Harvey pulled hard from his drink. “Would you just leave me alone?” He fluffed the pillow, wanting to lay back on the couch, but his wife gave him that look, making his chest itch from the inside. He stood. “What is it you want me to do?” he asked, pushing the strands of gray hair away from his face.
Suzy popped out of her chair and paced, picking around the edges of her fingernails. “Oh, I don’t know.” Her voice warbled.
“I told you already—”
She honked the goofy bicycle horn she’d taken from the suitcase on the floor, flooding him with memories. Damn her for punching below the belt; she would know how that horn made him feel.
“I see you trying not to smile. Now finish getting dressed. Little Jimmy’s party starts in an hour.”
Harvey shook his head, again somber. “I don’t know. It’s all too awkward.”
“Because he’s Judge Parkinson’s son?” She placed the red ball nose on her face, also from the suitcase. Her mossy eyes shimmered.
“Give me that.” He yanked it off her; it squeaked like a dog’s toy. They both chuckled, then he crossed his arms over his barrel chest and frowned.
“C’mon Harvey. What’s going on here?”
“What’s going on is I’ll be standing in Judge Parkinson’s courtroom on Monday morning, and I can’t get over the fact that when he looks at me, he’s going to imagine me wearing this.” He placed the ball over his nose, half grinning, half frowning like a mischievous child caught being naughty.
Suzy burst with laughter. “You know you’re adorable, don’t you?”
That wasn’t the response he’d wanted. He removed the ball and stared at his feet, the colorful oversized shoes. “Why did Dave have to do this?”
“Because he wants to win. You’re the best defense attorney this town has ever known, and you’ve beaten him every time you’ve faced him. He’s running for Prosecutor this election cycle. You know that.”
“But, Jesus, Suze. We’re talking about a man’s life. And a kid’s birthday.”
She placed her warm hands on his rounded shoulders and spoke gently. “Harvey, this party was booked almost a year ago. Neither you nor the judge knew this would happen. In fact, neither of you had any idea your paths would cross like this until last week.”
“Yeah, I should’ve canceled then.”
“And ruin Jimmy’s party? You’ve been Pickles, the Polka-dot Clown, for thirty years. How you’ve pulled that off without anyone knowing is amazing in itself.”
He looked her square in the eyes. “I do it for the kids.”
She nodded, holding his gaze. “And the judge will understand that, Harv. It’s not your first time performing at Jimmy’s birthday, or the judge’s courtroom, for that matter.”
“I don’t know.” He turned away and finished the drink. “Do we have any more?”
She smiled like a mother. “It’s in the refrigerator. Here, give me your cup.”
He handed it to her then followed, clomp-clomping as he stepped off the thick plush carpet and onto the polished hardwood. “Dave’s going to be there today, at the party.”
Suzy hitched. “How do you know that?” She refilled his chocolate milk, only half way.
“He made a point to tell me yesterday. When I saw him at the courthouse. He’s the one who asked for the last-minute pre-trial conference to be held today. Today of all days, geez. He told me that, Suze, he’s responsible. He must’ve had that private eye trailing me for weeks.”
Suzy said, “Do you know for certain he had a detective following you?” returning to the other room.
“He was wearing a purple polka-dot tie when he cornered me.” Harvey gulped the cold sweet milk and followed, leaving the emptied glass on the granite counter. “Damn him for messing with my head!” He glanced at the shotgun on the mantle.
Suzy’s eyes flared, stretching her crows feet. “No, Harvey. You don’t want to do that.”
“Do what?” He’d caught her look, then shrugged, knowing she’d read his mind.
“You better stop thinking that way, right now. Do you understand me?”
But, it was too late; the top tips of his ears were burning. “He deserves it, Suze.” He went toward the fireplace.
Harvey spun, sending the purple polka-dot clown-pants billowing. “No, Suzy, you stop. That little prick has forced me into a corner, and I’m not going to lay down and take it. It’s not fair to Jimmy, or to Stephen Riddle, regardless of how many bodies he’s allegedly carved.” He took the shotgun from the mount; its heft was comforting. “If that asshole wants to play games, I’ll play games with him, alright. Now, get out of my way.”
“No, Harvey, I won’t,” said Suzy, shaking her head. She stepped into his way, blocking his path, arms akimbo.
“I swear to God, woman—”
“Stop this, Harvey. You’re scaring me,” Suzy screeched.
His vision went red. He pointed the gun at his wife and pulled the trigger, all in one move. Suzy’s face fell; confetti shot out the barrel with a pop, followed by a duck wearing a parachute, holding a flag, that read, “Gotcha!”
Suzy gasped as the duck floated to the floor. She shook her head. “That’s going to scare the bejesus out of him, Harv.”
“Yes.” Harvey grinned. “But Jimmy will get a kick out of it. The kids always do. Now, would you please re-load it for me?” He said, handing it over.
“I don’t know,” said Suzy. “I don’t think this is a good idea.” She rummaged through the suitcase.
The back of Harvey’s neck tingled. “You know what? You’re right.” He retrieved a box from a shelf, and said, “Use these instead.”
Suzy took the box. Her eyes bulged. “My God, Harvey, these look real.”
Harvey nodded, vision blurred, wondering what else the detective knew. Too much was at risk for him to take that chance.
Vince Broerman is a new author, though he’s far from young, out schlepping his first novel to agents and publishers. After a long day, he enjoys hanging out with his two kids or a cocktail while wrestling with his dog, Khan.