Violet had it foremost in her mind what Laurence let slip about the spy amongst them, the unknown bodyguard who was being paid handsomely to protect Rance, and along with him, his friends. She figured it must be one of the guys in the band. Who else could have such access?
She enjoyed her food while listening to the easy banter amongst the kids. Surely they would offer a clue to who this bodyguard/spy person was. She, however, got swept away with the amusing talk around her and finding clues kind of slipped to the back burner.
She marveled that the kids seemed to get along so well even though they were drastically different both in temperament and intellect, but even more so in background. Apparently, none were more separated by the circumstance of birth than Rance and Elian.
Elian, it turned out, had come to the United States from Venezuela with his parents and four brothers when he was just a baby, and they lived very happily in what he called a slum.
“But everybody knows a slum in the US is like a hundred times better than any neighborhood in Venezuela, and talk about the American dream! I come from a hell hole and look at me now, sitting here in this mansion, eating like a king. How cool is that?” he said, grinning like a fool. “I doubt Mr. Dictator has a better house than this one.”
“Better not let Hugo Chavez hear ya say that,” Rick muttered.
“Not too worried ‘bout that,” Elian said. “Now that he’s dead, that is.”
“Do you have family back home, Elian?” Laurence asked, a worried crease between his brows. “There’s been much turmoil there for quite some time now.” Had Laurence been looking at his son and seen the arrested expression on his face, he might not have asked, but he hadn’t.
A cloud briefly passed over Elian’s eyes, but he nodded and forced a smile, before answering. “Tons of cousins and stuff back home, but nothing you can do ‘bout that. Just like Miguel Cabrera…we’re darn lucky to be outta there,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll be as rich as him and I can…you know…do some good.”
“Perhaps you will,” Laurence said, finally catching his son’s stern expression and letting the subject drop.
John told them he had a perfectly normal childhood--if living with a worthless alcoholic parent who continually set the house on fire by falling asleep with lit cigarettes in his hand could ever be called normal.
“John, that’s awful!” Violet said, horrified.
“Yeah, I’m lucky I stayed out of juvee, what with all the shoplifting I did,” John said. “Of course, I could be a pile of ashes if not for the job I got at the Perkins just down the road from our place. For whatever reason, Dad always decided to set the house on fire when I was just getting home from work. I saved him and the house a dozen times before…well, I’m outta there now. Cooking by day, playing music with my friends by night…that’s good enough for me,” he said.
“It’ll be different soon enough,” Rick said. “When we’re in New York.”
“Sure. I’ll get a job at a Starbucks instead,” John said with a sardonic laugh.
Violet and Laurence exchanged looks, each refraining from asking whatever happened to John’s father.
“John, how did you learn to play the piano?” Violet asked.
“Our neighbor,” he said. “She was a nice lady, a former music teacher, who let me play on her piano whenever I wanted to get away from my dad when he was looking to use me for a punching bag. She thought I had talent so she taught me everything she knew until she said I could teach her some. She was real nice. I should go back and thank her…say goodbye, too. Maybe get her a gift or something. Sophie, maybe you can help me with that? I dunno nothin’ about gift-giving.”
“Sure,” she said.
“And you Rick?” Laurence asked, cautiously now, lest Rick’s story was even worse than the other two.
Rick shrugged. “Not much to tell. I was horrible in school and unlike John, I didn’t manage to stay out of juvee. I was headed for a life of crime, but one judge gave me an out at the last minute and I ended up in the Marines. I was pretty good at that, if you can believe it.”
Violet perked up at hearing this. “Were you…uh…”
“Overseas in combat? Oh, yeah,” he said, looking down at his empty plate, his expression mimicking it.
“Were you…um…” Violet quickly glanced at Laurence, then added, “Were you… Special Ops or anything?”
Rick stared at her for a moment before saying, “Me? Special Ops?” He nearly fell out of his chair he was laughing so hard.
Okay, Violet thought to herself, Rick isn’t the guy, but he would have made sense as the bodyguard. Heck, hadn’t Sophie as much as said it? He was so big and certainly looked capable of handling himself in a crisis and protecting them all. But Laurence had said Special Ops, hadn’t he, or was it Navy Seals? Not like she knew the difference, but… if it wasn’t the obvious choice of the huge, big, old bear that was Rick, then who was the spy?
It couldn’t be skinny-as-a-rail Elian and John, well he looked a bit too nerdy with those goofy glasses. It could be Rick was lying, she supposed. She never was any good at telling a lie from the truth, after all. Her eyes drifted to Danny who was the only one who still remained quiet, listening to everyone’s life story, yet not offering his own. Sophie had mentioned he was a bit reserved, but she hadn’t mentioned he was also madly in love with her. But did that preclude him from being the bodyguard/spy/Navy Seal?
