THE MISSING HUSBAND OF MILDRED MALLOY - DAVID CRANMER
I can hear them, the rats, rummaging around for crumbs in the cellar. But they won’t find any. I’m certain of that. I cleaned every square inch of this old house, top to bottom. And now, I’ll just sit back in the comfort of my husband’s easy chair and wait. You see, in two days, I am finally going on a cruise after all these years and nothing will change my plans. Not this time. I’m already packed to go.
They’re scurrying up the stairs now. But I’m not nervous.
The cellar door opens and shuts, and the shuffling of feet resounds down the hall and into my living room.
The big rat stares at me with his beady black eyes. He pretends not to suspect but I know better. He’s terribly clever and disarming.
“I’m sorry, young man, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten your name.” I can be clever as well.
“Officer Montanye, ma’am, and this is my partner, Officer Davis.”
“Oh, yes! Officer Montanye, I am sorry. My memory isn’t what it used to be. Are you all done in the cellar?”
“Yes, ma’am. There is a strong odor—”
“Oh my. The cellar is crawling with rodents. I suppose you saw all the traps that my husband fails to dispose of after he catches those vermin. That’s why I’ve thrown moth balls everywhere, to try to keep the rats and mice away and cover up their foul smell. But, obviously, it’s not enough. I apologize.”
“Yeah, it’s fine, but you really should have those sprung traps removed before they become a health hazard.”
“Well, I’m not going near those filthy little beasts, alive or dead. That’s my husband’s job. And now that he’s retired, it’s not like he doesn’t have the time.” I start to get up from the chair, “Would you boys like some cookies? I just baked them.”
“No, thank you, ma’am. We need to check the garage and we’ll be back with a few more questions.”
“All right, then.”
I watch through the open window as they pause in the driveway discussing something. As I strain to listen, a sharp voice washes them out.
“Mildred, where’s my father?”
“Why Patty, I forgot you were here.” Of course, I hadn’t. “Please, sit down.”
“I don’t want to sit, Mildred. I want to know what you’ve done with him.” Her words, accusatory and heavy with disgust, whip off her tongue. She reminds me of that wretched mother of hers. Patty and I never got along well, from the very day I married her father. She was always such a spoiled daddy’s girl.
“Why, dear, how shameful. I love your father and I would never—”
“You killed him. I know it! You evil, old bitch! He sent me a text message that he believed he was being poisoned.”
Ah, so that’s what brought them here. She really needs to learn to stay out of my affairs.
“If I had only been here to stop you.” The corners of her mouth wrinkle up and droop and her chin begins to quiver.
Patty’s bleating always gets under my skin and, even though I know better, I can’t help dishing out a little dig at my husband’s sniveling princess. “That’s something you will have to live with.”
She lunges at me, grabbing my collar, screaming, “Where the hell is he?!”
Rather than fight back, I let Patty twist and tighten her grasp, knowing it won’t be long... and, as if on cue, the rats return.
The officers rush over, Montanye pulls her by the shoulders and Davis unlocks her vice-like grip while I muster up some vigorous coughs for effect.
Patty buckles and drops to the floor, sobbing. Officer Davis helps the princess on her feet and escorts her outside to the police sedan.
Montanye composes himself. “Are you okay, Mrs. Malloy?”
I run a hand through my hair and straightened out the neckline of my blouse. “Yes, I’m fine.”
He thumbs through his notebook, settles on a page and, pen in hand, resumes his questioning. “Did you and your husband argue on the day you last saw him?”
“Son, we have been married for forty years, we argue plenty. So, yes, it’s very likely we quarreled that day.”
“Do you remember what you may have argued about?”
“Undoubtedly the same old thing. Laziness and broken promises. All he does is sit in this chair and watch TV and sleep. He swore that when he retired, we would travel. But that day came and went and nothing changed. My husband is slothful, officer, and I’m not afraid to tell him so.” I know where his simplistic line of questioning is going: establish motive. But why should I bother to lie about such trite routines.
In the middle of our exchange, Officer Davis returns which apparently reminds Montanye. “Do you wish to make a statement about being assaulted by your stepdaughter?”
“Heavens, no. Patty is overwhelmed by her father’s disappearance and when he returns, he’d never forgive me for bringing charges against her.” Though the louse isn’t coming back and neither am I, so it might be fun to make her life more difficult as she has mine. But, no, I will refrain.
“So, you believe he will return?” Officer Davis’s eyes turn to slits as he speaks to me for the first time. I was beginning to wonder if this other rat had been trained.
“My husband is going through a mid-life crisis, a little late at sixty-seven. I know that may not make sense, officer, but it’s the way it is.”
Montanye clears his throat. “Is there a chance he would attempt suicide?”
“Not a chance, young man. His religious convictions make that quite improbable.”
“Can you tell us why your husband would send a message to his daughter that you were trying to poison him?” Davis cocks a meaningful brow.
I give a subdued chortle. “My husband always complained I was trying to poison him with my cooking. Patty must have misconstrued a comment he made in jest.”
Davis snaps, leaning in close to me, spittle flying from his fleshy lips. “She came all the way from Australia and tried to choke you. That’s quite a misunderstanding.”
Montanye quickly intervenes. “Officer Davis, maybe you should go back and check on Mrs. Malloy’s stepdaughter.”
Davis shoots a sideways glance at his partner but wisely departs.
Montanye runs his pen down the notebook checking off imaginary squares and giving me the standard spiel. “Well, ma’am, that’s all. I want you to know you’re not under suspicion and we appreciate you allowing us to search the premises. When your husband returns, please have him call us.”
“Yes, Officer Montanye. I am sure you will find him right here in this chair in a few days.”
Montanye eyes the old-style, extra-wide recliner and turns to leave.
A quiet house finally. I know they will be back. For now, I better draw the shades and check under the chair cushion to make sure the bags are holding tight.
There he is, gray-faced with that same old menacing stare, eyeing me with pure contempt through the clear plastic.
For me, it wasn’t just easy cutting up my husband with his own tools, it was a pleasure. But getting all the bags to fit just right in the tight space under his chair, well, that took a bit of skill. Like packing a suitcase for a trip.
BIO: David Cranmer's fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter, Powder Burn Flash, Yellow Mama and A Twist of Noir, as well as the western anthology A Fistful of Legends under the pen name Edward A. Grainger. He regularly updates his blog, The Education of a Pulp Writer, and is editor/publisher of BEAT to a PULP.