Annette had mixed feelings about aging.
To summarize: she turned 50, and her spouses soon followed. It was inevitable for Sinbad and Amy, and Annette accepted their grey hairs and crow’s feet with ease. Bill looked a lot worse than they did at that age, and Annette still dragged him to bed each night. But for Annette, she had hoped for the success that would allow her to stay 40-ish forever. If that was how immortality was going to work, anyways. The documentation on her mission and that magic recipe was supposedly too vague for her.
But once they were done with Amy’s 50th, Annette got used to her aged looks. There was something commanding about looking more like an old crone. And as long as she kept her fitness, health, and slim waist, what harm were a few wrinkles?
It hurt more to have to say good-bye to Franco…for a few months at a time. Even if he spent holidays at home and promised to return back after graduating, Annette didn’t want her nest to be half-empty. Heck, there was enough existential horror from seeing him grown up. Annette didn’t even feel that young when he was a fussy newborn. Then he stood a head taller than mum. At least he finally grew into those strong Racket features. He had a chiseled enough jaw to offset those chubby cheeks.
But he’d throw a fit if she didn’t let him go to art school. After all the drama in Franco’s senior year, Annette had to be thankful for her son getting a break. He gushed about city life as soon as he got there.
The other kids growing up bothered her less. Annette was going to miss her sweet baby Samira, but a bipedal child was a agreeable trade-off. She loved being able to walk with her daughter to the shops, instead of carrying her around everywhere. Like a true Racket, Samira was getting quite heavy. And Julian tended to follow behind them. He took after his dad, with a constant sense of panicky caution. While he wouldn’t climb trees or the jungle gym with Samira, Julian was a good kid. Annette liked helping him with his homework, anyways.
The point is that a few things changed for Annette, but there was one thing that never did.
One cold spring night, Annette and Sinbad came home winded. She dropped a duffel bag of money on the counter and wiped the sweat off her brow.
“See guys? We still got it,” said Annette. There were reports of a murdered crack dealer outside of Pearlbrook, and he had a load of cash that the police were about to confiscate. Annette and Sinbad just beat them to the punch and took half.
Amy looked up from her mug of tea, with a bit of disdain. “Is this…I don’t care, but did you have to show the kids? Or let Samira up on the counter?” Annette just gave a smile back to her little girl, who was perched on the counter-top and beaming too. It contrasted with Julian, who cowered in fear behind his mum.
“Believe me, I saw worse as a kid,” said Sinbad. He looked his son in the eyes, and softened his voice. “Julian, it’s not stealing if they’re dead. And we weren’t in any danger.”
Julian pouted a bit. “Yeah…okay. Can I just go to bed now?”
Annette was soon the only one left in the kitchen, as everyone else wanted to sleep. She did too, but there was the matter of her giant bag of money.
She looked at the pile of bills with fondness. What a lovely haul. But it could sit there until tomorrow. Annette was expecting guests in the daytime, but if they wanted to help themselves to a roll of 10 grand, so be it.
The next day turned into a wonderful afternoon for Annette, and her darling Sinbad. Amy was out at a teachers’ development day, but there was no school for the kids, and no job for the other two adults. It was a perfect excuse to sip tea in Annette’s renovated outdoors garden. After Franco left, she poured her energy and loneliness into filling up the lawn.
Most of it was fun stuff for the kids, but she did plant a grove of fruit trees for her enjoyment. And, of course, they bought a new tea set.
“You know, I’ve had these things for a year and they still fog up,” Sinbad said, referring to his glasses. He decided to stop living with astigmatism, considering that age would only make it worse. Plus, it helped Julian feel better about needing lenses too. He wiped them off with his shirt and continued on.
“Maybe ask Franco next time he’s back,” said Annette. “Anyways, he says that there’s this great tea house in Bridgeport he found. I guess the whole better three days without food than one day without tea thing has gotten to him too.”
“Are you gonna try to get all the kids into this drink? Because…okay, never mind. You’ve given worse advice.”
“Eh. Let them be young.”
Right near them, there were four kids and a Gnubb game. They made it last well into the afternoon and into sunset. Samira and Julian had plenty of classmates and other peers, but that afternoon, it was just two others. Samira’s cousin Nicky, and blond little Marty Goode.
Now, Annette was not going to judge a young child based on one sour parent. Marty seemed to be on the track to living up to his surname. Polite, and only once cheating during a game. But Samira did the latter at least three times anyways. Even if Marty was a shithead instead, he tended to bike home by himself, or get an older sibling to pick him up. Considering that the biggest issue was if Annette would see his wretched dad or not, she was happy with that setup. They hadn’t spoke about it together, of course, but Goodwin’s banishment from the property seemed to be understood by all.
And of course it would stay that way…if she could help it.
The game ended, or just broke up out of boredom. Julian scrambled over to his dad for a hug.
“Dad, why does Samira have to talk about stuff like-”
“Is it another morbid question?” Sinbad asked him. Julian nodded.
Samira had taken a seat near her mum at the tea table. “Nicky and I were just wondering how much you could eat of your body before you die!”
“Yeah, you could only do the limbs!” he said, from one of the other chairs.
