Blog of the Gray Geezer: The Thanks-for-Nothing Giving
Randy Bechtel
The Thanks-for-Nothing Giving

The best news of 2021 came in October when I learned I was about to become the former brother-in-law of Gary Evans.

My wife broke the news by saying: “Gary is divorcing Vivien. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.”

“What you mean,” said Aunt Martha, “is that Vivien is divorcing Gary. My land, what keeps fairytales about men and women going? Why do people think couples marry because the man popped the question?  People marry because the woman tells the man they are getting married. Plain and simple. Men who pop the question are only those whose women answer no. Same with divorce. Wives divorce husbands, not the other way around. Back in the day, it wasn’t men who filled Reno’s divorce courts. Don’t tell me Vivien is an exception.”

“But Martha, Vivien has known about Gary’s girlfriends for years!” Jane said.

“Yes dear, so why would Gary want to ruin a good thing with a divorce? Life for him has been good, I should say.”

Martha was a widow who had remained a widow during most of the 42 years she had taught first grade. Not surprisingly she tended to believe she knew more than anyone else in the room. 

Today—Thanksgiving Day one month later—Martha, Jane and I awaited the arrival of, among others, Vivien accompanied from Los Angeles by a man whom Vivien had billed as Vlad Tepes, pastor of the Romanian Baptist Church in El Segundo.

“You know why the Evans women became Bible-thumpers, don’t you?” Martha said, referring to Vivien and her daughter Ashley, a 38-year-old hoping to be ordained as an Anglican minister. “You can blame it on the Christmas Eve here two years ago when that genealogist Gary hired told those two bird-brains they were direct descendants of Jesus Christ.”

The genealogist had been recommended to Gary by a former Sacramento colleague and in every way the man had appeared a leader in his field. All his appearances, however, were fake. The joke, conceived by Sacramento “buddies” of Gary who had worked with him in TV news before he moved to Los Angeles, involved an actor tracing Gary’s lineage not to President John Adams, as Gary claimed it could be, but to a fictitious John Adams hanged as a rapist and serial killer. The actor also falsely maintained Vivien’s lineage could be traced to the Merovingian Dynasty of Frank kings, which was believed to be directly descended from the child of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ.

I only learned of the deception from the actor when he and I were alone outside before he departed. If I chose not to tell my family the truth, he told me, Gary’s buddies were convinced Gary’s ego would soon compel him to seek a second opinion as soon as he returned to L.A. I agreed with that analysis and elected to say nothing. Only weeks later, after hearing nothing from or about Gary, did the full genius of his buddies’ joke strike me. If Gary had learned the truth, informing Ashley that she was indeed a direct descendant of President John Adams would not compensate for also telling her she was not a direct descendant of Jesus Christ. As prestige goes, being related to the son of God is hard to top.

The doorbell rang.

I remained in the family room where I was watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Las Vegas Raiders. There was little point to my greeting guests.  I would only find myself standing about with the other men in the dining room or kitchen listening to the women.

A moment later my 13-year-old grandson Ben entered the room, muttered “Hi Grandpa,” plopped down on the couch and ogled his I-Phone.

“How are you, Ben?” I said.

“Good,” Ben said without looking up.

A minute later James, Ben’s father and my daughter Susan’s husband, entered the room with a bottle of beer in hand, sat down and asked, “What’s the score?”

“There isn’t one yet,” I said. “What’s new with you?”

“Not much. Oh—do you know your Fantastic Fritz Schicklgruber is in the news?”

“When isn’t he these days?” I grumbled.

“CNN reports that he’s in Venezuela.”

“Makes sense. It has no extradition treaty with the U.S.,” I said.

“Right. But that’s not the big news. The FBI believes Schicklgruber may have been reassigned by his criminal syndicate to oversee its narcotics trafficking.”

“Reassigned by whom? I thought Schicklgruber was the syndicate’s big cheese.”

“That’s the news. Now they believe the big cheese is Wally Wooley. You know, the guy who had his brother whacked in Old Sacramento?”

I slumped down in my recliner.

