“That bastard owes me fifty bucks,” Juut said, and not very quietly.
“He owed you, you mean,” Lisa told him, “For God’s sake, what a thing to say at the man’s burial.”
Juut Nesse and his wife Lisa stood together near a grove of fragrant cedar trees, not far from where Chance Frazier had just been lowered into his grave. Given the oppressive heat of the summer day, the astringent perfume was even more powerful, almost otherworldly. Were he not so hell-bent on the debt owed to him by the dead man, Juut might have welcomed its reviving powers, and reflected on how it was the perfect tonic for the living in a place of final repose.
“You’d think he did it on purpose,” Juut said a bit quieter, but not much. “Dying before paying me back.”
“Juut, you think it’s all about you. Well it’s not.” Lisa attempted a scolding look, but Juut wasn’t having it. “Have a sense of decency, at least?”
The appeal to decency did nothing to change Juut’s selfish expression.
“This is so unlike you, Juut. What happened to your generosity? It used to mean nothing to you to help somebody out.”
Juut knew he’d changed, and were it not for his former—and now deceased—friend’s actions, he might still be that considerate man. But he couldn’t forgive Chance for never paying him back. That it was now too late did nothing to lessen the sting of the unpaid debt.
“There’s Nona, I’m going to have a word with her,” Lisa said. “Since you refused to go to the funeral, it’s the first chance I’ve had to express my sympathy.” Lisa began to walk away, but not before issuing another order. “You stay here and calm the hell down, Juut. It’s over. You won’t see that fifty dollars again, but look at the good side, you won’t see him either.”
Juut watched Lisa walk towards Nona, who was standing alone at Chance’s graveside. Though it had been a long time, perhaps as much as a decade since he’d seen her, he could see that Nona hadn’t changed. Even in shapeless mourning black, she had a killer figure. Juut suspected that the green eyes under the dark glasses still sparkled with calculating intelligence. In some respects, he knew Nona Frazier even better than his ex-friend.
For Nona was Juut’s ex-wife.
Chance had borrowed far more than a few dollars from his former friend. He’d been immediately attracted to Juut’s wife within days of when Juut brought her—then his fiancée—home to Los Angeles from a college in the Midwest. Chance ran off with Nona a few weeks after Juut married her, and had never given her back.
Juut believed he had gotten over Chance stealing his wife—it had been 20 years since they’d eloped. And Juut had Lisa after all; they’d been married far longer than the blink of the eye that constituted Juut’s marriage with Nona.
Still, the 50 dollars Chance owed him stuck in his craw for two decades. Chance had borrowed the money the day before hitting the road with Nona, promising to repay him as soon as he could. Juut learned later that the money had been used to help pay for the quickie divorce.
He watched as Lisa approached Nona, head bowed. Lisa embraced the widow after saying a few sympathetic words, and then he thought he saw Nona say his name, her mouth pursed in a question. Lisa pointed to where he stood. In moments, both women walked to his side.
“Juut,” Nona said before Juut had attempted as much as a somber nod. “I’ve already told Lisa I’d like to pay my husband’s debt to you, as soon as possible.”
Juut tried to understand what was happening. “Lisa, what did you tell her just now?”
A pained expression fell across Lisa’s already sad face. “What did I say to her? What do you mean?”
“—Juut,” Nona broke in. “All Lisa did was express her sympathy. It was my idea to come and speak with you. In fact, I’d been hoping you’d come. I was disappointed not seeing you at the funeral. I was about to leave when Lisa walked up.”
Juut was stunned by Nona’s apparent pleasure in his appearance. He remembered he should say something, but it would have meant expressing sadness at Chance’s passing. And he was still too annoyed to do that.
“I intend to take care of Chance’s debt to you,” Nona said, wiping away an unseen tear. It was hard to tell if she was crying at all, especially with the dark sunglasses covering her eyes. But she must have been, Juut thought, her husband had just died.