Friday, July 30, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 523 - Stoke Teagan


After a night of drinking, there's nothing worse than waking up next to somebody and not being able to remember their name, how you met, or why they’re dead.

But there he was, lying in the spot my husband usually occupied, with the morning sun streaming down on him through the curtains. Was he young or old, handsome or ugly? Did it matter? Those baby blues of his might have been piercing in life but now they were milky and vacant and reflecting twin images of one hysterical housewife.

I’d gone to a new bar downtown the night before, one of a crop that opened since the War ended. A colored band was playing jazz on a little stage. I was knocking back screwdrivers with orange juice and gin instead of vodka. Gin. Sloe gin. On the rocks, like my marriage. Sitting in the corner commiserating with some redhead who’d sidled up and got chatty. Only yapping with another lady because I hadn’t caught the eye of a likely male yet.

She looked a little familiar, but I couldn’t place her. Around thirty, pretty. A bit of a tomboy even with the saucy blonde wig over that red mop of hers. Yeah, I spotted it. She acted real friendly and sympathetic when we talked, but I thought I saw her giving me a funny look when she thought I wasn’t looking. Kind of cold and appraising.

I was too drunk to care. Lonely. I wanted someone to talk to.

She said, “So you really think you’re going to divorce? You’re going to be one of those gay divorcees?”

“I think he’s going to leave. Or I’m going to leave. I’m not gonna feel gay. I’m gonna wish I was dead. I’m gonna wish I...had another drink.” I gave her a pointed look. I’d bought the last round.

She got up to get us more drinks. I don’t know why she had to walk over to the bar when she could’ve just called the waitress over. Whatever. She got the drinks and then dilly-dallied around at the bar with her back to me for a minute, fiddling with her purse. She came back with a rum and Coke for herself and another screwdriver for me. At least she said it was a rum and Coke. I didn’t notice the barkeep reach for the rum bottle, and I can guarantee you I know where it is.

So she starts asking me questions, like it matters to her. “Why can’t you stay together? What’s wrong with Maury?”

I didn’t remember telling her Maury’s name. Guess I forgot. I looked down at the drink she’d brought me. Dirty bar grit in the bottom of the glass. I must not look like a lady who’d be fussy. I wasn’t. I took a not-so-dainty sip and answered her.

“How would you like to be married to someone who lies, drinks too much and sleeps around?”

“I wouldn’t like that at all.”

I drained the glass and slapped it back on the table. “Well, neither does he.”

I guess the drink was stronger than I thought because I don’t remember anything after that.


Back to the dead man.

After an airplane crash, I hear that sometimes the survivors sort of line up patiently in the aisles to exit the burning wreckage instead of climbing over seats and scrambling to get out of the smoking heap like you’d think. Some even grab their carry-on luggage, can you imagine? When people are stunned, I guess their minds go blank and they follow their routines because they don’t know what else to do.

So you'll excuse me if I tell you that after I woke up and saw the dead guy, I put on my slippers and chenille robe and started making the bed. I’d look down to make a hospital corner, then look up, hoping he wouldn’t be there anymore. He was. Tuck in a sheet, he’s still there. Straighten the bedspread. Still there. Then I heard my husband’s key in the front door.


Maury walked into the living room with a gun in his hand.

Well, that’s not as bad as it sounds. He’s a police sergeant and he always does the same thing after working the night shift. He comes home chattering away about his day and starts undressing even before he hits the bedroom door. He puts his revolver on the dresser, changes into the pajamas I’ve set out, and reads a detective novel before going to sleep. That’s his routine.

So here he came, sounding cheerful, yapping away.

“Norma, you wouldn’t believe the night we had? A couple of gangsters offed each other. One shot, one stabbed. And somebody might get in trouble, because the coroner’s boys were supposed to take those stiffs to the funeral home but instead I think they might have—”

And that’s when he saw the body. He fumbled his revolver and it clattered off the dresser onto the floor along with his pinstriped PJs and The Case of the Spurious Strumpet.

