Dowry by Patrick Breheny

Gyogr Szansas conspires to extract a dowry from the culturally compatible Argob so he can elope with his Catholic-American sweetheart, but things do not go as planned.

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"Gyogr, is that woman again. Who is this fucking whore who calls a man?"

Gyogr was Gregory or Greg. His father had answered the phone. Ellie would only call him at home if there was a late minute change of plan and his own phone was off. It was charging.

When he'd first tried telling Pyotr, his Pappy, Ellie was just a friend, Pappy replied, "A man cannot be a friend with woman."

Greg was handsome, smart, athletic; and that made him popular. His community was modern yet traditional, the young clinging to the old ways only as part of identity. They lived in San Francisco's Pacific Heights; his friends from school were of every group, his generation was assimilated. Yet, some of the legacy was kept for good reason, from a male perspective. Upon marriage, a man received a dowry. If, of course, the bride was from within the group.

Ellie was fourth-generation American, a census-declared Catholic of mostly Irish ancestry, but also Italian, Mexican and Chinese. They didn't do dowry, and if they did, would be of an opinion that the guy should pay for the gift.

He took the receiver and spoke as if all was normal. She knew he'd speak in code.

"Hi."

"How do you keep taking this shit?"

"What's new?"

"We have to talk."

"Are you calling about something?"

"I'm working late and have to go home first. I'll meet you at nine."

"Okay."

"It's not okay."

"Thanks for the information."

As he hung up, Pappy asked, "This woman, she's rich?"

"No."

"I'll find you a good dowry."

"Thanks, Pappy."

"The correct way to direct your vulgar impulses."

"You bet."

He met Ellie for dinner at Fisherman's Wharf. The reason for that location was that nobody of his clan from the city was likely to be at a tourist attraction. She was there before him, at Lou's, had staked a quiet booth. The hour was providing privacy in that there was bar activity, but very few people in the booths. The one she'd selected was farthest from the bar.

They sat across from each other, ordered salmon dinners, a beer for Greg, a juice for Ellie, and when the waiter left she said, "We're not 'friends.' Your father hates me."

"He just doesn't know you."

"He doesn't want to know me. I want a family. Can't we announce an intention?"

"An engagement. Your family will want a Catholic wedding."

"For appearances."

"Don't children get baptized? Take the sacraments?"

"Perfunctorily."

"For my family, that's a non-starter."

There was a long silence, not of animosity but of insolubility. They shared chemistry across the table but he thought the table now represented division. Apparently for her as well, because she moved from her side, ignored her plates and drink, and squeezed beside him. He could have given space but didn't. There was already too much of that.

She said, "Let's elope."

How could they? He was a law clerk, and a student studying to take the bar. So was she. They met when he worked for the office she was still with.

But what she just said about eloping enhanced a plan he'd been considering anyway.



He had a conversation with Pyotr, or Peter to his American customers, or Pappy to Greg, in the gem store, in the back break room where the security guard with the holster belt and pistol on his hip wouldn't be within hearing range.

They drank their strong coffees from stone mugs, and Pappy said, "Not often you come visit my business. If is about this tart somehow, answer is no."

"I told you, she's a friend."

"Men and women aren't friends."

"Things are different here."

"Being friends is what's called courting, no?"

"She's not why I'm here."

"You want to borrow my money?"

"Pappy!"

"You never come here. You never talk to me. I am so honored. What is your motive?"

"Argob."

As could be expected, Pappy's shock was not charitable. "Argob? Rosolo's dumb stone? You wish to court her too?"

"When was courting part of a marriage arrangement to you?"

"Never. Just what you - they - do here. You have an interest in Argob or her dowry?"

"Both. With the dowry I can finish law school, start my own firm."

"You understand, Argob comes with it? You'd give up your daydream girl?"

Greg had no intention of marrying Argob, just getting the money and eloping with Ellie. "There's more to life than what you call pokey pokey."

"Strange to hear from you."

"There's our tradition and identity."

"Big CNN words, but yes, there is. There is. You're having a re-conversion?"

"I'm basically a practical man. Like you. I see the value of the old. You taught me even when you didn't know you did."

It seemed to Greg his father, unaccustomed to such flattery, was flushed. He pretended the moist eye was a result of steam from the coffee as he brushed his eye with his fingers.

"I shall speak to Mr. Rosolo and express a slight interest. Just an idle inquiry. See how much we can raise his bid by. The dowry in fact decreased for the last supplicant, who was no Cary Grant, and owned one solitary hamburger franchise where he was the manager and had to work the counter himself to keep salaries down. A low man."

"He wasn't the one to pay the dowry."

"Well, neither were they if they wanted her home. But if it's us? Me? My reputation will exalt Rosolo family image."



