He knew what Doolittle wanted. He wanted his coin back.
|Ol' Man Doolittle
Will Sheldon rubbed at the tarnished coin he found in the front pocket of ol' man Doolittle’s trousers.
He felt he should have put it back, knew that what belonged to the dead should stay with the dead. But he was a mortician, and he told himself that it was his job to check for things like this: rings, pocket watches and the like. There was always a relative out there who wanted a memento from the deceased to remind them of their loss.
But in reality, as Will snaked his hand down into the ol' man’s pocket, he knew that Doolittle had no living relatives, and really wasn’t a very nice person at all. In fact, he was a parasite, a bloodsucker, a man who enjoyed taking from others and laughing in their face while he legally did it. The only thing that brought him more pleasure was the amount of pain and grief his insatiable greed caused them.
Abram Doolittle was a stocky man with wide shoulders and a sagging belly. He looked like an old boxer who had been out of training for a decade or so. He was an ugly man with too much bone in his slab-like forehead, his face flat and pushed-in. All except for his nose. It was broken more than once with a distinct squash-like appearance that reminded Will of a rotting piece of fruit left hanging too long upon the tree.
Although Doolittle was rich, his lodgings consisted of greasy carpeting, cigarette-scarred furniture, and the whispering scuttle of cockroaches in the dark. He had money, by God yes, he was loaded. He acquired it all from his father, who owned the Doolittle Bank & Loan before he died in a tragic fire suspiciously set by a burning cigarette. It was suspicious only because Doolittle Sr. had never smoked a day in his life.
Doolittle paid the Sheldon’s a business call, and while he talked about foreclosure, he flipped his annoying coin. Supposedly he had gotten it from his father, who had told his son it was the first dollar he had ever earned and had been a lucky piece he kept with him at all times. Abram Doolittle, the second, cherished it, and was never without it, especially when he was threatening someone. The spin of it in the air was mesmerizing. “Just miss one payment,” he warned Will, “and I’ll throw you and your family out in the street, understand?”
“Yeah, Mr. Doolittle, I get it,” Will said. “But there’s nothing to worry about. Sure, things have been slow, but I’ll have your money. I promise.”
Doolittle just smiled and flipped his coin over and over. Then with a slap, he caught it in the flat of his palm. “You better, or I’ll turn this place into a nursing home. That’s where the real money is, you idiot. Not old, dead people, but old, sick people. There’s nothing like wealthy sick people with lots of cash and no one wanting to take care of them anymore. No one that is, except yours truly.”
“Look, Doolittle, this is my home, and right now, your not welcome,” Will said. “Sheldon’s Funeral Home has been in this community for nearly fifty years, and I will not see it turned over to the likes of you or your bank.”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have borrowed money on it,” Doolittle said. “Cause now, it’s just a matter of time when you, your skinny wife, and that sickly kid of yours will be living in that rundown old hearse you got out back.”
“You know as well as anybody that I had to remodel this place. For some reason the State Inspector’s been down here practically everyday looking for some damn reason to close me down.” Will’s words began to get fevered. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
“State Inspector? Well, no . . . why would I? But I sure hope you’re keeping everything sanitary down there. I mean, really, this place is pretty rundown and god knows what you’re doing in that basement. I shudder to think there might be rats or something worse crawling around.”
Will had had enough. “Rats would be a welcome change after dealing with you! Why don’t you go rob some old lady somewhere and just leave me the hell alone?”
Old man Doolittle didn’t say anything at first, he just smiled. He flipped his coin into the air one last time, and then dropped it into his pocket. “I’m going to get you and yours out of here, one way or the other, Mr. Sheldon, and you can take that to the bank.”
Will had been working in the basement fixing a leaky pipe, before Doolittle had let himself in. He was tired and irritable from trying to deal with the plumbing problem himself to save money, and now the banker, who just happens to pop-in and won’t pop out again. Before Will totally blew a fuse, he turned and headed back downstairs to continue his work. Doolittle followed him.
As they stood at the foot of the stairs, Doolittle said, “That was a joke. ‘You can take that to the bank.’ Funny, right?”
Will spun around. “If you think threatening a poor family with eviction is funny, Doolittle, then yeah, you’re a regular stand-up comedian. Now why don’t you just get out of here and let me finish with what I’ve got to do.”
