Who Done It? Who Cares? by Alan Shils
ing... Ring... "Get the phone!" Ring...
"Yeah," he said to his magazine and muttered, "Get it yourself," as Tom heard the toilet flush and he knew why Lucille couldn't answer the phone. In high school, her nickname, in the boy's locker room, was, 'loose,' but that was a long time ago. Variations included, 'Luce-the-goose,' as in fun-to, and 'Luce-the-moose,' referring to her well developed chest. Twenty-five years ago. When she and Tom got married.
"Yeah."... "She's in the crapper."... "I don't give a crap if you like the word crapper or not."... "Big news? Like big, fat, Fiona left a big, fat, fart?"... "Me, gross? You, Martha, are a nut-case. What big news?" Martha would rather tell anyone but Tom; her favorite phone partner was Tom's wife, Luce. "No shit?" Tom got a lecture on polite talk to a lady but he never considered nosey-Martha a lady. "Martha,"... "Martha!"... Quiet. At last. "When?"... "Where?"... "Who done it?"
Martha knew nothing else.
Tom hung up, dropping the handset into its holder from a height it was never meant to drop. Ain't that the cat's ass, he thought. Word's out.
Actually took the bastard out, Tom scratched an armpit.
"Who called," Lucille asked, closing the bathroom door behind her. Open doors haunted her. Her life was, metaphorically speaking, closed doors. How appropriate she liked real ones closed.
"I'll call her back."
"Call." Tom was bored and scratched elsewhere.
"What did she want?"
"Then, why did she call?"
"Jack? Jack who?"
"Luce, how many Jacks do you know?"
"No. Jack Portugal." He grinned to himself and scratched the other armpit.
"Report from radio-Martha."
"He was such a horrible man, yet... it is sad when someone dies."
"I'm cryin' like a baby."
"Who did it?"
"Askin' me? An' why's it have to be who? Maybe he dropped of a heart attack."
"I just assumed..."
"Just assume lunch. I'm hungry."
Tom, being hungry after a big sausage dinner last night, then going out with the guys to shoot pool and down beer, and having a large midnight snack upon arriving home one AM and most recently devouring a big breakfast, still under his pajama waist-band, well, it is hard to tell how Tom felt hungry. Another mystery of life on a late Saturday morning.
"What do you want?"
"Fresh hunted pheasant with a rare wine. Or... now this will throw ya' Luce... how about my regular baloney sandwich? Lettuce and mayo only, on plain white bread not that fancy, gritty crap. Think you can handle that, toots?"
"I'll call Martha first."
"Screw Martha. Lunch first."
Lucille went to the kitchen, attached to the living room by not so much as a hint of hall. The living room also attached directly to the dining room, which was just an alcove, and the living room attached to the bedroom and it attached to the bathroom and the front door with less entry hall than the kitchen experienced to the living room. The last three attachments had doors. All three doors were closed. Lucille lives here.
Ring... Ring... "Yeah?" Tom pointed Lucille to the kitchen, continuing, "Billy, what the hell you sayin'?"... "No-shit?"... "When?"... "The cops got nothin'?"... "See ya', Billy."
Lucille, by running water, washing lettuce, had washed the plates and utensils from breakfast, so she couldn't hear Tom's half of the conversation and even if she had heard it, what good would it have done her?
"Who was that?"
"What did he want?" as she now sliced the baloney. Tom hated factory-thin, pre-sliced, wrapped, "Tight as a tit in too tiny a cup," processed meat.
"What did Billy... Oh, I have to call his mother. She was sick last week. What did Billy want?"
She knew the routine. After twenty-five years she had the reflex. "What did he say?"
"Someone strangled Jack."
"That's ghastly! They didn't shoot him?"
"Like shootin's less gas-lee?" Saturday's answer to Jabba-the-Hutt could be sarcastic.
Lucille put the towel down and if she could have come into the living room she would have but she was essentially in it by almost stepping away from the sink. "Do the police know who did it?
"Not 'cordin' to Billy."
"You know what?"
Tom didn't know the word 'rhetorical' but instinctively, with his twenty-five years practice, he knew the conversational pause-that-refreshes.
"I guess nobody will miss Jack," Lucille absent-mindedly concluded.
