Posts Tagged ‘office

18
Feb
10

Fate Pays The Rent (The Final Installment)

Clement was at his desk, making notes, and he looked up when Jeff walked in. “There’s coffee in the big pot. I thought you could use some. It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen you in a week so I have no idea how your life has been.” Jeff pulled open the bottom right-hand drawer and dropped a paper bag into it. Clement went back to writing. Jeff got a cup of coffee, added cream and sugar and sat down across from him. “So, is that all you have to say then? Nothing about what’s happened?”
Clement laid the pencil down. “I’m not sure what you want me to say, Jeff.”
“So you’re going to just say nothing?”
“You know what, Jeff? Typically when people don’t what to say in a situation the experts either tell them to say nothing and wait until the other person brings it up and sets the tone or they tell them to act casually. I’m not sure how to treat what’s happened in a casual manner so I decided to wait and let you bring it up and set the tone.”
“Did you learn that watching Dr. Phil?”
“Did you want to talk about what happened? Do you want to go out and get a real cup of coffee and catch up? I tracked down those kalamata olive, chicken and green pepper sausages. I’m wondering if we should bail on the old Rockin’ Rooster and start selling those. Would you like to talk about that instead?”
“I would like to talk about anything that gives me the opportunity to eventually throw this situation in your face and say, ‘I told you so’.”
“You told me so?”
“Yes.”
“About what? You told me the chicken strips were nasty?”
“I told you that Aaron was going to win.”
“How the hell did he win? Jeff, he’s dead.”
“I know that. Believe me, I am very aware that he’s dead. That doesn’t change the fact that Mari chose him over me.”
“How are you figuring that?”
“If Mari hadn’t been so obsessed with him then she and I could be together right now.”
“Technically, right now the two of you wouldn’t be together because you’d both be at work. But even if this wasn’t work hours and you could be together, you’re completely wrong to think that she chose him over you and that’s why you’re not.”
“She didn’t choose him?”
“No.”
“She killed him.”
“There’s still some doubt about whether she killed him or whether Milagra did. She gave him the coffee drink and the goody that spiked his blood sugar and sent him into a coma and then she left him there to die so she definitely had the intent to kill him. Milagra cut his head most of the way off and sufficiently damaged his spinal cord so he would have been unable to breathe even if they brought him out of the coma and reattached the rest of his head. According to the story she told us, she definitely intended to kill him as a sacrifice to God and Mr. Gomez. So, we’ll see how the whole thing shakes out.”
“Whatever.”
“Even if Mari did kill him, she didn’t do it out of love for him.”
“Yeah?”
“She did it because she loved money and hated sharing.”
“If she hated sharing then why was she still seeing Aaron?”
“Okay, she did it because she loved money and she hated sharing unless it was on her terms.”
“I can’t believe she was working on solving one of those problems for the million dollars.”
“I think that was a surprise to everyone except her. And maybe Aaron.”
“She never really seemed that smart.”
“I guess she was and she wasn’t. I don’t think there was much chance she would have had to share the money with Aaron. He had plenty of money of his own and- in the short time I talked with him- I got the impression he mostly discussed those concepts with her because he enjoyed exchanging ideas and because he enjoyed torturing you. He did it because it made them both happy.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Nobody in the world gets happy like Mari.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people get happy but I’ll take your word for it that Mari’s happiness was a unique experience.”
“Nope, nothing like it. Her eyes would light up and she’d squeal or whoop and sometimes she’d dance around.” He took a big swallow of coffee and set the cup down with a thump. “No point thinking about it. It’s not something I’ll ever see again.”
“Of course you will. She’ll be very happy to see you on visiting day. Especially if you bring a cake with a file in it.”
“Couldn’t get it through the metal detector.”
“There is that.”
“Did you actually go see that Mrs. Lamb?”
“Yes.”
“Did you see her more than once?”
“Yes.”
“Are you guys dating?”
“What part of ‘Mrs.’ are you not getting? Mrs. Lamb is married.”
“Yeah?”
“I don’t do that. Remember me? The guy who spent almost no time in the principal’s office?”
“So what are you guys doing? What do you talk about?”
“Kids and how they could learn more. We discussed the challenges of where to place a difficult child in the classroom, for example.”
“My teachers didn’t have that problem. They knew exactly where to put me. They usually stuck me next to the biggest suck-up in the room. Nothing like spending six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year listening to some kid tell you ‘Shut up! I’m trying to hear.’ Or ‘Stop bugging me! I’m trying to get my work done so I can go out for recess.’”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I was the one who had to say that all day of every school year.”
“I guess you and I wouldn’t have liked each other very much if we’d gone to the same school.”
“I guess we wouldn’t have.”
“So what’d you two come up with?”
“For one thing, we’ve decided that it does no good whatsoever to make the challenging children stay in from recess or have them sit against a wall most of the time outdoors.”
“I could have told you that. We gotta get out and run around or we’re gonna go stir crazy. What are you gonna do about it?”
“There’s been some talk among the teachers of having those children run laps or having a similar sort of punishment that has to be completed before the student is free to play.”
“Working it off but outside. Yeah. Maybe.”
“Do you have other ideas?”
“Well, yeah. If you tell Mrs. Lamb about this though you didn’t hear it from me. Okay? I don’t want word to get around that I was helping a principal.”
“You’d be helping kids.”
“Yeah, partly. You promise?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
Jeff swallowed some more coffee. “When I was starting the sixth grade, I was still getting in trouble. I had to sit in the hall a lot. I started to kind of like it because I could see the teachers walking around and the kids with messages would go down to the office and back and I saw the delivery guys bringing in the lunch stuff and it was interesting; There was always something happening. Plus I was out in the hall. I was different. Everybody else was sitting in the classroom doing division and I was seeing the world go by.”
“Not exactly what the taxpayers hoped they were spending their money on but-“
“You wanted to hear this.”
“Yeah.”
“One day I was just getting bored and wondering what was going on in the hall and what I’d have to do to get sent out there to see and the teacher came over and stood right behind me.”
“That must have put the fear of God into you.”
“Or something. She was this great big woman. She liked to wear a lot of bright colors and she had little curls that stuck out from her head like she wanted to have one of those old-fashioned waves but it didn’t take.”
“Marcel.”
“Whatever. She was standing behind me and I could feel her watching me. I put my pencil on the edge of my desk and I was pushing it off with the side of my hand when she scooped it up. She leaned over my chair and she said, real quietly, ‘You seem to have a lot of imagination and not much to do with it. I guess I’ll have to help you find something.’ I didn’t care. I heard that before. I figured she’s gonna say I have to discover a new way to clean erasers or something. She said, ‘Come with me.’”
“Did you go?”
“Yeah.”
“Were you going out to clean erasers?”
“No. Here’s the weird part: she walks me around behind this blackboard and I’m wondering what the hell she’s doing and she pulls out a cardboard box that’s got no flaps and no lid.”
“And?”
“And she says, ‘Whenever your work is done- and you want something to do that doesn’t involve bothering your neighbors so they can’t do their work- you can come over here and choose something from this box and write about it. I will expect it to be interesting and legible.’”
“What was in the box?”
“All kinds of pictures that somebody tore out of magazines. Like cities and somebody’s front porch and a purple hippopotamus in roller skates and a giraffe wearing a scarf; all kinds of things.”
“Did it work?”
“Yeah. I wrote a whole bunch of stories about the hippo and how he couldn’t get shoes that fit so he had to wear roller skates and he got into trouble. She started sending me to the office too.”
“So you could see what was going on.”
“Yeah. I guess she got me.”
“Yeah.” Both men sipped their coffee. “You feel like making a trip now?”
“To the office?”
“No, we’ve got one stop to make and then we’re going to my house.”
“Your house? What for? And where are we going first?” Clement picked up both cups, carried them in to the sink and rinsed them out. “You gonna wash those now?”
“Nope.” Clement shook the excess water from the mugs and placed them facedown on a three layer stack of paper towels. “First we are going to Eco Meats. Then we are going to my house to grill a taste test.”
“No more nasty chicken strips.”
“We’ll see.”
“I love you, man.”
“Womb to tomb.”
“Sperm to worm.”
“Damon and Pythius.”
Jeff turned off the coffeepot and the lights. Clement closed and locked the door.

