The elevator doors opened and there was no one inside. Maybe my luck was going up as well. I pressed the four button and the doors closed as elevator began its uplifting hum. Someone a while back had completely destroyed what had passed for a speaker so the elevator’s motor was the only thing you had to listen to while you crawled up the floors. I probably could have walked faster up the stairs, but in this heat they would have found my desiccated husk on the third floor.
I got off the elevator and headed to apartment four twenty one. I was just about to knock when the door opened and Archibald stuck out his head. “Come on in and have a beer.” Archibald was a nose that happened to have a head attached. He is the nicest guy on this planet, but watch out if he’s about to sneeze. He pulled back his nose and waved me in. “Hurry up. Gladys should be done in just a second.”
I entered their tidy apartment and headed for the fridge. “Who’s she doing now?” I grab two bottles and head back into the living room.
Archibald closed the door, but didn’t lock it. He took one of the beers and grinned. “The Joneses. She thinks she can convert them to Christianity.”
I almost choked on the beer I had just swigged. “But you guys are Jewish.”
Archibald shrugged. “What can I say, she doesn’t like them. Something about playing their polka music too loud so she can’t sleep.”
I shook my head. “But they live on the second floor, right?”
Archibald nodded. “Apartment two forty three to be exact.” I began to say something but he cut me off. “I told you, she doesn’t like them. Besides, if we’re wrong then she’s saving them, which might help us then. It could be worse.”
“And that would be?” I asked.
“I don’t want to know. I just know it could be.” He downed his beer in one swig and handed me the empty. “Put that away so she doesn’t know I had it.”
“Not a problem. Mind if I grab something to eat out of the fridge?” I watched as he goes back to looking out the peephole in the door. No porch, so Archibald watches his neighborhood throw the small glass fisheye in the door. It’s his thing, and it makes him happy, so who am I to rain on his parade.
“Do you think she’ll let you leave without stuffing you full of something?” he asked.
I smiled because I knew that would be the answer. I downed my beer as well and put it in the bag of empties. I then rummaged through the fridge looking for treasure.
I heard the door open. A woman’s voice, almost as low as Archibald’s filled the air. “Larry, deary, I have some brisket in the back on the first shelf, and my homemade horseradish mayo’s in the bottle next to it. Help yourself.”
I took out the aforementioned food and grabbed a loaf of homemade pumpernickel from the cupboard. Gladys swept into the kitchen, surveyed her domain, and smiled at what she saw. She was a demure woman, and even though she was in her late sixties, at least that’s what she claimed, she was still the same weight as the day she married Archibald. It was something she was very proud of. “I am having such a wonderful day.”
Archibald followed her, but didn’t look as happy. “How did you know Larry was here? I was going to surprise you.”
Gladys rubbed her husband’s tummy like asking for luck from Buddha. “I could smell the beer on your breath. The only way you would do that was if someone had come over. Larry was a logical choice since he would want to check up on his money.”
“I didn’t stop here to see about the money.” I smothered a good amount of the horseradish mayo on the pumpernickel before loading on the brisket. I guess I didn’t miss lunch after all. “I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I would stop in and see how you were doing.”
Gladys takes out the two beer bottles I had stashed in the recycling and brings them to the sink. “Larry deary, you need to rinse out the bottles before putting them away. I don’t want my house to smell like a brewery.” She turned her attention back to Archibald. “Why don’t you get what I put aside the other day.”
Archibald was not a happy camper about that. “But that was going to be for the car.”
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head. Just go get it.” Archibald left the room and Gladys put the bottles back. I bit into my sandwich watching her in action. I almost felt sorry for Archibald, or anyone else including Lance Armstrong to keep up with this woman once she got started. She was a force of nature unto herself. “When I borrowed that money from you for Chauncey’s problem I forgot I had stashed this away to get the car fixed.”
Chauncey’s little problem was that he liked the ladies a bit too much, especially women named Sergeant Lucille Cunningham who was testing out her street walker costume way before Halloween. I saw the sergeant, and Chauncey had good tastes, but really poor instincts. Especially since he had just scored with his junkie for enough weed to party hard for a while. Gladys needed help getting a bondsman to put up the bond to get her boy out of jail while waiting his trial. For some reason Chauncey’s wife didn’t want to help. Go figure. Chauncey was probably in a food coma in the other room. Gladys wanted to spend as much time as she could with her son before he was put away. She also was protecting her investment, but to her that was the same thing.
“That’s not a problem. You were under a lot of stress. It could have happened to anyone.” What am I saying? I took out five thousand dollars from my cousin. It looks like it happened to anyone, but that anyone was me.
“Still, it’s only right for you to get the money.” Right on cue Archibald came back in the kitchen with a small paper sack. Gladys opened it up and took out a small stack of cash. I mean the stack was substantial enough, but when the predominate bill denomination was a dollar I became an atheist real quickly about the whole thing.
“Gladys, what is that, like four hundred?” I asked. As soon as I said it I knew I had done it now. I wished I had eaten those words instead of the sandwich.
Gladys sighed and began to cry, left eye first. Archibald looked at me like I took a baseball bat to his wife. Archibald pointed at the money. “That was our fund to fix our car. Shop said it would be about five hundred. We have over four sixty here.”
“I’m not going to take your car money.” I put down the remains of the sandwich and start thinking about how to get out of the door as fast as possible.
Gladys tried to pull herself together. “I thought you would understand. If it wasn’t for…” She left everything unsaid out there, and I couldn’t agree with her more. I reached out and took the money.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.” No less truer words were ever spoken, but right now a few lies between friends were about the best any of us could hope for.
A voice from the wilderness called out. “Mom, can you bring me a soda?”
This rallied Gladys to action. She put away the horseradish mayo and brisket and grabbed a can of Coke. All weakness was gone and Saint Gladys was back. “A mother’s work is never done. Goodbye Larry.” And with that she exited stage left.
I handed Archibald the money and he put it away in his pocket. “Hide that better than you did that beer.”
Archibald smiled. “She knew you were going to give it back. No need to play the game.”
I choked down the rest of my sandwich. “After all these years you still think that?”
He reached in and grabbed me another bottle of beer, and one for himself. Archibald wouldn’t want a man to drink alone. “Of course not. I’ll make sure to screw up. It makes us a happy couple. And don’t worry about that money. Chauncey ain’t going to go nowhere before trial, and he sure ain’t going anywhere afterwards except to sweat it out for a while. His lawyer thinks he can get him out on a suspended sentence even with the drug charge.”
I tried to keep my tone light. “When is he due in court?”
Archibald waved me out of the kitchen and towards the door. “Two weeks from today. Will that work out with you?”
With me, yes, with Cousin Antonio, no. That means my doctor might be making some money on Thursday. “Not a problem. I was just curious.”
Archibald opened the door to allow me a graceful way out. “I understand all about curiosity.” I looked at the sweat circle around the peephole. Ain’t that the truth.
I paused before crossing the threshold. “Where did you get your car looked at?”
“Smithy’s. Over on South Street. Left the car with him and told him to wait on repairing it until I get him the money.” Archibald took a long swig of his beer.
I saluted him with mine. “Good place. Thanks for the beers.”
Archibald smiled one last time at me. “The least I can do. Don’t worry about Gladys. She still loves you. It’s just when it comes to money and family.”
It was my turn to take a long drink. “You’re preaching to the choir there.” With that Archibald closed the door and the chain slithered in place. I was left alone with my thoughts and my beer. At least the beer was good company. Oh well, onward and upward. I headed back to the elevator.