Annette nodded. “Yeah, probably. You have the most meat there anyways.” It gave her a dirty look from Sinbad, but he soon had his eyes locked on Annette’s fruit garden. They narrowed with fury.
She took a look past the gate too, and mimicked her husband’s expression. Sometimes he was angry for all the right reasons.
The last person Annette expected was that blond-haired menace. Marty had such a good track record of not bringing his dad to the Waverly’s property! But something must have happened back at home, because Goodwin was there. He had his arms crossed and a sour expression on his aged face. Annette hadn’t seen him up-close ever since that awful wedding, but those years did a lot to Goodwin. He started to slick back his hair, which put his forehead wrinkles in full view.
Annette stormed out of her seat and took Sinbad with her.
She yelled at the intruder. “What gives you the right to be here?”
“I can pick up my kid no matter where he is,” said Goodwin.
“You have a lot of nerve coming here,” said Sinbad.
“You have a lot of nerve still walking the Earth.”
Annette pinched her nose-bridge. “Tell me why you wanna come here, other than to make me miserable.”
“We just need to talk. Can we go inside?” Goodwin asked.
She sighed. “Whatever. If it will get you to leave faster.”
Annette led him into the kitchen, while she deluded herself into thinking that her kitchen was normal.
It didn’t even take Goodwin finding a utensil drawer full of guns. Or the oven mitt-drawer full of dildos. He stopped in his tracks once he saw the duffel bag that Annette left on the counter. And that stopped Annette too.
“Interesting how you came across all this,” Goodwin said, stroking his stubbly chin. “So you’re still…doing your things?”
“I mean, like, uh…it’s not you’ve been stopping me,” she said.
She turned her back to him. “Look, I’ve been trying to leave you alone ever since the wedding.” Annette took a small sigh in the middle. “I…maybe I’m scared of what you can do.”
“Well…what if I came here to call a truce?” asked Goodwin, from behind her.
“You shitting me?”
“It’s…relevant to your interests.”
Annette turned around, raising a cautious hand towards Goodwin. “If you turn out to be armed, I’m gonna sue you so hard that your great-grandkids will be footing the bills.”
“Not today,” he said.
He continued with his thought. “A lot of my jobs have put me under scrutiny with the state, so I’ve been reassigned to a different local case. Are you still involved with Julienne Knack?”
“I try not to be,” said Annette. “Wait, are you guys trying to save face by going after a rich white woman? I…I don’t disapprove, but-”
“Before you slam my profession, I need you to fucking listen!” Goodwin then took a deep breath, and composed himself. “As I was saying, the case with her and her taxes has gotten huge, but she’s actually a difficult target. We thought that you might know her better than we do.”
“Do you think she’d listen to me? I’m the one who started this damn thing.”
“She knows we’re onto her, and she probably knows that you’ve been a painful little thorn in our side. If she thinks that the enemy’s enemy is her friend, then…it’s an idea. And it’s a way to buy my silence. I actually wanna meet with you and a friend of mine about this.”
“Outside of here?” Goodwin nodded back.
Annette glanced away, tired with defeat. “So…I like beer.”
It was an easy sell, to have a fun night at the Mercury Jones Brewery in Pearlbrook. Their brews were hit or miss, but their pilsner was a big hit for Annette. Plus, she liked the bar inside, in spite of the semi-formal dress code. Sure, it was a better time when she and the family were celebrating Shark’s 21st birthday there. But that (and Shark) slipped deep into the past. Annette prepared for a serious discussion with a man she hated.
Goodwin read over the menu. “Do you like olives, Annette?”
“Yeah, they’re fine.”
“So an olive platter to split between the three of us, and I’ll finish off with a Double IPA later.”
She bit her tongue before she could reveal that their Double IPA was terrible. Like taking a shot of pureed hops. Goodwin deserved the revenge, though.
“Is your guest late?” she asked him.
“Seems like it. I’m willing to wait it out.”
“I am too…with a pilsner.” Annette got up to go to the bar for her coveted drink.
She didn’t get halfway through her order when she heard Goodwin get up from his seat, with a greeting. Good for her, things could progress. And there would be olives and beer! Annette wanted to surprise herself for who Goodwin had planned, but she couldn’t help but listen to them exchange hellos. Goodwin said his, and the other guy said his in an interesting voice. One rasped with cigarettes, and flavored with just a bit of Cajun.
It had been a while since Annette heard any voice like that. She’d have to go further west in Terrebonne to do so…or did he have an import? It wasn’t the most unlikely thing to happen.
There was no risk in turning around to get a look, after all.
Annette turned her head towards the new man in…bewilderment. Even the bartender behind her seemed to mirror it, as she cleaned off some glasses. But as for the man, Annette had trouble processing him. He had a jagged scar on his right cheek that looked familiar.
“So…we have a guest,” she said to Goodwin. “I…I was trying to get a beer.”
“No worries,” Goodwin said. “So this is Mr. Armstrong. Once the best PI in west Terrebonne, and on parole.”
