Serpent's Tooth.

Papa launches into another rendition of "Danny Boy." The board members of Lloyd Chemicals press closer to the piano. There is much cheering and whistling and the stamping of feet, and voices upswell together, so loud the Miro next to me trembles in its frame. There’s a huge photo of Papa above the piano. He’s in the brass-buttoned blazer that he still owns, and his thick, young man’s hair is parted and slicked. He grins wolfily from out of the frame, a grin that makes him look like he may or may not eat your beating heart right out of your body. In the good old days, he laid that kind of trap for unwary prey. He doesn’t lay traps anymore. Look at him: there are liver spots on the top of his head and his jowls sag, and, worst of all, he now demands attention from an audience of sycophants. Sycophants on the payroll. It makes me sick. No, it makes me sad, if I’m honest, almost unbearably sad.

No. It makes me furious.

Al and I stand in the doorway, surveying the damage. This is our house, our furniture, our piano, since Papa gave it all to me, and I give a proprietary wince as a wet glass is placed, coasterless, on the piano top. I pinch the stem of cocktail glass number four. I want Papa out of the house. Al drank the corporate Kool-Aid a long time ago, but even Al looks tired, maybe as tired as I am of this constant hosting, hosting, smiling, smiling. We both duck a little when Papa’s voice once again fails to hit that high E.

There’s a killer headache in the works around my right eye. Right now it’s an irritant, little typewriter keys clacking against the ocular cavity, but it’s gearing up to dole out some real damage. Not for the first time I wonder where it all went wrong. Let’s think. Last year Papa gave Regina and me everything. And I mean everything. The keys to the castle. What’s more, he disinherited Cecilia, his youngest. Over a husband: a husband! Cessy married a muckraking journalist, and when he, inevitably, wrote a little Lloyd exposé that resulted in a costly class action suit—boom!—she’s out of the will. Now, I hear, she’s in San Francisco running some little non-profit for victims of such-and-such. I should have been in heaven, running everything, having everything, my rival excommunicated. But honestly, now that she’s gone the balance is all off. You shape yourself into someone’s opposite only to find that without her the structure can’t hold.