Vanished in the Night(15)

By: Eileen Carr

She followed behind him. “And?”

He chewed and swallowed. Washed down the bite with a sip of coffee. “And what?”

Her McMuffin had already gone cold. She set it down. “They told you? They told you about Max?”

Her father looked up at her. “Yeah. They told me. Been dead this whole time. Your mother wasted a lot of tears on that kid.” He took another bite of his sandwich and made a face. “Cold.”

Veronica tightened her lips. The tears hadn’t been wasted. Self-pitying, maybe. But there was no point in arguing with him about it. She picked up their sandwiches and put them in the microwave. “I wonder what happened. I wonder how he died.”

“Nothing that kid ever did made sense to me. I doubt whatever happened to him’ll make sense, either.”

The microwave beeped and Veronica brought the sandwiches back to the table. “We’re not talking about some random kid here, Dad. We’re talking about my brother.”

“Half brother.” Osborne picked up the sandwich and dropped it immediately. “Too hot.”

“My brother,” she said again.

“Whatever.” Osborne drank a little more coffee.

Let it go, Veronica. Don’t react.

Her father must have seen something in her eyes, though. “Oh, here we go again. Are you going to preach the gospel of St. Max to me again, Ronnie? Because I’m not interested.” He pushed back from the table and walked into the living room.

Veronica swept the remains of their breakfast into a garbage can. “That’s it, then? That’s all you have to say?” Her voice was calm and steady.

“Christ, Ronnie, what do you want me to say? The kid was no good from the start. He ran off. Now he’s dead. There ain’t much more to it than that.”

“He died out there, maybe alone. Probably frightened. Doesn’t it bother you? Even a little?” She shoved the garbage can back under the sink. To hell with it.

“No. It doesn’t. I’ll tell you why, too, Veronica Gail. That kid was no good from the second he was conceived.”

“That’s not true.” Max had been funny and kind and patient.

He waved her away. “You don’t know. You don’t remember. You were a little girl.”

“I remember plenty, Dad.” It was both her blessing and her curse. It kept her from following in her parents’ footsteps. On the other hand, it kept her up a lot of nights and maintained a steady burn in her stomach that was more than likely the beginning of an ulcer.

It wasn’t as if her childhood had been that horrible. She saw plenty worse nearly every day in the emergency room. Her father had never raped her or pimped her out to earn money for the family.

But Max had been backhanded at the dinner table so often that Veronica had thought that one of the family members getting slapped was the way everyone knew that dinner was over. And that hiding in the closet until Daddy wasn’t mad anymore was what most little girls did.

George and Celeste Osborne had been what Veronica and her colleagues at the emergency room often referred to as “volatile.”

On the other hand, her father always had a job. He moved around a fair bit because his temper tended to get him in trouble. Still, he always found a new job. He was good with his hands, and that was still valued in a lot of places. There was food on the table and a roof over her head. She saw plenty of kids every day who would count a childhood like hers as an incredible luxury.

“So did the police ask you any questions?” She walked into the living room. Her father was tying his shoes. She glanced at the clock. It was after eight. In a few minutes, he’d be heading to the Jiffy Lube, where he’d change oil and check brakes for the next eight hours.

He shrugged. “A few.”

Veronica perched on the arm of the sofa next to him. “Like what?”

He shot her a look. “Like why I still have to tell my grown daughter not to break my damn furniture by sitting on the arm.”

She stood. “Seriously, Dad, what did they ask? Do you think they’re even going to try to find out what happened to Max?”

Osborne finished tying his shoes and stood. “How the hell should I know, Ronnie? Why the hell should I care? Why should you?”