Only one way to find out.
Before Violet got a chance to ask, however, Laurence spoke.
“How did you all get into music?” he asked.
Elian was the first to answer. “It’s in the blood,” he said.
“Pardon me?” Laurence said.
“All my brothers are musical, my father, too. I was gonna be the drummer for them, but they’re older and my mother wanted me to stay in school, so…” He shrugged. “They have an established band and play all around the Miami area with another drummer. I didn’t want to play merengue and salsa all my life anyway so… I found my own band.”
Sophie nudged Danny. “You never did say how you started writing songs,” she said.
“You never asked,” he said and offered no more.
“Song writing is just an extension of writing other things, like poetry,” Rance interjected. “And if you’re naturally musical, you just do it.”
Danny smiled at him. “Listen to the man, Sophie. He knows what he’s talking about.”
Rance who had grown up in the lap of luxury was as down to earth as any of them, Violet noticed, much to her amazement. He was obviously the leader of the group as well, which was odd being he was almost the youngest member—save for Sophie--but no one questioned it; he was the boss.
Must have gotten that from his father, Violet mused. She had seen firsthand Laurence was as bossy as they come.
She glanced at Laurence then and found him staring at his son with a wistful smile on his face. Rance was now smiling and joking with his friends, completely at ease — a far cry from how he had been upon entering his childhood home. She was infinitely glad for it. It was almost painful seeing these two people, father and son, not getting along, nearly at each other’s throat.
She sighed and wondered if anything could get those two back on normal, friendly terms.
“How long has it been?” she suddenly said to him.
“My sorry, what did you say?” Laurence said.
“I was wondering how long it had been since you saw your son?” she asked.
“In person? A few weeks,” he said, turning back to watch his boy again.
Violet looked her confusion. Hadn’t Sophie implied they hadn’t seen each other in years? And Rance did, too. Yes, she was sure of it! This made no sense, unless…
She looked around to make certain no one was listening to them, which they weren’t since Rance was telling them a funny story about the time he hid from his nanny and no one could find him for hours and ended up calling half the police in Miami out to their home. They found him fast asleep in Mr. Jefferies bathtub, the last place anyone would look.
“Does your… your guy supply you with video of your son and things like that?” she asked.
“Of course,” he replied. “But I also take the opportunity to see him perform in person whenever I can.”
She made a face. “Sophie never mentioned that. How do you manage it? Doesn’t the paparazzi get in the way?”
He gave her a bored, insolent look. “Ms. Bennett, the reason your daughter didn’t mention it is the same reason my son never gets an inkling that I’m there. Because I go incognito. Otherwise it would end up being a circus, and splashed across every tabloid in the country. Then he’d be in even more danger.”
“How?” she asked.
“How could you possibly hide yourself enough that your own son doesn’t see you?”
“Easy. Worn, old jeans, a baseball cap and a hoodie and I’m like any other man stumbling into a bar for a drink. He would never suspect it’s me dress that way, because he’s never seen me in anything other than my regular attire, so…he’ll never know I was there.”
“Well, that’s stupid!” she snapped.
“Mom, what’s stupid?” Sophie said.
“Rance, did you know your father has been going to see you perform?” Violet said.
“Ms. Bennett!” Laurence shouted.
“What?” Bug said, stunned. “No he didn’t. He wouldn’t know where I am. Beside, he couldn’t care less about…”
“Oh, will you stop that nonsense!” Violet shouted. “Of course he cares! He’s your father. He loves you.”
“Mom. What are you doing?” Sophie said through clenched teeth.
“Something I should have done as soon as I walked through the door and watched these two knuckleheads going at each other like two pitbulls,” she said standing up and tossing her napkin onto the table.
“Ms. Bennett, I’m warning you,” Laurence growled.
“You’re warning me?” she shrieked. “I don’t think so, buddy! I’m now warning you, you and your son. So, the both of you better get your asses into that library of yours right this minute.”
“Wh…what for?” Rance asked, although, as soon as he said it, he wished he hadn’t.
Violet glared at him. “We’re going to have a little chat,” she said. Upon seeing a dumbstruck Mr. Jefferies, coming forward she smiled and added, “If you’ll hold dessert until we return, we’d greatly appreciate it, Mr. Jefferies. We shouldn’t be too long…unless I have to smack someone upside the head once or ten times, that is.”
“Yes, Madam,” he said, a tiny smile just barely suppressed.
Laurence and Rance exchanged looks and simultaneously stood, meekly following Violet to the library.
Rick was ready to bust a rib from holding in the laughter. “God, I love your mother, Sophie. Think I’m too young for her?”
Sophie rolled her eyes and muttered, “I swear I can’t take her anywhere.”
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