This is an excerpt from my NaNo project called '500 Mondays'. It's largely unedited and raw, but I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think. -- David
"...Alcohol and Irish don’t mix, I’m told, but today I didn’t give a rat’s ass. There was something heavy coming down ..."
It was a nice day for a funeral.
The sky was slate gray and it was spitting rain and I was sitting in my best friend’s car, not wanting to get out and deal with anything. I had just come from my step-father’s funeral, and I had no feeling about it. Everyone else was crying and mourning, but I had no emotion in me. I felt nothing. Well, that's not entirely true; I felt flat and depressed, which is as good as nothing.
Bobby finally prompted me. A little.
“Do you want me to come in with you?” he said. I knew he only said it to be the obligatory ‘best friend’ and I loved him for it. Plus, he probably wanted to get at the buffet.
“Naw man. I can deal. Besides, you have to get back to Westchester.”
"Yeah. You don’t wanna be around a bunch of blubbering family members. It’s kind of depressing.”
“Alright. If you need me, just call.”
I got out of the car, and watched Bobby pilot his BMW out of the forest of black rain-slicked limos that were piled in front of the estate, all filled with relatives, friends, business associates, big-wigs, and wealthy philanthropists all coming in to pay their respects (and probably to glad-hand and photo-op and get face time with each other, the bastards) to one of the most influential financiers in the state of New York, my step-father Nicolas Castle.
This was gonna be a long day.
* * *
I was trying to remain inconspicuous over by the buffet table, nibbling on capers and brie, but the parade of condolence givers was unrelenting. They all seemed nice enough, and some of them I knew, but really, this wasn’t my world. My heart was still stuck in Boston, where I grew up before my mother abandoned me at age 9. Sad story? Yeah, but, what can you do?
I saw Celia, my step-sis, and I felt a wave of relief. She came over and took my hand. Her eyes were all red, like she’d been crying for three days. She was just about my age, 18, while Charles, Cauldon and Alexa were a few years older.
“Oh, Danny …”
She started crying again. All I could do was squeeze her hand.
The aforementioned Cauldon appeared. He was the eldest Castle kid at age 24, and probably the new richest guy in the State. He glared at me, drink in hand.
“We need to talk later. So don’t pull any disappearing acts.” He said in a harsh whisper as if anyone was listening anyway.
“And you,” he said, addressing Celia, “pull yourself together. You’re embarrassing me.”
Me and Celia watch him walk away and join a group of people nearby; they each extended their hands in condolence and Caul put on his best fake grin, with just a hint of sadness in it. He was a master.
Celia and I retreated to another section of the house, free from the phony grins and the weeping family members (not including the immediate Castle clan; Caul had instructed them to remain stoic, as If they were the Royal Family or something) so we could talk. I hadn’t seen her in months. I was off at Westchester College and she had gone to Yale in Connecticut.
I wanted to tell her I was in love with her, but considering the circumstances, it wasn’t a good idea. Plus she was my step-sister.
Instead I pulled out a cigarette and shoved it in my lips, unlit.
She laughed in a kind of sad way.
“Something on my face?” I said.
“No. It’s just … I missed you. And the silly way you smoke, or don’t smoke.”
“Caul certainly didn’t miss me.” I said, sitting back on the sofa. It was rather warm in the place, plus I had on a Burberry overcoat, my late step-father’s, actually. He'd never miss it.
“Caul doesn’t miss anyone. Neither does Charles or Alexa,” she said, sipping her wine tenderly. She was holding the glass between her long fingers, like she was holding on for dear life. I found myself staring at her white nail polish - which brushed the ends of her pink fingers - and I went into a thousand-mile stare.
“I mean is it too much to ask for a little warmth around here, Daniel?” She said, placing a hand on my leg, looking me straight in the eyes. I could see she had ingested a few drinks, and who knows, Valium even. But the girl was entitled; she’d lost both her parents now and her remaining kin had all the warmth of a pile of cinder blocks.
“Where is old Charles, anyway?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s probably taking inventory of the house, making notes on what he’ll want from the estate. Classy …” she said, waving her hand, gesturing around the room.
I heard Alexa calling from away over at the doorway, breaking my trance.
“Celia! I need you. Stop sequestering yourself,” she said. She never acknowledged my presence. She just stood at that doorway glaring at Celia.
“I have to go, but we’ll talk later, okay?” said Celia. She reached over and kissed my cheek before going off with Alexa, who never bothered to look back at me.
Welcome home, Danny Bloom.
