Family (Part IX)
By Pete Moss
"She's dead?" says Granny, on the phone.
"Yeah...." I don't know what else to say. I was just getting to know Elizabeth. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to feel. Even though I was getting to like her and her crazy old mansion, and driving the Packard.
"Finally," pops off Granny.
"What?!" I say. "She was your sister."
"Half sister, and she was a nasty old dyke, you wanna know the truth. And she stole my money, her and that nigger bitch she was in love with."
"That's right. I'm on my way to LA on the next plane, with my lawyer. Meet me at LAX in about 3 hours. Finally! I'm gonna get my money!" and Granny hangs up with a bang.
Well now I'm shocked. I'd expected Elizabeth would die. She was old and old people die. I didn't expect it would happen within weeks of me getting to LA, but I knew it would happen.
But this is a whole nother side of Granny I never had the remotest suspicion will even existed.
I get in the Packard and drive to LAX. There's half a dozen gates with flights arriving from SF about every 45 minutes. I grab a seat and in less then half an hour Granny arrives.
"This is my lawyer, Susan Jones," says Granny.
I'd expected Granny's lawyer would be a retired civil rights advocate, grey hair in a bun, a flowing hippy skirt and a shawl.
Susan Jones is a Financial District shark. She looks me up and down and doesn't think much of what she sees.
We proceed out to the parking garage.
"What the hell is this monstrosity?" says Granny, pointing at the Packard.
"It's a '53 Packard Patrician," I say.
"Well, we'll call the junkyard and have it hauled away as soon as we get to the mansion. Get something more practical..."
"We most certainly will not!!!" I say.
Susan Jones looks at me with open contempt. "Unless otherwise stated in the will Your Grandmother is the closest known living relative of the deceased and is thereby, until otherwise notified, considered the executor of the estate. And by the way, if I was a Grandmother and my Grandchild defied me as you've defied your grandmother, I'd smack 'Em."
"Kiss my ass, Shyster," I blurt out.
Susan Jones actually takes a step towards me and tightens the grip on her briefcase as if she's gonna whip it upside my head.
I stand my ground. After a tense moment we get in the Packard. The tension doesn't lighten as we drive.
Granny and Susan Jones speculate on the content of Elizabeth's will as we drive, interspersed with disparaging comments about the Packard, and Los Angeles, and Southern California in general.
I keep my mouth shut.
By the time I made it back to SF, it was no longer my hometown.
It took almost 2 years to untangle Great Aunt Elizabeth's will. I got the Packard. Granny got 10 grand. The rest, including the mansion & 5 million dollars, went to a trust to set-up a half way house for runaway kids who wanted a shot at getting off the street.
I guess Granny never fully got over being shorted in her father's will. Decades later, when she was shorted again in Elizabeth’s will something went sour in Granny's heart.
At first Granny called me every week, telling me to come home to SF. But I was having fun driving around LA in the Packard, living in the mansion, and meeting with people who were working on the halfway house deal.
After about a year, Granny's calls tapered off to once a month or less, and when she did call she was forgetful and confused.
Granny's lawyer, Susan Jones, on the other hand, never let up. Susan Jones was like a zombie relentlessly pursuing its next meal of flesh. Then there were the neighbors in Angelino Heights who were dead set against a halfway house for recovering teen-age prostitutes in their neighborhood.
In the end, after two years, the issue wasn't really resolved before I was forced to return to SF. I left the lawyers to fight it out and drove the Packard to Frisco.
Granny was getting demented and I figured I should be there for her.
And I didn't get back a moment too soon.
Granny's house in the Sunset was a wreck. It was entering its fourth decade of deferred maintenance and Granny wasn't in much better shape. She could barely figure out how to set up her old pyrex percolator to make coffee.
Susan Jones, the lawyer, had homed in on Granny's property. I called Elizabeth's lawyer in LA and outlined the situation. They were delighted at this addition to the kitty they could wrangle over.
Real estate appraisers showed up the next day and estimated Granny's property was worth half a mil, dilapidated as it was.
After the sunshine of LA and the open expanses of Elizabeth's mansion, the fog of the Sunset in Frisco and the rundown petri dish of Granny's house were depressing.
I wasn't back in Frisco a week and Granny's lawyer, Susan Jones, was on the phone.
"Hello, who is this?" she said.
"Hollister McElroy," I answered. "Who's this?"
"This is your grandmother's attorney, Susan Jones, what are you doing at her residence?"
"I came back to help her out. She's not doing so well."
"I see. Are you planning to stay long?"
"Don't know. I don't have any firm plans yet."
"I see." and Susan Jones hung up.
The next day I was served with a restraining order. I think that's what it was. I was only 24 and still naive about legal stuff.
So I called my attorney in LA. They told me not to talk personally, to Susan Jones, under any circumstances, and to fax them a copy of the restraining order. I faxed the copy and then heard nothing. That was on a Friday.
On Monday a city inspector showed up. I let him in. It didn't occur to me not to.
All that week various municipal officials dropped in. After the first one I called my attorney and they advised me to refuse entry. But it was too late.
Within a month the condemnation notice had gone up and the I was enmeshed in further legal proceedings.
Another complication arose in that Susan Jones had a conservatorship pending and Granny's assets, paltry as they were, were frozen. I had no assets of my own, aside from the Packard and 10 grand Elizabeth had left me. So I had no way to commence any repairs and head off the condemnation. And my lawyer advised me not to put any money into Granny's house, just yet.
Further, I think I mentioned, I was a naive 24 year old kid, a small tuna in a tank full of large sharks.
I wasn't much of a barfly. But enough is enough, and one night, after Granny took her pills and went to sleep, I walked out the front door and down the block. There was a scruffy locals-only bar at 45th and Judah that I'd always been scared of as a kid, but tonight it seemed like the place to be. The bar was nearly deserted. I liked that. It didn't smell like piss and smoke. It smelled like salty ocean air. I liked that.
Denise was behind the bar. I didn't recognize her from when I was a kid. She grew up in the Excelsior, a way tougher neighborhood then Outer Sunset.
I ordered a Whiskey Sour because that was what Elizabeth always drank. Denise didn't know how to make a Whiskey Sour, or any other drink. When it came to tending bar she could pull a pretty nice pint from the tap and pour a fair shot and that was about it.
I drank the drink in a gulp then ordered another, and another. I picked some tunes on the juke box. I played a game of pinball.
Mostly I chatted with Denise. It was nice having someone who wasn't a lawyer to talk to. And somewhere along the line it came out that Denise's dad was a contractor and she seemed to think it was fated that he would fix up Granny's house and everything would be alright.
Along about 10 o'clock Denise decided to close up the bar. She asked what I was up to and I said I had to get home cause I had a sick Granny at home.
Also, I was drunk and sleepy and I wanted to go to bed.
I don't remember talking about it, Denise just followed me home that night.