The next day, Terry was leaving her last class and heading to the locker room to get ready for tennis practice when Shu-Yi intercepted her in the hall.
“You must come quickly,” she told her granddaughter. “Your grandfather’s condition is very grave.”
“But I’ve got tennis practice,” Terry protested. “I’m in enough trouble already.”
“I think he is dying, Terry,” Shu-Yi replied. “You’ve got to go.”
“All right,” Terry moaned. She saw Alicia down the hall. “Alicia!” she cried.
“What?” Alicia replied, turning around.
“Tell Coach Dorr I can’t make practice today.”
“Her and Denise’ll be mad at you.”
“I know. But my grandfather is very sick.”
“He’s been sick for a long time.”
“I think it may be the end, Alicia.”
“Oh,” Alicia replied. “Okay, I’ll tell ‘em.” Alicia turned and went on. Shu-Yi almost drug Terry to the Mini for the trip to Santa Lucia.
Alicia got on her tennis outfit and went out on the courts. Coach Dorr was working with some of the players warming up; Denise and Vannie were talking on the side. Alicia walked up to them.
“Terry told me to tell you that she’s not going to be here today,” Alicia said to them.
“Why not?” Denise snapped. “What’s her little excuse now?”
“She said her grandfather’s dying.” Denise went silent at that, looking out at the court.
“Thanks for telling me,” Denise finally said. “Go over with Coach Dorr.” Alicia turned and went.
“So what does that mean?” Vannie asked.
“Let the games begin,” Denise replied very deliberately. “I’ll be back,” she said and turned to go back to the school.
“Where are you going?” Vannie asked.
“I gotta make a phone call,” Denise replied. She left Vannie standing there, mystified as usual at her friend’s ever-hidden agenda.
Shu-Yi wasted no time speeding down Bolton Street, making a hard left onto Dravidian Way, and heading down to Santa Lucia. Located between the hotel and the country club, Santa Lucia was the centre of Gerland’s empire in just about every sense of the word. Never for an office, Gerland governed his properties and lived his life from the palatial estate that he had built as much to honour his Italian ancestors as to provide both luxury and significance for himself.
The Mini was readily waved through the gate. Shu-Yi did some odd work at the estate, and was well known there, especially when she had Terry with her. They pulled up near the front entrance. Shu-Yi once again took to pulling her granddaughter away from the car, towards the entrance and into the main lobby of the mansion as the doorkeeper dutifully opened the gateway for them.
The lobby was empty; usually Lucian had a receptionist there, but she was missing and her desk was unoccupied. There was a strange silence that draped itself around the place.
“Let me go and see what is going on,” Shu-Yi told Terry. “You go and wait in the office. I will be back.” Shu-Yi went on to Gerland’s quarters while Terry went into the main office, to the side of the lobby.
The office was a large, cavernous affair, with a five metre ceiling that matched the lobby. Terry sat down on a couch that faced the large desk located in the centre of the office. She carefully place her purse on the couch and pulled her skirt up to her knees as she sat down. All around her were frescoes which Lucian had replicated from the Italian Renaissance masters, but Terry’s eyes fixed themselves on her favourite, the Disputa, which was directly behind the desk. Her mind went back to the time when, while her elders partied elsewhere in the mansion, she would come and examine the details of the fresco. Her brother Richard hated the place, which meant that she could be left in solitude or sometimes with Cathy away from him. It was also away from the eruptions that had become all too frequent at Gerland gatherings, especially leading up to and after Kendall’s taking the Presidency. Here she could get away from all of that and soak in the eternal themes that presented themselves in front of her.
As she looked at the fresco again, her almond-shaped eyes began to fill with tears which ran down her cheeks. She sensed deeply—too deeply for her own good—that another mooring in her life was about to break away, sending her out into a stormier and stormier sea where she had no control over the course of the ship. She had never been that close to her grandfather—her mother saw to that—but living in a world centred around him and the fruits of his wealth had been all she had known. Now she knew that world was about to be torn apart, and her desire to escape to somewhere—anywhere—was stronger than ever.
“Come and see him now,” Shu-Yi said from the doorway, breaking her solitude. “The priest just left five minutes ago after giving him the last rites.” Terry got up, took her purse, and went out while Shu-Yi led the way to the master bedroom.
They entered to see Lucian lying unconscious on the bed, surrounded by his nurses and Terry’s Uncle Ernie. He got up and hugged Terry.
“Where’s Ken and Jack?” she asked, referring to her cousins.
“They’re supposed to be here,” Ernie replied, “but they didn’t have a Shu-Yi to deliver them. I’ve only been here about fifteen minutes. They waited until the last minute to tell us he’s sinking fast.” Terry went around and sat down at the seat Ernie occupied. She clasped Lucian’s hand, which responded very weakly to this show of affection.
“Grandpa?” she called to him, with no response. Lucian had assumed an ashen complexion. Terry broke down in tears, burying her face in Lucian’s lower arm. The nurses even began to cry, moved by this spontaneous show of affection and grief that they found all too rare in the Gerland family. Shu-Yi and Ernie joined them in their sorrow. By the time the nurses regained their composure, they realised that he had stopped breathing.
