The next morning, Mark was fiddling with the coffee when we arrived.
“What’s up, boss?” Adam said.
Mark glanced over his shoulder, then returned to his task. “Just changing out the coffee,” he said as he replaced the lid on the Maxwell House can. “I’m putting decaf in the canister. Maybe it’ll keep Mom O. from getting so jacked up. Her blood pressure was through the roof last night.”
Right then we heard her van door slam outside. Mark rushed to drop into his chair. Put his pointer finger to his mouth and shook his head.
“Don’t say anything,” he mouthed.
As soon as the screen door swung open, we were confronted with the aroma of roses. That in itself was startling but then there was the issue of Mom O.’s mouth. She was sporting lipstick. A bright pink hue. On a different day we would discuss whether or not she’d applied blush as well.
After she set her and Mark’s lunches down and hung her jacket up, she faced us. Punched her hips with her fists and proceeded to throw words at us with her fuschia mouth.
“I don’t want to hear a peep out of you all,” she said, “about my lips or my perfume. The sheriff will be arriving shortly to launch an investigation and I want to look my professional best.”
She ignored our mouths hanging open. Sashayed, indeed it was that kind of movement, over to the coffee shelves and started doling grounds into a filter. We would wonder later if cosmetics did that to a woman, made her more feminine on the inside as well as the exterior. Or perhaps it was the thought of Sheriff Kevin Dooley. During our discussion, Adam announced with great fervor he wanted to be just like Mr. Dooley when he got older. “Powerful in stature and calling,” Adam said. “Even at his age. What is he? Sixty-five? Seventy?”
“My van got keyed last night,” Mom O. said. “Of course this is the
and all, and everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but I’m pretty sure I know who is not innocent in this particular situation.” United States of America
Jason’s hand surreptitiously headed for the treat bowl, but Mom O.’s glare stopped him.
“Can you not wait until ten in the cotton-picking morning to assuage your craving for sweets, Jason? For crying out loud!”
While Jason winced like he’d been slapped, Adam stood and went over to the window. Slid the right half of the drape to the side and peered out.
“Is it bad, Mom?”
Mom snorted. “I’d say it’s bad,” she said. “Even has words.” She held up a finger for each one she recited. “Fat. Old. And then it would seem she was starting in on another deragatory term that starts with a B before she decided to flee the crime scene.”
Adam let the curtain fall and returned to his chair.
No one said or did anything while Mom O. held the trash can under the coffee shelf and brushed stray grounds into it. Flipped the toggle on the coffee machine and returned to her desk. She glowered at us before she sat.
“Go on now,” she said. “Start your day.”
After lunch, Mark eyed Mom O. as she took her blood pressure. “What is it?”
“One forty five,” she said, as she tugged the Velcro cuff off her arm.
“Not horrible, I suppose,” Mark said. “Considering.”
Mom O. stood. Made her way to the warehouse door and stepped into the darkness. Threw the light switch. We heard her footsteps fade then return.
She paused in the doorway. “Where’s Charlie?”
“He went back out already,” Mark said. “Why?”
Mom O. didn’t answer. She packed up the remains of her lunch and set it on the floor against the wall behind her chair. Hauled her sizeable purse up onto her lap and rooted around inside. After a minute, she extended her arm in our direction and opened her fist to reveal a TracPhone.
“I bought this at the dollar store this morning,” she said. “How do you do that thing where they can’t trace your number?”
Adam leaned forward and nudged the phone back to her. “Just punch star sixty seven, Mom.”
She studied the cell for a moment then slid it over the desk to Adam again.
“How do you turn it on?” she said. “And dial it?”
Adam picked the phone up. “Give me the number, Mom.” He hit the power button and keyed in the phone number she handed him on a phone message slip. He joined her on her side of the desk and showed her the phone in his palm.
“Just press the button with the little green phone on it when you’re ready,” he told her.
We busied ourselves with paperwork to keep from cracking up as Mom O. struggled to hold the phone to her ear and cover her mouth with a hanky at the same time.
We snickered behind our hands at the way she pitched her voice way down low. She shot mad eyes at us and twirled her chair to face the wall instead of us.
“Yes, indeed, you can help me,” she said. “It has come to my attention that suspicious, very suspicious mind you, activity is occurring on a regular basis at the end of Jake's Run Road. Children and animals may be at risk. I highly suggest investigators be dispatched immediately.”
We heard the voice on the other line murmur, but we couldn’t make out the words. We all jumped when Mom O. shook her head so hard her glasses flew to the floor.
“Absolutely not,” she said in her fake voice. “I feel I would endanger myself and perhaps my entire family if I revealed my identity. I am simply doing my civic duty to protect children and animals that can’t protect themselves.”
Mom retrieved her glasses and spun her chair back around. Reached for her message pad and a pen. “And what’s that number?”
She scrawled the information down as it was given. Listened for another moment before her eyes bugged out.
“What part of no do you not understand?” she barked. “I told you once. I’ll tell you twice, missy. I'm not giving my name!”
With that, she dropped the phone and the handkerchief on the desk. Stabbed at the off button with her pointer finger. Placed a hand over her heart as if to slow its tempo. She used the hanky to blot at her forehead and throat.
“You don’t think they can figure out who I am, do you?”
Mark walked around Mom’s desk, the blood pressure cuff in his hand. “Arm,” he said.
(If you'd like to know what the heck is going on, click here:
"Vandalia and Charlie." That's where this short story begins.)