Good things come in threes, and I believe it. In the span of six months I won the lottery, met the man of my dreams, and got married. When it rains it pours, and I believe that, too. These idioms rang through my mind like a broken doorbell on my way to see Dr. Post H. Pemulous. His office was on the 17th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Austin. As I rode up in the glass elevator I had a view of the Lady Bird Lake Trail, and by the time the elevator dinged, I had tears flowing down both my cheeks.
I stepped into the restroom to fix my makeup. I stayed in there for a good ten minutes to let any redness leave my eyes. After some concealer and blotting, I looked like the 403 million bucks I had in the bank. I left and bumped into a tall man wearing a brown vintage tweed coat coming out of the men’s restroom. I apologized profusely, as the man straightened his bow tie and pulled on his long red hipster beard.
I paused and waited for his apology, as it was clearly both of our doings; instead he cleared his throat and reached into his breast pocket to remove the red kerchief there. He handed it to me with a flourish that made me angry and said, “In case you start crying again.”
I stood there dumbfounded as the man walked down the hall, stopped at the secretary’s desk to say something in a low tone that I could not hear, and then proceeded through the door with black and gold lettering.
Dr. Post H. Pemulous PhD. D.C.J. MChem.
I followed suit, and stopped at the secretary’s desk. A young man in a black suit with tattoos up to his chin smiled at me.
“Hello,” I said. “I believe I have the next appointment with Dr. Pemulous.”
The young secretary did some fast typing and replied, “Mrs. Eiliot Nightbird?”
I nodded and moved to sit on the couch to wait.
“Dr. Pemulous cleared his morning for you, Ma’am. Please head inside.”
A sinking feeling filled my body, and I clutched the kerchief the rude man had given me. That Dr. Pemulous had given me. Balling the fabric up into my fist I pushed the door open.
The room was surrounded on three out of four walls with built in bookshelves, and the wall behind the wooden desk was a window overlooking Lady Bird Lake. It smelled sickly sweet in the room and a puff of vapor wavered above the head of Dr. Pemulous. The tip of his vape pen glowed blue before he exhaled another puff of cotton candy scented chemicals.
He gestured to the chair opposite his as he opened a drawer and put his pen in. I sat down and looked him straight in the thick rimmed glasses.
“Tell me as much as you can, Ms. Nightbird.”
I took a deep breath, and before I could get the first sentence out I choked up. I lifted his kerchief to my eyes and dabbed at the tears before they could ruin my makeup again. “How did you know?” I eventually got out. “Was my makeup that terrible?”
“Oh no, Mrs. Nightbird, your makeup was on fleek. Your fingertips were smeared with eyeliner, so when you came out of the restroom with unwashed hands there really was only one explanation.”
“You really are a modern day Sherlock Holmes.” I laughed.
Dr. Pemulous frowned, and the tight man bun pulled at his temples. “No one is a fictional character.”
“I’m sorry. You must hear that all the time,” I said playing with the now makeup stained cloth.
“Unfortunately. Usually from a woman before I sleep with her. Which is something I do not have in common with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.”
“Sherlock Holmes was gay?” I ask.
The frown on Dr. Pemulous’ face deepened, pulling his brown hairs even tighter. “No. I meant that his sex life was lacking. Now please, tell me your story, Ms. Nightbird.”
I looked out the window at Lady Bird Lake and began, “I just don’t understand. He was perfect. He didn’t even know I had won the Mega Millions until after he proposed. We met exactly one week after I had the winning numbers on my ticket. I was taking my mom out for lunch, shopping, and a walk. She got a phone call from her new broker after a few minutes on the path. You see I gave Momma 100 million, and I wanted her to manage it right. She sat on a bench talking to him while I continued walking. That was when I heard my favorite song being played on a guitar down a short path closer to the water.”
Pemulous interrupted, “And what is your favorite song?”
“Strawberry Wine,” I blushed. “It was the only song I ever remember my momma and daddy singing together before they split up. It was just like in the movies. I stood on the bank; his audience of one. I clapped when he finished playing, and we walked and talked for a good half hour before I had to get back to momma. We exchanged numbers, and after that every night for a month Johnny and I had a date.”
“Johnny proposed on our 30th date in the very spot where we had met. That was when I told him about the money. I may be a girl from Texas Hill Country, but I was loaded. It seemed right to tell him then. He was absolutely shocked and felt ashamed of the ring he was offering me. But I loved the ring, and I loved him. So I said yes, and we set the date for three months later.”
