By Robert Honor
Max Reynard held his head in his hands. His daughter hates him. Detests him in the “special” way a teenaged girl can. No idea what his crime was. When it comes to this between them the beginning seems familiar, yet the root cause is muddily untraceable. The greatest shamus in the world couldn’t put the clues together. Something said, something that shouldn’t have been said. A throwaway cluck of his tongue or roll of the eyes, proper attention to emotions dodged at a pivotal moment. Looking over his shoulder, trying to put his finger on it out looks like a never-ending hallway to Max with too many intersections and trap doors. There’s no going back. And looking ahead there’s no fire escape to safety; no door knob turning into enlightenment. Max is helpless when this happens. Laughing at the antics of dopey schoolboys, reliving track meets, science fair projects and fantasies of skipping through sunflower fields in Italy one moment and then boom! – Suddenly, a land mine Max simply could not predict. Then there’s a snag until there’s not. Right now the catch is this, the potential for bigger and even more explosive trouble yet to come is certainly possible.
Max Reynard widower, he raised the three girls by himself. Was it easy? It wasn’t easy. Akin to juggling jackknives in his tighty whities while standing on a cracking semi-frozen lake in roller skates. Two of his daughters far away at private college are not despising him at the moment because their tuition bills have been paid on time, barely, phew. Then there’s the matter of a few dollars more, their spending money. If it doesn’t qualify as lint, Max sends them whatever he finds hiding out deep in the pockets of his trousers. It helps to keep the peace.
Max could hear Baz stomping around upstairs. Her given name is Zoe, but for reasons unknown to Max she adopted a name that reminds him of a razor cut, Baz. He catches holy hell when he slips up and calls her Zoe. So, Baz is wearing out the circular rug in her room, fuming over something her old man did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say. Max feels the pulse of an inner tube inflating toward an explosion inside his cramped noggin.
Max fumbles to make a cup of tea. Thoughts of adding in some high test is obviously the ticket. His temples begin beating to the rhythm of Seventy-Six Trombones. He desperately needs to take the edge off. But poor Max remembers his liquor cabinet has been rendered null and void, the result of having to sit through that wobbly high school production of The Music Man.
Max considers collapsing at the kitchen table to listen to the weather report on the radio or maybe phoning over to his fiancé Purdy, she rents the house next door. Purdy, a bit of a mystery woman herself, blew into town barely a year ago. She and Max have been playing footsie ever since her arrival. Max has occasional heartburn over their flirtations of a wedding day announcement. Purdy makes the best strawberry shortcake Max has ever eaten whole. So happens, Purdy knows more about carburetors than the boys at the firehouse, but she’s in the dark as much as Max is when it comes to the diabolical minds of juveniles. Purdy insists she adores Max’s girls. Max’s girls say she’s hiding a secret life and avoids them, so she doesn’t slip up. When Max’s girls are in the huddle there’s more personality transformations than a well-oiled psychiatrist, Larry Talbot or a fiancé named Purdy can handle. Purdy enjoys her private time behind drawn curtains, smoking a long cigarette with a highball and a peace and quiet backup. Max scalds his lips on his unhappy cup of the tea and decides phoning next door may end up becoming a pity party thrown in his honor. He knows it’ll kill the romance, so he buries the receiver.
Max was a small-town policeman. He retired young. His modest pension is spent on groceries, leaking pipes and those tuition markers. Max is a terrible cook and a worse plumber. The tuition comes from piggy banks started when the girls were in diapers. Those accounts are nearly empty. While on the job, the only time Max drew his weapon was when he sketched his police-issued handgun while sitting at the kitchen table.
“Get it?” He tells this story every chance he gets. “I drew my gun with a charcoal pencil, get it?”
