“Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?”
“I’m just a patsy. I didn’t kill anyone.”
“I do not want to die… I was framed to kill Oswald.”
My big mistake was allowing happiness to creep in.
It’s worse than complacency; or maybe it’s just the same goddamn thing. But for somebody like me, for somebody with my sort of past, allowing the present to lull you into happy complacency is the surest fucking way to insure you’ll have no future at all.
I met Linda when she was vacationing up at Lake Geneva, just another cute blonde among many cute college girls, many of them blond. She wore white-a white tank top that made her seem flat-chested (which she wasn’t, really) and white cut-off jeans, cut so short that the lower moons of her cute little ass showed through fringe of the cut-offs. She had china-blue eyes and short, very curly, white blonde hair, a tiny nose and the whitest teeth you ever saw; when she smiled, it was Dimples City-and you just had to like her. Or anyway I did.
I lived, at the time, in an A-frame cottage on Paradise Lake, a small, private lake with a scattering of summer homes. Paradise Lake held no truck with tourists, other than those visiting relatives in one of the cottages, and it afforded me plenty of peace, quiet and privacy. Nearby Lake Geneva, on the other hand, provided plenty of pussy, to put it bluntly, and when I first met Linda that was all she meant to me.
Maybe she made a little more impact on me than the average college girl I’d pick up, in those days; she was, after all, very innocent, or as innocent as a girl can be who goes to bed with you the day you met her. She wasn’t terribly sexually experienced, and her idea of being daring was to smoke a little dope. She didn’t strike me as terribly bright, but she was funny and cute and when she called me on the phone three months later, I remembered her almost immediately.
“Jack,” she said. “This is Linda. Remember me?”
“Sure,” I said, unsurely.
“You know. Linda.”
And the inflection in her voice brought her back to me.
“Well, Linda. Where are you calling from?”
The catch in her voice, and the static on the line, sent me a message.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “And where is home, anyway?”
“Home is Indiana.”
As in back home again in.
“Okay,” I said. “Now tell me what the trouble is.”
“My folks. They’re…”
And I could hear her crying.
“Linda, what is it?” I tried to be sympathetic, fighting irritation.
“My folks were killed last week.”
“I’m sorry. What do you mean, killed?” That word meant something different to me than it might to some people.
“Automobile accident.” She swallowed. “New Year’s Eve.”
It was the first week of January. Linda’s parents were just another statistic.
“I’m sorry, kid,” I said, trying to mean it, wondering why the hell she was calling me.
“Funeral was a few days ago,” she said.
“Yes?” What did this have to do with me?
“I need to get away for a while,” she said, in a rush. “I wondered
… I wondered if I could come up and spend a few days with you?”
I mean, Christ, she was just some one-night stand. What the hell was this about? That was all I needed, was some college girl moping around my place for a week.
“I don’t have anybody, Jack. Any — body. My friends are all back at school. My folks were all I had, except for my brother, and he headed back to San Francisco this morning. Now I’m all alone in this house and I don’t have anywhere to go.”
“Well, uh… go back to college with your friends, why don’t you? Best thing in the world for you would be get back in the swing of things.”
She paused. Then: “I flunked out. I’m not going back this semester.”
She began crying some more.
I’m not particularly soft-hearted, but I remembered her being a good kid, and who knew? Comforting her might add up to my getting laid regular for a week or so. Would that be so bad?
“You can come stay with me, kid,” I said. “Long as you need to.”
“Oh, Jack… Jack, I knew I could depend on you!”
“Why don’t you fly into Chicago,” I said, “and I’ll pick you up. At O’Hare.”
We’d made the arrangements, and she came and stayed with me for a week. Pretty soon the week turned into a month, and a year later, in a little chapel at Twin Lakes, I married the girl.
Here’s the deal. I was thirty-five. I was getting bored with one-night stands and my own microwave cooking. I wanted some company, and she seemed pleasant enough. She talked too much, but most people do. She was beautiful, a terrific cook, and she kept out of my way. What more could I ask?
For many years the notion of living with one woman was out of the question for me. I was in the wrong business to accommodate what Donahue and the women’s magazines would refer to as a “relationship.” But that business was behind me. I had retired, after socking away a hell of a nest egg. I could live off my investments, one of which was an oddball business called Wilma’s Welcome Inn which was just five minutes from my A-frame.
The Welcome Inn was a rambling two-story affair left over from another era-gas station, restaurant, convenience store, and hotel sharing one somewhat ramshackle roof. It struck some chord in me, reminded me of something from my childhood, a place I’d gone with my parents I think. Anyway, I liked the place, for no good reason, and I also liked the gal who ran the place, Wilma.
But Wilma-a nice fat woman who made great chili-died a few years ago, leaving the place in the unsteady hands of her boyfriend/bartender Charley. He was having trouble keeping the business afloat without his porky pillar, and Wilma’s daughter, a zaftig babe in her late teens who wanted nothing to do with the business except for