Revenge is Best Served Hot
A short story by D.J. Lutz, copyright January 2011
Dell Carson looked in the bathroom mirror, staring at his own swollen face, regaled with flush cheeks and bluish eye, hoping that today would be the day that he would solve the case, pick up the fee and finally, after yet another visit from Louie “Two-Fingers,” finally pay off his bookie. Dell knew that his client’s husband, the subject of his many stakeouts, was seeing a cupcake on the side, an extra bit of dessert that the wife had not planned for dinner, but all he needed to do was prove it and he needed to prove it before Louie came back for another visit.
I was there when she came into Dell’s office a few weeks ago. He was slightly wary of taking the case at first, but I managed to persuade him with just a few words to take on the case. It was always easier to promote action when you knew the motivation, and I knew that Dell was a sucker for a beautiful woman….and I knew that he had a rather large gambling debt coming due, one that he had been given a short time to pay. Dell Carson needed this case. He really needed the cash. I knew it was my job to remind him. He took the case.
The past few weeks had been very hard on Dell. The wayward husband never seemed to stay in one spot. Every time he turned around, Dell saw the man somewhere else. All he needed was a photo or two, but the man seemed to always be on the move. It didn’t help that the man obviously had friends, since no one would squeal on his whereabouts, often claiming to have no knowledge of him. One time Dell spent 36 hours chasing after the ghost of a man, living on Lucky Strikes and coffee. (There never seemed to be enough coffee.) When he returned to the office, I asked him about getting some rest. “Sleep is a crutch, used by lesser men,” he said.
Dell came into the office yesterday, looking pale. He had received a call from the bookie. The money was due and it was due presently. Dell only had half, so Louie was sent to retrieve it. After the beat down, I sat with Dell, going over the details of the case, again and again. Dell’s hands were shaking so much that he could barely light the last of his unfiltered cigarettes. That’s when he decided to let me accompany him today on what I hoped would be the last stakeout.
I sat in the back of the sedan while Dell drove. We kept going over the case, repeating minute detail after detail, trying to get one step ahead of the man. To this point we had not even seen his cupcake, but I offered that maybe tonight we would discover their rendezvous spot. With a newfound sense of urgency, fueled by his third café Americain boosted with three extra shots of espresso, Dell agreed. As we searched the city, I am sure Dell looked rather comical to the occasional passersby, looking like he was talking to himself.
Nightfall came. Dell had lost the man on the highway, probably because his vision was becoming impaired due to a constant headache. Seeing his hands trembling, his body language even more agitated, I mentioned that there was an all-night coffee shop with a drive-through window down the street. Dell accelerated, running a red light. He was out of cigarettes and a triple shot seemed like the only solution. He fumbled with his cash, paying the barista with a twenty yet not waiting for the change. He had his coffee and that was all that mattered.
After slugging down the java, Dell pulled out onto the road, almost hitting a car passing by. “There’s your man, and he has a woman with him,” I offered. Dell slammed the gas pedal to the floor, pushing the sedan to the limit. The other car was gone, but Dell knew that it had to be nearby. Suddenly, Dell slammed onto the brakes.
The house, the rendezvous point, Dell was sure it was here. “Don’t forget the camera,” I said. He grabbed his old Pentax and raced to the rails of the stoop, hoping to catch them in the act. Peering through the picture window, Dell started snapping picture after picture. “Finally,” I said, smiling.
+ + +
“Tragedy today in Norfolk. Police found the body of Dell Carson this morning, outside of his home in Norfolk’s prestigious Oceanview neighborhood. Preliminary lab tests indicate he died of cardiac arrest caused by an acute overdose of caffeine. In a strange twist, Carson was found with a camera in his hand. Detectives had the film developed and were shocked to see photos proving that Dell Carson had indeed strangled his wife, as always suspected, five years ago. Police say that they consider today’s death to be of natural causes and that the old Carson murder investigation is now a closed case.”