“It was a perfect day for a wedding, sunny and clear. I was full of nerves. hadn’t been in this church before, and I went off to use the restroom. The ceremony was set to start in twenty minutes, so I was in a rush. Well, the doors weren’t clearly marked, and I found a closet instead. You can imagine my horror when instead of a toilet I found my fiancé and low-down, good for nothin’ daddy playing tonsil hockey. I slammed the door and ran back to the dressing room where it took all four of my bridesmaids to calm me down. When I finally quieted down enough to tell them what I saw, my maid of honor told me that was impossible because Johnny had just arrived that very minute. And sure enough I peeked out of the window, and I saw Johnny stepping out of his best man’s car!”
“Just then my momma burst into the room shouting, ‘What’s wrong, baby girl? They told me you were upset!’ And so I told her what I saw. “Baby girl,” she cooed, “Your daddy hasn’t been around for years, and he isn’t here today. That lowlife couldn’t even fly home for his own daughter’s wedding. Someone get this girl a mimosa!’”
“I went through with the wedding, and that was just last Saturday. All week I have been thinking about it. I know what I saw, but it just doesn’t make sense. Johnny flew out of town on a business trip this weekend, and when he gets back we are supposed to go on our honeymoon. I don’t feel right about it, but well, am I off my rocker? I just don’t know if I need your help as a therapist or as an investigator.”
The doctor sat like a stone for nearly a full minute during which I began to fidget in my chair. Finally he spoke, “Where is your honeymoon destination?”
“We are going hiking in the Maroon Bells Mountains. I’ve never been outside of Texas before. I’ve never really been on a vacation. A trip out of the country just seemed like too much for me.”
His movements were so fast that I jumped. He whipped open the drawer with his vape pen and began flipping it in his fingers. “Whatever you do, do not go on that trip, but you must go to the airport. When is your flight?”
I told him it was a 10:35 a.m. departure, and as soon as I finished my sentence he ushered me out the door.
I drove the hour and a half out to Momma’s house through the winding roads. The Sold sign in her front yard reflected the sun. Not that her house was recently sold. She was just so proud to own a house that she had left the sign up in her big ol’ front yard for the last three months. I grabbed my suitcase out of my trunk and rolled it up the long driveway.
“Momma, I’m here. Hellooo?” I said loudly in the entrance way.
I heard a door close and soon my mom stood at the top of the stairs. “Oh, Eiliot, you’re early.”
“I tried to call, Momma, but your line wasn’t working. I’m staying the weekend while Johnny is out of town, remember?”
She half walked half waddled down the stairs, “I shut it off. I’m getting a new phone and number tomorrow. Someone hacked me, called me today asking about my call records!”
“You shouldn’t answer for numbers you don’t know, Momma. Especially now. People will want your money. You haven’t told anyone where you got the money from, right?” I had been terrified starting the day I won the lottery that people would hound me and my momma. People come out of the woodwork for cash.
“No, of course not. I haven’t told a soul.
All day Sunday, I was in a panic. How was I supposed to go to the airport tomorrow but not go on the trip? Should I fake a sickness at the gate? I packed and repacked my suitcase full of brand new clothes. Clothes that were nicer than anything I had ever before owned in my life. Around 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon my mom came into my room and said she had gotten us a driver to take us to Driftwood Estate Winery.
“A glass or five to hold us over until you get back from your trip!” she beamed. Ever since I wrote her the check, she had started drinking wine like water. No more cheap beer for her.
It was a long drive there, and a long drive back. I drank too many glasses of red wine to count. How could I sleep thinking about tomorrow without a little medicine?
The next thing I knew, there was a loud knocking on my bedroom door. “Eiliot! Eiliot wake up! The taxi is here to take you to the airport. Johnny’s waiting on you there!”
I rolled over and promptly threw up on the carpet. I gasped, “I’m so sorry! I’ll get a rag and-”
“Don’t worry about it. Today is Edna’s cleaning day. Now get up or you will miss your flight.”
Ten minutes later I found my way downstairs. Momma handed me a pickle for breakfast as she pushed me out the door.
When I saw Johnny waiting at the luggage check counter I felt the pickle do a dance in my stomach. I loved him, right? How could he have been kissing my no good daddy when he wasn’t there? I thought about Great Aunt Gertrude who died in the looney bin. Maybe that was where I would end up.
Johnny pulled me in for a big hug and a kiss. “Babe, I missed you. I can’t wait to go hiking with you. It blows my mind that you’ve never left Texas before.”
