Winding up an Old Timer

Winding up an Old Timer

A day of police, death and reward.

“A policeman is on the phone,” my wife called out.

I had just settled down after another exhausting day of gardening. My poor knees were aching and still covered in soil, plus I hadn’t even had time to comb my hair or anything. Normally, I would tell her to take a message. But that would set off an argument and she’d pretend to throw the phone at me. Still connected to the wall, mind you. That was the nature of our relationship. The fire went out long before our first anniversary, and now we were near our golden anniversary. The smell of Gretchen’s stew filled the air. She was very good at making stews, but nothing else. But a call from a policeman? 

How odd, I thought. A policeman.

The last time I interacted with the police was in my younger days. The least said about that, the better. Even my wife didn’t know about that. Can’t be about that, surely? I’d paid the man, and he said nothing would ever happen. As I watched the cockroach climb up and down and around the torn wallpaper, my mind wandered. 

I should fix that wallpaper one day, I thought for the umpteenth time. 

Then again, there were lots of things that needed fixing in the house, but I couldn’t be bothered.

“There is a policeman on the phone,” she bellowed again.

So I extracted myself from the withering armchair, being careful not to tear my clothes on the rusted springs. Troublesome thing it was. 

I became very cautious, you know, about those marketing calls. He might not even be a policeman at all. Maybe it is another of those spam calls. We had been getting a lot lately, but the wife always chats with them – they mostly hang up on her. Gretchen’s voice is like a catfight. 

“Hello, Henny Ainsworth speaking. May I help you?” I sounded my vowels and pronounced every word carefully. Just as Mrs. Shithead had beaten the correct speech into us in grades three and four. 

“It’s Constable %#@#%fr@* Mr. Ainsworth, from Fairfield police.” He had an older voice and mumbled a surname I could not understand, but he certainly didn’t sound like that bent copper from my youth. That man from fifty years ago had a terrible lisp – and us kids used to stir him up. Why his superiors had him talk about policing at schools was a slight on their part. When I think about it now, I realise how cruel they were. But he took bribes from us kids. He was such a corrupt copper. But that was long ago since I’d given him the money. He’d probably be a millionaire by now, anyway. 

“Could you come down to the station and pick up the property you handed in? Nobody has claimed it, so it is all yours,” said the policeman.

My wife looked at me strangely, wanting to know what the call was about, for sure.

‘Well, she’ll have to guess,’ I thought.

I hadn’t even returned the receiver to the cradle, and she was at me like a jackhammer.

“What was that about? What was that about? What was that about?” I looked at her with the straightest face possible. “There’s been a death,” I replied.

“A death?” She appeared confused. Then clutched her embroidered handkerchief tighter and even touched the corner of her mouth with it. I knew she was overacting, even since she joined the local amateur theatre, she’d become a third-rate actor.

Drama Queen, I thought.

“A death, Henny?” she repeated in a lower tone.

The look on her face was priceless. Her eyes grew to twice their normal size. The drool dripped from the corner of her mouth. Gretchen could smell the money, I am sure. Her mind was racing – who, what, when, why, how? She wanted answers, and she wanted them now. Death always meant money. 

“Who died?” she snapped away. Her fidgeting fingers were a dead giveaway. My little sweet-for-nothing was not so sweet when money entered the equation. She probably imagined one of my elderly uncles on the slab and me inheriting billions of dollars. 

I was sure it wasn’t the police. Just one of her silly games. But two can play her silly game. 

I needed a change of clothes. My gardening attire would not be suitable for a visit to the police station. Unless I was dead, of course. Then it didn’t matter. My mind drifted to death, and I wondered if police stations kept dead bodies these days. Perhaps now they’re sent straight to the morgue.

She was on my heels. Her pursuit of information was relentless.

“Henny Ainsworth, who died? Who died? Don’t keep me in the dark with more of your little secrets.”

