by Jim Farrar (unfinished 1983)
It was afternoon and the mail was late. I’d been hanging around the office waiting and I was starting to get impatient.
Outside, the sky had turned a grimy, gritty slate-grey and the air was charged with electricity and the faint odor of sagebrush blown in from the desert by the rising wind, and mingling with the smells of the city.
Lightning flickered, turning the north hills into queer silhouettes and touching ground, I suppose, somewhere on the other side of the canyon, where it would start another range fire. Kill a few rabbits and several hundred rock chucks. Storms like this keep the local population of varmints down. The weather is man’s best friend. Just ask any farmer.
The storm was getting closer. Thunder boomed on top of the lightening so loud it shook the windows of my office.
I jumped. You’d think after all these years I’d be used to the noise. Loud thunder and postcard-quality lightening and no rain. An Idaho thunder storm: a common enough phenomenon on the Snake River Plain during the summer months. All bluster and no moisture. Most of the locals, old-timers, mainly, who spend their afternoons getting blind drunk and reminiscing in ramshackle rural bars, call storms like these Thunder Boomers.
I was getting ready to leave, having given up on the mail, when the phone rang. I let it jingle a few times before picking it up. I didn’t want to come across as being too anxious.
“Elmore Biggers,” I said.
The voice on the other end was self-confident, a slightly husky rasp that is considered tough in men, sexy in women. My ex-wife.
“Where have you been.” she said, “I’ve called half a dozen times the last three days.”
The connection wasn’t good. It never was. Her phone, my old phone, garbled every conversation and made is sound as though it were being funneled through an echo chamber. I was having trouble hearing her.
“You’ll have to speak up,” I said, “there’s static or something messing up the line.”
“What?” She was practically yelling.
“I said speak up. Louder. Talk louder. If that’s possible.”
She spoke up. The connection got worse.
“Listen,” I said, “there’s something wrong with the line. Let me call you back.”
“Last time you said that,” she cackled, “it was a week before I heard from you again.”
“I’ll call right back. I promise,” I said. “Hang up and I’ll redial.” I didn’t wait for her to answer. I replaced the receiver on the cradle and started to punch buttons. I got a busy signal. She never did trust me.
I left the phone off the hook just to tick her off. Let her try a couple more times before calling back.
I waited a few minutes then dialed again. The line rang once, twice, three times. No answer. I let it ring five more times before slamming down the receiver. Now it was my turn to be angry.
No sooner had I hung up before it started ringing again. I picked up the receiver.
“I just wanted to tell you about your son,” she said. A caesura, and then she added, “and to tell you what a lowlife I think you are.” She laughed, a sound made deep in the throat that came out almost like a cough. At least this time the line was clear.
“What has the little weasel done this time.”
“Well it’s kind of involved.”
“Then give me the abridged version. I’m kind of busy right now,” I lied.
“I doubt it. Why don’t you get a real job?”
I walked right into it. Again.
“Have I ever been late? Have I ever missed a payment?” I asked, maybe a little too defensively.
“No. But you come close enough. Every month.”
My ex-wife doesn’t like my line of work. But then again neither do I. Not all the time.
True, I am a private detective. But that’s pretty much in name only, since the town I work in is small and most of my business, what little I get, usually involves strong-arm work, bail-jumping mostly, and repo work. Some career. But I didn’t like being a cop all that much either. At least I’m my own boss.
“Well thank God for Merlin,” Elizabeth said, “if it weren’t for him you wouldn’t be able to pursue that little fantasy of yours.”
It’s a line I hear every month about this time. Lizzie reminding me of what a failure I am and how I should be grateful that Merlin, who’d been my father’s best friend, somehow manages to keep me out of the gutter by letting me cut meat three nights a week in his little market in exchange for groceries and the rent-free trailer I live in behind the store.
I’ll be the first to admit that it ain’t Rodeo Drive, but at least I’m worry free. Sort of.