Gunselle turned the key. Nothing. She turned it again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
Kicking open the Studebaker’s door, she stepped into the lingering mist outside the garage. She looked at her wristwatch. The target would be stopping for his lunch in thirty minutes. No time for a cab. She looked across the street. A man weeded the garden above the sidewalk in front of his house. Shirley Temple peonies were in full bloom. Gunselle trotted toward him on sensible flat soles. She hadn’t primped for today’s job. It wasn’t a cocktail lounge pickup. And the pay was better.
“Hey, Frank,” she said, smiling up at the gardener from the sidewalk. He stood politely, brushing dirt from the knees of his soiled trousers.
“Mrs. Turner. How are you?” Though she wore sunglasses on a gloomy day, and hid her dark hair under a drab headscarf, he clearly remembered her from the time they spoke on the sidewalk when she was at her best in a tight summer dress, blazing like two sunny afternoons.
“Well, now that you mention it, Frank, I need to get to an appointment in half an hour and my car won’t start. I’d call a cab, but I really need to get going right this minute. May borrow your car?”
The man kicked at the dirt.
“I’d be happy to drive you, but my daughter’s birthday party starts right after lunch, and we’re taking the kids to the movies.”
“Just toss me the keys and I’ll have it back in an hour.”
“I don’t know. It’s a brand-new automobile.”
“Fuck you, Frank. I’m an excellent driver,” she said as she turned back toward her house.
Stepping off the curb, she noticed the old man on his corner porch. He was a mean bastard, always yelling at kids and dogs to stay off his half-dead lawn. He’d eyeball her from his rocking chair when she went out for walks in the evening. He lived alone. A rusted pickup waited at the bottom of his steps.
She turned down the middle of the street and headed up to his scruffy porch, watching his eyes grow wider as she approached.
“I need your truck, old man. Right now. What do I have to do?”
He stood with a comic leer, then opened the screen, motioning her into the house. Gunselle brushed past him into the living room.
After five infuriating minutes, she burst out the screen door and spit the mess in her mouth onto the weedy lawn. The old man had pulled off her scarf to run his fingers through her hair, so she grabbed his worn fedora off the knob of the rocking chair. Placing the hat on her head, she noticed Frank watching from across the street. Lifting the keys, she shook them, then raised her shoulders. It was his loss for having children and birthday parties.
At the bottom of the steps, she walked around the old man’s truck, stopping to brush the heavy grime off the license plate. When she was satisfied that the numbers could be read, she climbed in and started it up.
The truck sputtered and backfired all the way to the center of town. Gunselle felt like Ma Kettle bringing eggs to market as she rattled her way through the business district, eventually turning onto a side street. After a few blocks, she spotted the detective’s unmarked cruiser sitting at the curb. Pulling up beside him, she reached across the passenger seat to roll down the window. She made it just in time, as he crumpled the burger wrapper in his hands and tossed it out onto the street.
“Hey, mister. There’s a fine for littering,” she said as she removed the revolver from her bag and shot him in the face. He’d almost finished chewing. A car came to a screeching stop behind the truck as Gunselle squeezed two more rounds into the cruiser for effect. With the roomy hat down over her ears, she slowly puffed and clattered away from the scene.
Standing in the shadows of her open garage, Gunselle watched the activity on the corner while eating a bowl of canned peaches. Five police cruisers were parked at odd angles in front of the old man’s house, men with pistols and shotguns squatting behind open doors. A take-charge fellow with a bullhorn ordered the occupant of the house to step outside with his hands up. The fedora hung on the knob of the rocking chair where Gunselle left it after returning the keys and demanding her scarf. Eventually, the door opened and an angry old man stepped outside, waving a spatula at the line of cops. It wouldn’t have mattered if he raised his hands in surrender. The blood splattered against the front of the house after the smoke cleared explained why it was never a good idea to kill a police detective.
As officers raced to the porch, Gunselle strolled across the street, happily spooning at her peaches, then set the bowl on top of the concrete wall and pulled one of Frank’s peonies down toward her nose. The scent was elusive. Gunselle looked up to see Frank and his wife staring out a large picture window, the heads of five pretty little girls below them in a line, like tulips, taking in the carnage. One of the girls laughed as she silently clapped her hands together. That made Gunselle smile. Frank looked down at her after his wife herded the children away. He glanced at the old man’s house, then back at her.
She put her index finger to her lips, then pointed it at Frank like a pistol.
Frank nodded as Gunselle picked up the empty bowl and started back across the street. It was a pleasant neighborhood. She was finally getting to know her neighbors.
About the author:
Russell Thayer received his BA in English from the University of Washington and worked for decades at large printing companies. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana.