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[Fiction] Cade - Poor Relations


Timeslip

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“Paw Paw, when we are to cousin Michael Paul’s?” For the third time in the past ten minutes, the young boy squirmed in place on the bench seat; a poorly aimed elbow woke his sister, who was wedged in between him and the older woman who smoothed the skirts of her print dress absently as she gazed out the passenger window.

“Mind the time, or watch the slap, T. Paul.” It was a trademark comment from the old man at the wheel of the pickup truck, a pre-nova model that left a trace of blue smoke wafting in the air behind it as it made its incongruous way up the city street. Trademark or not, the words were delivered with a touch less force than usual; the elderly Cajun was peering through the windshield at a baffling tangle of traffic and pedestrians, all funneled along the deep concrete valleys of downtown Chicago.

The woman turned to look over the heads of her children. “Less you want to eat restaurant tonight, I have to make a bill, Paw. The cooler’s running low.”

“It’ll wait, Marie; I see the place now.” With a hard left turn across four lanes of traffic, the oldtimer swung the pickup in an arc that brought it smoothly up against the opposite curb, directly in front of the myriad of No Parking signs in front of the headquarters of the Windy City Knights.

The children scarely waited for Marie to make her way out of the old truck before piling out onto the sidewalk. They stared up along the side of the immense structure. “Co!” was all that the young girl managed, but T. Paul immediately launched into a rapid-fire series of questions and demands. “We go to the top? I wanna go in now! We meet all of ‘em? Can we go now?”

“Gate' pourri,” the old man muttered, looking at the boy as he stepped up on to the curb. “The boy is spoiled, Marie, and if he doesn’t mind himself soon, he’ll find a slap.” The warning wasn’t missed by the youngster, who ceased his talking if not his bouncing. After a long moment of silent staring, Paw Paw finally said, “You’ll mind your manners, T.Paul, and you too, Evvie. Now let’s go find cousin M. Paul.” Under the disapproving eyes of passing Chicagoans, the quartet of Cajuns strode up to and into the imposing building.

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The receptionist, unlike the pedestrians outside the building, was entirely unfazed by the new arrivals. So much had walked – or flown, or phased, or merely appeared – into the lobby before that a handful of apparent rustics wasn’t enough to merit a raised eyebrow. “Welcome to the Windy City Knights. Can I help you?” she intoned, in that carefully neutral tone cultivated by receptionists the world over to be polite whilst firmly establishing that this is their domain and theirs alone.

“I’d see Michael Paul Alistaire, if’n you please.”

“May I tell him who is calling,” the receptionist asked, hand starting for the intercomm.

“You can tell him his Uncle Peeyot is here, an’ you can tell him that’ll turn him over knee and give’m a slap if’n he isn’t here rapid!”

Despite having faced an endless series of angry novas over the previous two years, the receptionist was a touch – just a touch – taken aback by the old man’s emphatic statement. “Just a moment,” she managed, as she toggled the intercom.

“Yes?” came a voice from the panel that managed to be silky and smooth even through the low-fidelity speaker.

“You have visitors in the main lobby, Cade. An ‘Uncle Peeyot’ and family.”

The voice that came through the speaker again was anything but silky and smooth. If anything, it sounded like it was choking. “I… I’ll be there,” it coughed out, and then the light went dead.

Looking up with just a touch of amusement, the receptionist offered, “He’ll be right down.”

The man who emerged from the elevator doors a moment later looked calm, collected, smooth…right up until his eyes met with the old Cajun who stared back at him. “Uncle Peeyot, how nice to see you here. I wasn’t expecting…”

Uncle Peeyot cut him off. “I know you wasn’t. If you was, we’dn’t be here. We’d be at your home. But you don’ answer the post, so we’re here without you expectin’.” He swept a hand in the direction of the children. “These’r you cousins: T. Paul an’ Evvie. I take you recollect your cousin Marie, Paul-Paul?” Cade managed a silent nod; nobody had called him by his youthful nickname in at least a decade, and he’d rather hoped it wouldn’t happen again anytime in the next century.

Those hopes were shattered when Uncle Peeyot continued. “We here, Paul-Paul, ‘cause of Aunt Dorcelia’s passed, an’ you wasn’t at her end.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Uncle Peeyot. I truly am. I just didn’t know.” Cade was pulling himself together; while the loss of his ‘Aunt’ – actually more of a cousin twice-removed, though half the family had called her ‘Aunt Ya-Ya’ – was a blow, he managed to keep it from showing overly much.

“My eye! We sent post, three times! If’n you don’t know, you don’t read the post!” The old man was angry, and Cade was feeling guilty; there was a stack of personal mail two feet deep in his office, most of it fan mail and love letters from an endless procession of young ladies eager to make a more personal acquaintance with the famous Cajun. He was caught up through last month… but that was apparently not far enough.

“You could have called, Uncle…” Cade started, and was cut off again.

“You know we don’t talk of such on the telephone, Paul-Paul. I’d not tell across a wire of Pauvre Defante Ya-Ya. Does the post not deliver to you?” Before Cade could answer, the old man gave a dismissive wave of the hand. “It’s past and done. What’s now is this. Marie… well, you knew cousin Jim. Cousin Jim’s gone rodee’, an’ Marie an’ the younguns are on their own. Now, revenue man is wantin’ the taxes, and there’s nothing to be done for it.”

There was a long pause, and Cade gave a nod. “It’s fine; I can take care of the taxes for you, Marie….”

For the third – or fourth; Cade was loosing count – time today, Uncle Peeyot cut him off. “Hells, you will! Not here for charity, Paul-Paul. But you can do something to make it right.”

Cade was momentarily confused. “Well, if you don’t want me to help with the taxes, what do you want?”

“You know that Aunt Ya-Ya thought worlds of you. Well, she gifted you with something on her passin’. She gifted you the silver.”

Memories swept in, taking Cade back to a different time, to a different world. The muggy afternoon, sitting in the parlor with Aunt Ya-Ya, helping her polish the beautiful old silver that had been his great-grandmother’s and her great-grandmother’s before that, brought all the way from the Old World when the Alistaire family came to New France. “Sure is pretty, Aunt Ya-Ya,” the young boy said, gently wiping away the tarnish and bringing out the shine as he’d been taught. “Well, I’ll tell you, Paul-Paul. As you like it so and help me so, I’ll gift it to you someday.”

The child’s smile was still on his face as he came back to the present. A look at his cousins – at their worn clothes and tired faces – stole the smile from his heart.

“As you wasn’t there at the end, it’d be right for Marie to have the silver, Paul-Paul. She can use it t’ pay the taxes. Robbie’s Pawn’ll give her the two hundred for it.”

If he had been possessed of a touch less self-control, Cade’s jaw would have hit the floor. Two hundred dollars? For great-great-great-Grandmother’s silver? That was… criminal. And a plan came to him on the spot.

“I think we can do better than that.”

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Hours later, he watched the old truck pull away from the curb in front of Gallerie Phillipe. Hopefully, he though, Uncle Peeyot will let Marie use some of the money for a nice restaurant meal on the trip; after all, she’s a millionaire now. After a moment, he shook his head; Uncle Peeyot would do nothing of the sort, he knew… but the look in Marie’s eye when she had learned the true value of the silver, and when the owner of the French gallery had presented her with the unbelievable cashier’s cheque, had made it clear that her days of putting groceries in a cooler for a three-day drive were coming to an end.

“So, are you certain you don’t want to reconsider? We would love to keep these pieces on display, you know.”

“No, Phillipe,” Cade replied, as he keyed the transfer from his own account. “Some things should stay in the family.”

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