MEANWHILE, ON WILLOW LANE
By Larry Tyler
Everything runs out. I ran out of cigarettes this morning. I ran out of beer last night. A couple weeks ago the fuel in my furnace ran out because I was gone a lot and forgot to keep my eye on it. A week or so before that my fiancé ran out on me, pretty much for the same reason. Things run out. That’s just the way life is. You run out of stuff and have to try to get refills.
So, lacking refills in just about every department, here I sit, with nothing better to do all day today than park myself on the couch and stare out the window, wishing I had something more interesting to look at than a trailer park across the street, but of course I don’t.
I’ve wasted the last couple hours thinking about my fiancé, wishing I could crank the heat up in the living room a little bit, and wanting some smokes real bad. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about my fiancé, even though she was a nut actually, scared of everything on the planet and full of drama at every turn. Give you an idea what I’m talking about: One day we’re walking across this bridge, that big one downtown, and she keeps going on about how scared she is so I say to her, don’t look down, look straight ahead. I tell her, you’re not going to fall in. She says, I’m not scared of falling in, I’m scared the wind’s going to whip up and knock my glasses off my face, knock them right into the river.
See what I mean? But, wait, it gets worse. She says, when I get scared like this I just want to rip the glasses off my face and fling them right in the water and say, There! You want them? Go ahead and take them, River! Here they are!
That’s the kind of nut she was, and it’s like I need that kind of drama in my life? No. But still in all, it bites that she was the one who walked out on me and not the other way around.
It’s this kind of stuff that’s going around in my head until about an hour ago, right up to around six P.M. I’m sitting, I’m staring, I’m zoning out, and that’s when I see a pickup truck pull up across the way and this guy gets out and tugs at a ratty looking carpet all rolled up in the back of his truck, and he works at it and keeps working at it until he gets it to fall off the back of his tailgate. It falls with a thud to the pavement and he seems satisfied with that result so off he drives.
I get up off the couch at that point and go see what Santa Claus has delivered, you know? Nice things happen sometimes, even to people like me.
I wasn’t in the market for a new carpet or anything like that, but you never know who might pay you a couple bucks for one, so you don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say. Anyway, this old rug wasn’t worth even a couple bucks. Definitely not worth the sweat and strain it would have taken to drag it over to my porch. Even at twilight you could see the thing was all worn out, torn, stained, faded, you name it, and it smelled bad, so I went back in the house and figured that was that. I went back to my sitting and staring.
About ten minutes later I hear some noises out front.
When I look outside I see this woman from the trailer across the way leaning over the rug, and it was all spread out by this point, I guess she unrolled it, she must have, and she was screaming and wailing and saying oh no, oh no, over and over again. Curiosity got the best of me so I went out to see what she was wailing about.
I have no idea who the guy was wrapped up in the carpet, but apparently she did. He was about as dead as he could be, and no kidding he looked creepy, I mean really creepy. He was on his back and his eyes were wide open. He was looking up at the sky with this expression like, well I don’t know, it was like he was saying I don’t want to be here. Somebody get me out of here. He had a big blotch of blood all around his chest. He couldn’t have been deader.
I didn’t say anything to the woman because I don’t think she even knew I was there. My guess is she was high because she acted like she was a lot more than just upset, way beyond that, kind of bug eyed and out of it somehow. She was nice looking though. I’d say she was twenty-five or maybe even thirty-five, I’m no good at guessing those kinds of things, seemed a little rough and wild for my taste though. Or maybe a little too pretty for me, to be honest.
Anyway, I went back to my trailer, sat on the couch and waited. I don’t know for what exactly but this seemed like this was just Act One. More to come.
I pulled my guitar out and started strumming it to kill some time. The woman went back in the house and I saw her standing at the window. She was on her cell phone. She talked a whole lot for a full minute, all agitated, rubbing her hands through her hair, looking up at the ceiling a bunch of times and sighing. Then she hung up by jabbing her thumb on the screen and threw the phone across the room.
I kept expecting to hear sirens, but I didn’t. I thought for sure the police would show up or an ambulance or something, but there was none of that. I kept thinking the cops would canvas the neighborhood and be asking questions about who saw what and that sort of thing, you know, like cops do, and I thought when they showed up I could tell them I saw the pickup truck and the guy. I tried to remember what color the truck was. Or what kind of truck it was. Or what the guy looked like. But the cops never showed up. Just as well I suppose because I would’ve felt like a fool. I couldn’t tell them a damn thing except what the rug looked like, and they could see that for themselves.