James said: “Fox reported this criminal syndicate is international. They called Wooley the biggest crime czar since Lucky Luciano.”

“So how does a crime czar run an international crime syndicate from Fresno?”

“Oh, these days you can do about anything working from home.”

The doorbell rang.

A minute later Ashley’s voice rose above the feminine din exclaiming: “Are you serious? I had no idea!” Another minute and Ashley entered the family room but did not sit.

“Hi guys,” she said. Then to Ben: “Hi Ben. How are you?”

“Good,” Ben said without looking up.

“I can’t believe you’re so punctual,” James said. “You could have driven straight to our house to unpack.”

“Traffic ran smoothly past The Grapevine,” Ashley said.

“Where’s Montrose?” James asked, referring to Ashley’s husband.

“In the other room talking,” Ashley said.

As conversationalists go, Montrose is a very good pharmacist. He is a man, in other words, of few words. For someone who merely listens, listening to the women was probably preferable to listening to the men, especially when you have zero interest in the babbling of NFL pieholes Jim Nantz and Tony Romo.

Ashley positioned herself between me and the television, then said, “Aunt Jane tells me mother won’t be staying here with you.”

“No. I thought you knew that,” I said.

Ashley’s eyes rounded. “No, not until 30 seconds ago! All mom told me was that she wanted to fly up here yesterday. I expected her to be here.”

“Yes, well, last week she called and said she would be flying up with some preacher who’s her new squeeze.”

Ashley’s eyes re-rounded. “Uncle Randy, I doubt their relationship is romantic. In any case, you do not refer to a Christian minister as a squeeze!”

“Fine. Whatever your mother is doing with this Christian minister, she’s doing it in a private room at the Hyatt.”

“Do you know his name?”

“Vlad. I think his last name is something like Stepish. He’s Romanian.”

Ashley blanched. “Romanian?”

“I assume so. He’s a Romanian Baptist minister.”

“Baptist?” Ashley gasped.

“That’s what I was told.”

“Are you aware that the Baptists preach that only adult believers can be baptized and that children who die are damned?”

“Sweet!” James shouted. “Oh no, he dropped the ball!”

Ashley was gone before I needed to crane my neck to see the television.

A few minutes later Montrose entered the room. He nodded at me and James, then said, “Hi Ben. How are you?”

“Good,” Ben said without looking up.

“Montrose, how about a drink?” I said.

I didn’t wait for an answer as I rose and went to the liquor cabinet to pour Montrose a neat half tumbler of Glenfiddich. If Montrose was true to form, the scotch would last him to dinner and leave him smiling blissfully with irises that seemed to rotate.

The doorbell rang.

Knowing it must signal the arrival of Vivien and Vlad, curiosity got the better of me and I called out, “I’ll get it.” I handed Montrose his drink and, enroute to the door, gulped down a shot. Ashley beat me to the door.

“Ashley dear.”

“Mother. What a surprise!”

“Are you going to ask us in?”

“Yes, please, come in,” Ashley said stepping back from the doorway as if mesmerized by the sight of the tall thin man behind her mother.

Vlad was a head taller than Vivien as told by his pale face appearing from the chin up behind Vivien’s head. He had black eyes and black bushy eyebrows. He said with a thick Slavic accent: “How do you do?”

Vivien made the introductions, after which we went into the dining room where I introduced Vlad to Aunt Martha and, standing in the kitchen on the other side of a counter, Susan and Jane.

“Would you two like some wine?” I asked Vivien and Vlad.

“Wine? I never drink wine,” Vlad said.

“We don’t drink alcohol of any kind,” Vivien said.

Ashley’s jaw dropped. She looked about for somewhere to stow her practically empty wine glass.

“So how did you and Vlad meet?” Jane asked Vivien.

“I have a friend who insisted I visit Vlad’s church in El Segundo to hear one of his sermons,” Vivien said. “We met after the service when I was leaving and Vlad was outside the door saying goodbye to his parishioners.”

“Her face came out of the shadow and seemed to bring the sunlight with it,” Vlad said. “I knew at once she was a special dame. I was not surprised when later I learned of her holy bloodline.”

