“Mama told me about the 47 when I was five.” Matt had decided that they had talked enough on the subject of his mother, the deaths of Tom and Susie, and his recent past. “Is there any of those guys left? She said that they had something to do with helping her after the rape. I was just wondering…”
Shasta smiled sadly. “I can check. Yes, Carlton and his crew were the ones who found her. How she hung on for as long as she did before they came along and got her to the hospital, I’ll never know. But the damage had been done. Toby was who started her downward spiral. His no-good father pushed her on deeper by sending her that notice of Toby’s death in Vietnam.
“She kept it because he was your father. Plus, it helped her realize that he could no longer harm her. After she ran away, Toffer and his wife were killed by Don Frielli, the local head of the Mafia. Your grandfather gave the 47 jobs in thanks for saving your mother.”
He looked at her. “Mama always said that Grandpa pushed her out. Ran her off. I always thought that she meant your father, not Toffer.”
Shasta sighed. “In a way, Daddy did push her away. It wasn’t intentional, but it happened. He tried to get her to wait it out, stay at home, but when Toby’s dad sent his death certificate to her, it was more than she could bear.
“Had she waited just three more month, it all would have been over. Toffer’s body was found at the bottom of the Des Moines River. Mrs. French died, a couple weeks after her hubby. Someone had cut the brake lines on her car. By that time, though, they had lost more than just their son. They had lost French Industries, Their million-dollar home, and their luxury cars. she was driving a banged up Chevy that barely ran.
“Some said that she had cut the brake lines herself. Rumor had it that she was trying to kill herself and make it look as if your mom had done it all to get back at them. But I don’t think so. I think that the Mob did her as they had her hubby. But it is all speculation, since your mom had long since vanished from the area.
“It wasn’t until I found you two in Omaha, living with Trent, that she learned that Toffer and his missus were both dead. By that time, she was happily married and over most of the pain.”
Matt smiled. “That was 1960–?”
She nodded. “Yes. 1960. I kept in touch until 1965, when she vanished after Selma. She had lost her mind by then. She was too afraid to trust. She was afraid that, if she got involved too deeply with another man, he would end up like Trent. She thought she was bad luck.
“She had no sense of reality when it came to the times. They were just that tumultuous. Men were drafted and went to war whether they had a family or not. Those who came back were never the same. They lost their families. their friends, and their abilities to live a normal life.
“That damn war scarred all who saw action in it. I saw, first hand, how the nightmares-the flashbacks-took control of vets who’d returned. And those were the ones who came back with bodies still in one piece. Those who came back missing limbs were, I think, more fortunate. Some of them were still relatively sound in mind, just not as much in body.
“But no matter who it was, they came back just as broken as the next guy. Even the ladies who went as nurses and the men who went as doctors. They were all broken when they came back.”
He bowed his head. “I didn’t know.”
She smiled. “While your Mama was hiding from her pain, I was facing mine. I faced it head-on. My first husband was drafted. He went to war on January 1, 1966. I stood at the door and watched him leave. When he came back three years later, he was a complete stranger. His eyes were vacant, his hands twitched endlessly, and he screamed and fought eith unseen enemies.
“I left, one day, to go to work. I took the children to the sitter, since he could no longer be counted on to watch them, and went to the law firm where I worked as a Junior Partner. I got a call from the police that he had found a gun and had blown his brains out.” She looked at him. “Your mama was lucky that her man died over there. She wouldn’t have been strong enough to deal with something like that.
“I never went back to that house. I didn’t want to have to see the mess he left. Instead, I bought a new house and new things for my children.” She smiled sadly. “When Dan came into my life, Things became easier to handle. He helped me through the mourning. Hell. He even gave the kids his last name to help erase all traces of their father.
“Oh, don’t give me that look. they know who their real father is, but to them, Dan is their father. He has always been there. Of course, my last three are his biological children anyway.
“He gave me the courage to start my own practice, then to turn around and buy out the old firm I began with. He’s been the best thing to happen to me. I have been really lucky.”
He hugged his aunt. She carried a far worse memory than his mother had, and yet, she had become stronger. Not weaker, like his mother. Perhaps she was more like Grandma Morrow. He didn’t know.
He smiled at her. “Who has your practice now?”
She laughed. “Michael. My oldest. And Danni’s son. They run it together.”
He looked over at her. “Did Marty ever have any children?”
She nodded. “Oh, yes. But they went into other professions. Marty hasn’t done much since his mama died. He was taking care of Uncle Greg, but that was almost a decade ago. After that, I heard no more about either.”
“Papa died over ten years ago, Cousin,” Marty’s voice boomed from the doorway, “and I have been busy staying happily retired from law. Oh, I write an occasional book now and then, but nothing you’ve ever heard of.”
Matt smiled. “I probably have. Try me.”
Marty smiled. “The Farnsworth Files, Murder In The Statehouse, A Case Too Many–the list is endless.”
Matt chuckled. “I’ll bet I have every one of your books, but the one I always enjoyed was your memoirs of your time in civil rights down in Selma. I must have read that a thousand times.”
Marty hugged Matt. “I haven’t seen you since you were tiny. You must’ve been three, Maybe older.”
Matt smiled. He wouldn’t want to ruin his uncle’s desire to be a little known author by telling him that he had more fans than he thought. It just wouldn’t feel right. No, He would let him believe whatever he wanted.