Footnotes
~Jeff Clement, whose name the author unintentionally borrowed, is a catcher who spent most of 2007 playing for the Tacoma Rainiers, the farm team of the Seattle Mariners. He was called up to the Show on September 4th. He was traded during the 2010 off-season and will be catching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

~Maya Angelou, the poet, worked as a conductor on the cable cars in San Francisco. She was the first woman and the first person of color to do so.

~Shari’s restaurant chain was started in 1978. The first restaurant was in Hermiston, Oregon and a second was opened in Sherwood, Oregon within a year. The restaurant was named after one of the founders whose name was Sharon but who went by the name “Shari”. The Shari’s Clement is visiting opened in 1983. Many of the restaurants, including this one, have a raised grassy area outside some of the windows. The tables near these windows are less popular than others due to the high concentration of birds looking for and finding worms.

~Bernard Grimes Rhodenbarr is a charming burglar who was created by Lawrence Block. His first appearance was “Burglars Can’t Be Choosers” which appeared in 1977.

~The original Piggly Wiggly was opened in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6, 1916. It was the first grocery store that had carts and open shelves and allowed customers to shop for themselves instead of giving the list to an employee who selected everything. The creator’s dream was a fully-automated store but mechanical difficulties prevented his ever attaining it.

~Anna’s had started life as “Anna’s Banana Burgers” a name which the owner hoped to combine with homey furnishings to attract the kind of moneyed hippies that mark a place as happening and guarantee a retirement in warmer climates. Unfortunately, the couches became napping places for kids waiting for their parents to get home or buyers waiting for the guy with the stuff. A city renovation and revitalization grant, the same one responsible for the office complex Clement had so recently visited, had funded the remodeling and cleaning up. Now the little money from even those undesirable customers was gone and the place resembled a nearly deserted hospital cafeteria. Regular visits from the Health Department inspector guaranteed the food made up in sanitaryness what it might lack in savoryness.

~ “Goat’s Head Soup” was released in 1973 as a follow-up to “Exile On Main Street”. Billy Preston, also known as the Fifth Beatle, plays on several tracks. On “100 Years Ago”, he plays the clarinet.

~This appellation is given to several young men in the writings of P.G. Wodehouse but it was Wilmot Byng, the golfer in the short story “The Letter of the Law”, inspired the naming of this character.

~”Aaron” is the name of the waiter who served lunch to the author and her mother at Beaches restaurant. Several people had made suggestions regarding what this character looked like and when the waiter arrived he was perfect. He agreed to allow his photo to be taken and his name to be used as long as he gets some money out of it someday.

02
Feb
10

Ceci N’est Pas Ma Chat

Lethe is the name of the brown cat
in the carrier on the floor across from me.
She’s not happy and she’s complaining loudly
to her owner. The woman is making shushing noises
and little clucks and murmuring “There, there”
and “I know, baby.”

Beside me a man, who could double for Santa, speaks
soothingly to a black and white cat with folded down ears.
He says she’s not used to other cats or to people
but she seems fond of him as she stretches out
one velvet paw to pat his snowy whiskers.

I look down at the cat in my carrier. She’s not complaining,
not talking, not even looking at me; we might be strangers
waiting at a bus stop. I feel I should explain to
someone she’s really my parents’ cat and that’s why
we lack chemistry. But there’s no time. The vet comes
to the door and calls us. I pick up the carrier and
walk into the exam room leaving the people behind
us to think whatever they will.