Max knew it was time to get out when a rookie cop ordered him to… “Come here old man.” The kid was only a few years removed from being the high school quarterback. Since the rookie knew his way around a locker room, Max figured he’d make the kid feel right at home. Max plucked the young peace officer by the short hairs of his premature mustache and stuffed him into a locker. Retiring early may not have been a wise financial decision for Max. Money is kept close to the vest. Max’s house hadn’t been upgraded since Mr. Clean had a full head of hair.
Max hears a rumbling outside, like a symphony of garbage cans.
“Damn annoying racoons.”
Max rises from the kitchen table and slides his itchy socks in the direction of the side door. He opens it and stares directly into the eyes of a very handsome man, in his humble opinion. This fellow wearing an ascot inside a dark suit looking intensely into Max’s soul is his doppelganger. His identical twin.
“There’s only one problem here,” Max says in a stupor…“I’ve been telling everyone I’m an only child.”
“Until right now your story could pass as legit,” the dark-suited man says with lips that barely part.
“I knew we’d run into each other one day. Maybe this sounds dopey, but I always thought it would be on Halloween,” Max says.
“I may be a heel, but I’m no ghoul. We need to go for a ride,” the other fellow says, the black pools in his eyes darting left and right. “Dump the robe and put something serious on. Haven’t you heard about the weather? They’re calling for snow.”
“I’m a man of principle. I genuflect before my daughters only,” Max says, shaking his head, immediately disapproving of his quip.
“Oh, boy. I’m ashamed we share the same blood,” the man responds.
Max gives the wise guy the onceover; his face may be too precious to rearrange. Doesn’t mean Max isn’t tempted, but it’s akin to punching himself in the face. Max wants answers. No give-and-take would be possible if the man’s teeth are in no condition to parley. The big reason Max lets his blood brother off the hook: this wise guy with too much Vitalis in his hair has a .38 pointed in the direction of Max’s tattered draw string.
“I guess we’re too late to get a refund from the adoption agency?” Max harrumphs.
“I’m grateful I don’t share your sense of humor, pal.”
“Starting tomorrow I’m going to have to figure out a way to cover next semester’s fees for two of my kids. And in the spring I may be the only parent in town not looking forward to my daughter’s prom. Because next year I’ll have three colleges to feed. So, you see, I’m not interested in new trouble pal,” Max spits back.
“Let’s ditch with the coffee-klatch. Situate your hump in my car. Have to get something off my chest,” Max’s twin brother says, shifting his weight in his very expensive shoes.
Max drives a car that doesn’t belong to him. Low hanging snow clouds threaten to curtain the coastal road in a white sheet of ghost. The other guy is in the passenger seat. He stuffs the gun in his pocket, but Max can tell it’s pointed directly at his gut.
“I was a hostage in the orphanage for years,” the other guy says.
“Must’ve been my dimples,” Max says.
“Consider yourself providential. Seems I was born into a bad break.”
“Without reading me your entire diary, begin at the end. A Brioschi on the rocks is waiting for me at home,” Max says.
“All those years, the nuns ratcheted the beatings on my knuckles. Trying to get it through my head; telling me over and over again, ‘Everything you do is your signature.’ Well, sorry to say, my whole life I’ve had nothing but rotten penmanship.”
“Where am I going?” Max asks, losing patience.
“Nowhere, drive it straight and go slow. This is the very last rotten thing I’m doing, so help me. Then I’m starting over. A saint.”
“Sure, tomorrow always looks brighter to a two-time loser. If you make it to tomorrow,” Max says.
“The people I forever borrowed these from,” his captor says. He removes a canvas bag from his pocket and flashes a twinkling entanglement of diamond rings and necklaces.
“You’re a crook.” Max shrugs. “You’re a dime a dozen. I’m not impressed.”
“Yeah? I took these from people who killed to get their hands on this stuff. Which means I have no blood on my hands. And yet I have the goods.”
“You double-crossed your partners. Haven’t you seen that picture at the Roxy? It doesn’t end well,” Max says.
