THE DOG WALKER
Titus came in the cafe and shrugged his pea jacket so the snow flew off. Ron was there in a front booth and beside him was the one they called Susan the Witch bent over a half-eaten muffin. Larissa leaned across holding Susan’s hand. Titus sat in the booth beside Larissa, a gaunt woman with speckles of gray in her long dark hair.
“You didn’t hear,” Ron said.
Ron nudged his heavy fist in Susan’s direction. Her face was red and blotted with dry tears. She couldn’t look at anyone.
“Corinne died. Fell on the stairs. The widow, you might remember her, came in here once in a while. Kind of scraggly. Wore the same orange raincoat all the time, never talked to no one.”
Susan let out weak cry.
“She... she was lonely. Didn’t have no one. Me. Sometimes. She let me sleep on her sofa. I told Lariss’. Oh....”
Ron winked at Titus to withhold the sarcasm, knowing Titus had a mean streak. Titus could vaguely remember the woman Corinne.
“Sad she passed away.”
“Her time was come,” Larissa said. The women exchanged glances like a nod to each other. It was time for simple acceptance but no one could.
Titus watched Susan bent over and inconsolable. It seemed appropriate that they called her Susan the Witch because she always dressed in black, had needles and pins stuck in her cheek. She walked with a gnarly wooden cane topped by four silver skulls. She was known to everyone but spoke to only a few. She scared some people, which Titus assumed was part of the plan, though she never pretended to be a real witch, far as he knew. That was just what people called her.
“I didn’t know her.”
“A nice lady. Lived in that apartment building up Danever street. Been there for years.”
“How did you find out?”
“Susan found her.”
Susan swallowed and licked her lips.
“I shoul’n’t have. I just come in,” she murmured as if drunk. None of them drank, Titus knew; they didn’t have the money. Susan was homeless. Ron and Larissa had small rentals in the projects.
“Found her all crumpled up. Her silk robe. Been there for... nobody around in the day.” Susan started to cry.
“Easy to slip on silk,” Ron said. “How old people dress. It’s like glass, you know? I can tell ya one time my ex-wife before she passed away. Had so many them dresses. I don’t know how she wore them all. That had to be, lessee...”
“Stop. Stop. Stop,” Susan cried. She slapped him hard on the thigh.
Ron, who was naturally talkative, even hard to shut up, was in a sober mood now. Being flanked by two women in mourning should have given him pause. Titus looked over at Larissa. He could tell from her glance that Corinne’s passing was only important because of Susan.
“I fixed her a meal sometimes,” Larissa let on. “She wasn’t poor just cuz she lived in that little apartment. She just didn’t like to go out. Did she, Sue? Gave you some when you needed it, didn’t she?”
Susan breathed thickly and wiped her face with a napkin.
“Uh-huh.” Susan sniffed. “Yeah,” she went on. “When the man in the black hat came to the window. Uh-huh. He’d reach her lunch to her and she’d count it out and always, always, she’d give some extra. I’m sure of it.”
“Came to the window?” said Larissa. “She lived on the third floor. Can’t no man in no hat come to the window there.”
“Well, I know. He levitated maybe. He got there. I never asked her. I don’t think you should pry too much into other people’s affairs. I mean not pry pry. But I know for a fact he had a black hat with a snake in it. Only the snake stayed coiled up most of the time. It was green, a nice snake.”
Ron glanced over the gaggle of people in the cafe. He was groaning inwardly with the story he had heard before.
“So if we go up to her apartment and hang around there’s going to be money coming out the window?”
“Wouldn’t come for you,” Susan said mournfully. She thought soberly and blinked. “I think.”
Dox breezed in, all business with her manner of always being in a hurry. She ignored them at first but Ron made a point of not letting her go.
“Hey, Dox. C’mere. D’you hear what happened? In your building.”
Dox, with her angular indifference and ruddy flare of hair turned abruptly but wouldn’t come over.