06
Dec
09

Dogwatch

The man in the blue suit stopped just outside the glass doors and scrubbed his sweaty hands on his pant legs. “You’re acting like a schoolboy on his first date,” he said. “Just go in there, tell them who you are and take her home.”

Flinging the door open, he walked to the desk just inside and announced, “I’m Howard Wallace and I’ve come for Mariah.” The woman behind the desk gathered her curly gray hair into a fist at the nape of her neck then pulled it so it was all back over her shoulders. Faint smile lines traced the sides of her mouth and her eyes twinkled even as she frowned at Howard from beneath straight brows.

“Howard Wallace,” she repeated. “Could I see some identification?”

“Is Mariah here?” Howard asked. “Can I see her?”

“First things first,” the woman said. “Some identification please.” Howard’s hands were damp again and he fumbled with his wallet. He opened it and handed it to the woman across from him. She glanced at it then nodded for him to put it away. He’d stirred up a small breeze and the woman’s soft perfume came to him along with enough disinfectant to make a lesser man swoon. “Mariah is here,” the woman said. “She was picked up this afternoon.” Seeing Howard’s shoulders sag in relief, she added, “But I’m not sure she’ll be leaving with you.”

“But why? I’m her owner.”

“Mr. Wallace, Mariah is very young and she needs someone looking after her.”

“I know. My neighbor was supposed to be watching her.”

“Mariah was found wandering in traffic four blocks from your home, Mr. Wallace. That’s a lot of ground for a small dog to cover all alone.”

“I know. I know. The girl let her out to do her business and then I don’t know what happened. I guess she forgot her. I’m not sure if her boyfriend came over or the phone rang or-”

“It doesn’t matter what happened or how it happened,” the woman said, waving a dismissive hand at Howard. “The fact is Mariah, who’s a beautiful little dog by the way, was alone and lost and could have been hurt or killed or caused someone else to be hurt or killed. That’s not responsible pet ownership and I just don’t feel comfortable releasing her to you.”

Howard took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could hear the lost and homeless dogs barking in the next room and tried to hear which one was Mariah. He let his eyes roam the pastel walls and light for a second or two on each of the bright posters before he looked back at the slight woman behind the desk. “The thing is,” Howard began, “I’ve got to have Mariah back. She was a pre-retirement gift from my daughter and she’d kill me if anything happened to her.”

“Good thing it didn’t and a doubly good thing we reached you first then.”

“Yes,” Howard said. He looked at the poster behind the woman’s head again then back down at her face. “And there’s another reason too. I mean another reason it’s good nothing happened to her. I mean besides the obvious.”

“Which is?”

“Well… I love her. I love Mariah,” Howard said all in a rush. “I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe. It’s hard even for me to believe, I mean, when I’ve known her only two weeks. But somehow that little girl has worked her way into my heart. She’s the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. I didn’t even know if I wanted a dog and now I’m counting the days till I’m retired and we can spend all our time together.”

“She’s a dog, Mr. Wallace. She’s not a person; she’s just a dog.”

“I hear you but you’re wrong,” Howard said. “She’s a dog to you. You see a lot of dogs every day so maybe they don’t mean much to you anymore. But Mariah isn’t just a dog to me. She’s my friend now and in two weeks she’ll be my sole traveling companion.”

“To where?”

“You’ll think it’s silly but I’ve always dreamed of sailing around the world. I know Mariah’s just a small dog but I’m going to teach her to swim and buy her a little life jacket so she’ll be safe. I’ve got a tether for her and a hammock for her to sleep in in case she doesn’t want to sleep on my berth. We’re going to take some short trips at first to see how we like it and then we’ll be man and dog against the elements on the high seas.” Howard chuckled at himself.

“That’s pretty ambitious for an old man and a small dog.”

“Maybe it’s being away from civilization for so long or maybe it’s the idea of spending so much time with me. I don’t know but I’ve spent years looking for a woman who’d like to make that kind of a trip with me. I never could find one. But now it doesn’t matter. See? I’ve got a girl to keep me company. She just happens to have four legs and a tail.” Howard laughed again then bent over and looked the woman straight in the eyes. “So you see, I’ve got to have Mariah back. She’s part of my dream now and I’m only two weeks away from it.”

“A little dog like Mariah could get into a lot of trouble in two weeks,” the woman said. “How long did it take before she was out in traffic this time?”

“I’ll find a good kennel,” Howard promised. “I’ll hire a professional dog-sitter. I’ll take her to doggy daycare.”

“Or she could stay here with me.”

“What? But I…”

“You’re right, Mr. Wallace, I do see a lot of dogs every day but if they didn’t mean something to me I wouldn’t be doing this job. We could keep Mariah here and try to find a better home for her but I don’t suppose we’d find someone as crazy about her as you are,” she smiled at Howard. “At the same time, she’s a very special little dog and I wouldn’t want to take another chance on something happening to her. Especially when you’re only two weeks away from your dream. So what if she stayed in the reception area with me while you’re working?”

“I don’t know. That seems like a lot of trouble for a man and dog you’ve just met.”

“Not really. I’m here from eight to five anyway Monday through Friday. I have to warn you though if you’re late she goes home with me.” The creases at the corners of the woman’s mouth deepened and an Orion’s belt of stars danced in her eyes as she waited for Howard to say “Yes.”

“Where do you live?” Howard asked. “In case I’m unavoidably delayed.”

“Don’t be,” the woman said, “but I live at North Cove Marina almost all the way to the end of F dock.” She smiled again at Howard’s look of surprise then motioned for him to follow her as she walked back to the dog room and opened the door. A young man dressed in colorful scrubs nodded to them as he walked past and took the place at the desk.

“Do you believe in love, Mrs. ummm?”

“Miss umm Grace Marshall,” the woman said. “And yes, I do believe in love. But first I believe in walking dogs and drinking coffee.”

“Forty-five minutes?”