If Annette’s blue face could go pale, it would have right then. Armstrong gave her a knowing nod. Prison changed him. Or was it just the forces of time? His sandy hair had gotten greyer, and he grew it out since Annette last met him. His face bore more hardness and wrinkles, and he smelled more pungently of tobacco. But beneath the sands of time, Armstrong was still the man who gave executive orders to make Annette’s life torture.
“The Mr. Delvin Armstrong, I assume?” Annette asked.
Goodwin let out a devious chuckle. “I’d align myself with no other.”
Once Armstrong got himself an IPA, he leaned over the table to talk matters with Goodwin and Annette. She put her hands on her thighs as she sat, trying not to flee for her life. It was just a reflex gained from all the encounters with those mooks that he sent for her, after all. Annette stayed quiet, keeping her tongue inside. As much as she wanted to bring up how one of Delvin’s subordinates paralyzed her late husband, she couldn’t. Annette saw the outline of a handgun inside of his leather jacket.
“Tell me why you need me,” said Armstrong. “And make this a quick one. Things have gone to the dogs in this state without me.”
“I’m working with you and Annette to catch this one lady before she escapes,” said Goodwin. He was tapping his fingers on the table, waiting for that olive platter. “She’s had some problems with Mrs. Racket in the past before, but I think that she might be able to lull her into a false sense of security. Because as far as everyone else is concerned, Annette’s still our enemy.”
“Don’t oversell yourself,” Annette muttered. She looked lustfully at Armstrong’s beer. If only she finished her order. Working with the scum of the Earth was what she deserved to drink through.
Goodwin cleared his throat, and shot Annette a nasty look. “Anyways, we might need some strong force to change her mind, which is where Armstrong here comes in.”
“Is this the woman with those three dirty mutts?” Armstrong asked. Annette cringed a bit, which didn’t even start to reflect how she felt inside. At least she would never drag Julienne’s kids through the mud. They seemed upstanding, taking after their dad more.
And without even a grimace on his face, Goodwin nodded.
He looked much sweeter when talking to Annette. “And Annette, all we’re asking you to do is set her up in a location we know about.”
“And what do I get out of it?” she asked Goodwin.
“We discussed this. You buy my silence, as long as you show that you can do everything I tell you to do.”
Annette wrung her hands under the counter. She didn’t speak. She even got excited over that olive platter, once it came out to their table.
Goodwin pressed her for an answer for a few more minutes, until he had to answer a phone call.
“Shoot…alright Gena, let’s talk about this.” He quickly turned towards the others. “It’s my daughter. Gotta take this call. Behave yourselves.”
She couldn’t take it anymore. Annette’s face contorted into a bratty scowl once Goodwin left the room.
“Someone doesn’t wanna shake on this,” said Armstrong.
“Why should I? I’m supposed to hate you guys.”
“And I’m supposed to hate you and your nappy hair too, but here I am acting civil,” he said. “You’re the one who put me in prison, and do I have to guilt trip you about what happens there?”
“I get that prison sucks-”
“It’s all of your worst nightmares. Imagine you didn’t get to see your kids, and your pervy old father-in-law was always skulking in the corner.”
She looked down at the table. “I don’t care what you know about me.”
Armstrong just grinned. “And it’s people like Goodwin who did their best to get me out of there. I’d shake on it. It’s nice having him on your side.”
Annette grumbled a bit and got out of her seat. “I’d rather not.”
She started to walk outside, towards the parking lot. Annette didn’t even stride twenty feet until a threatening click stopped her.
“And I’d rather not have to do this again,” said Armstrong, in a low voice. He had the gun aimed towards Annette’s head. “Though I knew you’d be difficult. You’ve been difficult for over fifteen years.”
She couldn’t respond. She shook in place, barely staying on her feet. Her knees started to buckle a bit under her, as Armstrong ran closer and closer.
He was soon in her face, pointing away with his gun. “I have no qualms about blowing your stupid face off, and too bad for us, Goodwin’s only protecting us if we both agree. So you’re going to shake his hand and smile all the way through it.”
“…and you’re gonna be a menace to me either way,” said Annette. Her voice had lowered down to a near-whisper.
With her metaphorical tail between her legs, Annette scampered off upstairs. She swore that she saw Goodwin make his way up there. And if not, she could drink away that encounter in peace.
The phone call ended before Annette got there, and Goodwin stood at the bar with the double IPA he wanted. It was half-full, which revealed a lot about his beer tastes.
“Hey…Goodwin?” she asked, with the terror still laced in her voice.
“Yeah, shoot,” he said.
Once he turned around, Annette extended one hand.
“I guess I have no other choice.”
A/N: New developments? React how you see fit. 😉
I have no idea if I’ve discussed Annette’s taste in beer or not, and I’m probably super inconsistent with it anyways. I bet she likes a good IPA. I think I put a lot of emphasis on bad ones here because I’m burnt out on them myself.
Special credit goes to Ausette, for her “Twinbrook Brewery” lot. And I guess I used her hilarious Jones Random Town Jump to inspire 1/3rd of its new name here. I changed almost nothing about it but the name…considering that it’s not in Twinbrook. I highly recommend downloading it and playing with it. It’s full of little details that I had fun discovering.