Friday, July 2, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 494 - Lina Zeldovich


Previously published in the Deadly Ink 2007 Anthology

Sylvia Darren opened the door of her nail salon carrying a bag of homemade cookies – her Saturday treat for her clients. The early fall mornings in Bergen County were cold and she wore her new black wool jacket and a scarf. Patty Dorsey, one of her manicurists, held the cookie bag for her while she fumbled with the keys and turned on the lights.

The lights came on and Sylvia screamed.

The big mirror in the center of the salon displayed a short horrifying message written in red ink.

“Death to the slut!”

“What the hell?” Patty blasted. She was a big black woman with a mane of styled curls and full red lips. “What kinda asshole did this?”

Of all the people in Park Ridge, Sylvia was the last person to call a slut. Sixty-two and never married, she knitted socks for her nephews, took care of her arthritic sister and treated every client like a little girl.

“Is that blood?” Patty asked. She spat on her finger and rubbed the red lettering. It didn’t smudge.

“Jesus Christ, what is this?” Sylvia and Patty heard another female voice and turned to the door. Lizzie and Paula, the other two manicurists, were there.

“Ain’t blood,” Patty declared expertly. “And it ain’t coming off. Maybe we should call the police.”

Lizzie, a scrawny bleached-blonde with a mousy face, rushed to the mirror and studied the red message. She was a part-time college student and considered herself an educated woman.

“It’s nail polish, you silly,” she announced to Patty. “It’s somebody’s stupid joke.”

Paula examined the message, too.

“Don’t call the police,” she said. “They’ll screw up the whole day and we won’t make any money.”

Paula was a chubby brunette with three kids and a husband who occasionally went on a bender. She always needed money.

“I’m not gonna lose my biggest day,” Sylvia declared as she pulled off her black jacket and threw it on the couch. “I gotta clean up this mess.”

She grabbed a handful of cotton balls, a little porcelain bottle of nail polish remover and, with an effort, climbed up on a chair next to the mirror.

“Oh, and someone, please call Karen,” she said as she started rubbing the letters. “It’s eight thirty and her nine o’clock appointment may come early.”

“Karen, early?” Patty snorted. “Are you kidding? She’s still sleeping some place with last night’s date, dead-out.”

“How come she’s even got a nine o’clock?” Paula questioned. “She’s never here before ten.”

“I’m not calling her,” Lizzie growled. “It’s enough I have to see her face here every day.”

“Sylvia, you need help?” Paula asked. She took cotton balls and another little bottle and joined the effort.

“This is not working,” Sylvia announced wearily. She already used up half the bottle and all the cotton balls, but she barely removed half of the letter D.

“Can someone get us a cloth and a canister of polish remover?” she asked. “We have canister refills in the supply closet.”

“Whataya standing here for?” Patty admonished Lizzie as she rushed to the closet. “Go help Sylvia! The clients are gonna be here any minute.”

She pulled the closet door open and a body fell out.

Everybody screamed.

“Oh my god, it’s Karen,” Lizzie shrieked. “Her head’s all bloody.”

Sylvia froze on her chair, one hand on her chest, another one on the mirror, trying to keep her balance.

“Maybe it’s nail polish,” she whispered.

Patty stood over Karen’s body and examined the dead woman’s head.

“Polish my ass,” she cried out. “This here is blood, girlies. And she’s sure dead. Somebody smashed in the back of her head.”

“Oh my god,” Lizzie screamed as she covered her face with her hands. “I’m gonna faint. I’m afraid of dead people.”

“They didn’t teach you about dead people in college?” Patty sneered at her angrily. She always said Lizzie put on airs. “This is life, girly. You ain’t gonna learn it in class.”

“This was not a joke after all,” Paula whispered. “Somebody killed her.”

Sylvia tried to step down from the chair, but lost her balance and sank onto the floor.

“Jesus, Sylvia, are you all right?” Patty pulled the old woman back onto her feet. “Some morning we’re having here, I tell ya.”

“I can’t breathe,” Sylvia complained, pulling at the collar of her shirt. “I don’t feel good. I need water.”

Paula rushed to the sink and brought the old woman a glass of water.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Sylvia whispered. “Why is it happening?”

“Why?” Paula rolled her eyes. She was still shaking from the shock, yet she sounded angry. “With that sort of behavior, I’m not surprised. The way Karen acted it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“What do you mean?” Sylvia questioned. She was beginning to quiver, too.

“Paula means that Karen got around,” Lizzie explained. “She was man-crazy. She changed boyfriends every month.”

