HEY JEFFREY, MEET MICKEY - JACK GETZE
Rain slapped my face as I lugged the last cardboard box into our new house. Moving Linda and myself that weekend, I’d loaded and unloaded the borrowed pickup truck twelve times, not to mention all that driving in bad weather. Looking back, I figure it must have been exhaustion and pain that made me so stupid.
I cleaned my boots and joined Linda and Jeffrey in the rebuilt, airy kitchen. Except for the use of his Chevy truck, Linda’s coworker had been as much help as a broken leg. Yet there he was, Jeffrey Reece, ace investigative reporter, slouched back at the round oak table I’d purchased for the new house that morning.
“Jeffrey called out for pizza,” Linda said. “Why don’t you sit down, take a break. Jeffrey and I need to talk to you anyway.”
Both of them gawked at me, so I put my hands on the back of the chair and stared back. Linda and I had been together four years. I’d asked her to marry me twice. Jeffrey worked with her at the new magazine, and was—starting today—our roommate. Linda and I had leased the new four-bedroom especially so a boarder could help with the rent, which I’d set up to count toward an eventual purchase. Everything fit when her new co-worker needed a cheap room.
In the silence, the three of us around that table, I wondered if Jeffrey wanted a discount on the rent for driving Linda to work. Like I said, it must have been exhaustion made me so damn stupid.
“The thing is, Hank, Jeffrey and I are in love,” Linda said. “We want to live here ... without you.” She shifted her hips closer to Jeffrey. “I figure we’ve all been around enough to know this kind of thing happens, right?”
Her deerskin-colored eyes focused on Jeffrey, not me. What a dummy I’d been. To pack and load all of our stuff, hauling every bit over here, unloading each box and piece of furniture myself? And all for Linda and Mr. Jeffrey Fucking Reece. Why hadn’t I seen this coming? She’d been talking about how smart he was for two days.
Linda saying, “Best thing to do is just get it out in the open, get the unpleasantness behind us.”
I tried to remember where I’d unloaded my strong box.
“I’m sorry, Hank,” Linda said. “I really am. It was just a crazy thing that happened.”
I split from the kitchen to rummage through the boxes I’d dumped in the master bedroom. I still hunted for my strong box when Linda’s voice startled me.
“Jeffrey and I worried you might react like this,” Linda said. “So I took your Beretta.”
Linda perched in the bedroom doorway behind me, her hands on her wide-curving hips. My hips. The hips I held and loved, and where I found harbor on cold nights. Now they belonged to Jeffrey.
Her news about my weapon didn’t change anything. Just another ugly fact in the nightmare of crap coming my way. I jumped up and raked inside the closet where I’d stuffed my sports equipment. My fingers wrapped around a Mickey Mantle model Louisville Slugger. I pushed past a blabbing-scolding-shrieking Linda and jogged back to the kitchen. Jeffrey still slouched at the table, only now he held my Beretta.
I eased the Mickey Mantle down beside my leg. But my feet edged closer.
“Time for you to leave,” Jeffrey said.
I worked my gaze between Jeffrey’s brown eyes and the Beretta, back and forth, back and forth, then raised the bat. “You left the safety on, smart guy.”
His gaze didn’t shift from mine. My little trick had failed. He must have checked the safety before I came into the room. Jeffrey couldn’t be as clever as Linda thought, but he might have more smarts than I’d imagined.
Jeffrey pushed his chair back and stood up. He used a two-hand grip to aim the Beretta at my chest. Palms pressed against the grips. Thumbs together, both pointed forward. He definitely knew how to hold a weapon.
“Get out, Hank,” he said. “Get out now.”
I rolled a plain white Ford panel truck into that same driveway seven hours later, the lights off, the dash clock reading 3:12 A.M. The new house—Linda and Jeffrey’s new house—sat dark and quiet. So did the rest of the street.
Leaving the engine running, I grabbed the nail gun and gasoline can out of the back, then snuck along the neighbor’s tall oleander hedge until I stood across from the new house’s back door. What should have been my back door.
I thought about Linda and Jeffrey in the master bedroom. Picturing that bastard on top, Linda’s legs spread around him. I used that image as fuel to run across the driveway and dump half a gallon of gas on the back door and porch.
My plan: light the first fire, run out front to flame that door, then continue around the house until I reached the master bedroom. That’s why I’d brought the nail gun. The way I hoped it would happen, Jeffrey and Linda both would be trying to open the bedroom window’s cover just as I nailed the sucker shut. They’d see me through the cracks, locking them inside to burn.
I struck a match. Funny how the light grabbed my attention. The flame kind of danced in my eyes. In fact, I don’t know if the fire put me to sleep, or woke me up, but staring into that red-orange match busted some kind of spell. Made me think. By now Linda would have already told a dozen people about leaving me for Jeffrey. How she’d moved the same day into a new house. Shit, the cops would be looking for me before the fire trucks left.
I blew out the match and got back in the Ford. What I needed was a few days in Vegas and a plan, not a double murder charge.
When I told her the story, a hooker named Meredith came up with a sicker idea than any I could of. For an extra five hundred bucks, she even Googled herself enough industry knowledge and made the phone call to Jeffrey. Her British accent was freaking perfect.
“I do not think you understand me,” Meredith said. “Mr. Lundquist is the Publisher of Manhattan Magazine. He is most likely to offer you a staff position—provided he likes you personally. Something of a quirk, I suppose.”
“Has he seen my work? Why would he offer me a job?”
Meredith sighed like a pro. Executive secretaries with British accents do not like their time wasted. “Mr. Lundquist would like to have lunch, not necessarily offer you employment. He must be impressed. Do you understand?”
Another sigh from Meredith. “Do you know Mr. Todd Jonner?”
“Sure. He owns the publishing company I work for. I’ve never met him, but—”
“Mr. Jonner is one of Mr. Lundquist’s closest friends. I believe Mr. Jonner has recommended you for this position.”
I couldn’t believe how long it took Jeffrey to agree to the lunch meeting. Meredith told me working for Lundquist and Manhattan Magazine would be a huge break for a writer like Jeffrey, like a young director training with Spielberg and DreamWorks. I couldn’t wait to see Jeffrey’s face when I showed him the rest of Meredith’s plan.
“Hold it right there,” a voice said.
The two cops held up badges for me. Also Glocks. I started to raise my hands, but a sharp blow in the back bent me over.
A man and two women screamed in line behind me. Rough strong hands grabbed my wrists, yanked my arms, and stretched me out on the airport floor. In handcuffs, the carpet smelled like urine, a prison cell.
Well, damn. My boarding pass fluttered to the carpeting beside me. So close. So close to Mexico City and my friends there to help me disappear. Hell, I grew up in L.A.—low san’ glays to my Chicano pals. Been drinking tequila and eating tortillas for fresh bread since I got my first bike. It would have been fun making a new life in the mountains of Oaxaca. Trying to find a woman better than Linda.
The two cops hauled me to my feet. One, a short redheaded guy with freckles, mentioned murder charges. If I was being arrested for murder, at least that meant Linda had figured out exactly what was in that waterproof package I sent her. After his introduction to Mickey, Jeffrey Reece’s big brain had resembled a jellyfish.
That hooker Meredith was one sick chick.
BIO: Jack Getze edits short fiction for Spinetingler Magazine, authors the Austin Carr Mystery Series, and drives a limo for the Jersey Shore gambling industry. He used to write for newspapers.