“Did you know this place is haunted?”
Lina and Kerri looked across the table at Wade as he licked the ice cream cone he held, then all around the ice cream parlor they sat in—at its pink-striped walls, at the array of wrought iron parlor chairs and tables, at the glass-topped counter housing a long display of five-gallon ice cream tubs, and at the lighted neon business sign behind the display:
Mary Coyle Ol’ Fashion Ice Cream. Since 1951.
Kerri’s eyes came full circle and landed back on her husband as he took another long and obscene lick from his ice cream: “You’re so full of it, Wade.”
“I shit you not. You know Bodinsky, right, on my squad? One of his little girlfriends worked here a while back when they were doing some reno on the place. She said, after they took down the old broad’s picture so they could repaint the wall, all sorts of weird shit began to happen.” Wade nodded toward the parlor’s far wall, upon which hung a vintage black-and-white portrait of Mary Coyle, the parlor’s founder, a milky-skinned matron with plump, rosy cheeks framed by a cap of dark wavy hair.
“What kind of weird shit?” asked Lina, her curiosity piqued.
“Stuff like silverware and napkins flying off the tables, pictures on the walls getting knocked crooked when no one was around, and kitchen utensils being tossed around all by themselves. One of the waitresses was so scared she left and refused to come back after a package of toilet paper flew across the room at her while she was in the bathroom. Can you imagine? Getting hit in the head with a flying pack of TP while you’re in the middle of taking a dump? Gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘scared shitless’.”
Lina and Kerry laughed. Crude as he was, Wade had his moments of humor.
“Hey, maybe I should get my ex a gift certificate for here so ol’ Mary’s ghost could throw something at her…like a butcher knife.”
Kerri shot Wade a look—“That’s not funny”—and turned to Lina: “Did I tell you that he sent his ex-wife a whole case of Rely tampons for her birthday after he saw the newscast about how they caused toxic shock syndrome?”
“That was funny!” exclaimed Wade, laughing his ass off, as he leaned back in the wrought-iron chair—so far back he tipped it, and himself, over, barely managing to keep ahold of his cone.
Lina and Kerri burst into laughter: “Now, that was funny,” said Lina as a disgruntled Wade picked himself up and righted his chair.
“Fuck you, bitches.”
Kerri recognized all too well the volatile anger in Wade’s voice and quickly changed the subject. “So, Lina, did you ever hear again from…you-know-who?”
“No, thank god,” replied Lina, knowing exactly who it was her sister was referring to: Officer ‘Tampon’ Cazzo.
“Who’s ‘you-know-who’?” asked Wade, his anger now subsided, assuaged by a slobbery lick of his cone.
The two women turned on him and snapped, like raptors, “None of your business.”
“Jesus. Sorry I asked.”
Kerri returned her focus to Lina. “Well, that’s good. Let’s hope you never hear from him again. I’d hate to think what Dad would do if he ever found out.”
“He would kill him,” said Lina, flatly.
“Whoever ‘you-know-who’ is, he sure must have pissed you off,” Wade told Lina. “Remind me to never get on your bad side. Hey, ya think you could get your dad to take care of my ex?” asked Wade, laughing, but with a hint of seriousness.
Lina and Kerri just stared at him, unamused.
Wade smartly decided to change the subject. “Hey, check out the tight-assed nerd who just walked in. Looks like he just came from bible study.”
The sisters looked to the young man, now ordering at the glass counter.
“What about him?” asked Lina.
Wade swallowed the last of his cone. “He needs a little shaking up, if you ask me.”
Kerri winced. “Nobody asked you. He’s just a kid, looks barely old enough to drive. Leave him alone.”
Wade gave it a moment’s thought…“Nah!” then took off, leaving the women to finish their ice cream sundaes and wonder what Wade—’Sergeant Stupid’, as Inga aptly called him—was up to. They watched through the window as he rushed out of the parlor and into the parking lot where he opened the trunk of his car.
“What’s he doing?” asked Lina.
“God only knows.”
Wade soon returned with a gym bag slung over his shoulder and rejoined the women.
Kerri cast a suspicious eye on the gym bag. “Why’d you bring that in?”