“Try every week,” Patty pitched in. The dead body didn’t shake her one single bit. “Uh-huh. She’d pick up a guy on Friday night, hang out with him for a few days, dump him and move on.”

“She couldn’t stick to any one man,” Paula said. “I’m sure she left a trail of angry guys. I guess one of them finally got pissed.”

“Tell me about it,” Lizzie muttered. “I know a couple who are pissed.”

“Sweet innocence she was not,” Paula continued. “I’m sorry she’s dead, but... I’m not surprised.”

“How can you say that?” Sylvia moaned. “The poor thing is dead!”

Paula looked away. “She came onto my husband at the last Christmas party,” she uttered reluctantly. “I caught the two of them talking in front of Neal’s pub a few days later. I know I sound like an insensitive bitch, but you don’t know what it’s like. You’ve never been married, Sylvia. You took care of your nephews and your sister, but it’s different. Imagine this. You build your life with a man, you have three kids with him and one day here comes this slut and threatens everything! Do you have any idea how scary it is?”

Paula sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry she’s dead,” she whimpered.

“This is insane,” Sylvia whispered. She squatted down onto her knees and carefully examined Karen’s head. “Maybe the poor dear fell down?” she questioned.

“Uh-huh,” Patty snorted as she helped Sylvia get up. “Fell on her head and stuck her ass in the closet. She must’ve been fooling around here again. Oh, Sylvia, don’t act like you didn’t know what she was like. You caught her here with a guy once. You even took her key away so she couldn’t do it again.”

“If she didn’t have the key, how did she get in last night?” Paula asked.

“She never gave me the key,” Sylvia revealed. “She said she lost it.”

“I can’t believe you fell for it!” Patty blasted. “Karen lied as easy as we breathe.”

“Tell me about it,” Lizzie growled.

“Well, if you want to know, she chased my Charlie, too,” Patty said. “All of a sudden, he started talking to his ‘buddies’ on the phone every night. Only he insisted on going out into the backyard to talk. Well, I ain’t stupid, girlies. One night, I checked his cell and found a number I didn’t recognize. I dialed it and guess who answered? Our little Miss Karen. She said, ‘Hi, Chucky, I didn’t think you’d call again so quickly.’ And I said, ‘It’s Charlie to you, not Chucky, and you better keep away from him, girl, or I’ll freaking kill ya.’”

“You – what?” Sylvia asked with rounded eyes.

Paula moved away from the black woman.

“What do you mean, kill her?” Lizzie asked, horrified. “You don’t mean you killed her? Or... do you?”

“Of course not,” Patty trumpeted. “She left Charlie alone. She wouldn’t dare mess around with a big black mama like me ’cause she knew I’d kill her.”

“But you didn’t?” Paula questioned her. “Or did you? I mean, Holy Mary and Joseph, Karen is dead! Somebody killed her! If you said you would, maybe you did.”

“I said, I didn’t kill her,” Patty barked. “And, Paula, if you wanna know, you had a real reason to kill Karen. You just said she had threatened your whole life! She almost stole your husband from you.”

“She didn’t steal my husband,” Paula hissed. “She was hitting on him last Christmas. He stopped talking to her after I caught the two of them together. I gave him hell.”

“And how do we know he stopped?” Patty questioned. She crossed her arms on her chest and glared at Paula. “Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was sleeping with her. Maybe you were scared she’d steal him from you so you killed her!”

“Shut up!” Paula yelled.

“Stop! Both of you!” Sylvia shouted. “If what you’re telling me about Karen is true, it’s got to be one of her boyfriends. Do you know who she was seeing lately?”

“Well, that amounts to half of Bergen County,” Patty sneered. “The male half, I mean.”

“Speaking of boyfriends,” Paula said maliciously, “do you know which one of us had real bad blood with Karen?”

“Who?” Sylvia asked nervously. “I’ve had more surprises today than I can take. Don’t give me any more.”

“Shut up, Paula,” Lizzie said angrily. “Just shut up, all right.”

“No, I won’t,” Paula snapped. “If you had the guts to accuse me, I’m gonna speak up!”

“Oh-oh,” Patty said as she stuck her arms onto her wide round hips. She swayed back and forth. “Is there something I should know?”

Lizzie glared at Paula. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh yes, I do!” Paula shouted. “I know what happened with Karen, Danny and you. Karen stole Danny from you. She did. You two got into a fight and I heard it. You thought I went home, but I was in the bathroom. You two got into a fight so bad you pulled each others’ hair.”

“We didn’t pull each other’s hair,” Lizzie yelled. “I called her a whore, that’s all I did. I didn’t wish her dead or anything. I didn’t say I was gonna kill her. And I don’t give a damn about Dan. If he’s so dumb to fall for her, it’s his problem. She’ll dump him anyway. She’s been going out with someone else already.”

“Who?” Sylvia asked. Her voice was strained and she was cracking her knuckles. “You know, we ought to stop this. We need to call the police and tell them we found a body. I mean, we have a dead person here!”

Paula ignored Sylvia’s plea. “You had a real reason to hate Karen,” she continued speaking to Lizzie. “You lost your man to her.”

“Shut up,” Lizzie yelled. “I hate you!”

“Paula, stop accusing people,” Patty said. “First, you lashed out at me, now you’re bullying Lizzie. Sylvia’s right. Let’s call the police. We can’t leave Karen’s body here. They gotta come and... I don’t know what, take it to the morgue, I guess.”

“I can do without the police,” Paula declared as she picked up a wastebasket and lifted it in the air. “Look in here! Just what I thought. Here’s an empty bottle of red nail polish. Whoever killed Karen used this bottle to write the message. It’s easy to find out who killed Karen. This bottle has the killer’s fingerprints.”

“It’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Lizzie said. “Every one of us has fingerprints on that bottle. Every one of us has fingerprints on every bottle, every pair of scissors and every nail file in this place. This bottle’s gonna prove nothing.”

“Speaking of red polish,” Patty muttered as she sat down on the couch next to Sylvia’s jacket and cookie bag, “Sylvia, you got that red shit on your new jacket already. And you barely wiped off the D.”

“Who cares about a jacket?” Sylvia wailed, shaking. “I gotta call the police, but... I just don’t know how.” She held her hand to her chest and breathed in and out. “Can someone call, please? I can’t breathe.”

Lizzie picked up the phone. She was just about to punch in 911, when someone knocked on the door.

“Oh, Jesus,” Sylvia moaned. “We can’t let people in here. Put the ‘Closed’ sign on the door, for Christ sake.”

“We have to open the door to put the sign out,” Patty said. “But you don’t want them in, so I can’t do it.”

She stuck her ear to the door and asked, “Who is it?”

“This is Danny,” said a young man’s voice. “Is Karen here?”

“So it is Danny!” Paula cried out. “Danny killed Karen. I read someplace that the criminals always come back to where they committed their crime. It’s a mental thing.”

“What are you doing here?” Patty questioned Danny while keeping the door closed. “We ain’t open yet.”

“Is Karen in?” Danny repeated. “I need to talk to her.”

“She’s sure in, but she’s dead as a doornail,” Patty hissed under her breath. Aloud, she said, “You can’t talk to her right now. You wanna leave a message? I’ll pass it on.”

“Oh, come on, I know she’s in,” Danny answered. “Tell her not to play any more games. She stood me up last night. She promised to go out with me, but she didn’t. I waited for her all evening. I wanna know who she’s been with!”

Lizzie pushed Patty away from the door and swung it open.

“You want her?” she shouted to Danny. “You want her – come and get her!”

“Jesus, Lizzie, how can you say such a thing!” Sylvia gasped. “You’re so insensitive, all of you!”

“After everything that’s been said here today, I don’t see why I sound so terrible,” Lizzie answered as she dragged Danny in. “At least I didn’t accuse people of nothing.”

“Holy Jesus,” the young man cried when he saw the body. “Karen? Who did this to her?” A gamut of expressions swept through his face. He turned to Lizzie. “What did you do to her?”

“I did nothing to her,” Lizzie snapped. “What did you do to her? Where were you last night?”

“Home,” Danny said. “I was waiting for her all evening.”

“And you can prove it?” Paula asked eagerly. “Can you?”

Danny ignored her. “Did you contact the police?” he asked.

“No,” said Sylvia.

“Why not?” Danny asked. “It’s the first thing to do. You didn’t touch the body, did you?”

“I did,” Sylvia confessed. “I looked at her head.”

“You shouldn’ve done that, Ms. Darren,” Danny said. “Why didn’t you call the police?”

“I don’t know,” Sylvia said miserably. “We’ve been so shocked and confused we just stood here yelling nonsense at each other. Could you get the police here, Danny?”

“Sure,” the young man said. He whipped out his cell phone and walked outside for better reception. “Just give me a minute.”

Sylvia plopped on the couch where she left her bag and jacket. The bag made a cracking sound and the old woman jumped up. Her black jacket slipped off the couch and fell on the floor.

“My cookies!” Sylvia cried out. “I sat on my cookies. I smashed them to pieces.”

