GIVE AND TAKE
By Margi Desmond
The power chairs whizzed towards each other in a three miles-per-hour chicken showdown. Chuck Sheehorn’s comb-over flapped in the wind as he hunched forward, determined to knock his nemesis on his keister. Undeterred, Barton DePuy, fueled by fury, plowed straight into Chuck. Their knees made contact, jolting the power chairs to an abrupt stop. Both bodies lurched forward and the old men’s heads clunked together. Myrna Letchworth watched the parking lot scene unfold from the front porch.
“Son of a gun!” Barton held a liver-spotted hand to his forehead. “You’ve given me a concussion.”
Chuck straightened the glasses resting atop his hawk-like nose. “That big old blockhead of yours is fine, you stupid baby.”
“I’m bleeding. Look.” Barton shoved his hand in Chuck’s face. “I’m on Coumadin. I’ll bleed to death. Call 911!”
Chuck slapped Barton’s hand away. “You big puss.”
Wanting to make sure Barton was okay, Myrna, a retired nurse who’d recently moved into the condo community, swallowed the last of her morning coffee, placed the mug on the small table by her porch rocker, and approached the two old men.
Myrna’s neighbor, Gert Van Patten, emerged from her unit and called out, “You should let them kill each other. Finally give us some peace around here.” Clad in a skirted bathing suit and pool shoes, and smelling of coconut suntan oil, Gert shuffled behind Myrna on scrawny vein-lined legs.
“Barton, let’s see your head,” Myrna said. He moved his hand and exposed a small lump. She carefully examined the area. “The skin’s not broken, but you’d better go inside and put some ice on it.”
“See? I told you,” he said to Chuck. “You’ve given me a concussion. A traumatic brain injury. I should go to the emergency room. Call 911!”
Chuck huffed and waved a dismissive hand. “You wrinkled hypochondriac.”
“Stifle it, both of you.” Gert bopped Chuck on the head with the rolled up features section of the local paper.
He shooed her away. “Quit. You’ll mess up my hair.”
“What hair? You mean the one long strand you swirl around your bald spot?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t be making wisecracks about hair, if I was you.” His glare settled on the fine, hairspray-shellacked brown fuzz on Gert’s head. As evidenced in her numerous old photo albums scattered throughout her condo, she had worn the unnatural, dark brown hair—so thin one could see her scalp—teased into a nest and sprayed hard and crispy in the exact same style since the 1960’s.
“I’m headed for my morning dip in the pool, you old fart. I haven’t styled it yet.” Gert’s facial expression inspired Chuck to beat it.
He shot a nasty look at Barton before he zoomed towards his unit, muttering, “Just wait, old man. Just you wait…”
Barton grabbed Myrna’s wrist, pulled her close. “You sure I’m not bleeding? Look again.”
“I’m positive. Let’s go inside.” Myrna followed Barton as his decrepit power chair’s engine struggled through parked cars and up the ramp to his first-floor condominium in the building across from Myrna’s. She held the flimsy aluminum screened door open and he wheeled into his unit. She followed him into the living area, which consisted of a cluttered kitchen and den separated by a bar. With the windows closed and drapes drawn, the musty air reeked of fried food. The culprit: a small deep fat fryer on the counter, full of grease and crumbs. Ethel DePuy stood at the sink, washing dishes.
“Help me, Ethel,” Barton said. “I’ve been attacked.” He parked his power chair in the corner and stood up with what appeared to be ease—causing Myrna to wonder why he needed the electrical chair—and plopped down in an ancient plaid recliner, still covered in its original plastic wrapping. “Ethel!” he bellowed.
“Pardon?” Ethel said.
“I’m dying over here!” Barton screamed.
“Oh, Lord have mercy. What happened?” She dried her hands on a dishtowel and trotted to her husband of fifty years. She hovered over him, looking for an injury. “I don’t see anything.”
“What’re you, blind? Can’t you see the huge lump on my head? Get me an icepack. I may need to go to the emergency room. I bet a cranial surgeon needs to check me out.”
Ethel and Myrna exchanged a look and Myrna said, “Your husband and Chuck had a little scuffle in the parking lot. They bumped heads.”
“Pardon?” Ethel stared at Myrna. Myrna repeated her statement.
“Mercy,” Ethel said.
Barton snapped his fingers and waved a hand in his wife’s face. “The icepack! Will you get the icepack for my head before I pass out and slip into a coma?” He kicked off his white deck shoes and propped up his feet, toenails thick and yellow with fungus.
Ethel bustled to the kitchen while her husband turned on the television to Fox News and adjusted the volume to a level guaranteed to blast “fair and balanced” coverage to listeners within a hundred-mile radius.
Myrna walked to the kitchen and watched as Ethel grabbed a bag of mixed vegetables from the freezer. “I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Myrna said.
“Pardon?” Ethel stared at Myrna.
Myrna raised her voice. “I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”
“He’ll be fine!”
Ethel stared at Myrna. She smiled, waved, and left the DePuy’s unit. “Lord have mercy’s right,” she muttered.
Gert waited for Myrna on their shared front porch. “What’s got their Depends in a wad?” Myrna asked and sat down on one of two chairs flanking a small table.
Gert sat in the other chair and lit a cigarette. “Chuck’s in an uproar about Nub.”
“Nub?” Myrna questioned.
“We nicknamed the gardener ‘Nub’ after he trimmed the bushes to pathetic stumps in order to avoid having to trim them on a regular basis. Nobody knows his real name. Anyhow, Chuck’s mad because Nub slashed the plants so close last week that they look ridiculous. What’s the point of having shrubbery if he’s going to cut it back so much?”
“It sounds like the homeowner’s association needs to find another service,” Myrna said. “Preferably one with actual landscaping experience and skills.”
“That’s what Chuck wants, but that tightwad, Barton DePuy, refuses to spend the money on a professional service. He’d rather employ that scrawny half-wit drunk and save funds.” Gert flicked her cigarette ash in the seashell she kept on the porch as an ashtray. “He’s suing Barton and the entire Happy Shoals Homeowner’s Association Board of Directors. Chuck says the Board’s failure to maintain the property is in direct violation of the bylaws. By allowing the property to deteriorate, his investment’s losing value.”
Myrna nodded. “It’s true, the shrubbery does look pathetic. The siding on the buildings is moldy, and I’m scared to soak in the hot tub. It looks like a colossal petri dish.” She remembered Barton’s thick, yellow dragon-taloned feet and shuddered.
“It’s that tightwad Barton’s fault. He’s turned the HOA presidency into a dictatorship. He rules by intimidation and the rest of the board members vote as he tells them. The meetings are secretive, behind closed doors, so nobody else can attend and voice their concerns. According to Chuck, that’s against the bylaws too.” Gert took a drag of her cigarette. “A process server came by yesterday when the DePuys were out running their daily errands. I told him to come by this morning if he wanted to catch Barton.”
Myrna nodded. “I noticed it always takes Ethel forever to get ready in the morning. They never leave home before eleven o’clock.”
“Look,” Gert said. “It’s the court guy.”
A champagne-colored Ford Taurus parked in a visitor’s spot. Its driver, a lanky man dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved button down yellow shirt, climbed out of the car slipped on a dingy brown sports coat, grabbed an envelope from the front seat, and strode to the DePuy’s front door. He glanced at Gert and Myrna and nodded. Gert grinned and waved back at him. “I wouldn’t kick him outta bed.”
“Well, I wouldn’t.” Gert snorted.
Chuck wheeled out of his unit, to where Gert and Myrna sat. If the Happy Shoals residents weren’t outside, they were peeking through their windows, waiting for action. “Watch this,” he said and cackled. “That’s the process server.”
After a brief exchange, the driver handed the envelope to Barton, jogged back to the Taurus, and drove away.
“Consider yourself served, you jerk,” Chuck bellowed across the parking lot.
Barton wheeled out his front door, down the ramp, and onto the asphalt. “Screw you, ya knave!” He threw the summons on the ground and proceeded to run it over, back and forth, with his power chair. He spat on the mangled document.
“See you in court.” Chuck waved at his enemy and headed home.
“Drop dead!” Barton yelled over his shoulder as he zoomed back to his unit.
Myrna looked at Gert. “One would think as the years advance, people mellow.”
“Not in Myrtle Beach. Here we raise hell till we croak.” Gert stubbed her cigarette out in the seashell. “We have insurance, attorneys on retainer, and fear nothing—except constipation. Which reminds me, time for my Metamucil.” She shuffled towards her door. “See ya later, toots!”
