“My word as a gentleman.” I extended my hand to her. She waved me off.
“Okay, but let me tell you something Mr. Blake. I’m lethal; if you try anything I’ll be after you.”
I didn’t say anything. What do you say in response to that?
She took a few dollars out of her bag, placed them on the table. But I had to say something—when you’re in the blackmail business it does no good to your reputation to appear tongue-tied. “Make it short and sweet, Ms. Masterson.”
“Don’t worry. I have daddy’s old WWII revolver—no serial number—that’ll do the trick.” She was so decisive, so different from Stella.
We met the next day at Reds again. I supplied her with the details. Gave her the day and time of Peggy Leyton’s Bridge evening, and a drawing of the layout of Leyton’s home; told her that he takes a nap in the evening as he watches the underachieving Yankees on television. Being a fair-minded man, I gave her a week to complete the job. I planned a trip down to the city for that time. I told Leyton I was having a meeting with brokers, of course.
In the city, I caught a few shows, went to a couple of museums and visited some old friends—my ironclad alibis in case something went wrong.
On my way back upstate, I was looking forward to being home. It was a glorious day—and I’d be rid of Leyton.
As I drove up the street to my house, I saw an ambulance and two police cars driving in the opposite direction. Had she left it to the last minute? I let myself in. When I opened the front door, I heard the vague murmur of voices coming from the living room. I realized it was the television; it sounded like a baseball game.
The room was dark, lit only by the flicker of the television. I could make out a hunched figure sitting on my favorite armchair. He turned when he heard my footsteps: “Enjoy the city, Georgy?” He said. “Hope you don’t mind but I picked up your keys from Sue’s purse the other day. Thought I’d make myself at home.”
My mouth was dry; I couldn’t form any words.
“Lazarus is walking,” he said, then cocked his head toward the front door. “No, that wasn’t my body being taken to the morgue. It was Jane Masterson—she decided to come over and take a shot at me!”
“That women is mad,” I blurted.
He rubbed his eyes, then started to scratch his abdomen. His shirt was dotted with fine bloodstains. “Right while I was taking my evening nap, I find this crazy lady over me with a pistol. She fires and bang, she’s dead. It didn’t turn out as you expected, did it?”
“What are you talking about?” As I said this, Jane Masterson’s words were ringing in my ears: “Don’t worry, I have Daddy’s old WWII revolver—no serial number—that’ll do the trick.” The damned idiot didn’t know she had to clean the revolver.
“I know you set me up, Georgy,” he said with a deliberate nod. “And the stakes are higher now.”
It was checkmate for me.
Yes, you could say Stanley Leyton helped me fall off the habit. He was a pretty reasonable blackmailer, and as the years went by I developed a grudging respect for him. His shy wife died shortly after and soon it was just a question of giving him handouts. For the past couple years, we’ve been in the same nursing home. Stanley and I would play dominoes and laugh at the overly patronizing nurses. But poor Stanley died last year. I’ve been stuck in this place for a long time and my memory is failing me—I mean short-term memory. What I did yesterday, I can’t remember today.
I don’t think I’m very welcome here anymore. It seems they can’t wait to get rid of me. My hearing is still stellar and the other day I overheard a few nurses saying, “He just won’t die. Can you imagine how much the government is paying to keep him alive? What’s the point?” But I’m not going anywhere.
She walked into my room: fake smile—sweet as saccharine. “Hi Mr. Blake, honey. How are you feeling this morning? Are you in pain? Would you like some pain meds? You know, maybe you should speak to Dr. Craig about stopping treatment. It’s probably time, you know …”
Looking at her, I realize it’s never too late to rekindle an old hobby …