Not So Handy Now
Gail and Rita had lived together ten years now. They'd become best friends in fourth grade, and had always kept close. When they were both widowed in their early sixties, it just seemed natural to become roommates.
Rita lived in the suburbs of Denver, and Gail in Mesa, Arizona. Both sold their family homes and bought upscale condos, where they were able to follow the weather and still entertain their multitude of grandkids. They enjoyed good health and financial security, and joked often about how they were ticking items off of their bucket lists. The past ten years had seen these two best friends travel around the globe, taking cruises, joining tour groups of like-minded seniors, and thoroughly enjoying life and each other's company.
With no current travel plans, Rita and Gail were staying in Gail's Mesa condo, enjoying the pleasant Arizona winter. Over morning tea, they were talking about their most recent trip, a month long visit to Egypt and the surrounding area. The trip had been strenuous, with a lot of walking and climbing, and the ladies were really starting to feel their age. Both were adventurous and loved excitement, but being adrenalin junkies at seventy was more of a challenge than at seventeen. Still, you couldn't tell by listening to their conversation...
"So", said Rita. "There are still a few spaces left on the next zero-gravity adventure."
"I can just imagine!", laughed Gail. "You get nauseous riding the bus. What's your tummy going to do free falling in an aluminum tube at 50,000 feet?"
"So I'll have to take my sea-sick pills. It would be worth it to see my boobs sitting upright for a few minutes!"
"Ha! You wouldn't see anything! They would be floating right in your face!"
The gals were laughing so hard there were tears in their eyes. On and on it went...
"How about rappelling classes?"
"Or deep sea diving?"
"You know," said Rita, finally able to draw a regular breath. "We could invite the grandkids out for a week or two and just take it easy."
"Yeah, right!" Gail poured another cup of tea. "I'd rather trek up the pyramids again than try to keep up with them!" She stirred in a little milk and sugar, and handed Rita the pot. They sat in silence for a minute, listening as a flock of geese flew overhead. The urban lakes and warm weather drew them in large numbers every year. Snowbirds, just like them.
The TV was on in the living room, on an old classics channel. The movie "Arsenic and Old Lace" was coming on, and both ladies chuckled. "Now that's something we've never done", quipped Gail. "I bet we could get away with it, if we picked the right person and planned it out".
"Murder! Oh, you can't be serious!" Rita reached over and stabbed the remote, shutting off the TV. "We may be old, but we're not crazy. What are you going to do, run over some poor slob on the way to bingo? The way you drive, I'm surprised that hasn't happened already!"
"No, of course not!" laughed Gail. "But I bet we could figure it out. If the opportunity presented itself, I don't know, would you go for it?"
"Well, if the opportunity presented itself, maybe. But I think I'll take this opportunity to go sit by the pool for a while. The only thing I want to kill right now is a few more chapters in my book."
With that, Rita and Gail ended the conversation, but the seed had been planted. If and when it would sprout was anyone's guess.
Later that week, at the mailbox, Rita and Gail were talking with Sarah, who lived a few doors down. She explained how she was a little anxious, as she had a handyman coming by later to replace the battery in her smoke alarm. Recently widowed and now living alone, she was apprehensive about having a strange man to the house. Even though he had done work for others in the complex, Sarah felt uncomfortable. Gail and Rita immediately offered to hang around Sarah's for the day, and provide company and support.
Kenny, the handyman, arrived a short time later. He certainly was not what the ladies expected. He was loud, and fat, and reeked of cigarette smoke. "What can I do for you lovely old ladies today?" he asked. "I'll do anything that's legal, but ask away, you never know!"
If looks could kill, Gail's laser stare would have fried him on the spot. But before either of them could fire back a lethal comment, Sarah cleared her throat, and stepped further back from the door. "Thanks for coming, Kenny." Sarah spoke, barely over a whisper. She looked up at the burly man standing on the stoop and back down to the floor. "Like I said over the phone, I just need the battery changed in the smoke alarm. It's right over there, above the hallway."
"Sure thing, Ma'am." He turned and said over his shoulder, "I'll be right back."
"Why, that man is a walking heart attack!" Kenny was ambling back to his truck to get a ladder. "And the nerve of him," Gail continued. "Calling us old ladies. Who does he think he is?"
"Well," whispered Sarah. "He did call us lovely."
Kenny came barging back into the house, banging the ladder against the door frame. "You gals stay back now, wouldn't want anyone busting an aneurysm or anything!" He laughed as he noisily set up the ladder under the smoke alarm, hitched his pants up, and worked his way slowly up the ladder. "Come to Papa," he said, as he grasped the alarm and clumsily removed the battery. He looked around then down at the ladies. "Y'all wouldn't mind handing me one of those there batteries now, would you?"
Rita piped up, "Sure, Kenny." She stood, grabbed the battery and walked over. She reached up, holding it just out of his reach. As Kenny extended his arm out, he stretched out his opposite leg to balance. Rita could see that one little shove would bring him down like a ton of bricks.
"Holy smokes, Grandma!" Kenny grasped the ladder and steadied himself. "You almost ended up with ol' Kenny right in your lap! That wouldn't have been pretty for either of us!"
As Kenny finished with the alarm, Gail and Rita's eyes met, and with an exchange of knowing glances, the seed had sprouted.
"Boy, that man can sure talk!" Kenny had left, and the ladies sat at the dining table, sipping glasses of wine. Gail continued,"I don't think I've ever met anyone so crass in my life. The way he went on. You'd think women were throwing themselves at him left and right!"
"Yeah, I would love to throw something at him, something sharp and pointy!" The trio were all laughing now. Rite could barely speak. "And did you see that butt crack? You could drive a car in there!" Tears streamed down her face as she took another drink. "A real ladies man!"
On they went, laughing and joking until they finished the bottle. Gail and Rita bid Sarah goodbye, but not before getting Kenny's number. "He may not be 'Man of the Year' material", joked Gail, "but at least he showed up on time, and he works cheap. There are a few things that need doing around our place."
"Sure, why not?" added Rita with a wink. "He may be just what we need."
When they got home, Gail and Rita sat down at the breakfast bar. "So he's the one, then. How do you propose we do it, Gail. Are you going to cook for him?"
"Ha, ha, very funny. No, Mrs. smarty pants. We'll have to make it look like an accident. You saw the way he was on that ladder. It shouldn't be too hard to set it up so he takes a big fall."
"But how are we going to get him up high enough?" Rita looked around the room. "We don't have a smoke alarm in the same place as Sarah."
"No, but look how high up that light is, and right in the middle of the room. It's way higher than the alarm, he would need an even taller ladder to reach it."
"That's fine, Gail, but the light bulb is working. How are we going to get him up there to change it if he can see that it's on? Should we just tell him it isn't bright enough or something?"
"Wait", said Gail. "I have an idea." She got up and walked into the guest room the grandkids used. She came back out brandishing a wicked looking handgun.
"Oh my God, Gail! Where the heck did that come from? And how is a gunshot going to look like an accident, you crazy old fool?"
"No, silly!" Gail brought the gun over and sat back down. "This is Jimmy's air-soft gun. He left it here the last time he was over. Don't you remember? It shoots those plastic BB things. Now how do you suppose you work this thing?" Gail was fumbling with the gun, pulling and prodding, trying to figure out how to work it.
"Careful with that!" Rita ducked down out of the line of fire. "You don't have any idea what the heck you are doing, do you? Have you ever even held a gun before?"
"It's just a toy." Gail pulled back on the slide and there was a satisfying click. "There, that did something."
"Pop!" The gun went off, sending a bright yellow BB shooting into the tea set, cracking a cup, and ricocheting off onto the wall and flying somewhere into the room.
Both ladies yelled and Gail dropped the gun onto the floor. "For crying out loud, Gail! You could have killed me! I thought you said it was just a toy! Look what it did to the cup!"
"Relax, I know what I'm doing." Gail picked the gun up and studied it some more. "I see how it works now."
"Great. So I still don't know what you plan on doing with it. Are you going to try to scare him to death?"
Gail got up and walked across the room. "No, just watch this." She cocked the gun again, took aim at the light and fired. There was a pop and sparks flew and glass rained down all over the floor. "Just call me Annie Freaking Oakley! Did you see that? One shot!"
"Yeah, one shot, and now we have glass and who knows what all over the darn place. I hope you know I'm not cleaning that up!"
"Oh, come on! We're in this together. Don't be a spoiled sport. Go get the vacuum while I put this away. Tomorrow we'll call Kenny. We have to plan this out. I think I know just how this is going to work."
The ladies were up early, neither of them having slept well. The reality of what they were planning was sinking in, and they were having serious reservations. Kenny was coming in another hour or so, and Gail was busy making cinnamon bites, miniature cinnamon rolls.
"Gail, we need to focus if we're really going to do this." Rita had already made the beds and vacuumed the floor twice. Both ladies were on edge and distracted. "You said you had an idea how to do it. Are you going to tell me, or not?"
"Ok, here is what I think we should do." Gail put the bites in the oven."I'll distract him while he is fixing the light, and when I give the signal, you turn on the switch. The shock will knock him silly, and down he'll come. Over and out!"
"Wait! You want me to turn on the switch? This was all your idea."
"Yes, and for it to work, we have to do it together." Gail walked around under the light. "If he falls down anywhere around here it should do the trick. If he hits the table on the way down, even better. I never really liked this table much anyway."
The two gals looked at each other and burst out laughing. "You're right, of course. We're in this together." Rita put away the vacuum cleaner. "If you're sure, I'm sure. You better check on your bites before they burn. I can't believe you can bake at a time like this."
"Well, we don't want Kenny to suspect anything. When he smells these babies, he won't be able to think about anything else." Gail was taking the bites out of the oven when the doorbell rang. Both ladies froze and just looked at each other.
"Hey, are you alive in there?" Kenny banged on the door a few times and rang the bell again. "Anybody home?"
Rita opened the door. "Oh, hi Kenny. You're right on time. Sorry to keep you waiting, we're both a little busy this morning. Here, come in and let me show you the light I told you about. It's over here." Kenny followed her over to the living room.
"Good morning, Kenny." said Gail. "I just pulled these out of the oven." She carried the pan of bites over to the counter and set them down. "They should be cool enough to eat by the time you are done."
Kenny stood still, looking between Rita and Gail. "This is the light." said Rita. "Do you have a tall enough ladder to get to it?"
"Uh, ladder? Uh, oh, sure, sure." Kenny struggled to look away from the pan of bites. "Ladder, yeah. Let me go out and get it. He looked back at Rita and then up at the light. "Oh, that's way the heck up there. What happened to the bulb?"
"We have no idea. Rita turned it on yesterday and it just exploded. It gave us both quite a fright. You don't think it's going to cause a fire or anything, do you?"
"Nah, but I'll check it out to make sure. I'll be right back." Kenny turned towards the door and slowly walked out, staring at the cinnamon bites the whole way.
"I swear he was drooling!" laughed Gail. "Are you ready? I'm sure he doesn't suspect a thing. You stand over by the light switch. Here he comes."
Gail held open the door as Kenny came back in with a large ladder. He bounced and banged his way though to the living room, leaving gouges on the door frame and the wall. "Sorry about that," he said. "This thing is a real pain to move around." He set the ladder under the light, making certain it was in the right place and steady. He had put on a tool belt, and he hitched it up and looked over its contents. "Yep, ready to go." He cautiously made his way up until he could reach the light. "Well, the bulb is broken off in there, all right. Hey, this is off, right?"
"Oh, yes. The switch turns on all these lights up there." Gail was standing in front of Kenny now. "How in the world are you going to get that out of there?"
