I was rooted where I stood. The man, shaken, climbed out the driver's window on hands and knees, and staggered to his feet. The woman appeared around the inverted chassis, fists clenched but surprise in her face. They were staring open-mouthed at each other, panting raggedly, when a second car, a convertible, skidded to a halt right-side-up beside theirs. A blond man in a checkered coat and tan pants jumped out. He ran to the woman and grabbed her upper arms fiercely. "For God's sake, Eleanor, are you all right?" He threw her aside without waiting for an answer and spun to the other man. "You!" He came at him, leading with his jaw. The first man, dark-haired, short in a double breasted gray suit with a wide painted tie, shook his head and came up with his fists. The blond parried his first punch and answered with a solid blow to the stomach, the sound of impact sickeningly soft. The blond stood back a moment, hands on hips. "I know you understand, old friend. There's something between Eleanor and me. We have a history." The double breasted man struggled to get his breath, hands on thighs. Perched on the running board of the idling convertible, Eleanor inserted a cigarette into a long ivory holder, her eyes sphynxlike .
Double-breasted said nothing but came up fighting. The blond man moved with the grace of a prizefighter, feet dancing across the lawn, while the double-breasted man worked in close, jabbing and ducking with jerky movements. Both were soon well-bloodied. The blond man was cut above the eye, blood streaming down the side of his face to stain his collar. Eleanor strained to see around him as the double-breasted man spat blood and teeth, her cool demeanor now quavering. Their fists landed with hollow popping sounds when striking bone, soft pillow thuds to the body cavity, ribs cracking once, twice, three times, staggering, sustained by rage alone. It wasn't pretty.
Blond seemed to gain the upper hand, his height and reach prevailing over the smaller man's tenacity. He leered savagely as the other's defenses began to fail, arms lifeless. A loud sob broke Eleanor's silence. I turned to see her face covered with running mascara. The blond man slurred through swollen lips, "It'll be over soon, Eleanor."
She sobbed again. "No, Bill, stop it!" she shrieked. She sprang to her feet, moved toward them, hung back. "Tommy!" she cried, "you know how it has to end!"
The dark-haired man—Tommy—looked at her a moment, and turned back to Bill, whose brutality was blunted by confusion. Their eyes met and the momentum turned in an instant. With slow, steady blows, Tommy reduced his foe's face to an undifferentiated mass of torn flesh and shattered bone, the blond's natural balance keeping him upright longer than was good for him.
A police siren came ululating out of the distance, red light flashing, followed close behind by an ambulance and a tow truck, all three vehicles of the same period as Bill and Tommy's. As they approached, I heard Bill hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. His actions shielded from the road by the two cars, Tommy pulled the body several yards from the wreck, then knelt and took Bill's face in his hands, which were now sheathed in black leather driving gloves. The policeman came running. "Lord almighty," he said. "Did you see it happen?"
"No, my wife and I were driving by and we found him like this."
"He must've been thrown from the window. Landed on his face."
I remained unnoticed.
Eleanor climbed into the passenger seat of Bill's car, wincing when her legs hit the sun-heated red leather. Tommy took the cop's hand and pulled himself to his feet. "I'm pretty shaken up by this, and I'd like to get my wife away from here," gesturing in her direction. "Do you need us for anything?"
"You? No. Get on out of here." Tommy walked slowly, stiffly back to the convertible. The tow truck righted the wreck and hoisted its twisted front end into the air. The medics kneeling at either side of the body, shaking their heads at each other, one admiring the crease in the tan trousers' pleats. The cop spoke clearly into his radio, "I'd like to run a check on a car registration." He thumbed through the contents of the still-warm wallet. The convertible pulled away, gaining speed. Eleanor donned a scarf and sunglasses. Tommy leaned forward in his seat, a fedora low over his forehead. The tow truck dragged the screeching remains of Tommy's car in the opposite direction. The medics loaded the gurney into the back of their ambulance and they drove off, too. The cop tapped his pencil on his notebook and staring into the sun a while, then turned off the cruiser's rollers and sped off. I watched his dust cloud until I couldn't see it any more.
The ground at the front of my house was all chewed up and rutted, stained with blood and automotive fluids. The stones and flowers were scattered across a nebula of potting soil, and a few feet to their side lay the remnants of my mailbox. Amidst this mess was an envelope, a blue air-mail envelope. I opened it. Familiar handwriting read,
How are you? I just loved your letter, I read it twice as soon as I opened it. I especially liked the part about that phone call you got. You know, I've saved all the letters you've written me.
Bob and I just got back from three weeks climbing. The views were amazing. We stayed at an inn we'd stayed at when we were in college, and the same old guy was at the desk—did I ever tell you about this? I think I did. It was great.
It sounds like everything is going well for you. The weather there sounds really nice. Did your cat ever come in that night? I'd love to see your garden. When are you going to visit?
I'm having a great time lately. I've realized a lot of things that have really helped me, and it's nice not to be so anxious and wondering all the time, I know you know what I mean, Otto. You should come and see us, Bob says—he doesn't know I already said that! He says the two of you should go hunting when you come to see us.
Well, I'd better get going. Write again soon—I just love your letters! I miss you.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson