In With A Bang!
EXCERPT from In With A Bang!
“Facebook? Somebody wrote about me and Buddy on a social media site? That’s disgusting. The poor man’s only been dead forty-eight hours.”
Judy Banger sat on the floor of her bedroom, back to the wall, legs splayed in front of her as she stared at the bed where Buddy Fusco drew his final breath.
“Frankly, I’m surprised there wasn’t a photo,” Pru replied after that awkward long, long distance pause. Prudence O’Riley–Judy’s best friend–was cruising the Mediterranean with her current sugar daddy–or as Pru preferred, “My low-cal sweetener sweetie.” “Everybody and his brother carries a cell phone with a mega-pixel camera. Yesterday, I saw a tourist take a picture of dog poo in the parking lot near the Acropolis. Fresh stuff, not classic Greek petrified poo.”
Judy owned a wannabe iPhone. She’d snapped a few shots but had yet to attempt downloading, sharing or any other technological challenges. As she told the Heritage House residents who attended her “Basic Computers for Basic Dummies” class, “I’ve yet to meet a computer that doesn’t make me feel stupid. Which, of course, is my mother’s job.”
“You can stay in my apartment until the bad juju passes,” Pru offered. “I won’t be home until Friday.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got Nester, the cook’s helper at Heritage House, coming to haul away my bed. Knowing him, he’ll probably turn around and sell it at a flea market.”
“Eiouw,” Pru shrieked. “Sleeping in a dead man’s bed. Yuck. Did his organs let go once he stopped breathing? Pee and you-know-what does not come out of bedding no matter how much bleach you use.”
Judy’s already touchy stomach sent a shot of bile upward. She refused to ask how Pru came by this knowledge.
“If you’re buying a new bed, be sure to get a king. More room for sexual gymnastics.”
Right. Like that’s ever going to be an issue. Once word got around, Judy figured her chances of getting laid would be on par with winning the lotto–unless you counted men over eighty with a death wish. Mature, healthy, “normal” men would run from Judy with the same degree of ardor they were drawn to Pru, red-haired will-‘o-the-wisp, who embodied–and made up–the slogan: “Fifty is the new thirty-five.”
“I’m picturing a futon,” Judy said, trying not to sound bitter. She’d loved the soft-yet-firm pillow-top she bought to replace the saggy, stained mattress she’d gotten as part of her divorce settlement. And for most of yesterday, she’d tried to convince herself Buddy’s death couldn’t have permanently tainted the mattress. But every time she approached the bed her heart would begin to palpitate and her hands would shake. If she closed her eyes, she’d see Buddy’s cold, naked body sprawled in all its lifeless glory.
Nester had agreed to take the sheets and bedspread, too.
She worked her fingers into the nap of the ugly brown carpet she detested. “I’m also taking out the carpet to put in wood flooring. I might turn this room into a yoga studio or home gym.”
“OMG! That’s so Judy,” Pru cried with a laugh. “I can’t wait to see it. Gotta run. Ciao.”
Ciao? Isn’t that Italian?
Judy rolled to one hip to pull her feet under her then stuck her phone in the hip pocket of her denim capris and stood. What was “so Judy” she wondered? Remodeling her house while on leave from work pending a “disciplinary review”? Or rethinking her entire life after a good friend’s death?
Purging the bed and carpet and changing the wall color seemed a cheap and reasonable alternative to slipping away in the night and joining the circus.
Her mind made up she walked to the kitchen to call Buddy’s contractor friend who re-built her deck a few months back. What was his name? Jed Something. She remembered how embarrassed she’d been when she looked at his business card and inanely joked, “So, your parents named you after your great-uncle on the Clampett side of the family, huh?” He’d faked a polite smile and nodded agreeably. She gave him props for his people skills, but he’d obviously missed her reference to The Beverly Hillbillies.
