BY TOM MINDER
Copyright is held by the author.
SAM FOLDED the paper and looked outside. Perfect weather for my daily walk. He found his ball cap and headed towards the sidewalk to begin a stroll through his tree-lined neighbourhood. After a wave to his neighbour, he assumed a pace that would surely burn off his breakfast in minutes.
A young blonde jogged by, stopped, checked her Fitbit, and turned towards Sam. “Hi, Mr. Redman. Nice day, huh?”
He managed a “Sure is, Kelly,” before she and her yoga pants spun back, distanced themselves and become a fond memory. I’m old enough to be her father . . . or maybe even grandfather. He sighed and resumed his trek.
Bill Hannigan, retired state trooper, stopped rocking on his porch, put down his Ladies Home Journal and waved as Sam approached. “Good day for a walk, Sam,” he called out. “I could watch you wear out shoe leather all day,.” He laughed. “Except when Kelly runs by.”
Before Sam could respond, dog barking and shouting came from a neighbour’s house. “You never listen to me,” Nan McMann screeched.
“You never have anything worth hearing,” Vic McMann responded.
A plate shattered against a wall. The McMann terrier, Lucky, barked again. “You’re crazy, Nan. I’m going out for some fresh air.” Stomping led to the turn of an engine and the squeal of tires.
“Just don’t get drunk again, you fat slob.”
The men shrugged in unison. Another day with the McManns.
The next morning, Sam took a different path. He passed near traffic, some cars breezing close enough to cause a draft and lift his hat. I’m never goin’ this way again. He turned onto a side street and observed the morning activity: women shooing children into SUVs, workmen setting up ladders, dogs barking from the safety of picture windows.
He passed the McMann’s. Lucky barked, scratching at the screen door. A hairy arm plucked him from the carpet. “Damn mutt,” Vic shouted. “Nan, keep your flea bag in the back. He barks every time someone walks by.”
“He’s the cleanest male in this house, and doesn’t reek of beer. You can learn something from him,” Nan shouted back.
Vic caught Sam staring and partially closed the door.
“Nan, I only drink a little . . . to forget.”
“To forget what?”
“That I could have bagged Lucy Wilson when I was in high school, instead of the nut job I ended up walking down the aisle with. What the hell is that you’re making? Looks like a bad map of the U.S.”
A glass smashed against the wall, barking and swearing followed. “You’re crazy. Someday you’ll go too far.”
“Someday my aim will improve and you’ll be picking my wedding pattern from your beard.”
Sam hurried away, ending up in front of Bill’s. “Morning, Sam. I guess you heard today’s episode of The Battling McManns.”
“How can they stand this day in and day out?” Sam asked, then laughed. “They’ll be eating off Chinet pretty soon.”
Vic’s pick-up gurgled to life. Reverse gear engaged with a metallic clang. The rumbling faded as the truck distanced itself from 306 Greenwood. “And stay away, asshole,” echoed from the house. Lucky barked again.
Rain flew and high winds sheared tree branches and scattered leaves. “Looks like no walk today,” Lana, Sam’s wife, said as they stared out their front window. Cars pushed up puddles, sirens blared in the distance.
“You’re right about that,” Sam said. “Not a fit day for man nor beast.” He picked up the paper and bemoaned his captivity. “Hey, look, Harrah’s Casino is running a special today.”
“You can’t be serious. Stay inside. It’s too dangerous.”
He sighed. “OK.” He looked around. “What can we do today?”
“We can talk, Sam. Just you and me. Let me tell you about my knitting club.”
Sam slouched as Lana sat. “I was talking to Nan McMann last week. She’s making this quilt with images of each of the fifty states. Isn’t that interesting?”
“Nan McMann of the Battling McManns?” Sam asked.
Lana tilted her head. “You know her, Nan from Greenwood. What an odd thing to say.”
“I hear them fighting every day. Yesterday he was making fun of something she was making. Probably her quilt.”
“That man is a creep who doesn’t appreciate her hobbies,” Lana said. “She’s proud of her quilting and her doll collection.” She smiled. “Nan keeps saying that life would be easier if she and Lucky were rid of him.”
