By Salvatore Buttaci.
Maybe it was the bills stacked high on the cluttered kitchen table. The unopened ones. Those way past deadlines printed in dark bold print warning legal action if I did not move my check-writing hand and promptly do what was right by corporate credit-card America.
Or maybe some cuckold husband who did the math put two and two together and got my name in the equation. Who can say for sure. I even suspected it might be one of those undying vendettas from the old country that after centuries finally catches up with a down-road descendant who knows about as much of the original score as my sister’s grandson knew about being potty-trained.
One thing was certain: somebody wanted me dead. And that somebody was leaving enough clues to say, “It don’t matter if they catch me, ‘cause you‘re worth it.”
And the clues might just as well have been the huge, top line of the eye chart, because even without my glasses, I read them without faltering: “E” for “Extinction.” Plain as hell. Only I figured it might be courteous of him or her to maybe leave a list of twenty hints I could ponder one by one and be trusted to come up finally with the motive. “I am a blast from your past. Who am I? When we were in high school, you stole my girl. Who am I? We worked together on the Farrington Project, but you took total credit for my findings. Who am I? My son died because you had to drive down a rainy city street, a D.U.I. madman at the wheel. Who am I?”
Somebody was after me. It got so I trusted nobody. Even harmless words out of the mouths of babes and neighbors gave me cause to wonder. Analyze. Dig deep for hidden meanings.
“Honey, who left the garage door open?” I asked Marci one morning over a quick cup of coffee. A car explosion in my head soured the lukewarm Maxwell House.
“Garage door?” she asked. I nodded. Garage door. Sounds like what? I wondered. Not for long. Marci was the best-looking woman I ever shared a life with, but upstairs under that golden hair that hung down to milky-white shoulders was pure emptiness, a brain lonely as hell for brain cells to talk to.
“No idea, J.W. Maybe the wind.” Then she laughed. Who knows why. “Yeah, the wind!” she added for her kind of clarification which did nothing for me.
She dropped a burnt slice of rye on a napkin in front of me. A plate would have meant too much effort on her part, something she preferred expending on the turn of her long, attractive legs that seemed to climb so magnificently. Marci was high on my charts, so I ignored her shortcomings; she ignored mine.
“You still on that somebody’s-trying-to-kill-me kick?”
If she had half a brain, she might have worked at being less insensitive. She made my fears too trivial to cause concern. Oh, somebody’s trying to keep me from my next birthday. How damn inconsiderate! Let’s just put that notion out on the curb like a dog in search of a hydrant. Don’t worry. Be happy.
“Who’d want me dead?”
Marci nearly choked on the dry rye dust like I did moments before. I handed her my half-full glass of o.j. She guzzled it down, meanwhile, waved her other dainty hand because she had something to say about that.
“Who doesn’t want you dead?”
“Marci, come on now. This is serious crap. At least once a day for a month now I am reading the signs every time I turn around. I’m telling you, somebody’s got it in for me, and he ain’t gonna rest till I’m at rest…for good!”
But the wife wasn’t listening. With a span of attention two notches above housefly, she was running hot water over cups and saucers, whistling all the while that old famous tune from “A Summer Place” or “Splendor in the Grass” or who the hell knows what.
Without a word I got up from the kitchen table and headed for the closet to grab my jacket and briefcase. My watch said “get moving”, so I left the house to the tune of Marci ’s whistle, walked into the garage, click-buzzed the car door open, slid in, inserted the key into the ignition, but hesitated to turn the key. Peripherally I saw the whiteness on the floor mat, a tiny envelope like you see invitations come in from relatives you wish would keep those little envelopes to themselves. I picked it up, read the note inside.
“Every dog has its day. Today is yours.”
When I turned my head away from the message I suspected would be the last clue from my killer, I saw a man out there dash into the side door of our blue cape cod. First I thought it might be one of those floaters streaking lately through my eyeballs, but it was shaped too much like a man with bad intentions.
I did a reverse slide out of the Lexus and walked cautiously back towards the house. When I fed my key to the lock, the door sprang open wide, and a man with a gun stood beside Marci , her milky-white arm around his waist like the two of them were doing a fashion commercial within the door frame, the morning sunlight brightening their smiles.
“What the hell?”
“You got that right,” said Marci who was becoming more of a stranger as this drama unfolded. “Hell day for you, J.W.”
“The end of the line,” added her new partner with the silver gun.
“Why? What the hell––”
“There’s that hell again,” said my wife, who obviously would be my ex-wife, though it was almost crystal-clear I wouldn’t be around to relish that.
So I did what most of us hate doing. Short of dropping to my knees, I begged for my life. I explained how I could just disappear, go to another state, another country, fly to the moon, but please don’t do this. You can’t get away with murder. Who was I kidding. Murderers walked among us, rode the same commuter trains, shook our hands at parties.
“Don’t kill me.”
The two of them laughed so hard the gun bobbed up and down like the beak of a bird. It bobbed so much I took a desperate chance to wrench it from his hand, which I did, and now the scene, no longer a TV commercial, was thankfully changed. Now the two of them, unattached I might add, were on the other side of the nasty silver gun. And they were not smiling.
“Your turn now to say the magic words: ‘Don’t kill me.’ But first a few nagging questions,” I said with new-found confidence. “ Why? Okay, one more time: Why? Or is the answer so obvious only a fool like me would miss it?”
Then Marci started to cry, a ploy that always seemed to do the trick. I’d hand her my white back-pocket handkerchief, wait for her to sniffle away those last tears, and I would apologize profusely, even for crimes uncommitted, just to stop her from crying and breaking my heart. This time she stopped on her own. One final sniffle and then, “You bastard! I want you dead!”
Now I was laughing. “Dead? Neat trick. Try another wish, Marci baby. How about ‘I wish you don’t pull that trigger and make a hole in my head.’ Or how about this one: ‘Could we talk? I’ve never seen this man before. He broke into our home and forced my arm around his slim waist. Told me to smile for the camera.’ Oh, Marci, Marci, Marci.”
Now it was lover boy‘s turn to beg. “She paid me to kill you. I got nothing against you. Honest!”
I pulled the trigger on the last syllable of “honest” because I hated what all this had put me through. The handsome young prince crumpled to the thick, green shag, and Marci screamed as she dropped down to kiss his open-eyed, bloody face.
“He can’t feel that,” I said, because even in situations dire as this one, a man has to maintain his sense of humor or life around him becomes unbearably oppressive. Then, since the first bullet worked so well, I decided there were probably more in that silver lifesaver, so I emptied two into my unfaithful wife of several years. It was the only way to stop her crying. End this charade.
First, I let the gun free-fall to the red-spoiled rug, then from my side jacket pocket I removed my cell phone. No need to tell you word for word what I told the cops. It went something like, “I just killed a prowler with his own gun, but God help me, I killed my wife as well. An accident. A terrible, terrible accident.
Now tell me, who deserves an academy award?
SALVATORE BUTTACI’s work has appeared widely in publications such as The New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, and Christian Science Monitor. He was the recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award in 2007. In 2010 he was a Pushcart Prize nominee. His two collections of fiction, Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, were both published by All Things That Matter Press. A retired teacher and professor, Buttaci lives in West Virginia with his wife Sharon.