By O. Lucio d’Arc
THINGS CAN’T GET worse. But they do.
That night Bugs washes his hands before eating an apple and smoking a joint, scrubbing them good like he always does thirteen times a day. He sits on the sofa eating his apple.
“Whoever got the new hand soap in the kitchen, it’s great,” he says, his mouth full of apple. “Thanks.”
They all look at each other. Hand soap is foreign to everyone but Bugs.
He notices the look in their eyes. “Well, thanks anyway,” he says, and slides off the sofa to the floor.
Magnum is the first one to him. He touches his face, and says:
“Past cure he is and reason is past care,
and frantic mad with evermore distress …”
Then he gets up and walks out of the room. They find writing on the wall over the sink before they call the cops.
“Wash your hands before you eat,” it says, signed the same as the others.
They don’t need to fake shock and terror and fear while the cops are there, doing their usual half-assed job. The preliminary diagnosis at the scene is poison, which leads to the hand-wash, which they take for analysis, along with the apple.
Again, they aren’t too interested in the writing on the wall. Too busy.
CAROLE NEEDS A bigdistraction.She finds Dad’sjournal or diary or whatever it is under the small urn of his ashes in the room she is sleeping in, right where she left it a few days ago, days that seem like weeks.
Scott Free and she are booking a flight home. They have convinced Diz to come with them.
“I have room for you, a little, but you may have to get some kind of work, This is San Francisco, after all, not cheesesteak and perogi Pennsylvania,” Carole tells her. Diz says she could tend bar. That will work, they agree.
In her room Carole pages through the old journal. Most of the pages have writing on them, mostly it looked like, in miniature-golf pencil, and also some hard-to-decipher drawings. The final entry looks kind of recent, maybe written once Dad was delivered home from the hospital for the last time. None of them are dated.
It looks like the entry was addressed to Carole. The scrawls, translated, go like this:
“Cupcake (he always called her that ), I’m probably dead by now. Hope you have, are having, a good life. Never take up smoking. Run away from drinkers. Save your money … (it got a little murky here as if he had dropped cigarette ashes on it, and tried to rub them off with the back of his sweaty hand, and then in big letters) … “BEWARE THE POND PEOPLE. Stay away from the old Gibson place. The Pond People …” and then it ends with a jagged line Carole can’t readily decipher. Looks almost like a set of stairs.
Carole has never heard of the Gibson place, much less The Pond People. Dad must have been hallucinating in the end, his nicotine-laced brain obscured by a smog of dementia. And stairs? To where?
She closes the tattered journal.
She calls Raul and asks him for Rhowna’s cell phone number. He bulks, but in the end he gives it to her anyway. Because he’s still a little pissed at her.
“I think your Dad’s place was robbed when I went to the store for some Thunderbird …” Rhowna starts to say when she hears Carole’s voice.
“Forget that,” she says. “I don’t care about that shit. When did my Dad put that stuff in the deposit box?”
“What? … Oh, I don’t know. He never said. ”
“Yeah, maybe when he came home.”
“OK. Still getting paid?” asks Carole.
“Yeah, but I’ll have to tell them he died … soon.”
“Good luck. Goodbye, Rhowna.”
Oreste P. D’Arconte, who writes fiction under the name O. Lucio d’Arc, is a retired newspaper publisher and a weekly newspaper columnist. His short stories have appeared in the Murder Inc. trilogy of anthologies and he has had his poetry published in several literary magazines. A resident of Attleboro, Mass., he also wrote a hardback history of the Attleboro YMCA in 2017.