Authors: Owen Laukkanen,David Siddall,CS DeWildt,Eric Beetner,Joseph Rubas,Liam Sweeny,Scott Adlerberg
Roger knew it when he married her. Everyone else in town knew it well before then.
But it drove Roger crazy. The things Mr. Zucco would say about her, about her past, about what she might do for the right amount. And him with a perfectly attractive wife of his own. The cleaver finally did what Roger had been thinking of doing for months.
Now I have to clean it up, Dottie thought.
It wasn’t even that she was against him killing Zucco. The bastard deserved it, sure enough. She felt his eyes on her, heard the whispers. But Dottie didn’t trust Roger as far as she could throw him on matters of even small importance. Covering up a murder? That was a tall order.
“What did you do with the body?” she asked.
“I left him there.”
Dottie rolled her eyes. “Did you at least take the cleaver and dump it somewhere?”
Roger shook his head like a scolded child.
“Roger,” she said, “tell me it’s not still in him.”
He stared at his socks, his shoes bundled with the rest of the blood-spoiled outfit.
Dottie sighed as she stood. “I’ll be right back.”
The scene was as Roger described. Zucco lay on the floor of the butcher shop’s back room. She’d used Roger’s key to enter after business hours. The cleaver leaned at an angle with a corner of the blade wedged into Zucco’s sternum. Only a sliver of white could be seen on his butcher’s apron, his own blood mixing with the day’s usual flotsam of butchered meat juices. Other tears in the fabric of his shirt showed there were several blows before the cleaver got stuck in the bone.
Dottie went to the row of three lockers on the back wall and took out a clean apron, tied it on, and began to clean up.
An hour later, she returned to their tiny apartment above the shop.
Roger was there, hugging his knees to his chest and crying. A small swirl of brandy spun at the bottom of his glass as he rocked forward and back, but she noticed the bottle on the windowsill was empty.
He’s not going to make it, she thought. He’s going to crack up.
She walked past him into the kitchen and got down the bottle of whiskey. There were about three fingers left and she poured all three.
“Roger?” she said from the kitchen. She heard only his quiet sobs. She took a drink. “Roger,” she said a little louder. He didn’t respond.
Dottie downed the drink in a gulp, pushed through the swinging kitchen doors and marched up to Roger who was staring out their window at the red neon letters of Zucco’s Meats that blazed into their bedroom night after night.
She slapped Roger across the face. “You’ve got to keep it together or we’ll never get away with this.”
His tears stopped, but now he looked hurt. He hugged his knees tighter. Dottie huffed and went out to sleep on the couch.
OTTIE GRABBED ROGER BY
both shoulders and shook. “Come on, wake up!”
He grunted and grabbed his temples—clearly hungover.
“You’ve got to make it to work,” she said. “You’ve got to act like everything is normal.”
Roger let out a long groan and kept his eyes shut.
Disgusted, Dottie stood and went to the kitchen to check on the coffee. She poured herself a cup and poured a mug for Roger as well. She had the same sinking thought as the night before: He’s going to screw this up.
If Roger got sent away, she’d have to get a job again. Her only trade wasn’t one she was anxious to return to. Since she had quit entertaining gentlemen for a living, Dottie had put on almost ten pounds, and she liked the way it looked on her. A little fat on a lady showed she led a life of ease. It was the skinny ones you knew were hard up for a crust of bread. The ones who would do anything. The ones so easily taken advantage of.
That wasn’t Dottie anymore. Not if she could help it.
So she didn’t marry a Rockefeller. Roger gave her a warm bed, all the meat she could cook, and puppy dog devotion. Only after they were married for a few months did she realize his spine was soft as uncooked dough.
Dottie brought Roger his coffee, shook him until he got out of bed and explained to him his new predicament as he got dressed.
“If you don’t want everyone in town to know you offed Zucco, then you better act just as surprised as anyone that he’s missing. You don’t know anything, you didn’t see anything.”
“Did you…?” He looked at Dottie with bloodshot eyes. “Where is he?”
“The less you know, the better.” She checked the clock. “Now, you’ve got about five minutes to make it down and open up for the day. Zucco’s been late before so it’s nothing new. Treat this like any other day, you hear me?”
“But, Dot,” he said, on the verge of tears again. “What am I gonna do?”
“I just told you what you’re gonna do. I can’t do it for you.” She tossed a freshly laundered apron at him. “You want to hit a guy with a cleaver five or six times, you deal with the consequences.”
Dottie stood over him until he was ready to go.
HE BROUGHT HIM LUNCH
at noon. He looked a mess, but that could easily be shrugged off on the hangover.
Mrs. Eastway was giving her order at the counter when Dottie walked in.
“And trim the fat, but not all the way. You need a little bit of fat in your diet you know.”
“Yes, Mrs. Eastway,” Roger said. Even his voice was weak.
“Hello Mrs. Eastway,” Dottie said.
“Roger, dear. I brought lunch.” She held up a sandwich wrapped in wax paper.
Roger smiled weakly and nodded to her. He cut Mrs. Eastway’s beef with a long knife. When he reached the bone he leaned both hands on the blade, trying to force it through. Dottie noticed the meat cleaver still hung on the rack where she returned it last night after she plucked it from Zucco’s chest and cleaned it.
Roger couldn’t bring himself to hold it again.
