Victor opened the door to the office of Norton CPA and not at all to his surprise he found yet another stranger occupying the revolving door which was the secretary's outer office. This certainly wasn't the no-nonsense young woman who had the personality of plain brown cardboard and looked as if she stepped straight off a runway in Milan. She also wasn't the ornery, excessively tattooed, beefy woman who gave a distinct Rosie O'Donnell vibe. Nor was this woman the twenty-something who didn't even know for what the fax machine was used and scowled resentfully every time the phone rang interrupting her very important filing...nail filing, that is.
“Good morning, Mr. Romanoff,” the new secretary said, pressing a button on the computer in front of her and swiftly moving to the printer where several papers shot out onto the receiving tray. She had a pleasant face, was tall and thin and smartly dressed in a navy blue pencil skirt topped with a lavender colored silk blouse. Her age was possibly mid-forties and she had unnaturally orange-red hair which reminded him of I Love Lucy, his mother's all time favorite TV show and comedienne.
“Good Morning...erm... I'm sorry, I don't recall...have we met?” he said, pulling the hat off his head, and the scarf from around his neck as he unbuttoned his coat.
“No, we have not. Mr. Norton told me he was expecting you here this morning, however. He asked me to show you right in,” she replied with a soft smile, tapping the sheets neatly in order before opening the door to Freddy's office. She stepped in behind Victor and placed the sheets on top of Freddy's desk.
“Dorothy, if my sister calls don't answer!” he said, staring at his cell phone as if it was a cobra ready to strike.
“Yes, Sir, but...how will I know it's her if I don't answer the phone?” she asked, a note of amusement in her tone.
Freddy made a face. “Oh, yeah...well, just tell her...tell her I'm not here then,” he said, finally looking up from the phone. “Hey, Vic! Didn't see ya there. Come in, sit down.”
“Black and sweet?” Dorothy said to Victor.
“Excuse me?” he answered.
“Your coffee,” she replied with a tiny smile.
“Oh, yes, thank you,” he said, frowning slightly. After she left closing the door behind her he added, “How did she know how I like my coffee?”
“She was the waitress at Gilly's diner for about ten years until it burned down a month ago. She must have seen you there once or twice. Course she didn't have that ridiculous red hair then,” Freddy said, tossing his cell onto the desk. “I know it's a horrible thing to say but that grease fire was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“How could that possibly affect you?” Victor asked, sitting down across from Freddy's desk.
Freddy pointed at the door, just as it opened up and Dorothy came in with two steaming cups of coffee on a silver tray.
“Mrs. Ortiz finally dropped off their...uh...tax stuff,” Dorothy said, with a significant look.
“Oh, God...that can't be good,” Freddy said, a horrible grimace on his face.
She laughed. “It was all—well, not exactly neatly packed...more like hurriedly stuffed into a relatively small garbage bag,” she said and laughed at the horrified expression on Freddy's face. “I'll try to sort it out for you as best as possible. Will there be anything else, Mr. Norton?”
“No, thank you, Dorothy...except...please call me Freddy,” he said.
“Yes, Mr...I mean, Freddy,” she said, smiling and she left them with a click at the closing of the door.
“She seems nice,” Victor said, “But wasn't the last one really good too? She was extremely efficient you said.”
“Oh, she was. She was fantastic! She was punctual, hardworking, tireless and a whiz at math. She must have had OCD or something she was so...precise," he said, a wistful look on his face. "Caught several of my mistakes, too, which was slightly annoying, but... anyway. She had this place running like a well-oiled machine in less than two days! Loved her.”
“So why did you let her go?”
Freddy gave him a 'are you serious' look. “Did you take a look at her?”
“Very pretty, yes,” Victor said, already knowing where this was going.
“And have you ever met my extremely insecure wife? You know...the one who would assume, number one,” he said counting on his fingers, “that I was having an affair with my secretary, and number two, that I no longer loved her, and number three, that I would soon leave her and the kids and run off to Tahiti to be with that girl... if she ever saw her?”
“Oh, I see. More's the pity,” Victor said, grinning.
“I'll say, but, like I said, Dorothy's great too and a keeper...if I don't tick her off somehow, ” Freddy said.
“How would you do that?” Victor asked, taking a sip from his cup.
“You know how grumpy I get during tax season. No one can stand me then!”
Victor chuckled. “Laurie manages to stick around.”
“Yeah, well, never said she was too bright,” said Freddy frowning slightly as he looked at him. “No offense, Vic, but you look like shit.”
Victor sighed. “I've been getting that a lot lately.”
“So...what's got your panties in a bunch?” Freddy asked.
“Why do you think...”
“Cause I know you. Something major is bothering you,” Freddy said, and the next second his eyes opened wide. “Oh, shit! You didn't talk to Violet, did you?”
