And so at long last, Tom and Ellen rested. Over three days they found themselves easing into a routine – they took turns cooking, watched bad daytime television, rented movies from the library. Tom called Remley twice a day, once at noon, and again at six.
“You know I had a concussion?” asked Remley on the third day. “And three broken ribs! And they said I lost at least two quarts of blood!”
“I know you did,” said Tom. “Most of it’s still in my car. How you feeling?”
“Like Jesus,” said Remley. “Like stage four cancer. I’m back, is what I’m saying. Top o’ the world, Ma. But can you do me a favor?”
“I can’t find my wallet,” said Remley. “I think it might be in your car, still.”
Tom made these calls from his front porch, away from Ellen. She accused him of “talking different” when he spoke to Remley, and it made him self-conscious. Now he stood and walked to the curb, peeked into the back of his blood-stained car.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Are you looking, or glancing? I need you to really look, Tom. I need my wallet. They’re starting to voice doubts about my legal status as a U.S. citizen.”
Tom opened the car. It smelled terrible, like old meat and copper. He’d avoided cleaning the car as assiduously as he avoided talking to Remley about the topics of Rebecca, Valiss, and New York. He was becoming expert at faking normalcy. He leaned in as best he could without touching anything, and then he saw a corner of brown leather peeking out from beneath the driver’s seat.
“Found it,” Tom said.
“Oh, thank god. I worried it fell out in the street or something.”
Tom opened the wallet surveyed what he found. Driver’s license, credit cards, insurance card, cash. Then, in a pocket it shared with a spare house key, Tom found a folded up blank check. It was worn and thin, and bore Remley’s old address, but it might still be good.
“Hey, you still bank with First City?”
“Haven’t changed your accounts or anything?”
“No. Tom? No. Get out of my wallet. Put it back in the pool of blood.”
“Mrs. Day sends you her love.”
“Tom! Tom! By god, this is no way to—”
Tom hung up the phone.
He fished a pen out of his jacket pocket and made out the check. He couldn’t remember exactly how to forge Remley’s signature, but it wasn’t that hard—just a big J, a hoopy R, and an exclamation point. He left the rest of it blank and knocked on his neighbor’s door.
It took her a while to hear him, but finally she answered, dressed in house slippers and a bathrobe. He could see the television behind her, her movie paused.
“Are you watching Platoon?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Day said. “Normally that’s for Thursdays, but a girl has to live a little.”
He handed her the check. She stared at it for a moment, not quite believing.
“You… you did it, Tom. You got my money.”
“I did, Mrs. Day.”
“There’s blood on it.”
“Oh,” said Tom. “No, I think that’s ketchup.”
She nodded toward his car. “And in your back seat?”
“Ah. See, the thing is…”
She patted his cheek. “Say no more. You’re a good boy, Tom. That Jon Remley got what he had coming.”
“I’m not sure that he did,” said Tom. He wasn’t sure what he meant, but Mrs. Day didn’t ask for clarification.
“You’ve done something very important today,” she told Tom. “You righted a wrong. I don’t care how you did it. Sometimes the ends justify the means.” She glanced toward the television. “War is hell.”
She folded the check and slipped it into the front pocket of her bathrobe, a distant smile spreading across her face as though she were suddenly basking in sunlight and remembering a warm, sweet-smelling meadow in a faraway past. “I bet he got stitched up good.”
“He did, Mrs. Day, I can tell you that.”
“Tom Avon, if you ever need a thing from me, you don’t hesitate to ask. It may not seem like there’s much an old woman can do, but you test me. I’ll come through.”
“I will, Mrs. Day. I believe in you.”
“I believe in you, too, Tom.”
On his way back upstairs, back to Ellen, the memory hit him, an uninvited guest he could no longer fend off. In his mind’s eye he saw Rebecca, and he saw her unsmudged chrysanthemum-colored lips frozen, lifeless and agape, beneath the small hole in her forehead where a bullet had driven through to the wall.