Woman or lady, Vlad. Never dame,” Vivien said. “And don’t forget my holy bloodline is shared by my daughter. And by my brother and his daughter Susan.”

“Don’t forget Aunt Martha,” Ashley said.

“The only thing holy about me is my underwear,” Martha said. “I was adopted.”

“Don’t believe her, Vlad,” Jane said. “Aunt Martha is a kidder.”

“And a drinker,” Martha said and gulped down what remained in her wine glass, then went to the counter for a refill.

Dinner was uneventful. Or at least it was at my end of the table, where I sat at the head, Martha sat to my left and Montrose to my right. Martha and Montrose dominated the conversation by talking about Martha’s prescriptions.

Immediately after dinner, before dessert, it started. Marking the time was Jane when she asked:

“So Ben, do you need more to eat or are you good?”

“Good,” Ben said and pulled his I-Phone from his pocket.

“When you told me you’d be driving up today I was worried you’d make it on time,” Susan said to Ashley.

“Driving the day of a holiday usually isn’t that bad,” Ashley said. “Traffic wasn’t even bumper-to-bumper in L.A. Well, not much. Not even around Santa Monica where there was a bit of excitement. Traffic was at a standstill on the other side of the freeway as police cars raced by on the shoulders of the divider. We even saw helicopters flying south.”

“What was it about?” Jane asked.

“Dunno. At the time, I thought maybe they had found that Wally Wooley person,” Ashley said. “But the news kept saying he’s still on the loose.”

“Which is amazing when you think about it,” James said. “Here’s a guy pursued by local police, the CHP, the FBI. And no doubt the CIA and Interpol are now looking for him abroad. Meanwhile Wooley’s face is all over T.V. and the Internet. Law enforcement can tap into closed-circuit footage from airports to banks to street corners and analyze it with facial recognition software. Cell phones and financial transactions can be tracked. And yet, no Wally Wooley.”

“My guess is he’s either dead or sipping cocktails somewhere like Saudi Arabia or Belarus,” Susan said.

“Beware! Wally Wooley is an Antichrist!” Vlad said with closed eyes and his palms pressed together. “The cunning of such unspeakable evil cannot be shortchanged!”

Underestimated, Vlad, not shortchanged,” Vivien said.

“Pointed words, Vlad!” James said. “I agree he’s evil, but does Wally Wooley have the star power to headline Armageddon?”

“I believe Vlad said ‘an Antichrist,’ not ‘The Antichrist,’” Ashley said.  “There are several figures prophesied by the Bible who would oppose and replace Christ before the Second Coming. The one referred to as The Antichrist or The Beast of Armageddon was prophesied by St. John in Revelations.”

I said: “I’m told, Ashley, you’re studying to become an Anglican theologian. Are you enrolled in a seminary?”

“That’s to come,” Ashley said. “Right now I’m preparing by listening to U-Tube lectures by Andy Muldoon about the history of Christianity.”

“Isn’t Muldoon a rightwing podcaster?” Susan said. “The anti-vaxxer behind ‘Andy-vax Facts’?”

“He’s a voice brave enough to lead us through the wilderness!” Ashley said. “The righteous truth is vaccinations have godless effects—sterility, autism, blindness, miscarriages, baldness, hair growing on your back!”

“Beware of vaccines, my friends!” Vlad said. “Coronavirus came into being because of Philistine science! Vaccines are also that science's doing and will smite all Philistines like the great plagues of Egypt!”

“Food for thought, certainly, Vlad,” I said. “And since we’re not consuming anything else until dessert later, maybe we should digest it all by wearing masks.”

The doorbell rang.

A masked man stood sideways on my porch as if poised to jump from it.

“Are you Randy Bechtel?” he said.

“I am.”

“This is yours,” he said, holding out a piece of paper.

I took it asking what it was.

The man was already down the steps when he answered: “A subpoena duces tecum ordering you to appear in federal court with the tape recording you made of Harry Wooley.”

“But the cops said they weren’t interested in that.”

The man turned to look at me. “They weren’t federal.”

