Chapter 34: Mousetrapped

A streetlight reflecting off a large gray sedan a block away: I noticed it soon as I turned into the street.

Bill Burkett

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The street itself was only a block long, accessed by short streets at either end. A kind of cul-de-sac, easy to miss out on the main drag. There never had been a big gray car parked there before. Sally’s house was halfway down the block on the right. I lost track of happy banter between Sally, in the back seat, and Glenda beside me.

We’d had a good time at the Arts Council costume party on the Navy base. Sally wore Glenda’s Mata Hari getup: trench coat and flop hat. Glenda was a gypsy girl. I was being James Bond in a white dinner jacket with side vents over a black turtleneck too warm for Florida but hey, style demanded.

Glenda had been at Sally’s several weeks. Her extrication from her husband required subterfuge. Stage one, she just went home from work with Sally one day. Stage two, got him to agree to meet her in a Beaches shopping center with a load of her clothes and belongings, all civilized-like.

When he showed up all ready to drag her home again he found Sally with her, ready to get in his face. Didn’t know what to do. They stranded him there, taking his car to unload at her “safe house.” He couldn’t follow. Was fuming when they returned the car. Pig, Sally told me with delight, very proud of herself. Every man she disliked, and all cops, were pigs.

The pig’s car was a big gray four-door Mercury sedan. I didn’t say anything to question their tradecraft as I turned into Sally’s driveway. But I kept the gray gleam down the street in peripheral vision as paranoia seeped in.

Glenda sensed I had zoned out. “Where did you go?” she said. Then, “Never mind. You were such a good date I just have to kiss you.” A little tipsy from both booze and freedom. She climbed in my lap while Sally giggled in the back seat.

As our lips met, headlights flashed on half a block away. The big Mercury appeared in my rear-view mirror, skidding to a stop, bouncing on its shocks. Right across the driveway. Mousetrapping my car.

Marcus came swarming out and marched toward us, highly agitated. So much for the girls’ subterfuge. I remember my exact first thought: gonna be expensive to replace my Barracuda’s huge back widow. I could already see bullet holes. “Your husband is here,” I said.

Sultry seduction to stark terror in less than a heartbeat. Never before, and never since, have I seen such an instant transformation. She slipped away from me, wailing in a minor key like a dying rabbit. She was not tall, or big. But my brain registered the impossible: she shrank to child size and tried — actually tried — to crawl under the low bucket seat. Three inches of clearance, if that.

Time slowed like in a car crash. Marcus yanked open her door, screaming — at Sally’s hat. Serious nearsightedness plus recognizing Glenda’s Mata Hari rig. Feisty Sally screamed right back: “What are you doing here!”

Her voice under Glenda’s hat threw him. “Sally?” He goggled. I realized his eyesight was too poor to see three people in my car. Why he would think his wife rode in back defies reason. But reason was in short supply that night. For another heartbeat or two it was almost comical.

But then he heard Glenda gibbering in terror. Only a phrase from books until I heard her down in the floorboards. He looked down, then stooped like a hawk, grabbing at her. Missed. Came up with her handbag. Ripped it open and started rooting in it. Froze, hand inside.

My gun…” Glenda moaned. He required her to carry a Beretta.22 in her purse to ward off men’s advances — so if he caught her screwing, she could not claim she was forced. Insane. I had wondered why she didn’t just shoot him. But a Burning Bed defense was in the unknowable future. Maybe she thought him bullet-proof. I did not.

I reached over her and tapped him on the forehead with my Colt. When he looked up into the muzzle, I said, “Enough is enough.” His face went blank. He made a funny choking sound. His legs — buckled. He was suddenly on his knees, handbag dropped, clinging to the door frame as he stared eternity in the face.

Remembering he dared to bully Glenda in front of my matriarch and the old man last summer, I was ready to kill him. Coldly furious at him for trying to use his wife’s own gun against us. I could call it self-defense. Must have said it out loud as I focused the front sight between his blank eyes.

Because, “No gun in my purse,” Glenda choked out. “I left it home.” Well shit. There went incontestable self-defense. Marcus mumbled, “Why? “ “The Navy base.” Her vocal chords were clogged but she got that out. “No guns allowed…”

Of course James Bond pays no attention to such rules. Gate Marines didn’t bother newspaper visitors. Though still callow and young toward women, I had adopted what became an inflexible rule: when fooling with married women always go armed.

I got out and walked around the car. “Can you stand up?” Silently he struggled to rise. I had to help him. Helping hand for a dead man. He leaned on the Barracuda roof as if tired and old. Almost old as he ever got. “Go home,” I said. ‘You got something to say to her, call her at work. Or have a lawyer do it. In broad daylight. Like a grownup.”

Weak prissy voice: “I have nothing to say to you with a gun in your hand.”

B-Grade Western at best. Put down your gun and get shot with a hideout? But tonight I was Bond, James Bond. Maybe a little Gene Autry on the side since my weapon of choice was a scaled-down single-action six-gun. I put my Colt in my belt. Spread my hands.

“Go away!” Sally yelled at him. “You’re trespassing! I’m calling the cops.” He flinched. Shambled back to his car. I followed just in case. Learned later he was so angry when he jumped out he forgot the pistol under his own seat. Never needed it to bully her before. Didn’t think of a weapon till he opened my door. Bullies are usually cowards. He couldn’t go for his gun now. He was beaten, no more thought of gunplay.

He left. I got us in the house, door locked, in case he came back. But what came back were two Beaches cops. Seeking the deranged Viet vet who so terrified a citizen he side-swiped half a dozen cars fleeing town. Was stopped as a suspected drunk driver. Babbled out his lie, barely coherent.

Cops and I had a little dance about whether I had a gun. Perfectly legal those days to have one under the seat, not counting military bases. Didn’t like my challenging their demand.

My Colt went in Sally’s lingerie drawer as soon as cops drove in. Sally the flower child said show me a warrant. Knew them from dances they attended where her squeeze’s band played. Said don’t act like pigs now. They took it.

It calmed things that I went to school with their chief — young as me, but it was a very small town. Maybe six cops. Still more calming, I was a city reporter who knew how cops hated domestics. They didn’t arrest Marcus, just got his insurance details and advised him to have his lawyer deal with his runaway wife. In the daytime. I said Same I thing I told him. By then it was nearly a love-in; they left with tickets to Sally’s guy’s next gig. Said they’d tell Billy hello for me.

How had he mousetrapped me? As a wife-tracker he had obsessive talents: noted the odometer before surrendering his car for the possessions handover. Then drove every possible combination of directions from the shopping center till he found Sally’s place. Stakeout after that was routine.

My old man was pleased I redeemed the family honor for the previous summer’s debacle. The matriarch threw up her hands in horror that I could have gone to jail over that fickle tramp.

A satisfying postscript for me: the bully’s self-image, tough macho man controlling restless wife, blew away like dust in the wind. He had invested so much of himself in that illusion its loss left him bereft. The term of art those days was “nervous breakdown. ” His was so severe he was institutionalized and medicated. Glenda truly was free at last.

In Westerns I read as a boy, a kiss and happily-ever-after followed death or final defeat of the bad guy. Of course it being Glenda, and me being me, nothing remotely like that followed. Happily-ever-after never came.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.