Like always he followed Violet everywhere, to the daycare center, the drug store, the library, the market, all around town. It was the same old, same old... only not. Unlike before, when Richard’s only focus had been Violet, he couldn’t help now noticing Victor Romanoff looming in the background at every turn, watching her, always holding doors open for her, handing her a dropped glove, a forgotten receipt or pulling a stuck shopping cart out for her use and more annoying than any of those things, he was forever gazing at Violet with a lustful expression, much to Richard’s utter annoyance.
Yes, Richard decided it wasn’t a love-induced longing after all. It was just plain lust and he didn’t much care for the man doing that with his Violet. Not that Violet ever noticed Victor. It was the only thing to ease Richard’s sudden and inexplicable jealousy. It was the oddest thing, but Violet could do that to perfection, stare through people as if they weren’t even there. She would always say the perfunctory “thank you” but she simply looked beyond the person or in this case the vastly handsome Victor Romanoff.
That was exactly what she always did with that city slicker lawyer, completely ignore him. It was as if he were the ghost, Richard thought smugly. He sure got a laugh out of that! But still.... Richard found himself wanting to rip that guy to shreds every time he caught a glimpse of him and Victor was always there, in the flesh, very much alive, most unlike Richard and his pathetic ghostly existence. Blast him!
Richard couldn’t trust Freddy anymore, either. Freddy was determined to introduce Violet to this slick dude. He would one day and then what? Would she fall for him like every other woman in town had? But we’re talking about Violet, the one who adamantly claims to never ever, not in a million years to ever want to date let alone remarry. Surely, Richard had nothing to worry about, right?
This new found jealousy, however, no matter how much he trusted to Violet’s undying loyalty, wouldn’t let Richard rest. He therefore went to his only remaining source for full disclosure, his nephew Jimmy.
He came through the wall of Jimmy’s room and sat on the bed before awakening the boy with a touch on the shoulder. He smiled when Jimmy yawned widely, rolled over and gave him a crooked grin.
“Hey buddy,” Richard said grinning down at him.
“Hi, Uncle Richie. Whatcha doing here?”Jimmy asked in a sleepy voice as he scratched his mess of sleep-tousled hair.
“Just wanted to talk. How’s things with you?”
This was the wrong thing to ask. Jimmy went on for about twenty minutes telling Richard everything that happened that week at school from the boy that threw up in class to the girl that paid him a quarter to chase her around the playground to the spelling test that he aced and the history test he didn’t do so well on. Richard listen to it all being a very good audience.
“And then we had indoor soccer. Just started but I got the worse coach, Mrs. Midler. She doesn’t even know what off sides is,” Jimmy said rolling his eyes to the ceiling and making Richard laugh. “Wish you could coach again.”
“Me too. Wow, Jimmy.” Richard said, hoping he could get a word in now. “You been busy. So, uh, how are things at home?”
“That’s, uh...good,” Richard replied looking for a way to introduce his desired subject. “So, um, have you had any... anybody come over lately?”
“Sure, my friend Bobby comes over all the time. His mom works now at the daycare center.”
“Yeah, I know, uh...but I mean, maybe one of your father’s buddies? They come over much? He told me he has a new friend,” Richard said, feigning casual.
“Only one comes over much is Uncle Victor.”
Richard felt a surge of anger swell in his chest. “Uncle Victor? Why the hell... I mean...why do you call him Uncle?”Richard asked, a muscle working along his jaw. He attempted a smile in an effort not to start yelling but it looked more like a painful grimace. Luckily Jimmy noticed none of this.
“I dunno, just cuz,” Jimmy answered with a shrug. “He said he always wanted to be an uncle and he’s got no brothers or sisters so he can’t, so...” he shrugged again. “Molly started it. She loves him tons.”
“That so?” Richard muttered through clenched teeth. “So, what’s Uncle Victor like?”
Jimmy, much to Richard’s annoyance, grinned. “He’s real nice. Always brings Mom flowers and chocolates and he asks her to paint stuff for him.”
“She paints for him? Really?” Richard asked, incredulous.
Walls weren’t going to stop him from getting to that guy. Richard would stop the rich man’s ploy to steal his Violet, he wouldn’t get a chance, not with Richard firmly--as firmly as a ghost could be--in the way. Scaring the hell out of Victor Romaoff. That’s what Richard needed to do. He’d run Mr. Fancy-pants out of town scared witless.
