Read A Farewell to Legs Online

Authors: JEFFREY COHEN

Tags: #Detective, #funny, #new jersey, #writer, #groucho marx, #aaron tucker, #autism, #stink bomb, #lobbyist, #freelance, #washington, #dc, #jewish, #stinkbomb, #high school, #elementary school

A Farewell to Legs (7 page)

BOOK: A Farewell to Legs
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Leah’s face brightened like a Hawaiian sky after a
thunderstorm. “MELLIE!” she screamed, and ran toward her
counterpart. They hugged like they hadn’t seen each other two hours
earlier, which they had. The remainder of Leah’s dinner went
untouched, and Abby sighed, scraped it into the garbage under the
sink, and put the plate in the dishwasher.

It was just a little bit of a surprise when the
front door opened again, and Melissa’s mother Miriam Bonet walked
in, with equal disregard for our doorbell. I made a mental note to
test the button later to make sure it was still operating. Miriam
and her husband Richard have become the closest friends we have in
Midland Heights, and she was carrying a small box that looked like
a mini-cooler, except that it had ventilation holes in its sides.
Inside it was a lizard.

“Is that IT?” Leah squealed. She raced to Melissa’s
mother before Miriam even got a chance to take her jacket off.
Miriam, normally a rational person, was beaming from ear to ear.
She nodded.

“This is it, honey,” she told my daughter. Abby
walked to the dining room, where the females had converged. Leah
was busy thanking Miriam so profusely it bordered on embarrassing.
Ethan stayed in the living room, where the trials and tribulations
of yellow people with blue hair who say “d’oh!” were far more real
to him than anything going on in the next room.

“I didn’t know you were bringing it tonight,” Abby
told our guest.

“I didn’t know she was bringing it at
all
,” I
chimed in from the kitchen, where I was frantically loading dishes
into the dishwasher, to better hide from “company” the fact that we
load our sink with dirty dishes until someone makes us stop.

Miriam stopped and looked at my wife. “You didn’t
tell him?” she asked.

“I told him about the lizard,” Abby stammered. “I
didn’t tell him you were bringing it.”

“Why didn’t you tell him?” Miriam asked.


He
is right here in the room,” I reminded
them.

“It’s simple,” said Abigail. “Miriam knew all about
the whole gecko thing because Melissa already has one. So when we
decided Leah could have one. . .”

“When
we
decided?”

Abby gave me her
“the-child-is-watching-so-please-play-along” look. “Yes, when
we
decided, Miriam offered to buy it, and bring all the
equipment, as an early birthday present for Leah.”

“Her birthday’s five months from now,” I pointed
out.

“A
very
early birthday present.”

“It’s so
cute!”
my daughter was gushing. “Is
it a boy or a girl?”

I considered answering “yes,” but more sensible
heads prevailed. Miriam actually looked a little embarrassed.
“Well, we’re not really sure yet, Leah,” she said. “We’ll have to
give it a few months, and then we can look, maybe with a magnifying
glass, and find out.”

“You know what they’re looking for,” giggled
Melissa, and Leah laughed along with her. I finished loading the
dishwasher and turned it on.

Leah walked in with the cage. “Look, Daddy,” she
said. “She’s so cute!”

“I thought you didn’t know if it was a boy or a
girl,” I reminded her.

“I’ve decided it’s a girl,” she said practically.
“Look, Daddy,
look
!”

I have to admit to backing up just a tad. “It’s
really nice, honey,” I said. “Why don’t you take it up to your room
and find a spot for it to live?”

Miriam had brought a small fish tank and other
equipment for the tiny reptile, and she set it up on Leah’s desk,
with a heat lamp to keep the lizard, which the girls named
E-
LIZ
-abeth, warm. I stayed in the kitchen, cleaning up,
while the estrogen brigade set up E-
LIZ
-abeth with her new
home. After a few minutes, Abby and Miriam walked downstairs and
joined me at the kitchen table. Miriam put a small plastic
container in the refrigerator.

“Is that the. . .”

“Worms,” Miriam said. “And they have to be
wriggling, or the lizard won’t eat them.”

“This is a lovely pet,” I told my wife.