I thoughtfully chose my best white shirt and dark grey trousers, along with my favourite knitted cardigan. But before getting dressed, I freshened up, shaving and showering. I even added a touch of Brut after-shave. I felt good wearing Brut but only a few drops; anything more would mean going to a dance. The shoes. Normally I’d wear my sandshoes as they add a bit of spring to my step, but I chose my black shoes. I hated wearing those old clodhoppers, but I was going to the police station. I always dressed in the bathroom where the lock on the door is more robust. 

The banging at the bathroom door was driving me insane. She kept banging and asking.

“Who died, Henny, who died?”

I was tempted to open the door and douse her in Brut – but what a waste that would be. It was none of her business, anyway. Gretchen was always like that, wanting to know my business. Trying to prise open my mind that bit more. She always set me up with her stupid little games. For sure, she was playing a prank, but I’d play along with her. But in my way and in my time. But then again, what if it wasn’t a prank? I had to tread carefully. What if it really was the police who called?

“I am too upset to tell you,” I yelled back, trying not to laugh. She’d been asking for five minutes like our cat screaming for food. 

What a wonderful day! I must get that spring fixed on the armchair, I thought.

It took me an hour to get to the police station. It’s not a clear path. Down the stairs, along the street, change direction, straight ahead, through the shopping centre, up the stairs, and then along another street. It was still there, of course, Fairfield Police Station. “Perhaps Constable Lispine was still there, craving more hush money. That sneaky officer from my past, always lisping away for bribes. After fifty years? Don’t be ridiculous, I reassured myself. Surely, the five dollars I gave him to overlook my youthful indiscretion would be a distant memory.”

The item at the police station had me thinking. What could it be? I certainly took nothing to the police. Maybe it’s a mix-up and they believe it is me. Maybe it is money or jewellery. I wouldn’t give any to Gretchen though.

The Fairfield Police Station had changed over the years. It now had automatic doors, and they opened nicely to let me in. The policeman behind the glass was busy looking at a computer. He looked younger than I did when I was sixteen. 

My eyes scanned the room. Where is that corrupt Constable Lispine? I thought. 

I had to tell myself, stop it, stop it, stop it. The cameras on the ceiling are watching me and they’ll think I am up to something. He’s casing the joint, they’d say. So I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the constable.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

The policeman called me Sir. How odd. In my day, they would have clipped me under the ear for even coming into the police station. 

“Yes, I have to pick up some property. A policeman phoned me before.”

“OK. Let me check.”

After we exchanged formalities, he began a search. Then out to the back room. To the computer and then out the back again.

“When did you bring the item in, Sir? And what was it again?”

“Sorry, I don’t recall. I just had a phone call, and the policeman said to come down and the item would now be mine.”

“Unfortunately, there is nothing here. I’m sorry about that. But let me take your details and if anything turns up, we will contact you. It may have been a nuisance call.”

Of course, it was a bogus call. One of Gretchen’s little games.

Walking home was less tense. At least I knew I wasn’t in trouble with the police. But who made the call? One of her stupid friends, from the theatre group, for sure. I’d dressed in my finest for nothing. But, at least, it was a little outing. I knew she’d be at home laughing. Enjoying her little prank. 

Yes, two can play that game, I thought. 

I opened the door to find her sitting in my chair, laughing. 

“Got you,” she blurted out in her sarcastic voice. And with her eyes open wide and lips pursed, she moved her head from side to side like one of those laughing clowns at a side-show-alley.

“Got you, got you, got you,” she rejoiced. “But who died? Or is that another of your little tricks?”

I played it very straight with the wretched woman. “Of course, nobody died – that was in jest. But the policeman was very nice, and he asked me to sign for the item that was found. He said it belonged to me now.”

Well, that was like a sucker punch to a grade three English teacher. She looked totally confused as I produced a wrapped box from my pocket. Similar to what one would expect a diamond ring to be stored in.

She was gobsmacked as I walked to my bedroom and shut the door. And then locked it. 

It didn’t take long and, like a machine gun, the volley of questions nearly shattered the door off the hinges.

I unwrapped and opened my little parcel. I only wanted one Tic Tac. 

Wonderful, as I savoured my treat.