“How old do you have to be to know Jed, Jethro, Elly Mae and Granny?” she muttered, scrounging through her junk drawer for a business card with gold lettering. One of the few benefits of being a packrat is she never threw out anything.
“Ah,” she exclaimed a few seconds later. “Jed Blassingame. Let’s see if you’re up for an estimate.”
She punched in the numbers and waited.
“This is Jed. I must be working. Leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks.”
Nice voice. Husky and quite a bit sexier than she remembered. “Jed. This is Judy Banger over at the Mountainview Mobile Home Park.” I must not be working since I’m calling you in the middle of the day. “You did a deck for me…well, um, for my friend, Buddy Fusco.” Her throat tightened as it always did when Buddy’s name came up. “Give me a call when you have a chance,” she added with a Betty Boop squeak.
Too late, she debated the wisdom of calling someone who knew Buddy. Either he’d heard about Buddy and blamed Judy, or he hadn’t heard and she’d have to be the one to break the news.
So far, Judy hadn’t been impressed with people’s outpouring of sympathy and condolences. True, Buddy wasn’t her husband of x-number of years. But instead of “We’re so sorry for your loss,” she got: “What killed him? Heart attack? Stroke?”
“It’s usually one or the other when someone goes sudden like that,” the driver of the Medi-van said when he bumped into Judy at Heritage House the day before. She’d been called into work to answer her employers’ equally pointed questions.
“Why was Buddy Fusco at your home, Judy?” Ron Carlson asked.
Ron and Bev, the live-in managers of Heritage House, weren’t newcomers to the geriatric care business. They’d “downsized” from a facility in Reno after Ron’s gambling got out of hand.
“More tea?” Bev offered.
Judy had taken comfort in the fact they’d invited her to their apartment, which sat adjacent to Heritage House, instead of squaring off in their office. “Buddy and I started seeing each other outside of work a few months ago. Dinner. A movie or two. No big deal. I honestly didn’t plan to take things to the next level, but I liked Buddy and well…he asked.”
And, as her fundamentalist family claimed, Judy didn’t know the meaning of the word “no.”
“Fraternizing with residents is frowned on,” Ron said.
So is hoarding individual packets of butter and walking down the hall in your birthday suit, but both happened at this facility on a regular basis, Judy barely refrained from saying. “Buddy understood this would be one-time only.” Literally. “If he were alive right now, we’d both be back to our normal routines.” I wish with all my heart. “No harm, no foul.”
“Unfortunately, Buddy died in your presence, Judy, and as an employee of Heritage House–even off-duty and off-site–the rules of resident-employee interaction still apply,” Ron told her.
His wife added, “Since we’re so close to the situation, we’ve asked Home Office H.R. to make a decision. You’ll be on administrative leave until we get a ruling.”
Neither would speculate how long the decision-making process would take.
So Judy had returned home to fume, fret, pace, cry–and sleep on her sofa. Bad juju aside, she viewed the symbolic cleansing of space as a positive distraction. Anything to keep from dwelling on the fact the circumstances surrounding Buddy’s death had impacted her life more than the actual loss of his life.
Did that make her a ghoul…or worse?
She clamped her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. Where to start? Take down the mini-blinds? Or prep for paint?
A loud growling sound made her spin in a circle looking for her cat–until she remembered Homer Simpson–her rescue kitty of indiscriminate parentage–was outside.
She sucked in her gut. Had she forgotten to eat breakfast? That was a first. She looked around the kitchen with no real urge to eat. Nothing sounded good. Especially not the can of tuna she’d set on the counter.
Kelly, her fitness trainer, constantly nagged Judy to eat more protein.
“I swallow a raw egg white every morning before I leave for the gym,” Kelly claimed. “You should try it.”
“Well, foo. Why didn’t you say so? I’d lose weight in a snap if I tried that,” Judy had replied. “Because I’d throw up thirty seconds later.”
“Naw. It’s tasteless and slippery. One gulp and it’s gone.”
