Almost every one of us has at least one person who pushes our buttons… those little tiny things that cause us to have a knee-jerk reaction. That person can be a chance encounter…waitperson, clerk, even a customer if you’re on the service side of the counter…someone you work with, an elected official you don’t even really know; the list goes on and on. And then there’s family. Siblings can be good at this, so can cousins, uncles, even parents. All it takes is having the knowledge of just what makes you momentarily crazy so that your common sense flies out the window and you can’t think of a sensible retort or reaction. If there’s a cure, please share it. Or market it. The world might be a more peaceful place.(It is actually my own belief that more wars have been started because one country ‘pushed’ another country’s ‘button’ than for almost any other reason. Think about it)
So, where is this all leading? Back to Mae who when last we saw her was viewing a corpse in an alleyway. Left to her own devices Mae would more than likely be a practicing nurse in her home county in Scotland. Her brother Drummond would have been a barrister with a wife and kids, maybe even a country house. But the drink pushed Drummond’s buttons so hard that he disappeared. Mae wouldn’t lose him…so she searched until she found him. That doesn’t mean she can stop worrying. Drummond pushes her buttons every time he packs up and moves on.
MAE IN THE MEDDLE 2
“Sir?” I’d learned a while back to start conversations with cops and other official personages politely and sweetly. “May I have a word?”
“We’re busy,” the cop growled as he took in my disheveled appearance. “No time for idle…”
“I know him,” I said, broadening me accent but still polite “Alf worked day jobs for Fr’er Andy. And he took his rests at St. Jude’s shelter. No way he would…”
“I told you, woman, we’re busy.” I caught sight of his nameplate. B. Parsons.
“Officer Parsons, sir, ye might want to…”
“What I want is to get done with this matter. No foul play suspected. Nothing to gape at either, so you can be on your way.” He turned to the waiting attendants. “He’s all yours.” They nodded, zipped poor Alf’s body into one of those plastic bags and hoisted him onto the gurney. The cop didn’t wait five heartbeats before he loped back to his car and took off.
“That’s all there is to see, um, ma’am,” said the attendant closest to me. “Unless you’re a relative, he’s riding to the morgue alone.”
“He didn’t have anyone.” As they started to wheel Alf across the uneven weed-clogged ground of the lot, I asked a last question. “Did he have his brogues on?”
“Brogues? What in the hell are brogues?” The two men looked at me like I was daft.
“Brogues,” I repeated. “Shoes. Boots. Leather. Did he have his shoes on?”
“Shit, lady, you coulda said that. No. No shoes. Crappy ol’ socks but no shoes.” He signaled his partner to move before I got any more questions out. I tagged slowly behind them, picking my way through the tall grasses and crushed paper containers. I reached the cracked pavement just as they loaded Alf into the back of the ambulance and shut the doors. Around me, those few people who had stayed to watch shuffled away, their curiosity stifled by the sight of a sealed body bag. No one asked obvious questions in the neighborhood. It was safer that way. News traveled by word of mouth over the late meal at the mission kitchen. Life carried on without Alf as it had with the three other men who had been found dead over the past few weeks. No one thought it strange except me. Drum and some of the others I’d talked to after the other deaths figured it was theft. Good boots are hard to come by. Even the shopkeepers wanted things forgotten. Four men dead now, and all I knew was all of them had been found outside near a dumpster, and none of them had been wearing shoes.
* * *
It was goin’ on six, the sun already a sliver in the Massachusetts sky as it sank beneath the west bank of the Taunton. Dinnertime in Townsend-Nestor. Father Andy’s soup kitchen was overflowing with both diners and the fragrant stew his volunteers managed to have on hand almost every night. No variety, but when you’re hungry hot is hot and food is food. I cherished me own bowl, scrapin’ the sides to get the last of the gravy, pausing only when my vagabond brother eased himself onto the bench beside me.