“I have a guarantee of a happy ending. You’re my lucky charm. They’ll come for you, thinking you’re me. I accidentally on purpose led them directly to you. They won’t find the rocks. You’ll take some lumps for your long-lost brother. Maybe you’ll never play the piano again.”
“You said they were killers,” Max says. “Why waste their time knocking me around?”
“In your case they may keep regular appointments, hoping that sooner or later you’ll give ’em what they want. Good enough reason to keep you breathing.”
“I don’t play the piano, by the way,” Max quips.
“Okay, so you’ll never dance again.”
“I’m no Fred Astaire either,” Max says.
“You can’t be this dense.” Max’s captor explains. “I took a beating for you at the orphanage. It’s your turn to do likewise for me.”
“Don’t know why I got the get-out-of-jail card, but we all have a choice, the way we live our lives. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but life is not so easy for anybody,” Max says.
“Sounds like you’re going to need that bicarbonate,” his brother sniffs.
“You could have set up your tidy scheme without the unnerving introduction. The point of you acting like Joan Crawford is for what, your own theatrical absolution?” Max asks.
“And I didn’t even ask you to pay for the price of a ticket. As a matter of record, the lady’s eyebrows are more striking than my own, and yours too, pal.”
“I’m tired of your baloney. I’m turning around,” Max says.
“Oh no, not yet you’re not, smart guy. You’re going to walk home, when I say so.”
“Since you seem to be in the mood to talk I have questions,” Max says. “By the way, who are the charmers who raised you into the man you are today?”
Abrupt anger flashes across the man’s face. He clumsily digs out the .38 and wields it in the air. His dark eyes look sinister.
“You owe me. You got the better life, hands down. Now, pull over. You’re going to get out and walk. By that time ol’ Petunia will be putting a big strain on your floorboards.”
“A what is waiting for me?” Max shrugs.
“You’ve never met a Petunia like this,” Max’s brother says, sneering. “Petunia Pettigrew. My dear sweet old lady.”
There’s trouble brewing behind Max’s eyes. He blurts, “Wait a minute, are you telling me I’m going to have company tonight?”
“Have you not been listening to the teacher?”
“My daughter is home alone. This means she’s in trouble too,” Max says.
“The big winter dance is tonight, no? At the high school?” His captor’s face goes white.
Max strangles the steering wheel; he’s beginning to reveal a look of panic.
“I tried to think of everything. Tried to be the good brother before the fact. You getting your comeuppance, so what? I’m a sinner, but I’m no grouch. I wouldn’t want your kid, my very own niece to get hammered. I arranged the little get-together for tonight. What, she didn’t get a date? Does she look like the Creeper?” the guy in the passenger seat asks incredulously.
“You are a grouch. The dance was postponed. Pipes in the gymnasium burst because of the cold weather. She’s at home, in her room wearing out the carpet, madder than hell, ” Max says in a high-pitched tone.
“There’s bigger trouble waiting for you then.” The passenger’s expression goes vague, attempting to reconcile the new information. An idea flashes behind Max’s eyes. He floors the accelerator, hauls the steering wheel to the left and jams on the brakes. The car tumbles over several times; glass shatters, the radiator blows, hot vapors spew; metal doors breathe like an accordion.
The careening sedan comes to a steaming stop beside an unmovable Redwood.
Max wriggles through broken glass and hop-scotches over to the passenger side. His trousers are torn, his knee is bleeding. His brother is tangled amid the fragments of the wreckage. He’s pretty banged up. Max digs inside but can’t reach the .38. He grabs the sack of jewelry and takes off, limping down the deserted coastal road toward home.
