Now That I Know Your Name ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is an expanded version of a story I posted in March.)
Miriam Feathers was a compulsive reader. She read the newspaper from front to back every day, including the death notices and the sports stories. When she spotted an ad in the classified section that she thought might be of more than passing interest, she showed it to Eddie, her husband, while they were having their dinner of corned beef hash and Chinese beer.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“Wanted,” he read, “Gardener and handy man for ten days’ work. Also person to do heavy housecleaning for same period of time. Prefer couple.”
“A couple of what?” he said. “Suckers?”
“You can do the gardening and I can do the housecleaning,” Miriam said. “It might be a way to earn a little money before we get thrown out of this crummy apartment.”
“There’s better ways of getting money than working for it, you know,” he said.
“I think we should go over there and see about it before somebody else gets it.”
“Maybe we’ll go in the morning,” he said, “and maybe not.”
The next morning Miriam was awake before eight o’clock. She made Eddie get out of bed, shave and clean himself up. After a quick breakfast, they got into Eddie’s old truck and drove across town.
It was a much better neighborhood than they were used to. The houses were old and well tended, with lawns meticulously groomed. Stately trees lined the street on both sides. No wrecked cars, tall weeds, seedy apartment buildings or overflowing trash cans marred the landscape.
They found the house they were looking for, a house with three stories and an impressively wide and deep front porch. The lady who lived there, Mrs. Delossier, was a widow who lived alone. She had had a man to take care of her lawn, she said, but he had become disabled and wasn’t able to do the work anymore.
The work she wanted done shouldn’t be too difficult but wouldn’t be easy, either. She wanted some weeding and planting done, all the bushes in the yard trimmed and a honeysuckle vine cut down that was growing all over the back fence. She wanted a new coat of white paint put on the foundation and a shed emptied and cleaned. As for the housework, she wanted all the upstairs bedrooms cleaned thoroughly, the furniture moved out and then put back and everything taken out of two of the closets and boxed up to give to charity. If she was able to find a pair of industrious workers who applied themselves, all the work could be done in about ten days. She would pay handsomely.
“I’m putting the house on the market,” Mrs. Delossier said. “I want to get everything in tip-top shape so I can get the best price.”
“It seems like a lot of work for ten days,” Eddie said in his knowing way that made people who didn’t know him think he was smarter than he was.
“If you can’t handle it,” she said, “say so now before we both make a mistake.”
“Well, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have any tools of my own.”
“Everything you need is in the shed out back, including the paint.”
“I need to think about it for a while.”
“Don’t think about it too long. I have others who are interested.”
“We can handle it,” Miriam jumped in, “and we’re glad for the opportunity.”
“Be here first thing in the morning,” she said. “We’ll try you out and see how it goes. After two days if the arrangement is not working, we’ll go our separate ways with no hard feelings and two days’ pay in our pockets. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Miriam said.
“What she wants is a couple of slaves,” Eddie said when they were on their way back home. “How about if we just don’t show up in the morning? I’m already tired just thinking about all that work.”
“We need the money,” Miriam said, “and we don’t have any other prospects. We can at least try it and see how it goes.”
“How about if we tie her up and rob her? That won’t take ten days and we’ll end up with a lot more than if we work for it.”
“You cluck,” Miriam said. “Don’t you think she would identify us?”
The next morning they showed up at Mrs. Delossier’s house at nine o’clock. Eddie was sullen but resigned as she took him out to the back yard and showed him where the tools were in the shed. She gave him a list of the things she wanted done. He was to do the items in the order in which they appeared on the list and check them off when they were finished.
With Eddie started on the work, Mrs. Delossier took Miriam into the house, upstairs to the three large bedrooms that she wanted cleaned from top to bottom. She showed her where the cleaning supplies were and the vacuum cleaner; then she went back downstairs to the sunroom, where she sat among her enormous plants with her feet propped up, watching her daytime programs on TV.
Left on her own, Miriam was free to do some exploring. She went to the window and pulled back the curtain and looked out into the back yard. Eddie was grim-faced, working as if his life depended on it. He hadn’t stopped yet for a cigarette break. She had to laugh.
She went from room to room, marveling at the richness of the furnishings and how everything looked neat and perfect. The rooms that Mrs. Delossier wanted cleaned already looked immaculate. That woman had no idea of what dirt really was.
After two days, Miriam became bolder and began looking beneath the surface of things. She ventured to look inside some drawers. In a dresser, under some folded scarves, was a jewel case. When all was still in the house, meaning that Mrs. Delossier was not likely to walk in on her unexpectedly, she opened the case to see what was inside. There was a collection of rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets—all sparkling with richness and precious worth. In another drawer she found a cache of bills that appeared to amount to hundreds if not thousands. The most interesting find of all, though, was the wall safe with a combination lock at the back of Mrs. Delossier’s closet. If the woman didn’t bother to keep her cash and jewels in the safe, what did she have in there?
That evening Miriam told Eddie what she had seen. He didn’t say anything but she knew what he was thinking.
The work was done in less than ten days. Miriam finished with the cleaning on the eighth day and helped Eddie with what remained of the outside work. By lunchtime on the tenth day, they knocked on Mrs. Delossier’s door and presented her with the list with all the items checked off. Pleased with the way the work had progressed, Mrs. Delossier paid them the amount they had agreed upon for the ten days, plus an extra fifty dollars. And she would certainly keep them in mind for any additional work, she said.
From the moment they got into Eddie’s truck and left to go home, they planned on how they were going to return and rob Mrs. Delossier.
“We’ll have to do the job and make sure she doesn’t recognize anything about us,” Eddie said.
“How do we do that?” Miriam asked. “Wear masks?”
“It would be easier if we killed her,” Eddie said. “’Dead men tell no tales.”
“No! No killing, or I’m out, and I just might go to the police.”
“You would rat on me?”
“If you kill an innocent old lady, I would.”
“She’s not innocent. None of them are innocent.”
“I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing,” Miriam said.
“I took a good look at those French doors at the back of the house,” Eddie said. “One good push with my shoulder is all it’ll take to pop the lock.”
“I think the middle of the night would be best,” Miriam said. “Around two in the morning. I know which room she sleeps in. We can catch her off guard before she has a chance to turn on a light. We can blindfold her and tie her up in the bed without hurting her. If we do everything right, we won’t have to worry about her identifying us.”
“Something always goes wrong,” Eddie said. “I believe in taking care of things the right way the first time so there are no slip-ups later on.” He pointed his index finger at Miriam, with his thumb straight up, and pretended to shoot a pistol.
“Remember what I said. If you kill her, I go to the police.”
At other times, they talked about what they would do with the money.
“I’m tired of having to live the way we do.” Miriam said. “Living in a roach-infested dump that we can’t pay the rent on and eating baloney sandwiches while people like Mrs. Delossier have it all. Just once I might live to live in a house with three stories and fourteen rooms and eat caviar and drink champagne.”
“You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you had it,” Eddie said. “You’re too low-class.”
“This from Mr. Class himself!”
Having a rather exaggerated view of the wealth that was to be had, Eddie said, “I think this is what we’ve been waiting for all our lives. A chance like this only comes along once in a lifetime.”
“We’ll have to go away after it’s all over,” Miriam said. “We’ll change our names.”
“I’m thinking that we might try some foreign country,” Eddie said. “Like Brazil or Paris, France.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. Maybe I’ll learn to speak the language.”
“A fresh start for both of us in a new place.”
“We can forget the past and have everything the way we want it from now on.”
“No more scrounging for pennies,” Eddie said. “No more worries.”
They finally decided on a date. It would be on a Saturday night. There was just something about Saturday that seemed auspicious. They had made all the plans and were ready in every way. They couldn’t wait to get it over with and be on their way to a better life.
On the afternoon of the Saturday in question, Eddie went to buy some items they would need: nylon rope, bullets for his .45 caliber pistol (which he kept hidden from Miriam), a flashlight, two plain, dark ski masks, and a canvas shoulder bag to carry everything in. When he returned home, Miriam was sitting at the table with the newspaper spread out before her. She had been crying.
“Look at this,” she said, pointing to a notice in the obituary section.
He picked up the paper and began to read: Died suddenly at home on June 23, Mrs. Virginia Fuller Delossier, widow of Creighton Delossier II, noted defense attorney. Survived by son, Creighton Delossier III of Sacramento, California; two grandsons, Paul and Mitchell; nieces, nephews, cousins; scores of friends and acquaintances. Services will be held at the First United Methodist Church at two o’clock on Monday. Interment to be in Mount Olive Cemetery.
“How’s that for luck?” Miriam said. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Eddie thought for a minute without speaking. “It might work to our advantage,” he said.
“She lived alone. Now that she’s dead, there’s nobody in the house.”
“How do we know that? Relatives will be there.”
“If we could tie her up and rob her, why couldn’t we do the same with relatives? And there’s the advantage that they don’t know us and couldn’t identify us.”
“What if it’s the entire family? What then?”
“Let’s assume that the son from California will be there to see to his mother’s funeral arrangements.”
“Yes, but how do we know for sure?”
“Call and see who answers. If it’s a man, it’s probably the son. Tell him your name is Mrs. Burgess. You heard the old lady died and you want to know if the house is for sale. Tell him you’re prepared to make a generous offer. You want to come and talk to him about it as soon as possible.”
“I’m scared. Why don’t you do it?”
“I’m going into the other room. When I come back, I want you to have made the call.”
All her life she had been used to doing as she was told, first by her father and her brothers and now with her husband. She took a drink of whiskey and looked the number up in the phone book and went to the phone and called it.
A kindly sounding man answered the call. Right away he identified himself as Creighton Delossier III, of Sacramento, California, in town due to the sudden death of his mother.
“My name is Mrs. Burgess,” she said smoothly, holding the receiver away from her ear in both hands. “I want to extend my deepest condolences on the death of your dear mother. I knew her slightly from church.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“If this is an inappropriate time to discuss such matters, just say so, but I might be interested in buying your mother’s house and I was wondering if you plan on selling it.”
“Yes!” he said. “This is providence! If I can sell the house in the next few days, I can return home a happy man.”
“Wonderful! I wonder if I might come by in the next few days, after your mother’s funeral, of course, and take a look around the property. I’ve often driven by there and have admired it for years.”
“Why don’t you make it Tuesday morning at ten o’clock, the day after the funeral?”
On Tuesday morning she put on lots of makeup, along with a red wig that made her look like somebody she didn’t know; a black dress with a string of fake pearls, sunglasses and a hat that partly covered her face. It was a disguise that would make it impossible for Creighton Delossier III to identify her if he should ever happen to see her again.
She walked five blocks in uncomfortable shoes to catch the bus. She didn’t want to take the chance of driving Eddie’s truck and having it recognized by people in Mrs. Delossier’s neighborhood.
Creighton Delossier III was waiting for her. “You’re right on time,” he said. “Thank you for not keeping me waiting.”
He patiently showed her from room to room, including the basement and attic. Then he took her outside and walked her all the way around the house. When the tour was finished, he said, “If you’re interested in buying any of the furniture, I’m open to any reasonable offer. I’m eager to finish up my mother’s affairs so I can rejoin my family.”
“So you’re here all alone?”
“My wife is ill and wasn’t able to come on this trip. My two sons are in school. Except for us, my mother had very little family.”
Miriam shook his hand and thanked him for allowing her to see the house. She was very much interested in closing the deal, she said, but she wanted to discuss the matter with her husband, who was away for a few days on a business trip.
“Please let me know as soon as you’ve made up your mind,” he said.
When Miriam got home, Eddie was waiting for her. They could proceed with their plans unchanged. It was even better with the son because he didn’t know them and wouldn’t recognize them. There would be no need to kill him. When it was all over, all he would have to do is get his insurance company to cover anything that was lost. It was going to be so easy and smooth because they would have it so well planned out that nothing could possibly go wrong.
Eddie sat and thought for a few minutes without saying anything. Finally he said, “Tonight’s the night.”
At midnight they were ready to go, dressed in black as they were down to their shoes, but they had decided on two o’clock, so two o’clock it was going to be. Eddie fell asleep on the couch; Miriam woke him up at one-thirty.
“What are waiting for?” he said.
It had started to rain intermittently, with lightning and thunder, but Eddie didn’t see how that could be a hindrance. It might work in their favor by providing a cover for the sounds they couldn’t keep from making once they were inside the house.
He drove by the house slowly. There were no lights in any of the windows. It had every appearance of a sleeping house. He drove to the next intersection, turned right and circled around the block.
“What are you doing? Miriam said. “We don’t want to attract attention.”
“Just getting the lay of the land,” he said. “Make sure there are no cop cars lurking about.”
“Don’t forget about the safe,” Miriam said. “Remember to make him open it before we tie him up.”
“Just relax. Don’t worry so much. Everything will be fine.”
“Say as little as possible. We don’t want him to identify us by our voices.”
“I won’t have to say anything if you do your part.”
“Promise you won’t kill him, no matter what?”
“I said I wouldn’t kill him, didn’t I?”
“Do you have the ski mask?”
“It’s in my pocket.”
“Don’t forget to put it on.”
“I’m not going to put it on until we’re ready to go inside, dumbbell! Do you think I want to smother to death before I even park the truck?”
“Help us get through this night!” she said.
One of the most charming features of the old neighborhood in which Mrs. Delossier lived was the many oak trees that lined the street, some of them as tall as sixty or seventy feet. Sometimes, but not very often, one of these trees that had stood for a hundred and fifty years or more would relinquish its hold on the ground and fall over. This was most likely to happen during periods of heavy rains and storms with wild gusts of wind. Anything or anybody that happened to be in the way of one of these falling leviathans was likely to be crushed to oblivion.
Eddie was two blocks over from Mrs. Delossier’s house and had decided the best place to park the truck was beside a high wooden fence that abutted the sidewalk. They would go through the alley that led right to Mrs. Delossier’s back yard. Before he parked the truck, though, he wanted to drive around the block a couple more times to make sure all was safe and quiet.
“I just realized I don’t know which bedroom he’ll be sleeping in,” Miriam said. “There are six bedrooms in the house. How will we know which room?”
“Don’t worry,” Eddie said. “It’ll all work out.”
“What if he has a gun?”
“I have a gun, too.”
“I said no guns!”
“You’ll drive yourself crazy thinking of all the things that could go wrong,” Eddie said. “It’s all going to be so easy. You’ll see.”
“If I’m killed,” Miriam said, “I don’t want my mother to know what I was doing.”
“Nobody is going to be killed.”
These were the last words either of them spoke. If they had seen the tree, they would have had a chance to get out of the way because it fell in a kind of slow motion, diagonally across the road. Eddie’s truck was smashed flat like a tin can.
Creighton Delossier III wondered why Mrs. Burgess never called him back. He was, of course, disappointed that she wasn’t going to buy the house because it meant he couldn’t return home as soon as he had hoped. When he heard about the accident in the neighborhood with the unfortunate pair being killed, he instantly put it out of his mind. They were people he didn’t know and didn’t want to know and, besides, he had far too many problems of his own.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp