bit into a sugar cookie. Her guests chatted around her dining room
table. Five of her dining chairs sat occupied. When had that
happened last? A fine warmth radiated from these folks. Minnie closed
her eyes and smiled. She opened them. The end chair sat vacant. Three
months now. As of yesterday. She set the remainder of the cookie onto
her plate and wiped her lips with her napkin.
sister, Barbara and her brother-in-law Wilmer spoke to their daughter
and Minnie’s niece, Jennifer, about what she needed to look for in a
new house. Jennifer had finally saved up the money to get a loan all
on her own. At thirty with two children and no husband or father in
the picture, she hadn’t made the best choices. However, she’d earned
her nursing degree and worked long enough that she had some money and
could get out of her crumby apartment. Not that there’s anything
wrong with an apartment. Some great men work hard so their wives can
live in a nice apartment. Jennifer’s was just run down. The other
guest present sat there peering at the China cabinet. Sy-Jennifer’s
smiled at Minnie and had used no cuss words so far. He wore a
turtle-neck sweater and kakis. According to Jennifer, Sy worked as a
bank teller and looked to be manager. He looked like he stepped out
of GQ. Barbara and Wilmer loved him. Wilmer had played golf with Sy’s
Dad and uncle for years. “Good fellows” he called them. Minnie
had no reason to not like him…except for that.
eyes drifted around the room toward the china cabinet and then to
Minnie and then quickly away. That’s the third time. This guy would
snatch something from here before the night ended. Her Moe would have
known it, too.
said, “Well, let’s move to the living room. What do you say?”
others nodded and started to stand.
said, “Oh, Aunt Minnie.”
smiled. “Yes, dear?”
Jennifer said. “I hoped you would…um…show Sy here…around your
bit her lip. Barbara and Wilmer smiled toward her. Jennifer watched
her. Sy looked at the china cabinet. And then he looked away.
said, “Y-yes. Yes. Of course. What am I thinking? Young man, you
come right with me.”
walked to the kitchen entrance. Sy coughed behind her. She turned
back to Sy. He smiled. She stepped around him. Barbara and Wilmer
resumed the house discussion with Jennifer. They were in their own
world without Sy. They could have fit into a snow globe. Sy could
have fit into a prison cell. She sighed and turned. “Follow me.”
showed Sy her living room. He smiled the whole time. The TV and the
Blu Ray player and the laptop and the little robot vacuum cleaner.
Sure, add up all the potential loot in my home, you filth.
showed him her kitchen and the study. She returned to the hall and
walked toward the living room where Jennifer approached. Minnie
stopped. Sy said, “What’s this room back here?”
smiled at Sy. Then she turned to Minnie. “Aren’t you going to show
Sy your room, Aunt Minnie?”
and Wilmer walked up behind Jennifer. Wilmer said, “Who’s ready for
a Sam Adams? Sy, old man. How about it?”
watched Minnie. Jennifer glanced at her mother and back at Minnie.
Wilmer said, “What’s going on?”
exhaled. “I’ll show him. Of course, dear.”
said, “Oh good.”
blew a kiss to Sy who returned the favor. Then she went to the
walked toward Sy who stood by her bedroom door. He wore that smile,
too. Wilmer asked him about the beer again. Sy gave him a nod. That’s
right. You don’t talk. Just keep plotting out the robbery.
showed Sy her bedroom. He looked at the bed and the walls. She
reached for the light switch. Sy said, “My, my. This reminds me of
my mother’s room.”
stepped back. “Oh really?”
what mental hospital does she inhabit?
Sy said. “She had the same color on the walls. That quilt is
similar, too. Her mother made it for her. She made one for me, too.
It’s good to pass things down.”
she reached for the light switch, he said, “Oh, hold up!”
stepped back and balled up her right fist. “What?”
stared into the aquarium on her dresser. “These guys. Oh my God.
