“The Embezzler’s Curse,” by Leanna Englert
I’m squatting here in what used to be Gospel Bob’s double-wide. He ain’t here no more—he’s got a new address at the county jail because of what he done over at the courthouse. Me and Bob used to spend a lot of time in this double-wide watching TV. Here’s where I got away from the wife and the projects she was always hounding me to do. He never had no beer, though, so when she really got to me, I’d go drink at her at The Thirsty Goat in Canyon, and afterwards, when my head exploded, Bob would say, “You sure got her good.” He just had a way about him, that Bob. But I digress. (Got that word from Wheel of Fortune.) The sheriff’s boys turned this junk heap Bob called home inside out—found some cash and Lucchese ostrich boots and a Rolex–but never found the jewels Bob bought with the money.
You see, me and Bob watched PBS is how I knowed where they was hid. Out here in the West Texas boondocks we wiggle the rabbit ears every which way, but PBS is about all we can get.
Gospel Bob was night janitor over in the Randall County courthouse—that’s where he did his embezzling. He pastored our little True Gospel Church for a dollar a year in what used to be the Washateria—it still smelled like soap so bad the wife couldn’t go there because she was allergic. It wasn’t no proper church with an organ and choir and hymnbooks. Some of us brought our own camp chairs, and the rest leaned against the walls where posters half-peeling off said: “No loitering. Washer, 50 cents. Dryer 30 minutes 25 cents.” The place felt more church-like after Bob got the accordion last year. Sheriff Gearhart’s wife played it, and the sheriff sang the hymns. They said he cried when he clamped the handcuffs on Bob, and I believe it. When I heard, I about cried myself.
I always liked Bob, partly because he allowed as how he was forty-five years old and got his sinning out of the way before he got born again. The wife didn’t like him, though, probably for the same reason. What she didn’t know is he kept me from running off, told me I’d feel some kind of miserable if I left and her weak heart gave out, said when I needed to get away to pay him a visit. That’s how we got to watching so much TV together.
He preached a lot about tithing—could make even us dirt-scratching farmers ante up come time for the offering. He walked the walk. He give most of his janitor’s pay to the church. He didn’t have a car. He hitched or rode a rusty old bicycle so small his knees bowed out. His only extravagance was Western stuff, like horseshoes and Navajo blankets he bought at flea markets and yard sales. His pride and joy was this great big wagon wheel chandelier from the old Stagecoach Inn fire. It was only burnt on one side. The chandelier, that is. The Stagecoach Inn pretty near burnt to the ground.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ain’t no way a wagon wheel chandelier could fit in a trailer, not even a big old double-wide. You wouldn’t even be able to stand up under it. Well, Bob is handy. He knocked out the roof and raised that ceiling up so high, why it felt like the lobby of a grand hotel. OK, maybe I exaggerate.
Sometimes Bob would hitchhike to Amarillo. I swear by all that’s holy, I thought all he was doing was prowling the flea markets. I know for a fact that’s where he got the accordion. I never seen him myself when I was on the road—I’d of picked him up–but folks said he was a sight, standing on the highway with the dust devils and grasshoppers. He’d be holding a saddle or something and trying to thumb a ride.
Turns out this pious old bachelor was leading a double life with a bottle-blonde sweetheart named Rita over in Amarillo. Here’s how I found out. I seen it on the TV at The Thirsty Goat where they get the NBC channel pretty good. I was drinking a cold one and watching a Will and Grace re-run when the Amarillo news broke in, just when Jack was trying to tell his mother he was gay. I about fell off the stool when I seen Bob on the TV in handcuffs. Seems that Rita told the cops and TV everything when he dumped her. There she was, quite a looker, telling the reporter how Bob would come to Amarillo with a wad of cash, buy him and her some fine clothes, and they’d stay at the Marriott and order room service, the whole nine yards. They’d go around to pawn shops, and sometimes he’d buy precious gems, like diamonds. Never gave her any, she said. Sure, he didn’t. She said he stuffed them in his overalls pockets before he hitchhiked home.
It struck me funny when Rita said he’d whine about not being able to live like a rich man in his own town for fear of getting caught—he told her that was the embezzler’s curse.
Anyway, here I am in the double-wide. I bought it for a song when they auctioned off his stuff to pay back some of the money he embezzled. Told folks I wanted it for a workshop. Didn’t tell a soul about my PBS theory. See, Bob and me seen this documentary about this Russian czar who had a grand palace and rubles to burn. Besides showing off with paintings of naked ladies and gold faucets and priceless antiques, he had these jewels stuck atop the chandeliers where no one could see them. But he knew they was up there, and I guess that made him feel rich. I remember now Bob saying how silly that was, but he never said nothing about it being a good hiding place.
I held my breath when I first come inside that double-wide, my double-wide. I had to clear a path through all the junk so I could drag a step ladder over to the chandelier. I climbed up and sure enough, there they was—diamonds and sapphires and emeralds. Looked like Gospel Bob had routered out a groove in the wagon wheel so’s you couldn’t see the jewels unless you got way up high. I got dizzy standing on that ladder thinking about how rich I was. I climbed down, shaking like a whore in church.
Before I bought the double-wide and found the jewels, I used to lie awake nights stewing over how I could make the payments on my second-hand Ford 150. Now I thrash around nights stewing over what to do with my fortune. Sure, I could sell the jewels and buy ten brand-new pickups, Ford 350s, even, and I’d still be richer than sin. But I ain’t clever enough to make up a story anyone would buy. Everybody, including the wife, would suspicion the money was ill-gotten gain. I’d just end up sitting next to Bob in jail.
The wife’s on my back, after me to build her a cabinet for her sewing machine now that I got a workshop. Damn. That ain’t the worst of it, though. You know what chaps my butt? I can’t help Bob, even though I could have enough money to post bond and buy him one crackerjack lawyer like that Kardashian fellow who got O.J. off. But I guess he’s dead anyway.
I sure do miss Bob.
If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.