Meanwhile, I was hopping from foot to foot, waving my arms around in a feeble attempt to either shield the body from sight or distract my husband from looking at it or both. Now, after a single year of marriage, a woman loses her ability to distract her husband from even the television set. So, after ten years, you can bet I couldn’t stop Maury from noticing the corpse taking up his spot.

“I don’t see anything! Do you see anything? What was that?” I pointed randomly and tried to keep from wetting my knickers.

“I didn’t think they’d really do it,” he muttered irrelevantly. In his defense, he might have had a more spirited response to finding a dead man in our bedroom if he hadn’t found a few live ones over the years.

“Norma, I mean, I can’t believe you’d really do it.”

Then Maury shook his head and pulled himself together. He gently moved my hopping, waving self out of the way and examined the body. Then he pulled the sheet and blanket up and covered it completely. He stood there looking at the shrouded form for a long time.

Finally he came back to me and took my hands in both of his and we sat down on the edge of the bed, as far away from the dead man as possible, with our backs to him.

“Norma, I know you didn’t do it, but...” He lowered his eyes. “Your favorite kitchen knife is sticking out of his side. You could get in real trouble for this.”

I could get in trouble? Heck, I could get dead. Why hadn’t that occurred to me? I’d just been worried about what Maury would do. Was the prospect of losing him was worse than the prospect of getting executed and losing my life?

I looked up at Maury expecting to see anger or disgust or even satisfaction in his eyes but I didn’t see any of that. All I could see there was love, and hope, and maybe something else. Some bit of slyness. Was he already planning how to get me out of this jam?

A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth as he pulled out his wallet and took out a twenty. “Here, Norma. I want you to go get yourself breakfast at one of those coffee shops that open early. Then I want you to get your hair done or see a movie.” He took out another $20 and gave it to me. “And go shopping, buy yourself a new dress if you like. I just need you to be gone for a few hours.”

He stood up and gave me his hand to help me up like I was a real lady. He turned me to face the bedroom closet and gave me a little pat on the rear.

“Now get dressed, and get going. Be back here at two o’clock and I’ll have this taken care of. Then we can have a talk.”

A talk. That sounded bad. I turned back to look at him.

He must have seen the look on my face because he said, “Don’t worry, honey. We’re going to put the past behind us and start all over.” Then he said the strangest thing, the thing I least expected, something he’d only said a couple times.

He said, “I love you.”


Well, I got home at 2 p.m. sharp, and he was as good as his word. The body was gone and we had our talk. We made some decisions that day, Maury and I. I stopped drinking and fooling around. And it wasn’t just one-sided; he was never a drinker, but he’d done some fooling around too. We stopped that. We stopped doing a lot of stupid things, and we started doing a few smart things like going to AlAnon. That crazy morning was ten years ago now and we still go to meetings together once a week. And—can you believe it?—his cousin Judy, a redheaded police matron, is still my AA sponsor.

So Maury’s got my secret, but I’ve got his, too. We don’t talk about the ugly things in our past. All that matters is we found happiness together after all these years.

It’s funny how memory can garble things up, because Judy reminds me of the lady at the bar, the one I drank my very last drink with. And, as I was driving to the coffee shop that terrible morning, the morning after the two gangsters killed each other, the morning I woke up with a dead man, I passed a coroner’s wagon driving into our neighborhood, making a pick up. Maybe it had official business there, but I’ve heard rumors about the pranks the guys from the Medical Examiner’s Office sometimes pull. But none of that matters. I’ve even thrown away that tag I found by the foot of the bed, the little one with the loop of string at the top just long enough to slip over someone’s toe.

I don’t know how much good a gangster does in this life, probably not much. So if someone uses him to do a good deed after he’s dead, I hope the gangster gets credit for it when he gets to the Pearly Gates. Maybe one happy marriage doesn’t mean much in a world with as many problems as ours, but it means the world to me and Maury.

BIO: Stoke Teagan is a lawyer and aspiring novelist. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and two cats. Her blog is (mysteriously enough)


ajhayes said...

I think, if he were still alive, Hitchcock would have been on the phone wanting the rights for this one. You have multiple events galore and a strong view from the center of it all holding everything together.
Impressive. Thanks.

Joe Dorsey said...

I like it