Authors: Mick James
He wasn’t due to
pick up Violet Oxley for an hour. After which, he could look forward to an entire day of sitting and cooling his feet in the hallway outside Courtroom 2 while Violet gave her testimony. There was a newspaper delivered every morning at the front of his building by the mail boxes. If he hurried down there he could steal the thing for a half hour and return it on his way out the door without anyone being the wiser.
He opened the apartment door and two wooden chairs fell onto the floor. Two more were stacked out in the hallway along with a card table, a chest of drawers, a box spring, mattress and a bed frame. They all carried a tell-tale smoker’s smell.
The hallway was unoccupied and Bobby couldn’t hear anyone on the staircase. Beggars can’t be choosers. He hauled everything in as fast as possible and locked the door. He pulled the drawers out and stood them on end in front of the open window to air them. He looked at his watch and decided he would have to deal with all this at the end of the day. Right now it made more sense to arrive early and pick up Violet Oxley.
* * *
“Well, Bobby. I hadn’t figured you for the early sort. Let me just set the alarm,” she said. A moment later he held the screen door open as she closed and locked her front door. He followed her down the driveway and opened the rear door to the Geo Metro.
“You really must do something about that windshield, Bobby. Is it even legal?”
“My insurance company is sorting it out as we speak.”
“Good luck with that. Say, Bobby, are you a smoker?” She gave an audible sniff to the air.
“No ma’am, fortunately a vice I’ve never had.”
“God, I think I can, well now I can’t really tell if I can smell cigarette smoke or not.”
“If you would prefer I could lower a window?”
“No, I’ll be fine, thank you. Let’s just hope things move a bit faster today,” she said and settled back for the drive.
They didn’t. Move faster that is, at least not for Bobby. It was almost two when Violet stepped back out of the courtroom and into the hallway. He laid the copy of yesterday’s paper on the marble bench where he’d found it and stood as she approached.
“Yes, and not a moment too soon. Do you happen to know where the restrooms are located?”
“I do, come on I’ll show you and then we’ll get you home.”
The drive back to Violet’s home was completely uneventful and made even more boring by her diatribe of family history beginning with the 1870 immigration from Germany to Canada.
“Oh wow, fascinating, I’d love to hear more, but we’re already at your home,” he said and pulled in front of her driveway. He jumped out of the car and ran around to the passenger side unable to wait another moment to be free of the history lesson.
“Thank you Bobby, now here, your lucky day, I don’t have any change so I’m giving you this,” she said and handed him a dollar.
“Oh, that’s really not necessary, Ms Oxley,” he said taking the dollar.
She’d already started up the driveway toward her front door. “Nonsense, now I insist. You should do some research, the town of New Berlin, Ontario they changed the name to Kitchener at the outbreak of the First World War. Now my grandfather…”
He was already behind the wheel trying to figure out where the closest drugstore was located. He felt in desperate need of some aspirin.
So much for airing
out the new furniture. As soon as he opened the door to the apartment it smelled like some three-pack-a-day guy had been living in there with all the windows closed for the better part of a year. He went to the kitchen sink, took two aspirin for his Violet Oxley headache, then headed out on foot to the grocery store.
He spotted it on the way back, parked on the street across from his building. He didn’t know a lot about cars, but this was big and black. An SUV with forty inch chrome wheel rims and windows tinted so dark they had to be in violation of some sort of state law.
He immediately thought the shooters. He was armed with a grocery bag full of air freshener, a package of chocolate chip cookies and wondering which way to run when he heard his name called.
“Bobby. Hey, Bobby, get your ass up here.”
Kate Clarken’s son was standing in his apartment, yelling out the window waving from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Bobby still wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t think of any other option so he went inside. He knew he’d locked the door before he left, but it was half open as he climbed the final flight of stairs to the third floor.
Kate’s son smiled as Bobby stepped inside. He was sipping what Bobby presumed was one of the two cans of coke he’d had in the refrigerator. What looked like the other can rested on the window sill, half crushed and apparently empty.
“Been looking for you, Bobby.”
“Just walked to the grocery store to get some air freshener and cleaning supplies. I had the windows open to air all this stuff out, it smelled like cigarette smoke and I was hoping to get rid of the smell. I think all it did was stink up the entire apartment. You wouldn’t happen to have any idea where this stuff came from, would you?”
He smiled and held out the palms of his hands in mock surrender. “Just a friendly little way of saying thanks and helping you out at the same time, man.”
“Thanks? For what?”
