Yesterday, Cindy got up to discover her kitchen in a shambles. All the pots and pans were out of the cabinets, spread all over the floor. Some of the most expensive ones were in the trash. Wine glasses were lying smashed in the sink. A dozen cans of food had been opened and spilled out on the counters. The freezer door was hanging open and goo dripped out and pooled on the floor. She wondered how she could possibly have slept thru it. It freaked her out that someone was in her house during the night.
Bill was off for the weekend, on a fishing trip with some clients. Normally she’d be glad he was gone, but the idea of being alone in the house with a burglar scared her to death. She started shaking as she ran up the steps to her room, nearly tripping on the carpet rail. She relaxed a little once her bedroom door was locked and she’d checked the closets and under the bed, and had an emergency handful of Valium She’d told Bill she needed a gun, right there under her pillow. But he just laughed at her. And then went off and left her to be victimized. Maybe he was trying to get rid of her. She heard the theme song from Gaslight in her head. She’d always hated and feared Charles Boyer. Those eyes.
She threw the drapes closed and huddled under the covers, dragging the dogs in with her to comfort her. The walls were dark brown; she could pretend it was still night, and go back to sleep. She thought about calling the police, but she really just wanted to sleep and make it all go away.
When Cindy got up, the first thing she did was call the cleaning lady to come right over, bowling right over her objections: this was an emergency. Then she called Bill’s office for the cell number of a driver that had once done her a favor. She got up and headed for the shower and her medicine, and gave no further thought to calling the police.
Cindy did a lot of thinking in bed that morning. While she slept, she had an almost nightmare about shoving an angry giant, a threat to her very existence (the fiend from hell who trashed her kitchen) – Mom – casting her down endless stairs, enhancing the damage with her body language, then hurling herself down on top of the beast, stabbing and tearing at her, beating and pummeling her huge, invulnerable body. Only after hours of struggle did she succeed in strangling the thing, suffocating it with her weight, screaming and crying uncontrollably as she finally vanquished her enemy. Waking in a sweat, she lay there for a long time thinking.
She wanted a gun from the driver. And a hit man.
* * *
Allen was still in bed when a pair of mobsters came thru the door. He never heard them. He could fucking sleep thru anything, especially after a few shots of Patron. He slept thru some prodding and poking. He slept thru some shouting and yelling. He woke up when they flipped him over and stuck a flashlight in his eyes, then clapped him upside the head with it. He was awake enough to hear and understand “Protection” and “Law” tho it was a real funny accent and he didn’t get much else. He was awake enough to see them going thru his stash and pocketing all his money. They hit him again and he went back to sleep. They left their card. Zombini Security. Call for Trouble.
* * *
Alice sat on the computer doing Google searches. The kids were at a soccer game and it was someone else’s turn to carpool. Rick was off trying to collect the rent from his lazy tenants. He would be in a bad mood when he came home, full of scorn for the criminals that rented his apartments. She planned to have his favorite dinner ready for him. Roast chicken and stuffing. It was in the oven at the moment. The kids would be tired and subdued, and he’d never see them after dinner. Maybe she could get him to take a nice hot bath. She’d washed the sheets, and timed it so she could pull them hot out of the drier just before he went to bed. Everything to make him happy.
She looked up “poison.” Then “fast acting poison,” “slow poison,” “undetectable poison.” Then she looked up “overdose.” And “accidental death home.” She went thru ten pages of results looking up “wife death row,” especially the images. Finally she looked up “household chemical mix poisonous accidental,” and cleared the browser history right before she heard the garage door cranking open.
* * *
Allen rolled out of bed hurting. Most of him hurt because he was horribly hung over even after almost 12 hours of sleep. His head throbbed back of his ear, and he sat and thought about the mobsters while he got his things together.
Sitting back in the couch, Allen lit up a joint as thick as your thumb and took one puff. Then the door made a sound like there was a key in the lock, and in walked his landlord, Rick Fuchs. “Hey, what’s going on, man?” Allen spat, slipping the joint under his leg.” What are you doing?”
Rick closed the door behind him and loomed over Allen. “I could ask you the same question. What have you done about that little job I wanted you to do for me.?”
Allen wiggled as the joint slowly went out against his thigh. “Hey. I was going to call you. You fucked up, man.”
Rick stiffened “What do you mean?” His eyes looked dangerous.
“I mean you sent me to the wrong guy’s house, is what I mean.” Allen wished he’d go away. It wasn’t fair to disturb a man with a hangover. “Listen, let’s deal with this later, huh? I’ll call you.” He rested his head in his hands. He needed that joint. Did he have any more crank?
Rick wasn’t going away. “You killed whoever you found there, didn’t you?” he demanded.
“Hell no, man, it was some sweet old lady. You didn’t send me to off her. It would have just caused suspicion.”
Rick backed away a step and clenched his fists, then crossed his arms. Was he holding his breath? He was getting very bloated. Like the angry green giant. Allen sat there wondering which cartoon character he was like. The Hulk. The Genie.
“You…must…kill…her,” Rick spat the words, his neck distended, his eyes bulging.
Allen looked up at him. He looked like a Jack O’Lantern right before it hits the pavement late Halloween night. This guy’s fucking crazy. “Hey, man,” he said, raising his hands soothingly. “Get yourself another guy. Sorry.” Rick put a hand in his pocket. Allen started to sweat. “Don’t think I’m trying to get out of returning the favor for getting me out of jail,” he soothed, his eye on Rick’s gun hand. “But I just can’t kill that nice old lady. It’d be like killing my own mother.”
Allen cowered on the couch, his ears ringing with Rick’s furious shouts, digging in the cushions for the lighter. Rick slammed out of there and stomped down the rusting stairs, dodging past the potholes to his car. Someone had run their keys along the driver’s side of his Porsche, and it was all scratched up. He made a note to check the security tape and get revenge.. One more enemy to destroy – the list was getting longer, and he just couldn’t get the help he needed. Nope. If you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself.
* * *
Cindy thought about Alice. She’d been thinking about her off and on lately. She’d felt so sorry for her when she married Rick. He was such a bully. He’d kept them from seeing one another, but they always seemed to get along. Now, with two kids and no time to do anything for herself, she was like a drooping potted plant. Cindy wanted to shake her until she cried, and then comfort her in her arms.
She waited in sight of the driveway until Alice drove off to the library. Before going in she swallowed two () with some old bottled water under the passenger seat.
Cindy ran into Alice in the botany section. “Oh, I didn’t know this was your branch.”
“It’s not. This one has a lot of books on…antiques. I’m thinking of collecting 18th Century (name).” She scuffed the rug with her shoe until she saw how dirty it was. “Just doing my due diligence, as Bill likes to say.”
Alice laughed silently, covering her smile. “That’s funny. Rick says due diligence a lot, too, but usually he screams it at that Kramer.” Rick foaming at the mouth at the equally rabid celebrity investment guy.
Cindy noticed her wince. “Does he scream at you?”
Alice smiled. “He never raises his voice. He says there’s more strength in modulation.”
“Oh, that’s such bullshit. I’ve heard him yelling plenty of times. What’s he doing, writing a motivational handbook? How to Cow and Humiliate People and Still Win a Popularity Contest.”
“He’s not that bad,” she chided. “He loves the kids, and he’s good to me.”
“Hmm. Not my brother. He used to pull the tails off puppies.”
Alice frowned. “He did not.”
Cindy shrugged. “Well, no, I thought it sounded good. But he did close one in a door once. Killed the poor thing.” Or else it was Judy. Or little Gordon. Whoever it was cried for hours afterward.
Alice said nothing. They stood with their backs to the shelves, facing each other.
Cindy looked her over, her skinny little arms, her wispy hair. If Alice were one of Cindy’s dogs she’d be better taken care of. “Does he hit you?” she whispered. Alice teared up and turned her head away. Cindy grabbed her shoulders and asked again, hissing.
She said nothing. No, Rick didn’t hit her. He would never lose his temper. She wasn’t worth it. He left a small bruise last night, where he twisted the skin under her arm to make a point. Nothing she hadn’t deserved for crossing him on something trivial. She should so know better.
Cindy didn’t understand. “The better I get to know you, the madder I get about the way he treats you” Alice shrugged and looked to see if they were disturbing anyone. “There you go. He’s got you scared of your own shadow, and you just shrug. You can’t let him treat you like that.” Heads were turning. “I should know. He treated me like that when we were kids. You don’t even have to say a word, I know where he leaves marks.” People were staring. Alice’s hands and feet got pins and needles, her vision grayed out, and she thought she would faint.
“And now he’s doing it to the kids, isn’t he?” Alice was silent, struggling to stay upright. “Isn’t he? Doesn’t he yell at the kids all the time? Doesn’t he punish them for the least little thing? He’ll never change. And I stood by while he treated everyone this exact same way. But things have changed, and I’m going to do something about it. Real soon now.”
The librarian came to throw Cindy out. She asked about antiques and grabbed a book at random on the way to the counter. Alice buried herself in the juvenile video section until she was sure Cindy had driven off.
* * *