Just what the men who “accidentally” came in her mouth said, too–back in the day when she and Shawn were swinging. Whenever she’d complain to her ex about the “pre-shooters,” as she labeled them, he’d shrug off her criticism. She vividly recalled their final argument on the matter.
“Guys are different, Judy. We only have so much control. You should take it as a compliment. You turned him on so much he couldn’t hold back. Get down on your knees. I’ll show you.”
“Like hell I will. My mouth is a no cum zone.”
“Jeez, Judy, you act like I’m asking you to swallow hemlock.”
She’d crossed her arms and stared him down. “Cum…hemlock…same difference.”
Not surprising, he didn’t put up a fuss when she asked for a divorce a few months later.
Judy opened the fridge.
Mayonnaise is mostly eggs, isn’t it? She opened the can of tuna and dumped it into a clean, repurposed margarine tub. The smell made her stomach flip-flop worse than a politician in an election year, but she persevered, adding a heaping tablespoon of glistening white mayo atop the smelly fish. Holding the bowl at arm’s length, she quickly stirred the mixture before reaching for the white bread. Some habits were impossible to shed–just like those last forty or so pounds she doubted she’d ever lose.
“Some people are born thin, some aren’t,” her mother said one day when Judy complained about not being able to fasten the waistband of her skirt. She’d undergone a growth spurt, but Mom chose to see a normal, healthy development as an assault on her finances. “You’ve got your grandmother Banger’s hips. Means I’ll be buying you husky-sizes before long and they cost more. But, at least, you don’t take after your father’s uncle Porter. He was queer as a pink Fig Newton.”
Judy draped a limp shroud of iceberg lettuce over the tuna and added the top slice of bread. “Whoever heard of a pink Fig Newton?” she muttered, cutting the sandwich in half with a tad more gusto than necessary. “What a ridiculous thing to say.”
Luckily, pants size wasn’t the only thing Judy and her mother didn’t have in common.
She grabbed an apple from the fridge–a token nod to Kelly–and carried her lunch to the counter where she usually ate breakfast every workday. Once settled on her comfy stool, she tapped the small white plastic remote even knowing her ancient TV–possibly the last black and white set on the planet–would barely be warmed up by the time she finished eating. Her pre-work routine included watching the news so she could talk current events with the Heritage House patrons. She especially enjoyed pushing the buttons of the hardcore Fox News enthusiasts. Arguing politics got the blood pumping and kept the mind nimble, she’d been told by her predecessor. What advice will I give the person who takes over after I’m fired?
Her appetite fled and she pushed her half-eaten sandwich to one side.
This is a first, she thought. Usually, any sort of emotional anxiety turned her into an eating machine. Her divorce accounted for at least thirty extra pounds. But for the past two days, food had been the furthest thing from her mind.
She polished the pretty red apple across the top of her thigh before taking a bite. Chewing, she propped her chin on the heel of her hand and stared blankly at the tiny screen. The volume was too low to make out any words, but she’d seen the commercial before. A half-naked man with abs you could crack an egg on. She chewed a little faster to accommodate the juices flowing from her saliva glands.
She had no idea what product he hawked, but if it involved guilt-free sex, she’d max out her credit card without regret. She could see herself licking the pointy tip of his man nipple. Her panties got damp just thinking about it. Not an unusual malady of late. Apparently making love with Buddy had flipped on her sexuality switch–the one she’d forgotten existed. Now, everything turned her on. She’d even downloaded the first book in the wildly popular X-rated romance series the Herry ladies were always nattering about. Most claimed to be scandalized, but every one of them, Judy noticed, continued reading the second and third installments. The most honest among them admitted to being titillated. The word alone made Judy horny.
Where’d I leave my Kindle? She plopped her half-eaten apple atop her half-eaten sandwich and turned off the TV.
She sifted through a pile of unopened bills on the counter. Nothing.