“For trying to help my mom, dumb shit. Not like she had a lot of friends. Tell you the truth she didn’t have any, unless you were buying. I mean she was my mom and all, but I’d be the first to tell you she could be awfully mean and she was pretty much totally worthless, and those were her good points,” he joked.
“Where did you get all this?”
“Like it,” again with the smile.
Bobby dodged the direct answer. “Well, it’s certainly better than the stuff I didn’t have. But you must have brought it up here in the middle of the night. I mean, it was all piled up against the door first thing this morning.”
“Arundel and me, it all belonged to my mom. Pretty obvious, she’s got no use for this shit now,” he laughed.
“Did you get it from her apartment? That little third floor place over in Frog Town?”
He pulled off the sunglasses and eyed Bobby suspiciously. “You been there?”
“Never inside. I just knocked on the door once. Whoever answered told me to look for Kate, your mom, at Moonies or Foxies. That’s how I knew to go to those places. Otherwise I never would have found her. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t determine if it was a man or a woman who answered that door.”
He nodded. “That would have been Cookie.”
“Yeah, hard to believe, but I guess she was something in her day, used to dance all over the state.”
He nodded. “You know, among other things. Used to be able to name her price from what I hear.”
Bobby shook his head. “You’re right, it is hard to believe.”
“She crashes there sometimes. I guess she wasn’t there when we grabbed this stuff, at least I didn’t see here. Suppose she could have been passed out in a closet or out in the hallway.” He said it absently as if it was a logical possibility. “But this stuff is gonna work out for you, right? Like you said, better than what you didn’t have.”
“No, I mean, yeah, I appreciate it. I’m sorry things are kind of tight on my end. I really can’t pay you for all this right now.”
“What the hell you talking about? You don’t have to pay me, man. I owed you. Course, now we’re even,” he said and fixed Bobby with a quick stare. “I hope you don’t mind, but I put the bed together for you. God the stories that thing could tell.” He took two steps over to the bed, placed his hand on the headboard and rocked it back and forth causing the frame to squeak. “Yeah, that brings back memories.”
“God, I wish I had something else to offer you. I got a half eaten bag of Doritos?”
Bobby sort of half laughed and thought, since we’re pals now it might be nice to know your name. “One thing, I don’t think you ever told me your name?”
“You’re right, I didn’t,” he said.
Despite the tales the
bed could tell it was a lot better than sleeping on the floor and Bobby slept wonderfully. An uneventful day followed, most of which was spent in the hallway on the fifth floor of the courthouse, waiting while individuals gave their testimony. The case was some sort of class action suit brought against a company theoretically providing flood insurance.
Like so many cases the devil was in the details. He was delivering people to and from the courthouse who lived along sections of the Mississippi river. Judging from the homes, all very nice, he would guess the places used to flood or were in danger of flooding maybe once every fifty years. Beginning in 2008 they’d flooded six out of the last eight years and the term “flood of the century” had been relegated to the dust bin. This past spring’s flooding had been particularly bad.
It was a no-win deal for everyone involved, home owners, municipalities, even the insurance companies who Bobby usually had no patience with. He was glad to get home and spray another heavy dose of air freshener and rub furniture polish on his recent acquisitions.
He parked the Geo in the back of the building and then, as had become his routine, he walked the four blocks up to the retail corner and did some shopping. He had written a grocery list, consisting of six basic items on the back of a Courthouse tourist brochure.
He was almost home, squeezing between his Geo and the dumpster when he caught sight of an SUV with forty-inch chrome wheel rims and dark tinted windows parked across the street and down maybe half a block. He was not in the mood for company tonight.
Resigned to his fate he climbed the stairs, unlocked the apartment door and walked in. No one was there to welcome him. Thank God. It’s not like there were a lot of places to hide, but just to be sure he checked the bathroom, the closet and looked under the bed. Nothing. Kate’s ashes still sat on a corner of the kitchen counter.
It took him no more than half a minute to put the groceries away. He put the TV dinner in the oven and glanced out the window. Everything looked okay. He ate his dinner, read the grocery circular he’d found in the bag and then sat in the dark looking out the window and waiting for the expected visitor that never showed up.
He went to bed about eleven, sleeping fitfully and waking a half dozen times to get up and look out the window. The SUV remained parked across the street with not so much as an inkling of activity. He heard someone walking down the outside hallway a little after four in the morning, but the footsteps were followed by a lock snapping open and an apartment door slamming closed. Most likely one of the neighbors he’d never met coming home after a late night.
He stared out the window onto an empty street while he ate a bowl of oatmeal. Then he dressed and got ready for another day of watching the second hand on the clock take its own sweet time while he cooled his heels in the courthouse hallway.
