The electronic phone chime doesn’t slow me down. Neither does Franny plucking a slick, black Motorola cell phone from the inside pocket of her business jacket. What works is Franny saying, “Carr. Shut up.”
It’s the story of my life, really. Always talking too much. Even when I’ve asked for the order and I know the sales manual says to keep quiet and wait; even when I should just embrace a woman and kiss her. No, whenever patience is most at a premium, whenever silence is truly golden, you can count on Austin Carr--Mr. Blabbermouth--to deliver entirely pointless and mood-busting oratory.
I get nervous, I suppose. I tend to run on, delay the moment of rejection or acceptance. It’s a major flaw in the old Gift of Gab.
Franny pushes the cell phone against her ear. “Chapman.”
Illegible blue symbols flash across the telephone’s glossy-black screen like a stock-market tape. The late afternoon sun glows like a florescent orange ball in the louvered kitchen windows. Stuart’s browning a whole chicken on an eight-burner, cast iron stove. In his white dress shirt and tie, the pot-holder mittens, Stuart could be taping a half-hour show on the Food Network.
Another Arresting Recipe from Cooking with Cops.
That’s right, I’m back at Trooper Bat Cave, being bullied by Franny and cooked for by Stuart. By her own order, I was describing to Franny, for the third time, exactly how Bluefish and Jerry killed my golf-partner Al. Although I suppose I was still specifically elaborating in some detail about my wild first putt when Franny’s cell phone rang.
“Repeat that,” Franny says to her Motorola.
El Cap-i-tan wears her strawberry blonde hair differently tonight, kinda pushed over to one side like a 1940s movie star. Remarkably symbolic of her general mood, actually. Obviously bent out of shape. Like the Queen of New Jersey Cops already suspects I reached some tit-for-tat with Bluefish.
Listening to her cell, whatever it was the poor man or woman had to repeat, Franny’s forehead wrinkles. Now she glances at her diamond-studded Rolex. “You’re certain about the subject’s condition?” Her gaze lifts, finds mine. Her eyes are unreadable. Cop eyes. “I’ll make sure he gets there.”
I swear my heart stops. “What?”
Franny slips the phone back in her jacket on her way over. “Your daughter walked into the Rumson New Jersey police station fifteen minutes ago. Beth says she’s fine, safe and sound.”
My heart restarts right into double-time. “She’s all right?”
“A bruise or two. Scratches on her back she says came from being locked in a car trunk. She’s on her way home right now in a State Police cruiser. If you want, Stuart and I will drive you to meet her.”
I throw off the anger about her being mistaken for a spare tire. She’s alive. Not even seriously hurt. Thank God. Thank God. Relief chases a rock of tension from my neck and shoulders. Beth’s sunny-morning blonde hair fills my mind’s eye, then her untrained but genetically true, someday-famous Carr smile.
Thank God. Oh, thank God.
“You made a deal with Bluefish, didn’t you?” Franny says. Her voice is a growl. Her green eyes are Fury. By the stove, Stuart slides a step farther away from us.
“I didn’t make any deal.” For my purposes--that is, to produce a better lie--I choose to think of my arrangement with Bluefish as an offer I couldn’t refuse. Offer and deal are not the same thing. I did not make a deal.
Franny shows me a Mona Lisa smile, then grabs my forearm. She leans in close, so close her breath warms my neck. “If you don’t testify against Mama Bones tomorrow, Carr, you...are...fucking dead.”
I don’t know why she’s whispering. Stuart’s far enough away to have different GPS numbers.
When she sees me step onto the porch, the one I built with my own hands, my ex-wife Susan becomes a gargoyle. Her nose flares. Her lips, eyes, and ears pull back into a mask of ferocity. Fangs flashing.
Reminds me of our infrequent sexual encounters.
Susan saying, “You are dead to these two children, Austin. Do you hear me?”
I think the ex-wife might be upset.
“What happened to Beth is your fault, you miserable, slime-sucking worm,” she says.
Definitely upset. But Susan never cursed like this before. Her only four-letter word was dead. Must be that new boyfriend Ryan told me about at dinner a few weeks ago. Can’t remember the turkey’s name. The Presbyterian minister that goes to AA meetings.
Susan lets Ms. Strawberry inside the house, but blocks my path. Well, this could be a problem. Not only does Susan weigh enough to give me a good wrestle, but if I’m forced to push past her, lay hands on her, I’d be in violation of my court order. Possibly committing a crime.
A surreptitious elbow may be needed to precipitate my crossing of the threshold. There. And a wee-bity little shove. I came to see my daughter Beth and that’s exactly what--
Franny knees me in the nuts. Then she throws a forearm under my chin, grabs my belt, and throws her weight into my Adam’s apple and my belly at the same time. Whoa. She governs my center of gravity like Tom Glavine controls a baseball. Lifting and pushing...oh, my...back we go.
Franny’s bum rush forces us both outside, narrowly missing Susan, but El Cap-i-tan doesn’t stop until I’m sailing off the porch, a stooge in this unfilmed version of the World’s Greatest Bartender. Even my kids know who Mr.T is, but I remember when he won the rowdy-customer toss championship hands down.
And what a shove by Ms. Strawberry. I’m on the cement walkway leading to Susan’s porch, looking up at Franny Dahler. Franny Chapman. El Cap-i-tan.
“When you feel like getting up, go wait in the car, Carr,” she says.
The Crimes of Austin Carr prints chapters of BIG MONEY each Friday.