Authors: Mick James
Mercifully her clothes were
dry and he tossed them on the carpet next to where she was sitting. Even though they were just out of the dryer they still looked dirty. Jeans, socks and a T-shirt. No underwear.
She’d already made it past the halfway point in the plastic bottle. As she looked up at him with glassy eyes she bounced her head off the wall with a thump, then put a half-hearted grin on her face.
“Hey, I got it, you want to do me?”
She spread her legs apart on the carpet. “Come on, I’ll give ya a deal, just a couple of bucks.”
“Suit yourself, high and mighty. Probably couldn’t get it up anyway. Besides, I can get better than you anytime I want. You hear? Any damn time I want,” she said, then took another gulp.
“Come on, why don’t you get dressed and I’ll drive you over to Moonies.”
“Good idea,” she said, then sat there with a half smile on her face.
He pulled her jeans on her legs, then helped her to stand up. She leaned against the wall and giggled, never letting go of the vodka bottle. She seemed oblivious to his T-shirt so he just left it on her and pulled hers over on top. She slipped into one of her shoes unaided but couldn’t get the other one on so he helped her. He tied both of her shoes as she leaned against the wall, then walked her down to the car holding her arm and poured her into the back seat.
She curled up with the vodka bottle, closed her eyes and smiled.
He pulled around the corner at Moonies and parked. As he got out he looked cautiously around before he opened the back door to let her out. She’d been asleep or just passed out since she’d lain down in the back seat.
“Kate.” He shook her gently.
“Don’t touch me,” she snapped, then snuggled the bottle closer to her.
“We’re at Moonies, time to get out.”
The mention of Moonies seemed to awaken something. She slowly sat up and looked around although he was convinced she couldn’t see six inches past her nose.
“Come on.” He tugged on her arm expecting another outburst. But to his surprise she got out of the car, steadied herself by leaning against the vehicle and said, “Get your damn hands off me. I can make it just fine from here.” She staggered to the side for a step or two, then turned and looked at him. “Looking to party mister? Give you a deal, just ten bucks.”
“No thanks, I’m going home.”
“Your loss then,” she said and headed for Moonies front door.
That was all the encouragement Bobby needed. He quickly got back in his car and drove home.
“I really wish you
would have called. Your oversight inconvenienced a number of very busy people,” Marci said.
Bobby was almost standing at attention in front of the receptionist counter. It was barely eight-thirty the following morning.
“I suppose we’ll have to reschedule Ms Clarken,” she said oblivious to the fact that the woman would be unfit regardless of the time or the day.
“They wouldn’t have been able to depose her,” Bobby said not for the first time.
“That’s the sort of determination a qualified individual will have to make,” she snapped back implying Bobby was anything but qualified.
“She couldn’t stand, she’d thrown up a number of times. It didn’t take a qualified individual to determine she was intoxicated and couldn’t be deposed.”
“The flu?” Marci asked still not catching on.
“Bottle flu, maybe. No Marci, she was drunk, so drunk she was throwing up.”
“Are you sure? How could that be? It was barely four in the afternoon.”
“I think she inhabits a little different world than you, or even me for that matter. My advice is to strike her from your list and…”
“As I said before, that’s a decision for a qualified individual to make.”
“How qualified do you have to be to determine someone is so intoxicated that they can’t stand and they’ve thrown up on themselves.”
“Okay, next time I’ll bring her down here for a qualified individual to judge her condition.”
That seemed to please Marci.
“Here are the four individuals you’ll be delivering today. Please have them here on time. You’ve no idea the havoc caused when schedules aren’t adhered to.”
As he took the list he wondered if Marci was aware of the havoc caused when some idiot tried to ruin your day by shooting at you from a moving vehicle? He determined the wiser decision would be to just shut up.
“Any special needs here?” he asked, trying to be overly solicitous. “Walkers, oxygen tanks or maybe just an escort? Two of the folks yesterday seemed pretty elderly.”
Marci nodded. “And the third downright unpleasant.”
They were friends again.
“No, I don’t believe we’ll have any special needs today. Let’s just hope everyone arrives on time,” she said and stared at him over the top of her glasses.
“I’ll do my best.”
“Very well,” she said and dismissed him.
The day was uneventful. Everyone was ready and waiting at the appropriate time. No one smoked. No one had been drinking, at least that Bobby could tell. Everyone asked about the windshield and accepted his errant softball as an explanation. It was all wonderfully dull.
He was driving back
to his apartment dialing in the news on the radio and caught just the tale end of the news story.
‘Police have identified the victim as thirty-eight year old Katherine Clarken, a St. Paul resident. Anyone with any information is asked to contact authorities. In other news today the St. Paul City Council voted to oppose…’
Since none of the buttons worked on the Geo’s radio he attempted to adjust the tuning by hand and couldn’t land on a station broadcasting news to save his soul. Every station was playing music the one time he didn’t want any.
He parked next to the dumpster, then climbed out of the Geo and looked around cautiously. There was no reason to believe he should be a target, but he wasn’t taking any chances. As far as that went there was no reason to believe Kate Clarken had been a target, either. Well, except for the fact that two guys had chased them and attempted to murder them. It seemed more likely she died from alcohol poisoning, or maybe in a drunken stupor she simply staggered into an oncoming car. Still, he walked the four blocks up to the retail corner and purchased a newspaper and some light bulbs. He noticed laundry hanging on a clothesline on the way home.
He sat on the carpet and read the paper. There’d been a shooting outside Moonies the previous evening, just after midnight. At the time the paper had gone to press the victim remained unidentified. The article listed the victim as a Caucasian female and he figured it was a sure bet at that location it had to have been Kate Clarken.
He thought it was a pretty safe assumption it wasn’t accidental or even a case of mistaken identity. Which left only one question in my mind, was he safe?
At a little after midnight he cut across the parking lot, past the dumpster and made his way up the street. After two blocks he took a right at the corner and then a left down the alley. About a half-dozen houses in, he spotted the clothes line. Mercifully the laundry was still hanging. Two minutes later he was walking home at a brisk clip. He had six towels and a set of sheets. Now he just needed a bed.
Bobby was driving a
woman named Ardis Dempsey downtown for her deposition. Based on the fumes wafting from the backseat making his eyes water she must have cornered the market on cheap perfume. She apparently rolled her face in a tin of pancake makeup, then applied a slightly off-center layer of fire engine red lipstick just before he picked her up.
“… so Donny, that’s Carol’s third, is in the Navy. He’s on an aircraft carrier in the gulf. God, the worry. I say a rosary for that boy every night.”
“We never stop worrying,” Bobby said trying to give her a chance to take a breath.
“Isn’t it the truth. My oldest, James, fortunately he missed all that nonsense in Viet Nam. He was with the Marines in Korea, brought home a lovely girl. Now they’ve got two daughters, one just finishing med school, the other teaching. That little Kim, she’s the mother, she runs a very tight ship. Course with Jim she might just have to. You know, I can’t seem to remember if I locked that darn back door. Honest to God, there are some days I’m not sure I could remember my own name. Fortunately it’s on my driver’s license,” she said and laughed.
“Here we are Mrs. Dempsey. I can escort you in if you’d like or you can just walk through those doors, onto the elevators and press twelve. The doors will open right into the lobby of the law firm. Marci is the name of the receptionist.”
“I’m quite capable of making my own way, thank you.”
“That’s what I thought, I’ll just let you out and watch you to make sure. Then I’ll park this car and be waiting for you in the lobby when you’re finished. Most of the other depositions seem to be taking right around ninety minutes.”
“Drive carefully. I don’t know how you can even see out of that windshield,” she warned as she got out, then walked, cane in hand into the lobby.
He sped off, figuring if he hurried and made all three lights he could be on her back steps in about ten minutes.
He made it in eight minutes and she was right, she had left the back door unlocked.
“Hello,” he called as he entered, called again from her dining room and once again at the base of the staircase. He didn’t get a response and hurried back into the kitchen. He doubled up a couple of trash bags, then placed four plates, four sets of silverware, four glasses and two coffee mugs inside.
He doubled up two more trash bags, stuffed some wash cloths, a pillow and a blanket in there along with some cans of soup and a bag of Doritos, then made his way out the door. He was sitting in the lobby waiting for Ardis when she finished her deposition.
“Aren’t you just the prompt person,” she said coming around the corner.
He glanced toward battle ax Marci and smiled, but didn’t respond.
He walked up to
the grocery store a few nights later. He still looked around suspiciously whenever he came out of his building, or any building for that matter, but he never saw anything suggesting he was being watched or followed. Still he’d waited until dark, which meant he had to hurry since the grocery store closed at nine.
He was literally the only person in the checkout lane and he thought he was probably the last customer in the store. As he grabbed his bag and made his way toward the door the checkout girl was already busy closing down her register, probably hurrying to make a hot date. All he knew was she didn’t have time to pay attention to him. He stole a newspaper off the rack. Big deal, they’d be sent back first thing in the morning with tomorrow’s deliveries anyway, so it wasn’t like the grocery store was really losing anything.
He was sitting on the floor, nibbling on some of the Doritos he’d taken from Ardis Dempsey a few days back while he read his stolen copy of the paper. He’d made his way through the news, such as it was, and began working his way through the obituaries.
There it was, “Katherine ‘Kate’ Clarken. Died unexpectedly. Visitation between six and eight. Thursday evening. Private internment.”
