The Champion Whiskey Drinker ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Expanded version with a different title of a short story I posted earlier.)
Sylvia Wiley sat alone in her darkened house in a cloud of cigarette smoke. It was a summer day, late in July. She was aware of some unusual sounds in the back yard and she didn’t know what it was. Oh, yes, she remembered now. Carl Junior was having some friends over. They were playing a game or something, as children do.
After a half-hour or so she no longer heard the sounds so she went to the back door and opened it to make sure the children weren’t getting themselves into any mischief or hurting each other. After all, she was the mother and she was supposed to keep the offspring in line.
Opening the door revealed a small boy sitting hunched over on her back steps. He had short brown hair and wore a red shirt with white horizontal stripes. When she stepped out the back door, he turned around and looked at her.
“Hello there,” she said. “Do I know you?”
The boy shook his head and looked away.
“Well, since I don’t know you, I might ask you what you’re doing on my back steps.”
“We were playing and they left,” he said.
“Carl and Lanagan.”
“Well, I know who Carl is, but I don’t know who Lanagan is.”
“He’s just a kid.”
“Where did they go?”
“I don’t know. They played a trick on me. They told me to hide my eyes and when I did they ran off and didn’t come back.”
“That wasn’t very nice, was it? In fact, I’d say it was terribly rude.”
“I guess I don’t mind very much.”
“I bet you don’t like them very much, do you? Carl and Lanagan.”
“How did you know?”
“Why do you play with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know that many people.”
She flipped her cigarette over the porch railing. “Can’t you just go on home? I mean, instead of waiting for those two little shits to come back?”
“My mother told me to stay here until three o’clock. She’s coming to pick me up then.”
“Can’t you walk home?”
“It’s too far and I’m not sure if I remember the way. I’d get lost and then my mother would be upset with me.”
“You’re new in town, I take it.”
“I can drive you home if you’d like.”
“No, that’s all right. That would only confuse my mother.”
“Well, you might as well come in, then. You can’t sit out there in this awful heat until three o’clock.”
She led him into the living room and indicated the couch as a suitable place where he might sit down.
“Would you like me to call your mother for you and tell her she needs to come a little earlier than planned?”
“No, she’s not at home. She had an appointment.”
Realizing the room was depressingly dark for a July afternoon, she opened the blinds.
“Would you like a soda or a drink?” she asked.
“No, but I would like to use the bathroom.”
“Well, make yourself at home. It’s through the dining room and down the hall.”
He was gone for about two minutes and when he came back his shirt was tucked neatly into his pants.
“I don’t know your name,” she said.
“Yeah, but everybody calls me Ricky.”
“Well, now, why do you suppose that is?”
“I don’t know.”
“How old are you, Ricky?”
“You’re getting close to that dangerous in-between age.”
“You don’t know what the dangerous in-between age is?”
“It’s where you’re halfway between childhood and adulthood. You like to think of yourself as an adult but the people who run the world keep telling you you’re still a child.”
“Well, just relax,” she said. “You might as well enjoy yourself while you can. I’m not a wicked witch even if I may look like one.”
He laughed and leaned all the way back, resting his head on the back of the couch.
“You have a pretty house,” he said.
“Well, I like to think so.”
“Yes, it’s big. When Carl Senior buys a house, he buys the biggest and the best that money can buy.”
“Do you have a dog?”
“No, I don’t have a dog. I have two children and that’s enough in the way of pets. Besides Carl Junior, there’s Cecelia. She’s only eight. You probably don’t know her, do you?”
“Her character has already been formed. At her young age, you can tell exactly the kind of woman she’ll be, and it’s not a pretty picture.”
“Well, now that the whole can of worms has been opened, I might as well tell you that I’m not really the mother of Carl Junior and Cecelia. I’m their stepmother.”
“Don’t you find that interesting?”
“I’ll bet Carl Junior never told you he had a stepmother, did he?”
“No, he didn’t. What happened to his real mother?”
“Well, the rumor is that she died, but I have reason to believe she’s hiding out someplace.”
“Why would she do that?”
“If you knew Carl Senior, Carl Junior and Cecelia, you wouldn’t need to ask that question.”
“I have a dog,” he said.
“Oh, really? What’s his name?”
“What kind of a dog is Skippy?”
“I think he’s part collie and part something else.”
“So he’s a big dog.”
He leaned forward and held his hand two feet from the floor. “About this big.”
“Do you let Skippy stay in the house?”
“He can come into the basement as long he leaves his fleas outside.”
“A good policy.”
“Except he doesn’t have any fleas because he wears a flea collar.”
“I’ve always liked animals,” she said. “They’re innocent and pure, whereas people are corrupted and scheming and vile.”
She leaned forward and lit a cigarette and blew the smoke out in a cloud above her head. “I’m a little drunk right now,” she said. “Maybe more than a little. Your mother would probably be shocked to know that I invited you into my house while I’m drunk. Maybe we should just keep that little bit of information between ourselves.”
“I don’t mind!” he said.
“You’re a good sport. I could tell that the moment I laid eyes on you.”
He watched her as she walked over to a side table and poured herself a shot of whiskey.
“I’d love to offer you a drink,” she said, “but since you’re eleven years old, I don’t think it would be appropriate.”
“You drink whiskey?”
“Oh, my, yes!” she said. “I’m the champion whiskey drinker.”
“Does it taste good?”
“No, it tastes like crap, but I don’t drink it for the taste.”
“What do you drink it for?”
“It dulls the feelings and, believe me, as you get older, you’ll find that nobody needs feelings.”
“I’ll bet your mommy doesn’t drink straight whiskey, does she?”
“I’ve never seen her if she does.”
“What about your daddy? Is he a good father?”
“I guess so.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“He’s a painter.”
“You mean landscapes and portraits and things like that?”
“No, he paints houses and sometimes he goes out into the country and paints barns.”
“Is there a lot of money in painting barns?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t know. When you’re eleven years old, you don’t think about things like that, do you?”
“I’d like to be eleven again. I’d live my life in an entirely different way. I wouldn’t marry for money. I’d go away somewhere and be an artist. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Some women aren’t cut out for the domestic scene. I’m one of them.”
“But that’s enough about me,” she said. “Tell me about yourself. What do you like to do?”
“I don’t know. Watch TV and read my comics, I guess.”
“You’re a reader?”
“I’m a reader, too. When I was younger, I’d read a novel a week and I mean the good stuff too. Not cheap junk that passes for fiction nowadays. It’s good that you’re a reader. It teaches you to think and figure things out for yourself. I don’t think Carl Senior has ever read a book in his life. And just try to get Carl Junior or Cecelia to read a book on their own! Impossible!”
“My sister reads books from the library. Books she doesn’t have to read.”
“How old is she?”
“Do you get along well with your sister?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
“Any other brothers or sisters?”
“I have a brother, Frank. He plays tricks on me and makes fun of me. He calls me names.”
“I think I see a recurring pattern here of people playing tricks on you.”
“My mother says I’m a pushover.”
“One day Frank will get exactly what he deserves and you’ll be there to see it. One day he’ll come groveling to you because he wants something from you, and you won’t be inclined to give it to him because he wasn’t nice to you when it mattered.”
“He tries to take my money when I have any.”
“When I married Carl Senior and took on his two kids as my own, I knew I would live to regret it, and I have. Regretted it, I mean. I’m thankful that the first Mrs. Carl Senior had sense enough to stop after two kids. She had her tubes tied after Cecelia was born, you know. Otherwise there might have been half a dozen.”
“I’m not ever having any kids,” he said.
“That’s very wise. I wish more people in the world would adopt that attitude.”
“I’ll just have lots of animals.”
“Live on a farm, maybe?”
“Yeah. Out in the country.”
“Where people like Carl Junior and your brother Frank can’t play tricks on you.”
“And since we’re back on the subject of Carl Junior—or at least I am—I have to warn you about him.”
“What about him?”
“You’re a smart, sensitive boy. You don’t need friends like Carl Junior. He’ll never do you anything but harm. You’d be better off to have no friends at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“He will lead you astray, hurt you or cheat you.”
“Why will he do that?”
“Because that’s what he does. People like him. And when you think that he’s only a child and just getting started, it’s frightening. What will he be like when he’s a grown man? I pity anybody who falls under his spell.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re too young and innocent, but the more you associate with Carl Junior the more you’ll see it.”
“I don’t know. He seems all right to me.”
“That’s how his kind always gets started. He seems all right at first so you don’t see the terrible thing that’s coming. I know this because Carl Senior is the same way. Carl Junior is a miniature version of Carl Senior.”
“Why do they both have the same name?”
“I don’t know. Carl Senior believed he needed an exact duplicate of himself, I suppose. And that’s exactly what he got.”
“They’re both assholes, aren’t they? Junior and Senior assholes.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” she said. “If I had a criminal nature and wasn’t afraid of going to jail, I’d sneak into his room at night when he’s asleep and strangle him with the drapery cord.”
“No, I’m talking about Carl Junior. I’d get him out of the way first and then Carl Senior would be next on my list.”
“Strangle him with the drapery cord?”
“No, that would only work once. I’d have to think of a different way.”
“You could poison him.”
“Yes, I’ve thought of that, but it would have to be a poison that can’t be traced. I don’t relish the idea of going to jail.”
“I have an uncle in jail,” he said. “He didn’t kill anybody, though. I think he stole some checks.”
“Now that I’ve told you some of my innermost secrets, I might as well tell you the big one. Can you keep a secret?”
“Our life here is about to blow up.”
“Like a bomb, you mean?”
“No, I mean figuratively, not literally.”
“Do you know what an embezzler is?”
“It’s a person who reallocates money to himself in an orderly way. Not somebody who robs a bank or holds up a gas station but a person who systematically siphons money in a way that he thinks won’t be noticed. You know, a little bit here and a little bit there.”
“Do you know what he then does with the money he embezzles?”
“He puts it into a secret account in a foreign country. If this goes on long enough, the money can grow to a very sizeable amount.”
“Then the embezzler absconds with the money he has accumulated to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.”
“It means that even if they know where he is they can’t have him brought back.”
“Carl Senior is one of those embezzlers. He’s been doing it for about six years. I’m the only one who knows. And do you know what else I know?”
“He’s going to run off with the money he has embezzled to Antarctica or someplace like that and leave me here to raise his two lovely children, Carl Junior and Cecelia.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he wants more than anything in the world to be able to live a life of luxury and seclusion and not be bothered with a wife and children.”
“I’m thinking about calling the place where he works and telling them everything I know. Or, on the other hand, I could just kill the son of a bitch. If it was you, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. Run away from home, I guess.”
“If only Carl Junior could be more like you! What a difference that would make in my life. Only to have somebody to talk to.”
“Well, it’s ten minutes to three now,” he said, looking at the big sunburst clock on the dining room wall. “I think I’ll walk down to the corner and wait there for my mother.”
“Must you go already?”
“She’ll be mad if I keep her waiting.”
“All right. I understand completely.”
She stood up and walked him to the door and opened it for him and offered her hand for him to shake.
“I’m so glad we had a chance to talk,” she said. “Sometimes that’s all a person needs. Just somebody to talk to.”
“Thanks for letting me stay,” he said.
“I hope you’ll come back and visit me again real soon.”
After he was gone, she poured herself another drink and lit another cigarette. She took a gun out of the drawer of the desk and sat down, holding it in her lap, making herself comfortable while she waited.
At the usual time she heard Carl Senior’s car. He parked in front, instead of putting the car away, meaning he intended to go out again after dinner. She heard his key in the lock and then heard the door swing open.
When he walked into the room where she was sitting, she was pointing the gun at him.
“What’s this?” he asked.
His face showed a little bit of surprise but no fear. She knew he didn’t believe she would pull the trigger.
“You think I don’t know?” she said.
Before he could say these two words, she shot him in the abdomen. When he went down, she approached him with the gun and kept shooting until the gun was empty. She saved the last bullet for his head.
“So that’s the way these things go,” she said, standing over him, the gun hanging limply at her side. “No jury will ever convict me. I just rid the world of a species of vermin. In a little while Carl Junior will be home.”
A gurgling sound came from Carl Senior’s throat. He was trying to say something. She leaned closer to hear what it was, but he died before he could get the words out.
She thought she heard the back door open and close. Someone, either Carl Junior or Cecelia, was coming into the house. She ran to the desk and fumbled with the box of bullets to get the gun reloaded while she still had a few seconds alone.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp