The Ladies Temperance Club's Farewell Tour.
1st book in Fish Fishbein's Adventures in La-La Land series
In her shock, Kay let go of her wine glass and it crashed to the floor, forming a puddle of moderately priced Central California Coastal Chardonnay and glass shards at ground zero.
The sound of the shattering glass also brought Vonda back to the land of the lucid.
She looked down at Jack’s body, slumped over his computer keyboard.
Then, not entirely believing what her eyes were showing her, she let her gaze take in the excavation she’d bulldozed into the rear of his noggin.
Then she spotted the woman on the website, who was now doing her best to make friends with a pinto that didn’t appear to want a career in front of the camera.
Then she looked down and noticed the blood and bits of grey matter dripping from the football trophy in her hand.
Plus the look of horror on Kay’s face.
And the smiling look of surprise and respect on Louise’s.
Then Vonda did what any normal person would have done in the same situation.
She dropped the trophy and, holding her hand tightly over her mouth, bolted for the bathroom, where she spent the better part of the next hour hugging the base of the toilet and letting all the embarrassment, all the pain, all the rage, all the frustration and hopelessness of the past twenty years with Jack Thibideau come spewing out.
“Ohmigod, Louise!” Kay was so upset, scared and shocked she could barely speak. And the sounds that managed to find their way out of her mouth alternated between a series of high-pitched squeaks and hyperventilation-punctuated run-on sentences.
“Did-you-see-what-she-did-to-him?!” she panted. “We’ve-gotta-do-something!”
She disappeared down the hall and returned holding the cordless phone from the kitchen.
“Shouldn’t-we-call-the-police? The-paramedics? My-God-Louise, somebody’s-gotta-do-something!”
Louise gently took the phone out of Kay’s clenched fist.
“We are, sweetie.” She opened the back of the handset, removed the batteries and stuffed them into one of her pockets. “But right now, Vonda needs our help. What she don’t need is the police crawling all over the place and carting her off. And I’d say Jack looks like he’s way past needing an ambulance ride.”
She put her arm around Kay’s shoulder, trying to calm the still panic stricken Temperance Clubber.
“Now, here’s what I need you to do, dear. Go out to the garage and fill a bucket about half full of water. Then bring it back, along with whatever cleaning stuff and sponges you can find out there. Can you do that?”
Kay nodded, a little unsure.
“You don’t think we should call somebody?”
“Plenty of time to call somebody later.” Louise guided her toward the office door. “But for now, let’s just try and clean as much of Jack’s brains as we can off his wall. And his floor. And his computer. Right now, that’s what Vonda needs us to do, sweetie. OK?”
With Kay out the door, Louise took another look at Jack, then turned back to the open door.
“And Kay,” she called down the hall. “Hey, grab the biggest trash bags you can find. This boy’s still oozin’ up a storm in here.”
The anguished moan and fresh round of heaving sounds coming from the bathroom told her that Vonda had heard her last communication.
Louise turned her attention back to the deceased deadbeat and scam artist. On the monitor, a different and equally unattractive young woman was now demonstrating a unique fondness for farm fresh cucumbers, carrots and corn.
“Jesus, Jack,” she shook her head, chuckling. “Talk about a sick puppy.”
Then she shut off the computer.
A moment later, she heard the door to the garage open, then close at the far end of the house.
“Louise…” Kay called out, her voice growing louder as she closed the distance from the kitchen to Jack’s little hideaway and crime scene. “I hope 409’s OK. That’s about all they—“
“Watch out for those damn dogs, Kay. Watch where you --”
“AUUUGHH!” From Kay’s outburst in the hallway, Louise could tell the timing of her warning left a little room for improvement. “Those darn dogs!”
Kay set the bucket down, then dropped her armload of cleaning supplies and trashcan liners onto the office floor. “Cripes, just look at this!”
She lifted one of her feet, showing off what – not a minute earlier – had been the left half of a brand new pair of bright pink Keds.
Now it looked more like a two-tone, dusty rose and earthy brown rental bowling shoe.
“Now Kay,” Louise chuckled, unable to resist. “Now, you know you have to make allowances for the dogs. They’re all…well, terminal.”
“Well, I know what I’d like to make out of them - throw rugs!”
She took another angry look at her formerly clean, new pink Ked.
“Those blankety-blank dogs!”
Louise had both hands on her hips, chortling away at Kay’s Doris Day-like attempts at invective.
“Honey, you got a lot to learn about swearing.”
“I thought I was swearing.”