Doolittle ignored him, looked around. “Phew, man! It really stinks down here. How do you work in all this stench?"
"It's the embalming fluid," Will grumbled. 'You get used to it."
"Not in a million years" he said, wiping at his bulbous nose. "But look, Mr. Sheldon, I can be a reasonable man. Maybe I could offer some help to get you through these hard times.”
“No thanks, I don’t need your kind of help,” Will said over his shoulder. “Why don't you just leave, before I lose my temper."
“Well, I was thinking of that skinny wife of yours," Doolittle continued. "You know I could always use some custodial help around my office. Let’s say she came in and tidied up the place a bit whenever I needed her. I promise to pay her real good. Real good. Now doesn’t that sound charitable?”
Will knew what the old man was referring to, and that's when he went a little crazy.
He quickly spun around and hit Doolittle in the face. Not with his fist as he had intended, but with the pipe wrench. He didn’t realize he was even swinging the thing until he saw the blow land. And then he couldn’t stop himself from swinging it once once more. He hit Doolittle so hard he half expected to see the old man’s skull explode. The first blow caved in his forehead, and when Will hit him again, the old man’s bulbous nose burst like a festering blister. The blood splattered across Will’s face and chest, and then Doolittle fell in a heap, his face smashed and broken into a new and horrendous geography. That was when Will felt a terrible splintering in his mind and heard an internal cracking like the sound of a walnut breaking open.
The next thing he knew, he was at the sink, turning off the water, which he couldn’t remember having turned on. Evidently he had washed the bloody wrench, but had no recollection of having done it. Sweaty, chilled, trembling, and weak-kneed, he returned to the body and put it in the deep-freeze along side the body of the State Inspector who looked fearfully pale with waxy skin and a gray tint to his lips. His eyes were bugged out and his neck was all bruised as though he had been strangled. How'd you get in here? Will thought, but honestly couldn't remember. He slammed the morgue freezer and quickly went back to work, cleaning up the blood-sprayed mess. By the time he stepped to the sink to wash his hands, he finally stopped shaking, but not before he took the coin from Doolittle's pocket.
When he came back upstairs, his wife and son were waiting.
"I heard you arguing with someone. Is everything all right?"
Will sighed heavily, then said, "Sure, sure, everything's fine." He saw the fear in her eyes. "You know I love you, Anna."
Although she held a knowing and troubled look on her face, she said, "I've always been proud of you, Will. Nothing's changed. You have always protected our family."
He nodded in silent agreement, then looked down into his son's eyes. “No one is to go into the basement,” he told him. “I . . . I think a wild animal has gotten trapped down there. I’ll call the exterminator in the morning. In the meantime, just stay away from the basement, understand?”
“What is it, Dad? A raccoon or something?” his son asked.
“No . . . it’s something much bigger. Much, much bigger. Just don’t open the door, and for god’s-sake, don’t go down there.”
That night, Will heard something screech downstairs. It was an ungodly, inhuman sound, a sharp, penetrating eruption of rage and hatred. Will grabbed the coin from his nightstand, and as he stood to investigate, he flipped it into the air, just as he had seen the banker do time and time again. Quickly, he dropped it into his pajama pocket and headed down to the main floor to check on the noise.
He walked as though in a nightmare, and as he moved through the house he turned on all the lights, then standing in front of the basement door, he listened intently.
There was a muffled screaming, guttural, along with pounding. Will knew it was Doolittle trying to get out of the freezer. He should have done a more thorough job with the old man, but he was too sensitive to take a bone-saw to a corpse, even one he hated.
The sound came again. Will knew what Doolittle wanted. He wanted out and he wanted his coin back. As he tried to figure out what to do next, he absently rubbed at the tarnished dollar in his pocket. I should have whacked him again, Will thought. He's making enough noise to wake the dead. Then there was a loud bang and the tinkling sound of a stainless steel handle dropping to the cement floor.
Doolittle had gotten out of the freezer.
Things were starting to get complicated. Life isn't supposed to be like this, Will concluded. People live and they die, they aren't supposed to come back.
There was some more banging sounds, and then the lights went out from one end of the house to the other. Will’s flesh trembled and the coin that had somehow ended up in the palm of his hand, fell and rolled somewhere across the floor in the dark.
Will heard the pounding of someone heavy running up the basement stairs.