being worn, watch (must wear a wristwatch), rings, shoes, gait: confident, steady, eyes straight ahead or wary, defeated, suspicious glances in all directions. Once she selected her quarry, Loretta moved swiftly and crossed directly into the man’s path. Enticing him with her most inviting smile, she would inquire if the gentleman happened to have the time. Of course, the gentleman always had the time. Often it was the time from where his trip had originated, which was all the better since converting that time to the current time encouraged light joking and friendly chitchat, which, within minutes, produced Loretta’s assessment of whether she had found her next “client,” or if she needed to wait for the next bus to arrive.
Eva scrupulously avoided all contact with these men (although she spotted their clear interest in her whenever she passed by.) She worked at the Dairy Queen as many hours as were available, and when she was home she would stay in her room and take care of Tina while Aunt Loretta “entertained” her paying guest. Summer ended and Aunt Loretta conceded that she needed a more reliable source of income than men she could pick up at the bus station. She began dancing at the Kit Kat Club from midnight until 8:00 a.m. five nights per week.
“The pay’s lousy,” she told Eva, gently rocking Tina in her arms, “but tips on the weekend can be pretty good. And,” she winked, “the drugs are easy to get.” Working at the Kit Kat Club over the next thirty-six months, Loretta met Steve, Jerry, and, finally, Dwayne while Eva raised Tina and completed three and a half tedious years of high school.
Steve, pencil-thin and nervous, was a recently divorced undertaker whose wife had thrown him out of the house when she discovered he was a necrophiliac. Loretta joked with Eva that sleeping with Steve was effortless: all you had to do was lie still and “play dead.” Steve lived with them for about seven months before he lost his job as an undertaker when his necrophilia was discovered as the grounds of his divorce became a public and rather sensational local scandal.
Loretta replaced him with Jerry, a pudgy, soft-spoken bulldozer operator who had never been married. He was, according to Loretta, a “mama’s boy” whose mama had died about a month before she met him. Loretta particularly liked Jerry’s steady income and the minimal demands he made upon her. His marijuana and cocaine use was nominal compared to Loretta’s, and he was respectful of her, polite to Eva, and enjoyed making silly faces for Tina.
The only fault in their arrangement turned out to be his jealousy. After living with them for a year and a half, Jerry became more and more insistent that Loretta should quit her job dancing at the Kit Kat Club. Loretta objected to quitting, telling Jerry she “enjoyed dancing,” although the truth was it was the easy access to drugs that she really enjoyed.
Jerry normally drove Loretta to work around 11:00 p.m. He would drink a beer or two as she began her set and then drive home. In the morning Loretta would either hitch a ride home with one of the other dancers, or phone Jerry who would come back for her.
“I’m not sure Jerry will be coming back here tonight,” Loretta said one particular morning, lifting Tina from Eva’s arms.
“Why not?” asked Eva, slipping on her jacket. She stood at the door ready to leave for school.
“Ah, we had a big row at the club last night, and he stormed out.”
“Some guy I never saw before was saying stuff to me—things Jerry didn’t like. Stuff about my nice tits, my ass, you know. Anyway, this guy and Jerry really got into it, and finally George had to come over and get between them. He threw the other guy out, but it didn’t help much. Jerry kept shouting at me to get down off the stage, and I kept yelling back at him, ‘Jerry, this is my job; stop carrying on or you’re going to get me fired.’ Finally, Jerry just got so disgusted he stood up and left. He slammed a ten-dollar bill on the bar and didn’t even wait for his change. I told George I thought that change rightfully belonged to me, but he kept it anyway.”
“Maybe he’ll get over it,” Eva suggested.
“I don’t know,” said Loretta, “he was awfully pissed. I’ve never seen him so mad as that before.”
Eva assumed Loretta was right when Jerry didn’t come back for the next three nights even though his work clothes still hung in the closet. On Saturday morning while Eva held Tina on her lap and Loretta made toast for breakfast the front doorbell rang.
Eva presumed it was Jerry, but … why is he ringing the bell?
When Loretta opened the door, two plain clothes detectives asked if they could come in and talk to her.
“What’s wrong?” Loretta asked looking from one to the other.
“Can we sit down?” asked the first detective.
Loretta sat on the arm of the chair and the two detectives sat on the sofa. “Do you know a Jerome Plante?”
“Jerry,” she said, reaching for a cigarette off the TV tray, “sure I know him. He lives here—some of the time. What did he do?”
“Was he your boyfriend?” The second detective had taken a small notebook and a pencil form his shirt pocket.
“He’s a friend,” she said casually. “We had some laughs. Is he in trouble?”
“Did you two have any arguments recently?”
Loretta hesitated and lit the cigarette she was holding. “No, not really.”
“You dance at the Kit Kat Club, right?”
“The manager there, George Regan, says Jerome was pretty steamed at you the other night. Regan says you were yelling at Jerome to”—he read from his notebook— “‘stop being an asshole before you get me fired.’ Did you say that, ma’am?”
Loretta looked past the detectives into the kitchen at Eva, sitting with Tina on her knee. She threw Eva an unsettled glance and tapped cigarette ash into an empty soda can. “Look, what’s this all about? Is Jerry trying to get some kind of revenge on me or something for dumping him, sending you guys over here like this?”