“I’ll just be closing up,” Grace said. A young woman unlocked Mariah’s enclosure and Grace put her gently into Howard’s arms then escorted them to the front door. “Don’t be late,” she called as man and dog climbed into the car.

“You know,” said Howard as he pulled out of the lot, “We’re a pair of very lucky dogs.” Mariah yipped and licked Howard’s ear then curled up on the seat. Howard threw back his head and laughed, shedding the years like so much extra fur. He felt giddy and light as a boy with new sneakers and a secret.

14
May
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Twenty-second Installment)

Dr. Phillips filled three cups with coffee and gestured to the sugar. “I have milk too but maybe you’ll be a little hesitant to take things out of the refrigerator here.” Buzz helped himself to some milk and held the small carton to Clement who shook his head vigorously. “I have to say I take exception to all this I’m reading about this young man being decapitated with a shovel.”
“Why would that be?” Buzz stirred his coffee and leaned against a counter.
“Because it isn’t true.”
“How do you figure that, Doc? A man’s head is attached and then it’s detached. It didn’t happen by itself ergo he was decapitated.”
“But it wasn’t completely detached. It would be almost impossible to remove someone’s head with a shovel. There’s a very tough assembly of muscle and bone in the spine a person would have to cut through. They’d have to be incredibly strong.”
“What if they were just crazy?”
“Or on drugs?’ Clement added.
“It’s possible but that isn’t what happened to this man. His spine is severely damaged but it was not cut through.”
“So was he killed with a shovel?”
“I would say that having his head nearly removed from his body definitely contributed to his failure to continue living. Add to this the fact that he was in a comatose state which he was unlikely to emerge from without medical assistance.”
“A diabetic coma?”
“His blood sugar level was incredible.”
Clement took a step forward. “I’m pretty new to this whole diabetes thing so let me ask you- if someone had a migraine and was basically unable to eat all day or maybe he ate something earlier in the day and then he threw up-“
“A common situation in a migraine sufferer as it sometimes takes them more than one incident of vomiting to feel better.”
“And if into this essentially empty stomach they were to put a white chocolate mocha and some kind of goody made with cranberries and cream cheese?”
“Their blood sugar would skyrocket and they would go into a coma.”
“Making it very easy for someone to come along and almost cut off their head with a shovel,” Buzz put in.
“I would say so.”
“So, which was it? The coma or the shovel?”
“As I said, it would have been difficult for this person to emerge from the coma without medical assistance. The shovel did not remove his head but it did damage the autonomic nerves meaning even if he emerged from the coma with help he would be unable to breathe for himself.”
“Not to mention he’d have a hell of a scar where they had to reattach his neck all the way around like he was Frankenstein’s monster.”
“Yes, that too.”
Buzz patted the coroner on the back. “It’s been fun but we’ve gotta go talk with a little lady who used to call herself Dolores.”
“Ah, yes. The woman with the shovel.”
“Wait a minute,” Clement said, “How would you know that?”
“It’s very simple. My walls have ears.”

“Why do you keep calling me Dolores when I tell you my name is not Dolores?”
“Ma’am, we’re calling you by that name because that’s the name that’s on your ID.”
“Yeah, but that’s not what God told her it was.”
“Josh, could you please see if there’s some coffee around?”
“Yeah, sure.” Josh’s eyes widened when he saw Clement and Buzz. “Hey look! It’s The Napper.”
Buzz looked from one man to the other. “What? How’d you two meet?”
“Clement was taking a nap in his hash browns a few nights ago over at the Shari’s. He didn’t seem to be drunk or on drugs so we gave him a ride to the bus stop. What’re you doing here, Clement?”
“I knew him.”
“Who? The dead guy?”
“Yes.”
“Good friend of yours? Were you over here checking things out the night we found you?”
“No, I only met him once and I was kind of looking around over here. He’s the ex-boyfriend of the girlfriend of a friend of mine.”
Buzz stepped forward. “Have you started asking Dolores any questions yet?”
“Not so you’d notice. Which is to say we found out her name isn’t Dolores any more and we decided to give you a call.”
“Josh, how’s the coffee coming?” Josh made a rude gesture behind his hand and left the room.
Clement and Buzz walked over to where Josh’s partner sat with Dolores. Keeping one eye on Dolores, the man stood and extended his hand to Clement. “We met the other night but it looks like there’s been a serious change of circumstances. I’m Gary Roberts.” Clement shook his hand and nodded to Buzz. “Buzz and I know each other already. How’s it going?”
“It’s going.”
There was a wail from behind Gary. “Why are you all standing around and making new friends? Doesn’t anyone remember me? I’m the one you should be talking to.”
Josh came in with three cups of coffee. “Gentlemen, may I introduce the woman formerly known as Dolores Aceveda.” He handed a cup to Gary and set another just out of Dolores’s reach. He set the third on the desk in front of him and began adding sugar.
“God’s work is nothing to be joking about.”
“God’s work?” Clement asked.
“Yes,” said Josh, “Milagra here believes she tried to cut this guy’s head off on orders from God. It’s been ages since God told a woman to cut a guy’s head off and even then I don’t think she did it.”
“I don’t ‘believe’ I was on orders from God. I heard the voice of God and did what I was told to do.”
“Why didn’t you just stab him with some scissors? There’s scissors all over the place.” It was Dolores’s office. They were sitting in the outer room and Clement could read “Bliss In A Basket” on the door with the second line “Aceveda and Davidson, Props” just beneath the first. Spools of ribbon hung from rods along one wall, their tails waving brightly whenever there was sufficient breeze. Baskets, large and small, were piled along another wall. The fragrance of the handmade soaps and lotions nearly blotted out the smell of the not quite stale but definitely past fresh coffee in the cups Josh had carried in.
Buzz grabbed two chairs, put one behind Clement and sat on the other. “Can we start at the beginning? Were you angry with Aaron Whittaker for any reason?”
Dolores sighed. “Is that cup of coffee for me?”
“It was, but now I’m afraid you’d throw it,” Josh said.
“Preventing me from quenching my thirst is the beginning of the torments I must endure for carrying out God’s words?”
“It’s not worth all that. Just drink it. I suppose you want cream and sugar, too.”
“No, I will take my coffee as black as your heart seems to be.” Dolores sipped the coffee then set the cup beside her.
“So, you and Aaron Whittaker had an argument,” Gary prompted.
“No, there was no argument.”
“You just walked in and cut his head off for no reason? ‘Evening, Dolores.’ ‘Evening, Aaron.’ Slice!”
Dolores sighed again and took another sip of coffee. She gestured at Clement. “I see this man around this neighborhood several times. I know all the people who work here so I start to wonder why he is here. Then one day he comes into the building- a friend called me and I was at the elevator and ready to intercept him- and he is wearing coveralls and pretending he works for Mr. Gomez. I know Mr. Gomez would never hire someone like him and he is lying about why he is here. Mr. Gomez had to work very hard to get this building to clean and I know people were not happy when he did so I have been waiting for someone to come and try to take it away from him.”
“But I never talked to Aaron Whittaker so why would you think he had anything to do with it?”
“Because you and he would stick together and try to take away the building. You are like the people who did not want him to have the building in the first place.”
“You mean we’re white?”
“I tried to talk to Aaron about the building. I tried to ask him to put in a good word for Mr. Gomez but all the time he was busy with his own work.”
“I don’t understand,” Buzz said. “Why is it so important for you to have Mr. Gomez cleaning this building? Why do you care who does it as long as they do a good job?”
“Is it because he’s Mexican?”
“She’s got the hots for him.”
“Josh!” But Dolores’s bronze face was turning pink.
“And he doesn’t know about it. Ha!”
“Yes, it is as he says. I love Mr. Gomez.”
“That doesn’t really explain why him having this building is so important.”
“I told you. He doesn’t know and she can’t or won’t tell him.”
“Why couldn’t she? Um why couldn’t you?”
“Because I work in an office and Mr. Gomez cleans the building. I was in an elevator in a building downtown before it was torn down and I saw him there and suddenly I was in love with him. I tried to forget him and they tore down the building and I thought I would be fine because I would never see him again. Then I heard he was trying to get the contract for this building and I was so happy because I would see him when I came to work. He would say ‘Hello’ to me in the hallway or when he came to empty the wastebaskets. He hired more people and he only came by once in a while but it was enough. Then this man came and he and Aaron were trying to get the building taken away from my Mr. Gomez.”
Buzz eyed Gary’s coffee enviously. “Did you kill Aaron Whittaker to protect Mr. Gomez?”
“I killed him because God told me to.”