“Uh- huh, she loves it that he likes her art so much. He even pays her for the stuff but she gives the money back. She doesn’t think her stuff is good enough to sell. She thinks he’s just being nice,” Jimmy said carelessly. “Looks nice to me and Uncle Victor calls it squid-zit or something.”
“Exquisite,” Richard corrected automatically, frowning now. How many times had he himself told Laurie as much and she never believed him either. You’d think she’d finally get it that she was indeed a great artist. He sighed, his frown deepening.
“Whatever,” Jimmy said continuing with his exciting tale. “He gets earrings and bracelets and stuff for Valerie all the time and stuffed animals and dolls for Molly. He got me a new bike for my birthday and he got all sorts of hockey stuff for Nicky too. He can join that ice hockey league now. He even said he wants to take us guys to a Knicks game in the city. He’s got season tickets! Ain’t that so cool?”
“Way cool,” Richard mumbled not remotely meaning it.
“Dad says he’s trying to steal his family away,” Jimmy said gleefully.
Richard’s heart gave a leap. “So, you can’t like this guy, Jimmy. Your dad doesn’t. You know Victor’s trying to break up your family, right?” Richard retorted eagerly.
Jimmy laughed. “No, Dad’s just kidding. Victor’s great. Dad says so all the time. He’s not gonna do anything bad like that. He’s helping Dad get rich.”
Utterly thrown Richard gaped. “What?”
“Uncle Victor’s telling Dad what stocks to buy and stuff like that. Dad’s real happy so he must be getting tons of money,” Jimmy said sitting up in the bed. “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. He bought us a Nintendo Wii for Christmas!” he said now bouncing with excitement. “Wanna play?”
“No, I... it’s not for ghosts, Jimmy, sorry,” Richard said in a disappointed voice, though it had nothing to do with a stupid video game. He had hoped Jimmy would hate the man but Victor, going to great pains no doubt, had obviously bought the boy’s affections along with everyone else’s. “You better get back to sleep, Jimmy, okay?”
“Okay, maybe you can come over when Uncle Victor’s here. Then you can see he’s a real nice guy,” Jimmy mumbled as he snuggled into his pillow. “He won’t be scared of a.... ghost.”
Before the last word left the boy’s lips he was sound asleep and Richard was smiling in a devilish sort of way. This brilliant little boy just gave him a great idea. Being a ghost was the one thing he had going for himself. The laws of physics not applying to him, he could do whatever he wanted with no boundary in sight. What he wanted to do right now, more than anything in the world, was scare the living daylights out of this slick city dude, Victor Romanoff.
“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Bennett. I missed you,” Tommy said, a shy smile touching his lips.
“Let’s get at it then,” Richard mumbled as he zoomed out of Jimmy’s room but he stopped abruptly in midair hovering just above the neighbor’s dog house and setting the English sheep dog to howling at him.
Richard gave the dog a stern look and the hairy beast went whimpering back into the doghouse, his tail between his legs. Richard only just realized he didn’t have a clue where Victor lived. But no worries. Wherever Violet was so would be Victor Romanoff. It was only a matter of time before Richard would see him again. He would have Victor shaking in his fine-leather Gucci shoes. Richard grinned. That was the plan.
So it was the very next day Richard followed Violet to the market. He exited her car through the roof as she parked, he looking around for the lawyer. Sure enough there he was just holding a door open for a rather pretty young woman with an overflowing shopping cart in front of her and a little kid at her heels.
Richard recognized the woman and frowned. She was Tommy Gilligan’s mother, Trisha. During the little league season he often helped Freddy coach Jimmy’s team and Tommy was on the team, too. He was a bashful kid and knew nothing about baseball so Richard, feeling sorry for the boy, spent extra time with him trying to bring him out of his shell a bit and instill some confidence in him.
Misinterpreting Richard’s kindness for her child as interest in her, Trisha never missed an opportunity to flirt shamelessly with him, even though she knew full well he was married to Violet. She even had suggested a little tryst swearing she would tell no one. He didn’t like her for that reason alone but he also didn’t much care for how she always treated Tommy.
