Window of Opportunity
by Margi Desmond
A deep, hacking cough sent squirrels running through the yard and up trees as Mavis Whitcamp emerged from her trailer with her beloved dog, Peanut. “Mercy,” Mavis said and rubbed her chest.
“That’s it,” her husband, Shorty, bellowed from the doorway. “You’re going to the doctor.”
Mavis shook her head. “No need to waste money. He’ll tell me to take cough syrup and rest.” She shuffled down the porch steps into the lawn with her pet. “Do your jobbies,” she said to the little dog. Peanut sniffed the grass, twirled, and relieved herself. “Good girl.” Mavis handed the dog a tiny treat from her housecoat pocket before lapsing into another coughing fit.
“Get dressed. I’m taking you to the urgent care center down the road. They take Medicare.” Shorty grabbed Peanut’s leash from Mavis and helped her up the porch steps.
“Oh, that’ll take forever,” Mavis said.
“What about Peanut?”
“Earl can watch her.”
Mavis raised her eyebrows. “What if he has plans?”
“Ha! That’s a laugh,” Shorty said. Earl, their deadbeat adult grandson, lived next door.
* * *
When Shorty retired from the Eastern North Carolina pig farming rat race, he and Mavis had downsized and bought a doublewide situated in a wooded trailer park in Myrtle Beach. Soon after, in a classic midlife-crisis move, their son-in-law left their daughter for a receptionist at the car dealership where he sold certified pre-owned vehicles at crazy low prices well below Blue Book listings.
Tanya and ten-year old Earl moved into a singlewide in the adjacent lot. Mavis helped to look after Earl while Tanya worked various waitressing jobs. As the years wore on — twenty, to be precise — Earl dropped out of school in tenth grade, worked various construction jobs and even had a brief stint in management as shift supervisor at the Volcanic Explosions mini-golf course. But within a week of employment anywhere, he always seemed to suffer from a difference of opinions with either his boss or customers and walked off the job before the inevitable firing occurred. No matter, though, for Earl continued to enjoy the nurturing environment provided for him by his momma.
When psychiatric therapy proved unsuccessful at helping her recover from the anger of being left for another woman, Tanya turned to the Lord for guidance. Earl was delighted when his momma got herself all churched-up and “saved,” for he took full advantage of the situation by surfing the Internet for scriptures that guilted her into supporting his “early retirement.” His all-time favorite: 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The result: junk food, booze, cigarettes, and cold, hard cash without lifting a butt cheek off the Lazy Boy.
Whenever Tanya hesitated to grant his requests, Earl would remind her that failure to provide for relatives compared to being a low-down filthy atheist and guaranteed the violator a one-way ticket to Hades. Unfortunately, today’s argument proved fruitless, even after he wasted tremendous energy in a full-blown temper tantrum.
“I’m sorry honey, but we live paycheck to paycheck, and I’m all tapped out until Friday.” Tanya tried to rub his back, but Earl pulled away and sulked.
The phone rang. “Hello... Oh, hi, Dad.” Tanya smiled. “Oh no, really? Seems like Mom gets bronchitis every hear.” Tanya nodded her head. “Good idea.” She nodded again. “Sure. He’ll be glad to.” Another nod. “Okay, I’ll call you tonight when I come home from work.” Smile. “Love you, too.”
Earl lit a cigarette.
“Son, I told you I don’t like smoking in the house.”
“OMG!” he bellowed and stomped across the floor and out the door. Tanya picked up her purse and followed him. Earl sat on the front porch step and took a drag.
“Your grandparents need you to walk Peanut today.”
Earl gave Tanya a nasty look.
“Nana’s sick and Pop-Pop is taking her to the doctor’s office. It could be a long wait, so they need you to care for Peanut.”
Earl rolled his eyes and took another drag from his cigarette. “Whatever.”
* * *
Officer Adolph Tutwater wedged himself into a booth at Dockside Donna’s, where Wednesday was Chicken Day, his favorite special on the Grand Strand.