* * *
Officer Adolph Tutwater’s cruiser idled behind nine other cars in the Cooper’s Chicken drive-thru line. Long lines in the middle of the night were commonplace in a tourist town full of wild vacationers: spring breakers, bikers, and the most destructive, the danged golfers. Tutwater had seen firsthand what those slobs could do to a rental after a week of golf, drinking, smoking, and strippers. Woo boy.
He’d inched up to third in line, just a few feet from the chicken’s open beak ready for his order to be yelled into, when dispatch called. “Ah, hell,” he grumbled.
Much to Tutwater’s chagrin, they needed him at the Happy Shoals, the condominium community where he currently resided. The residents were known to bicker, and he tried to stay out of the mayhem, especially since they were always demanding that he arrest someone: the HOA president, the gardener, the five-year-old grandson who left his tricycle in the handicapped spot. Never-ending turmoil convinced him not to renew his condo lease. Six more months and he’d move, for sure. Old people were the friggin’ worst. That’s why he didn’t care about diet or exercise. He didn’t want to live that long. He couldn’t imagine a life consisting of whizzing around in motorized scooters, obsessed with bowel movements, and bitching about how much better everything was eighty years ago. No, he was an officer of the law, a fighter of crime, an adrenaline junkie. Hoowa!
“There’s been a suicide. The coroner has already come and gone,” the dispatcher said.
“Details please,” Tutwater whipped out his note pad, grabbed the mini golf pencil he always kept behind his ear, ready to take notes.
“Eighty-year-old male, a Mr. Barton DePuy, left suicide note and drove his motorized scooter off the dock into the Intracostal Waterway. Nobody noticed since they’d all gone to bed by seven p.m. The body floated up to where a young couple was skinny-dipping. ‘Bout gave the poor girl a heart attack.”
“Serves her right for skinny-dipping in the middle of the night.”
“True. Anyhoo, it’s an open and shut case. We just need you to interview some of the residents, dot i’s cross t’s, and write a quick report.”
“Roger. I’m stuck in traffic. I’ll be there as fast as I can.” Next in line at the chicken beak, Tutwater certainly wasn’t getting out of line after waiting so long. His stomach growled in agreement.
He eased up to the beak/drive-thru speaker and yelled, “I’ll have the Clucking Colossal Meal, substitute the biscuit for extra chicken.”
“Sir, we can’t do that.”
“Yo, it’s Officer Tutwater.”
“I’ll have to check with my manger.”
“You do that, son.” Tutwater enjoyed extra perks from area businesses. The drive thru kid must have been new. He drove to the window and the manager greeted him. “Sorry Officer Tutwater, Neill here is new and none too bright, but we’re working with him, aren’t we?”
“Huh?” a scrawny pizza-faced dork said.
The manager smacked him upside the head. “This is Officer Tutwater, you idiot. If he wants substitutions, give him substitutions and no lip. Got it?”
“Yu-huh.” The kid stared into space.
“Dang-it,” the manager said. “Go mop the bathrooms, you donkey.” He shoved the kid.
“He looked stoned,” Tutwater said.
“Don’t they all?” The manager handed a bag to Tutwater. “I threw in a couple of those deep fat fried apple pie pockets you enjoy.” Tutwater grabbed the bag and held out a twenty-dollar bill. “No, no, it’s on the house,” the manager said. “That cruiser of yours inspires patrons to tow the line, if you know what I mean.”
Tutwater winked. “Sure do.”
* * *
Officer Tutwater drove around Happy Shoals parking lot trying to find a spot that was not marked “handicapped.” “Five hundred handicapped spaces. What good does it do if every space is handicapped?” he said to his Clucking Colossal Meal and fried apple pie pockets, placed with care in the passenger’s seat.
The elderly mob descended upon his cruiser like zombie paparazzi.
“Y’all hens just pipe down, I’ll talk to him man-to-man.”
“You chauvinistic dolt, I’ll do the talking.”
“Hum. I like that horseshoe moustache and bald head. I definitely wouldn’t kick him outta bed.”
“Gert! Quit saying that!”
“I’m just being honest.”
“Where’s everyone’s manners? Officer, have one of my homemade lemon bars.”
“Were those the same ones you brought to Bridge last week? How embarrassing, they must be stale as—”
“What about the old hot chocolate you damn near killed us with?”
“The expiration date is a mere suggestion.”
Officer Tutwater held up his hands. “Everyone, please calm down.”
“Wait, isn’t he the young man in unit 216-F?”
Tutwater expelled a huge breath and restrained himself from screaming.