09
May
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Twenty-first Installment)

“I thought you didn’t know this guy. I thought you only talked to him once.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s the senselessness of the whole thing. One day you’re talking to a man about good and evil and Saul and David and the next day you find out someone cut his head off. The fathers go out to get food for their chicks and they come back to discover a bird ate them and it was a waste of time.” One of the little boys looked at their table and giggled. His mother, following his eyes, tapped his cheeseburger sternly.
“Okay, you’re scaring mothers and children and you’re starting to sound like Jeff. I’m not saying it isn’t hard to find out someone you knew has been murdered and I’m not saying you’re wrong to be angry or even scared about all this. But let’s figure out who did it so you can feel at least a little satisfaction on that count.” They chewed and swallowed in silence. KC declared that was the way, presumably answering an unheard question regarding his preference, he liked it. The little girl tussled with her older brother over a French fry. Their father said something low and decisive. The girl slumped back against the booth. “I can see why your family was disappointed because even when you’re not paying any attention to what you’re saying you still come up with something that makes sense.”
“I’m not sure if I’ve been complimented or insulted. What are you talking about?”
“Justification for killing someone.”
“Yeah?”
“In our society we usually accept that there are certain situations that excuse killing someone.”
“If they break into your house?”
“Yeah, in some places. There’s also self-defense.”
“Aaron Whittaker had a migraine and he was lying on the floor. I heard him sit up and if you’d heard the agony he was in you couldn’t be convinced he was capable of hurting anyone.”
“Or protecting someone,” Buzz continued.
“There again, I don’t see how Aaron could have been a danger to anybody. The man was in extreme pain. He couldn’t even reach up to the desk to get his own thermos of coffee.”
“And you’re sure it was sincere?”
“I don’t know. Can you fake a migraine? Women have been accused of faking things but I’ve always heard there was a purpose to what they did. What would be the benefit of holing up in a dark room and lying on the floor if you weren’t actually sick? I guess we could check with people who knew him and find out whether he actually suffered from migraines. Maybe Mari would tell you something if you promise her enough.”
“She’s someone else’s problem right now and I’m willing to keep it that way. Besides, everything we’ve seen so far has been consistent with the reality that he was suffering a migraine. He was in the dark, he was lying down, he was drinking coffee, he made disturbing noises when he tried to sit up, and he hadn’t eaten much all day.”
“Wait a minute, how do you know that?”
“Stomach contents report.”
“Could the migraine have been brought on by low blood sugar?”
“I’d have to check into it but my gut instinct says that even if it could be this one wasn’t.”
“Why?”
“He’d been diabetic for years, I’m guessing here, and he knew how important it was to keep his blood sugar stable.”
“Yeah, but cream cheese and cranberries and chocolate aren’t exactly low in sugar. Is that what you’d expect somebody to be eating if they wanted things to be stable?”
“No, but people who are diabetic do screwy things sometimes. I knew a girl who used to wash down Godiva chocolates with champagne.”
“Hold on. He said something about maybe having to excuse himself to throw up.”
“He was probably hoping he would. Migraine affects the nausea center of the brain. Sometimes the only thing that helps is to throw up.”
“So, we can assume he hadn’t already thrown up or he would have been feeling better?” The family was leaving now and as they were passing Clement’s table, the smaller of the boys mimed making himself vomit. His mother swatted him with the hand not holding the tray of garbage.
“You’re thinking that if he had been able to eat something earlier in the day and then he’d thrown it up the only thing left would be whatever he ate after he threw up.”
“Right. Which would be the cranberries and cream cheese.”
“I think it’s going to be pretty tough to figure out whether or not he threw up. ‘You can’t dust for vomit’ as they said in Spinal Tap.”
“How long does it take to digest cream cheese? Or cranberries?”
“I have no idea.”
“I’ve got another question you probably can answer.”
“Yeah?”
“Who called it in?”
“What?”
“Who called 911? Who called the police or whoever and said ‘Hey, I found a dead body in this office’? Was it one of the cleaning people?”
“Tanner’s looking a little anxious up there. You wanna see if they have anything that passes for coffee?”
“Sure.” He came back empty-handed to hear Buzz signing off a phone call. “Tanner says they do but since we seem like we’re okay he wouldn’t recommend it. Vicky suggested a frozen mocha dessert type thing.”
“God help me. You might be wondering who that was on the phone.”
“Not really but if you want to tell me.”
“The person who called it in was Dolores only she’s not calling herself Dolores anymore.”
“What?”
“Patience, my good man. All will be revealed. She didn’t show up for work for two days but she did call in on the second day and say she was very sorry but she was having some drug problems and she planned to go into rehab so please don’t fire her. When they did sit down and talk with her in person she had a very interesting story to tell indeed. Before we talk with her, however, we need to pay a visit to my old friend Dr. Phillips.”
“The coroner?”
“Yep. He has an interesting story too.”