“Howdy, T. The usual?” Becca, his favorite waitress, set a large sweet tea in front of him.
“Thanks, beautiful,” Tutwater said.
Becca winked at him, spun on her heel, and walked behind the bar. Poking her head through a window at the back of the bar leading to the kitchen, she hollered, “Double fried chicken special, substitute fries and hush puppies for the veggie sides.”
Tutwater dabbed his sweaty, bald head with a napkin. He usually parked his cruiser in the handicapped spot in the always-crowded lot, but today a huge, old Buick occupied the space, forcing him to park in the dirt lot in the back of the restaurant, behind the stinking dumpsters, and walk around the building to the front entrance. The workout had almost given him a heart attack.
He sucked the straw with his fleshy, moist lips and swallowed the sweet, delicious iced tea. He smoothed his horseshoe moustache with his thumb and index finger as he glanced at a table of old ladies, one of them most likely the Buick’s owner. None of them looked handicapped to Tutwater. He made a mental note to run the plates after he finished his meal.
“Order up!” a rat-like man bellowed while holding a plate of food through the kitchen/bar window.
Becca trotted to the window and grabbed the plate. “Thanks, Wayne.” She grabbed a pitcher of tea from the bar on her way to Tutwater’s table. After placing the plate of food in front of him and refilling his tea, she slid into the booth across from him and took out a pack of cigarettes. “So how’s the fight on crime, T?”
Tutwater salted his food with half the shaker’s contents. “It takes its toll, but that’s what I signed up for, right?”
“I hear ya.” She lit a cigarette and blew the smoke away from Tutwater, who attacked a chicken breast like a starving wild hog. “You gonna be at Jay’s this Thursday?”
Tutwater stopped shoving a handful of fries in his mouth midway and looked at Becca.
“Muwaaaha,” he said, masticated chicken and half-chewed fries on display as he attempted to talk with his mouth full.
“My cousin’s in town and I thought of taking her there, is all.” Becca stubbed out her cigarette in the tabletop ashtray. “Her old man left her and she’s got a mind to do some partying.”
Tutwater swallowed the wad of food and nodded. “Absolutely I’ll be there.”
Becca stood and patted his shoulder. “Great. We’ll see you tomorrow night.” He watched her walk to the table of old ladies and ask if they were ready for the check.
The dispatcher’s call jerked Tutwater from his daydream of shagging to oldies beach music tunes at Jay’s with Becca.
* * *
Much to their horror, when Mavis and Shorty returned home, they found the dining room window smashed to bits, shattered glass scattered over the shrubbery. “Oh dear, this will cut Peanut’s little paws,” Mavis said.
“Never mind Peanut, WE’VE BEEN ROBBED!” Shorty roared.
Mavis called 911 while Shorty ran to his bedside table to retrieve his gun, only to find it missing. The room stank of cigarettes, so he opened a window to let in fresh air. While waiting for the police to arrive, the couple did a quick inventory. The couple’s prescription medications, including Mavis’s cough medicine, were gone.
Shorty barked out details while Officer Tutwater heaved himself from the cruiser. “Mmkay, sir.” Tutwater held up a hand. “I’d appreciate it if you could give me a quick sec.”
Shorty shifted his weight from one foot to the other and stuffed his hands in his slacks pockets waiting for the eternity it took Tutwater to situate his utility belt and grab his pen and notepad. Mavis paced on the front porch, clutching Peanut in a tight embrace.
“Okay, let’s have a look-see.” Tutwater followed Shorty into the trailer home for a tour of the crime scene.
* * *
Tutwater sat on the sofa, double-checking his notes. Noting the beads of perspiration on top of his head and his rapidly spreading underarm stains, Mavis asked, “Would you like something to drink, detective? A nice glass of iced tea, perhaps?”
“Is there any other way?” Mavis asked, chuckling.