“Do you always serve subpoenas on holidays?”

“If cars are parked outside, it’s a sure way of knowing a party is at home. And I like plenty of witnesses when I serve someone dangerous like you—a known associate of Wally Wooley.”

“What? Me? A known associate of Wally Wooley?”

I was muttering to myself when I returned to the dining room to be eyed by frozen faces.  

Susan said: “Wally Wooley, Dad? Really?”

“I am not an associate of Wally Wooley!” I said. “I’ve never even met the man.”

“I know you’re not, but still, there’s cause to wonder,” Jane said. “That’s what you said about Fantastic Fritz.”

“I’ve neither met, nor am I in any way, an associate of Wally Wooley or Fritz Schicklgruber,” I said.

“I believe you, Dad,” Susan said, “but that’s not the point, is it? You can deny you’re Wooley’s associate, but you can’t deny you’re known as Wooley’sassociate. Someone—presumably the police—mistakenly think they know you’re Wooley’s associate, which makes you a known Wooley associate.”

“Oh, I do hope this doesn’t get back to my book club!” Jane said.

“So what’s the subpoena about?” Susan asked.

“Just a tape recording I made when Eddie and I were interviewing Wally Wooley’s brother, Harry.”

“What?” Jane gasped. “When did you do that?”

“Just before he was killed.”

“Just before being when?”

“Oh, I’d say 20 minutes . . .to, uh . . . oh, about . . . more or less . . . one second, depending on whether Harry died the instant of impact.”

“You were there when he was run over?”

“Eddie and I were, yes. Oh, and the truck driver.”

“Mom, you didn’t know?” Susan said.

“No!”

“Well, I think it’s shocking—and a disgrace!” Vivien said. “Think of poor Vlad here, who has his reputation to think about.”

Ashley popped up from her seat.“Shocking mother? A disgrace? I’ll tell you what’s shocking and a disgrace. Less than a month after you forced Dad out of his home, you’re in a hotel room bonking Bela Lugosi!”

Vivien rose and the two women glared at each other.

Vlad said: “Perhaps, Vivien, we should blow.”

Vivien took a deep breath. “Say leave or depart, Vlad. Never blow,” she said.

“What about scram?” Vlad said.

“No.”

Beat it?”

“No.”

“Who are you--Vlad’s Professor Henry Higgins?” Martha asked Vivien.

Vivien sniffed with indignation. “I’ll have you know, Aunt Martha, that Vlad is a very accomplished linguist. He actually learned to speak English on his own by watching Jimmy Cagney movies.”

"What's the beef?" Vlad asked.

"There isn't one," Vivien snapped. "And say argument or dispute, not beef."

Silence.

“Wally Wooley is dead,” Ben said.

Everyone looked at Ben, who remained focused on his I-Phone.

Ben read: “Wally Wooley, a suspected murderer and head of an international criminal syndicate, died instantly Thursday morning when the car he was driving struck a telephone pole two miles from his mobile home in Fresno.”

“A telephone pole?” Jane said.

“Two miles from his home?” Susan said.

“A mobile home?” Ashley said.

“He must have been killed in a high-speed chase,” James said.

Ben read: “Wooley was returning from the neighborhood tavern The Watering Hole and is believed to have been DUI when he lost control of his Ford Pinto. Several patrons of the tavern confirmed that Wooley had been drinking all morning. Said patron Otis Poole: “When he left the bar, Wally Wooley was wasted.”

“Wanted Wally Wooley wasted?” I said.

“At a neighborhood bar?” James said.

“In Fresno?” Jane said.

“Where he drove a Pinto?” Vivien said.

Ben read: “A spokesperson for the FBI admitted that law enforcement was so convinced Wooley had fled Fresno that no one thought to look for him there.”

“So the dope rubs himself out!” Martha said.

“Driving a Pinto!” Vivien said.

“That’s swell!” Vlad said.

“Not swell, Vlad. Good,” Ben said.

Copyright © 2021 by Randy Bechtel

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Email Randy Bechtel at rbechtel@rkbechtel.com