He was back home by four that afternoon and couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he had the sense someone had been in his apartment. Not that there was anything worth stealing unless you counted one of the four beers on the bottom shelf of his refrigerator.
He made his evening pilgrimage up to the retail area where he purchased a roll of scotch tape and for some unknown reason decided to pocket a Milky Way candy bar. He kept his eyes peeled but didn’t spot the black SUV anywhere on the street. He sat with the lights off in the apartment and ate a chicken sandwich looking out the window as night fell then finally turned in a little before midnight.
He was up at two to use the bathroom. He left the lights off and walked to the window. There it was, the SUV, parked across the street, almost where it had been the night before. He was tempted to go out there and ask Kate Clarken’s son what he thought he was up to. Upon brief reflection he decided that wouldn’t be the best idea and went back to bed. When he checked an hour later the SUV still hadn’t moved.
It dawned on Bobby that maybe the vehicle was just parked there and the occupant was either in one of the apartments in the building or one of the homes up the street. Between the tinted windows and the dark of night he couldn’t tell if the thing was occupied.
He left to make his first pick-up at eight forty-five the following morning. Once he locked the door he attached a length of scotch tape to the frame and then to the door itself, just opposite the lower hinge. If someone opened the door in his absence they’d pull the tape off and he’d know he had been visited.
It was the fourth
day twiddling his thumbs in the same hallway of the courthouse. The retired school teacher he’d brought in for testimony in a reckless driving case was fascinated with the whole legal process and had reentered the courtroom, pen in hand, to observe and record.
He was left to his own devices out in the hallway, slogging through the historical romance novel he’d pocketed in the basement coffee shop.
Love’s Dark Fury
had the same woman involved in an affair with Confederate and Union commanders on the eve of the Battle at Gettysburg. Just in case the previous days weren’t long enough this tale made the clock come to a complete stop. He made a mental note to get a library card and a decent book as he turned to the next page.
“Mr. Custer, Bobby, is that really you?”
He looked up and although it had been almost five years since the one time they’d met he recognized Everett Zeller. Of course it hadn’t been everyday he’d been arrested and hauled out of his office in handcuffs so, given the circumstances it had been difficult for Bobby to forget.
“Sergeant Everett Zeller,” Bobby said, drawing out each word. For a moment he debated pushing the man over the railing, but there were too many potential witnesses to get away with it.
“What are you doing here, Bobby? It’s gone that fast, six, or was it seven years?” Zeller seemed to be taking great joy in suggesting to anyone within earshot that Bobby should still be behind bars. Thankfully, they were the only two out in the hallway waiting for the world to pass them by.
“Sorry to disappoint, Sergeant, but I was out in just four plus. Good behavior.”
“Amazing,” Zeller said shaking his head like he really couldn’t believe it.
Bobby wasn’t sure if the amazing part was just the four plus years of his life that had apparently passed so quickly for Zeller, or the idea that Bobby would have been released early due to good behavior.
“Still keeping the world safe?” Bobby asked.
“We try. Of course there’s always someone who thinks they’re a lot more clever than we are.” He nodded ever so slightly indicating Bobby. Then shook his head some more. “Humpf, amazing, just four years. Simply amazing.”
“You’re not thinking of practicing again, are you?”
“Just helping out these days, Sergeant. Like you, I’m just doing my best to see that justice is served and trying to be a responsible citizen.”
Zeller nodded and began to leave, then turned and said, “You know, I wonder if I did hear something. Your name wouldn’t have come up in connection with some gangland slaying, now would it?”
“My name?” Bobby gave him a look suggesting he had lost his mind. “Sorry to disappoint, but not very likely.”
“Hmmm-mmm, just wondering is all. You know the
how shall we say,
one might make behind bars.”
“Based on the sort of individuals I was with, I think about the only information I’d have would be a list of beaches in the Caribbean.”
Zeller looked at Bobby like he wasn’t following.
“Off-shore accounts, Sergeant.” Bobby said, then watched the light flash across Zeller’s face.
“Ev, you ready? Let’s go.” A voice called from behind. A lean guy with coke-bottle glasses, a dark suit and matching briefcase walked up from the direction of the rest rooms. He slowed but didn’t stop as he gave Bobby a nod and continued making his way toward the elevator.
“I’m sure we’ll be in touch. Enjoy that romance book,” Zeller chuckled and began to follow.
“Thanks for the warning, Sergeant,” Bobby replied, then watched the two of them as they disappeared around the corner toward the elevators. Mercifully the retired school teacher emerged ten minutes later ready to go home.