I grabbed the remote off the floor and turned the TV on while I waited, but then I remembered they turned my cable off last month. Everything runs out, like I said. For instance, the cable people ran out of patience with me and cut me off cold right in the middle of a show and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it. So here I am. No beer, no cigarettes, no TV, staring out the window letting the sky get dark, sitting around waiting for the next act of the show across the road to start.
But nothing at all was going on outside at that point, nothing in fact for a good five or ten minutes, and that lull in the action set my mind to wandering, gave me a chance to start pondering stuff, big cosmic things like what do you think you’re doing? You got nothing better to do than sit back and watch other people’s lives fall apart, do you? What’s the matter with you anyway? Things like that. I hate it when my mind starts wandering. It’s like all of a sudden I’ve got a new set of parents in my head and they’re always pissed at me.
So here’s the thing. I’m a dishwasher. 38 years old and I’m a dishwasher, and part-time at that. Any idea how that makes me feel to say that? Well, if you do then I feel sorry for you, bro. That means you’re on the same dead-end road in life as me. The answer to all those questions rolling around my head is, oh yeah you’re a loser alright. Big fat loser. Everything runs out on you like crap flushing down a toilet and you got no life and nothing to do but sit and watch the misery other people are going through like a peeping tom pervert. Pretty pathetic, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s pathetic. I hate it when I get like that. It happens every now and then but I hate it. So I figured I better snap out of it.
I stand up, with no particular destination in mind, and just then I see this big fancy car pull up across the road, and I study it real close. To me it looks like a Lexus or something, I mean it’s a really nice car with a big deep trunk. It looked purple maybe, but it was getting dark so it was hard to tell.
The trunk pops open on its own and a guy gets out. Now, I figure the guy driving the Lexus is like the kind of guy this woman is going to go for. Not dressed all that fancy or nothing, but he looks like the type of guy some rich fellow with a Lexus would have around to run errands, like a guy who could move up the ranks in some organization and start making good money in no time at all. He looked muscular and bright and pretty confident and that’s a killer combination for women, you know.
So the woman comes running out to the curb, they have a few words, and the guy wraps the corpse back into the rug all nice and snug and tosses it in his trunk. The trunk’s pretty big so he hardly has to fold it up at all. He slams the trunk shut, the woman jumps into the car, the muscular guy gets in, and off they go.
Okay, now at this point I see that she’s left the door open to the trailer, so I head across the street and decide to have a look around.
The place was just about empty. A couple chairs and a table in the living room, but nothing else, and nothing in the kitchen either, not even a toaster. I tried to remember who’d been living there in the past month or so. It was an old couple I think but I couldn’t really remember. Looks like they moved out anyway, and took just about everything with them.
I made one nice little discovery on the kitchen counter though as I was snooping around. Apparently Pretty Woman left her cigarettes behind when she went out to the car. I picked up the pack and tore it open and there was over half a pack left. Nice. I put it in my pocket. Then I found something else on the floor by the living room wall, the phone she threw across the room. I picked that up too.
So I go exploring to see what other little treasures I might find lying around and I open the bedroom door and there’s a man sitting there, right in the middle of the room. I nearly keeled over. He’s got duct tape across his mouth and his hands and feet are tied up. He’s got a rope around his waist, wrapped around a bunch of times, tying him to a big thick bedpost so he can’t crawl away anywhere. Man, he scared the hell out of me.
He starts making uh-uh-uh noises at me which is really stupid, like I’m supposed to understand what he’s saying? He’s struggling with the ropes around his wrists and ankles but he’s never going to wriggle out of them.
This is a guy who looks really well off—maybe owns that Lexus I saw—but his fancy clothes are roughed up quite a bit. He’s probably sixty or something like that, but like I said, I can’t judge that kind of thing very well. I kept looking at his shoes. I’ve never seen expensive shoes before, I mean really expensive shoes, but you could tell at a glance he’d spent a fortune on them. I pulled the duct tape away from his mouth so he could talk.
“You’ve got to get me out of here,” he said. “Hurry. Come on, hurry up.”
Even the way he spoke sounded wealthy and refined, like he’d been coached how to sound elegant. I stepped back to study him and he got more upset and impatient. “Don’t just stand there, you fool. Get me out of here, and be quick about it.”