"I'm bawlin' like a baby."
"Still... killing just ain't right."
Not to miss an opportunity: Ring... Ring... Rin- "What?"... "Mike, you sayin' there's a funeral tomorrow at Gorbin's?... Ten?... Goin'?... Yeah." Hanging up, before she could ask, he asked, "Where's lunch?"
"Right away," as she spun a half turn and was back to the baloney. No water running now so she could talk. "What did Mike say?" Each slice hand carved to exactly one-eighth inch thickness. With twenty-five years of practice she could dissect those slices to within a hair.
"Funeral," she blurted wondering who died then remembered: Jack. Screw Jack. From a forgotten crevice of her mind, relegated to dusty, cobweb-coated cells stenciled, 'high- school,' somehow surfaced the thought: Maybe I did. Probably did.
"Luce, I'm trying to read my Playboy here and all I get is inter-up-tions."
"Sorry." She wasn't. It was part of the twenty-five old year script. "They're having a funeral for him?"
"Tomorrow. Ten. Gorbin's Parr-loor." Tom envisioned a living room, much larger than his own, which, if Gorbin had a cheap reproduction of dogs shooting pool, Tom could luxuriate at Gorbin's as if it were his very own parr-loor. Perhaps with a private helicopter tethered like a dog awaiting its master's command? There was no chopper outside the closed hall door to the slum-lord's hall. Not even a dog.
"Are we going?" She seemed confused.
"We are? You hated Jack." As soon as she said that she regretted it. Too late. Just hope it passes. Like gas. Tom did. He both ignored Luce's comment and released some converted old sausage. "Everyone will be there."
"Oh! I'm to see Martha at Noon."
"I said ten. You think we gonna' stay all day?"
"Where the hell is lunch?"
"Right here," as she swivelled and served the plate, can of beer and paper towel on a well scratched ten-cent plastic garage-sale tray. Pheasant substitute.
~ After Tom ate, belched, scratched and blew more antique consumed conversions to help cars and cows warm the atmosphere, Lucille still jawboned with Martha and other women, so he got dressed. Ten year old dungarees saturated with enough dried paint they could stand by themselves, maybe even walk, and T-shirt to match. He went immediately back to his literature.
There were a few other calls Tom fielded the rest of Saturday as he didn't want to play dentist pulling answers from Lucille like impacted wisdom teeth. During one call, she heard him yell, "You dare ask, Phil! You know better! You damn-well better know better!" She did not ask for details. She knew not to from Tom's tone. Twenty-five years practice helped.
Two more remarkable things happened that Saturday. There was a visit from two very bored cops who got stuck with a canvas. Where had the two been Friday night? (Lucille home- on-the-phone; Tom out for another pool-n-beer-social. "Ask anyone at Murray's.") And, "If you hear anything please call this number." Soon as hell freezes over.
The second event was far more interesting. Fortunately, Lucille was back on the pot. With the door closed. A knock, and in glides Freddie McCoomb. He's a wit, friend to all, class- clown type and general neighborhood good-guy. Everybody loves Freddie. Everybody except Jack. Jack picked on Freddie at every opportunity. Even picked on him when there was no opportunity. People long ago gave up advising Freddie to stand up to Jack. Freddie was five- one, Jack, six-two. Maybe that and well over a hundred pounds weight difference played a part?
Anyway, as Tom opened the door, Freddie jumped in the air and hung his hundred-and- ten pounds, for a moment, from Tom's six-feet-off-the-floor shoulders and two-hundred- seventy pound frame. Immediately, he planted a big, fat, long, warm, kissaroo on Tom's cheek and simultaneously placed a big, fat, long, cold, baloney in his hand. Tom was stunned by this and hearing him whisper, "Thank you, my friend." Freddie then dropped to the floor and vanished down the trash-strewn hall as abruptly as he arrived.
Tom was amazed to speechlessness but got the baloney in the frig and reduced the red in his face to an almost normal level when Lucille waltzed out of the can, wearing an ill-fitting, sheer, short slip, nothing else, and asked, "Did I hear someone at the door?"