Abby started to make coffee, since she is the coffee
drinker in the house. I tend to content myself with Diet Coke, but
it was evening, and any caffeine at all would keep me up until
roughly Thursday. So I abstained. Miriam sat down at the kitchen
table with me.

“I’m actually glad you came,” I said to Miriam.
“Leah’s been P. . . P. . . P. . . PMS
all afternoon.”

Abigail turned the coffeemaker on and looked at me.
“You still don’t get it, do you?”

“Less and less, as I get older. Get what?”

“She was nervous because she knew Miriam was coming
with the lizard, and she was afraid of you.” Abby reached into the
freezer and pulled out a box of Girl Scout cookies, which she
started to arrange on a plate. Girl Scout cookies must be eaten
frozen, or not at all.

“She’s afraid of
me
?”

“You’re the one who didn’t want the gecko,” Miriam
said. “Leah knows that, and she thinks that if you say no, she
can’t have it.”

“She’s right. If I had said no, she couldn’t have
it. But I did-n’t say no. In fact, I don’t remember being given a
choice.”

“Leah didn’t know that,” Abby said, putting the
cookies down. “She still thinks you’re going to throw the lizard
out of the house.”

I groaned a little. “As long as I don’t have to walk
it or anything, I don’t care. I take no responsibility for that
animal. It lives or dies based on how well Leah takes care of
it.”

Miriam always knows how to change the subject—all
she has to do is ask about me. “So, what are you working on these
days?” she asked.

I told her about Legs and my conversation with
Abrams. “You’re a political science professor,” I reminded her, in
case she’d forgotten her profession since leaving work today. “Who
would Louis Gibson’s enemies be?”

“You’ll notice the word ‘science’ in there, Aaron,”
she said, nibbling a tiny bite off a Thin Mint in the time it would
take me to eat three cookies. “I don’t deal in minute-to-minute
politics— I’m teaching theory.”

“Fine. Give me a theory about who Legs’ enemies
might be, based on his politics.”

Abby frowned, but Miriam sat and thought for a
moment. Abby got up to retrieve the coffeepot, which had
filled.

“Anybody to the left of Mussolini would be an enemy
of Louis Gibson,” she said. “You remember that rumor about the
Supreme Court nominee about five years ago?”

I resisted the impulse to smite myself in the
forehead. “Of course! I
knew
I remembered that People for
The Values We Decided Are American thing! Was he behind that
rumor?”

“What rumor?” Abby asked, pouring a mug of coffee
for herself and one for Miriam.

“Behind it?” Miriam said. “He leaked it
himself.”


Legs Gibson told the press about that
?” I
was torn between pride that I knew someone that famous, and
revulsion that I knew someone that Fascist.

“What rumor?” asked Abby, putting the mugs down and
sitting with us at the table.

“Oh, you remember,” Miriam said. “During the
hearings for that woman the Democrats were trying to get on the
Supreme Court. And all of a sudden this article appears in the
Washington Times
about how it was rumored she’d had an
abortion when she was seventeen. . .”

“Oh my god,
that
rumor?!” said Abby. She
turned to me. “You’re telling me you went to high school with the
sexist idiot who kept Madeline Crosby off the Supreme Court?”

“I didn’t actually go to school with him,” I
defended myself. “He was one town over.”

Miriam took a sip of coffee and nodded her
head—apparently Abby had manipulated the brew properly. (You can’t
prove it by me, I think coffee tastes like hot, liquid dirt.)
“Well, all you needed to hear was the words ‘Supreme Court nominee’
and ‘abortion’ in the same sentence, and you could forget that
one,” she said. “That’s how Gibson made a name for himself, and the
name, in many areas, was. . .”


Asshole
?”

“Pretty much. But I don’t know how many people
wanted to kill him because of it.” Miriam thought thoroughly about
that.

“Well, it only took one,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” said Miriam. “How do you
pick just one from so many?”

Chapter
Ten

T
he next morning, after
getting the kids out the door, I worked out at the local YM/YWHA.
I’ve been trying to do that more often these days, but things like
work, children and a generally lazy attitude tend to get in the
way.

After the workout, I walked into the Kwik’N EZ store
on Edison Avenue, headed for the back, and selected a bottle of
spring water. I tried not to stand too close to the guy behind the
counter, since I figured I wasn’t smelling my best at the
moment.

