Franco the Barber had a maddening (and probably unsanitary) habit of waiting until he was out of the toilet to zip up his fly. It was as if he was in such a rush after peeing, Leep thought, that he couldn’t stop— no, he had to walk and zip; and peeing is normal and everyone knows he has to zip up so why worry?
So he was in the hallway to the living room, zipping away as he approached them where they sat in the living room, all except Leep who leaned on the doorway to the kitchen. He never felt he quite belonged. He was ever the outsider, and sitting down would mean he was part of this family group of Uncle Alberto, his nephew’s widow, Deborah, and her mother, Beth. Franco the Barber had no qualms about joining them, he exhaled heavily as he dropped into an armchair, simultaneously grabbing a handful of salted peanuts from a dish on the glass-topped side table beside him.
Did he wash his hands? Leep had a craving for something salty but would avoid the peanuts.
There was another outsider in the room: Deborah’s lawyer, Carmen.
“I don’t know why we need a lawyer here,” said Uncle Al. “We’re family.” Even though he wasn’t family, Franco grunted in agreement, which was another maddening habit, though Uncle Al didn’t seem to object.
Uncle Al was casual today. No tie, but the same dark suit and white shirt which designated him the boss of the room, over Franco’s somewhat rumpled striped suit and cobalt blue polo shirt.
Carmen had her hair in a ponytail and was clad in a cranberry red suit and black pumps. To Leep she looked a bit intimidating, so was the lawyer he might hire if he ever needed one, which wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
Deborah and her mother were jean casual, as was usual for them. Deb had taken to wearing Vincent’s old jerseys, this one turquoise trimmed with black, number sixteen.
Deborah’s mother Beth, or Lizzie as Leep called her (in his head) had the courtesy to look embarrassed. She rustled up a smile for Uncle Al and said, “I was visiting Carmen on another matter and mentioned the annuity, she just offered and is not looking to make anything difficult.”
“Certainly not,” said Carmen, and she smiled at everyone in the room individually, including Leep the Outsider. He squirmed, just a little bit. She had an air about her, as if she could read your mind. Leep resolved not to gawp at Lizzie for the rest of the meeting, or think about how he wanted to frame Alberto for Vincent’s murder.
“It’s just an allowance for Debbie,” said Uncle Al, who was the only one to use her childhood name. “My nephew was a good boy and a good husband but was not good with money.”
Leep remembered Vince bragged about using a credit card for his vacations and the 46” flat screen TV and the new steering wheel on his Taurus. Poor old Deborah was probably up to her ears in debt.
“He was always on the verge of growing up,” said Lizzie.
“May he rest in peace,” said Franco the Barber.
Lizzie said, “We are so grateful, Al, but I was wondering about the um…”
“Non-disclosure clause,” said Carmen.
“That is in all my documents, for business reasons,” said Uncle Al. “My lawyer insists. If he insists, I insist.”
“It’s no big deal,” ventured Franco the Barber.
“Shut up, Franco,” said Uncle Al amiably. “You’re no lawyer.”
“True,” said Franco with a chuckle.
Carmen continued. “And the visitation clause?”
“If I’m paying is it such a hardship that I see the girl and her mother once in a while?”
The discussions continued, and Leep slipped away for a few minutes, going to the toilet and fully zipping his pants before he washed his hands thoroughly, with lots of soap.
When he returned there were handshakes all around. Uncle Al looked victorious, though Leep suspected that was a strategy he employed at the end of every negotiation. Even Franco the Barber was shaking hands and grinning at Carmen the lawyer. She had probably shaken hands with worse, in her career.
Lizzie went into the kitchen to make coffee, and Uncle Al got on his cell phone to his legal adviser requesting minor changes to the contract. He wanted the revised document by six pm that evening.
Good, thought Leep. He leaned against the wall in the doorway, watching Uncle Al take Deborah’s hands and carefully kiss her on both cheeks. She blushed, but was used to his quirky formalities by now. What was important was that she and Lizzie would be looked after, no matter what happened to Alberto Demarco.