Deadfall: Crime Stories
by New England Writers

Edited by Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty, and Susan Oleksiw
Published by Level Best Books
ISBN: 978-0-9700984-5-0
Pub. Date: November 2008
Category: Fiction/Mystery
Binding: Trade Paperback, 5.5 X 8.5
Pages: xi + 273 Price: $15.00

“The List” was published in Deadfall in November, 2008.

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The List


They always call when I’m on the pot.  Maude gripped her walking stick and aimed herself toward the telephone.  She couldn’t help but notice that the aluminum stick with its three balancing claws resembled her own emaciated arm and fingers.  How the hell did I get this old?

Nevertheless, she welcomed the interruption.  There were days she would string along market researchers, claiming to be in the 45-50 age demographic with household income in the middle bracket.  She’d swear she’d purchased kitty litter, canned peas, facial masks or whatever, just to keep them on the line.  There were very few callers she didn’t welcome.  Only one, actually–her stepdaughter Dot.  There weren’t that many others still alive who knew her number.

Unfortunately, the caller was Dot for the second time this evening. 

“Could you hold on a moment?  I need to put my ears in and turn a few things down.”  Give me strength.  Maude needed fortification.  She shuffled to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.  She wasn’t supposed to combine alcohol with her pain pills, but what was the worst that could happen?  Maude topped off her glass before setting out on the return journey to the living room.  With a deep sigh, she eased her old bones into the reclining chair.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.”  Deeply ingrained manners forced the false words from Maude’s mouth.  She frowned.  Hell, she was old enough, she could say whatever she wanted.  But at the moment she couldn’t come up anything suitably churlish.  Instead, she dropped the receiver and watched it crash to the floor.  She took a leisurely sip of wine and then picked up the phone.

“Oops.  Guess I’m a little tired.”  Hint, hint.  Maude listened with half an ear to her stepdaughter’s complaints about how horribly expensive wedding dresses were these days and how bridesmaids expected to receive expensive gifts from the bride.

In Maude’s opinion, Dot’s daughter Claudette shouldn’t even be thinking about a fancy church wedding.  She was re-marrying her ex-husband with her three-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl. 

But Maude knew any suggestion she made would be WRONG, as were most of her solutions to Dot’s real or imagined problems.  Maude reached for a pen and opened the paper to the crossword puzzle while Dot moaned about the expectations of the younger generation and the state of the world in general.

Maude frowned.  She didn’t expect to be stymied by Monday’s crossword, the easiest of the week.  She didn’t know if the seven-letter answer to 23 Down was “Correct” or “Genteel.”  She’d have to work around it.  Certainly Ditty-Dot would be the last person to know a synonym for “Proper.”

“Mom?  Are you still there?” 

“Yes, Dorothy.”  Maude hated it when Dot called her “Mom,” first, because she couldn’t imagine being a blood relation of that brassy, unctuous, walking TV Guide; second, because it was presumptuous; but mostly because it invariably led to a request for money or a favor. 

“Actually, we bought the wedding gown last week.  The dress really isn’t why I called.”

Maude already knew about the dress, because it had been charged to her MasterCard, but she noted that Dot omitted that detail.  She filled in 30 Across and waited for the request.

“I thought we might go to the bank.  When I met with my financial advisor this afternoon, he suggested that I should be a co-signor on your accounts.  That way anything left in the bank won’t have to go through probate.  Besides, I could help you write the monthly checks and such.”

“I’m still fit to conduct my finances, Dorothy.”

“Mom, wouldn’t it be easier if others could help with the details?  Your estate is complex.”

“I’ve never talked with you about my financial matters…”

“Oh, but Mom… you have.  You may have just forgotten about it?”  Dot pushed on.  “I also thought while we had some time together, you might want to visit with your lawyer–he’s close by the bank.”

You want to hear the terms of the will, and find out how much of a pile you’ll inherit.

“Mom, I’m just trying to help in any way that I can.”

Maude let the silence hang before she responded.  Why argue?  “OK.  I’ll make the appointments.”

“Super.  I knew you’d understand.” 

Maude hung up and leaned back in her chair.  She was tired but she should probably make a list of things to do before she retired.  She reached for a notepad and pencil.

No.  Screw it.  Her late husband had told her to lighten up, “screw at least one ‘should’ every day,” and replace it with something she wanted to do.  For proper Maude, it had been an uphill battle to overcome the “shoulds.”  She still worried about doing the right thing.  Dot had cured her.  Maude could safely say that she no longer felt any “shoulds” for Dot.

