Celia, my day nurse, knocked and entered the room I shared with Farty Arty. I never called him that to his face, but the nickname sure as hell fit; the guy was the Mount Vesuvius of bad smells.
Celia twitched the curtains open to reveal another sunny Florida day. “How are you, Arthur?”
Okay, I don’t share my room, and I’m Farty Arty. A guy’s gotta have some fun at eighty-three, doesn’t he? I wasn’t kidding about the stink though. Sometimes I thought I was rotting from the inside out.
“Same as always, Celia. Glad to wake up one more morning.” I stretched, bones creaking ominously, but I was used to it. I’d been old a long time.
“Oh, you’ve got several good years left,” she said, as always. “You don’t look a day over eighty.” She winked, as always. Celia needed to develop new material; the current stuff had gotten stale months ago. “Someone’s here to see you.”
Ah, shit. Another one looking for closure. After the cops had done all they could, and it was too late, they sent them to me. But I could no more turn them away than I could voluntarily stop breathing. “Breakfast first, then I’ll see her.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat afterward, so best to do it beforehand.
After scrambled eggs and toast in the dining room, I slowly walked to the lobby, leaning on the cane in my right hand. I did everything slowly these days.
She was sitting stiffly in a chair near the fake fireplace, hands folded in her lap and twisted together so tightly, the ligaments stuck out in sharp relief. She was youngish, maybe in her early thirties, and dressed neatly in a skirt and blouse.
When I entered the room, she turned and looked at me, eyes moist. Why the fuck didn’t the police send them to me when there might still be a chance? Stubborn assholes.
I hobbled over to the chair opposite her and sat, holding my cane between my knees. “Sorry to keep you waiting. How can I help you?”
She didn’t beat around the bush. Leaning forward, she passed me a photo. The little girl was blonde, cute, about four years old. The moment I touched the picture, images streamed through my mind: girl laughing on a swing, a young man in a ball cap and jeans forcibly grabbing her and quickly moving away, black van with no windows in back, a dizzying drive on dark city streets while a child cried and cried…
I handed the photo back. “I’m sorry. She’s dead.” I’d seen that, too. I described the place where she was buried and made her write down the license plate of the van.
Tears streamed down her face. “You’re sure?”
Breakfast a heavy rock in my stomach, I nodded.
She put the photo away and stood, shoulders slumped. “If I’d come to you first, would it have made a difference?”
In this case, probably not. He’d had his fun with her within an hour of the kidnapping, then killed and dumped her immediately. The cops simply didn’t move that fast. I gave her my standard answer. “I don’t know.”
“I can’t thank you.” She took a deep breath. “I hope you understand.” She left, wiping her eyes, still sobbing.
Celia appeared as if by magic. “Phil wonders if you’re in the mood for a game of Scrabble.” She knew what these visits put me through and purposefully kept her tone light.
Using the cane for leverage, I got to my feet. “I don’t know why. I always beat the shit out of him.” My spine protested as I straightened. “But it’s better than being alone with Farty Arty.”
She walked beside me down the hall. “Bad one, huh?”
I scowled and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I should call the police, tell them about the little redheaded girl who’d just been brazenly taken from her front yard after her mother went inside to answer the phone. But in the next moment, I dismissed the thought.
The cops never listened to me anyway.
Theo Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is hot and sunny most of the time. He dreams and writes and takes photos of bugs and ‘gators.
You can check out his most recent book, “Queer Justice“, on Amazon.