Authors: Jeff Strand
AFTER THE hospital staff decided I was fine, if a bit obnoxious, Tony drove me home. I was pretty rattled from my experience, and was looking forward to some tender loving care from Helen.
“Oh, what a pleasant surprise!” she said as I opened the front door. “It’s so nice that you were able to come home before noon. I’d hate to think of you being all miserable and actually having to put in the full eight hours at your job. Oh, wait, I almost forgot, you didn’t go! But hey, the temp agency just called and said not to come back, so you don’t have to worry about that inconvenience any more!”
“It wasn’t my—”
“But that’s okay. I’m sure the reason you played hooky was to help care for your children. Oh, no, wait, now that I think of it, it was
who got woken up by a call from Kyle’s teacher to pick him up, not you! But hey, I work night shift, I’d gotten in a good twenty minutes of sleep already...why should I complain? It’s all worth it to know that my dear husband had a good time with his friend.”
“I wasn’t with—”
“Oh, by the way, they shut off our water. I know how difficult it is to remember to write checks when they send those funny-looking pieces of paper in the mail, but some people in this country refer to it as paying bills. I suppose that since you rarely bring any money into this household it’s naturally not going to be in your thoughts, but for five minutes a month even you should be able to handle it.”
“Yeah, well, sorry helps.” She stormed out of the living room and into the kitchen.
Helen hadn’t been in a sunshiny mood lately. A year and a half ago, I’d gone through a horrible ordeal that eventually involved our children being kidnapped and almost murdered, and me nearly dying from arrow and gunshot wounds. Helen already had a stressful job as a registered nurse, so this didn’t help her ulcer situation. The silver lining to the whole nightmare came when I was offered a substantial amount of money to tell my story, which I then lost when my financial advisor fled the country with all of our money and a pair of lingerie models named Monique and Taffy. The fact that Helen had told me several times not to trust him did not go unobserved.
So I’d figured it was time to become an upstanding, responsible citizen. I’d registered with several temp agencies and gotten a job organizing filing cabinets for a horrible, horrible woman with fangs. I reported to work three unbearable days in a row, but then I decided that somebody who’d rescued his children from a vicious killer and broken up a snuff film production company didn’t need to deal with some ghastly crone whining that McReady came before Madison. So I walked out and went to visit my friend Roger. I probably should have notified the temp agency. Helen was not pleased.
I’ve probably made Helen sound like she walks around in a bathrobe with her hair in curlers and beats the crap out of me with a rolling pin. Physically, she’s not intimidating at all. Actually, she’s a fairly tiny person. Over the past year she’d let her straight brown hair grow well past her shoulders, and before my book money completely vanished she’d traded in her thick glasses for laser eye surgery, yet she somehow retained her owlish appearance, which was kind of weird.
I almost followed her into the kitchen so I could give my side of the story, but I decided to let her simmer down a bit first. Instead I went upstairs into Kyle’s room.
He was sitting on his bed, playing with his Captain Hocker action figures. He looked up at me as I entered. “Mommy’s on the warpath again,” he said.
“Shhhh...I’ve told you not to say that anymore,” I reminded him. “It just makes her madder.”
I sat down on the bed next to him. He was small for a seven-year-old, though not quite into runt territory. I’d fought against his current buzz cut and been on the path to victory until he’d managed to get three whole pieces of chewed gum in his hair, so it all had to go.
Considering what he’d been through, the little guy was doing as well as could be expected. Not as well as Theresa, who now seemed mostly unaffected save for occasional nightmares, but not too bad. Upon the recommendation of several doctors, we’d put Kyle in a special school for emotionally disturbed children, but most of the time he seemed perfectly fine.
“So what’d you do?” I asked.
“They just called Mom for no reason?”
Kyle shrugged. In his hands, Captain Hocker saved a planet from the dreaded Gleeker Force of Doom.
“C’mon, buddy, you can tell me.”
“How many people?”