“Did he have any enemies you know of?” asked the first detective. Eva noted the past tense in the man’s question and stiffened.
“No,” said Loretta, exasperated. “Nobody I know about. I’m not his goddamn priest; I’ve only known him a few months for God’s sake.” She snatched up the soda can, dropped the cigarette inside, and banged it back on to the tray. “Are you going to tell me what this shit is all about, or not?”
“Jerome Plante is dead,” said the second detective. “Looks like a homicide.”
Loretta’s face went pale. Slowly, she slid off the arm of the chair on to the seat cushion. “My God! Dead? Homicide? You mean like murder?”
“Exactly like murder. We think someone killed him last Tuesday night. Would you know anything about that, ma’am?”
Eva held Tina closer and watched Loretta stare in utter disbelief at the two detectives sitting on their couch. “Is that your daughter, ma’am?” asked the first detective looking sidelong at Eva.
“Yes … I mean no,” said Loretta still stunned by the news. The detective raised his eyebrow. “I mean,” she clarified, “the baby is my daughter; the girl is my niece.”
“Does she live here?” he asked. “Your niece, that is?”
“Yes,” said Loretta, “but she doesn’t know anything about this. She hardly knew Jerry … uh . . . Jerome … Mr. Plante.”
“Is that right, miss?” the second detective asked, taking Eva’s measure.
“Yes,” Eva confirmed, gently rubbing Tina’s back, “I hardly knew him at all.”
They stayed another forty minutes or so questioning Loretta, Eva briefly, checking Jerry’s belongings, and revealing what little they knew so far.
According to the detectives, when Jerry left the Kit Kat Club late Tuesday night he must have been followed and hit from behind by someone wielding a metal object like a lead pipe or a hammer. Likely, they said, he never saw his attacker. He was probably struck from behind as he was getting into his car. Then, someone, probably the same person or persons, drove his car with his body in the back seat from the Kit Kat Club to the forest preserve about a half mile away where they abandoned it on one of the dirt roads well off the highway. The car was not discovered until Friday morning when a bird watcher and his wife happened to come upon it. Jerry may have died instantly with the blow to the head or he may have died hours later, unconscious in the back seat of his car. “Hard to say,” they said. Unfortunately, no useable footprints were found by the car so police leads were pretty slim. “We’ll probably be back with some follow-up questions,” the first detective told Loretta as they left.
Two weeks later the county buried Jerome Plante, and Eva pondered whether anyone had attended the funeral. Eva thought that she and her aunt Loretta should have attended out of respect for the dead, but her aunt wanted no part of it and flatly refused.
The police never returned with any follow-up questions, and three months later Eva was introduced to Jerry’s replacement: Dwayne. His eyes roamed covetously around the apartment and over Eva herself. His thick red hair was curly and smeared with hair cream to keep it in place. He sneered with every sentence he spoke as if he were persistently irritated. Eva distrusted him immediately.
“Where did you find him?” Eva asked her aunt after he’d left for work.
“At the club, of course,” she said. “Where else?”
“Kind of a … a … greasy don’t you think?” said Eva, wrinkling her nose.
Loretta tittered. “Oh, I think he’s cute. In fact, I think he’s a dreamboat. He’s the guy that was yelling compliments at me that night Jerry got so mad and stormed out. Remember? I told you about that. So, at least I know he thinks I’m pretty special, anyway.” Loretta batted her eyes at Eva as if she were the heroine in a silent movie.
Eighteen months of hell followed Dwayne’s moving in with them. Eva watched with horror and revulsion as Loretta’s increased cocaine use savaged her aunt’s appearance, and, inevitably, got her fired from her dancing job for looking emaciated and being too “high” to perform. Watching Loretta’s descent into an endless stupor unconditionally ended Eva’s own flirtation with drugs. The cocaine had never greatly tempted her anyway as she observed its devastating effects on her aunt, and now she swore off smoking even an occasional joint.
Dwayne lost his job as a plumber’s helper for being consistently late, argumentative, and drunk at the worksite. He angrily demanded that Loretta return to prostitution, warning her that “they had no other choice.” His contribution to the family enterprise was to pimp Loretta out and use the majority of the money to buy their drugs.
Dwayne was a brute. Without warning or provocation beyond being bored, he would lunge at Loretta and punch her with his fists, always careful not to leave visible bruises. As she became more drug addicted and less appealing to men, she suffered more abuse from Dwayne.
“You’re a worthless skank,” he would yell at her. “Somebody ought to put you out of your misery.”
“Yeah,” she would nod listlessly, “somebody ought to.”
Eva pleaded with Loretta to “call the police,” “to throw him out,” but she refused and, when she was particularly wasted, she yelled at Eva “to mind her own fucking business” or “screw you.” Loretta now regarded Dwayne as her only source of drugs and “besides,” she told Eva, “sometimes he still thinks I’m attractive, even though he’s too much of a dick to say it,” she pouted.
Eva used every precaution to avoid Dwayne. Watching television or reading in the same room as Dwayne was unthinkable. She only ate when Loretta and Dwayne were both gone and she would feed Tina at the same time. She stayed in her room or out of the house as much as possible: school, homework, the Dairy Queen, playing with or reading aloud to Tina occupied the bulk of her time.
Horrifyingly abrupt, the event Eva most dreaded arrived with the force of an unstoppable locomotive.