Hot Six(10)

By: Janet Evanovich

“Isn’t this nice? We were just setting lunch,” she said. “Your mother got some chicken salad and little rolls from Giovicchini’s Market.”

I cut my eyes to the living room. My dad’s chair was empty.

“He’s out with the cab,” Grandma said. “Whitey Blocher called and said they needed somebody to fill in.”

My father is retired from the post office, but he drives a cab part-time, more to get out of the house than to pick up spare change. And driving a cab is often synonymous with playing pinochle at the Elks lodge.

I hung my jacket in the hall closet and took my place at the kitchen table. My parents’ house is a narrow duplex. The living room windows look out at the street, the dining room window overlooks the driveway separating their house from the house next door, and the kitchen window and back door open to the yard, which was tidy but bleak at this time of the year.

My grandmother sat across from me. “I’m thinking about changing my hair color,” she said. “Rose Kotman dyed her hair red, and she looks pretty good. And now she’s got a new boyfriend.” She helped herself to a roll and sliced it with the big knife. “I wouldn’t mind having a boyfriend.”

“Rose Kotman is thirty-five,” my mother said.

“Well, I’m almost thirty-five,” Grandma said. “Everyone’s always saying how I don’t look my age.”

That was true. She looked about ninety. I loved her a lot, but gravity hadn’t been kind.

“There’s this man at the seniors club I’ve got my eye on,” Grandma said. “He’s a real looker. I bet if I was a redhead he’d give me a tumble.”

My mother opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and reached for the chicken salad.

I didn’t especially want to think about the details of Grandma tumbling, so I jumped right in and got to the business at hand. “Did you hear about the fire downtown?”

Grandma slathered extra mayo on her roll. “You mean that building on the corner of Adams and Third? I saw Esther Moyer at the bakery this morning, and she said her son Bucky drove the hook and ladder to that fire. She said Bucky told her it was a pip of a fire.”

“Anything else?”

“Esther said when they went through the building yesterday they found a body on the third floor.”

“Did Esther know who it was?”

“Homer Ramos. Esther said he was burned to a crisp. And he’d been shot. Had a big hole in his head. I looked to see if he was being laid out at Stiva’s, but there wasn’t anything in the paper today. Boy, wouldn’t that be something? Guess Stiva couldn’t do much with that. He could fill up the bullet hole with mortician’s putty like he did for Moogey Bues, but he’d have his work cut out for him with the burned-to-a-crisp part. Course, if you wanted to look on the bright side, I guess the Ramos family could save some money on the funeral being that Homer was already cremated. Probably all they had to do was shovel him into a jar. Except I guess the head was left since they knew it had a hole in it. So probably they couldn’t get the head in the jar. Less of course they smashed it with the shovel. I bet you give it a couple good whacks and it’d crumble up pretty good.”

My mother clapped her napkin to her mouth.

“You okay?” Grandma asked my mother. “You having another one of them hot flashes?” Grandma leaned in my direction and whispered, “It’s the change.”

“It’s not the change,” my mother said.

“Do they know who shot Ramos?” I asked Grandma.

“Esther didn’t say anything about that.”

By one o’clock I was full of chicken salad and my mother’s rice pudding. I trotted out of the house to the Civic and spotted Mitchell and Habib half a block down the street. Mitchell gave me a friendly wave when I looked his way. I got into the car without returning the wave and drove back to Moon Man.

I knocked on the door and Moon looked out at me, just as confused as he had been before. “Oh, yeah,” he finally said. And then he did a stoner laugh, giggling and chuffing.

“Empty your pockets,” I told him.

He turned his pants pockets inside out, and a pipe dropped onto the front stoop. I picked it up and threw it into the house.