The men are pointing their own .38s at the high school senior. Baz Reynard sits at the kitchen table with her hands folded. She doesn’t feel like playing the part of the good hostess. She’s wearing the gown and heels she was supposed to wear to the dance. She got the story from her friends: Principal Jenkins was playing kissy-kissy with Mr. St. Claire, the custodian. Otherwise occupied, St. Claire forgot to feed coal into the starving furnace. When the temperature dipped outside, the old pipes went unsympathetic in a hurry. They burst from a lack of hot water, flooding the dance floor AKA the gymnasium with enough water to sail a skiff on. In a fit of frustration Baz decided to don the getup as a preliminary for the senior prom. She knew, however, despite her father’s assurances, this gown wouldn’t fly in the spring, which meant she was going to have to squeeze him for more money for a new dress.
In her mind, Baz dubs the trio the unholy three. The B-Team are the aforementioned men, two of them, wearing identical woolen suits and ties with completely different proportions. They are referred to as Slats and Slicker by their A-Number-One boss, a woman aged enough to be Baz’s granny. Slats is tall and thin. He’s hard-faced with sunken cheeks. Slicker is short and tubby with florid cheeks and a small round-shaped mouth which appears to be sucking for air.
“If you two stand side by side you’ll look like the number ten,” Baz says with a snigger.
“Shut up, kid,” Slicker says, shifting uncomfortably in his ill-fitting suit.
A dark cloud masks Petunia Pettigrew’s face. Her eyes are wet with rage. She ignores the give-and-take. She’s taller than Slats and has broad shoulders; there are no curves to her hips. She wears a silver sequined dress. She looks like a solid block of ice draped in a fur coat once belonging to the Abominable Snowman.
“Wait until my father gets home,” Baz snaps
“What’s he gonna do, send us to bed with no supper?” Slats says, resting a valise on the floor near a clattering radiator.
“No, I got it,” says Slicker, breathing hard. “Maybe we’ll get a tongue lashing, huh Ma?”
Petunia Pettigrew’s face joins their world, leaving her reverie behind her. She turns toward Baz and smiles. She’s about to begin an interrogation but is distracted by snow fluttering outside the kitchen window.
“I’m very sorry to say dearie, I do not appreciate the snow. It promises more than it gives. Makes everything pristine for one moment in time,” Petunia Pettigrew says in a husky voice. “Then the world is revealed for what it truly is, an unfair and filthy place.”
“You don’t get any invites to the Christmas party I’ll bet,” Baz says.
Slats and Slicker exchange a look of excitement when they see Petunia’s expression darken. Baz sees it too. She eyes Petunia Pettigrew’s swollen fingers on her right hand, opening and closing into a tight fist. Baz makes a face, expecting to be slugged.
“Work around the makeup, will ya please?” Baz mutters with one eye open. “It took me forever to paint this face.”
The front door pushes open. They all see a battered Max Reynard limping down the hallway. Petunia’s boys shine the barrels of their .38s in Max’s direction. Max enters the kitchen and sits beside his daughter.
“Pops, are you all right?” Baz asks.
“You look very pretty in that dress,” Max says, glaring at his company. “What’s the occasion? The big dance was scratched.”
Baz points her chin toward their party crashers. “Turns out the circus is in town after all. I wanted to be the best-dressed carney,” she says.
Max nods, sizing up the interlopers. “Would you consider wearing the dress to the prom?” he asks Baz, still focusing his attention on his guests.
“Sorry Pops, no. You’re gonna have to do better than that,” Baz says.
“How much do you think it will set me back?” Max asks.
“If you two don’t shut up you’ll be sucking your next meal out of a feeding tube, right Ma?” Slicker says.
“Let’s get right down to cases, Styles, my least favorite son. Where are the rocks?” Petunia asks coldly.
“Styles, is it?” Max says, taking in the sound of the name. “That’s quite a name.”
“Who’s your favorite son, Ma?” Slicker asks. His intrusion is ignored.
“My name is Max Reynard. Styles set me up. I left him by the side of the road. By this time a family of raccoons have probably picked his pocket. You have the wrong house and the wrong man.”
Petunia’s boys inspect her expression, they’re awaiting their orders.