“Well, it’s not like you’re gonna feed them to your clients today,” Patty said. She picked up Sylvia’s jacket from the floor. “You got that red polish on your new jacket,” she said again. “You just bought it the other day and it’s already smeared.”

“That’s gotta be from cleaning the mirror,” Sylvia said nervously. “I should be more careful.”

“It can’t be from cleaning the mirror,” Patty argued. “You took your jacket off and threw it on the couch before you started cleaning. You didn’t have your jacket on when you cleaned.”

“Yes, I did,” Sylvia protested.

“No, you didn’t,” Paula joined the argument. “Patty’s right. But why does it matter? Patty, where are you going with this?”

“I was... I mean, the stains are from this morning,” Sylvia said with a nervous laugh. She pulled the jacket away from Patty, but the black woman held it tight and sniffed the fabric.

“It doesn’t smell of nail polish remover,” she announced. “I bet ya these smudges were on this jacket before you started cleaning. They’re from last night. Sylvia, were you here last night? Did you write that damn message yourself?”

Sylvia’s face darkened.

“Why would I write that message?” she cried out.

Patty shrugged. “Maybe because you killed Karen and wanted it look like someone else did it. I don’t know.”

Sylvia clenched her fists.

“I didn’t want to kill the bitch,” she blurted out, unable to keep it inside anymore. “I mean, I didn’t intend to, but it happened. I found out that she she’d been going out with Matthew, my nephew. He’s not even nineteen yet, he’s a baby. She bewitched him, I’m telling you, she did! He decided he was gonna marry her and she agreed! Christ, she’s twice his age. I mean, she was twice his age. I was furious at her. I told her to leave Matthew alone. She laughed at me. I yelled at her that I was gonna fire her and she kept laughing. She told me to go to hell. She said, ‘All right, fire me, what do I care? Matthew will have to provide for me.’ I lost it! I did. I hit her across the face. She must’ve been drunk or something, because she fell. I didn’t think she’d fall. She fell backwards and hit her head on the manicure table. That’s hard marble. I tried to pick her up, but she wasn’t moving!”

Silvia stopped ranting and sat staring into distance as if replaying the accident in her mind. She was shaking from both and fury.

“Moving, my ass,” Patty grunted. “Not after smashing her head like that on a table. And here we were accusing each other.”

“Sounds like I’m gonna be unemployed for a while,” Paula said with a sigh. “Unless they let Sylvia out on bail or something.”

“So you wrote that message on the mirror?” Patty asked. “Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” Sylvia snapped. “I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. I mean I’m too old to go to prison. And I need to take care of my sister. I decided to stage something... something strange, unusual. I don’t know why. I should’ve just called the police and told them what happened.”

Danny returned. “The police are on the way,” he announced.

“Good,” Patty said. “The sooner, the better. Sounds like it’s gonna be an easy case.”

“What do you mean?” Lizzie asked her.

Patty shrugged. “Karen showed up hangover and pissy today. She told Sylvia to go to hell and Sylvia slapped her. Karen fell and hit her head on the marble table. It was an accident. We all saw it.”

Paula and Lizzie stared at Patty. Silvia swallowed quietly. Danny was totally dumbfounded.

“I guess I did see it,” Paula finally said. “It’s better than being unemployed.”

“Oh my god, I can’t believe it,” Lizzie whispered, but then she shrugged. “Whatever. I saw it, too.”

“That’s not what you told me when I first came in,” Danny objected. “What’s going on here?”

“We didn’t tell you shit,” Lizzie snapped at him. “You’re still an asshole, for all I’m concerned, but that’s besides the point.”

“We just had one hell of a morning,” Patty informed him. “How often do people fall and bash in their heads right in front of you, huh?”

They heard the approaching sound of a police siren.

BIO: Lina Zeldovich is a recipient of two Writer’s Digest Fiction Awards, the second one for an excerpt from her most recently finished novel, Death by Scheherazade’s Veil, a belly dance mystery. She won The Deadly Ink Short Story Competition 2008 and was a finalist at The SleuthFest 2009 and Reading Writers Contest 2010. Her story, Believe, will appear in the December issue of Beat to a Pulp. Her previous works appeared in Murder New York Style, four Deadly Ink anthologies and an e-zine Voices from the Garage. She also write travel pieces for and theater reviews for Stage and Cinema, as well as The Happiest Medium.


Anonymous said...

Nice light touch. I smiled a lot and chuckled too. Nice detail and each character is memorable. Whacky but perfectly logical denouement. :iked it a lot.

Kaye George said...

Love the story, Lina! Thanks.

David Cranmer said...

Very fine storytelling.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Nicely written, Lina. Quite interesting characters ~ great job with dialogue, too.