It took Grant two hours to tidy up the area around the woodshed enough so it would pass a cursory inspection in the day light.
One quirk of snow is that it develops a static charge as it falls. That causes newly fallen snow to configure itself in the lightest, fluffiest possible array.
Once fallen, the static charge dissipates but the fluffy lattice remains.
If stirred even the slightest amount and given a bit of time, the snow sets into a solid as crystals diffuse and meld into each other.
The sled trace from Mama’s house toward the swamp where Grant had been cutting had enough time to fuse and harden. Swamps occur at lower elevation. Even though Jesse out-weighed Grant, the combination of a stiff base, new powder and a slight downgrade made the task doable.
It did not hurt that Grant was in peak condition.
Grant stashed the late, unlamented Jesse’s remains a couple hundred yards away from Mama’s house. He could not imagine any circumstances that would induce Krystal walking that far away from the road.
The last thing he did before re-entering the house was to scrub his hands with snow.
Entering the house, the women looked up.
Hanna’s gaze pierced him like X-rays.
Krystal was looking past him waiting for Jesse to come in...surprised that Grant was not maimed or at least bleeding.
Mama, well she was wringing her hands. Grant had never seen anybody “washing their hands” in air like that. He stored it in his memory for later processing.
“Where is Jesse?” Krystal asked, her voice dripping with accusation.
“I don’t know?” Grant said. Hell, it was dark out there. It would take a bit of looking in the morning to find him.
“You were out there a long time. We were starting to wonder if everything was OK” Hanna said.
“Couldn’t be better” Grant said. “Me and Jesse had a little man-to-man talk and he decided it might be better if he left while we sorted things out.”
“Did he say when he would come back?” Krystal asked.
“Nope. He did not.” Grant said.
Later that evening, Krystal told her mother she needed money because she had to go out.
“I need more than that!” she complained when Mama gave her the usual amount.
Krystal did not seem too distressed by the loss of Jesse because she emerged at 12:30 the next afternoon with a different boyfriend. The stink of weed followed them when they trailed into the kitchen.
This time, Grant took charge and had words with Mama.
“You said this was a non-smoking house.” Grant accused Mama.
“Krystal doesn’t smoke. Weed is different. She uses it for medicinal purposes” Mama said.
Krystal was getting a weird vibe off Grant. She decided to deflect. “We smoked it last night before we came home.”
“Bullshit” Grant exclaimed. “We cannot live here if there is a smoker in the house. It is not like there is a fire department to put out fires. I will not risk my children.”
Hanna chimed in, “Mama, you agreed there would be no smoking. You have to decide. What is it going to be. Your grandchildren...or Krystal?”
Mama waffled. “I don’t know why you are so hard on Krystal. You know she is a special needs child.”
Hanna couldn’t help it. She rolled her eyes. “Mama, she is not a child. She is an adult. And you got her that ‘special-ed’ label because your lawyer told you it was the only way to keep her in school after she threatened the art teacher with an X-acto knife.”
Krystal crossed her arms and leaned back. She knew, in her heart, how this was going to play out.
“But she is my CHILD!” Mama said.
“And these are your grandchildren.”
“Mama, I swear to God that if you side with Krystal this time, we are going to move out and I will disown you. You will never see your grandchildren...you ONLY grandchildren ever again” Hanna said.
Then Krystal reverted to her baby voice, “Oh, Mama. I need you.”
And Mama caved.
Grant said nothing. His face was impassive.
He packed the bags. It was a done-deal.
Mama tried to minimize the damage. She chattered on. She made promises.
Grant recognized the set of Hanna’s face. As facile and as morally flexible as Krystal was, Hanna was not. It had not been an idle threat. As far as Hanna was concerned, her mother had died that evening. She would grieve later, in private.
The children sensed the somber mood and did not ask questions. They all walked back to the large, cold house where they used to live.
From Grant’s perspective, three positives out of the unpleasant situation:
-Hanna agreed to let him sell all of their firewood. That was money in the bank.
-Hanna’s fantasy about living with her Mama had collided with reality.
-They would move back into their home. They would live in just a few rooms until the weather moderated in a month or so. Then they would get on with their lives.
Or so Grant thought.
The extended Salazar clan had a once-a-month family meal. Everybody who was physically capable was expected to attend.
The fare was simple. The conversation was not. There was no telling where the various conversational threads might go. The meal typically stretched for three or four hours.
Rick apologized after starting the official festivities with a short Grace before the meal was served. “I won’t be able to stick around after the meal. I have been asked to arbitrate a property conflict.”
“What is that about, Daddy?” Gabby asked.
“I don’t know if you remember Grant Killillea” Rick said. “He played ball with Mark.”
Mark was younger than Gabby and Rick didn’t know how much attention Gabby paid to the younger students while she was in high school.”
Mark perked up. “Grant, you mean the shortstop?”
“Same one” Rick admitted.
“What’s going on with him?” Mark asked.
“Grant married Hanna Mefhamp” Rick said by way of providing background. “Grant said that Krystal, Hanna’s younger sister, kicked her mama out of her house.”
Mark frowned. “I am confused. Hanna’s mom was living with Krystal and they had a fight?”
“No. According to Grant, Krystal was living in her mother’s house and Krystal kicked her mother out of her own house” Rick said.
“That makes no sense” Betsy said. “How can you kick somebody out of their own house?”