“Slats, reveal the one-time-only-shot-of-not-being-sliced-open incentive,” Petunia says.
Slats opens the valise revealing stacks of cash.
“Oh, I get it. You show me the cash, so I’m encouraged to hand over the jewelry in a trade. I give it over, the valise closes, and I’ve been double-crossed,” Max says.
“Yeah, he wasn’t born yesterday,” Baz interjects. She looks over at her father, “Diamonds?”
“Kid, I told you to keep your trap shut,” Slicker warns, taking a step toward her.
Petunia Pettigrew puts her thickset palm in the air. Her boys stop breathing. “What’s it gonna be, Styles?”
“I told you, I’m not Styles. I took these from him as insurance.” Max reaches into his pocket and tosses the bag of jewelry on the table.
“Pretty,” Baz says.
“There’s blood all over them,” Slats says.
“Styles’ blood?” Slicker says, making a silly face. “You’re such a kidder,” he says to Max.
“They’ll be more where that came from, huh Ma?” says Slats. “Blood, that is.”
“You got what you came for. My fiancé has a habit of popping over unannounced. She doesn’t go for formal invitations. Now, get lost, all of you,” Max says.
Petunia Pettigrew hungrily snatches the bag of loot off the table and tosses it in Slats’ direction. He drops his grip on the valise and grabs the bag out of the air.
“Take the rocks to the car and babysit them while I decide if I prefer to have my steak cubed,” Petunia says, removing a jackknife from her pocket. Slats heads toward the front door.
“Now, wait a minute. You got what you came for,” Max says.
Petunia eyes a charcoal pencil sketch of a revolver framed on the wall.
“That’s pretty good. Did you do that?” Petunia asks.
“Yes,” Max responds.
“When I’m finished with you Styles, you’ll never draw again,” Petunia says.
“Kid, got something wise to say now?” Slicker says, loitering too close to Baz. She looks terrified.
From the hallway they hear Slats calling out. “Hey, Ma. You’re not gonna believe this. It’s Styles, he’s outside waving his piece around. He’s coming for the diamonds.”
Max raises his hands in the air, “Like I’ve been trying to tell you. I’m me and he belongs to you.”
Petunia gestures for Slicker to go out the side kitchen door. She and Slats head out the front door. Almost immediately, Max and Baz hear a hail of gunfire.
“Pops, where is your gun?”
Max stares at the sketch on the wall, transfixed.
“Uh…,” Max mumbles.
“Pops, your gun. Get it!”
Max waves his mind clouds away and opens the fridge. He removes his revolver from the vegetable drawer.
“In the refrigerator, Pops? Really?”
“I wanted to keep it safely away from you. When was the last time you ate a vegetable?”
They scuttle to the foyer. “Get down,” Max orders Baz. He presses himself against a window. Slicker is draped over the trunk of Purdy’s car, unmoving. Slats is splayed across the hood of the car, covered in blood. Petunia has landed within the tall bushes in the yard, stuck, unconscious. Her figure is being coated with falling snow; one of her fingers holds a dangling revolver by its trigger.
Max kneels beside the bloody body of his brother Styles, flat on his back in the street.
“Kids, what a lousy proposition,” they hear Petunia say, in a wavering but booming voice. A laboring, wounded Petunia Pettigrew aims her trembling handgun at the twins. Max eyes his revolver in his hand.
“Shoot her,” Styles orders, coughing up his last breaths.
Max hesitates. Styles snatches the gun from his grasp and fires at Petunia. She falls through the bushes and lands face-down on the snow-covered sidewalk.
“Does it hurt?” Max says sympathetically.
“What do you think funny guy?”
“This is how I get into trouble. Scratch the stupid question.”
“Some family, huh? Like I told you, you drew the better hand,” Styles says.
“I owe you one,” Max says.
“Lemme give you some advice. Wanna live five minutes longer in this life? You can’t be shy around a gun,” Styles says.