That was tomorrow night. It struck him that the visitation service was short, just two hours, with no funeral service or survivors mentioned. Given the few hours of Kate’s life he’d been exposed to, Bobby didn’t find it surprising there wasn’t a throng of people lined up to bid a tearful good-bye. Still, in a way he felt sorry for her.
* * *
He parked on the street about half-past seven hoping to avoid any crowd. He needn’t have worried. The Geo Metro was the only car parked on the street for a block in either direction.
The Capitol City funeral home had been in business for close to a century. When Capitol City first started out, this section of town must have been some kind of neighborhood. Bobby guessed the area had fallen on hard times during the Great Depression and then life just sort of skidded downhill from there. Now, the place was a jumble of nondescript two-story brick warehouses, the odd little ugly frame house, a few small salvage yards and a sleazy bar named Harold’s that advertized Happy Hour All Day Long directly across the street.
He grabbed his four-dollar bouquet of grocery store flowers from the passenger seat and headed inside the Capitol City funeral home. The lobby was small and nondescript. Off to the right was a small office illuminated by the glare coming off an old television sitting on a desk.
“Can I help you?” a man asked from about a foot behind the television and flicked on a light. He was dressed in an out-of-date dark suit, a white shirt yellowed around the collar with age and a dark tie. He didn’t bother to get up. For that matter he didn’t really bother to look at Bobby. He just quickly glanced in the general direction and then returned to the television.
“Katherine Clarken,” Bobby said.
That seemed to get the attendant’s attention. He studied Bobby for a long moment, glanced at the bouquet of flowers in his hand. “Straight ahead, second door on the left.” Sounding like he couldn’t quite believe someone had even asked for her.
The hallway wasn’t all that long and sported trim and ceiling molding that looked like it came out of a 1940’s movie. The ceiling had grayed over time and both the walls and trim were painted the same sort of icy pale green color. There was a definite grime pattern on either side of the hallway from seven or eight decades worth of hands running along the walls. The carpeting looked to have once been a burgundy sort of affair with a floral motif but was now in desperate need of a good cleaning or maybe it should just be hauled outside and burned.
The second door on the left led into a small, claustrophobic room in need of ventilation. The room was poorly lit with a dreadful dirge droning in the background over a crackling speaker. There was a grey vinyl partition hung from the ceiling that had been pulled across the rear of the room to accommodate smaller affairs. At the front of the small room a dozen brownish metal folding chairs were lined up in three rows of four, two chairs on either side forming a sort of pretend center aisle. At the very front of the room, past the folding chairs a small card table stood draped with a white table cloth. Placed in the middle of the card table was a very plain wooden urn. In case there were any doubts, a 4 x 5 card lay in front of the urn with the handwritten name in black marker,
. The stuffy room was empty except for one young guy sitting off to the right in the rear row of folding chairs.
Bobby walked up to the front of the room, past the chairs and stood in front of the card table. He didn’t know what to do, but felt it would be rude to just turn and leave. So he stood there and pretended to say a prayer. Then he placed the flowers on the card table next to the urn, careful to lay the $3.99 price tag face down. He bowed his head then as he turned to leave he nodded at the young man in the chair.
The young man gave a curt nod in response, then his eyes narrowed and he growled in a deep voice, “Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Bobby,” he said and extended his hand.
The young man brought a massive paw over and wrapped it around Bobby’s hand. He squeezed gently, but left him with the sense it would have been no problem to simply crush Bobby’s hand. He was solidly built, with a weightlifters chest and a very thick neck. He wore a black short sleeved shirt, just three buttons, all undone. The sleeves were stretched around large biceps tattooed in some blue Celtic-looking pattern. His hair was clipped short, almost but not quite shaven, and his eyes looked red and puffy. He’d been crying.
“Thanks for coming. You’re the only one. She would have liked those.” He lifted his square chin in the direction of Bobby’s grocery store bouquet.
Bobby smiled and nodded. “I only met Katherine, Kate, a few days ago, really just a simple business arrangement. I was supposed to pick her up and, well…”
“Pick her up? Business arrangement?” There was suddenly an edge in his voice.
“I was hired by a firm, a law firm downtown to drive people so they could give depositions. Katherine, Kate was one of the people I drove.”
“You brought her downtown?”
“Actually no, see, we ran into some difficulty and we weren’t able to get there in time, get to the attorney’s office. I ended up driving her back. She wanted me to drop her off at Moonies that night and well…” He thought it best not to go on from there and stared at the floor. He was beginning to feel very uncomfortable.
“So you’re the one who brought her to Moonies?”
“Only because that’s where she told me she wanted to go. I picked her up at Foxies, that’s where they followed us from,” Bobby said.
“I really don’t want to get into it. She couldn’t tell who they were, she didn’t know. At the end, she just told me to drop her at Moonies so that’s what I did. Then I heard about this awful…” He stopped there, ready to give another nod and leave.
“Sit down,” the young man said. Not so much an invitation as a command.