“Not since yesterday at Weston Botanical for the Christmas concert. Why, what's wrong?”
“I think she knows.”
“About our mother!”
Victor gave him a skeptical look. “How could she?”
“The stupid nurse at Mason!” he shouted getting up from behind his desk, pacing in front of Victor. “She's new and she didn't know she wasn't supposed to say anything. She told Violet everything...everything that I've been trying all this time to keep from her, so that Mom can have her big Christmas surprise.”
“Well, you can't think you can just avoid Violet until the party, do you?”
“Why the hell not? She kept away from us for months after Richie died.”
“Fred, just talk to her. You don't have to tell her everything. Just say that...that you heard about this new therapy and you thought it was the last shot for your mother and you took it and that you didn't want to worry her in case it didn't work. She'll be okay with it...sort of,” Victor said, skeptically. “Okay. She'll be pissed, yes, but...like always Violet will get over it. Plus there's only a few days left until Christmas. Don't worry about it.”
Just then Victor's cell phone sounded with Violet's ringtone.
“Don't answer that!” Freddy said.
Victor gave him an annoyed looked. “What if this has nothing to do with your mother and she's in trouble?”
“She's at work. How can she get in trouble there? The petunias and poinsettias joined forces and they're about to whack her over the head with a trowel and take over the conservatory?” Freddy said.
Victor actually laughed. “All right, I'll let it go to voice mail.”
Freddy visibly relaxed and sat on the corner of his desk crossing his arms over his chest. “Well? What's up?”
Victor cleared his throat as he put his cell back in his pocket. Then he looked up and sighed. “The proverbial shit has hit the fan and I don't know what to do about it.”
Freddy straightened and frowned. “Buy gold and silver like all those stupid commercials tell ya to do?”
Victor laughed even as he shook his head. “Not that fan and wrong kinda shit. It's my kids I'm talking about.”
Freddy lifted an eyebrow. “Surely not Simon, your nearly perfect, brilliant medical school boy, so it must be the one who got kicked outta business school...Ronnie, right?”
“He quit school which is totally different than getting kicked out,” Victor defended needlessly, as he knew Freddy didn't mean it as an insult. “Ronnie might be at loose ends at the moment, but he's not the source of my current troubles.”
Freddy smiled and shook his head. “I know what it is now. Vic, you just gotta hold on a bit longer. Violet will come 'round eventually and then you won't be so overwhelmed with being a new dad to thse little kids again. Don't know what you were thinking taking on three orphans on your own but...better you than me.”
Victor shook his head. “I'm not at all overwhelmed. How could I be? I have far more help than I ever imagined I would, between Ronnie babysitting whenever I need and Marty and Morris snatching the kids away for their allotment of spoiling the grandkids time, I don't even need a mother for them...technically speaking.”
“Wait...are you saying you don't want to marry my sister anymore?” Freddy said, astonished.
Victor sighed again. “Freddy, get with the program, will ya? She does NOT want to marry me so the point is mote, okay?”
“No, not okay! You just wait until Christmas. Once she sees my mom all well and not catatonic and all she'll be so grateful she'll be all over you!”
While Victor didn't believe any of that, he shrugged. “We'll see about that when the time comes, but until then, I have a moral issue to discuss with you.”
“Moral?” Freddy shouted, stunned and confused. “I'm an accountant and you're a fricken lawyer. We neither of us know nuttin' about morals!”
Victor laughed in spite of himself. “Freddy, will you stop. I'm trying to be serious here. I need your help.”
Freddy sat down in the chair beside his friend and said, “Sorry about that. Shoot, I'm all ears.”
Victor cleared his throat again and took a deep breath. “The adoption is in jeopardy.”
“Whaddya mean? Hasn't it been finalized by now? You've had the kids forever. Were they only yours on a trial basis?”
Victor shook his head. “No, the Trents assumed all would go well. Besides, these things take time, lots of time and I had the Trents go slow with all this just on the off-chance Violet might change her mind and...stupid of me, I know that now. Maybe if this had been rushed through...but it would have bitten me in the ass anyway. It's probably better this way.”
“What are you talking about? What's happened?”
“The Trents never had been able to find any remaining relations of the kids...no aunts, no uncles, no distant cousins, nothing... until I stepped in and used my own investigators. I wanted to be sure. I have a guy who knows where to look, who can find the worst evaders, the ones who seem to fall off the face of the earth. My guy knows the underbelly of society and...and he found... Reginald Silber,” Victor replied grimly. “Their very elusive father.”
Freddy's eyes filled with of a mixture of horror and sympathy. “Oh, frick.”
Leave it to Freddy to put it just right.
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