* * *
After Tutwater interviewed Barton DePuy’s widow and Myrna the retired nurse agreed to spend the night with Ethel, Tutwater crammed into Chuck Sheehorn’s apartment with the others. “Ladies and gentlemen, this was not a suicide. It’s a plain, old fashioned murder.”
Everyone stared at Tutwater. He continued. “Something smells fishy and it isn’t the leftover grouper bites on the counter. By the way, Mr. Sheehorn, you really ought to refrigerate them.”
“Why, back in the day we didn’t bother with fancy pants refrigerators—”
“Suit yourself,” Tutwater cut off Sheehorn. “Let’s go over this one more time. How is it that nobody saw anything?”
“Most of us go to bed right after Matlock, at seven p.m.” Gert scootched closer to Tutwater on the couch and wiggled her eyebrows up and down.
“Nobody suffers from insomnia or irregular sleep patterns?”
“Mrs. DePuy said their son planned to visit tomorrow. Was driving from Asheville. Why would Mr. DePuy kill himself before seeing his son one last time?”
“And the terrain, before the dock, you must travel through pretty spongy ground. Given the rickety condition of the old scooter and Mr. DePuy’s rotund size, I find it hard he could make it without assistance.”
“Anyone? Anyone care to comment?”
“He left a suicide note!” Chuck said. “You got it, didn’t you?”
Tutwater nodded. “Lab techs bagged and tagged it, but yes, I did see it. And that’s what I find quite interesting.”
“I don’t see how it’s interesting. People always leave suicide notes.” Chuck looked at Tutwater like he was an idiot.
“Murder victims don’t.”
“Ah, there you go again.” Chuck smacked his forehead with his palm.
“The suicide note was printed on a dot matrix printer. You don’t see those much nowadays.” Tutwater stood, paced the living room. “Everyone admits Barton DePuy was a tightwad. He didn’t have a dot matrix printer. He didn’t have any printer at all.” Tutwater raised an eyebrow and directed his gaze to the corner of the living room. “Here, I see, is your little computer station.”
“And what do we see beside the computer?” Tutwater glared at Chuck Sheehorn. “A dot matrix printer, that’s what!”
“Well, hell,” Gert said. “Whadda we do now?”
“Tell you what, Officer Tutwater.” Chuck Sheehorn took a moment to light his pipe.
Tutwater couldn’t get his mind off the chicken and apple pie pockets waiting in his cruiser. “Get on with it.” Oldsters really chapped his ass.
“Barton DePuy was a despicable man.” Chuck puffed on the pipe.
“I’m aware of that. He wanted me to arrest a toddler for leaving his tricycle in a handicapped spot when every danged one of the parking spots in this community is handicapped.”
“He made everyone miserable. Whadda you say we just sweep this under the rug?”
“Are you serious?”
“As a heart attack. How ‘bout I sweeten the pot? That condo you’re renting, 216-F? Well, it’s one of my properties.”
“You own 216-F?” asked Gert.
“It’s not common knowledge. I have a rental agency deal with tenants.”
“Do you have more? Are you rich? Maybe we could go out some time.”
“Gert! Not now!” Chuck pushed her away. “So how about I let you live there rent-free for the remainder of your lease?”
“Make it a year and you got a deal.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
“It’s all about give and take,” Tutwater mused.
Chuck slapped him on the back. “You’re right, son. I giveth you free rent and you taketh away Barton DePuy’s lousy, stinking body.”Tutwater flipped shut his notepad. “Case closed.”
Margi Desmond graduated from East Carolina University with a B.S. in Communications and an English minor. She worked in banking, healthcare, education, automotive, and various other industries prior to full time freelance writing. More than 100 nonfiction articles and twenty-one of her short stories have been published. She volunteers for the Colorado Humanities and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence. She’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Check out Margi’s website, Facebook Author Page and follow her on Twitter.
This is Ms. Desmond’s tenth story to be published on omdb! online. “Home Sweet Gnome” (March, 2012), “Till Death Do They Part” (November, 2012), “Big Brother” (January, 2013), “Oblivious” (July, 2013), “Going PostAll” (July, 2014), “Goodbye, Cruel World” (October, 2014), “Holiday Homicide” (December, 2015), and “The App” (May, 2015).
She also contributed “iMurder” to our “Solve-it-Yourself” Mini-Mysteries.
Copyright © 2016 Margi Desmond. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!