Maybe I left it by the couch. She hopped off the stool and headed in that direction, but before she reached the living room, her doorbell made its repugnant belching sound. “Must…buy…a…new…one,” she muttered, pivoting on one heel.
“Jed,” she exclaimed a moment later. “That was fast.”
A rougher, less-polished workingman’s Matt Damen turned from checking out her deck to say, “Hi, Ms. Banger. Howya’ doin’?”
He stuck out his hand and waited while she fumbled with the screen. “Um…good,” she answered witlessly, her focus immediately transfixed by the strength and rough calloused authenticity of his grip.
“Cool. Good to see you again.” He motioned toward the street. “I just finished my punch list at a job three rows over when I got your message. You know, that’s like the third or fourth bid I snagged in this trailer park after doing your deck,” he said, obviously pleased to share the credit for his success. “Nothin’ big, but, hey, who turns down work in this economy, right?”
His friendly, gregarious demeanor threw her. Buddy had handled every detail of the deck, from planning to payment. Most of the time, she’d left for work before Jed arrived onsite. Could that explain how she’d missed the fact her contractor was a genuine hunk? “I thought I saw your truck around last week.”
His smile favored one side of his lean, permanently tanned face. The blue of his eyes nearly matched the color of his faded denim work shirt. At the frayed neckline of his plain white t-shirt a sprinkle of wiry male chest hair caught her attention.
Had she overlooked his attractiveness on purpose because she had a dozen years on him? Funny, but after screwing a guy twenty-plus years her senior, age seemed…relative. Unless Jed had a wife and a passel of kids at home.
“So, what’s up? Any problems with your deck?” He hefted his leather tool belt from his left shoulder to his right like a mountain climber prepping for an ascent. It looked heavy but he didn’t seem to give it any thought. “I brought my tools in case you had a board loose or something.”
He stepped to the left and tapped a spot where the decking met her trailer’s siding.
Judy looked down. In cat lives, his laced-up steel-toe boots were on life number eleven. But his equally well-broken-in Wranglers looked form fitting not worn out. And what a fine form they covered–thick, muscular thighs, trim butt, the slight beginning of a beer belly nestled above a plain leather belt.
Or was his wife a good cook?
“The deck is great,” she told him. “No problems at all. I might have a screw loose, but that definitely is not your fault.”
His thick sandy brows moved up and in. When he cocked his head, a thatch of bangs dropped across his forehead in a way that made her mouth go dry. She’d been a sucker for good hair since the sixth grade. Richie Mason. Her first crush. He’d cost her half her babysitting money–spent on a fancy, much too mushy Valentine’s Day card–and a week in detention after an unfortunate collaging accident involving a pair of scissors and a lock of his hair.
She shook her head to refocus on the present. “I want to put new flooring in my bedroom. Do you do that?”
“Sure. All the time.” He reached into his pouches and pulled out a thick, black and green tape. He tossed it from hand to hand like a novice juggler. “Let’s get you measured up and I’ll run some numbers.”
Proactive. Straight to the crux of the matter. No dithering. Just what she needed in her life–a good example.
She held the door for him. Had he gotten taller since he worked here? Probably she hadn’t been aware of his size because he’d worked outside the whole time, but, lordy, the man really filled out a doorway.
She closed the screen and took a deep breath. Fresh air, wood and the faint hint of mint. Her nostrils crinkled, picking up the lingering, less pleasant aroma of tuna.
“Are you hungry?” she asked, scurrying across the room to dump the remains of her lunch in the garbage under the sink. “There’s still some tuna left.”
As she straightened she noticed him checking out her derriere. Really? My butt? The one she was working her…well..um…ass off trying to shrink to a more socially acceptable size?
“No, thanks. I’m good.” He looked around, nodding in a pleasant way. “Nice place. ‘Guess I didn’t come inside last time I was here.”
“It’s home. For now,” she added under her breath. “Follow me. My bedroom is this way.” Said the black widow spider to the delicious-looking young fly.