“No, I heard she stopped doing that,” Doug said. “On account of all those high schoolers who go back there to party.”
“You know that Garrett boy broke into the house, scared those women to pieces.”
Matt took note of the name and watched as the two seemed to forget he was there.
“Can you blame him?” Doug asked. “I wish I had the guts to get close to that house. I heard they’ve got this huge wall safe in the library filled with gems.”
“Well, honey, if you’d been nicer to Savannah, maybe Margot wouldn’t have run you off when you tried,” Cheryl said and Doug rolled his eyes.
But the hair on Matt’s neck stood up and chill washed over his arms. “Gems?” he asked blankly, steering them back on course.
“Diamonds and such. Big ones. Can you imagine?”
Yes, he thought. He could. He did.
“Where would they get gems?” he asked. “I mean, judging from the house, those two women are barely getting by.”
“Don’t be fooled,” Doug said, starting to ring up the items in front of him. “It’s all a cover.”
Cheryl nodded and Matt glanced between them. “Cover for what?”
“I think it’s the middle boy, Tyler,” Doug said. “I don’t know how, but I think they’re hiding the money he wins in Vegas so he doesn’t have to pay taxes.”
Cheryl shook her head. “I think it’s the mother, what’s her name—”
“Vanessa?” Matt asked, perhaps a bit too eagerly, but Cheryl didn’t seem to notice. “But where is she?” he asked. “They never talk about her.”
“Oh, God, no.” Doug laughed. “No one talks about Vanessa. Ever. Savannah about slapped my head off a few years ago when I asked her.”
Matt paused a moment, grateful that Savannah had ignored him rather than slapped his head off.
“I told you that was no way to get her to go out with you.” Cheryl tsked her tongue and Matt got a little insight into that slut comment. A beautiful woman like Savannah who wouldn’t date the riffraff—what else would the riffraff do but call her names?
Something detonated in his chest, sympathy and anger that there was no one around to defend these women against people bent on believing the worst of them.
You, he thought, you could do it.
But he wasn’t here to defend them, not any more than he had. He was here for answers and so far, Cheryl and Doug had been more help than all three O’Neill women combined.
“So where is Vanessa?” Matt asked, even though he knew. Or had known.
“No one’s seen her in years,” Doug said.
“Oh,” Cheryl laughed. “Just because she ain’t been seen doesn’t mean she’s not around. Trouble, that one. Worse than all the others put together. Her and that husband of hers.”
Matt’s head spun. “Husband?”
There was a thump behind them, the old man in the red shirt reappeared and Cheryl vanished like a ghost.
“That will be two hundred twelve dollars and thirty-two cents,” Doug said. Matt blinked, stunned to see all of his stuff in bags and Doug smiling at him as if he hadn’t been saying the foulest things about Savannah moments ago.
“Hold on there, Doug. Add two bags of ready-mix,” the old man said, then turned to Matt. “You’ll have to go around back to get them.”
“Ah…no problem,” Matt said and took out his wallet.
“I got it from here, Doug, thanks,” the man said and Doug walked off. He said he was going to check on fishing rods, but the safe bet was Doug finding mommy and doing what they did best.
Matt put his money on the counter but the old guy ignored it, looking hard into Matt’s eyes.
“Don’t listen to my family,” he said. “Those O’Neill women are good people. Don’t deserve what’s been done to them.”
Don’t hurt us. Don’t hurt us more than we’ve been hurt.
“What’s been done to them?”
“They been left, boy. Time and time again, they been left and that will make a person do some crazy things.”