The Rosolos lived in Ellie's neighborhood of the Sunset, across the park from Pacific Heights and Greg's family, though it was unlikely she'd know them, even Argob. Argob hid her unpopularity with what Pappy called 'CNN tradition' - a pretense-of-caring, a charade of the real thing. She was a stay-at-home daughter, a gofer, maid, nurse and consoler of her parents who, as they began aging, were increasingly relieved she wasn't getting married.

Greg's Pappy was successful as a gem merchant because all transactions were strategic. He played the poker tables in Nevada and often won, seeing the game as practice in the way of a guitarist playing chords or a basketball pro shooting hoops.

When he was closer to Greg, when Greg was a teen and in his early 20s, Pappy brought him along to Reno, and while Greg did do better than most at the tables thanks to the psych and tells taught by Pappy, he lost as often as he won.



Pappy wasn't going right away to Rosolo. He'd learned Argob wanted to sell her studio piano because Rosolo bought her a new grand as a reward for staying home. Pappy thought it crass she'd stooped to placing an ad in the Chronicle, and questioned for what reason Argob would want money of her own. Pappy called the number from the newspaper, and arranged to show her piano to his 'client' on a weekday, when he knew Rosolo would be at work.

Mrs. Rosolo was home, but not to be bothered by commercial goings on. The maid -the paid one - brought Greg and Pappy coffees and water, then vanished.

Despite her shyness, Argob was energized by Greg's presence, and attempted conversation.

"I'd never heard you were a pianist."

"I'm going to start."

"Will you take lessons?"

"Well - I suppose I'll have to."

"I've been playing a long time. I tutor some students."

Pappy interrupted with, "Argob, Gyogr is not here about the piano."

Now she was confused. Flustered. Her face gave away her concern about what could motivate such deception. She picked up her phone to dial.

Pappy asked, "Who are you calling?"

"Mammy."

"Argob, calm down. We mean no harm to anyone, but we are here to talk to just you."

"Yes?"

"We know about the last suitor, Aleksandr."

"Oh?"

"He was discouraged by your parents, no?"

"He wasn't much. I'm better single than with him."

"Well, do you think Gyogr would be bad company?"

She gasped.

"Argob?"

"Please don't tease me with a joke. Are you cruel?"

"We are sincere."

"My God."

"So you see, we had to get your opinion first. Before we approach your father will you try to persuade him?"

"Gyogr? You mean this?"

Greg was suddenly reconsidering the entire venture. He loved Ellie, but what would she think? Argob was a human being. "You know the parents arrange these things."

"Yes, in the old place. This is San Francisco. Are you real?"

"Let's see first what your father says."

"What do you say?"

"I say let's wait for the answer."

Pappy scowled, his unspoken message, This is why you always lose at poker.



In a sandwich shop in North Beach, he confessed to Ellie his vile plan, why he couldn't do it, and hoped she could forgive him for even entertaining it.

"Is your 'pappy' still going to talk to Rosolo?"

"If he does, Argob thinks I'm insincere and won't be petitioning for it."

"The whole business is immoral, but much worse to take their money and run away."

"No, I can't do that."

"Maybe we can."

"I can't believe you said that."

"What if Argob came with us?"

"How could we do that?"

"She's smarter than anyone gives her credit for."

"How do you know?"

"Because she knows about us. Did research, spying, I don't know how, after you visited her."

"She knows."

"And she wants you to get the dowry."

"As my father points out, that usually means she comes with it."

"She will."

"What are you talking about?"

"I met her."

"Good God."

"Yes, God is good. She wants away from her parents. She was only acting overwhelmed when you proposed. She doesn't want a husband, she wants freedom, was selling the piano to get money. Take the dowry, take Argob, and take me."

"Then I'll be married to Argob."

"You don't have to marry her. Just take the money and elope with both of us."

"In America, the way dowry's done, the money goes into a trust fund with conditions; it can be terminated by her father in case of a break up, a medical emergency, any reason he has."

"I have an idea for that too."

"You do?"

"A lot of us in the Sunset came from the neighborhoods. I know some of the right wrong guys right around here in North Beach."

"How could they fit in?"

"They're into real estate."

"I'll bet."

"You and Argob need a house. The dowry goes for the house, before..." she used finger quote marks "...the marriage."

"That's just a mortgage. The dowry payments will go to the bank."

"This house is a Southern California dream, but on a cliff top and could fall into the canyon next rainy season. So it's a bargain for the adventurous, but the owner will only sell for cash up front. And he means actual cash. You and Argob have to have it. Not willing to compromise."

"I thought criminals don't like cash. Has to be laundered."

"They're taking a broker's fee. A rather big one, with expenses charged for extras like IDs, but you won't buy the house, and we take the rest of the cash."

"How about you and me?"

