A French Polished Murder
The Fast And the Electrically Furious
We were thirty years old – and, in his case, a couple of months -- when I came to the sad conclusion that I would have to murder my friend Benedict Colm.
This was as sad as it was necessary, but there was no getting from the fact as my son, Enoch – whom I called E in an attempt to save him therapy bills as he got older – came speeding into the living room, atop Ben’s Christmas gift to him.
The gift was an electric toy motorcycle with a top speed of ten miles per hour, an acceleration that might seem impossible for a small boy in a home that was less than seventy feet in either direction, but which E managed, quite often.
I heard the horn blare a moment before E came riding in and, with the practice born of two weeks of terror, dove behind the sofa, while Ben, who stood square in the middle of the living room, his arms crossed on his chest, became an impromptu traffic circle.
E sped around him once, twice, then headed the other way, at an increased velocity.
“What do you mean you’ll have to kill me?” Ben asked, obtusely, looking at me. “And what are you doing behind the sofa?”
I crept from behind the sofa to stand on the sofa itself, having learned that a large piece of furniture was the best defense against the toddler version of the fast and the furious being played in my house. “What do you mean what am I doing behind the sofa?” I said, as from the kitchen there came a now-familiar series of sounds indicating that E was either rearranging the kitchen chairs to use as slalom cones or simply hitting them and dragging them along with sweet disregard for what it might do to chair legs and seats.
I dropped to sitting on the sofa, shaking slightly, with what I figured was a form of post traumatic stress disorder, only not particularly post, since the stress had started just over two weeks ago when E had unwrapped the fully-charged electric motorcycle.
“If you were likely to have children,” I told Ben darkly. “I’d already have started payments on the realistic drum set with electronic amplification.”
“You are making no sense at all,” Ben said, in that even tone that makes me want to strangle him with my bare hands – even though I was aware that was one of the stupidest ways to kill him, as I would be immediately discovered. “What can the possibility of my having children have to do with this, and surely you remember I used to have a garage band. In the unlikely event I ever have a child, I’d be happy if you gave him or her a drum set.”
I think that was when I picked up the nearest object – a collection of mystery short stories, leather bound and weighing in at about three pounds, a Christmas gift from my parents – and flung it at his head, missing, of course, just as E came back through the door from the dining room, in time to ride over the book and break its spine.
“Well, you shouldn’t have thrown it at me,” Ben said, looking baffled when I howled in outrage. He picked up the book and tried to smooth the broken spine.
Ben was six three in his stocking feet, with reddish brown hair and the sort of face that is pleasant to look at more than handsome. Because this was the weekend and also, still, part of his Christmas vacation he was in what he considered his relaxed attire – dark green pants, with a broadcloth shirt, a cashmere pullover just a shade darker than his pants and the sort of tie he considered playful and holiday-like – in this case green, with a barely discernable red dot. I would bet that were I to lift his sweater I would find his tie had been precisely tied to fall just over the top half of his belt.
I thought, not for the first time, that it was a very good thing that Ben was gay because any woman worth her salt, forced into a romantic relationship with someone so unflappable, exact and unemotional-seeming would have done the sensible thing and put a steak knife through his heart.
“Not your steak knives,” he said, when I communicated this sentiment. “They’d never get past the rib cage. You never sharpen them.” He set the abused book on my coffee table, which is third hand and made mostly – I think – of spit and cardboard. The legs bowed under the weight of the book, which wasn’t exactly hard, since they bowed under the weight of a coffee cup.
Ben and I had been best friends since middle school, when I was Lancelot, Galahad and the belle dame sans mercy rolled into one -- or actually, considering that my parents were the owners of the largest used/new mystery book store west of Kansas, Miss Marple, Poirot , Perry Mason and Nero Wolfe -- forever running off in defense of those younger than I or those in peril of some sort. Or again, perhaps not, since the only small, young or shy teenagers that those four were likely to rise in defense of would be those who had committed a murder, while I ran to the defense of any smaller person who was being bullied or otherwise abused or ganged up on by people bigger than them.
At less than five feet tall – my adult height – and weighing less than a hundred pounds, soaking wet and with lead in my pockets, I’d been constitutionally incapable of sleeping at night if I thought that someone, somewhere, was getting away with committing blatant injustice against his fellow man or woman or snively, pimply middle school kid.