Sam took off on his Thursday route. A little longer than Monday, but nowhere near the traffic of Tuesday. He spotted Bill absorbed in a magazine. He coughed and Bill glanced up and closed the Vanity Fair. “You caught me. I keep up with the Kardashians.”
“I’m more of a Sports Illustrated guy myself; or maybe Casino Player,” Sam said.
Porcelain shattered in the distance. “I’m guessing that’s a lamp,” said Bill.
“You broke my Peyton Manning Touchdown Lamp. What’s got into you, Nan?”
“I’m tired of you and your man cave. You’re an adult for Pete’s sake.”
“My football den is where I go to relax from the world and forget about women and yappy dogs. It’s my getaway. My one refuge.”
Nan cried out. “I found a pizza slice that had mold on it. The pepperoni — I hope it’s pepperoni — was green. You have beer cans rolled under that mangy couch, and what looks like pornography wedged in the cushion. Grow up, Vic!”
“I don’t hear Lucky,” said Sam.
“Sometimes dogs are too smart to bark.”
Silence for a few seconds, then stomping. Honk!
“Oh my God, you blew your nose on Wisconsin,” screamed Nan. “I was almost done that quilt.
A door slammed and Vic’s truck started up. It raced down the street. “And never come back, you prick,” Nan shouted.
Peace and quiet returned; for about a minute. “I’ll fix him!” A chain saw whirred, stopping only to catch its breath. The men craned their necks and peered at the McMann’s. Bill shrugged and reopened his magazine. “Sam, have a seat. Kanye’s picking out wallpaper for North’s room.”
Next morning, Lana packed her knitting supplies, kissed Sam goodbye, and headed to Nan McMann’s. Sam laced his walking shoes and seized the day. Friday walks were unscripted. This offered a chance to skip the routine if uninspired. However, a steady diet of donuts, fast food, and salty snacks compelled him to make the effort today.
He repeated the Monday regimen, marching down Lotus Lane towards Bill’s porch — and the McMann battlefield. He reached Bill’s house and saw him leafing through another magazine. Sam approached on cat’s feet and climbed the stairs. Bill closed his Seventeen and greeted him. “Sam, you caught me checking out the Bieb.”
“Not my cup of tea, Bill, but whatever gets you going.” He looked around the side of the house facing Greenwood. “How are the McMann’s today?”
The ex-trooper leaned and stared. “No news today. Unusually quiet. There are a lot of cars out front.”
“That’s the ladies knitting and crochet club. Lana’s there. Maybe the McManns called a one-day truce.”
Bill closed the centerfold. “Actually, I haven’t heard so much as Lucky barking since yesterday. The chainsaw was chewing away into the night, but no animal sounds, human or canine. I wonder what they’re doing over there, you don’t usually hear one of those inside a house.”
“I’ll get a report from Lana. Vic must be building something.”
Bill shook his head. “Remember, the sawing started after he drove away. This was Nan slicing things up.” He turned his rocker fully towards Greenwood. “I wonder what she’s up to.”
Lana returned at 2:30 and displayed a small knit cap. “How’s this look? My current project.”
Sam studied the hat which had a floral design throughout and must have taken Lana some real time. “This is pretty nice.” He returned it to her. “Say, how was Nan today?”
Lana closed her bag and smiled. “Funny you should ask. She was almost giddy. I don’t think she slept or showered. She smelled of sweat and kept brushing sawdust from her clothes.”
“Was Vic there?”
“No. But that’s not unusual. He clears out when the club meets at their house.” She poured coffee and sat. “Lucky wasn’t there either.”
“Did she explain the sawdust?”
“She said they were rehabbing Vic’s football room. Apparently, it’s being completely redone.” Lana shook her head. “I went to hang up my coat, and there was a chainsaw, of all things, on the floor of the closet.”
Saturday morning. Sam and Lana slept in. The phone rang just before nine. “Sam, this is Bill. Boy, you missed a royal battle. Vic and Nan cursed each other out. Vic screamed about his man cave, then silence afterwards. Then, after a few minutes, the chainsaw started again.”
Sam carried his cell into the bathroom and unzipped. He started to pee while continuing the conversation. “What’s happening now?”
“Let me look over there. I see Vic carrying what looks like broken furniture out back. He’s pushing it into a trash can. Boy, he looks mad.” A pause. “Now he’s struggling to drag out a leaf bag. He just went back inside.”
Lana walked into the bathroom causing Sam to turn and send a stream within inches of her feet. “Sam, what the hell.”
He flushed, knelt to wipe up the liquid, and muttered a “sorry” to Lana. He cradled the cell between his shoulder and chin as he grabbed a towel. “OK, Bill. What now?”
“He’s walking out of the house with a blanket of some sort. It has this red, white, and blue pattern to it. He’s opening the leaf bag and shoving the blanket inside.” Bill laughed. “Now he’s doing some sort of Irish jig.”
Sam almost dropped the cell. “Let me stop by Bill. This doesn’t sound good.”
Bill rocked on his porch and leafed through Elle. “What’s up with fashion?” Sam called out.
He closed the mag and sighed. “If only I was 40 years younger. That Taylor Swift is a hottie.”
“Whatever, Bill.” He looked over at the McMann’s. “Have you heard Nan or Lucky since we talked?”
“No. Seems like just Vic over there. The chainsaw stopped and I heard his odd whistle. Normally, his sound system is pumped up and he’s watching football highlights. Today, all’s quiet.”
A muddy dog ran up, squealing, with its leash dragging. Sam bent down to greet the animal. “Hey, it’s Lucky. He’s dirty and looks like he needs a drink.”
Bill walked into his house and returned with a bowl filled with water. Lucky sniffed the dish, then started lapping. “He must have gotten loose. Looks like he’s been roaming,” Bill said. “Let’s clean him up a little bit and return him to Vic. I’m sure he’s worried about him.”
Sam’s cell rang. Lana. “Sam, I just called Nan’s house to talk to her. Vic answered and said she went away to see her sister.”
“Hmmm. That would explain why we don’t hear her.”
“Nan’s sister died last year.”
He filled Bill in on the call, removed the back issues of Woman’s Day from an adjacent chair, and rocked as his friend toweled off Lucky. “Bill, I think something’s going on at the McManns. Nan is nowhere to be found and Lucky’s roaming the streets.”
Bill shook out the towel. “It does look suspicious, but we can’t just go barging in. Let’s return Lucky. I’ll see how Vic acts. Maybe he’ll invite us in.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“I’ll make sure he does.”
Sam rang Vic’s bell as Bill held Lucky. The blinds separated. “Hold on.” Vic opened the door and looked over the men. “Bill and Sam. Come in, guys. Looks like you found my missing mutt.”
Bill grimaced, then walked in and placed Lucky on the carpet. The dog hid behind his leg. Vic waved the men to the sofa. “So where’s my wanderer been.” He examined Lucky’s coat from a distance. “He looks cleaner than when he ran out.”
“He showed up on my porch an hour ago. When did he run off?”
“A few days ago. I guess he got tired of Nan and me arguing.” Vic laughed. “I guess you must feel the same way, Bill.”
Sam looked around. “Where is Nan? Lana was at the knitting meeting with her yesterday.”
Vic stared at Sam with an intensity that affected his bladder control. “She’s visiting her sister . . . in North Jersey.” He smiled. “I guess the neighbourhood has been pretty quiet without us fighting.”
Bill tapped Lucky in the rear. The dog ran away and down the steps to the man cave. “It’s dark down there. I’ll just turn on the light if that’s OK, Vic.”
The man shrugged. “I’ll turn it on. Have either of you seen my football den recently? Come on down.” He motioned them to follow and switched the light for the stairs leading to the room.
They descended and found a large flat screen, two end tables, one with a Dallas Cheerleader leg lamp, and an empty space between. “Nan took a chainsaw to my old couch before she left. Reduced it to a few dozen scraps of wood, metal, and fabric.” He leaned towards the men. “And to make it worse, she sliced up my August Penthouse.”
Lucky trotted around the room sniffing the rug, closets, cheerleader, and other points of interest. “I guess he misses Nan,” Sam said.