“ ‘Evening, Mae.” Drum’s voice was so soft it was almost lost in the rumble of sound produced by those enjoyin’ their stew. “You hear about ol’ Alf?” He set his plastic spoon on the wooden planks of the table and sighed. “Makes four.”
I met his earnest, bloodshot gaze. Drum had fallen off the wagon again a week earlier and his pallor still told the tale.
“And it mighta been you,” I groused at him before I laid me bowl down and gave him a sisterly hug. “We both know Alf was a boozer. Not that it makes it right for him t’die that way. The coppers are still callin’ it accidental. I’m beginnin’ to be of a different mind. It’s the brogues.”
“Him too?” I saw Drum glance at his battered and stained lace-ups, bought secondhand from the thrift store. “Why would someone want his shoes? Guess I’m safe, then. Til I get some coin for the work I been doin’ for the Father, these’ll keep me. Even with the paper in the soles. Are ye thinkin’ murder then, Mae?” His whisky voice dropped to a whisper and I had to lean in to hear.
“Aye. But for what reason I dinna know. I’ll find out though, brother.” I eased myself up away from the table and scooped up bowl, spoon and plastic cup. Drum stared at me. “Because,” I said, “it’s in my nature and you know it.” I left him, took my cargo to the plastic dish trays set up by the volunteers, and stopped to chat once or twice before I went back out into the streets of the Townsend-Nestor neighborhood.
* * *
Next mornin’, after my tea and a biscuit from the box I kept next to the tins of soup and fruit, I headed over towards McGinty’s. Coppers again, and some olive-skinned man in a fine woven grey wool suit and loose tie talkin’ with them. A detective I wagered, and someone I could learn from if I played me cards right. I shifted my stance to that of an over-clothed aging bag woman and waddled over, my three skirts, sweater and pea coat swaying with each step.
“Ma’am. Ma’am! You need to walk around.” Grey Suit jogged over. I caught a hint of exasperation in his unexpectedly green eyes, whether at my presence or the fact he’d had to negotiate several muddy patches I wasn’t sure.
“Just wonderin’ about Alf,” I said, my Scots burr in full form. “Are ye catchin’ the man that kilt him?” I let that question sink in before askin’ another. “And have ye found the shoes?”
“Kilt? Who? That derelict we found yesterday? Medical examiner ruled heart attack. No ‘kilting’, whatever that is.” To his credit, he didn’t add, ‘you old dolt’.
“Murder then, lad,” I added. “Alf’s heart were as strong as mine. And he wouldna chose to sleep in the open on a night like the last few. And he wouldna lost his shoes neither. So are ye lookin’?” I put my face on a level with his chest and waited as he stashed his notepad and stick pen. “For the killer.”
“No need. It were…was an accident. Nicotine overdose. According to witnesses, the victim was a heavy smoker. Tried to quit. Looks like he got some patches from the free clinic. They noticed a rash on his neck and some nicotine residue. We found a can of RedMan in his pocket. I guess he needed the taste of tobacco too. Did his heart in.” The man made to move away toward the uniforms. I put a hand on his arm.
“Alf never chewed. And I never saw him wearin’ a patch. How’d your examiner figure that one?” I took my hand away as one of the coppers ran over. “No need to fuss, sir. Just askin’ the man a question.”
“I’ll be back in a moment, Officer,” Grey Suit said. “This lady was just leaving.”
“Sure thing, Detective Morales.” The uniform loped back to the back of McGinty’s store.
“Our M.E. is very good at her job, ma’am,” he said. “It was an accidental death. Plain and simple. A homeless man, too much of a stimulant like nicotine. And the cold night didn’t help. Now, please excuse me.”
“What about the other three, Detective? Or don’t they count since they died homeless here in Townsend-Nestor as well?” My temper and my face went red at the thought of those other deaths; all homeless, all friends of mine. I stood there hoping for a response, but he was skirting the mud on the way back to his colleagues.