“Well, that is the conflict, isn’t it?” Rick said.
Chernovsky chimed in for the first time. “Do you mind if I tag along?” he asked. Chernovsky had been an athlete in his day. He wouldn’t mind meeting another one.
A few hours later, Chernovsky, Rick and Grant were standing in front of the house where “Mama” Mefhamp used to live. Grant was filling them in on the details of what had happened in the recent past.
“We tried moving in with Hanna’s mom but it didn’t work out” Grant said. “We moved back to our old house and thought, well, that things had gone back to the way things were before our experiment.”
Rick nodded. Not all plans worked out. All adults knew that.
“Then, last night, a week after we moved out, Mama...that is what we call Hanna’s mom...showed up, crying, on our doorstep. Krystal had kicked her out.”
“I thought you said Mrs Mefhamp owned the house?” Rick said.
“I thought so too” Grant said. “But Mama said that Krystal produced a Quit-Claim Deed that Mama signed.”
“Did she signed it?” Chernovsky asked, sucked into the soap-opera in spite of himself.
“Mama said she can’t remember” Grant said, with a sigh.
“How can somebody not remember something like that?” Rick asked.
“Krystal has been wrapping Mama around her little finger for twenty years. If Krystal said the sun rose in the west, Mama would probably remember Krystal was right” Grant said, frustration and pain leaking through his voice.
“So, what do you expect us to do?” Rick asked.
“I want you to be witnesses” Grant said, his voice resolute. "I will take care of everything else."
That sounded like the least Rick could do.
After both Chernovsky and Rick gave their assent, Grant knocked on the door of the house where Mama used to live. Rick and Chernovsky eased back into the shadows.
Krystal answered the door. It was clear that she had been drinking.
“What the fuck do you want?” Krystal asked. Her voice radiated belligerence.
“I want to see the Quit-Claim Deed you say Mama signed.” Grant said.
“I thought you disowned Mama” Krystal jeered.
“That was Hanna” Grant said.
“So what is it to you?” Krystal said, trying to provoke Grant.
“I take exception to old ladies being taken advantage of” Grant said.
“Well, I ain’t gonna let you touch it because you will just rip it up” Krystal said.
“But would you let somebody else read it, somebody who didn’t have a dog in the fight?” Grant asked.
“Yeah. But where the fuck you gonna find somebody like that?” Krystal challenged.
Chernovsky couldn’t contain himself any more. His bass voice came out of the dark. “That would be me.”
Krystal was taken aback. She had not expected Grant to bring a witness.
Then, Rick said “I would like to read it, too.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck….” ran through Krystal’s head.
The “Quit-Claim Deed” was a hand-written document. Words were crossed out. The document was signed by Krystal in a script that was identical to the script the document was written in.
“Mama’s” signature was suspiciously similar to Krystal’s hand-writing. The signatures of the witnesses were illegible.
“Who are the witnesses?” Rick asked.
“Jesse Vargasse and Hank Wilkinson” Krystal responded.
Grant asked “When did they sign it?”
“All the signatures are dated February 17” Rick said. That was two days ago.
That posed a problem. Grant knew that Jesse Vargasse had been dead for a week.
“I don’t know how Jesse could have signed that document. Last I heard, he left town a week ago” was the best Grant could do.
Rick had the advantage of knowing a bit about the personalities.
Grant had been one of the grittiest infielders he had ever seen play baseball.
Rick had heard Gabby complain about Krystal Mefhamp. It seemed as if half the fights that occurred at the Pub either featured her or somehow involved a conflict about her.
Jesse Vargasse...well, now there was a piece of feces that even his mother would not miss if he had, indeed, left town.
The other thing that made the quit-claim-deed suspect is that Mrs Mefhamp had not received anything for ceding claim to her property. Usually, there was some other piece of property, a vehicle or money given in exchange for the relinquishing of the claim. Mrs Mefhamp was not wealthy. Her home was her only real asset. It made no sense.
Rick did what every other ‘judge’ would have done when claims and counter-claims were in a muddle.
He looked at Krystal and said, “I will rule in your favor if we can verify your mother's signature and if you can get ahold of Jesse and Hank and have them swear, in my presence, that they witnessed your mother signing this document of her own free will.”
“Until that happens, I rule that you must vacate this property since it is under dispute. It would not be fair to let you live here while your mother, the owner of record, does not.” Rick ruled
"But I have to tell you, Miss Mefhamp, anybody can challenge that your mother was not in her right mind because Grant says your mother cannot remember signing this document and it has only been a week. Odds are pretty good that it will be nullified even if you prove that is your mother's signature and the witnesses verify that she appeared to sign it of her own free will."
“I won’t leave” Krystal dared them.
Before Chernovsky could jump in to defend his father-in-law’s honor, Grant spoke. “Do you really want to go there?”
That gave Krystal pause.
“If you leave now, of your own free-will, you can pack your bags. If I throw you out, then you will be locked out of the house with the clothes on your back and without your things. Your call” Grant said.
Krystal thought of her stash of weed, her cosmetics and her pretty clothes. The thought of being separated from them for even a few minutes was stressful.
“Give me fifteen minutes” Krystal said.
She did not know that Grant had sheets of plywood and five pounds of framing nails squirreled around, just out of sight. After Krystal left, she was not going to slip back into the house by jimmying the lock with an old credit card.