“Yeah, what? Well?”
For once Ron seemed mindful of Susan and a little diffident.
“Well, it, um,... I don’t want to shout it to everybody. C’mere. Okay, in a few words...”
“Well, it can wait then.”
She hurried off to her usual booth in the back. She was mostly abrupt and secretive, like a lot of people Titus knew from the cafe. He guessed she was running from Mondo, her Uber cab driver significant other who doted on her. He’d appear soon enough, if he knew where to find her.
“Hey, Ron, you didn’t even....” Titus began.
“Let her go,” Ron said. “She’ll catch on soon enough.”
Titus bought them hot chocolates and they waited in silence. Soon another figure came in, throwing open the door to a flurry of snow. Her unfurled coat was clutched tight to her chest where a furry white face licked and looked curiously about. Sheila Tamm, the dog walker, greeted them all.
“I can see you heard.”
They agreed they had. Sheila nuzzled the pooch and gave a slinky look over the cafe crowd.
“I don’t suppose they’ll mind. Little Gus won’t make a sound, will you, Gus?”
“That’s your dog? I thought you just walked them.”
Sheila looked around.
“Of course. I walk Gus. He’s been to the vet. Before it happened. That’s how I know. I went to return Gus and the police were there. Yellow tape, the whole bit.”
“And they let you keep the dog?”
“Actually, I didn’t say it was hers. I guess I was too surprised. I looked in and saw. Before the medical examiner arrived, they couldn’t touch her. I heard what they said. I just wanted to get away. I waited for an hour at the vet’s. So who’s going to take care of him now? Poor little guy. Um-yuuh. Gus is in his eighties in dog years. Yess.”
She nuzzled him and unraveled a leash to let the dog secrete himself under the table. As if sensing the need for affection Gus curled around Susan’s feet.
“No concern to you I guess,” said Ron. “Did you know her?”
“Well, we talked. I know Gus. She didn’t have anybody else. ‘Cept him.”
“And you. And Susan.”
“Yeah.” Susan nodded as if it was a broad truth. “It was illegal for me to stay there. Even one night. She could’ve lost that apartment, did you know? They want to empty that building. Make it into bigger apartments.”
Titus looked around wondering what other piece of maudlin news would show up, thinking if Corinne had been more decrepit people would have been planning on her death before this. He watched with some hunger as two mothers with strollers conferred about vagaries of food and infant sleep. One played with a plastic bauble she dangled where her offspring batted it with joyful fascination. On the other side of the cafe a student hunched over her laptop raised a glance of acknowledgement to Titus but said no more. Conversation seemed more paralyzed than usual.
“So,” he turned to Sheila, “you’ve got a new charge.”
Sheila bent to look under the table and see if Gus was okay.
“Don’t know what’ll happen to him now.”
“Looks like you’ll take care of him.”
“For a while, I guess. Till my cats chase him out.”
That night Titus couldn’t sleep. After some tea and a shot of whiskey didn’t work he decided to go out despite the storm. He walked along deserted streets till he came to the street where Corinne had lived. The building was a red brick affair meant to house twenty small homes at the end of a block of normal houses. It seemed in the gloom ancient but historyless, not so much to have been built there as to have been incongruously beached on this alien shore. At the top was a ledge of imitation Greek entablature meant to give the place distinction in some other age that only mocked it now. Titus turned into a park nearby. As the wind picked up, he sheltered in the branches of a fir and waited thinking that if the chill brought exhaustion, well then it might also bring sleep.
Off to his left where the light was poor a dark figure appeared. In the wind it seemed ghostly and shapeless and Titus could not even make out if it was a man or woman. The form hesitated in midstride, turned now in one direction, now in another. Finally it approached a large bin, stopped for a second and then sped on. Titus even wanted to hail the person in his own vagrant hope of companionship on this stark night, but he refrained. In a moment the figure with an angular stride had merged with the indistinct dark. By the strange light he was sure it was a woman. He waited if the wind would die down. It didn’t. Finally he hunched his collar high and strode over to the bin. Every piece of trash, bottles and candy wrappers, all was covered with snow save the one sack on the top. Titus fished it out. Inside was a box of inlaid wood, something of a saleable find he instantly thought. He would have looked more but his fingers were cold. Without more thought he swung it with him and found his path home.