"We really get married."

"We all go on a crowded honeymoon that never ends?"

"The honeymoon ends. Argob goes her own way. We go back to San Francisco, announce we eloped because Argob stole her dowry, vanished, so you chose me."

"The money? How does that get divided?"

"She says two-way split, half to her, half to us."

"Three-way. Sixty six percent ours."

Ellie smiled. "You're playing bad poker again. If its three-way, at some point I could say what's mine is mine. Not that that would ever happen."

"If it's community property, we'll have sixty percent, so you could get more. No, not that that could ever happen."

"She says she wants fifty-fifty. Let's work that out. It is her old man's money."



As the fog was lifting early one June morning, three people disappeared from San Francisco. Greg was driving a 'repossessed' car with a temporary dealer's license plate, and had a driver's license under a fictitious name. They all had new name driving licenses as ID, even Argob who couldn't drive, courtesy of the house brokers.

They had a lot of luggage in the sedan. It filled the trunk and the back seat, and they were squeezed together in the front, Ellie in the middle. She would have liked to drive, but they wanted nothing that seemed in any way more out of the ordinary. They didn't have many clothes in the suitcases. Those were crammed with hundred-dollar bills, a method of payment still taken most places for small purchases.

Their destination was Ensenada, through the mountains south of the border, seventy miles from the US. They avoided refreshing in Tijuana, being noticed, took a break past TJ at a stone structure rest area that was just lavatories with a few vending machines outside. There were no other cars.

Inside the men's room, the cavernous edifice echoed from a footstep, a flow of water, and the women would know from reverberations that he'd hear every word said on their side. They wouldn't think that their conversation was private, but were maybe less inhibited without him visible.

"While we're together, please understand that our intention is not to exclude you, Argob."

"I don't feel excluded."

"Oh... Well, good."

"Greg told you about Aleksandr, whom I decided against?"

"Yes. He wasn't of sufficient... means."

"It wasn't just that."

"No? You mean all around, right?"

"He's a man."

"Yeah...?"

"I like women."

"Oh... Oh? That's... You know I'm with Greg."

Argob laughed. It was unexpected and charming.

"The ocean's full of fish now and I'm free."



They'd chosen Ensenada and had to stay together a while because their fake ID included passport cards, usable in North and Central America, not as difficult to forge as regular passports, but a passport was indispensable for Argob who wasn't going back to San Fran. And Ensenada was where the printer was who could get them better camo.

They stayed at the Paradise Motel, in three adjoining rooms at ground level, the middle one left empty, and where Juan the night desk clerk was bribed to tell anybody who might be looking for them that Room 5 had been occupied but they just checked out, and 4 was rented to a French man and 6 to an English woman. Diversion was the reason stated for the divide, though Greg and Ellie had considered a sound barrier too for when their honeymoon waxed romantic - though Argob herself began right away managing overnight female guests.

It was idyllic, they rode horses on the beach, were serenaded at lunch by mariachis, and there were four of them once Argob locked on one young and pretty Iliana. The sun was shining every day.



Yet there was so much world to see. He was quickly getting restless with Ensenada. And one almost unbearable beautiful morning - wasn't it ever cloudy or raining? - started with Ellie saying, "When Argob gets this passport, can we go back?"

"So soon? We can use ours too. Enjoy this interlude. Mr. Romolo is not a man who likes getting robbed."

"Argob did it, remember? We didn't do anything."

"Our story. We can hope they believe it."

"We can be believable. We get a civil marriage here and go back. We had to elope because we're like Romeo and Juliet."

"I hear that story doesn't have a happy ending."

"I'll lose my job if we don't go back." They'd both been calling in sick time. "Don't you care about yours?"

"We'll find other jobs. Clerk in our own firm while we get juris."



They had to at least wait until Pedro's print shop could do its magic, and Argob went on her own. American passports were difficult, Pedro told them. Official stamps, cyber codes. They had to be acceptable. Didn't want to get yourself caught with fakes of those.

One early afternoon, Greg came up from the beach to select requested sandwiches and drinks from the cooler on the lobby, and bring them down to the women on the beach. There was a large man at the counter, that he at first discounted until, as he was making the choices from the cold box, he heard him tell Juan, "I'm looking for Gregory Szansas." The accent was broad northeastern, New York or New Jersey.

Juan said, "Nobody here by that name."

"How many rooms are rented?"

"A few."

"If I rent a room, I have to show you ID?"

"Of course."

"I want to see the registration book."

"I can't show you."

"The book."

When Greg glanced from the refrigerator, he saw the interrogator was now pointing a gun at Juan, who didn't object again as he looked at the registry.

"Who are these people in Room 5?"

"Five is empty. They left this morning."

"I want to see."

He at least pointed the gun at the ground as he escorted Juan to empty Room 5. Greg finished his lunch selection and brought the items to the counter. He knew the visitor hadn't noticed that Greg saw the gun.

A different large guy came in, looked confused that no one was at the counter, shrugged a Where's everybody at Greg.

"I think they'll be right back."

They were. The first one said to the second one, "Not here."

The new one had an accent like the other. "Another waste of time. Looking in every fuckin' motel in Ensenada. They can be anywhere in Mexico."

He turned again to Greg. "You think this is a soap opera? Who are you when you're minding your own?"

"Just a tourist."

"Got any ID?"

Not that he wanted to show him. They didn't need to know his new name. He was about to say he left it on the beach, but then - with who?

"Not on me?"

"Where is it?"

"In the room or the car"

"You don't know?"

"Drank a lot last night."

"You won't run out of food today."

The original guy, still waving the gun around, said, "Fuck. Hangover food. We're supposed to go smooth. Remember?"

The second looked at the piece. "Like you?"

"You're putting icing on the cake They're not here. Probably never were."

"Let's get out of here then."

To Greg he said, "You didn't see or hear nothing."

"Nothing"

"Nothing at all."



Over brunch on the blanket, he shared the lobby encounter. Iliana was a young adult, had innocence about her, wore a modest one-piece bathing suit. Argob seemed to wear more clothes on the sand than she did elsewhere. Her stated reason was to avoid that rash Ellie got that she called sunburn. As far as Greg knew, Iliana thought they were waiting for passports from their embassy. Her English didn't seem great, but if she understood what he was recounting to the others, she'd wonder why somebody would be looking for them. He saw her as an unnecessary risk.

Ellie said, with street smarts he never before imagined she had, "North Beach sent them after us to take the money back."

Greg, indignant at the even the prospect of such a betrayal, growled, "Thieves!"

For some reason, Iliana thought that was funny. She was learning too much, but he realized Argob had filled her in on a lot more when she said, in a manner that was apologetic and conveyed she was trying to be helpful as she struggled with English, "I know about Pedro's shop. The reason he keeps you waiting is so you'll offer more money. He probably sent those men."

Greg didn't accept that premise. Pedro's enforcers would be Ensenada locals, not New Yorker types, but he needed things happening fast, and the part of Iliana's premise that Pedro liked money was probably correct.

He barely ate, left the beach, called first, then went to Pedro's Printing Service,

a substantial two-story brick building downtown. He was met by a slim middle-aged woman in a business suit who inquired politely in English, "May I help you?"

"I'm Fred Brody. Mr. Lopez is expecting me."

She used the house phone, and her part of the conversation was simply, "Mr. Brody is here." Then she said, "Please have a seat. It will be a few minutes."

Greg saw that as power positioning, like the pot dealers did when he was an undergrad and he wanted to buy enough to sell baggies. They made you wait. For no other reason than to impress that notion that you needed them more than they did you.

"I'll wait a few."

Pedro didn't make him wait too long. The receptionist soon said, "You can go in now."

He went back to a private executive office where a man in a dark blue suit rose from behind a mahogany desk, crunched his hand, and gestured he should sit. He did, and got directly to the point. "We need those passports now."

"They have to be right."

"They can be done right quickly. We have to get moving."

"I'll talk to my craftsman, see how he's progressing. Call me tomorrow and I'll let you know."

"There's a bonus if you can move it along."

"We can talk about that too, Mr... Brody. By afternoon I should be able to tell you something."



When he called the next day, Pedro told him to come back in.

"Yes or no?"

"Just come here, Fred."

It was the first time he was called Fred. It sounded strange, even if it sounded close to 'Greg'. Pedro's tone was neutral. He couldn't tell if he had good news or bad.

Back in the office, he got the bad. He couldn't see the good anywhere. Pedro said, "The documents just aren't ready yet. There are special inks and other trick safeguards to bypass. You don't want to get caught with a fake American passport because of a bad forgery."

"You couldn't have told me that on the phone?"

"No, I couldn't tell you that on the phone."

"How much more money do you want?"

"Nothing. Yet. It takes what it takes. I really can't push it any faster."



They'd have to keep waiting. As they did, they were often together without Argob, who spent more and more time just with Iliana. Despite the beach, the horses, the great Mex food, he was feeling inertia at being stuck in Paradise at a motel of that name. They were also concerned about the luggage, what was in it. When they first checked in, they divided it between the two rooms and Greg set up cameras so they could watch the rooms on their phones when they left. But the heavies' visit made them paranoid. They figured if they came back, they probably wouldn't check Room 5 again, still registered as empty, so late one night they put all the relevant suitcases in there. From then on, two of them would always be on watch in that middle room, including sleeping there, with a gun he bought from Juan. That meant Argob was sometimes in there with wildcard Iliana.