They hit the sack about ten, watched TV and fooled around a little. Very little. Tom said he was tired and fell asleep. Eating and reading porn can sure tire a guy out. Lucille's hormone levels were as low as the oil in half the cars in the city so she didn't particularly care and after asking herself a few silly questions based on silly things she had heard a few silly girlfriends say concerning Tom's relationship with Jack having soured some in the past few months and then feeling bad that she hadn't called Billy's mother and she must remember to call Martha tomorrow about Noon, but she would see her at Gorbin's, she ran out of gas.~
Sunday morning, Lucille cooked breakfast. They ate eggs, bread, jam, ("Don't want none of that fancy pre-serve stuff around here, 'ya hear?") and drank at least two cups of coffee. Each.
The second cup got its traditional short-shot of cheap whiskey, "For constitutional purposes," Tom decreed. Lucille asked about the new baloney in the frig and he was scout-ready with, "I had the kid from the store drop it on his way home last night. I seen we was low." He congratulated himself with, End of that problem.
Lucille considered asking him about his 'no' answer when she came from the bathroom last night but decided to forget it. Twenty-five years makes one either crazy or wise.
By 9:30 they were dressed befitting a layout at Gorbin's. Not much matched but there was a jacket, no tie. A dress, almost fit for church, if they ever attended one. Jack was a total bastard but his old man, now over ninety and not out much these days, wasn't a half bad guy in his time so for his sake the neighborhood would show face. And, though nobody would say so, it wouldn't hurt to peek in the box just to make absolutely sure Jack was absolutely dead and wouldn't be making everyone absolutely miserable anymore.
As they entered the large, almost full, outer hall, Lucille thought she sensed something new. An invisible something that women seem better able to discern than men. She perceived a new way people were perceiving Tom. Tom would never breath a word of it but he felt a little of it too. He both liked and disliked it. As people almost brushed against Tom as they passed him they almost nodded their heads. The gesture was for Tom but Lucille thought a sliver of the message was for her. After all, she and Tom had been glued together for twenty-five years. Tom glanced around, almost nervously, spotted Freddie, standing on a chair by the community bulletin board, tacking up a sign for St. Malarkey's annual fair, and could have sworn the Leprechaun winked at him.
Tom checked in the box, concluding, with inner satisfaction, Jack is ready for shipment.
The crowd was bunching toward the main parr-loor with its sickeningly neat rows of folding chairs and dark-ages dark wall paneling with lots of little idiotic old light fixtures popping from the walls like yellowish glowing acne. The service would soon start. Tom drifted with the mob, glimpsing Jack's old-man almost slumped in half in the front row, supported on a slumped cane and decided to see him later when he suddenly realized he heard Lucille whisper in his ear, "I want a quickie right now."
"Here?" he whispered, his tone meaning, 'you're crazy.'
"I know where," hastened her quiet command.
"I worked here. Cleaning. One high school summer. Big room. Big table. Come-on." She led him swiftly, silently, virtually invisibly out of the parr-loor and down a side-hall to a door behind a big drape and down a dim stairway and along a hall to a storage room beneath the parr- loor. Tom, surprised into silence, could only blindly follow. "The key must still be here," she whispered. It was. On top of the doorframe. If the faint aroma of cleaning supplies and 'oldness' can make one horny, it did and they were. She closed the door, put on a dim light, and swiftly removed his clothes, whispering, "I bet you never knew I never wore panties to a funeral." She pushed him backward onto the table, capable of that only due to his compounded surprise as he was much bigger and stronger than she and she was about to initiate the act when she all but shot him between the eyes with the bluntly whispered statement, "You did it, didn't you!"
It was all Tom could gasp, grasp her shoulders, and rasp, "You never, never ask that again. Never!"
She quickly jumped up and impaled herself and, with a quick bounce, to better establish their connection, she suddenly leaned forward, getting as close to his ear as her ample chest permitted, her breasts squashed into him like he was a mammography machine, and whispered, "Deal. As long as you promise me that I'm the only rider on my stallion. Now, giddy-yap, big- fella."
The sound of chairs scraping above mingled with the cleaning chemical aromas and low but vibrant hint of dust added to their excitement and the only thing Luce could have worn, should have worn, would have worn, is a ten gallon hat as she galloped into the Land of Truth.