She’d had a long and rewarding life.  Too bad she hadn’t been able to bear children, but otherwise, she had few regrets.  She’d already done most everything she should do.  What was left that she wanted to do?  She couldn’t hear, see, taste, feel or even walk very well.  She thought awhile and then, in a scratchy hand, wrote out her list:


To Do:

Abrams

Box

Bag

Back Door

Cards

Front Door

List


Why do they assume we’re such fools?  Maude swore as a split nail caught on her sweater.  She reached into a drawer and withdrew a small container of Super Glue.  Because we are such fools.  Dot was right about one thing.  Everything was getting harder.  Even the mind games with Dot were tiresome. 

Maude twisted off the cap and applied a few drops of glue to the offending nail.  As she held out her hand to let it dry, she could see through the thin membrane of skin on the back of her hand to the veins and bones beneath.  So fragile.  Like trust, she thought.  One little tear could destroy it forever.

A year ago Maude had been reading Town & Country in the oncologist’s waiting room when she came across a set of pictures of Dot with some other “beautiful people” at a gala event.  She couldn’t remember what the party was about, because her eyes had been glued to the antique emerald necklace around Dot’s neck.  It looked just like the family heirloom Maude’s father had given Maude on her twenty-first birthday. 

When Maude asked Dot about the necklace, Dot claimed Maude had loaned it to her for the event, and must have just forgotten. 

“So where is the necklace now?”

“Oh, um, it’s in my safe deposit box along with the earrings you gave Claudette.”

“Earrings?”

“Yes.  You remember.  You gave her diamond earrings for her birthday last year.”

I did?  Oh, no. Maude searched but couldn’t retrieve the memory.  “I’m sorry, Dorothy.  Guess I’m getting old.”

“‘Ninety-six-years young.’  That’s what I tell my friends.”

And they say, “Well, bless her heart, the old dear.”

Maybe this was dementia.  You didn’t know you’re losing it until someone told you.  But I could have sworn that I gave her pearls.  Didn’t I?  Or was that the year before?  After Dot left, Maude had unlocked the file cabinet in her study and withdrawn a manila folder.  Inside was a list of valuables that she had prepared for insurance purposes.  She scanned the list. 

There it was.  In black and white.  Next to “Pearls” she had written, “to Claudette, 10-15-07.”  Phew!  She wasn’t losing her mind.  But she had lost something else she could never recover.  She no longer trusted Dot. 

Such a shame.  Maude remembered how sweet Dot had been when Maude had married her father, and how famously they got on.  After all, Maude was a rich, childless widow.  What was not to like?  For the first ten years.  Then Daddy died, and Maude began to outlive her welcome. 

Maude had tried hard to be the good stepmother, always there to comfort and lend a hand as well as a lot of money over the years.  Maude had purchased a condo and a car for Dot after her disastrous divorce.  She’d sent Dot’s daughter through prep school and college, although the girl was such a miserable student she hadn’t managed to graduate.

Dot took whatever she wanted, usually without asking.  She had no respect for privacy.  Last week was a case in point.  Dot had sailed in unannounced, interrupting Maude’s dinner, unaware of how unwelcome she was.  She stood too close and talked too loud.  When Maude had shushed her, Dot bridled.  “I’ll talk as loud as I want in my house!”

“Not quite your house yet, missy.  Trumpet your woes to the heavens after I’m gone, but until that blessed date, I’ll thank you to keep your voice down in my house.”

Dot pouted and spoke a few decibels lower.  “I only talk loud so you can hear me.”

“Don’t be dull, child.  I hear what I want to hear.”  With that, Maude had taken out her hearing aids and was rewarded by blissful silence.


* * *

Tuesday morning, Maude heard a light tap on the door and a polite, “Morning, Mum.”  Consuela waddled into the room, extended belly first.  She looked as if she would have her baby momentarily.

“How are you two this morning?” Maude asked.

“The baby, he moves.  See?”  Consuela giggled and walked to Maude.  She guided Maude’s hand to her belly. 

Maude felt a tiny foot kicking against Consuela’s stomach.  “He’s strong!”  Consuela was scheduled to have a Caesarian section Thursday.  She was a petite young woman who had married a bruiser of a football player.  There was no question about a normal delivery.  The baby was way too big.  “Have you decided on a name for the little fellow yet?”

“Oh, yes, Mum.  Mauricio, for his father.” 

“That’s a fine name.  Sit a minute and have some tea.”  For the last two months of pregnancy, Maude hadn’t let Consuela do any heavy cleaning, but she had asked her to come in and help with minor errands.  The real reason was that Maude enjoyed her company.  They chatted and laughed and talked about the baby and about nothing in particular.

“Anything special today?” Consuela asked in a soft Jamaican lilt. 

“I think we should keep it simple, just tidy up a bit and check the tapes.”  After the incident with the emerald necklace, Maude had installed two tiny, motion-sensitive cameras.  One was strategically positioned in a hanging plant in the corner of the living room, and a second in the bedroom. 

“And then I’d like to do a few errands in town if we have time.”

While Consuela hummed and puttered about, Maude brought up the MasterCard account details on the computer to see if there were any new charges she hadn’t made.   She was curious to see how much the bridesmaids gifts cost.

Dot had suggested that the MasterCard account be billed electronically and paid automatically from an investment account ostensibly to “save a few trees.”  Of course, the real reason was that she didn’t want Maude to see the charge detail.  Dot assumed that Maude’s eyesight was too poor to read the numbers on the computer monitor. 

Even with the large letters and numbers that Consuela pasted on the keyboard, Maude had to don her magnifier to read.  It was a contraption used by jewelers that looked like a miner’s headlamp but fit nicely over her bifocals.  She typed in the passwords slowly, but otherwise she could navigate.

“Anything good today?” she asked Consuela who was viewing the recordings from the past two weeks. 

“Yes, Mum.  The pictures, they are very clear.”

“That’s it then.  We have more than enough.”


* * *


When Consuela dropped her off after their outing, Maude said goodbye with a hug and kiss and gave Consuela an envelope with her last paycheck and a fat bonus.  Then Maude sank into her chair and reached for the puzzle and her list.  23 Down was “Genteel.”  She wrote in the answer and then crossed “Abrams” and “Box” off her list.


To Do:

Abrams

Box

Bag

Back Door

Cards

Front Door

List


Enough.  More than enough for one day.  Time for a magic pill.  The pains got sharper as the day wore on, and it was too early for wine.  Shouldn’t mix.  “Should, should, should, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t,” Maude intoned.  “Screw a ‘should’ every day.”  She took her pill with a glass of Merlot and finished off the puzzle before turning in.  Just a few more things to arrange, and then Consuela had to do her part and have that baby.  Consuela had to be in the hospital for the last act of Maude’s little play, otherwise she would be the first person suspected of wrongdoing.  Unfair, but true. 


* * *


Dot called Wednesday morning.  “How are we feeling today?  Did you sleep well?”  It took four or five minutes before Dot got around to asking if Maude had made arrangements to meet with the banker and lawyer.  Maude assured her that she had booked appointments for a week from Friday. 

“Oh.  I’d hoped we could wrap things up this week.”

Maude smiled at the disappointment in Dot’s voice, but it was not a happy smile.  “You know how busy they are.  That was the only day I could arrange for back-to-back appointments.  I only have the strength for one outing a day.”

When Dot launched into the day’s litany of woes, Maude put her on speakerphone.  After a spell, Maude realized that the other end of the conversation had gone quiet.  “I’m sorry, I missed that last bit.”

“Don’t mind me.  I’m just feeling a little bored today.”

“Why don’t you get out and about?  Find yourself a part-time job.  Or sign up for some volunteer work.  That’s rewarding, and you’ll meet new people.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that.  I have a list of things to do that’s a mile long.  It’s endless.  Shopping, errands.  The hairdresser, the doctor …”

“Well, then, look at it this way.  Be thankful that you have a full list.”

“Huh?”

“When you finish everything on your list, it’s time to shuffle off.”

“Oh, Mom, I wish you wouldn’t talk that way. You’ll live to be 105.”

‘Twould serve you right.

After they said goodbye, Maude jammed her purse into a plastic bag with used Depends, double bagged the lot and placed it by the front door.  Exhausted, she checked off “Bag,” reclined the chair and instantly fell asleep.


To Do:

Abrams

Box

Bag

Back Door

Cards

Front Door

List


Later that evening, she rose unsteadily from her chair, holding onto the sides until she got her balance and could reach her claw.  She inched to the sliding back door, unlocked it and pulled it sideways with effort.  Outside, she closed the door and took in a deep breath of salty air.  As she watched, a cloudbank moved in from the ocean, dousing the stars in its path. 

This was the hard part.  Maude leaned against the outside wall and raised the walking stick over her head.  With all of her strength, she smashed the stick against the glass door.  It bounced off.  Phooey.

Try another angle.  She backed up, took aim, and swung the stick like a bat sideways into the glass.  Boink.  Damn.  Shouldn’t swear.  Fucking goddamn piss shit mother-fucking phooey!  She couldn’t break the flippin’ glass, but she was rewarded by a sudden, no nonsense pain in her side.  She leaned against the wall to catch her breath.  Another stabbing pain tore through her.  Tears streamed down the gullies in her cheeks.

Get over it, old woman.  This last part of the plan wasn’t really necessary, but it would have been a nice touch.

She shivered.  The prongs on her walking stick were bent.  Only one prong would be of any use–she would have to spike it into the carpet like a ski pole.  She entered the house and yanked on the door.  Doubledamn, she didn’t even have the strength to close the door.  Leaving it ajar, she poled her way inside.  Screw it.  An open door would work.  It just wouldn’t be as dramatic.  Besides, she needed to get to her pain pills.


* * *


Thursday morning, Consuela’s husband called to say that Consuela had just given birth to a nine-pound-six-ounce baby boy, and both were doing well. 

Wonderful.  Maude smiled and sighed and then called the heating company.  “Would you please come check on the furnace?  I don’t seem to have any heat.”  She hung up and pulled on a second sweater and waited for the doorbell.

After looking around, the man joined her in the living room.  “The heat’s fine, missus, but you left the back door open.”

“I certainly did not!  I never use that door.”

“Well,” the man adopted the slow, apologetic tone people use for the feeble, “It’s closed now.  I’ll turn up the heat until you’re comfortable.”

“But, I didn’t open that door.  I’m old, not senile.”

“Afraid someone did, though.” 

Maude cobbled her way to the front hall.  “Let me give you a little something for your trouble.”

“Oh, you needn’t–”

“My purse!  My purse is gone!”

“Are you sure–”

“Dammit, man, you’re not listening!  I didn’t open the back door, and now my purse is missing.  I always leave it right here on the table so I know where to find it.  Someone must have broken in during the night.”

“But wouldn’t you have heard something?”

“No.  When I go to bed, I close the bedroom door and take out my hearing aids.  Nothing short of an earthquake would wake me.” 

Maude entered the kitchen and took a ten-dollar bill out of a cookie jar.  She handed it to the man and asked him if he’d mind taking her bag of trash out for pickup.

Before calling the police Maude crossed “Back Door” off her list and reviewed her plan to make sure that she hadn’t forgotten anything.


To Do:

Abrams

Box

Bag

Back Door

Cards

Front Door

List


At Abrams & Abrams she’d had her new will witnessed and left a copy along with the tapes.  At the bank she’d emptied the contents of her safe deposit box leaving only the old, now defunct, will.  Then she signed for a new safe deposit box and placed the new will inside.  She put the key in an envelope and asked Consuela to mail the key to the lawyer, the new executor of her will.

In Maude’s new will, she set up an educational trust for Claudette on the off-chance she might get off her lazy butt and finish college.  She created a similar trust for Consuela’s little boy Mauricio.  The rest of the estate would be split between the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, Maude’s favorite charities. 

In the will she stated explicitly that she was not leaving anything to Dot because of gifts of real estate, money and jewelry Maude had made to Dot in her lifetime.  If Dot challenged the will, the lawyer was to threaten her with incontrovertible evidence that showed Dot stealing.


* * *


By late afternoon, the police had come and gone and Maude had canceled her credit cards just as if her purse had really been stolen.  Her head ached from all the fuss and flurry, and it wasn’t helped by the noise the handyman was making changing the locks on the front door.  Maude wanted to make sure that Dot and her spawn wouldn’t be able to pillage the remaining treasures in the house before the estate was settled.

After the handyman left, she crossed “Cards” and “Front Door” off the list.


To Do:

Abrams

Box

Bag

Back Door

Cards

Front Door

List


Only one item left.  She shuffled to the study and fed her “To Do” list into the shredder.  As she watched the machine’s voracious metal teeth eat the record of her plans, a thunderbolt of pain ripped through her side.

When the pain abated, she struggled to the kitchen, poured a stiff nightcap and walked slowly to her bedroom, being ever so careful not to spill.  Her list was finished.  Only one more thing she wanted do.  She donned her favorite flannel nightgown, washed two handfuls of pain pills down with wine, and crawled under the comforter.