Next day Titus talked with other clerks in and around the county offices. No one had heard of Corinne Fitzsimmons. But Nancy, who knew someone in the prosecutor’s office, read about it and said there had been no interest in the matter.
“She fell down stairs. Nothing very complicated in that.”
“No, I guess not,” Titus admitted. “I just know some people....”
“Friends of hers. A friend.”
“She had no relatives, they’re sure of that.”
“There is one curious thing though,” Nancy went on while she fingered through a file. “The owner of that building, Wycliff, he came in that day. Before anybody even knew about it. Talked with Dinmore. Not for long.”
“Well. And Dinmore told you?”
“Don’t be silly. But I know. That’s it, Titus, sometimes you just know things. My guess, Wycliff didn’t want any big investigation about that woman. And you want to know why?”
“If you want to tell me.”
“Ya see,” Nancy went on, staring through the wire window at the leafless trees, “it’s a real estate thing, that’s what it is. Big investigation, puts a jinx on that apartment. And there’s what, ten in that building? Maybe a jinx on the whole building.”
“Well, some people I suppose....”
“But that’s not the worst.”
“Oh, there’s worse?”
“See, Titus, an investigation would tie up the property till the next of kin came around. Maybe longer. Seal the premises. Could be an estate thing. Taxes pending. Accrual unpaid. You know what that means?”
“Um... delayed revenue?”
“You could call it that. Revenue you may never get. Wycliff didn’t want that, my guess, so he spoke to the prosecutor, not to tell him, mind you, but just saying, asking if it was going to be a big deal. And it’s not.”
Nancy sighed because it was too much like business she heard about every day.
“And why not? The police didn’t want to mess with it anyway. That’s my guess, ‘cause Wycliff never comes around here. Just to dig up titles. Besides she just fell down stairs, isn’t that it? Like old people do; an investigation would just muddy the waters.”
“Yeah, sounds reasonable.”
That evening Ron, Larissa and Dox were sitting in back when Titus came in. Ron had obviously cornered the women with his endless talk about movie stars and TV serials which he knew by heart. He had endless judgments and either-or questions he would put to them hoping to squeeze out a defining answer. Larissa argued with him. Dox fidgeted with her coffee and wouldn’t leave.
“Mondo was supposed to meet me. He was supposed to be here,” she kept saying with impatient glances at the door.
“Good night for business,” Titus said. “Graveyard weather.”
Dox in her block-assed way pushed aside all sentimentality. Looking at her rugged face Titus indulged the thought that she was pretty lucky to have Mondo. The big lug doted on her, could think of nothing else apparently. With a sudden gesture Dox yanked out a little bag from within some other bag she carried and produced a vial of nail polish she set beside her cup. She opened it and, stretching her fingers, began meticulously painting.
“You do your nails in public?” Larissa asked interrupting Ron.
“I like doing my nails.”
“Nice habit I guess. Relaxes you.”
“Why not? Plus I get a few whiffs in.” She paused and looked fatefully at the door. “I’ll say one thing. Mondo don’t get his ass in here soon he ain’t getting dinner or nothing else.”
Titus shuffled now there was a pause from Ron.
“What, to take you home? C’mon, Dox. You could walk.”
“I ain’t walking. Anyway it’s cold. He can drive me.”
“He gets good fares, this weather,” Titus mused turning his neck to the front.
“Yeah....” her eyes drifted.
“Hey. Where’s Susan?” Titus asked.
“Down at the shelter, I guess,” Ron said. “We’ll go look for her later. She’s still broken up. Still talking about the man in the hat and the silk dress.”