04
May
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Twentieth Installment)

“We don’t have hanging in this state.”
“Well, being lit up like a Christmas tree then.”
“Or the electric chair.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve got no intention of dying for something I didn’t do and I don’t want to talk any more about it until I talk to my lawyer and he talks to somebody with the clout to keep me out of this.”
“Where is your lawyer? I can’t imagine what he was thinking letting you come in here and shoot your mouth off.”
“I told him I didn’t need him to come with me. He wanted to but I told him he didn’t need to because I was just going to be having a talk with my old friend Clement.”
“Then as soon as you saw I was gonna be here too you should have called him and had him come in.”
“Yeah, I should have. ‘Woulda shoulda coulda’ as my mother always says. But I didn’t. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t say anything I can’t deny later. I didn’t say anything you can hold me to. The only thing I said for sure is that I did not kill Aaron Whittaker. I don’t like the way this conversation is going and since I’m not under arrest and I have other things I’d like to do today, I would like to get the hell out of here.”
Buzz knocked on the wall beside the door and Mari was let out. Clement saw a gray-haired man come forward and take her arm. “She’ll probably get everything she wants,” Buzz said, when the door was closed.
“Why? How can you promise to keep her out of it when she might be the one who killed Aaron?”
“Because she’s right that the ultimate cause of death was determined to be decapitation.”
“But let’s say she really did do something before the other person came in and cut his head off. What if she did something that made it easier for them to decapitate him?”
“She’s an accessory.”
“What if she thought she killed him or thought she’d left him to die then someone else came along?”
“And finished the job.”
“Yeah, and she didn’t know anything about that until somebody told her. What if as far as she was concerned Aaron was dead or nearly dead?”
“That’s an interesting idea. If there’s any truth to what you’re saying then she must have been awfully surprised when they hauled her off the bus and brought her back and it wasn’t in cuffs.”
“How could she have done it? What’s a way she could kill him without really killing him?”
“Now, you’re confusing me. I gotta ask Sylvia something. You wanna wait out here in a nicer chair in a room that actually has windows?”
“Yeah, that’d be good.”
The two men went into the larger room and Clement selected a chair and a magazine. Buzz walked over to Sylvia’s desk. “Do we have the toxicology report on Aaron Whittaker? Also stomach contents?”
“It’s right here.” Sylvia shifted some papers on her desk and pulled a brown folder from the pile.
“Thanks.” Buzz walked back to where Clement was sitting. He opened the folder and scanned the reports. “She didn’t poison him.”
“The report says that?”
“In so many words. The tox screen was negative on all known drugs and poisons.”
“Damn.”
“Stomach contents consisted of some walnuts, some cranberries, some cream cheese, and bits of a chocolate covered espresso bean.”
“That’s it?”
“Yep.”
“You know, in a way that makes sense.”
“How?”
“Aaron told me he had a migraine. It’s a little weird that he was in his office instead of home or somewhere more comfortable but maybe this was the place he felt the most at home. Or maybe it came on pretty quickly and he didn’t feel able to drive anywhere else.”
“My aunt had migraines that would lay her out. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t walk. The only thing that helped her feel better was puking.”
“Hey! You said your aunt couldn’t eat.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“So, Aaron Whittaker was diabetic. What do you suppose would happen to someone who was diabetic and who was unable to eat regularly?”
“Obviously their blood sugar would drop.”
“If it gets low enough you go into a coma, right?”
“Yeah. Are you wondering where the walnuts come in?”
“Aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m also wondering how someone who couldn’t drive ended up with cranberries and cream cheese in his stomach.”
“And a chocolate covered espresso bean.”
“That too.”
“There’s another thing I’ve been wondering about.”
“Can we talk about it over some coffee and a BLT?”
“Sure. I’m picking the place this time.”
“Any place but Anna’s.”
“What?”
“Hey, I’m all for cleanliness but I like a little flavor in my food even if it does mean swatting a few flies.”
“You’re a cretin.”
“Yeah, it’s healthier that way.”