“Tommy, just shut up about it, will ya? You’re such a pest!” she snapped as they crossed the parking lot to their SUV. Tommy had been following his mother with a glum expression on his face not watching where he was going but staring down at his shoes.
Richard noticed he wiped away a tear. He didn’t know what made him do it but Richard forgot about Violet and Victor for the moment and walked beside the boy with his hand on his shoulder smiling down at him.
The boy stopped in the middle of the road and looked up. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “Mr. B..Bennett? But... but they said...said you... you died,” Tommy stammered.
“Yeah, well, it didn’t stick I guess,” Richard replied vaguely. He wasn’t sure telling Tommy he was a ghost wouldn’t make the kid fall in a dead faint. Tommy wasn’t the hardiest of kids after all.
She suddenly got angry. “What have I told you about making up stories, Tommy? First it’s grandma reading to you at night and now Mr. Bennett saves you from getting run over? What is it with you and ghosts? Will you ever get your head out of the clouds?”
“Me too, Tommy,” Richard answered. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Tommy said, a hopeful look in his dark brown eyes. “Will ya coach again next spring?”
Richard shook his head. “Can’t no more, Tommy. Sorry.”
“Are you a ghost too?” Tommy asked.
Before Richard could answer a gust of wind took the receipt right out of Trisha’s hand and it flew passed them.
“Get that for me, Tommy! Hurry, before it’s lost!” she shouted as she continued to push the cart to the car. Tommy had been about to go after it but Richard held him back just as a pickup truck zoomed passed narrowly missing the boy.
“Leave it. A stupid receipt isn’t as important as you are, Tommy. Tell your mom I said so, ‘kay?” Richard said sternly.
Tommy nodded looking a bit shook up but happy his old coach saved him from getting crushed under a truck. “Thanks, Mr. Bennett,” he said breathlessly.
“You’re a good boy, Tommy, always remember that and always look both ways before crossing the street,” he said grinning at him. Richard then walked through a passing car heading for the store. Tommy gulped and ran back to his mother.
“Tommy, where’s the receipt?” his mother asked placing the bags of groceries into the back of the car just as Tommy came up to her panting and looking scared out of his wits. “What’s wrong?”
“Almost got run over by a huge truck,”Tommy said.
“What? Oh, Tommy! Didn’t you look before crossing?” Trisha asked, unnerved now.
“I... I forgot but Mr. Bennett saved me and...”
“Who?” she asked frowning at him.
“My old coach, Mr. Bennett. You ‘member him. You said you were gonna get him to be my new dad but then he died. He’s a ghost now,” Tommy said innocently.
Tommy wasn’t listening. He had just seen Richard walk through the wall of the store just as the ghost of his grandmother whispered to him, “That nice man is right, Tommy. You are a very good boy.” He smiled up at her but said nothing more.
Meanwhile, Victor had just opened to the sport’s section of the New York Post with a copy of the Wall Street Journal under his arm when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a familiar flash of bright red wool. Turning his head he smiled now catching her scent on the air. He would know Violet Bennett anywhere even if he were blind.
With his eyes he followed her heading towards the produce section. He wondered for the billionth time if he dared approach her and actually speak to her. Then Freddy’s words came back to him.
“She’s so miserable,” Freddy had told him just a few days ago.
But looking at her now, Victor couldn’t agree. Violet was looking the happiest he’d ever seen her since the death of her husband. Certainly not as she had been when he was alive but much less melancholy. He had noticed it for a few weeks now but he wasn’t about to tell Freddy this, not when he seemed eager for his sister to finally meet him.
Perhaps she was finally getting over it? From what Freddy said that wasn’t likely but the evidence before him was too real to deny. Perhaps now was his chance. Perhaps he could actually ask her out to dinner now and maybe she would say yes. Could he risk it? Should he risk it without a strategy session with Freddy and Laurie?
“What have I got to lose?” Victor muttered, dropping the New York Post onto its pile. Keeping the Journal under his arm, he walked towards the tomato display in front of which Violet stood.
“Here goes everything,” he whispered anxiously. “God help me.”
Richard entered the store and frowned. He couldn’t see Violet nor Victor anywhere. Assuming Violet would go to the right he went down the freezer aisle first completely forgetting that Violet always left that for last. She was at the opposite end of the store and she was about to meet Victor Romanoff.