You can be confident when dealing with the elderly.
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A Tale From The House of Ashimbabbar
Yes, sir, there she sat, rocking on her front porch with that cell
phone stuck in her ear, just like always! That you could count on. Jerry
Tierney grinned and checked his watch, then got out of his car in front of
the only two houses at the end of the cul-de-sac. He nearly made the
sidewalk before he heard the inevitable, "Gerald! Hello, Gerald!"
"Hi, Mrs. Evans," he replied walking casually toward the elderly widow
maneuvering her walker slowly across her porch, "How are you doing?"
"Pretty good, for an old lady. My, you're getting so tall! How old are
you now, dear, nineteen?" she backed awkwardly away from the top of the
steps as Jerry started to climb them.
"Twenty – be twenty-one in a couple of months. How about you? Must be
nearly thirty by now." He leaned back easily on the edge of the railing.
The old woman shook her head, chuckling, "Get away with you! Your daddy
was in diapers last time I saw thirty anything." She shifted uncomfortably
on the walker, then, nodding toward the sound of the TV faintly audible
through the open window next door, continued, "Your uncle will be glad to
see you. It's done him a world of good, your visiting so often of late."
Jerry listened intently for a moment, smiling faintly with satisfaction.
"Really," he replied dryly, "And how can you possibly tell?"
"That's easy – he's grouchier than ever after you've been here. Haven't
you yet learned how to tell when old people are happy?"
He had to laugh, "Well, I guess he's been ecstatic lately, if that's the
sign. Every time..."
"Bang!... Bang!" Two loud, close-spaced reports from the open window
startled them both.
"That... That wasn't the TV – that sounded like a gun!" Jerry stammered,
then turned, calling, "Quick, dial 911; tell them there are gunshots at
Uncle's!" over his shoulder as he raced off the porch toward the fence
separating the two properties, "Tell them to send the police! Hurry!" He
looked around anxiously as he skirted the fence and ran up the long drive to
his uncle's porch, but no one else was in sight.
Jerry wasted no time on the front door: one high, hard kick splintered
the ancient wood and he rushed in, straight through the living room and into
his uncle's study. He spared hardly a glance for the withered old man
huddled deep in the armchair, startled eyes wide, mouth gaping. Jerry ran to
the ancient VCR, stopped the specially prepared tape and pressed "Rewind."
He watched the tape counter carefully, then hit "Record" to start the unit
recording whatever was being broadcast, erasing the loud gunshots. He lifted
his shirt, pulled his uncle's borrowed automatic from his back, turned, and
without a second's hesitation, aimed carefully and shot the bewildered,
sputtering old man twice in the chest.
Jerry ran swiftly down the long hallway to the back door with it's
previously jimmied lock, opened it and peered out cautiously. Good, nobody
in sight. He pulled the tissue from his pocket, unwrapped it and, careful
not to let his fingers touch the smooth metal, tossed the two empty shell
casings into the bushes a few feet to his right – just where they would have
been ejected if he'd actually stood on the back steps while taking those two
last shots at the unknown killer fleeing through the woods.
After checking that nobody had yet arrived, he ransacked his uncle's
bedroom: pulling out drawers, scattering papers, tipping over a chair.
Returning to the study, he verified the VCR counter showed the tape well
past the two gunshots – now erased forever – before pressing "Stop" and then
"Play" so the unit would be found playing. Good old reliable Uncle: when he
said he'd watch the tape at one-thirty, you could bet your life on it. Jerry
just had! Old people might not be good for much, but at least you knew what
you were dealing with – no surprises. He opened the drawer in the table
beside the armchair (Oh, yes, officer, that's where Uncle always kept his
gun) and surveyed the scene with smug satisfaction. He mentally reviewed his
checklist and found it completed, and then went thoroughly to pieces.
He dialed 911, screamed incoherently that his uncle had been shot, "The
blood! Oh, God, there's so much blood! I can't stop it! Send a doctor, an
ambulance! Hurry, please hurry!" He dropped to his knees and tenderly
ministered to the dead old man, pressing his handkerchief tightly over the
close-spaced wounds, murmuring comforting words through his tears and
moaning softly, ignoring the growing commotion surrounding him until the
paramedics gently eased him away.
