Tuesday, January 26, 2010

COLUMBO RERUN ~ By Michael J. Solender of Harbinger*33


By ~ Michael J. Solender

That image haunted me more than any other. The one I have of my mother, crying inconsolably with the disconnected phone still bleating in her right hand like a lost sheep.

Paralyzed by the shock and grief at the loss of her husband, her body heaved and convulsed. The phone continued to bleat until I took it from her hand and put it back into its cradle.

My stepfather. The bastard. Once again, I was the man of the family. Four years older than when I assumed that responsibility the last time under equally dire circumstance, I was still only fifteen years old and tired of my mother's husbands dying in distant places.

Harvey, the current, or I should say most recently deceased, was found dead in his room at Caesar's Palace. A high roller, he was comped and had nothing but the finest suites in Vegas and Atlantic City. Security had called my mother after they found him, naked, except for the nylons and bra he was wearing, in his bed in his free suite after an all-night bender of craps and Pisco Sours. The working girl who reported his "heart failure" had split the scene long before the cops came.

The Las Vegas coroner, overworked and understaffed that evening, did the most cursory autopsy and noting the nitroglycerin pills the cops found with his belongings, had quickly and neatly declared a natural death for the L.A. salesman who would be shipped west to the no-doubt grieving widow.

I learned all this after hearing my mother give Aunt Phyllis, her sister and the only relative alive or dead of mine that I really liked, the blow-by-blow on the phone that afternoon. She learned it all from the "Private Dick" she had following him.

She knew, and I knew, he wasn't in Petaluma at a manufacture's rep convention. The $300 a day plus expenses gumshoe was only confirming it all so she could file for divorce and gain the upper hand in the settlement.

Harvey, you see, was loaded.

Mamma didn't know how much exactly, but I did.

Four weeks ago, I found Harvey's Charley Schwab statement under the takeout boxes in the kitchen garbage. My watch band broke as I was pushing down the trash and the watch fell to the bottom, forcing me to dig around. Out comes his statement with a PO Box that I'd never seen and, lo and behold, there were seven very round digits in the account summary.

Harvey and Mamma had only been married for two years, but they fought over money like a couple who had been at it for decades. Harvey had wanted a pre-nup, which Mamma was having nothing to do with.

She knew he had some dough from his previous marriage to that society chick that died from that rare cancer. She left Harvey oodles of cash. He convinced Mamma it wasn't that much and managed to squirrel several mil out of her, and consequently my, reach.

Oh, we lived comfortably all right, but Mamma was tired of his running off constantly. She knew he was gambling and carrying on. She didn't have the strength to do anything other than divorce him and get whatever she could.

Occasionally, she felt sorry for the bastard. Forty-seven years old and a bad ticker. Popping nitros like a third-grader eating Pez on Halloween.

I knew from day one he was a snake and kept my distance. He was good for fifty bucks a week and an occasional Lakers game when he couldn't find a client to take.

That Charley Schwab statement was eating at me, though. $3.5 mil. And here was Harvey, pissing it away in Vegas.

I may have only been fifteen, but dammit, I was the man of the family and I had watched enough Columbo reruns to take Harvey out without even being in the same city.

It was really pretty easy. The meth tabs looked pretty much the same as the nitros and they were cheap. Harvey left his pills out and I had no trouble replacing them that morning while he was in the shower.

I knew he'd get worked up gambling. Either he'd win big and get excited or lose big, with the same reaction. He'd be reaching for his nitros before the night was over.

The rest was just damn fine luck, I guess.

Natural cause of death ruling by the coroner.

Me producing the account statement after Mamma had stopped crying and was bracing herself with a gimlet.

The guy on TV got busted when Columbo suggested to the insurance guy that they should have a second autopsy and look for poison.

Good thing Mamma had the sense to insist on having Harvey cremated before they shipped him home to LA.

I might have suggested that. I really don't remember.

(c) 2009, Author Michael J. Solender 

Hmmm, Michael Solender . . . where do I begin . . . to tell the story of a man who makes me grin . . . a man who gives his all in everything he puts in . . . he is what he's NOT. (That's the best I've got). He's the latest news and authors'  showings; he keeps Sphere and his golf score going . . . plus he ranks in as North Carolina's current most cultural stud. 

I bet he likes it that I've let his secret out ~ ask any dame around Opera Carolina, where nothin' could be reported finah; She'll tell 'ya, "Michael's simply the cat's pajamas!". A mysterious guy in a mustache, funny glasses and an outspoken cigar will then side-mouth, "How he ever got in that cat's pajamas we'll never know." But that's another story for another time and a man with a nose for news and a pen for writing his views has nothin' but success mainsailin' on his horizons. That's why I'm so damn glad he keeps comin' up to the steering wheel aboard the mighty reader'ship, Harbinger*33. He cares with such inner GPS-gumptions too, about authors' destinies.

Honoured MJS, to know, flow and grow with you.
All our bests are truly yet to be.

 ~ Absolutely*Kate and the fine staff of renown,


Linda said...

Didn't see it coming. Me likey, me likey... and the meth switch for nitro -- brilliant! The crank would explode his heart. But I'm worried that your MC's gonna be a sociopath... Peace, Linda

Laurita said...

This was brilliant. I absolutely loved the nonchalance of the last line. Another 'hit' for MJS.

Paul D Brazill said...

A fantastic story. Really moves along. Who says you can't learn anything from TV.

Harry said...

Makes me wonder about the "equally dire circumstances" of the former father's departure. You might be on to something with that sociopath hunch Linda. Crafty cool piece of work Michael!

Unknown said...

Such a calm and level-headed man-child of fifteen. But that's why I liked the story very much Michael, because from the son's point-of-view, he had his bases well covered, and he was willing to see his task through and true.

Also, how brilliant of you to cast an intelligent fifteen year old in the lead of your noir piece. Frank Miller would be smiling if he read this piece... Thanks for the tall cool one this morning Michael... Makes me appreciate why I enjoy reading what I enjoy reading that much more.

Salvatore Buttaci said...

I agree with Laurita: BRILLIANT! You tell the story so convincingly as if you were that kid who did the murder, but I know you didn't. I'll vouch for that in court, Michael. Just tell me what to say.

Anonymous said...

Mikey, this was like silk sliding over the body. Real s m o o t h. Good Write. Maybe you were there.

Madam Z said...

I love it! Especially the line about popping nitro like a third-grader eating Pez. And the last two lines are just perfect. Annnnnd...you'll never convince me that this isn't autobiographical...

Unknown said...

Love it. Loved the twist.. And I especially dig the cadence of "Popping nitros like a third-grader eating Pez on Halloween..."

Eric Beetner said...

Damn fine work. I love that he got the knowledge to commit a crime from watching someone solve crimes. Way to reverse engineer it! Hey, gives me some ideas....

Kevin Michaels said...

Brilliant piece of writing - loved the narrator's voice (using a 15 year old as others have noted worked extremely well). Great flow to the story and excellent pacing throughout. Well done!