* * *
The Castle Estate was built in 1922 by Jed Castle, who was a robber baron. He was one of the original Industrial Revolutionists, and from what I’ve read a real cold son of a bitch. Walking down the hallway towards the east wing of the house, I casually studied all the family portraits; they went back a long way. The earliest was a painting of John-Smith Castle, killed in the war of 1812. He was a grim looking bastard. The whole hall was filled with these portraits of dead guys. It was fucking depressing, I tell you, but standing there in my gangly 18 year old body, unlit cigarette in mouth, and overcoat hanging, I felt like I was somehow cut from a different cloth then the great Castles of war and Industrial Revolution. I was a simple Irish kid from Boston, adopted by a kind wealthy lady, against the wishes of her family, although I don’t know what motivated the late Emily Castle to drive down to Boston to adopt a trouble-making kid from Southie in the first place, I really don’t. I missed her; she was a good woman. And may he rest in peace, but the late Nicolas Castle didn’t deserve her. But that's just my opinion.
* * *
I found myself in the old man’s den, somehow.
The place was dense with books, volumes of law texts, great big tomes of Shakespeare, everything. There was a large oak desk, where he died apparently, bent over his work. Most people would want to die with their family by their side, but not old Nick; he went the way he wanted, at his desk poring over documents, business deals, investments, whatever. 55 years old, you fucking believe that? Died alone.
“You old bastard” I muttered. My head was swimming because I had hardly ever been allowed to roam free in the house, much less wander through the old man’s private office. Behind the desk, I sat in the big old leather chair. The thing was ancient; it creaked like a bitch when I put my weight in it. Isn’t that funny? The man was almost a billionaire but he was too cheap to get himself a new chair. Did it have sentimental value? Fuck knows. Getting brave - for, who was going to burst in and stop me, the ghost of Christmas past? – I opened the top drawer of the desk. What I saw inside just took my breath away. I suppose not everything was a loss, really. I supposed that If I was going to be tossed on the street I may as well have a memento of my time with one of the richest families in New York State. They wouldn’t miss it, would they? I just hoped God wouldn't strike me down for stealing from a dead man.
Back at the reception area, I ambled over to the buffet table again hoping Celia would reappear. No such luck, instead I got Caul.
“The guests will be leaving soon, and I want you to stay put. We need to discuss some things.” he said tersely before wandering off again. An hour later everyone was gone, stuffed into their limos and making their way home, or wherever it was they were going, through the rainy October evening. I sat down on the large couch, cradling a brandy. Alcohol and Irish don’t mix, I’m told, but today I didn’t give a rat’s ass. There was something heavy coming down.
After Caul and Alexa saw the last of the mourners out, Alexa disappeared. Caul came straight over and sat down opposite me. He too had a drink in his hand.
There were a few moments of awkward silence as Caul was forming his words, I guess. He was looking into his glass, turning it with his fingers. I got the feeling that this would be bad.
“Now that my father is dead, our obligation to you as a ward of the state is fulfilled,” he began, “You are no longer considered a Castle as far as I’m concerned, or was ever concerned.”
“Can I have that in writing so you don’t retract that statement at a later date?”
“Always in jest, aren’t you Daniel? You were never a real Castle anyway.”
“You mean, because I’m not made of stone?”
“Joke if you will, but I want you out of the mansion as soon as possible.” He never said it in a mean way, just matter-of-factly.
“Where would I go?” I said in my best sarcastic voice.
“Not concerned. We’ll provide you with a small … stipend, to tide you over.”
“For all my years of faithful service you mean?”
“You’re not my brother, I owe you nothing. I’m offering you a fair deal.”
“Well, Thank you counselor.”
Breaking his façade of detachedness, Caul leaned forward and looked at me intently. I thought he was going to grab my neck and throttle me. “I don’t like you, I’ve never liked you. You mean only one thing to me, a percentage of inheritance that you don’t deserve. So the sooner you leave the better.”
“Well, What about my percentage then, of the inheritance? It’s possible Mister Castle cut me in, isn’t it?”
“It’s possible, but highly unlikely to be a significant amount, given that you were a ward of the state.”
He said it like I was a dog picked up from the pound or something.
Alexa walked in. She had a glass of something, Port maybe, hanging from her fingers, and she glided past us.
“Oh Caul, leave the boy alone. Stop being so uppity.”
“Keep out of this, Alexa.”
I sighed and pulled out a cigarette. I usually only keep one in my mouth for a few minutes before I toss it; they tend to get wet and soggy.
“You can’t smoke in here.” Said Caul.
He said this knowing I’d never actually lit a cigarette in my life, except when I was at St. Sebastian’s Children’s Home, and that was a long time ago. 500 Mondays ago, really. This wasn’t about the cigarette; he was projecting his anger at me. There was something else about me that he resented and for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out.
It was as If all of Caul’s energy had drained, because he just got up and waved a hand at me.
“Just – be gone by morning. If you stand to inherit something our lawyers will track you down.”