Dox carefully swiped one nail and held the brush out for an esthetic appraisal.
“That’s it,” she said. “You hit it right there. The witch. She isn’t being objective. And how come she got in the building to discover the body anyway? I seen her on the stairs now and then. She comes and goes but she doesn’t live there. Ever think of that?”
“Never said she did,” said Ron.
“Well of course. But lemme tell you, you know who makes the money? It’s morticians. They don’t report nothing. ‘Cause who’s gonna call ‘em out? Tax assessors, they’re too embarrassed to talk to them. I mean what you call them, ministers of death, they’re sacrosanct, you get me? Nobody wants to get involved.”
“Wonder if they went through her apartment,” Ron said.
“No, I think not,” Titus said since he’d kept an ear out.
“Well of course. You think them city officials come around on the dot when somebody croaks? Nah! The owner would like ‘em to. Clean the place out. But they won’t. Take their own sweet time. Nah! Them guys. And they picks up a little bit every trip, don’t you think they don’t. Nice job for light fingers. Yeah. Let me tell you about the time....”
“You’re changing the subject,” Dox intervened, “but it’s exactly my point. It’s just the county and they don’t care. But you know who’s really happy? The owner. He’ll clean the place out and raise the rent, see if he don’t. Get two thousand and it’s no bigger than our place down the hall, see if he don’t. Didja see them attorneys going in the back for their pow-wow this afternoon? Right here. I saw ‘em. Busker and Nuveen and Dinmore and the little Jew—they all know the score. It’s like they’re dancing on the old woman’s grave if they get rent stabilization repealed. See what I mean?”
Ron was brought up short.
“Don’t say none of that to Susan. I told you, she’s still broken up about it.”
“Of course. She’s got no place to sleep. Nobody’ll take her in now the owner’s on the lookout. Can’t have double occupancy that kinda place. No.”
“She’ll sleep on the floor of the shelter, I guess.”
“Well, what do you expect?” Dox went on, carefully appraising her work. “See, let me tell you something. There’s your graduations of crazy, you follow my meaning? Your lunatic crazy is different from your talker crazy and that’s different from your silent crazy, you get me? Then again you have your obsessed crazy. That you see in business and with their video games all the time. After that there’s more. It’s your coffee crazy and your foodie crazy, your political crazy and your quasi-crazy. Then again there’s your witch crazy, which she obviously is.”
“You got it all worked out,” said Ron.
Mondo came in and Dox started looking for her scattered things. The big man was wet and when he sat down the chair bent. He stamped his feet in Titus’ direction, giving Titus the thought that he might cadge for a couple dollars.
“There’s business.” The big man heaved. “I ain’t going.”
Titus sucked his lip and watched to see if he knew anyone else in the crowd.
“Cold night. Rough traffic.”
“I ain’t made of chocolate,” Mondo said.
“No, I heard.”
The big man breathed back, avoiding the eyes of the others who for some reason didn’t want to speak in his presence. Dox was cramming bottles and boxes and wrapped up food in her bags.
“Kilt a dog once,” he said out of the blue. “Did I tell you?”
“Yeah we all heard the story,” Ron said.
Mondo’s brutal features took on a strangely philosophical cast while the others only sat back to watch. They knew he had a record. As if they weren’t even there he went into his monologue about fights with people and with one large dog in particular. With his bare hands, he elaborated, he had caught this Alsatian by the collar and strangled the animal. He went over the whole bit, ejaculating with his fist to make sure Titus in particular could see it happening.
“Dead dog. Ya get me? That’s! Dead! I ain’t made of chocolate. What I mean.”
Titus leaned back with a skeptical smile.
“Still,” Titus said spreading his hands. “Good you got a place, night like this. Lot of people don’t.”
Mondo was silent, looking at his hands. Dox was getting up, pulling her bags and scarves around her. She pushed past Ron.
