TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES
By B. J. Davenport

"Jesus," Stu Barclay whispered and ran one shaking hand through his dark, thinning hair. He reached down again and touched the side of his wife's throat. "Hazel?" he said, feeling for her pulse. Nothing. Nothing!

He stood up and backed away, dropping the pillow bunched in his hands. His scotch-clouded mind cleared at a frightened pace, his heart pounding as he wiped his sweaty palms against his expensive, tailored jacket. Jesus, he thought, I need a drink.

Licking his dry lips, Stu poured himself a shot of whiskey from the liquor cabinet. The thing to do, he told himself, was to stay calm. He hadn't meant to do it. . .he'd just wanted her to shut up. He knocked the whiskey back, closing his eyes, then wiped his mouth and glanced over at Hazel.

Just like her, he thought, to leave him in a fix like this. At least, she was quiet for once. Not a sound. Not a snore, a murmur, or a suggestion. He'd just meant to shut her up, that's all. How many nights had he suffered her ceaseless nagging, her snoring serenades?

Stu picked the pillow up and placed it beneath her head, then rubbed his hands across his face. There had to be some way out. Some way. . .

He let out a sigh and checked his blurred Rolex. It was almost midnight. A frown touched his full lips and he rubbed at the dark stubble on his jaw. The most important thing was not to panic. He still had time. The cleaning lady wouldn't be back until tomorrow.

Stu pawed through the liquor supply and retrieved a bottle of scotch, then rummaged up ice cubes. Swirling the ice in his drink, he eyed Hazel, trying to calculate how much time had passed since she had annoyed him for the last time.

"I told you to shut up," he said accusingly. Maybe, he could plead justifiable homicide, he thought, mulling it over. Self defense? He could say she attacked him. He ran through the possible inventory. Kitchen knife? A hammer? A corkscrew? A possible scenario ran through his mind, but at his six-foot and her five-foot-two, well, it didn't seem. . .plausible.

Studying her unhappily over the edge of his glass, he thought of all the problems he'd left behind when he had met and married Hazel. A new name, a new wife. He always had such bad luck with wives.

He took another sip, letting the warmth slide down his throat, his eyes narrowing. Not a mark on her. Not a mark. . .

Hazel's parrot squawked noisily in its cage and Stu automatically picked up the newspaper and flung it at the wrought iron bars. The parrot fluttered into the far corner, its wings outspread. "Hello," it cried into the silence of the den. It climbed back up to its perch. "Edgar says hello."

Stu eyed the bird in annoyance. Ought to break its neck, he thought. Suicide pact? Type up a cryptic note. . .Hazel and Edgar say goodbye? He smiled to himself. No, he'd get rid of all her pets later. Find a nice vivisectionist and let them go. Cheap.

The soft gurgling of the aquarium filter drew Stu's attention and he watched the varied fish moving lazily in the clear glass tank. Too bad he couldn't just flush Hazel like he'd done to her fancy fish whenever the urge had struck him. His eyes wandered to the glass patio door, to the swimming pool glimmering beyond it, beneath the full moon.

Drowning? Accidental drowning? His heart leapt excitedly, then sank in disappointment. He'd watched enough Quincy re-runs to know water couldn't get into a dead body's lungs. . .and Hazel always insisting only public television was educational.

He frowned and fumbled in his jacket pocket for the new gold lighter she'd bought him. His hands shook as he lit a cigarette. Hazel and her high-brow ways and peasant life style, always trying to "help" him. Improve him. Get a job, dear. Get an education. Get a hobby.

Why get a job, when she had more than enough money to support both of them in style? Why get an education, when he already had her? Why get a hobby, when he had more extracurricular activities (blondes, brunettes, and redheads) than he could keep track of?

He'd always told her his job in life was to be a goodwill ambassador. Too bad she hadn't believed him, had to annoy him so. She was always there, a sound in the background, making him angry, giving him advice. Talk, talk, talk, an onslaught of ceaseless noise...even when she slept. Why did she have to mess up his life, just when things were going so swell? Always something. Some little thing. . .