Vic waved his hands. “I guess so, Sam. Kindred spirits, I suppose.” He looked at Bill. “Anything else…officer?”
Bill shook his head. “No, Vic. Just make sure Lucky doesn’t wander again. He’s a good dog.” He looked at Sam. “We’ll see ourselves out.”
“Well, what do you think?” Sam asked as they returned to Bill’s.
“They had a fight and she left. What do you think, Sam?”
“I think she’s dismembered and resting in a leaf bag in their backyard. Along with her quilt. She’s not visiting her dead sister.”
“Maybe she has two sisters. Did you consider that? We can’t be blindly making accusations.” He patted Sam on the shoulder. “Maybe you’ve seen too many late-night mysteries. The truth is usually far less ominous.”
Sunday morning. Sam and Lana discussed the visit to the McMann’s. She called Nan’s cell. No answer. They sat and tapped their mugs. “Maybe Bill’s right,” said Sam. “Maybe she has another sister.”
“Neither of us are convinced, are we?” Lana said. “This doesn’t feel right.” Sam shrugged. “What if you check out the leaf bag in the back yard?” she continued. “Make sure Vic isn’t around, then sneak in and open the bag.”
“You mean like trespassing and maybe breaking and entering?”
“Say that you heard a noise during your walk and wanted to make sure all was OK.” She stirred her coffee, picked up a Danish and ripped off half in one voracious bite. “Mmmmpppphhhh, mmmmpppphhhh,” she continued.
“Lana I can’t hear you through the chewing. Are you really planning out a felony?”
She held up one finger, swallowed, and wiped her mouth. “What if Nan is in that leaf bag? We owe it to her to make sure that prick doesn’t get away with it.”
Sam watched Lana stuff the rest of the Danish into her mouth. “OK. I’ll walk by Vic’s early tomorrow morning.” He frowned. “I hope we know what we’re doing.”
Sam tossed in bed. I can’t believe I’m going to commit a crime. When he did nod off, he dreamt of being arrested by Bill who clubbed him into submission with a Marie Claire.
Six a.m. Monday; the agreed deployment since Vic would probably still be asleep. Sam started his walk and took the shortest path to the McMann’s. He heard the grind and squeal of a large truck; trash day. I hope the truck doesn’t wake Vic up. He hurried past Bill’s house and approached the McMann’s. The leaf bag sat on the curb next to the trash cans and recycle bucket. I’m in luck.
He looked around, bent, and opened the bag. He pulled the quilt, shook it, and examined it for blood or signs of mayhem. Wisconsin was creased shut. Sam pulled it open and revealed dried boogers. Oh, yeah. Vic blew his nose on that spot. He looked deeper into the bag. An arm clutched a leg while a head stared at Sam. He held his breath and reached for the head. Oh, God. Vic, what have you done?
“Hey, you. Get out of my trash,” demanded a voice from the house. “Scavenge somewhere else.” Nan opened her screen door further and Lucky ran out and grabbed Sam’s pant leg. “Hey, is that you, Sam Redman? What’s going on?”
Sam examined the head; a doll’s head. Relieved but confused, he returned the noggin to the bag, closed it, and shrugged.
Bill walked up clutching his Marie Claire. “Sam, what the hell?” He looked over to Nan. “These walkers. They’re a nosy bunch.” He pulled Lucky from Sam’s pant leg and handed him to Nan. “I’ll take care of this.” He turned to Sam. “Come with me, Redman.”
Bill removed the InStyle from the rocker and ordered Sam to sit. “What the hell were you thinking, Sam? Did you think you’d find . . . a dead body?”
“I guess. I was so sure.”
“I told you there’s usually a simple explanation.”
“So no arguing today?” Sam asked.
“Only the sounds of make-up sex. Boy, for two 60-year-olds they can sure rock the casbah, if you know what I mean.”
He looked over to 306 Greenwood. “You know, Sam, couples communicate in different ways. Some don’t really talk at all, some have quiet discussions but don’t expose themselves, and some throw dishes and yell.” He smiled. “I wonder which marriages last longer. My money’s on the Battling McManns.”