COLUMBO RERUN - MICHAEL J. SOLENDER
That image haunted me more than any other. The one I have of my mother, crying inconsolably with the disconnected phone still bleating in her right hand like a lost sheep.
Paralyzed by the shock and grief at the loss of her husband, her body heaved and convulsed. The phone continued to bleat until I took it from her hand and put it back into its cradle.
My stepfather. The bastard. Once again, I was the man of the family. Four years older than when I assumed that responsibility the last time under equally dire circumstance, I was still only fifteen years old and tired of my mother's husbands dying in distant places.
Harvey, the current, or I should say most recently deceased, was found dead in his room at Caesar's Palace. A high roller, he was comped and had nothing but the finest suites in Vegas and Atlantic City. Security had called my mother after they found him, naked, except for the nylons and bra he was wearing, in his bed in his free suite after an all-night bender of craps and Pisco Sours. The working girl who reported his "heart failure" had split the scene long before the cops came.
The Las Vegas coroner, overworked and understaffed that evening, did the most cursory autopsy and noting the nitroglycerin pills the cops found with his belongings, had quickly and neatly declared a natural death for the L.A salesman who would be shipped west to the no-doubt grieving widow.
I learned all this after hearing my mother give Aunt Phyllis, her sister and the only relative alive or dead of mine that I really liked, the blow-by-blow on the phone that afternoon. She learned it all from the "Private Dick" she had following him.
She knew, and I knew, he wasn't in Petaluma at a manufacture's rep convention. The $300 a day plus expenses gumshoe was only confirming it all so she could file for divorce and gain the upper hand in the settlement.
Harvey, you see, was loaded.
Mamma didn't know how much exactly, but I did.
Four weeks ago, I found Harvey's Charley Schwab statement under the takeout boxes in the kitchen garbage. My watch band broke as I was pushing down the trash and the watch fell to the bottom, forcing me to dig around. Out comes his statement with a PO Box that I'd never seen and, lo and behold, there were seven very round digits in the account summary.
Harvey and Mamma had only been married for two years, but they fought over money like a couple who had been at it for decades. Harvey had wanted a pre-nup, which Mamma was having nothing to do with.
She knew he had some dough from his previous marriage to that society chick that died from that rare cancer. She left Harvey oodles of cash. He convinced Mamma it wasn't that much and managed to squirrel several mil out of her, and consequently my, reach.
Oh, we lived comfortably all right, but Mamma was tired of his running off constantly. She knew he was gambling and carrying on. She didn't have the strength to do anything other than divorce him and get whatever she could.
Occasionally, she felt sorry for the bastard. Forty-seven years old and a bad ticker. Popping nitros like a third-grader eating Pez on Halloween.
I knew from day one he was a snake and kept my distance. He was good for fifty bucks a week and an occasional Lakers game when he couldn't find a client to take.
That Charley Schwab statement was eating at me, though. $3.5 mil. And here was Harvey, pissing it away in Vegas.
I may have only been fifteen, but dammit, I was the man of the family and I had watched enough Columbo reruns to take Harvey out without even being in the same city.
It was really pretty easy. The meth tabs looked pretty much the same as the nitros and they were cheap. Harvey left his pills out and I had no trouble replacing them that morning while he was in the shower.
I knew he'd get worked up gambling. Either he'd win big and get excited or lose big, with the same reaction. He'd be reaching for his nitros before the night was over.
The rest was just damn fine luck, I guess.
Natural cause of death ruling by the coroner.
Me producing the account statement after Mamma had stopped crying and was bracing herself with a gimlet.
The guy on TV got busted when Columbo suggested to the insurance guy that they should have a second autopsy and look for poison.
Good thing Mamma had the sense to insist on having Harvey cremated before they shipped him home to LA.
I might have suggested that. I really don't remember.
BIO: Michael J. Solender lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife Harriet where they obsess over their garden. He hails originally from the sometimes frozen tundra of Minneapolis, MN. There, he ignored (only once) his mother's advice to pursue a career in medicine and became a Corporate Klingon. A recent Corporate Refugee, Solender is a freelance writer whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is a contributor to Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, A Twist of Noir, Thrillers Killers 'N' Chillers, 6 Sentences, Powder Burn Flash, and Flashshot. He blogs here: http://notfromhereareyou.blogspot.com/
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