[Writer’s note: What began as a writing prompt — photo and first paragraph — has become at least the start of a story. I will endeavor to add short sections to it, at lest as long as there is some interest. It might be a little rough in parts, but that’s because it is coming “hot off the press,” which could be part of the fun of it. In the meantime, you are free to jump off from any part of this story thus far and write your own version. Click Holly’s Corner below to get Parts 1 – 13. And yes, I know it has been a while since the previous entry. I have been “nibbling away” at the story, but didn’t realize so many month’s had passed. Blame surgery for that. But the story does continue.]
by David E. Booker
Despite my hopes otherwise, the address did not take me to the swanky part of town, or even swankier part of the county, where the swanky of the swanky lived avoiding paying city property taxes as they came into the city each day for work.
Yeah, I have a bit of a mad on about that. I think they should be charged a toll fee every day they travel into the city. Just to keep them honest.
Where I was was a section of town that may have once been swanky, but had seen its swank tank somewhere in the late 1960s and was slowly making its way back up to respectability. You could find a descent house for a descent price and you could find some flop houses where the modern-day bohemians and college students lived, sometimes side by side in a 1920s bungalow cut into a rental duplex of sorts. Rumor had that on this street not one, but two state legislators had rental property that they blamed the renters for the rundown conditions. The local newspaper, in a modest fit of bravery, had written an expose about it, and it wasn’t only the politicians’ tongues that could fork. The whine and cheesy circuit I called it. They were cheesy enough to go on radio and TV and whine that they were the victims, that the newspaper didn’t print their sides of the story, that the city codes department was out to get them because of the way they had voted on certain bills, that their renters were less than honorable, behind on their rents, and a whole host of other moral and legal deficiencies. By the time they were done, I had to wonder why they hadn’t done a background check in the first place.
It’s a shame when good renters go bad.
Yet all the while they spoke, the politicians had that condescending smirk as if they had just farted in public and weren’t about to apologize.
And still the people vote them back into office.
“I hope we never find out what we are truly made of,” I said to no in particular, because I don’t think we would like it much. To say we were made of the stuff of stars seemed to be condescending to the universe. Maybe we were more of the universe’s fart.
I pulled the car over to the crumbling curb, parked it, and got out. By way of greeting, a frying pan flew out the open window by the front door and landed in the front yard in among the leaves and dying grass. Fortunately, it was not cast iron.
A man stumbled through the front screen door, almost as if he’d been pushed or thrown. When he turned around and saw me, he did his best to straighten up and walk soberly toward me, a beer bottle in his left hand. At least he was drinking out of glass.
“Rachel’s husband, Mick.” He extended a hand. I took it. His grip was firm and his gaze appeared to be clear. He nodded toward the house. “She’s a bit miffed that I called you and that I took away her bottle.”
He shrugged. “Often enough, I guess.”
He sounded more pleasant in person than on the phone. Some people are that way, and some people have a reason. I wasn’t sure which in his case. He reached down and picked up the skillet. “Thank god for Teflon. I’d hate for this to be the iron one she says makes the best of just about everything, except a marriage.”
Mick had gray in his hair and few leathery folds in his face that indicated heavy exposure to the outside. It gave him a cowboy-outdoorsman look that was no unattractive on him.
“She’ll calm down in a bit, but if she comes outside, it might get a bit spiteful.”
He spoke in a way that was at odds with surroundings. In a 19th Century English novel, he could have been a member of the nobility who had fallen a bit on hard times.
“I’m not sure why you wanted me to come here,” I said.
He reached out, took my by the elbow and led me a few more steps away from the house. “I don’t know what has gotten into my wife. But since that troublemaker Tricia came by, things have taken a turn for the worst.”
“Sounds like a job for a psychologist,” I said.
“What I want you to do is find this recipe. The real recipe. And find out why it is so damn important.”
“Maybe there’s nothing to find out,” I said. “Maybe it is only important because the other sister thinks it’s important and what sister A believes to be important makes it important to sister B.”
“Then I need to know that, too.” Mick glanced back at the house and then leaned a little closer to me. “Look, living with Rach has not always been a soufflé. Or maybe it has and it’s been a soufflé that’s fallen.”
“I don’t cook much, so I wouldn’t know a soufflé from a samovar.”
Mick chuckled. “But you know was a samovar is.”
“Only because an ex once threw one at me. I remember it fondly as the samovar savoir-faire.”
“You’re just full of yourself, aren’t you,” Mick said.
I shrugged. “I do what I can in the land of philistines.”
“I don’t know that I like you much,” Mick said.
“You’re the one who called me and demanded I come out here. I know the road back and I’m not afraid to use it.”
The front door banged open and out stumbled Rachel. She looked none too happy to see me. She took one step forward, paused as if she had something profound or pithy to hurl at me in the hopes that the sheer brilliance of it would strike deaf, dumb, and blind. The bile that suddenly spewed forth from him mouth was not a pleasant site.
Rachel then took a step back, wobbled for a moment, then collapsed, face first, into the slurry,
“And a harpy hell-oh to you, dick-tech-tive. Come to like my froshting.”
I could see Mick’s ears turning red around the edges.
“My own dick here says I a lust.”
“That’s enough, honey,” Mick said, stepping toward her.
A car whipped around the corner, the rear end fishtailing. It took me a moment to realize the car was heading toward us, taking aim, but not with the car, but with a rifle barrel sticking out the rear window. I took a quick step and dived toward the happy couple, but was only able to tackle Mick, who stumbled to the ground as two bullets scorched the air near my ear.
I won’t say time slowed down or stood still, but there was an ethereal flow to it. Maybe it was the adrenaline spewing into my bloodstream or that when I landed, the wind was temporarily knocked out of me, but all sight and sound compressed to a small point and almost disappeared. Then it all flooded back in, first as a jumble, and then as distinct entities jangling together before integrating again. It was then I heard screaming and for a moment thought it was I who was shot, then Mick, and then quickly I turned and saw Rachel lying on the ground, her head twitching and blood seeping out of her chest.
The screaming was from a neighbor, who first rushed toward us in quick small steps, then turned and rushed away in quick small steps, wailing and moaning and gnashing her teeth all the while.
I stumbled over, bent over, and placed my fingers against her neck. There was a cold, blank, hard stare in her eyes as if at the moment of death she was saying, “Fuck you all to hell. I’m not going and you can’t make me.”
Death, unfortunately, never listens, or if it does, it listens only long enough to laugh at your folly and does as it will.