The head nurse took his pulse and found none. They looked at each other, then, as if rehearsed, pulled the sheet over his face. Terry, who had just sat up, went back into tears, this time turning to Shu-Yi for comfort.
Ken and Jack—several years younger that Terry—had crept in just as Lucian had expired.
“He’s gone, boys,” Ernie informed his sons. The three men stood in stony silence; Ernie was fighting joining Terry in uncontrolled grief. In the midst of this Mabel, Ernie’s wife, came into the room.
“Vickie’s coming,” she informed the mourners. “You’d better be ready.” Mabel turned to Terry. “Where’s your mother?”
“I don’t know,” Terry replied, red-eyed.
“One is enough,” Ernie noted. “You go and sit next to your cousin,” he said. Ken and Jack went over to be near Terry, although they had to sit a few metres behind her as there wasn’t a seat actually next to her. Ernie began to move towards the door when his sister Victoria stormed in.
Vickie—as everybody called her—stopped about a metre in front of the door and looked around. She stared at Lucian’s covered body for a bit, then turned to Ernie, who was walking up towards her. Terry decided to get up and was about two metres behind him when he stopped.
“So it’s all over,” Vickie said calmly. She looked around the room. “So it’s all yours now—for a little bit, at least.”
“Don’t start in on that,” Ernie said. “He’s just died. Can’t we have a little respect for the dead?”
“Respect?” she screamed. She pointed angrily at her father. “He didn’t know the meaning of the word, at least when it came to me. He took away my innocence, again, and again and again. And you talk about respect? And what did it get Eleanor and me? To get cut out of his will? To get pushed aside because you just happen to be a man? What kind of respect is that?”
“We can work something out. . .” Ernie replied.
“We don’t have to any more! Now we’re in charge. We don’t need to rely on chauvinist pigs like you to throw us scraps. Our man is now in power and you’re going to pay dearly for all you’ve done as our father’s co-conspirator. And once you’re out of the way, we’ll move on. It’s time for us to stand up and take back our bodies and take back everything else that is ours and then we’ll move out of this place and take the world! So go ahead—do your little negotiations, because the time has come for all of your animal deals to be pushed aside in the name of equality and justice!”
The room went silent. “So when do we go over the funeral arrangements?” Ernie asked.
“Eleanor and I will meet with you in an hour for that,” Vickie coldly replied, and with that she walked out of the room.
Ernie turned to the nurses, who were in shock as much as Ernie was. “Call the doctor and have him come and certify Dad’s death,” he told them. He turned to Terry. “I don’t know if you want to stay or not.”
“Not really,” she said, her countenance having been reversed like everybody else’s.
“Does Dick know?” Ernie asked.
“I don’t think so,” Shu-Yi said.
“Let’s go tell him then,” Terry suggested.
“What about your mother?” Ernie asked, puzzled.
“She’ll find out,” Terry said. “Aunt Vickie will see to that.” With that she took her purse and left with Shu-Yi.
Vickie was in the office making one phone call after another as Terry and Shu-Yi silently left the house in the same way they entered.
They got in the Mini. As Shu-Yi drove out of the estate, she turned to her granddaughter.
“This is bad,” Shu-Yi said. “I don’t like it.”
“Why can’t I just live like everybody else?” Terry asked. “Why can’t we just live with each other and love each other?”
“You have not lost the heart of a child,” Shu-Yi responded. “You will have to find your own escape.”
“You mean like Pao-Yu in the Dream of Red Mansions?” Terry asked, recalling the novel Shu-Yi had read her as a child.
“As a Christian, you can do better than Pao-Yu,” Shu-Yi observed.
Pete Stanley was away from the store, seeing the Count of West Vidamera. When the cat’s away the mice will play, in this case the radio. John Agelasos was in charge, and the usual Nashville sounds gave way to Verecunda’s Top 40. The Osmonds’ singing about one bad apple, however, came to a jolting stop as the station’s news announcer came on.
“We interrupt our programme to bring you a special news bulletin. A spokesman for Gerland Properties has just announced that Lucian Gerland has died at his home in Point Collina. We repeat, Lucian Gerland has passed away after a long illness. Funeral arrangements are pending. We will announce further details as we receive them.”
John heard the shout of joy from the mechanic out back, who abandoned his work and ran in.
“Yeah! The land stealer’s kicked the bucket!” the mechanic cried in joy when he arrived at the front desk.
“Shut your mouth!” John replied. “Don’t you have any respect for the dead?”
“What do you mean?” the mechanic replied, stopping in amazement.
“You think the jerks downtown are going to do us any better? Look at the taxes we have to pay now!”
The young man looked at John blankly. “Not my problem,” he said. He turned and went out back again. John then heard a car start up and, kicking up the sand and pebbles, peel out onto the road and into Hallett.
John looked at his watch. “Probably going drinking,” he muttered to himself. He wrote down the departure time on the pad they kept at the front desk in the hope that Pete would have the nerve to dock him for leaving early. The radio settled back into its usual playlist. Janis Joplin’s gravelly voice came on.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. . .”
“I guess we’re going to find out what that means,” John said to himself despondently. He turned and switched the radio to a country 8-track in time for a customer to come visit.