Kwik ‘N EZ, despite its appalling spelling, is the
kind of convenience store you’d expect in Midland Heights—that is,
it features fresh, unusual produce, it has lactose-free everything,
and is so organic you can practically smell the manure. Still, the
guy behind the counter could easily tell you where the Spam was, or
direct you to the Tastykake area. There
is
a limit to how
upscale a convenience store can go.

The cashier was maybe 30, thin and bored, but
without the tattoos and body piercings you might expect. He leaned
over the counter, waiting. At this time of the morning, there
weren’t many people in the store.

“Can I speak to the owner?” I asked.

Not a flicker. “You are,” he said.

“You’re the owner?”

He resisted the impulse to overstate the obvious and
mock me. But he thought about it first. Being at least a decade
younger than me and actually owning his own profit-making business
gave him a certain advantage. “That’s right. Something I can do for
you?”

I put the water bottle on the counter and reached
into my denim jacket for my wallet. But before he had time to ask
why I needed the owner to buy a bottle of water, I pointed to a box
on the counter.

“How long have you been selling these?” I asked. The
box, open to make its contents more accessible, bore a logo that
read “STINK BOMBS! The Ultimate Smell Weapon!”

“We just got them in a month or so ago,” he said.
“Why?”

I picked one up and looked at it. For something
called a “bomb,” it was small, and wrapped in brown paper that bore
the same logo, with a line drawing of a kid holding his nose. “I
remember when you had to make your own,” I said.

“Thanks for the nostalgia. The water’s a buck and a
quarter.” The wrapper even had instructions for how to use the
stink bomb—kids can’t even make a bad smell without reading about
it first, it seems.

I reached into my wallet and gave him two singles.
He started to make change. “You been getting complaints about
these?” I asked about the little wonders. Anne Mignano had
mentioned that parents thought the offending item had been
purchased here.

“Yeah,” he said, handing me three quarters. “But the
kids buy them.”

“You wouldn’t be able to name any of the kids who
buy them, would you?”

“Stink bombs don’t require ID,” he smirked. “Anybody
can buy one.”

“What do they do with them after they buy them from
you?”

He shrugged. “That’s their business.”

“You know, three of these things have gone off in
the elementary school in the past week. That’s a bunch of
eight-year-olds who couldn’t use the boy’s bathroom for three
days.” I thought maybe underlining the severity of the crime might
soften the businessman’s heart.

“Whatcha gonna do?” A wolfish grin broke out on his
face.

In accordance with the instructions, I opened the
wrapping on the stink bomb and twisted it. “This,” I said, and
threw it into the back of the store. Smoke started to emanate from
it as the counter guy ran for the bomb. I left the seventy-five
cents on the counter and walked out the front door.

Chapter
Eleven


A
stink bomb
?”
Chief Barry Dutton of the Midland Heights Police Department stood
over me, eyes wide, his voice full of contempt. “You couldn’t think
of anything better to do today than throw a stink bomb into the
Kwik’N EZ?”

“I paid the guy for it,” I said.

I was sitting in the chair in front of the Chief’s
desk, and was-n’t terribly frightened by his display of pique. I’ve
known Barry for nine years, and even had dinner at his house a
couple of times. I was a
little
frightened, though, because
Barry is about six-four and looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger would
if he were ten years younger and African-American.

“You think paying for the stink bomb makes it okay
to use it in a convenience store?” Barry was James Earl Jones-ing
his voice to full effect, and the chair vibrated a little, but I
wasn’t going for it.

“The owner of the place seemed to think that once
such an item is purchased, its use is strictly the responsibility
of the owner,” I explained. “Besides, the name of his store breaks
so many rules of grammar that, as a writer, it was a moral
imperative for me to teach him a lesson.”

Barry sat down heavily and sighed. He knew perfectly
well that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with me on this subject.
It was either charge me or let me go.

“You didn’t just go in there to teach this guy how
to spell ‘Quick,’” he said. “What were you doing there? Did this
have something to do with the stink bombs at the school?”

“You knew about that?”

“Of course I knew about that—I’m the chief of
police.” Barry fixed an imposing stare at me. “You think the
parents in this town would let something that heinous happen
without notifying, and then badgering, the chief of police?”

BOOK: A Farewell to Legs
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