Not A Germaphobic
There was a man perched on Terence’s front steps. He was but a silhouette beneath the shade of Terence’s overhanging roof. Illuminated by the stream of light coming from the car’s headlights, Ash squinted and waved. Terence huffed and slammed the car door on his way out. He just wanted to be alone. He needed to think. He needed to process everything that occurred.
“Get lost, Wilson!” Terence barked.
“I need to talk to you,” Ash said. Terence pushed passed him.
“Why didn’t you just call me?”
“Because you only answer your phone when you’re on call.”
The chill of the evening was red in Ash’s cheeks. He’d clearly been waiting for some time. Terence sighed until his lungs were empty.
“Have you come to discuss your pathetic relationship with your abusive girlfriend?”
“Then come in.”
The two of them sat in Terence’s kitchen, where everything was jarred and the refrigerator made the most alarming noises. Due to Terence’s height, the only choice for a seat was a chair stool. Ash was of average height and was forced to climb the chair simply to seat himself.
“Coffee?” Terence took a mug out of a cupboard.
“No thanks. The caffeine will keep me up all night,” Ash said, smiling.
“Good, because we’re not drinking coffee.” The sound of ceramic clinking on ceramic could be heard as Terence displaced several mugs to reveal a dusty flask filled with an amber coloured drink.
“Is that whiskey?” Ash asked, his voice was high with surprise.
“I have no idea,” Terence responded. “When I moved in here years ago, an old man down the road gave me this as a gift. I told him I didn’t drink, but he insisted I take it.”
“And you’re just deciding to drink this now?” Terence nodded. He took up a dishtowel and began polishing the layers of dust from the glass.
Anubis leapt onto the counter just then. The sudden apparition of her alien like appearance startled Ash so much so that he almost fell from his stool. His jumpiness made Terence laugh―a sound similar to that of an old church bell.
“Stop flirting, Anubis!” Terence called. The cat blinked. Her eyes were like two massive golden coins. Before Ash knew it, the cat was replaced with a mug of liquor.
“You go first,” Terence said, his naked cat cradled in his arms. “I want to know if it’s poisoned.”
“Terence, I didn’t come here to drink―”
“Damn it, Wilson! If you won’t drink what I offer you then you can get the hell out of my house!” His voice boomed so loudly it caused the wooden shelves to quake. The glass jars tinkled, threatening to tumble from the shelves and burst into a million sparkling shards. Ash obediently took a swig. The scent of the liquor reached his nose before the taste hit his tongue. It smelled of sawdust―or was it cereal? It was thick and hot in his mouth and burned like a creamy sort of fire in the base of his throat.
“Yup,” Ash croaked, smacking his lips, “that’s whiskey alright.”
“Pass the mug over to me,” Terence demanded. His bushy-haired employee’s flabbergasted expression was priceless as Terence downed the rest of the malt. The thick solution prickled as it went down his throat, causing Terence to choke. His eyes and nose watered.
“It’s like drinking formaldehyde,” he sniffed. “I like it.” Ash looked at Terence as though he was meeting him for the first time.
“You just drank from the same cup as me,” he gaped. “My lips were on that cup. My saliva was on that cup!”
“I guess we just made out indirectly,” Terence rasped, filling the cup once more.
“Terence, I thought you were a germaphobic.”
“Why are you here, Wilson?” Terence blared. Ash was starting to get on his nerves.
“The mayor of Belleville’s wife is missing. No one has seen her since Spine Less’ funeral. He thinks you’re responsible. He was asking me if you abuse women, and if you were jealous enough of Spine Less’ work to vandalize it.”
“What?!” Terence spluttered on his draught of whiskey. It was just as Murry had said. The police suspected him of committing crimes he didn’t do. Unless he voluntarily showed up at some mysterious location to somehow donate his ‘gift,’ Terence could be arrested.
“Shit,” he swore. He pinched his
eyes together and took a seat next to Ash. The whiskey was making his head feel
funny. “Go bring me my coat,” he said to Ash. His eyelids were heavy. With the
light of the dying sun shining behind him, he looked old.
Without asking any questions, Ash retrieved the coat. Terence reached into the pocket and unfurled a crumpled business card. On its back was a boldly written address, along with a date. It was written all in capital letters. A paramount piece of information. Terence could feel the question welling inside his coworker. It made the air feel heavy.
Ash finally burst, “What’s going on?!” he demanded. Terence barely knew where to begin his explanation.
“I’m not a germaphobic,” he said. He finished another cup of whiskey. Daggers in his mouth. He knew if he drank anymore, he’d either pass out or vomit. Ash waited on Terence intently. His face demanded that he continue his confession.
“The man who gave me this flask died only months after I moved in. Lung cancer. He hadn’t smoked a day in his life. I still remember the wail of the ambulance. He rode in that vehicle thinking how unfair it was that he was dying, suffocating as his lungs turned to cheese cloth in his chest. He hadn’t even known he was dying, until it was too late. I remember the smell of the hospital sheets, sweet with perspiration. I remember how ragged and panicked his last breath was. His eyes pooled because his death would be sudden and most upsetting to those he loved. The life left his body like a bird fleeing loud noise―quick and jolting. He was dead. April seventh, two thousand five.”
He looked up from the daunting script on the card. His aquiline face was a kaleidoscope of shadow. “I was out of town when he died,” Terence said. “Yet I witnessed every detail of his agony. All because he welcomed me to his neighborhood with a handshake and a flask of his best liquor.”
Ash said nothing. He merely reached over and took the glass of whiskey, along with the mug, from Terence’s guard. He took a shot and then glared at Terence incredulously.
“You can predict when someone is going to die simply by shaking their hand?”
“I think you’ve had too much whiskey.”
“I’m not making this up.” He stood. His height was so grotesque. He was like a gargoyle with his shoulders pressed forward and his stomach caved in. He looked so fragile as he delicately made his way to the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of water.
“I can prove it to you,” he said, his voice softened from the water. “Mr. Bartholomew’s body is currently residing in the prep room of Amigone Funeral Home, yes?”
“Yeah, so?” Ash shrugged.
“Have you seen the condition of his body?”
“So have I. I saw when I shook his hand.” Terence leaned so close to Ash he could smell his cologne. “He died of heart failure. You found him sprawled on the floor of his bathroom, blood caked in the tiles of the floor. He hit his head on the toilet as he fell. There’s a large gash on his forehead. He died Novemeber the second, yesterday. Am I right?” Ash blinked in astonishment.
“Yeah,” he breathed.