It comes for us all. But sometimes it's got better things to do than wait.
|The dripping rain smudged the kitchen window like dirty fingertips, and there was a miserable feeling of thunder in the air, like a low-grade headache. Mason squeezed a dirty coffee cup between his ham-like fists. The coffee itself had tasted like dishwater.
Christ, what a dump, he thought as he grimaced at the grimy linoleum floor and the countertops stacked with last week's crusty dishes. The canned vegetables stacked in lopsided pyramids atop the icebox. The salt shaker knocked on its side next to the room-temperature bottle of ketchup. So this is what a partner's salary gets you in the big city.
Well, he assumed the man was a partner. He had swung by the office building where Weiss worked, and there was Weiss's name on the sign in the lobby: CARLTON WEISS, fourth listed under FOSTER, BANKS & BRANLEY, ATTORNEYS AT LAW. Suite 452. But Mason didn't really know how law partnerships worked. He'd never had to hire an attorney. God willing and he was careful enough, he never would.
But even if Weiss wasn't a partner, Mason could hardly believe that a professional in the city couldn't afford a better place than this narrow walk-up. The front door opened directly into a dinky living room with only two exits, one into a bedroom/bathroom and the other into the kitchenette where he was presently hunching. Mason had made a sweep of the unit after entering, to be sure he had it to himself, and it almost distressed him to find it no bigger than the residential hotel where he took his own shoes off.
Mason rolled his neck about. The weather was getting at him. Rain always made his shoulder muscles tighten.
And the clutter and the mess made the place feel even smaller. The kitchen was worst. But in the bedroom, the bed was unmade and the floor dappled with dropped clothes. The bathroom smelled like a wet, unwashed dog. The living room was a jumble of paper, not only the file folders piled up on the tiny desk next to the console TV, but the paperbacks stacked like pallets of bricks beside the sofa and easy chair. Some of these had tumbled over and been kicked around the floor.
That had been one of his client's complaints. All she does is read all day, Weiss had whined at the tavern where they met to pass over the first five thousand for the job. And not literature, either, he went on. Trash. She reads trash all day. Cheap paperbacks. Chintzy romances and grubby thrillers. It sickens me to look at the covers. Reds like blood and yellows like piss and browns like shit. And the ink comes off on her fingers and she smears it all over the upholstery and the light switches.
Mason had smoked and listened and said nothing while Weiss kvetched. He had a voice like a mosquito, and with his needle-like nose and domed forehead under a badly receding hairline, Mason—sitting now in the filth of the kitchen and looking through the open doorway into the rumpled living room—thought how much more the man probably looked and sounded like a mosquito when he was at home. Mason could practically hear the man's skittering whine in the air.
And if Weiss hated slovenliness—that was his word for it, and he had repeated it several times as he stared into his third martini—why didn't he get her to do something about it? Mason didn't like to judge—he was no avenging angel, just a professional, like his client—but he felt himself growing progressively more irritated at the couple as he lingered in the apartment, waiting for the woman to get back from her—
He checked his watch, and blinked. She was now forty minutes late. She's never on time. That had been another of Weiss's domestic criticisms.
With a soft sigh Mason heaved himself from his seat and dumped what was left of his coffee into the sink. Then he washed and dried the cup. It made him feel very silly. In all this mess, he thought as he set the cup to dry atop the teetering pile of plates and glasses in the dish rack, it's not like the cops are going to dust every single dirty dish for prints. But it was better to be safe. Mason was always careful. That (and God willing) was why he had never had to hire an attorney.
His lips twitched a little, though, as he toyed for half a second with the idea of tidying the place up a little while he waited.
But his irritation didn't deepen to anger until he felt his bladder start to protest very intensely. It had felt tight when he slid into the apartment like a shadow, but he had brushed it aside. Now, with his appointment more than half an hour late, he was getting frantic. It would be ridiculous if he was relieving himself into her toilet when she walked in from her hair appointment, and Mason got a painful picture of himself trying to finish, and shaking himself off, and zipping himself up while she puttered into the bedroom to find the source of the noise.
Finally, though, he couldn't stand it any more, and after he started he found he wouldn't be able to stop, even if Myra Weiss brought half a dozen patrolmen inside when she finally came home.
It was while he was washing up afterward—force of habit—that the last thread of his patience snapped. He picked up the bar of soap and found a pair of earrings embedded in it. Diamond, he could tell, after he pried them loose. But, covered in a film of scum, they looked like glass.
Mason dried his hands and left the apartment. Let Carlton and Myra Weiss suffer each other's company one more day. There was nothing in the contract that said he had to fulfill it before the weekend came.
Submitted for "The Writer's Cramp" for 3-25-21
Prompt: a pair of earrings, a dirty coffee cup, miserable feeling, salt