"Well, if it wasn't screwed in too tightly, it should come right out." He gingerly touched the edges of the broken bulb, and the exposed filament. "Yep, no power. Wouldn't want to shock myself silly, now."
Rita had moved over to the switch. Gail stepped back a few feet from the ladder and made eye contact with her. Kenny had his hand in the bulb and was giving it a twist.
"I think it's coming" he said.
Then three things happened almost at once. Gail nodded to Rita, who turned on the switch. Kenny howled like a scalded dog, and sparks flew from the light fixture. Gail and Rita both screamed.
"Jeez Loise! What the heck are you doing!" Kenny was wildly shaking his hand and looking down at the two ladies. "Are you freaking crazy? You could have killed me!" The rest of the broken bulb fell to the floor and they all jumped. "Well, at least it came out."
"Oh, Kenny! I'm so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking." Rita was practically in tears. "I walked in and just hit the switch, like a reflex. I'm so glad you're ok!"
"Yes," said Gail. "What a fright that was! I can't believe you're ok. I mean, uh, it's a miracle that you weren't hurt!"
"Yeah, well I've got plenty of insulation, I guess." Kenny chuckled. "Hey, I bet my hair was standing up just like in the movies. Am I smoking?"
Now they were all laughing, and Rita and Gail were both relieved. How could they think they could hurt anyone. And Kenny wasn't that bad, just a big, dopey guy. He put the new bulb in and told Rita, "Ok, now you can turn the switch back on."
The light came on, and Kenny made his way back down the ladder. "Now, how about a few of those bites. Almost getting electrocuted really works up an appetite!"
Gail and Rita practically fell over each other, Rita taking him by the hand and leading him to the table, and Gail bringing over the whole pan of cinnamon bites.
"Help yourself. Take as many as you like." Gail set the pan down in front of him. "How about some milk to drink with those?"
"That would be great. Man, these smell so good." Kenny picked one up and popped it in his mouth, and with a blissful smile he started to chew. All of a sudden, he made a face, and violently coughed out a huge cloud of cinnamon. He tried to draw a breath, but the cinnamon was up his nose and in his throat, and the rest of the bite had blocked his airway. The two ladies could only look on in horror as his face turned bright red, and he stood, grabbed his throat and struggled for air. His eyes opened wide, and he looked wildly from Gail to Rita. He sunk to his knees, tears streaming down his face, as his eyes rolled back in his head. He toppled over onto the floor, knocking over the chair and sending the table flying, cutting a huge gash in his forehead. He continued to make gasping noises and weakly struggle for another minute, as blood poured from his forehead onto the floor. Gail and Rita recoiled, not knowing what to do. Finally, Kenny stopped moving.
The ladies slowly walked over to the couch and sat down. They were shaking, and Rita was crying. They continued to watch as the blood slowly spread out in a widening halo around Kenny's now still head. They just sat in silence. The patio door was slightly open, and they both listened as another flock of noisy geese flew over. Rita looked over at Gail, who had a slight smile on her face. Then she, too, felt the corners of her mouth begin to rise a little, and Gail began to giggle.
"What the heck happened?" Rita was giggling now, too. "One minute he's fine and the next thing you know he's, he's... What did you put in those bites, anyway?"
"It was my regular recipe. I was so distracted this morning, I must have put in too much cinnamon! I've never seen anything like that, ever!" Now they were both giggling, trying to compose themselves. "We had better call 911. And pull yourself together, Rita. We have to look distraught when the police arrive.
"I'm trying, Gail. I just can't believe you actually killed him with your cooking!" And they burst out laughing, as poor Kenny bled out his last few drops on the kitchen floor.
When the police arrived, they looked on as Gail and Rita, visibly shaken and upset, tried to describe what had happened. It really was just a terrible accident. The two veteran cops looked around the house, at the ladder and the broken pieces of light bulb, and back down at Kenny, lying on the floor surrounded by his own blood, still wearing his tool belt, his face a frightening shade of red.
"Well," said one of the cops, quietly. "You're not so handy now, are you?"