“What was it you two told me just a few minutes ago?” asked Wade, sneering. “Oh, yeah: None of your fucking business.” He turned his eyes back to the nerdy young man who was now seated at a booth across the room, digging into a triple scoop of Rocky Road. “Time for some fun,” he said, then grabbed the gym bag and sauntered over to the young man’s booth.
Lina and Kerri watched with curiosity as a smiling, affable Wade introduced himself to the receptive young man. The two exchanged friendly words—out of Lina and Kerri’s earshot—before Wade slid into the booth opposite the kid.
“What the hell is he up to?” asked Lina.
Kerri shook her head in dismissal and waved off Lina’s question. “I don’t know and I don’t care…has Dad talked to you yet about Thanksgiving?”
“He wants a home-cooked, traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year at our place, no more Chinese takeout. And he expects one of us to cook the dinner, turkey included.”
“Don’t look at me,” laughed Lina. “I’m still learning how to boil water.”
“Mom used to cook amazing Thanksgiving dinners. I wish she didn’t live so far away—” As soon as the words left her mouth, Kerri realized her slip, and the look of shock on Lina’s face made her instantly regret it.
“I thought Dad said she was dead.”
“Probably. He said she’s probably dead.”
“But you know she’s not? And where she lives?”
Kerri squeezed her eyes shut, pissed at herself for letting the cat out of the bag. She’d been lying to her little sister for years, to protect her, but she couldn’t bring herself to continue the charade any longer. Finally, she blurted out:
“Ohio. That’s what the postmark said on the last card she sent me.”
“Card? What card?”
“Birthday card. She sends me one every year…I’m sorry.”
“Why haven’t I gotten any—” Lina stopped, her voice cracking.
“I don’t know, Lina. I honestly don’t know, unless…” Kerri’s heart was breaking watching the pain of rejection contort her younger sister’s face. “Unless it’s because, up until recently, you were still living with Dad. She doesn’t want Dad to find out where she is.”
Tears flowed as Lina tried to make sense of this startling revelation. “But maybe now that I’m not living with Dad?”
Kerri reached across the table and grabbed hold of her sister’s hand. “Yes, of course. Maybe now…”
Lina wiped her eyes with a napkin as she fought to regain her composure, fully unprepared for the blood-curdling scream that rang out from across the room, startling Lina, Kerri, and everyone else in the parlor…everyone, that is, except Wade, who was convulsing with laughter while still seated in the booth opposite the young man, the same young man who had issued the scream and who was now fleeing from Wade as he beat feet out of the parlor.
“What the hell?” spat Kerri as she and Lina jumped up and rushed over to the booth where Wade still sat howling.
As they neared, the women could see a spread of 8×10 glossy photos on the booth’s tabletop—photos Wade was frantically trying to scoop up and stash back into his gym bag before Kerri and Lina could see them. But his efforts were in vain; Kerri snatched the photos from his hand and began paging through them as Lina looked on, their faces turning from initial curiosity to stomach-wrenching horror with each new photo viewed. Crime scene photos. In full, blood-bone-and-guts living color. Scenes of dead and mangled bodies involved in car accidents; gunshot victims—one whose head had been blown to pieces with a shotgun; nude, mutilated women—victims of a sexual serial killer.
Lina began to gag and ran for the parlor’s exit.
“Jesus Christ, Wade!” cried Kerri.
“What?” Wade asked, innocently. “I was just having a little fun with him.”
Just then, Wade spied an elderly couple across the parlor, nestled together in a corner booth. A wicked grin widened beneath his pornstache as he began to make his way to their table.
Kerri looked on in disbelief as she watched Wade’s stealthy approach, his body tensed and ready to spring as if he were a lion about to pounce on a baby gazelle. She fished a set of car keys from her purse and yelled out after him, “I’m taking the car. Lina and I are leaving!”
Wade turned back, irritated. “Just wait a damn minute. This won’t take long.”
Kerri made an abrupt move for the exit, mumbling a ‘fuck you’ as she clenched the car keys in her hand. She didn’t bother to turn to face him as she issued her last and choicest words to the man hell-bent on terrorizing the unsuspecting grey-haired couple:
“Find your own way home, asshole.”