From out of the back came Mrs. Zucco. She was young, like Dottie, same blonde hair, same great figure. Completely different history. Mrs. Zucco went to private school, never was a taxi dancer. Never was any other kind of dancer, not like Dottie.
She held a handful of receipts and her face was pinched like she had a headache.
“Hello, Loraine,” Dottie said.
Loraine looked up, noticing her for the first time. “Hi, Dot.”
They were never friends, despite the hours they spent in each other’s company merely due to proximity. They tried to get along, but exhausted any conversation within the first two minutes. They were left to discuss what pictures they’d seen lately, or the last bastion of awkward small talk—the weather.
Dottie waited for Loraine to break down and spill that Anthony hadn’t come home last night, but she took her headache face and began entering numbers into a ledger.
Roger handed off Mrs. Eastway’s order and the shop fell into silence.
“Well,” Dottie said, “I’ll leave your sandwich here, Roger.” She set it on the counter and left. If Loraine had a headache, Roger had stomach pains. The place looked like Ward D at county hospital.
HE NEXT WEEK WENT
by with Roger drinking himself to sleep, Dottie going about her routine, and Loraine pretending that Anthony wasn’t gone.
It could all work out, thought Dottie. Loraine can’t run the business by herself. She’ll have to sell. And she’ll sell it to Roger. Then all the meat she can cook won’t come at a discount, it’ll come for free.
Damned if she was going to do all that numbers work though. They could hire a college boy for that.
On Saturday, with Roger sleeping it off in the bedroom, Dottie answered a knock at the door.
Loraine stood there with thin red veins visible in her eyes. Her hair was down and ran stringy lines across her face, pasted in place by tears and sweat and maybe a little bourbon.
“Where is he?” she said.
“He’s sleeping,” Dottie said. She cocked her head at the haggard woman before her. “Is everything all right?”
“You’d best wake him up,” Loraine said, and she raised a gun she’d been holding by her side.
Dottie remained calm. “What are you doing with that, Loraine?”
“I found him.”
“Found who?” As if she didn’t know.
“Are you gonna get him out here or do I need to go and get him?” The anger brought out her southern roots, a little twang creeping into her voice.
Dottie put her hands up, calming. So it had finally come home to roost. She knew when she put the pieces of Anthony in the freezer that he’d be found eventually. She honestly thought Roger would have blown it by then. She also thought Loraine would be grieving for her missing husband and spend a few days out of the shop so Dottie could get in there and dispose of the parts properly. But Loraine spent even
time at the store. The accounting had never been so organized, the floors never been so clean.
“What are you going to do?” Dottie asked. Loraine stared at her. The gun trembled in her hand, her eyes poised to begin leaking tears again. “If you kill him, then what?”
Loraine had no answer, but Dottie had a plan. A perfect plan that crystalized in her mind in an instant.
“Let me help you.”
Loraine blinked twice, the tears retreated in the confusion swirling on her face. “What?”
“You want to kill Roger, right? For what he did to your husband.”
“You knew about it?”
“But if you come in here blasting away the whole block will hear.” Dottie leaned her head out into the hallway. “I’m surprised Mrs. Eastway isn’t out here already.”
Loraine glanced down the hall, suddenly aware of the gun in her hand.
“You want to do this the right way, you need my help.”
Dottie held out a hand, inviting the gun into her palm. Loraine blinked a few more times, replayed the offer in her mind, then handed over the gun.
“Good,” Dottie said. “Now come inside and let’s figure this thing out.”
OTTIE AND LORAINE MADE
perfect bookends. Loraine brought the white hot rage and willingness to kill, Dottie brought the plan and the ice cold heart—chilly enough to send her husband to the gallows.
Her plan was this: Loraine needed an alibi. Dottie would be it. If it ever came to it, she would testify the girls had been good friends ever since Roger started working at the meat market. They went shopping all the time on the weekends.
She also convinced Loraine that a gun would never do. Too loud, too messy. She handed Loraine Roger’s straight razor. At first, Loraine blanched. “Won’t it be too…too much clean up?”
“Let me handle that,” Dottie said. “I take the sheets, the pillow and his clothes down to the incinerator and it’s all over in a flash. If I have to go digging a bullet out of the woodwork, I’ll have the landlord asking questions I don’t want to answer.”
“What do we do with the body?”
“Has anyone besides you found Anthony?” Loraine shook her head. “Well, there you go. We deep freeze him. Then you parse it out, bit by bit, with the scrap and bone chips.”
“But those all get sent to the dog food factory.”
“And so will he. Don’t he deserve it?”
Dottie worked hard to keep the fire in Loraine burning. She could see her protégé was losing steam.
“And in exchange,” Dottie went on, “you and I split the store and whatever else Anthony left you in the will. He did leave a will, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Okay then.” Dottie held out a hand to shake on the deal. Loraine looked dubious, but slowly moved her hand to take Dottie’s.
“When do we do it?”
“Come back tonight. I’ll make sure I don’t nag him about his drinking and he’ll be passed out by ten o’clock.”
Roger was out by nine thirty.
Dottie stripped the bedspread off, leaving only the old sheets on the bed, then paced around the apartment smoking. She was lighting her third Chesterfield when she heard a timid knock.
Loraine stood in the hallway, dressed in black. Her collar was turned up and she looked like she’d been up for days. Dark rings hung under her eyes.
Dottie took her by the arm and gently pulled her inside.
“Okay, let’s go over this again,” Dottie said. “Where were we?”
“At the movies.”
Kiss Of Death