* * *
Jerry didn't move when he heard the door open: his grief made him
oblivious to such trivialities. He ignored footsteps, the scraping of a
chair, the click as a tape recorder started. The fat old cop had to call his
name several times before he at last looked up, saliva tears still damp on
The police Sergeant introduced himself, and stated the time, date, and
Jerry's name in that slow, artificial manner people use when they know
they're being recorded. He then cleared his throat and started reciting from
a small card in a bored monotone. He finished and looked questioningly at
Jerry for several seconds before that latter finally realized he'd just been
read his legal rights! "What... Why are you..."
The cop monotonously repeated, "Do you understand these rights? And
do you voluntarily wish to give up your right to remain silent and to have an
attorney present while you talk with me? And agree to this interview being
recorded?" and again waited patiently for Jerry's reply.
"Yeah, sure, I understand, but why are you telling me this? I didn't
kill him; the burglar did, the one I shot at – I wasn't even in the house
when Uncle got shot, ask Mrs. Evans!" The cop's stupidity astounded Jerry.
He knew you couldn't expect much from them, but this jerk hadn't even
bothered talking to the old biddy yet. Talk about incompetence!
The Sergeant searched through a file folder, then extracted a paper
saying, "Here's a transcript of the neighbor woman's call to 911," and began
"Operator: '911 – what is the nature of your emergency?'
"Caller: 'Help! Gunshots, next door! Send the police! Hurry!'
"Operator: 'Are you sure they were gunshots, Ma'am? Not a car...'
"Caller: 'Yes! Gunshots, I tell you! Send the police! I'm so afraid –
his nephew's there with him.'
"(pause: about ten seconds)
"Operator: 'I've got your address and the police are on the way, Ma'am.
What's the address of the house where you heard the shots?'
"Caller: '1437 – next door; the gray house, it's the only other house on
this end of the street.'
"Operator: 'How many gunshots did you hear?'
"Caller: 'Two. There were two. Please hurry!'
"Operator: 'Ma'am, who...'
"(two faint but sharp sounds, close together)
"Caller: 'Mon Dieu! More shots, two more!'
"(pause: about eight seconds)
"Operator: 'OK, Ma'am; now who lives in the house the shots came from?'
"Caller: 'Mr. Tierney, an old man. His nephew's there too.'
"Operator: 'Anyone else there, other than those two?'
"Caller: 'No, I don't think so. Oooh. Where are the police? OOOH!'
"Operator: 'They're on the way, Ma'am. They should be there very soon.'
"(pause: about five seconds)
"Operator: 'Ma'am? are you still there? Ma'am?'
"(pause: about three seconds)
"Operator: 'Ma'am? Stay with me! Hello, Ma'am? Hello?'"
The cop carefully folded the paper and returned it to the folder, then
looked at Jerry steadily for a long moment before continuing, "That's the
end of the call." He leaned forward, softening his voice, "Now, do you want
to tell me all about it?"
Jerry drew a deep, exasperated, breath, then replied disgustedly, "I
already told all this to the other officer at the house, but I guess I've
got to repeat it again." He rested his arms on the table and, in a
condescending tone, began, "I had just parked in front of my uncle's house
and walked over to the porch next door to chat with his neighbor, Mrs. Evans
– she's the old lady who called in. Well, we were talking and that's when we
heard the shots, two of them: Pow! Pow! like that. Poor Uncle! He must have
gotten his gun to scare off the burglar, but the burglar took the gun away
and shot him instead. Anyway, we heard the shots through the window – Uncle
always kept that study window open – so I..."
"No, no. Not that story," the cop broke in, shaking his head sadly,
"Come on, son, tell me what really happened. Why did you have to shoot your
old uncle? Was it because he controlled the trust your grandfather left and
wouldn't give you enough money? Wouldn't let you have your own money? That
would sure make me mad! Hell, anybody can understand a reason like that.
What about it, son: isn't that why you had to shoot him?"
Jerry sat up straight, flushing brightly and nearly shouting, "Me? I
didn't shoot him! That burglar did. You're crazy, Man! Ask Mrs. Evans;
she'll tell you we heard the shots that killed him together, on her porch.