“Darn? Blankety-blank?” Louise burst out laughing. “All right sweetie, you’ve got a point. OK, maybe there are only four letters in the word ‘darn’. But dammit girl, don’t you ever just want to cut loose and turn the air blue? You know, haul off and say something that’ll just embarrass the livin’ shit out of a boatload of sailors?”
Kay shook her head.
“Nice girls don’t swear. That’s how I was brought up.”
“Hell, they don’t sweat, screw or have orgasms either. But that don’t stop anyone from doin’ the horizontal bop on a hot summer night now, does it?”
“I’m just not very comfortable with –“
“Oh, c’mon, Kay. You’re pissed at those goddam stinkin’ dogs. Admit it, honey. You’re full of freakin’ rage, here. And like Dr. Phil says, you gotta own your rage.”
“Fine, Louise. I’m pissed off at those dogs.”
“At what dogs?”
“At those god…uh, damn dogs. There, you happy now?”
Louise gave her a huge hug.
“Oh, cripes yeah. Pretty darned, blankety-blank happy. Now, let’s get a move on. We gotta clean up Vonda’s handiwork here - before it clots.”
* * *
Vonda flushed the toilet and climbed to her feet, using the edge of the counter to steady herself while she leaned over the sink to brush her teeth. Few things in life compare to the piquant taste of a decent California Chardonnay mixed with vomit. Boy, talk about your subtle nose and complex after notes.
She opened the medicine cabinet, looking for the big bottle of generic Ibuprofen, hoping that three or four of them would help ease the throbbing in her head. What the hell, might as well make it half a dozen; then, they might actually do the work of three or four Advil.
According to Jack, the generic products they sold at the supermarket were just about as good as the name brands. So why waste a lot of money splurging on The King of Beers, The Breakfast of Champions or the pain reliever recommended by nine out of ten New York doctors, when the house brand could do pretty much the same thing for a lot less?
Which was why the man lulled himself off to dreamland every night with a bottle of Safeway’s Kentucky “style” bourbon. And why every now and then, their toilet paper would end up embedding a barely noticeable splinter where the warming rays of the sun would never reach it.
Cheap son of a bitch, she thought.
One of these days, I’m gonna show him. I’ll just fill my damn grocery cart with nothing but Oscar Meyer, Kraft Slices, Minute Maid and Charmin. Yeah, then we’ll see who’s –
She flew out of the bathroom and down the hall to his office, bouncing off the walls a couple of times in her panic and diminished equilibrium.
The images in her mind of Jack, the trophy and the office walls were just too vivid, too awful and frightening to be real.
It had to be some kind of hallucination or something.
It had to!
Vonda spotted the light streaming through the gap at the bottom of the door to Jack’s office and relaxed slightly. Maybe she had imagined the whole thing. Maybe Jack was all right.
She quietly opened the door, crossing her fingers as she turned the knob.
There were no blood spatters on the walls behind his computer.
And nothing on his computer.
Not even on his chair, or the room’s hardwood floor.
Vonda breathed a sigh of relief. Hell, maybe the whole thing really was some kind of hallucination. Maybe it was just her mind picturing what she really wanted to do to that thieving no-good, impotent and drunken son of a bitch, but would never – never in a million years -- have the nerve to actually pull off.
Then her eyes fell on the opposite side of the room.
And the plastic bucket, with its watery, red-stained contents.
And Louise, cramming Jack’s feet and shoes into the opening of a huge and very full trash can liner, and pulling the drawstring shut.
“Oh, Lord..!” Kay dropped her rubber gloves and rushing past Vonda’s vantage point in the doorway, bolted for the bathroom with her hand cupped tightly over her mouth.
Louise looked up from her end of the trashcan liner, which she had just sealed with several layers of tightly wrapped duct tape.
Vonda was leaning against the doorframe, while the sounds of Kay’s moaning and retching reverberated down the hallway.
Louise shook her head, mildly disgusted.
“I tell ya, when the going gets tough, the tough start heaving.”
* * *
“Yeah, Kay? Well, if you ask me, your idea would have to be a whole lot better before it could even suck.”
They were all seated around Vonda’s kitchen table trying to figure out what should be done, now that Jack’s official status had changed from two-bit con man to corpus delicti.
The sun would be up in less than an hour and a fresh pot of coffee sat at the center of the table, while Louise and Kay continued to disagree over what their collective next steps should be. And Vonda continued to slowly shake her head and stare at the cup of coffee she was repeatedly stirring, still horrified at what she had done.
So it would be up to the remaining Temperance Clubbers to figure out what to do about the man who had just become Vonda’s very silent partner.
“We’re talking about a crime here, Louise!” Kay whispered, not wanting to upset Vonda. “A serious crime. And as much as I love Vonda, we have to report it! We don’t have a choice here.”
“Honey, you always have a choice. And I don’t know how you were raised, but where I come from, good girls don’t desert a friend in trouble. And Vonda is my friend. Period.” Louise paused to slurp up a mouthful of coffee. “C’mon, the way that sick son of a bitch treated her? I’m surprised something like this didn’t happen years ago.”
She shot a glance at Vonda, who was still shaking her head and not contributing much in the way of conversation.
“Besides, if Vonda didn’t punch Jack’s ticket, one of his old football buddies eventually would have. The man was lower snake shit, Kay. And I’m not going to stand by and watch my friend get nailed for takin’ out the trash.”
“And, I suppose you’ve got a plan that makes some kind of sense? I mean, something more intelligent than actually obeying the law?”
Louise nodded and smiled as she finished off her coffee.
“Turns out, Jack’s got one hell of a getaway car parked right next to the house.”
* * *
A little more than three hours later, thirty-nine feet of Class A motor home eased its way down Vonda’s driveway and onto the street.
This was no bargain basement van conversion, but a no-expense spared palace on wheels that featured everything from central heat and AC, to a deluxe kitchen and three slide-out extensions that when activated, would automatically expand Jack’s RV to almost double its width, making things a whole lot less sardine can-like inside.
Like all the other major purchases in his life, the motor home was a repo he picked up at auction for pennies on the dollar. The original owner was a hunter who had expensive tastes in equipment and high tech gadgetry. All the man wanted was a comfy place to hang out while protecting the countryside from hordes of invading white-tailed deer and marauding mallards.
For Jack Thibideau, it quickly became a comfy place to hang out while Vonda piloted the two of them on his occasional road trips to flim-flam his old high school football cronies. And it beat the hell out of the small fortune the two of them had been spending on motels.
Louise turned right, headed first for Kay’s house, then onto her own.
Vonda’s clothes and cosmetics were safely stowed and the fridge was stocked. And, tightly wrapped in several layers of plastic trash bags and not in much danger of contracting freezer burn, Jack was riding in a large chest-type freezer, which was engineered to automatically slide out from the motor coach’s “basement” at the push of a button.
It had been a convenient way for the RV’s original owner to preserve and transport his hunting trophies and kills.
And for the time being, it would be doing the same thing for Vonda.
“Make it snappy, sweetie. I want to be on the road in less than an hour.”
From her position behind the wheel, Louise swung the door open, then Kay hopped out and scurried up the driveway and into her house.
While she waited, Louise spent the next ten minutes trying to get a little better understanding of all the dials and switches mounted in or connected to the dashboard, or suspended from the overhead ceiling console.
Meanwhile, the diesel engine under the rear of the RV idled noisily, making it appear to the neighborhood that some wayward Continental Trailways bus had gotten lost in the suburban hills above Newbury Park, and pulled into Kay’s driveway to ask directions.
Kay was back within her allotted ten minutes, startling Louise when she knocked on the driver’s window. Once again, the large door swung open and she struggled up the steps, lugging a “Hello Kitty” backpack and the largest, most intensely pink suitcase Louise had ever seen.
“Good Lord, Kay. Somewhere out there, I just bet there’s a Barbie whose luggage was snatched right off her damn Malibu Beach private jet.”
“Well, I like my suitcase, Louise,” Kay snapped. “It matches my dining room.”
In all the time they had known each other, this was the first time Louise ever witnesses her friend sticking up for herself, and it was a good thing to see.
Normally, the woman was so damned sheepish, a real universal apologist.
With the narrow and windy hillside streets, it took about twenty-five minutes to get down the hill and across town to Louise’s house.
She set the emergency brake, warned Kay not to touch anything and left the engine idling again, while she ran inside her house.
Louise was back a few minutes later, carrying a pair of inexpensive duffle bags, which she stowed in the baggage area underneath the motor home.
“OK, one more stop and we’re outa here.”
Louise piloted the RV into a truck stop next to the freeway onramp.
Five hundred and twelve dollars later, she stuffed the nozzle back into its holder on the diesel fuel pump, replaced the gas cap and climbed back behind the wheel.
She took a cassette tape out of her purse and inserted it in the in-dash stereo. A moment later, Brian Setzer and his whole damn orchestra were playing the living snot out of a raucous old rockabilly classic.
Checking the side view mirror on her left, Louise signaled and eased herself, Vonda, Kay, Jack and all thirty-nine feet of motor home into the rush hour traffic on the Eastbound 101 freeway.