He kicked at Hazel's outstretched hand fallen from the couch. What would Columbo do? What would Cannon? What would Hitchcock? Bury her? The neighbors were far enough away, the walls high enough. Outside, the Great Dane, Bruno, whined at the glass patio door and scratched at it with huge, mud covered paws. He pressed his friendly muzzle against the glass and barked.

"Shut up," Stu shouted and slammed the inside door shut. He sat down in the easy chair. No, he decided, no burying. Bruno wouldn't be satisfied to just paw at the ground. He'd play fetch. Burying was out. Definitely out.

A siren sounded and Stu jumped up, spilling his drink. Outside, Bruno howled in unison as the sound passed, the noise fading away into the dark night. Just an ambulance, he reassured himself, but he couldn't stop his hands from trembling. How could he hide the body and sweat out its possible discovery?

Dismemberment? Corrosive acids? The blender?

He shuddered inwardly. No, he wasn't up to that. Maybe, just an alibi? Something simple. His eyes wandered back to Hazel and he pulled the collar up on his jacket, shivering. Geez, it was cold, and Hazel always too cheap to turn the temperature up. She was forever harping about ecology, conservation, rain forests. . .

That was it!

He jumped up and gave a little dance, raising his drink in a toast. Everybody knew how funny Hazel was about things. She'd spend a mint on a new suit for him, but pinch pennies when it came to utilities. She always kept the house freezing, recycled aluminum cans, and saved old newspapers.

He smiled and tossed back the last of his drink, then sprang into action. Bringing the kerosene heater into the room, he double checked the windows, made sure they were securely closed, drapes drawn. He brought a blanket from the hall closet and draped it casually over the couch, then turned on the heater and the small portable television. Stepping back, he surveyed the scene.

Perfect, he thought. Death by asphyxiation. It sounded like a movie of the week. He switched the television channel to a public service station, then folded his arms. Okay, he thought, I just came in and saw her. . .tried to wake her. . .and then poured myself a drink? No. He cleaned his glass and dried it, put it away.

Okay, he began again. I just came in, noticed the door shut, and heard the television. And then, I found her. I opened the windows and tried to wake her. . .He checked his watch. He'd say he got home and passed out in the car. That would cover any lost time. He hoped.

Wiping his palms against his pants, he cleared his throat. Showtime, he thought. He opened the windows and picked up the phone, dialed zero.

"Operator," his voice trembled, "send an ambulance. . .my wife, she--she--I think she's dead!"

He gave his address and name, then let the phone drop back into the cradle. Now, for the piece de resistance. Hurrying to the kitchen he selected a medium sized onion and diced it carefully on the cutting board. He leaned over it, feeling one tear well up. Two. God, he hated onions, but used judiciously, they worked wonders.

He disposed of the onion and with tears streaming down his face, opened the door for the paramedics. "Hurry," he said, motioning them toward Hazel, "please, you've got to--"

"Stand back, sir."

Stu wiped at his eyes and sat in the easy chair as they examined her. Sweat trickled down his back and he slumped forward as an officer entered the small room and conferred with the paramedics.

"Mr. Barclay?" The officer approached and stood over him.

"I'll need to ask a few questions. Just for the record."

"Yes," Stu said. He shut his eyes dramatically and a sob escaped him. "I came in. . .and I--the kerosene heater. . . it. . .and I tried to wake her. I tried--"

"I see," the officer said. "And the room's just like you found it?"

Stu nodded.

"I opened the windows," he said, "and tried to wake her, but-- and then, I called and--" He covered his face with his hands, ignoring the raucous cry of the parrot in its cage.

"Edgar says hello," the parrot squawked. "Edgar says---"

The officer placed the cover over the cage and picked up his portable radio. He depressed the button. "Control," he said, watching Stu carefully, "one-Henry-twelve requesting detectives. Possible homicide."

"What?" Stu stood up, his face pale.

"Sit down, Mr. Barclay. If your wife died of asphyxiation, how is it that Edgar is still here, saying hello?"


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