Redeeming Stanley

 

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Annie had called him "Trouble" on the worldwide web! The nerve! Weldon Frame was stunned. He hadn't thought she had it in her. His ex showed him the site, beaming. She hadn't looked so happy since before they got married. His ex, now, she was a piece of work. Went out of her way to have his ass slung in jail for non-support one time.

"She calls you 'Mr. Wrong', Daddy," his daughter piped. Still smarting from his stretch in the pokey, Weldon had been unable to participate in the hilarity. When Weldon saw the site Annie lived far away in Oregon--too far away for retribution. She said she had moved because of the baby, but Weldon Frame, mail room clerk extraordinaire and armchair explorer of the female psyche, knew it was really Payback. As he paced through the office on his appointed rounds, he imagined people looking at him and snickering, "Here comes Trouble." Once he was almost positive that an analyst switched from Annie's site to a financial graph when she heard his customized mail cart squeaking by. It was too much.

In the beginning Annie had been beautiful. She sympathized about The Bitch. She did amazing things to the Independent Entity dwelling in Weldon's jockey shorts. She loved his daughter. On weekend visits she and the little girl read, went to the park, and colored Easter eggs while Weldon watched the game and dozed, knowing in his heart that he was a good dad.

Annie agreed in the beginning. Hell, she'd even paid the back support and bailed him out. In the end, though, she had shown her true colors, just like they all did. As Weldon slid envelopes into in-boxes (instinctively palming those containing credit cards for his own personal use later) he thought about that night two months ago, the night everything broke forever.

...

Weldon lay sleepily replete on the bed, bathed in golden lamp light. He had just consumed one of Annie's patented fine chicken dinners. The baby dozed in its crib. The Independent Entity had been thoroughly exercised. Weldon really felt too drowsy and contented to move, but he made the extra effort for his boys, flicked on the remote, and channel-surfed, tracking football scores.

Noises from the kitchen indicated that Annie was slamming things around in soapy water. Then, silence, and then a sound Weldon could have cheerfully done without, the thud of Annie's feet as she lumbered down the hall. The bedroom door flew open, banged against the wall, and rebounded. Annie straight-armed it before it could smack her in the face and asked, point-blank, "So can I count on you for support money every month or not?"

"Huh?" asked Weldon, tucking her pillow more firmly behind his head and thumbing the remote when the next commercial came on. His boys were counting on him! The screen filled with men in bright spandex and terminal panty lines, all hunched over a small pointed ball.

"Are you going to help take care of the baby or not?" Annie shouted over the crowd's roar. The ball snapped. Mayhem ensued.

"Look at me, damn it!" She snatched the remote out of his hand--out of his very hand. The TV went dark.

"Hey!" he said. "The Giants were third and goal!" He glared at Annie. Annie glared right back.

"Weldon," she said gently. "If you do not get the hell off my bed and out of my house I swear I will not be responsible for what happens, and not a jury in the land would convict me."

Weldon thought of the Independent Entity's exercise program and asked, "What's the matter, honey?" He even injected a little sympathy into his voice. He could catch reruns on ESPN later. "What did you ask?"

"I asked if you were going to pay regular child support or not."

Weldon laughed merrily. "You know better. I'm barely scraping by as it is, what with the support and alimony The Bitch takes. I can't even pay my car registration and insurance. You know that. Hell, you won't even ride in my car." Comfortable as he was, looking injured was a struggle, but he managed it.

"So what are you saying?"

"I'll slip you a couple bucks when I can."

Annie's face flushed an unattractive blotchy purple. "Get out," she snapped, and stalked back to the kitchen. Dishes crashed again.

Women! Heaving a sigh, Weldon pushed himself off her bed, pulled on his sweatpants, and ambled out of the bedroom. She was asking a hell of a lot, insisting that he drive after what she'd done to the Independent Entity. She was just lucky he could even walk. But that was Weldon Frame: Resilient. Considerate. Long-suffering. Understanding. And Nobody's Fool. He knew exactly what all this was about. This was Payback.

He had only been honest, Weldon thought smugly. The woman gave great head, but when it came right down to it he didn't owe her anything. She had to know she was a porker these days; how could she expect him to love her? Must be hormones, Weldon thought wisely.

Women got crazy just before their periods, when they were pregnant, after they had a baby, when they hit their forties and fifties--hell, they were crazy most of the time. Everybody said so. He would lie low. It would blow over. Annie loved him, and the Independent Entity loved her. He stopped at the kitchen door on his way out. "I'll call you in a couple days--got to see my daughter tomorrow night," he said.

Annie looked up. Weldon knew she wanted him to kiss her goodbye, maybe give her a hug, but no way was he going to reward her after that little stunt with the remote. A man's remote was sacred. Besides, she had to learn that a man like him needed his freedom. Weldon prided himself on having an excellent poker face. Tonight it was working about as well as it usually did. Annie gave the platter a vicious scrape with the carving knife, sending gnawed chicken bones hurtling into the big black trash bag at her feet and setting Weldon's teeth on edge.

He closed the door gently behind him, silently congratulating himself on having been far-sighted enough to evade the shackles of a committed relationship. He would lie low until she'd gotten past the hormones and lost the weight and toned up again and they'd be all right--him, her, and the Independent Entity. And the baby, of course. What was its name? Annie would tell him again if he asked.

...

The next night, standing by the side of the road watching a wrecker tow his car off to the impound yard, he was glad he'd been so patient with Annie. The coppess had stopped him for not wearing a seat belt--a seat belt, for chrissakes, when she could have been out busting drug lords and axe murderers.

"Registration and proof of insurance, please," she droned.

"I been meaning to get this taken care of," Weldon said baring his teeth in his most charming smile and fumbling the crumpled registration out of the glove compartment. He handed it over, wondering if all female cops had bodies by Frigidaire or if it truly was the bulletproof vests like they claimed.

The coppess read slowly, lips moving--probably dyslexic, Weldon diagnosed, or maybe she never got past third grade. She compared the registration with his license. "This you?" she finally asked.

"Nah, it's the previous owner. See? He signed off." He fumbled some more and came up with the title. "I just haven't had a chance to get it switched over yet." He decided she really was porker, and probably just blamed it on the vest.

"Says here he signed off ... let's see ... three years ago," the coppess drawled. "You haven't had a free minute in three years? You're a busy man, Mr. Frame. Where's your proof of insurance?"

"That's another thing," Weldon said, baring his teeth again. "Support. Alimony. Diapers. You name it. The bitches're bleedin' me dry."

The coppess raised her eyebrows and walked back to her car. Blue and red light washed over her. Weldon slammed his palm on the steering wheel. Another guy would've understood about The Bitch, and Annie and the baby, and why money was too tight for luxuries like insurance and registration. Maybe he would've stood a chance. As it was, his ass was grass. Hell, the fat coppess was probably divorced and making some poor schmoe's life a living hell herself. What kind of a woman becomes a cop, anyway? He wondered. Must be a dyke. No way she'd ever get a real man, looking like that.

The coppess strode back to his car. "Step out of the car, please," she snapped. Weldon noticed with rising alarm that the drawl was gone, and one thick-fingered hand fondled the butt of her gun. His vast experience with what he had come to regard as the deadlier half of the species told him that charm was called for.

"What's up, sweetheart?" Weldon unfolded himself and stretched, hands pressed to the small of his back. He tried the smile again.

"I'm impounding this vehicle." Headlights swept over a distant mountain. An engine chugged.

Weldon didn't trust himself to speak. The bitch was taking the Topaz! The Topaz he had bought and paid for! Well, Annie had paid for it, but it was the principle of the thing, damn it! "Is there anything I can, ah, do, to take care of this tonight, officer?" he choked, working a fifty out of the secret compartment in his billfold. His extensive knowledge of the Los Angeles police force (gleaned mostly from The Rockford Files and The Mod Squad) had taught him that cops weren't immune to a little financial persuasion.

"What are you suggesting, sir?" she asked coldly.

Godammit, had to get the one honest cop in the Los Angeles basin, Weldon seethed. Or maybe fifty wasn't enough anymore. He silently snugged the fifty back into its secret compartment.
The wrecker roared past, screeched to a halt, and backed up, dinging and hooting. The driver swung out of her high seat and dropped to the chipped concrete and broken beer bottles of the freeway shoulder. Weldon ran an appreciative eye over buxom curves encased in skin-tight jeans and a tank top. The night air was chilly. Weldon's eyes dropped to the tank top, hoping it was chilly enough to offer the Independent Entity a little innocent diversion. Yes! It was cold enough! The Entity rejoiced. "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle," the tank top read. The Entity withered. "Shit," Weldon thought, not for the first time that evening. He regretted learning to read.

"What've we got?" the broad asked.

"Tow to the impound yard," the coppess said. "Invalid registration and no insurance. And attempting to bribe a police officer. Guy says he can't pay registration and insurance because a couple bitches are holding him up for child support, but he's got a fifty to wave in my face. Go figure." She grinned. The tow truck driver grinned back. Weldon turned away, face flaming. He pictured his fist smashing into their grinning faces, teeth shattering, blood spurting.

"Goodbye, Earl ... Goodbye, Earl ..." howled from the wrecker cab. A bumper sticker read, "Shoot here, please. Ex in trunk." A red and white bull's eye glared next to the slogan. A hole had been drilled neatly through its heart.

The wrecker broad attached chains and belts and flipped a lever. The Topaz rose on its hind wheels. The darkness was chill and absolute beyond the strobing lights. "Can I catch a ride?" Weldon asked. His charming smile had degenerated to little more than a facial tic.

"I have a few more questions, sir," the coppess said, grinning viciously, her eyes nearly disappearing into her pig face.

"But I'll miss--"

"Sorry, sir." Her eyes turned hard.

The wrecker broad swung up into the high cab and slammed the door behind her.

"Wait," Weldon shouted desperately.

"Sorry, sir, no can do," drifted back. Gears ground, then engaged. The driver sketched a little salute as she roared by. "Against regs. Company policy." The truck pulled away.

"Whatcha want?" Weldon snapped at the coppess.

"Less tone, for one thing," she snapped back. "I was going to do you a favor. The sovereign State of California isn't in the business of beggaring its citizens. I was going to ask for your ex-wife's name and social security number and run it through the system, just to see if anything jumped out at me. Now, though, I don't know." She frowned at him.

Though Weldon knew in his heart that cops didn't do things like that, and that she had just made up the question so he wouldn't be able catch a ride to a telephone, he couldn't resist answering. "My wife's not the problem; it's my girlfriend."

"You have a wife and a girlfriend, and you got both of them knocked up? Ever hear of rubbers?" the coppess asked, snapping her gum. The Independent Entity shuddered. The wrecker's taillights disappeared over the mountain.

"I'm allergic," said Weldon.

The coppess wasn't listening. "Well, I think that's all the info I need, sir. If you don't mind a little free advice I'd suggest investing in some contraception, and getting your registration switched and the insurance paid."

No shit, Sherlock, thought Weldon. "Can you give me a lift to the closest pay phone?" he asked politely, though it galled him to do it.

"Sorry, sir, against regs," the coppess grinned. Weldon hoped fiercely that she'd get bugs in her teeth.

"But you'll bend'em for me, won't you?" Weldon confidently slipped an arm around her waist and turned the full force of his baby blue eyes on her. No way the woman could resist them!

She leveled a beady glare at him. "Step away, please, sir. And no, I won't bend them."

Inconceivable! The baby blues had failed him! "But what'll I do?" Weldon asked blankly.

The coppess looked around at the absolute night. "I'd suggest you start walking, sir." She pulled her cruiser into gear.

"Wait," called Weldon. "You need my ex's social security number."

"You know, I don't think I'll be needing it after all. Your ex-wife deserves something for the grief you've undoubtedly caused her." She grinned, snapped her gum savagely, switched off the roof lights, and roared away in a storm of pinging gravel. Weldon threw his arms over his face. When the gravel stopped hitting him he dropped his arms and watched her taillights disappear over the mountain. Then he did as the coppess had advised: he started walking.

He stumbled over a sagebrush, righted himself, kicked savagely at it, missed, lost his balance, and fell onto a prickly pear cactus.

"Shit," he screamed. "Shit shit shitshitshitshitshit. Shit!" He scrambled to his feet, picked out the stickers he could find--which was by no means all of them--aimed another kick at the cactus, picked the spines out of his toes, kicked the cactus again for good measure, and stumbled on, weeping and cursing Fate--who is, after all, a woman.

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