He took him back to Brad and Vicky and the A&W. Except it wasn’t Brad today; it was a red-headed kid named Tanner who was even less ept than Brad. Vicky, who was in charge for the moment, supervised the making of three BLTs before one passed her muster. Both men ordered root beer floats and Clement rocked Buzz by asking for a large Coney Island.
“I can’t believe you frequent a place like this. I can’t believe you’d eat something like that especially when it was made by him.”
“I’m sure, it’s okay; Vicky kept a close eye on him.”
“Oh ho, so you’re a regular.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. I came out here the other day after I had lunch at the school. I was hoping some real food would help me recover from the sloppy Joe I’d had at lunch but then I didn’t have the nerve to put any fast food on top of it.”
“Which explains how you knew the employees’ names but not why you’re sitting there with a giant Coney.”
“Let’s say I was feeling nostalgic.”
“Yeah?”
“We used to go to A&W on road trips when I was a kid.”
“You still see your family?”
“No. We aren’t what you might call close.”
“What happened? Are you the black sheep of the family?”
“You know what? I think it’s a little early in our relationship for you to be psychoanalyzing me. Usually that kind of thing doesn’t happen until two people have slept together which you and I aren’t gonna. I wouldn’t say I was the black sheep, I would say people were disappointed. They thought I was smart and they thought I was probably gonna do great things with my life and make the world a better place for all living things and it didn’t happen. I haven’t made the world a better place and what I do is sell chicken strips that are generally acknowledged to be nasty.”
“How do you feel about selling nasty chicken strips?” Buzz was smiling. “You said you had another question about Aaron Whittaker. You’ve done your part; I’m sitting here with a BLT. Fire away.”
“How did he get there? I didn’t see a car in the lot when I drove up around eight.”
“He could have walked over. He didn’t live far from the office. That’s probably one of the reasons he chose the new complex when he moved the office from downtown.”
“It used to be downtown?”
“Yes, when Whittaker’s father started the business it was right near the center of town. That was partly so customers could find him and partly because at that time that’s all the town there was. A few years ago the powers that be determined the old building could be more useful as condos and everybody had to go. Aaron decided to take advantage of the situation by moving into the new complex which was a medium walk from his home.”
“He couldn’t have walked there after the migraine started, right?”
“It depends on how they are for him. Judging from everything you’ve told me, I’d say he wouldn’t have done much walking if he could avoid it.”
“That means he went to the office before the migraine got really bad. Why? I mean, yeah it was dark there and quiet but why go to the office.”
“Not a place I would choose or many other people would for that matter. But, like you said, it was dark and quiet. It had familiar and comforting things in it, stuff that had belonged to his dad. Mostly, I’m guessing, it was the idea that it was a controlled environment. Nobody knew he was there or expected to see him there so he could be left to recover without anyone bothering him.”
“Right. Just me and Mari and whoever cut off his head with a shovel. Did you guys find out what those rocks were?”
“Some ochre, some malachite, and we’re still working on the blue one. Nothing worth killing anyone over.”
“Isn’t it funny how we say that?”
“What?”
“’Nothing worth killing anyone over’. Like if he’d had different rocks in his office there would be justification for his being dead now. Like there’s a good reason for killing someone, for cutting their head off with a shovel.” Brad and Vicky had competed an order for a family of five and they slid the trays across the counter towards them. Each parent picked up a tray and the mother gathered the children around her and urged them, duck-like, to a table on the far side of the restaurant.