Ben had come to my rescue when I’d taken on three bullies – each of whom outweighed me by almost twice – at once and had insisted on rescuing me despite my outraged howls that I had them surrounded.
We’d been best friends ever since and co-dependent in an unusual way, in which I charged in and got way over my head, and he jumped after me to rescue me and incidentally finish off whatever dragon I’d been fighting. But now, I thought, staring at him, my eyes misting with tears, I would simply have to kill him.
“Why on Earth are you crying?” Ben asked, as E came back in and whirled around him three more times, before speeding back out to the dining room, causing a hollow sound in his wake, that I was afraid was the knocking down and breaking of the potted plant my boyfriend’s mother had given me for Christmas.
“Because I really am going to hate having to kill you. And then, you know, at your size and in the middle of winter, with the ground frozen solid, there is no way that I can dig a hole large enough to bury you in. And that means that either you’ll be found right away and I’ll have to figure out a system of misdirection so they think someone else is the culprit, or I’ll have to figure out a way to dissolve your body, so I can flush it down the drains or something.” I thought a moment. “Given how dirty that bathtub was when I moved in, do you think there would be any noticeable difference if I used it as a container to dissolve you in muriatic acid?”
He sighed heavily. “Don’t you think that buying enough muriatic acid for that purpose would call attention in and of itself? Besides, from what I read, it doesn’t dissolve the body completely. You’d end up with clogged drains, and they’d find pieces of me down in the plumbing.” He had to shout the last part because E had come back for a whirl around the living room and, this time, was blaring the horn at the top of its capacity and continuously, which created a sort of siren effect. “Besides, your neighbors upstairs would probably complain about the smell.”
“Why not,” I said, as the siren receeded towards the kitchen, followed by a series of thuds that meant that E was trying to open the door to the bathroom by dint of knocking on it with the front wheel. “They have already complained about the noise. Which means I’ll get evicted before the month is out and I have no idea if the security deposit will cover impact marks on the bathroom door.” I brightened up, as the noise indicated that E had hopped directly from the motor bike onto the toilet, which was, at least, an advantage over the last time, when he’d brightly informed me that the electric bike was plastic and washable. “Where did you say your ex lives now? I wonder if I might simply make it seem like he did you in. I mean, the police already knows he set fire to the inside of your condo when you broke up.”
“Only that part of the police force that is currently dating you,” Ben said tartly, and then in the tone of one defeated, “Fine, fine, fine, fine. Do you want me to take the boy out for a spin on the sidewalk, to tire him out, so he can stop terrorizing you?”
“Would you?” I asked, as the horn/siren started up again. “That is ever so sweet of you.”
Ben rolled his eyes, as he reached to the toppled hall tree and grabbed E’s little black leather jacket, which was the other part of Ben’s Christmas gift. “Why is this coat tree brok– oh, never mind,” he said, as E rode the electric motorcycle straight against his leg and stopped with a thud. In Ben’s defense, he didn’t even flinch. Calves of steel. Clearly his daily work out was doing something.
He got the jacket on E in a single movement, reminiscent of a matador’s wrangling a bull in full charge, and then took advantage of E’s momentarilly puzzled state to say, “Come on, E, we’re going for a ride outside.”
“Outside!” E said. He had just recently started talking in front of people who were not his mother – that is to say, most of the world – but he seemed to think the function of his vocal chords was to enable him to become part play-back machine and part question generator.
Ben handled this with more aplomb than I managed. He said, “That’s right, outside.” And with a bright and horrible smile, he reached over and flung the front door open. Which allowed E to dart out of it on his electric motorcycle, at top speed.
I heard the sound of the motorbike going down the front cement steps, and then E’s battle scream. Ben darted out the front door. “Wait,” I heard him scream, shortly followed by, “Not on the street. Not on the street.”
I climbed down from the sofa, closed the front door and relished the relative quiet of a toddler free apartment in the downtown a small-size town. I wasn’t in the least worried that Ben would let E play in traffic. I had long ago laid down the rule for their outings together without my supervision and that was that if Ben broke E he would give birth to the replacement and I would make sure that this happened, no matter what the physical impossibilities.
Able to hear myself think for the first time in over a week, I thought I would go out back to my work shed and take apart the piano I was refinishing for my boyfriend’s birthday.
Which is why I was alone when I found the letter.