African Pancake Tortoises. Right?”
she said. “Right.”
did you get them?”
picked at her blouse. “I…um. They belonged to my husband.”
stared into her eyes. Was that a tear on the edge of his eyelash?
said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
did he do that? Did he carry a bottle of Visine in his pocket? Surely
he couldn’t really feel sorry for another person, being a low down
rat. “That’s all right, Sy.”
tapped on the aquarium but he did so in a gentle way, like Moe used
to do. He didn’t want to alarm them-just get their attention.
pointed to the aquarium. “He liked them a lot. I’ve been feeding
them since he…I never really liked reptiles. Or are they
you,” she said.
rubbed his index finger across his lip. “I can give you a hundred
bucks for them. Right here and right now.”
she said. “That’s very generous. But I don’t think so. I’ll keep
looking after the little stinkers. Moe would have want me to.”
scratched his forehead. She turned the light off and stepped forward.
He didn’t move. She said, “Well…we should get up front.”
flipped the light back on. She took a step back. He said, “A
hundred bucks is a fair price. Believe me. I know.”
stared him in the eyes. He held the stare as if he’d just given her
some fatherly advice. God, the stare lasted ten seconds. No, twenty
seconds! She looked away and said, “I’m sure it is. I’m not
interested, though. Let’s go on back up front now.”
reached for the light switch. He covered it with his hand. Her heart
thoomp-thoomped. Oh, Moe. If only you could be here and take care of
popped her head in the doorway. “Hey, hon. What’re you guys doing?”
fell into a big smile. Geez, those teeth. Her last boyfriend had held
onto three or four teeth in his twenty-five years. Sy looked like he
had fifty chicklets in there. Oh, the things the world does for a
enjoyed beers and wine over several hands of Uno in the living room
for the next three hours while a Titans game played in the
background. Minnie watched Sy but he kept his eyes on Jennifer for
the rest of the evening. She could tell Jennifer what she thought of
Sy but her poor mother warned her about them all. Jennifer never
listened. Maybe they would break up. If fate can be awful and take
Moe away, maybe it can be kind and kick Sy out of their lives.
week later, Minnie lay in her bed at eight-thirty. She had broken
plans to meet Barbara at Chile’s for their weekly margarita with
chips and salsa. She didn’t know why. She closed her eyes.
door handle rattled.
slid out of bed and drew her robe from the hook on the bathroom door.
She wiped her eyes and tied her robe around her. Then she slid under
her bed and grabbed Moe’s .22 Remington five-shot revolver. She slid
the cylinder out. Five chambers and five bullets. She shut it and
tip-toed out of the bedroom. She kept low and stopped by her kitchen
counter. From there, she peered around at the door.
handle rattled again.
wanted in. Minnie had her cell phone in the pocket of her robe. Moe
would want her to call the police. But folks just think odd these
days. They want to call somebody who’ll take care of them. Why not
take care of yourself?
door handle rattled again. Minnie pulled the hammer back on the
Remington. Come on through. Just come on through and try to rob a
defenseless widow, you big upstanding citizen. Bring everything
would-be intruder ran.
front door of the building slammed.
had spooked her intruder.
pulled out her cell phone and keyed into the app that showed her
doorbell camera feed on her phone. The guy wore plain black clothes
but that face could not be denied. Sy had come back. He’d spotted
that doorbell camera and fled. He was the dirty scoundrel she knew
him to be.
sat at the table beneath the park pavilion. He munched on a Barbecue
sandwich but he sure took his time. Minne smiled. Moe’s tortoises
moved with more speed. She stepped out of her car and walked over to
him. He said, “Minnie,” before she got close enough for him to
see her. She stopped. “Wow, that’s creepy, George.”
wiped his mouth and held up a thick finger. “Is it creepy that I
knew you were there or is it even creepier that you sat there
watching me and waited seven and a half minutes before you approached
slapped his shoulder. “Hush up, now. I have something to tell you.
Something in your line of work.”
work? Roofing? At least, that’s what I’m doing this week.”
poked his arm. “Just finish that sandwich and listen to me.”
told him about Sy and the attempted break-in. He finished the
sandwich. He removed his sunglasses and rubbed the bridge of his
nose. “Who told you about me and Glew?”
sister, Barbara. I couldn’t believe it at first. She told me about
you two getting her jewelry back. I thought ‘My lord.’ I could not
picture old George Fairfax doing anything like that.”
am I? Satan?”
coughed and giggled. “No, you goof. You just, I don’t know. I
didn’t think you hardly even talked to anybody. Now you’re going
around and helping damsels in distress. It threw me for a loop. I
thought you would be a quiet hermit from here on out. Does your
mother know what you do?”
replaced the sunglasses on his face. “When did you say you’re going
out of town?”
weekend. He’ll try to get those tortoises. I told Jennifer. So I know
she told him and he’ll try.”
grinned. “You told her on purpose. Huh?”
handed him an apartment key.
pulled into the apartment complex at six o’clock. He carried some
takeout food up the steps to the second floor and found number 224.
He inserted the key in the door and opened it up. Minnie said,
held a Remington revolver although she didn’t point it at him. He
said, “Easy, now.”
giggled and held it out to him. “For your protection this weekend.
Where’s your partner? Lou?”
set the Remington on the coffee table. “It’s Glew. We work in
shifts. He’ll relieve me sometime tomorrow unless I need his
picked up her purse. “I’m off then. I’ll be back Sunday night at
eight o’clock and not a minute later.”
fun,” Fairfax said.
kissed his jaw and then left, locking the door after herself. Fairfax
leaned back and listened to the sounds of the apartment settling.
Come on, Sy. Come on and bite, little fish.
walked up the apartment steps, counting each one as he did so. A wiff
of something tickled his nostrils. He looked up. Nothing. He looked
down. In between one of the steps, a vision gave him tingles. The
young lady stopped and looked up at him. “Wally?”
smiled. “Well, well.”
young lady said, “Oh my God.” She clapped her high heels up the
steps. Glew embraced her and inhaled the vanilla perfume. Then he
buried his face into her hair. She tapped his arm. “You can let go
He stepped back but kept his hands on her arms. She did not protest.
“Cindy. Where have you been?”
live here. You don’t remember. Do you?”
of course,” Glew said. “Through a rum haze, I recall that you
lived in an apartment. Not sure it was this complex, though. What can
I say? They all look alike to me.”
toyed with his shirt. “What are you doing here, anyway? Coming back
for round two? Only took you two and a half months.”
opened his mouth.
up here, you sumbitch!” Fairfax said.
looked up. His partner stood on the balcony. The bags wore heavy
under his eyes, even from down here. He turned to Cindy. “I’m sorry
but I have some work to do.” He leaned down to her ear. “I can’t
tell you which apartment I’m in but stay away from 224. Do not go in
ran her tongue across her teeth. Then she took off. Glew galloped up
the steps. Fairfax passed him and trotted down the stairs. Glew said,
Okay, partner. See you!”
strolled into 224.
hour later, Cindy met Glew at the door. He picked her up in his arms
and then carried her down the hall to the bedroom. Once he got the
door open, he carried her inside and tossed her onto the queen-sized
bed. She squealed. Then she sat up. “Wow, I think my mom has a
quilt like this.”
switched off the light and lit a candle. “Every mom has one of
kicked off her high heels. He jumped onto the bed beside her. She
said, “And what does every private detective have?”
secret,” he said. “And the answer is always right here.” He
steered her hand down low. She giggled and licked his lips. Then the
explorations began. Glew groped and moaned and gripped and squeezed
until Cindy shoved him over. He stared at her.
turned to the door. The aquarium with the turtles. Where had it gone?
No. Oh no. That quick? How was that possible?
sprang up. She grabbed his arm. He slung free of her grip. “Sorry!”
he said. He ran through the apartment.
he reached the steps, he slowed down and hobbled as best he could.
The guy wore a black jumpsuit. He jumped into a red sedan and sped
out of the lot. Glew tripped over his pants around his ankles. He
smacked the ground. “Shit!”
ugly truck pulled up beside him.
Glew said. He scrambled up inside the beast. Fairfax took off after
the sedan. “Pull your damn pants up.”
looked down. “Oh right. Sorry. I was watching but-
know and I will say, she is a looker but damn, man. Why didn’t you
lock the bedroom door?”
guess my urges just took me over.”
followed the sedan through lots of traffic on out to the highway and
through curvy roads until Sy pulled the sedan into a gravel driveway
that led to a trailer. Fairfax pulled over onto the side of the road
out of view of the trailer. He stepped out, followed by Glew. Sy
carried the aquarium up to the front door and knocked.
woman answered the door. She placed her hands to her cheeks. “You
found them?!? Oh thank you!”
closed the door. Sy stepped off her tiny porch and wore a wide smile.
Who was this guy’s dentist? Glew might have to pay him a visit.
woman returned with a boy by her side. The little guy looked like he
was around ten years old. He wore glasses and looked a bit chubby.
However, he probably didn’t get picked on in a physical way. He could
woman handed over a wad of bills to Sy.
tapped Glew’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
handed the aquarium over to the woman. She thanked him. He walked
straight toward the sedan. Glew stepped in front of his door. Fairfax
grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back onto the hood. His
smile vanished. “Hey, what is this?”
woman set the aquarium down. “What do you two think you’re doing?
Get your hands off of him!”
boy watched the scene, grinning. He threw a few punches at the air.
turned to the woman. Sy punched Fairfax in the lip. The woman gasped.
Fairfax dragged Sy off the hood. Sy said, “I’m sorry” five times.
Fairfax got Sy on his knees and then placed his foot into the center
of his back. From there, he shoved him forward until Sy’s face was
pressed into the sedan’s fender. Fairfax kept his boot on his back,
holding him there. Glew turned away and chuckled.
woman said, “Take your boot off of him.”
do you try to teach your son right from wrong?”
placed her hands on her hips. “Yes, sir, I do.”
guy stole those turtles.”
what?” she said.
boy said, “Tortoises. Not turtles.”
stole them from a widow.”
She looked at Sy. “Is that true?”
dug the boot into Sy’s spine. Sy groaned and said, “Yes!”
woman kicked Sy in the butt. Glew walked away laughing. Fairfax let
Sy fall to the ground. Then he turned him over and pulled the woman’s
money from his pocket. He handed her money back to her. He said, “Six
hundred bucks. Good lord. Those are some pricey turtles.”
boy said, “Tortoises.”
woman took her money back. She pointed to her son. “Oh they’re
worth it. He loves them. He’s been looking for some forever.”
looked at him. “So? I just pay you and then you pay the widow?”
walked up beside Fairfax. He said, “That sounds like a good deal.”
He looked at the boy. “Ready to play with your new turtles son?”
boy smiled and said, “Tortoises! I’m ready!”
woman held the money toward Fairfax who held up his hand. “Now, I
and the woman stared at Fairfax.
said, “The widow didn’t tell me that she would sell them. So, I’m
afraid I can’t let you have them.”
The woman frowned. Glew
looked at Fairfax. “Hey, come on, stud. I think the boy should get
them. Just look.”
boy hung his head and stuck out his bottom lip. Fairfax looked at
Glew. “It ain’t that simple. Get in the truck.”
Fairfax stepped closer to him. “Get in the
walked away. After kicking Sy in the back, he got into the truck.
turned back to the woman. “Listen, the widow woman is returning
tomorrow night at eight o’clock. You come by with your money and make
her the offer. She’ll probably say ‘yes’.”
boy let go of a tear. The woman hugged him and wiped his eyes. She
studied Fairfax who picked up the aquarium. “You think she will?”
said, “I do. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
his way back to the truck, Fairfax kicked Sy in the ribs. Sy crawled
into his sedan.
pulled on down the road. Glew shook his head. “That kid looked so
sad. We should have just let him have them.”
“We’ll see tomorrow night.”
least one of us cares.”
you sure cared all the way down the steps with your pants around your
didn’t say much for the rest of the way back. When Fairfax dropped
him off he said, “And you can stay until seven tomorrow night.”
reached for the aquarium. Fairfax swatted his hand. “Yeah, right.”
am I staying for, then?”
a good question. Why are you staying? In fact, why did you even come
over to begin with?”
knocked on her own front door and waited. A voice spoke through the
door. “Who goes there?”
deepened her voice. “The master of the house.”
voice (also deeper) said, “This is an apartment.”
shook her head. Then she cleared her throat and got into her deepest
voice. “Open the door before I break it down.”
door opened. A man stood there, eating Goober candies. Minnie looked
him up and down. “So you’re the famous Glew?”
stepped inside and set her purse on the kitchen counter. She took in
a deep breath. Then she turned back to him. “So-
toilet flushed in the bathroom. Glew chuckled. Fairfax stepped out.
“Oh. Howdy, Minnie. About time you made it back.”
said, “I had a little traffic delay. So how did everything go? Did
Sy stop by for a discount on some turtles?”
motioned to Glew who told Minnie the tale. At the end, he said, “Now
you think the boy should have the turtles. Right?”
smile faded. She looked at Fairfax. He watched her with steady eyes
while seated at her dining table.
doorbell clanged. Minnie blinked a few times. Fairfax nodded to her.
She answered her front door. The woman from the trailer stood there
with her son by her side. Minnie invited them inside. The woman
confirmed Glew’s story. The boy hugged Minnie’s waist. Minnie turned
red. She hugged the boy back. The mom said, “So, name your price
and we’ll work something out.”
looked back at Fairfax. He kept those steady eyes on her. She said,
“Does your mama know what’s best for you?”
said, “Did it ever make you mad that she knew best and denied you
said, “You got over it, though. Right?”
did. And if I didn’t, who cares? That’s my problem.”
turned back and took a seat at the table. She looked at the boy and
said, “I won’t sell you the tortoises.”
woman said, “What? Hold on, now. Why not?”
see, I have-
boy stomped Minnie’s foot. Minnie drew back and yelled. The boy shook
his fist toward her. “You give me those tortoises or else! Or else,
grandma! You hear me? Or else!”
woman stared at her son. Could eyes get that big without bursting?
stood. “Don’t you ever be hitting a lady, son. Back up.”
boy raised his other fist.
said, “Back up.”
boy drew his fist back.
mother grabbed the boy’s fist and yanked him toward her. Tears
collapsed down his cheeks. His mother hunkered down and pointed in
his face, warning him with a low voice that escaped the others’ ears.
She pulled him to the door, moving like the boy was a whip in her
lion tamer grip. She turned back to Minnie. “My apologies, ma’am.”
massaged her toe. “That’s all right.”
woman looked at Fairfax and then at Glew. She shook her head and
looked back at Fairfax and said, “You a father?”
said, “Not yet.”
looked at Fairfax. “I think she’s right. Moe and I talked about
having kids. We tried but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for
motioned for Glew to sit down. Glew sat. Fairfax sat next to Minnie.
He took her hand in his and said, “Who says you’re not a mother?”
laughed and hugged him. Fairfax pulled Glew into the hug. He dropped
a Goober onto the floor.
ten o’clock that night, Minnie’s phone rang. She wiped the sleep from
her eyes and answered.
said, “Hello, Jennifer.”
“Um, what is this Sy has been
telling me about you hiring some thugs to beat him up? Are you out of
your mind? And don’t think I didn’t notice you giving him the cold
shoulder at your apartment that night. I have to tell you-
get your butt over here.”
what?” she said. Her voice shook.
rose up in bed. “Get over here. I’m going to talk. You’re going to
listen. Then we’re never going to talk about this again.”
if you don’t listen, fine, but I can say I tried.”
hung up on her. Then she made herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen.
She blew the steam off the top and took a sip. Then she pulled the
package of sugar cookies from the cabinet. She ate one whole and
smiled at the chair at the end of the table.