As time passed, Ellie's appearance was changing. Her breasts were swelling. Her stomach was looking chubby. Lazing around, not enough exercise. He kind of liked it, but - how long since she'd had a period?

They were on the beach blanket when he asked, "Are you late this month?"

"Not just. I missed last month too. I have to see a doctor."

She'd see a doctor, sure, for confirmation and consolation, but they both knew.

She said, "We have to get married. A civil ceremony."

Why would that be so urgent with no family to appease? She filled in:

"And go back."

"We'll get married, Ellie. We don't have to go back yet. Let's go on, have our honeymoon."

"Somebody's looking for us."

"I'll grow a moustache, always wear a cap."

"Yeah, nobody recognized Clark Kent as Superman when he put his glasses on."



He made an appointment with a justicio. They needed witnesses, but Argob had to be on guard duty in that room, and Iliana would be with her. With passport cards, Greg and Ellie didn't need passports to go anywhere in Mexico or Central America, nor when they went back to California. Costa Rica was rumored to be beautiful. Argob could wait with Iliana for her passport from Pedro. After the wedding, they'd all decide how to divvy up her pappy's loot. Greg still had no idea how to eventually hide all that cash.

He told the justicio on the phone that he had no witnesses.

He said, "I can provide a best man and bridesmaid."

"How much?"

"Your wedding! You ask that?"

"Just that everything should be settled."

"No charge extra, but they'd probably appreciate a tip."

"Okay."

He believed he was playing his cards wrong again. Would he give them more than they'd have asked for?



After the justicio and witnesses congratulated and wished them happiness, they went back to the Paradise to find they had definitely played the hand badly. Argob wasn't in Room 5. Nothing was. And Argob's room was also empty. They rushed to the desk, where Juan confirmed it. "The senoritas, they checked out."



Greg still had the car, and there was enough cash in his pocket and her purse to get them back to the bay area. Back to San Francisco with their marriage certificate and their story: Eloped with Ellie after Argob ran away with her dowry. That wasn't a good story, but it was almost true. The important thing was they stick to it. I didn't break that window. A rock flew over there and smashed it.

Their homes were on opposite sides of Golden Gate park, and while they tried to summon the wherewithal to meet their respective families, they succored the last drop of honeymoon by eating lunch on a bench in the park.

If only he'd bought that cap and had time to grow the moustache. He was wearing sunglasses, but never mind that. Somebody spotted them. The two guys from Ensenada reappeared, hands in jacket pockets that bulged with guns, one of which he'd no doubt seen already.

The second one from Ensenada, the good... well, not cop... said, "Let's go in your car. I need the keys."

At least he didn't say they were 'going for a ride', but they were going for a ride, Number Two driving. Number One Ensenada got in the back seat with Greg and Ellie.

Greg said, "So, the North Beach house sellers sent you to Ensenada to get the money."

"You have it? You give it me now, you can save yourselves a lot of grief."

"Argob stole it."

He snorted a laugh of dismissal. "Tell that to the pappies."

Ellie said, "You went to Ensenada for the North Beach gang, but now you're working for Romolo?"

He was entertained by her speculation. "We went to Ensenada for ourselves. We're freelance. Bounty hunters too. We got to make a living."

Greg said, "Bounty hunters go after bail jumpers."

"That's on commission. You had all the money. That's big bounty."

So, Greg thought, they had no coordination with North Beach when they went after us. That's why the dummies didn't know the aliases we were using.

"And if we had the money now, you'd take it?"

"And let you go."

"Would that be... as you might say... a good existential choice?"

"We can go back to Mexico. I'll ask again. Do you have it?"

"No."

He tsk-tsked like somebody's disapproving aunt in Dear Abby's time, can't people show some manners? Greg saw him blindfold Ellie, then he didn't see anything because he was blindfolded. too.



They only rode for a few minutes, which made him think they were still close to the park. They were guided from the car in an uncharacteristically flat area of the hilly city - the park-adjacent communities - into a building, and then down a flight of stairs. When the blinders came off they were in a cellar prominent with a furnace, hot water heater, and concrete floor. They only saw Number Two, and he said, "Agatha will bring you meals and water. There's a bathroom down here. And bedding."

He went up the stairs, left. Locked the door.

Ellie said, "What are they going to do to us?"

"I don't know."

True at least to the promise of sustenance, the door again unlocked and a young woman, no doubt the Agatha, came down with bottles of water. They were cold, but there was no way to keep them that way.

Greg didn't know who she was, a newbie to SF, but she was one of his, and if the only human they'd meet, had to be their intel source. Speaking her language helped gain her confidence, and she had nobody to trust or talk to herself, so she cooperated. The conversation was long and informative.