I smiled weakly up at him. He grabbed my suitcase and rolled it to the check-in counter. I fumbled getting my I.D. out of my wallet and dropped it on the floor. My fingers were shaking as I scrambled to pick it up. Whatever you do, do not go on that trip, but you must go to the airport. The doctor’s words buzzed around in my head like a hornet nest.
I felt no better in the security line. Each step brought me closer to the plane. What was I supposed to do?
We sat down at our gate a good hour ahead of boarding. Johnny got up to go find us some real food. I sat there shaking in my seat when I heard my name over the PA system. My maiden name. Nimrod. I sat up straighter and the page was repeated.
“Eiliot Nimrod please return to the security gate for a lost item.”
I looked down at my purse in my lap. I didn’t have any other carry-on item that I could have left. And yet something told me to go. So I walked back to the security gate and approached a security officer at a desk, but before I could get her attention I saw something that made my jaw drop. My good for nothin’ daddy, wearing a Hawaiian shirt was walking through the metal detector. A hand slid onto my shoulder, and I whipped around to see Dr. Pemulous. He pointed to my left. I turned to look. Johnny was walking up with a Starbucks bag in one hand. His other hand was waving at my good for nothin’ daddy.
I watched in horror as my good for nothin’ daddy pulled his shoes on and trotted over to my husband. The two hugged each other too long. They began talking in voices too low to be heard over the din of the airport, but I saw Johnny point at the Starbucks bag and then gesture back toward our gate before laughing.
I turned back to ask Dr. Pemulous what this was all about, but he was already walking toward the obvious couple. I watched as he tapped Johnny on the shoulder and waved his hand in my direction. The blood drained from the faces of the two men. Johnny turned to run out the airport exit, but running like a bat out of Hell is simply not a good idea in an airport. He was tackled by a hefty security guard.
I walked over to stand next to Dr. Pemulous as the security guard walked Johnny over in handcuffs. He spoke into the radio on his shoulder, “We are going to need backup for a strip search near Gate 1D.”
I stared into the eyes of my good for nothin’ daddy. The sleaze bag who left Momma and me when I was seven. The jerk who never sent Momma a child support check, and who never even answered the phone when I called him on my birthday.
“I suppose I will have to make this quick since Mr. Nightbird here will be leaving us soon,” said Dr. Pemulous.
“What is going on?” I shout.
He pushed his thick rimmed glasses higher up on his nose. “Let’s start from the beginning, before you won the lottery. You see your Johnny is not Johnny at all. His name is Jeremiah Nimrod, husband to your father, Jack Nimrod. Your father, scoundrel that he is, left your mother and moved to Mexico to marry this young man here. Therefore making your marriage to him void.”
“Being gay is not wrong, you bigot!” my good for nothin’ daddy yelled.
“Oh absolutely not, but leaving your wife and child for a younger man is. It is also wrong to steal and plot murder.” He turned to me, “Your mother was not telling the truth, Ms. Nimrod. She did tell someone about the windfall of good fortune. How could she not? She just had to contact her ex-husband and rub it in his face. When he found out you had won millions and given your mother a fair portion but hadn’t even given him a phone call, not that he would have answered, he and Jeremiah made their plan.”
“They rented a hotel in Austin and waited for the right moment. When your mother made a post online about Lady Bird Lake they moved in. It was not your mother’s broker who called her, but your father. Only she did not want you to know that, and so she lied. He distracted her on the phone, knowing you were with her and would wander off. It was not a mere chance that Jeremiah was playing Strawberry Wine.”
“The day of the wedding was a day of celebration for the happy couple, but not for you. They couldn’t help but meet up and celebrate, or as you called it play tonsil hockey. They knew they had been caught, and so your father, who had been planning on making a grand entrance at your wedding to steal the spotlight, instead left quietly. No one had seen him in years and did not recognize him. Meanwhile, Jeremiah texted his best man that he had left the rings at the hotel room, and they needed to drive there and back before the ceremony. By the time you had calmed down and explained what you saw the two men were pulling up to the front of the church for all to see.”
“But why did you tell me not to go on the trip?” I asked.
Here his face grew dark. “They could not have gotten your money if you were still alive. The Maroon Bells Mountains are known to have some of the most dangerous hiking trails in the country. No one would be suspicious if an inexperienced hiker like yourself made a wrong move and fell to her death.”
I wrote Dr. Pemulous a large check three days later, and in the memo I wrote You really are Sherlock Holmes. I hoped what he said before held true. I had acquired finer tastes since I won the lottery, and I was craving a man bun.