“Do you know anyone that drives a big purple car?” I asked.
He ignored my question and kept struggling with the ropes.
“Young guy, tall, muscular, dark slicked back hair. Nice looking.”
The old guy’s eyes widened. “My son,” he said. “Where is he? Is he out there?”
“Drives a purple Lexus,” I said.
“Dark red Mercedes,” the old man corrected me.
“Okay. I guess that could be it.”
“Get him in here,” the old man ordered. “I’ve got to talk to him.”
“Can’t,” I told him. “He drove off with that woman who was here.”
The old man looked puzzled and alarmed.
“And they took this guy with them who’d been shot or stabbed or something in the chest, wrapped up in an old rug, dead as he could be, a guy with light brown hair and sort of stubble on his chin like he wanted to grow a beard. Who’s that guy?”
The old man didn’t answer. He kept telling me to untie him and get him out of there.
I took Pretty Woman’s cell phone out of my pocket and checked the messages on it. There were three in the last hour that looked interesting. The first one said what’s taking you so long? Did you get the money? The second one just said why don’t you answer me? And the third one said are you ok?
“Who are you?” I asked the old man.
He told me never mind who he was, that was none of my business, and untie these ropes.
I put the duct tape back over his mouth, pressed it down securely, and went back home.
So I’m sitting here on the couch again, and I’ve been thinking all this stuff over ever since I got back.
Don’t you hate it when you catch a show in the middle of a series? I mean, you’ve got to try to figure out who all the characters are and what all the subplots are, and it just takes way too much effort to enjoy a show when you’re stuck in the middle of it.
That’s what this thing across the street is like, a story I’m catching in the middle. I’ve got some of it figured out though, I think.
First off, the old man’s being kidnapped. That’s kind of easy. He wasn’t just sitting there tied up for the hell of it. And Pretty Woman is probably one of the people kidnapping him. The Man In The Rug was also probably one of them doing the kidnapping I figure, and that would explain the messages she texted on her phone. But what do you suppose the rich guy’s son’s role is? Who’s side is he on? What did he have in mind for Pretty Woman when he put her in the car? And the guy in the pickup truck. Did he have a big part in this play too or just a bit part? Think about it: Who would go to all that trouble to plop a dead man on the curb unless there was a good reason to do it?
Now, I know I could get on the phone and call the cops. Probably I should have done that right off, I know that. But just supposing I did that, do you see how that would have played out? The old guy, being rich and all, he’d have taken over at that point. Anything about the kidnapping he wanted the public to know, we’d know. But anything he wanted to keep secret, we’d never know. There’s no doubt about it, all those questions I’ve been asking myself would stay a mystery forever.
But on the other hand, consider this. The police show up, let’s say in a week or two, and find Old Rich Man’s dead body. They see the same thing I saw. A botched kidnapping. The search begins, the press follows the search, fits all the pieces together one at a time, and we get to read about it in the papers and watch it on the news, episode by episode. Be honest now. Don’t you want to know what really happened? I certainly do. This is a rich important guy here. We want to know what happens to important people, don’t we?
Alright, so I feel bad about leaving Old Rich Man over there to die like that. I feel bad, but not totally bad. If I felt totally bad I wouldn’t have done it. And there’s part of me, a pretty big part of me that even feels good about doing it, knowing that finally it’s me doing the running out for a change instead of someone or something running out on me. But also, I feel like I’m kind of performing a public service of some sort for people like us who don’t have much going on in their own lives, who just float along wondering what’s going on with people who’ve got more interesting lives than we do.
So I’ve got the cigarettes spread out beside me on the couch. Thirteen of them. I’m picking one of them up right now and looking at it. I’ll hold it between my fingers a while and study it good and hard before I light it, and maybe I can stretch this out so, I don’t know, so maybe I don’t run out of cigarettes before dawn.
It’s not like I expect anything new to happen overnight really, but you never know. Life’s full of surprises.
I’ll have a smoke right now and then I’ll sit back and watch. And then I’ll have another smoke. I don’t really believe I’ll be able to nurse half a pack of smokes all night, but we’ll see. I’ll certainly try my best, because once I run out, I’m out. Out of smokes and of luck once again I guess. Out of luck unless, maybe, well unless maybe the old man has a pack on him too.
I ought to go see.
Larry Tyler has several mysteries published, including “The Man in Room 814” (June, 2011) in Over My Dead Body!
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