And I hadn't even gone near Uncle's house. Go ahead, just ask her!"
The Sergeant shook his head slowly, "Afraid that's a problem, son. See,
sometimes older people can't take too much excitement. Terrible thing like
this happens, it can give them a heart attack or stroke or something, kill
them right there on the phone. Damn shame, but it happens all the time.
"So all we've got is what I read to you. She says you and the old man
were alone in the house – she kind of sounds afraid for your uncle with you
being there, too. Nobody else saw anything. Now the prosecution's got the
gun, with your fingerprints, and everybody knew about your arguments over
the trust, which makes a pretty good motive. Afraid that's all they need.
Way I see it, son, we've got only two choices: cooperate and – no promises,
now, but the prosecutor just might settle for murder-two, maybe even
voluntary manslaughter. Or you can tough it out and take a first-degree
murder rap. That'll get you life without parole for sure, maybe even the
needle if the jury decides you did it for the money. The only other chance
might be an insanity plea, but, frankly, just between you and me, nobody's
ever gonna buy a bright boy like you being crazy."
Jerry simply stared at the officer in horrified disbelief, then crumbled
in utter defeat and began mumbling softly, more to himself than to the cop,
"How could it possibly go wrong? I planned it all so carefully. It went
perfect: he played the tape on time, right after his nap, 'Have to nap for
half an hour after lunch, boy: good for the digestion.' Who could know that
nosy old bag would pick today to die? Only one damn thing left in the whole
world she's still good for, and she blows it! Everything all worked out,
every detail figured, no one could ever suspect – and then she has to go and
croak on me..."
* * *
The Sergeant balanced the tiny china saucer carefully in one large hand
as he gently raised the fragile cup to his lips. He sipped slowly, then
nodded his approval to his hostess seated beside him on the sofa, "This is
good." He sipped deeply again before continuing, "Now, the one thing I still
can't figure out: how in the world could you be so positive those first two
shots weren't live?"
Carefully placing her own cup on the coffee table, Mrs. Evans picked up
the heavy photo album with both trembling hands, found the place she wanted
near the beginning, and offered it to him. He quickly set aside his cup and,
taking the album, looked at the open page. Four yellowing black-and-white
snapshots of one or two individuals surrounded an enlarged shot of a motley
group of six. He examined them: the sole common denominators seemed to be
the ragged clothes, weary but exuberant faces, and the numerous weapons.
He glanced up questioningly; she pointed to the man at the right in the
group, "Daniel Evans, my late husband. That was taken in Paris, in '44, just
after the Allies moved in. He was a British pilot, got shot down and made
his way to Chartres, then worked with our Resistance group until Liberation. Next
to him..." he looked at the short, slender youth she indicated, a ragged
street urchin leaning awkwardly on a butt-down automatic rifle nearly the
same size, "... that's me – didn't look eighteen, did I? That's what saved my
life when the Gestapo interrogated me. We were all that remained of our
group by then. The Boche didn't leave either Daniel or me any family and not
too many good memories, and American doctors had the best treatment for
what they'd done to my legs, so we decided to start over again, here."
She took the album and returned it to the table, then leaned back, "I
should have been suspicious when Gerald came over to talk – he hasn't had
more than the wave of a hand for me in years. Something sounded wrong with
those first shots anyway, but when the next two real ones came I knew for
sure. Even after all these years, you can't mistake that sound! Large
caliber – 45 probably; have to be an automatic for two accurate shots that
quickly, yes?..." she looked inquiringly at the Sergeant who nodded in
confirmation. "Thought so," she nodded back with grim satisfaction. "Well,
no jury would ever believe a crazy old woman could tell the difference
between recorded gunshots and the real thing, and if I told only what I saw
and heard, he would have gotten off. That's why I suggested faking my own
untimely demise – to smoke the sneaky bastard out. Can you imagine?" she
slapped one diminutive hand sharply on the arm of the sofa, "That cowardly,
cold-blooded son of a bitch trying to use me for his alibi!"
The Sergeant chuckled softly, respectfully toasting the indignant old
lady with his tea cup.