When Agatha went back upstairs, he told Ellie the Romolos and the Szansas were planning clan warfare to make the Montagues and Capulets look like picnickers, and both were aiming their swords at the Larkins on Ellie's side.

Ellie declared, "We only heard of internecine rage like that from the fables of Brian Boru."

"Who?"

"A long time ago."

But Greg said they were lucky, Agatha told him a mediator from the old country lived in San Francisco, a Ruler who would hear Greg and Ellie's case. Greg knew of this Ruler. Agatha also told him the Ruler had heard their story of Argob running off with the money alone, therefore Greg and Ellie eloped, and didn't believe a word of it. Close as that was to true.

Ellie asked, "Why is he called a Ruler?"

"Because a Ruler is believed endowed with such spiritual gifts that he makes his own rules in his court. I know of this one. To use references you might understand, his reputation is, he's as wise as Solomon but as strict as the Caesars."

"That's not too reassuring."



They had comfortable mattresses and sleeping bags as blankets, but nothing to do. Just when Ellie was about ready to push it and ask Agatha if a TV was possible, the door at the top of the stairs opened, and instead of Agatha, Greg's pappy and Romolo came down, ushering the entry of a tall man with a red cape and a black fur hat that resembled a crown. Greg guessed the hat to be ermine. Pappy spoke to Greg and informed them, as they anticipated, that the tall man was the Ruler.

The Ruler spoke to them in civil terms. "First, I want to hear truthfully, with as much accuracy as you can recall, what happened."

Romolo said, "And what you did to Argob."

Since Agatha had told them the Ruler already heard that one about Argob running off with the money and Greg and Ellie eloping, they knew he wanted to hear another one. They were allowed to consult with each other in the bathroom, no doubt included by the architect in anticipation of events of sequestration such as epidemics, riots, or something like this.

Ellie, coming along with pregnancy, was sitting on the commode lid.

"Can we just tell them the truth?"

"We'd have to acknowledge too much criminality. Stole Romolo's money. And he doesn't want to hear Argob's a lesbian. They'll say the truth are lies. We told a story, we have to stick to it. Any new one will be suspect."



Their conference finished, they went back to the main room. Greg, being the man, was expected to speak to the Ruler, who now was seated beside the hot water heater on a dining chair that Agatha must have just brought down. Greg was careful to speak true sentences.

"We told you what happened. Argob stole the money. We did nothing to her. We can't appease by creating a false story." (A true statement itself, already tested, he thought.) "We don't know where Argob or the money is."

The Ruler said he needed a consultation. He wanted Pappy and Romolo to, let's say, 'approach the bench', which of course would also have to take place in the latrine.

They returned after only a few minutes, and the Ruler remained standing to make his declaration.

"To spare our communities bloodshed, you will be held here until we determine a sentence to execute, or you tell us the truth."

Greg protested, "I have told you the truth."

"Not all, I believe."



They waited again. Among their topics often discussed, were Greg's musing, "He's supposed to be psychic. And he knows there's more."

"If they think we have information, will they torture us?"

"They've been nice so far."

"Nice?"

"Relatively."

"When he says 'execute a sentence' does he maybe mean execute us?"

By his consistent reluctance to reply to that, she knew the answer could be Yes.

"If they do that, how do they do it?"

Again, he was noncommittal.

"How?"

"You don't know it will be that."

"How fuckin' how?"

"It's humane."

"Tell me."

"You're being morbid. This Ruler is known to be merciful."

"Explain, please."

"He insists on anesthesia. We're not savages."

"How, Greg?

"Vivisection, but I've never heard of it done here. It's like you're having an operation. You just won't wake up. He's given us a choice. He wants us to tell him everything."

"That's a trick. He wants us to self-incriminate."



Another morning (?) came when instead of Agatha, Romolo opened the door. He called down, "Sequestration is expired. Gather your possessions and come upstairs."

He left, and when they did as instructed they came into a residence in a corridor that led them to a living room. Then he knew they were in Romolo's house. Romolo and Pappy were in the room, as was the Ruler. All were seated, but Greg and Ellie were not invited to. There were also six other standing people present, so covered were they from head to toe in white medial garb they could be mistaken for Ku Klux Klan. And there were two hospital beds. Two of technicians were holding power saws.

The Ruler said, "Gyogr, for yourself and your poor bride, we must hear the truth."

"I need to talk to her again."

This time they were allowed into a pantry with a door that shut, where they whispered to each other. Ellie was coming to his point of view that maybe, just maybe, 'the truth could set them free'.

"What do we have to lose? We can return to the living room and recount the whole sorry affair."

Greg was almost in agreement, ready to express that to her, except that the door suddenly but quietly opened a few inches, and Pappy, who must have been outside listening, stuck his head in, said one word, "Reno", and closed the door again as silently as he opened it.

Greg said to Ellie, "We don't change a word."

"What?"

"Trust me."

They went back to the living room, and the Ruler asked, "Well?"

"There's nothing else to tell. We told you."

"Mr. Szansas, until now, not a knife has been brandished nor a shot fired."

It seemed to Greg he paused to let him contemplate the enormity of that. Could he prevent carnage with the true account?

"You have nothing else to reveal?"

"No."

"Very well."

The Ruler then handed them each a bundle.

"In there are your hospital gowns. Change in the bathroom. You will eventually be naked, but we will not humiliate you by enduring that consciously. Against our ethics."

Ellie blurted, "So fuckin' considerate!"

The Ruler and the pappies were indeed stunned by such transgression. Romolo pontificated, "You don't speak with profanity to the Ruler."

Greg was quick with, "She's hysterical, in shock by this situation. Not usually like her. I apologize for her."

If those in control accepted that, even barely, he thought it was because - what else was there to do to them?

In the bathroom, as they changed garb, Ellie said, "What fuckin' difference sedated whether they take off my jeans or a gown? You apologized! For me! Not usually like her?"

"We still have strategy, time"

"Maybe if we tell them the whole shit."

"No."

"What's to lose?

"Everything."

They embraced in the bathroom in a clinch they hoped they'd never break, but even with the push lock on, the door opened. All the white robers were there, and Greg and Ellie were each seized by three, who dragged them into living room. They were forcibly placed on their backs on the beds and restrained by straps. Two of the white robers turned on their power saws and approached.

Greg screamed, "The anesthesia?"

The Ruler said, in a conciliatory tone - hope you can understand logistical problems - "Our supplier cannot provide at this moment."

"This is against what you teach."

"But an inconvenient reality."

Ellie shouted, "Jesus Christ Almighty!" The Ruler and pappies seemed confused by this unfamiliar phrase. "I'll tell you the truth. All of it. We stole the money with Argob. She's a lesbian and ran away from us in Ensenada with her new girlfriend and all the money."

Romolo scoffed, "Argob is a lesbian! That's preposterous. And how could she steal her own money? She is Romolo. You two stole from me and I don't like that."

Greg said, "I believe you, that you don't like that, and I wouldn't blame you a bit if it was true. But Ellie is lying now, as anyone being tortured will make up something false to get you to stop."

Romolo said, "More lies, now from you."

Greg remembered, in that highly emotional moment that had begun happening in slow motion, that he was a law student, and his argument must be calm and reasonable -not judgmental about Romolo's logic, though it inevitably was - and also remember that he was speaking to the Ruler if addressing Romolo.

"What she just said and what I said, that she is lying, are contradictory statements, so they can't both be lies."

Romolo defended his mental acuity with, "Distraction."

But the Ruler appeared to be judicially perplexed, and in a sudden reverie began stroking his beard for long interminable seconds, as if mentally gone from the room. Then when at last he reappeared from the trance, again accounted for, he said to the pappies, "Gentlemen we need another conference before proceeding further."

Romolo scolded the techs, "Stop wasting my electricity before we're ready," and the saws were turned off. The pappies used the pantry for their session. It was long and voices were passionate, Romolo especially shouting, and then they returned.

The Ruler said, to the bed patients, "Mr. Romolo cannot accept this fabrication that Argob is a lesbian, and certainly not a thief stealing her own family money, but there is always a nucleus of truth hidden in a lie. Mr. Romolo, tell them."

Romolo said, "I had recently heard from Argob. She eloped too, and is with her spouse. They bought that house in Topanga Canyon but I still believed until now that you two received a sizable portion of the dowry. However, I have just called Argob and she adamantly and persuasively says she brought you to Ensenada on your own honeymoon as a gift for helping her. There are no financial records that your funds have increased, and the bank confirms the house cost the full dowry. You were protecting Argob here with those lies." He then began to blubber. "You are two fine loyal young people. I don't know how to beg your forgiveness."

The Ruler interceded on what he must have seen as this rather pathetic display of masculine disintegration and said, "Well, I do."

And with his anointed gift of wisdom, he declared, "Mr. Romolo, hear you. This is the disposition. You shall pay the tuitions for both of them to finish law school."

Greg thought, he really has the gift.

Ellie herself uttered, "Not bad."

Romolo protested, "I still have a mortgage."

"And now tuitions to also pay. And to facilitate this, you, Gyogr, and your wife, will sign a statement to the effect that none of this here ever happened and you will never reveal it. And Mrs Szansas, in that document you will also apologize for using profanity in the Ruler's presence."

"Not for my prayer words."

"No, not for them. For that crude word for the bonding that results in procreation, and trivializes a blessed event."

"Hey, no offense was intended. I'll even say the apology to you, okay. I kind of like that idea too."

"That would indeed indicate a good upbringing, as I think you've had, however philosophically misguided. Medics, release these restraints."

Greg and Ellie were unstrapped, but still on their backs in white nighties as their street clothes were returned in rumpled clumps. The Ruler had the "techs", the pappies and Agatha leave so the pair could have some privacy, though he himself paused. It was then that Greg had a close look at the saws that were screeching moments ago.

And he observed, "There aren't real blades in those."

The blades were plastic, with edges dulled by putty and cloth. The Ruler smiled slyly below his whiskers.

"A small deception that led to the truth - from you, young lady - whether Romolo can accept it or not."

Ellie was not sure it wise to address the issue, but asked, "Why did you reward us if you really think we tried to steal half the dowry?"

"So Romolo believes Argob that you had no role in this, for her ingenuity in recruiting you two as accomplices, and in compensation for your ordeal here. But mostly to punish Romolo for being a fool. Our community does not suffer such. Fools are lower than thieves because thieves prevail over fools. It's a bit like the children's game of paper, scissors, rock."

"What would you have done if you hadn't found out?"

"Tried a few other strategies, but in the end still let you go, Same NDA. To continue that game analogy, the laws here against killing people are rock."

"So why did you put us through this at all?"

Greg replied to that. "To placate Romolo."

The Ruler concurred. "He is quite influential."

Ellie asked, "So Romolo really thought...?"

"We'd slice you."

"Wouldn't he know you didn't?"

"No. We'd spare him trauma by not allowing him to witness. You two would have had to disappear from the Bay Area though."

"So now he pays our tuitions."

"Justice, don't you think? But wasn't it fun to be in a horror movie?"

"No."

"People pay to get that kind of terror vicariously. You got it for free."

"It wasn't fun."

"Oh, it was for me. And nothing make-believe will ever scare you again."



Greg and Ellie kept their law clerk jobs, as they prepared to graduate and take the bar exam. When the time came, Ellie would be granted maternity leave. They were token outcasts by their respective tribes, but it's a big Bay Area. Ellie knew once she had the baby her family would relent. And Greg thought Pappy, who had given his one-word counsel to them in the pantry (even if playing a hand wrong one time - or was he?) would eventually want to see his grandchild. Especially if it was a boy.

Argob had told her pappy he could come to confirm for himself and meet her spouse, and Romolo told her the guns had been put away. He flew to Los Angeles, and drove a rented car to Topanga Canyon to meet him. When he met her, it was hard to muster anger against the beguiling insouciance of Iliana. He... liked... her. As he left, he wished them well, and said that if the house didn't fall off the mountain, that would be because God hadn't chosen to punish them so neither would he. At least he'd learned Argob was safe. He did miss her, but Agatha had taken up her duties, so what would Argob have to do back at home anyway? They weren't going to present him with grandchildren on their own, but in this crazy country, who knew, maybe they could adopt some for him.

And now any time he wanted a vacation he could go down to Southern California for a visit.

7 comments:

  1. “Dowry” was great fun, with nothing as it appeared to be. Argob’s true sexuality, the story they all told their parents, the good-faith skullduggery, the ruthless nature of “the Ruler;” all of it, bogus. Patrick’s tongue was firmly in cheek when he penned this fiction, and I’m so happy that he did. Although it was a long, long story, I was sorry that it had to end – and glad that it had a happy ending. I developed a real affection for Patrick’s characters.

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  2. Thank you for the engaging story. I have no experience with the subculture described. So, I just read with interest. The nice neat ending surprised me. We covered a lot of ground in this story. It feels like sort of a tale. Thank you.

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  3. I enjoyed the twists and turns, never knowing whether it was a true horror story, crime story, or something else until the end. Mr. Mirth.

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  4. It has a Kafkaesque quality - but sillier and less dark.

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  5. What an enchanting yarn. I see it as a film. Lovable. Believable. What a pleasure!

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  6. As Adam said, this does have a Kafkaesque quality to it and wonder if that's the reason for Gyogr's name? A very interesting read and I very much like your stylistic choices, such as not using any verbs or tags for your dialogue.

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    1. Kafka again! I am not familiar with Kafka, his life and material depress me, but I see now the similarity between my protag's name and his Greogr. Let me state clearly here that that is purely coincidental., as is any similarity you can find in the metaphors. Not even subconsciously because I haven't
      read him, He is as depressing to me as the existentialists if he isn't one. Give me an Elmore Leonard read any time. Since you address me as "you" regarding dialogue, I'll answer there too as moi. You got me self conscious enough to scour. I use lots of verbs in dialogue, and tags where needed to indicate who is speaking and the tone, sufficiently in my opinion. I do thank you for taking the time to repond to my story.

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