“Kilt that dog,” Mondo said in a haze. Dox stood behind him, pretending disbelief at this beast who, once started, wanted to go on talking.
“Got parked up that....”
“I gotta wait for you? Waited for an hour. Come on!”
Like a beleaguered puppy the big man followed her out.
There was a pause and then Ron got up.
“C’mon, Lariss’ Let’s see if we can find Susan.”
Stoically Larissa went with him and Titus sat back alone. There wasn’t much reason to go home. He would have a snack and see if anyone else showed up. He was hoping for Sheila, valuing her intelligence more than the others. He ordered food and patiently waited.
It was getting close to closing time when Sheila in fact did come in. She looked harried and ordered some soup to go. Titus got her to sit with him.
“I got something to show you.”
He pulled a plastic sack out of his backpack and showed her what was inside. He made space on the table for the inlaid wooden box. Sheila opened its compartments.
“It’s a jewel box. Pretty neat. Where’d you get it?”
Titus told her. He let her poke around.
“There’s a false bottom. See?” he said. “You have to know to press on the side.”
“And you found money inside?”
“I found nothing. But it’s pretty, no? Would you like to have it?”
Sheila fiddled with the hidden drawer. With a long nail she fished out a shred of paper with a number on it.
“Lookee. Eleven thousand seventy four. Could mean money.”
Titus looked at it. The paper was torn, perhaps from a private ledger. It had more numbers on it, but the eleven thousand was the only one that he could read completely.
“Anyway, you want it?” Titus wanted to make it a gift.
Sheila sat back. She seemed a little amused.
“I don’t need it,” she said.
“Did you see the monogram?”
He pointed it out. There had been letters glued on but someone scraped them off and left only a trace.
“G. E. F.,” said Titus.
Sheila let her fingers pass over worn space.
“Maybe it’s C. That could be Corrine. Corinne’s initials.”
They went over how he had found it. Sheila thoughtfully turned away.
“Why would someone throw away something like that?”
“It seemed odd. Like a ghost. It was very cold.”
Sheila indulgently smiled.
“It is pretty. It’s a thing a person would keep.”
“Hm. I guess. You don’t want it?”
Titus turned and watched over the last departing customers. He pawed the inlaid tiles of the box and felt a drape of shame fall over him for how naive and selfish he had been, offering her a castoff gift.
A few days later Titus asked Nancy about Corinne’s name. Nancy knew.
“Corinne Evelyn Fitzsimmons. Funny you should ask. They found some stuff. Old letters. Turns out she had a next of kin.”
“Wow. And they didn’t talk?”
“Apparently not. Odd. It’s her son.”
Turned out that the man hadn’t talked to his mother in years. Nancy elaborated how she had heard about it from her attorney friends.
“He’s coming from Sitka. You ought to tell your friend who walks dogs. Because the woman’s dog, you know, is a sentimental thing. He’ll probably want it.”
“I guess. Well, he could. I’ll tell her when I see her.”
Nancy half turned away.
“You socialize with funny people,” she said with a quirky and pitying look.
“Yeah, I ain’t particular,” Titus sighed. “I hang out with crazy people. Better than drinking.”
“You’re a weird one, Titus.”
“Well, not everyone likes my sense of humor.”
“I didn’t know you had one.”
That Corinne Fitzsimmons had a relative, even a son, was news to everyone. Ron in particular grew expansive.
“I can see it,” he said philosophically. “Home is where the Hell is and a lot of people flee it. My ex-wife, did I ever tell you, she had a brother she hadn’t seen in years and come one Christmas, about now, out of nowhere....”
Susan wailed. Titus walked away.
After Ron and the others left, Titus went to the back of the cafe and found Dox, who sat alone. She had seen Ron and Susan leave.
“That bitch,” Dox muttered. “I don’t know about you, Titus. You sit with these crazy people. You even listen to them.”
“I listen to you.”
“That bitch, you know why she was crying the other day? Because Corinne died? Yeah, she’d like you to believe. You know the real reason? It was ‘cause she was staying there. Corinne let her sleep on the couch so the Witch didn’t have to go to the shelter and sleep on the floor. I know her. She don’t care about nobody. Even takes Corinne’s dresses, wears her clothes, I seen her.”
“Well, Corinne probably knew.”
“Ngh! That witch knew. She probably....”
“You knew Corinne yourself.”
“Nah. Just to say hello in the hall. She don’t talk to nobody.”
“Sheila seems to know her, at least knows her dog.”
“Yeah.... Now tell me, can’t she walk her own dog? Has to hire someone. Yeah....”
During the pause Titus let his gaze wander. Then he came back to Dox.
“Her son is coming.”
Dox grew still. She turned in her seat, stirred her coffee and waited with a long sigh.
“I thought she didn’t have no son.”
“No. I heard. The police found letters. Funny it took so long.”
She didn’t seem to want conversation and after a moment of silence Titus walked away.
Titus went to Domrey’s and had a beer. Several men he knew were gathered around the pool table and even offered to buy him a drink, but Titus demurred. After one drink he left and walked toward home. There were few people out. There was promise of more snow but none yet despite the wind picking up. Along the empty strip of shops he saw Sheila approaching. She wrapped her collar high against the wind.
“Still got Gus?”
“The son is coming. From Alaska. He’ll probably take Gus off your hands.”
“Corinne had a son. Estranged, I guess. They found his letters.”
“Yeah? Okay. Gus will.... be happy.”
“Funny. Families. You can’t figure.”
“How’d you find out?”
Titus told her. She nodded looking in the wind. She had to raise her voice to be heard.
“Yeah. That guy, whoever he is, he’ll make a stink,” she said. She cocked her chin at the high light with a gesture to dismiss an errant thought.
“Why’s that?” Titus asked.
The wind howled between them but Titus caught in the bad light how her eyes were staring hard at him.
“Titus, don’t you know?”
“The woman, the woman Corinne, she was murdered. My bet, the son, when he comes, is going to know. Then there’s going to be a big stink. Because just think of it. Everyone’s going to be embarrassed that they did nothing. No investigation. Nothing. For real estate. Just skipped over it.”
“Corinne was murdered? Aren’t you being a little dramatic?”
Sheila rolled her head as if to shake off an annoying web from her hair.
“Think for a minute, Titus, for God’s sake. It’s the dead of winter and Corinne was going someplace in her housecoat? And where was she going to go? She didn’t talk to anyone in her building. She wasn’t going out in her slip. Anybody could see that. I don’t know why you didn’t.”
“I’m not a detective, Sheila. Come on.”
Sheila smirked. Titus stared into the streetlight till the images stuck to his retina.
“Well, if you’re so smart, why didn’t you tell the police?”
“And get involved? Don’t be silly. They’d turn on me. And then the ones who did it would turn on me. Don’t be supersilly. Because they...”
“And who’s that?”
Sheila leaned forward with her gloved hand gripped in the air. Titus had seen that before with her: she would not explain, as if explanations were a perverse, blank betrayal of truth that could never be explained. Instead, the wild glance she gave him said that she expected him to understand. If he did not, then in her whole manner it was obvious: he was untrustworthy and further talk with him would only disgust her. It was a reaction out of all ken with what he had seen in other women.
“Titus, you don’t.....”
Abruptly Sheila turned into the storm and fled down the icy street. In a moment she was gone.
On reflection that night Titus decided that he too might be wiser keeping out of it. He knew nothing the cops didn’t know. Even less. And if he came in trying to play sleuth, good chance some people would decide he was overstepping and maybe he’d been too long at his job at the County Clerk’s office. He’d be seen as cockeyed and not knowing his own business. Sheila was right. You got nowhere being a smartass. He was going to let the matter lie. Anyway that’s how he felt till the next evening at the cafe.