29
Apr
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Nineteenth Installment)

The room Mari, Clement, and Buzz now sat in was light green. It was otherwise indistinguishable from the blue one the two men had visited the day before. Even the coffee in the cups appeared to be the same.
“Mari, why were you headed for the Oregon coast?”
“Clement told me Jeff wasn’t acting right and I should get out of town.” She looked at Clement who nodded.
“Why the beach? Does that seem like a safe place for you to go?”
“What do you mean?”
“Mari, don’t most people who know you know how much you love the beach?”
“Yeah.”
“So why would you go there?”
“Because I never have time to go to the beach. I’m always working or I have to drag someone like Jeff along who hates being there and gripes the whole time. I figured that this time I had an excuse to be out of town and while I was going on a trip anyway I might as well stop at the beach.”
“You were going to Alabama by way of the Oregon coast?”
“Yes.” She stuck out her bottom lip.
“Mari, did you kill Aaron Whittaker?”
The bottom lip shot in like a spring-loaded cash register drawer. “You can’t just ask me like that.”
Buzz looked confused. “I can’t ask you like what?”
“You can’t just come right out and ask me if I killed Aaron yet. You asked me about the beach and now you have to ask me if I knew Aaron and if we were still seeing each other and if we’d had an argument and if there was any reason for me to want to kill him.”
“I know you were seeing each other and I know you knew each other so why would I ask you that?”
“That’s just how it’s done.”
“How it’s done where?”
“Anywhere. Everywhere. CSI or Matlock or Columbo. You can’t go right to ‘Did you kill him’. You have to ease into it. You know, lead up to it a little more.”
Buzz put his coffee cup on the table and stood up. He was just a little taller than Mari when everyone was on their feet but now he was the only one standing. “We’re not going to do it that way, Mari. Because this is my room and I’m asking the questions so I get to decide how things are done but also because I don’t know just that you and Aaron were still seeing each other. You’re not the first person I’ve talked to so I know a lot of things. I know about the Millennium Prize and that you had your eye on winning it.” Mari looked daggers at Clement but Buzz continued, “I know you’re smart enough to be working on one of the problems and to possibly solve it. Jeff knows too.” Mari put her hands on top of her head. “He doesn’t know you’re seeing Aaron but he does know you’re a lot smarter than you’ve been pretending to be. That’s one scam you won’t be running any more.”
“It wasn’t a scam. Yeah, I’m smart and yeah I hid it but you don’t get it. When people know you’re smart they expect you to act smart all the time. That takes a lot of energy and sometimes I just didn’t have it. Everybody does stupid things sometimes but once people know you’re smart they don’t let you get away with that.”
“They don’t let you get away with murder either. Even setting people up for murder takes more intelligence than most people have. Agatha Christie couldn’t pull it off so what makes you think you can?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mari was squeezing her Styrofoam cup and nibbling the edge.
“I think you do. You’re looking at Clement and I think that’s a good thing. It’s only right that you finally pay attention to the dumb goat you intended to hang everything on.”
“What?” Mari stood up and she was nearly eye to eye with Buzz.
“Sit down. I’m asking the questions in this room.” Clement, started to intervene but Buzz gave him a hard look and he sank back into his chair. After a moment, Mari sat down as well. “You’re the one who told Jeff that Aaron had nude photos of you. You knew that Jeff would want them back and you knew he was too much of a coward to either confront Aaron or to go in and get them himself. What he would do is pass the job along to his good friend, the supreme gentleman, Clement. But Clement wouldn’t just barge right into the office and toss things around looking for the photos. Clement would be seen in the area a lot while he was researching Aaron’s schedule and determining the best time and the best way to go in. He might even talk with the man himself to get a better feel for how best to do this job for you. You knew all that because you did research yourself and you knew that not only is Clement a good friend but he’s a sucker for anyone in trouble.”
“No. You’re wrong about all of that. Your wife should be the one getting out of town because you’re the one who’s completely irrational.”
“I don’t think so. Why did you call Clement from the party at your friend Allison’s house?”
“I didn’t mean to. I’d been drinking and I guess I got kind of lonely so I called him.”
“If you were lonely, why didn’t you call your boyfriend?”
“Because he didn’t care about me the way Clement did. Clement wanted to know how I was going to get home and whether I had a safe place to be and Jeff asked me none of those things. I wanted to talk to someone who really gave a damn about me.”
“No. That’s a pretty story but I don’t buy it and I hope Clement doesn’t buy it either. You called to thank him for going after the pictures because you knew that, if he hadn’t retrieved them yet, your call would be just the spur to get him moving. You called him to help alleviate any doubts he might be having about the whole thing.”
“No. I was lonely.”
“You weren’t lonely; You set him up right from the beginning. He knows that now. He also knows there never were any pictures.”
Mari stuck her bottom lip out again and looked at Clement. “You must think I’m awfully silly to be asking you to get pictures when there weren’t even any pictures to get.”
“No, I think I was silly. Silly and stupid and pathetic. Only somebody who was all of those things would have been an attractive target for you. Jeff was in love with you and you didn’t pick him. He wasn’t desperate enough for your attention, I guess.”
Mari stood and walked to the wastebasket. She dropped the half-full cup into the can and a little of the coffee splashed up onto the wall. “You’re not so innocent in all this. You were always hanging around us waiting to see what would happen. Maybe you were hoping Jeff and I would split up and you’d get a chance with me or maybe you just got your jollies imagining what went on after Jeff and I left you in the living room at the end of the night. You’re not just pathetic; You’re also a voyeur.”
“This is entertaining as well as educational,” Buzz broke in, “but you still didn’t answer the original question of whether or not you killed Aaron Whittaker. You might as well have after all the work you went to covering your butt. You set Clement up and then he gave you an excellent alibi by telling you to get out of town. So, did you do it?”
Mari sat down at the table again. She leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs at the ankles. She looked at the two men. Low, muffled voices came through the wall from the room on their right. A phone rang five times before it was answered. “Did I kill Aaron Whittaker?” She smiled and shrugged. “The honest answer? Not really.”
“All right, now I’m the one feeling blonde,” Buzz said. “How does one not really kill someone?”
“It’s easy. Aaron was decapitated with a shovel, right?”
“That’s been established.”
“I didn’t do that.”
“You didn’t cut off his head with a shovel?”
“No, I didn’t. So if that was the cause of death then I didn’t kill him and whatever I may or may not have done before that is irrelevant. Right?” She uncrossed her legs, folded her arms across her chest and smiled again.
“Technically, that’s true. I’d still like to know what you did before that. Just for my own peace of mind.”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. I probably shouldn’t have told you I might have done anything except I was trying to be clear.”
Clement placed his hand beside Mari’s but didn’t take it. “Mari, I’m sorry for what I said before but I was really hurt when I found out you were just using me as a cover for Aaron’s murder. Don’t you want to help us find out who killed him?”
Mari slipped her hand into Clement’s. She squeezed it and looked at him with soft eyes. Clement squeezed back. She increased the pressure and her gentle smile became a sneer. She dropped Clement’s hand. “Why no, Clement, I don’t particularly want to help you find out who killed my ex-boyfriend. Why the hell should I care who killed him? He was my ex-boyfriend, emphasis on the word ‘ex’. Yeah, we still saw each other now and then and he was okay to talk to about math or science or gadgets but I didn’t love him, I didn’t like him and I don’t give a rat’s hindquarters who killed him as long as everyone is clear on the fact that it wasn’t me.”
“But we’re not clear on that. A million dollars is a lot of money and you’ve already told us you were in his office last night.”
“No, I didn’t.” She stood and walked to the wall and back. “All right, maybe I did tell you that in a roundabout way but I didn’t have any reason to kill him. All right, maybe that’s not entirely true either but I didn’t kill him. Look at me! Do I look big enough to be able to sever someone’s spinal cord with a shovel? Especially somebody who was fighting with me?”
“You can do anything if you get enough leverage. Buzz, isn’t that what you told me when we were in Aaron’s office?” Buzz nodded. “And I don’t believe Aaron was fighting with you when he was killed. They found his body in almost the same spot he’d been in when I left him earlier that night.”
“Yeah? So maybe you killed him and it wasn’t a set-up at all.” She was smiling.
“Absolutely out of character and no motive. No, Mari, you are suspect number one right now.”
“Well, I didn’t do it. I didn’t cut off anybody’s head with a shovel whether you think I could or not. Maybe I did something else and maybe I didn’t but you’re not gonna find out either way unless I get some promises.”
“You’ve gotten a lot smarter since you came in and sat down.”
“Maybe I had to. Maybe a girl has to get smart when you’re talking about swinging at the end of rope.”