He shrugged again. “A lot.”
“Why did you do that?”
“You just decided, hey, I’ve got some extra slobber, might as well share it?”
I sighed. “Look, buddy, you know that stinky kid in your class that nobody likes?”
“Yeah, Stinky Joey the Skunk Boy. Well, spitting on other kids is kind of like smelling bad. People don’t like it. And remember how I told you that they don’t let stinky kids become astronauts because it messes with the oxygen system? If you spit, it floats around the space shuttle and gets in the gears and people die. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“So you won’t spit on anyone else?”
“Shake on it.”
We shook hands, and then I gave him a hug.
“Andrew, get down here!” Helen called out from downstairs.
“She’s on the warpath again,” Kyle said.
“Don’t say that anymore. I mean it.”
“You said it first.”
why I don’t want you to say it!” I stood up and hurried out of his room and downstairs.
Helen was seated on the couch, holding an ice pack to her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to yell, but it’s just so frustrating. Where were you today?”
I shrugged. “Nowhere.”
THE NEXT night was Wednesday, which meant Helen’s parents took care of the kids. I tried to convince Helen to take the night off, so we could go out to a romantic dinner, but she was still mad at me for letting her yell at me for so long without explaining that I’d been kidnapped by lunatics.
So I drove over to Roger’s apartment. He greeted me at the door with three scratches that ran from his left eye down to his jaw. The ones on the other side of his face were healing nicely.
“I don’t want that cat anymore,” he told me.
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” I said, stepping inside. Reverse Snowflake lay sleeping peacefully on Roger’s couch, the sides of which the black cat had lovingly shredded. “This precious animal saved my life.”
take it! It scratches me all the time. It sheds all over my furniture. It chews on my ears at night. I found cat hair in a carton of milk that I
“Is my Reverse Snowflake a pretty kitty?” I asked, scratching him behind his ears. “Yes he is! Yes he is! Yes he is!”
“I’m serious, Andrew! There’s kitty litter all over my bedroom! You’re the one whose life it saved!”
“Yes, but because he saved my life, I was able to save your life, remember?”
“If that cat had been smart enough to let you die, my life would never have been in danger,” Roger said. “Take it. For the love of God, take it.”
“Helen’s allergic to cats. And they scratch up everything...I mean, look at this place.”
“I’m not kidding around! The cat meows all night and I think it’s trying to impregnate one of my pillows.”
“All right, all right, I’ll see what I can do,” I promised. “My in-laws might take him. But he’s such a sweeeeeeet kitty!”
“You’re a rotten person,” Roger informed me.
WE DROVE over to The Blizzard Room, a coffee shop where we usually spent our Wednesday nights complaining that we didn’t have anywhere better to spend our Wednesday nights. The place had virtually nothing to recommend about it besides the fact that it wasn’t on fire, and yet we almost never missed a week.
“Why do we come here?” I asked. “The coffee isn’t any good, the table shakes when you—”
“Andrew, we go through this every time,” said Roger with a sigh. “Every single Wednesday you sit there and count off everything that sucks about this place, and every single Wednesday we come right back.”
“And don’t you find that depressingly pathetic?”
Roger shrugged. “It’s our destiny. Our path has been chosen, and there’s nothing we can do to alter it.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I took a sip of coffee. “Maybe next week we’ll go bowling.”
“We could get up right now and go bowling.”
“Didn’t think so.”
After a few more minutes of intellectually draining conversation, Roger got up to use the restroom. I reminded him that the restrooms were far below average, especially the air hand dryer that was about as effective as having somebody pant on your hands. He informed me that he was well aware of the inadequacies of the restroom facilities and that it would please him greatly if I would keep my opinions locked up in my brain where they belonged. I said okay.
A couple minutes after he left, the door swung open and a woman entered. She looked about sixty. She’d obviously had a facelift, which was probably supposed to make her look younger but really just made her look like a sixty year-old with her skin yanked back. Her hair was blonde, too blonde, and piled high above her head. She wore an expensive-looking blue dress and high heels, and carried a blue purse that matched the dress exactly.
She scanned the coffee shop for a moment, clearly not impressed, and then saw me and walked over to my table.
“Andrew Mayhem?” she asked. I’d expected her voice to be the ultimate in snottiness, but it was actually quite soft and pleasant.
“May I have a seat?”
“Sure. Here, let me get you a chair with all four legs.” I reached out and dragged one over from the next table. The woman took a seat and gave me a hint of a smile.
“Thank you. My name is Patricia Nesboyle. I’m a busy woman and I’m sure you’re a busy man, so I’m going to get right to the point. I’d like to pay you to accompany me to a party tomorrow night.”
“What kind of party?”
“A dinner party. A simple affair, just myself and four friends.”
“I see. May I ask why you want to pay me for this?”
She nodded. “I’ve read about you, the way you handled that awful situation with those atrocious people. You’re something of a celebrity amongst my friends. They would all be very impressed if you were there, and then you could protect me.”
She lowered her voice to a whisper. “One of my friends plans to kill me tomorrow night.”
She leaned back, offended. I immediately realized what I’d said. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. I was just asking if...okay, I
asking if it was just one, but not in a way that I meant it should be more, I mean, it shouldn’t be
as far as I’m concerned, but—”
“Will you do it?”
“How do you know somebody wants to kill you?”
“It’s very complicated. Suffice it to say that I overheard something I shouldn’t have.”
Something about her tone of voice made me suspect she wasn’t telling the whole truth. Not that I would put much faith in my own instincts, being a bumbling incompetent and all.
“Okay, so, I’m not really sure what good I would do,” I admitted. “I’m not a bodyguard.”
“He’s right, he’s not,” said Roger, walking up to the table. “You should see what happened to my body.”
“I did,” said Patricia. “It was quite grotesque. Would you mind excusing us?”
“Not at all,” said Roger. “I was just about to sit by myself at that corner table anyway.”
He left. I ran a hand through my hair and took another sip of coffee. “Look, Ms. Nesboyle, I’m flattered, but I’m really gonna have to pass. How much are you offering?”
“Five hundred dollars.”
“And what exactly do I have to do?”
“Nothing,” she promised. “Simply show up at the party. With you there, nobody will try anything.”
“Why not just cancel it?”
“I can’t. It’s a...special party.”
“Special parties are the best kind. But seriously, if your life is at stake, shouldn’t you hire a real bodyguard or a cop or something?”
Patricia shook her head. “That wouldn’t be as much fun, now would it?”
There was something deeply wrong with this lady. “So let me get this straight. I show up at the party. I mingle with your friends. I go home. Is that correct?”
“That is correct.”
Around this time, my inner voice decided to speak up. “Hey, Andrew, buddy, this lady’s completely nuts! Don’t get involved with her! Remember last time you let some strange lady pay you for a favor? Huh? Remember it? You remember it, don’t you? Wasn’t all that much fun, now was it? If I were you, which I am, I’d tell her to
” I mentally gagged my inner voice and spoke up.
“Six hundred, plus one hundred for my friend to watch my kids.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Five hundred, plus the hundred for your friend.”
“Six hundred, plus nothing for my friend.”
“All right, sounds good,” I said, offering my hand. She shook it, making only the lightest contact with my fingers.
“I need to be going,” she said, digging a small card out of her purse. “Be at this address at eight o’clock sharp tomorrow night. Dress nicely.”
“I can handle that,” I told her, hoping I still had the suit jacket I’d bought six years ago during my half-week stint as a lounge singer.
“Very good. I look forward to seeing you.”
She got up, nodded politely, and walked out the door. Roger returned and took her spot.
“Who was that?”
“Patricia. Can you baby-sit tomorrow night?”
Roger’s eyes lit up. “Kyle will bring his Nintendo, right?”
“Sure, yeah, I can manage that.”