Mondo was sitting alone when Titus came over.
“You’re looking down. You didn’t save money on your car insurance?”
Mondo didn’t laugh.
“She’s going away.” He moped in a morose heavy way, as if any movement would be too much. “Dox.... Dox is going away. I gotta take her to the airport.”
“Hm. Where to?”
“Duluth. Visit her cousin for a week.”
“Duluth. Hm. Kinda sudden. Bad weather for... you know, the Midwest.”
“Cousin needs her. So I’m seeing her off.”
Titus nodded and let the quiet around them collect. Titus’ voice took on a sardonic sneer.
“Bet she left you some money, though. Since she’s going away. I mean, for a while.”
“Some. How’d you know?”
“Just a wild guess. Parting shot. Women do.”
“Five hundred. Yeah. (He patted his jeans.) That’ll keep me over. Till she comes back. I got the place to myself, anyway.”
“There by yourself. Hm. Not bad. Good for you. Till the son shows up. Starts asking around.”
Mondo was silent, staring.
Titus paused, letting the smell of things percolate in the air.
“Oh, Dox didn’t tell you? Must’ve slipped her mind. Of course, we can guess Dox has got a lot more than five hundred after what you did.”
“Whatta you mean?”
“I mean she’s giving you five hundred. Nice of her. Like a tip, wouldn’t you say?”
“What’s the son got to do with it?”
“Nothing. I mean, if he talks to the cops....”
“Why would he.... She’s doing the right thing. I know my Doxxy-Dox. She does... ”
“I bet she does well. Takes care of Doxxy-Dox. Leaves you here. Real nice, have that little place all to yourself.”
“It’ll be all right.”
Titus slowed his voice till the syllables slipped out one by one.
“Of course. You just sit and wait till they come for you. Then she’ll come back. Sure she will. Long as you go on thinking she will, sure, she’ll be coming back.”
The sleazy sound of Titus’ drawl finally got to the big man.
“I don’t know what you’re....”
“She’s not coming back, Mondo. Duluth, she told you?”
“She’s not coming back? Wuh, she said she wud....”
“Isn’t that amazing, Mondo, that she’d say one thing and do something entirely different?”
“You’re making fun of me.”
The big man bent and held his hands between his knees as if he’d got a finger burnt. Titus leaned close to his ear.
“But she isn’t really coming back, is she, Mondo? Cause she’s gonna leave you here to stand for it by yourself. The lonesome pony. For having twisted the old lady’s neck and thrown her down the stairs so it looked like she tripped. Now wasn’t that clever? You couldna thought of that by yourself, couldja? But who got the old lady’s money, Mondo? She said she’s going to Duluth? I bet it’s a little farther off than Duluth. Like maybe Katmandu?”
Dox came in. With a mad look she swung in their direction. She was slung over with straps and bags and bits of fabric and boxes trailing from pockets in the bags.
“Come on! I called you, you shit! Aren’t you ready?”
She whirled around and yanked at the door till she was out.
“Check her purse, Mondo,” Titus whispered. “See if it’s really... really Duluth.”
The big man lumbered out. Titus watched from the window as he opened the door for his beloved. He helped her with the bags and slammed the excess in the trunk. They were down the street when the fight began. At a green light the cab was braked. In a moment the yelling was out on the windy street. Carousers strolling on the sidewalk stopped to stare. There was a brutal swing of arms and when Dox fell spread out on the pavement, her boxes and bags slapped on the slushy curb. Then someone called the cops.
Days later Titus saw Sheila on the street. The weather was fairer now and she showed the full of her hair in the wind. She had gotten rid of Gus and even assured him safe passage, she said, to a warm home in Sitka.
“So you figured it out,” she smiled broadly.
“I didn’t. They did. The money Corinne kept somewhere. And the plane ticket Dox had.”
“Plane ticket. My, my. Where to?”