“Not in this neck of the woods.” Tutwater beamed at the elderly woman.
Drawn like a buzzard to road kill, at the sound of Mavis opening the refrigerator door, Earl walked into the trailer. He took a look at Officer Tutwater and said, “Nice ’stache.”
“Thanks.” Tutwater proudly smoothed it with his fingers, misunderstanding the sarcastic remark.
“Hey, Pop-Pop, everything okay?” he asked Shorty.
Shorty shook his head. “No. We were robbed.”
Officer Tutwater stood and approached Earl. “Your grandparents said you were supposed to check on the dog while they were out.”
Putting his hands in his pockets and staring at his feet, Earl said, “Yeah, I help them out when I can.” He looked at his watch.
“When you came to walk the dog did you notice anything odd?”
“No.” Earl checked his watch again.
“Do you have somewhere you need to be?” Officer Tutwater asked, edging closer to Earl.
“Uh, no.” Earl giggled self-consciously. “It’s just that The Price is Right is fixin’ to start.”
Shorty shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Oh, for Pete’s sake! I’ll be back in a minute.” A moment later he bellowed for Mavis.
Alarmed, she ran down the short hallway to her husband, returning with his shoe.
“Everything okay?” Tutwater asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing. He stepped in dog poop on the bathroom mat.” Mavis showed the smelly shoe sole to her pup. “Peanut, you bad girl.” Peanut looked at her mistress, tilted her head, and appeared perplexed.
Shorty stomped down the hallway and joined the group in the living room, his face bright crimson. “Officer,” he said through clenched teeth, “I think I know what happened here.” Shorty smacked Earl upside the head.
“I think I do too.” Tutwater eyeballed Earl. “Looks like the perp has returned to the scene of the crime.”
“Huh?” Earl took a step back. “I gotta go watch—”
Shorty grabbed Earl’s arm. “Not so fast.” Shorty tried to look Earl in the eye, but Earl’s eyes scanned the ceiling, floor, anywhere but his grandfather. “Book him, Tutwater.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Earl whined.
“Ain’t that the truth, normally, but you sure did today.” Shorty shook his head in disgust.
“Shall we explain?” Officer Tutwater said, as he handcuffed Earl.
“I could tell by the stink of cigarette smoke that my chain-smoking bum grandson had been in the house,” Shorty explained.
“I don’t stink—”
“Hush!” Shorty shot Earl a nasty look. “He’d been in the house, but not to walk poor Peanut, because she’d never have had an accident if she’d been taken outside.”
Officer Tutwater nodded. “In addition, pieces of glass from the broken window were scattered on the shrubs outside of the house, indicating the perp smashed the window from the inside.”
“Earl’s half-witted attempt at covering up his crime.” Shorty rolled his eyes.
Earl scowled. “I ain’t no half—”
“Shut your dang mouth.” Shorty plopped down on his recliner. “My thirty-year old grandson thinks it’s perfectly fine to waste his life sitting on his mother’s couch, drinking cheap beer, chain smoking, and watching the boob tube.”
Shorty shot Earl a nasty look that dared him to open his mouth. “You’d think the lazy fool could get out of the house and act like a responsible human being, even if it was only to come next door and walk the little dog, but instead, he robs us. His grandparents.” Shorty shook his head in disgust. “Take him away.”
“Wait!” Earl yelled. “I needed money and Momma didn’t have none. My pot dealer wouldn’t give me nothing on credit so I had to give him something.”
“So my alcoholic pothead grandson stole from me.”
“I ain’t no alcoholic. I only drink beer.”
“Oy,” Mavis said.
“And the pot’s for my nerves. You have no idea what it’s like to live with Momma.”
“So move out!” Shorty threw his hands in the air.
Earl shook his head. “It ain’t that easy.”
“It will be now, courtesy of Horry County Jail. Come on, son.” Officer Tutwater said as he tugged Earl’s arm. “Case closed.”
Copyright © 2016 by Margi Desmond