And that was that.
I went up to Celia’s room, to say goodbye. She had drunk herself into a fitful sleep. I couldn’t rouse her, except for a few mumbles. I kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye.
It was still drizzling a little when I stepped outside; it was a bloody miserable evening. I made my way over to the car port where the old man had his collection of classic automobiles. I just got thrown out again, I thought. Was it me? was it them? Why did nobody want me?
I tried a few of the keys on my ring, and one of them opened the little door on the side of the car port. It was dark and gloomy in there, so I turned on the overhead light and wandered around, looking at all the cars, wondering where I was gonna go. My only option was to go back to the dorm at Westchester, really, but I felt frozen in place, like I just got kicked in the stomach. I was an orphan all over again.
I saw what I had come for.
There, at the end of the row, near the key cabinet, was the old man’s favorite car; a ratty old 69 Porsche. It was my favorite too. In fact, Mister Castle used to take me out in it, when he was drunk, and try to teach me how to drive stick shift. He used to wake me up in the middle of the night, the old bastard, and he used to make me drive him around the estate, and once or twice out onto the streets of Westchester County. I had no license, but who was I to argue about it? Sometimes the old bastard would reveal his secret philosophies on life to me - he called them Castles Laws – and then he’d fall asleep in the passenger seat a lot of the time.
“Never show your true feelings.” He’d mumble. “That’s rule number one. Feelings equal weakness, remember that.” Then he’d doze off. I couldn’t move him; he outweighed me by a good 90 pounds or so. I’d usually fetch a blanket from the house for him, cover him up.
Those were the only times I ever felt an affinity for the old bastard. He was as lonely in this world as I was.
* * *
I guess I had been lost in my reverie, running my hand on the fender of that Porsche, because I didn’t see Charles standing there; he must have followed me to the car port. He scared the hell out of me.
“Nice ride, dad’s favorite. Too bad you won’t ever get to drive it, eh sporto?” he said, slapping me on the back. He was still dressed in his funeral tux, but with the tie gone and his top collar unbuttoned.
I wanted to smack him in his fat over-stuffed face. But I said nothing. I smiled amiably.
“Yeah, the old man probably left it to you, in a grand under-sight I might add.”
“Yeah, he better have, or I’ll have to contest the will,” he said absently, “But I can’t seem to find the keys for it.”
I shrugged. He went over to the large cabinet hanging on the garage wall and opened it – inside were dozens of keys to all the old man’s cars – but there was one spot missing, and that was the Porsche.
“damn it – the Porsche keys are missing,” He said.
“Did you check the old man’s pockets?”
“That’s not funny. If you’ve got those keys, hand them over.”
I quickly frisked myself, even hung out the linings of my pockets.
“You always were a sneak. Where’d you put them?” Chuck wondered out loud. He looked around, as If they'd just materialize in front of him somehow.
“Who cares about the car, your father’s dead.” I muttered, but Chuck didn’t give a shit. All he cared about was his inheritance and that stupid Porsche, like he couldn’t go out and buy a dozen of them.
Chuck finally stopped his futile search, and just glared at me as If something just dawned in that dim brain of his.
“Why are you wearing my father’s coat, you thief! Take it off this instant.”
He shoved me, but I didn’t shove back. Instead I went for the jugular.
“If you let me keep the coat, I won’t tell anyone about you and Jimmy Gregor.”
Charlies face went gray. Idiot – his reaction confirmed my hunch. Not that I cared about Charles Edwin Castles’ sexual orientation, but I couldn’t let him take the coat, no matter how nasty It had to get.
“You haven’t heard the last of this.” He said in a hoarse voice, then he brushed past me and left. I felt bad about it; Charles was an okay guy, from a distance, and, truthfully, I would never have told a soul about his indiscretion. Sometimes you had to play hard ball, that’s all.
I sighed deeply, and then stuck my hands in the pockets of my Burberry. I closed my hands around the Porsche keys and pulled them out once I knew Charles was really gone. I walked over to the driver’s side door and opened it, and got in. I put the keys in the ignition, and turned it to the ACC position, and the dashboard came to life. There was still half tank of gas in the sucker, and the radio was tuned to a Jazz station.
Thoughts were racing through my head; Who am I? Where do I belong? Existential thoughts that have plagued man for centuries, philosophical blockbusters that couldn't be solved before dinner time; things I needed to figure out before it was too late. Absolution for Danny Bloom, whatever that meant.
I saw the remote garage door opener on the dash, and pushed the button on it. The large wooden door suddenly creaked and jangled, and started to rise, revealing a dark and stormy scene out of an Edgar Allen Poe novel, the rain pouring down in curtains and drapes and reams; an abyss of unknown origin.
I turned the engine over, and eased the car out into the storm.