As social a creature as I undoubtedly can be, I must confess, during times of stress...oh, hey, that rhymed! How Cole Porter of me! Anyway, I must admit, during periods of woe, I become a worse hermit than Howard Hughes ever was, except for the long scraggly beard and not bathing thing. It’s something I’ve done since I was a child. Well, middle school can do that to you.
So, that’s exactly what I did that entire week-end. I turned off the cell phone, I unplugged the computer, I deleted my Bear411 app, I bought myself three two-gallon tubs of Edie’s Double Fudge Brownie, and I sat on my couch and watched marathon episodes of the Golden Girls for hours on end, capped off every now and then by some of favorite chick flicks. Never underestimate the power of a strong female lead!
One thing I didn’t do was step onto my balcony. The thought of even having to say a word to Sylvia Mastadore after what had passed between us filled me with a revulsion that burned clear down to my soul. Besides that, I still had her with me: I spent the entire week-end picking silvery public hairs out of my mouth. Gah!
Then the week-end was over, far too quickly, and it was time to face the real world once again. Thankfully, I hadn’t heard a word from Officer Dwight. Maybe he was busy harassing other innocent victims.
Like Sylvia’s silvery pubic hairs, his presence lingered. I still had to deal with the damage my demonic Sir Elton had wrought—namely, I had to face Louise bright and early Monday morning. Knowing that she knew. Even worse, having her wonder whether murder was something I was capable of.
I arrived at my office far earlier than usual: eight in the morning. Theoretically, to work on that proposal for the Winter Fundraiser campaign I had promised Sal. But actually, to try and get there before Louise arrived, to avoid having to see her, with her unbearably perky face, sitting behind her desk.
No such luck. She was there when I arrived. Damn her for being a morning person!
The minute I walked in the room, I sensed a change in her attitude. Usually no matter how hung over I am, the first thing I will hear is her sing-song voice chirping out “Good morning, Mr. Rotundo!” and then prattling on until I wanted to scream. This morning felt more like an awkward blind date: the minute she saw me she lowered her eyes and barely managed a greeting.
I looked away, too. It was as if both of us were aware of my secret shame, and neither wanted to see that flash of recognition in the other person’s eyes. I certainly wasn’t my usual nasty self. All I did was grunt, make a beeline into my office, and shut the door.
Defeated and feeling lower than a squished skunk, I slunk to my chair, acutely aware of what I had lost. That stupid cow had looked up to me. That woman, with her idiotic stories about her big dumb Irish family, her Doris Day attitude, and appalling taste in pants suits. Now all that hero worship was gone POOF! in an instant, thanks to one thoughtless call from an overeager flatfoot. All I worked so hard to cultivate through the years had evaporated. And oh, how I missed it.
I sat in my armchair, defeated, with barely the energy to turn on my laptop.
After five minutes, silently suffering in sadness, I heard the irritating ping of my Instant Messenger.
Had I even turned that on? I guess so. Morosely, I looked over.
LOUISE: Do you want any coffee?
Her message only heightened my depression. She couldn’t even stand to ask me face to face any more, she had to ask by text! Before I knew it, she’d be asking to move her office to the other side of the building.
With sadness permeating my every keystroke, I typed, “No thank you.” After that, I returned to sitting morosely at my desk, contemplating the thoughts of the damned.
A few minutes later. Another ping.
LOUISE: Is there anything you need me to do?
Yes, Louise. Respect me by being servile to me. Just the way it used to be in the good old days.
Instead, I typed: Not right now.
Five minutes went by. Another ping. It had to be Louise, no doubt tendering her resignation. I looked over.
LOUISE: I don’t think you did it.
What? Could she mean...? Hastily, I buzzed her on the intercom. “Get in here. This instant!”
And instantly, she was in my office, carrying a notepad in her meaty arms and with tears in her big Irish eyes. “What did you mean by that?” I accosted her, lovingly.
She moved over to my desk, sat across from me. “I know why you’re avoiding me this morning. I understand, you’re embarrassed. But you need to know, Raphael, I think it’s just like Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey. I am completely convinced of your innocence. You couldn’t possibly have pushed that man down those stairs, even if you tried.”
What? Like a phoenix rising, her words freed me from my bonds of sadness. “Your...your words have touched me, Louise. I only wish you hadn’t been dragged into this mess.”
Her warm eyes were large and moist, just like Sylvia Mastadore’s nether regions. She looked at me as if I were a stray cat, which in any other circumstance would have bugged the shit out of me. “Was the police officer mean to you?” she asked, lips trembling.
I lowered my head. “The worst thing is having my good name sullied. What will Sal Rosenthal think?”
Louise smiled. “Sal? Pfft. When was the last time Sal watched the local news? And even if he hears about it...well, that’s why we need to go on the offensive.”
Offensive? It was a startling idea. I looked up from my paper clips and file folders. I saw a determination in Louise’s face, a fire in her eyes. “Do you think Officer Dwight has it in for you?” she asked.
I nodded. “He looked at me like I was...O.J.”
Louise appeared shocked. “O.J.?”
“You know...he was a black football player who took a knife and—“
Sensibly: “I know who O.J. is, silly. Well, if no one’s going to clear your name, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. I’ve read a lot of detective novels, Raphael, and the one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you have to be your own best detective.”
Be my own best detective? I pondered the possibilities. “So you’re saying, do some detective work of my own? Interview the suspects, do some surveillance, tamper with the evidence, that sort of thing?”
“More surveillance, less tampering. Yes, why not do a little snoop doggy snooping, to see what we can see?”
“That’s a deplorable phrase, but the concept has potential. In my role as the lead in Sweeney Todd, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to talk to everyone—“
“Exactly!” Louise shook her hips and leaned forward. She was clearly getting into this. “And I could help out, too! None of your theater friends have ever met me, right? I could be your Mrs. Peel! I’d make a great spy.”
I tried to imagine Louise’s fat thighs squeezed into a tight leather cat suit. No, it was too early in the morning. “Yes, that might work...”
“Then it’s settled.” Louise stood up, fully erect, and gave me a military style salute. “Officer Reinhart reporting for duty, sir!”
My God, I wish she hadn’t done that. Before her salute, I was beginning to think I had underestimated the woman. Now she was right smack dab into the booby pit, once again.
Still, I suppose Louise could be useful. She had a point, none of my friends knew her. Maybe they had seen her at a show before, after curtain call, but theater folks are so vain, all they do after curtain call is bask in the glow of their own glory. They aren’t actually paying any attention to ardent admirers. They simply love the fact they’re being loved.
“At ease, officer,” I sighed, waving her away. “We’ve got work to do.”