This Weekend Trip Could Be Murder
By Carole Lynn Jones
“I’ve never seen so much gear for a football game.” Russell twists the cap off his stout beer with one hand and then palms the bag of honey barbecue potato chips I toss him from my kitchen nook table.
“You’ve never been to a Steeler game, I take it?” I close my suitcase and then reopen it and add my new gold pom knit hat.
“That’s three hats and four Terrible Towels. There are only two of us,” he says.
“Choices and a towel for each hand. I can’t believe you don’t own any black and gold.”
“Originally South Carolinian, remember. The closest we had were the Panthers.”
Outside my apartment window, the wind howls and the snow falls. Pennsylvania in January.
“Can you believe we scored AFC playoff tickets?” I instinctively raise my hands like a referee signifying a touchdown.
“Who did you say gave them to you?” Russell feeds me a chip.
“Jackie. I used to work with her in Pittsburgh. She ran into my ex, Grant.”
“And he wanted you to have Playoff tickets?” Russell puts down his beer, picks up the suitcase, and bench presses it.
“Ha-ha, no, he was selling my one-of-a-kind glass block table. The one I told you about that I had left in our condo when I moved out and back home to Pleasantview.” I look at my framed shot of the Ninth Street bridge. The corner of my condo apartment deck in the picture. “I would have taken it, but I couldn’t lift it or fit it in ‘Clifford’ my little red Mazda.”
“Why do people name their cars?” Russell asks.
“I don’t know, it’s a connection thing, like a member of the family. Anyway, Jackie remembered the table from our monthly girls’ game nights. After we talked for a few minutes, she admitted to me he wasn’t selling it; he had put it out for junk pickup. Do you believe that?”
“No, but I wish I had known you when you owned an end table.” Russell lays his beer on the floor next to him.
“Jackie’s a great person. She could have simply kept it. I mean, she somehow picked it out of Grant’s junk. But, she offered to pay me for it. When I wouldn’t take any money, she insisted on giving me a pair of playoff tickets she couldn’t use.” I raise my hands up again. “Touchdown! Win for everyone. Well, everyone, except Grant. He could have gotten good money for the table.”
The game-time weather prediction is twenty-two degrees, and with the wind chill it will feel like fifteen. But, sitting next to Russell, I am sure I’ll be hot. His window-to-my-soul, brown eyes, could melt even the best chocolate.
“Jackie has a business trip taking her close by, so she said she’ll drop the tickets at the funeral home. How about you pick me up there after work tomorrow? I’ll take my bag with me.” I unzip my suitcase, give it one more rifle through, and zip it shut again.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get the day off either, Mel, but that sounds like a plan.” Russell puts the chip bag down, walks over, and hugs me tight.
“This is going to be the perfect weekend getaway,” I say.
Saturday afternoon at the funeral home is dead. Literally. We have no clients. My boss, Arthur Snugg, has taken the day off to romance a new woman he had met at Marsha’s Café last week while having lunch with his current romance. Since his divorce, he has had more dates than I have shoes. My coworkers, Alex and J.J., have left early, snowboards in hand, in search of a fresh powder run. If I were to bet, though, the only thing they are going to run is a tab at the ski lodge bar. They aren’t much help at the funeral home, anyway. Seventy-five percent of their time they throw a football around the parking lot, and twenty percent they play video games in their basement office. The other five percent they do lawn maintenance, wash cars, and are greeters. I know Arthur Snugg would fire them if they weren’t his nephews, and it wasn’t a stipulation of his divorce degree that he keeps them employed.
As promised, Jackie arrives at 2:00.
“Wow! Section 521, Row JJ. Two rows from the top of the stadium.” I hug Jackie.
“You’re welcome. Glad you can use them.” She walks around the lobby, peering into the viewing rooms.
“Not a soul here, but you and me,” I say.
“Don’t you have coworkers?” she asks.
“Yeah, but not today. I, Melody Shore, am solely in charge of the Peaceful Rest Funeral Home should someone need our services.” I don’t tell Jackie, but so far today, that amounts to one insurance phone call and two prearrangement appointment setups. Thankfully, I don’t need to call the removers in my boss’s absence. No recent deaths needing the Peaceful Rest’s help.
“Sounds great, but I got to get going. Enjoy the game.” She makes a quick exit. Most people don’t stick around funeral homes longer than necessary.
Around 4:30, I head downstairs to the file room, my hands full of folders from the past month’s burials. I am about to file Joseph Greenwald’s completed paperwork when I hear the front door open.
“Russell, is that you? You’re early. I’ll be right up.”
Upstairs, the lobby is empty. No Russell. The door to Snugg’s second floor office creaks closed.
“Russell, quit playing games. Mr. Snugg probably has cameras up there. He won’t care if you’re a police officer. He’ll question what you’re doing.”
I run up the mahogany staircase and burst into Snugg’s office.
“Jackie, you’re back…and holding my boss’s checkbook?”
Jackie doesn’t respond. Instead, she stuffs the checkbook into her purse, pulls out a knife and points it at me.
“Great, Melody, I thought I could get in and out before you saw me. Now we have a problem.”
“I don’t have a problem. You’re a thief! I’m calling the police.”
“Wait, I don’t want to hurt you. We can make a good team.”
“I’m not joining your team. I’m calling the police right now.” I need my phone! Like she’s going to stand still while I dial. I reach into the pocket of my violet swing dress for my phone. It’s not there. I left it on my desk.
“Look, we can do this, together, easy. You gather up anything of value and come with me, or, I hurt you and then take you with me unwillingly.”
“I won’t help you rob my employer!” I swear, this job requires a self-defense course, not grief counseling classes. I take a step toward her, my eyes narrowed and lips shut in determination. Jackie waives the knife back and forth.
“You’re doing pretty good for yourself here.” She looks around Snugg’s ornately decorated office.
“Maybe, but…I’m the arrangement coordinator. Arthur Snugg gave me that title and I want to live to keep it.” Why does Snugg keep his office so neat? That knife will stab right through my throw pillow defense. I back up.
Jackie advances towards me.
“Stay away from me! Have you gone nuts?” I turn and race back down the stairs. She runs ahead and blocks the front door. Trapped, I move toward my office, pick up my suitcase, and hold it in front of me as a shield.
Jackie darts forward and wildly swings her knife. She slashes the front of the suitcase.
“My vintage 1950 case! You’re going to pay for that!”
As she advances calculatingly toward me, I back down the twenty-two stairs to the basement of the funeral home, using the suitcase as a blocker from her knife jabs.
The downstairs of the funeral home comprises the embalming room, Alex and J.J.’s office, the file room, the room that holds the bodies (the holding tank, as I like to call it), the floral room, the beautician’s room, and the casket room.
“Why me? I’ve done nothing to you,” I say as I back into the casket room filled with caskets and urns, various emblems to decorate them, liner and vault samples. What am I doing? Maybe I can find a counter weapon in here. These caskets are solid. I think.
“I need money.”
“What about your job?”
“I got let go. They accused me of stealing.” She laughs a crazy laugh.
“Did you?” As I back up, my hand comes to rest on a display shelf.
“Only what I deserved. No charges, though, if I quit. You know…you got screwed out of your job like I did. We have a lot in common.”
“We have nothing in common. I didn’t steal. They let me go for not over-billing.” I’ll never live that down. If I live at all. My grip on the shelving unit knocks a casket liner sample booklet to the ground. Jackie kicks it away.
“Melody, you ‘good girl.’” She raises her non-knife-holding hand and makes air quotes. “I drove here to rob your apartment. You always had good taste. But today, when you told me you were alone, I decided this place was easy picking. Now, enough talk!”
“My apartment!” I bet my table wasn’t out in the junk. She probably stole it. Why didn’t karma cause it to drop it on her foot like Grant’s when he moved it closer to his precious recliner? How strong is she? “You won’t get away with this. They’ll catch you.”
“Who’s they? Looks like you were going away, anyway. They’ll blame you when the checkbook and other valuable items are missing.” She lunges at me with her knife.
I do the only thing I can. I hit her in the side of her head with a vault sample. The blow from the concrete knocks her out cold. The knife falls from her hand as she collapses to the ground. I tear through my now swiss-cheese suitcase, grab her knife and my Terrible Towel stash, and regrettably slice the towels up. Once I have enough, I tie them together and bind Jackie’s feet and hands behind her back. I can’t risk her waking up and getting loose before I contact the authorities. Then, I take the oldest of my black and gold cuffed hats and put it over her head, pulling it down to cover her face so she can’t see to untie herself.
I am three steps toward safety when Russell shows up.
“Hey Mel, I tried to call you and…”
“Russell!” I rush into his arms. “She was robbing Snugg. His checkbook is in her bag. I had to stop her. That’s her knife over there.” Jackie groans. The knife blade gleams on the linoleum floor.
After Russell phones for backup, firmly secures Jackie with handcuffs, and his deputies arrive and take my statement, he turns to me.
“Well, I guess this trip’s off?”
“Are you kidding me,” I wave the tickets in front of him. “Jackie can’t use them where she’s going. But, before we go, I need to stop at my apartment. I need new gear.”