“Noted,” Max says.
“Is it tomorrow yet?” Styles asks in a whisper.
“Sorry, no,” Max says.
“Looks like you were right. This two-time loser is not gonna make it,” Styles says, taking his last breath.
Max removes the jewelry from Slats’ dead body and meets Baz in the foyer. She hugs Max as they walk toward the kitchen.
“Have I ever mentioned my twin brother you’d never meet?”
“Huh?” Baz looks confused.
“Well, you’re never going to meet him,” Max says. “By the way, are you still mad at me?”
“Mad at you? Pops, have you taken a hit to the head?” Baz asks.
Max throws the canvas bag on the table beside an abandoned strawberry shortcake centered on the checkered tablecloth.
“Purdy? Are you here?” Max calls out. A car engine coughs to a start. Max and Baz look out the window and see Purdy driving off in Max’s car.
“What is she doing?” Max asks.
“Pops, the valise is gone. That whacky bird stole our money,” Baz says bitterly.
“Our money? What are you talking about?” Max says. “You have to stay here and call Sheriff Knudsen and turn over the jewelry otherwise this mess is going to be hard to explain. Besides, they would be too difficult to fence,” Baz explains
“Hard to fence? What are they teaching you in school?” Max asks incredulously.
“The cash is untraceable, Pops. Untraceable. All those tuition payments. Suddenly no sweat off your back.” Baz grabs her father’s leather jacket off the coat rack and heads for the door. “Some know-it-all Purdy is. Pops, the sucker took your car. It’s been bleeding oil for days,” Baz says with glee.
“The engine will probably cease and desist before it reaches town square,” Max says, thinking aloud. “How are you going to catch up to her in those heels?”
“I’ll borrow Mrs. Gruesome’s hearse outside and follow the tire tracks and the trail of oil in the snow. Save me a piece of cake, will ya please?”
“When you catch up to her, tell her the engagement is off,” Max says.
“Me and the girls, we never liked her, Pops. We all agreed, you deserve better,” Baz says.
“By the way, you’re not going to harm her?” Max says, unsure of Baz’s answer.
“I’m going to give her something special,” Baz says, beaming.
“A special what?” Max asks.
“Well, to begin with, a one-way ticket out of town.” Baz responds.
“And one of my very own specialties, Pops,” Baz says. She throws a wild punch in the air and hollers, “baz!”
Bio: Robert Honor’s highly-rated novel, the thriller Bogart’s Hat, is published by Austin Macauley. Bogart’s Hat has been named a 2021 Chanticleer Award finalist in the Mystery/Thriller category. Robert taught screenwriting at The Tisch School of the Arts/NYU for fifteen years. His one-act plays have been produced in NYC. His work has been recognized by many national screenwriting/playwriting competitions: Oxford Playwriting semi-finalist, The New Harmony Project, finalist, The Writer’s Foundation, finalist (twice), The Writer’s Network Screenwriting & Fiction Fellowship, semi-finalist (twice), American Independent Productions Screenplay Fellowship, The Writer’s Foundation, semi-finalist, WGA-East Screenwriting Fellowship, finalist, Waldo Salt/Ian McLellan Hunter Award for screenwriting excellence, Tisch School of the Arts, Paramount Pictures Screenwriting Fellowship, finalist, Warner Brothers Screenwriting Fellowship, finalist, The Mark Silverman Fellowship for New Producers, Sundance Institute, semi-finalist, Laurel Entertainment Award for Screenwriting Excellence, National Focus Screenwriting Award – notable Focus winners, screenwriter John Fusco, Director Alan Taylor & Cinematographer Ellen Kuras. Robert is also the author of the Christmas story entitled, The Silver Christmas Tree. His passion is writing pulp/mystery adventures. He’s in the middle of trouble working on several of those projects right now.
Robert’s book “Bogarts Hat” can also be found in The Yard: Crime Blog’s Book Store.