by J.R. Lindermuth
Here is another mystery short story about a father. This story was originally published in the October 2009 issue of Mysterical E.
Despite his other faults, I’ve always regarded Donovan as a good father. So it came as a surprise the night he sided with his wife, Charmaine, and refused to give his daughter money for something she wanted.
True, Kelly is always asking for money for one thing or another and isn’t much inclined to work for it. But it seemed out of character for Donovan to turn her down. I mean, he dotes on the girl. Tight as he is, all she normally has to do is ask and he digs for his wallet.
“But, Dad,” she whines, “I really do need it.” Her expression showed she was as surprised by his reaction as the rest of us. By us I mean me, Clive, Jimmy Spinosa, Lanigan—the usual crowd.
“Sorry, honey,” Donovan says, giving her a simpering smile. “Your Ma is right. You gotta learn some responsibility. You could earn it if you was willing to help out here once and a while.”
“Ah, Dad—I thought you was on my side.” Kelly downs her drink, picks up her purse from the bar and stalks out the door. Kelly’s friend Judy, trailing in her wake, turns her head and gives Donovan a mean look at the last minute before they exit.
“That was a little unusual,” Spinosa says, lighting up one of those stinky stogies of his.
“What?” Donovan asks, looking annoyed.
“Kelly asks for something and you turn her down. What’d she want anyway?”
“Money for a dress,” Donovan says.
The answer has all of us exchanging looks. I mean, Kelly is a pretty girl but none of us ever remember seeing her in a dress. Jeans and tee, shorts and halter, even a miniskirt once. But, a dress? Never. “So, whyncha give her the money?” Spinosa ventures.
“Who asked your opinion?” Charmaine growls, tossing Kelly’s empty glass into the sink. She picks up the bar rag and kneads it in her red hands, her eyes daring Spinosa to say anything more.
Spinosa glances at me and shrugs his thin shoulders, but he keeps his mouth shut.
Donovan’s place is our hangout. I mean, there isn’t any place else to go in this town at night. So we’re all here every night and we may criticize the man for his stinginess but we consider ourselves almost like family and think we have a right to butt in once and a while. But this time it appears to be different so we keep our traps shut and let our eyes roam elsewhere until Charmaine goes upstairs to their apartment and we feel it’s safe to talk again.
The night passed and we drank more and played some pool and listened to the jukebox. But, somehow, it was a different kind of night than we were used to and I think all of us went home earlier than usual.
It was a couple nights later when things seemed back to normal. It’s a Tuesday, the night Charmaine stays upstairs to watch this game show she loves. Lanigan and Fenwick were shooting a game of pool, some of us were watching a basketball game on the TV and Clive and Spinosa were shooting darts. The door opens and somebody comes in. Nobody pays attention at first. Somebody’s always coming in or out most nights.
It was when the guy next to me dropped his drink and muttered something I didn’t catch that I turned away from the TV. And I see everybody’s looking in the same direction. There’s a guy at the end of the bar with a mask over his face and a big gun in his hand. And I see there’s another one behind the bar, pointing another pistol at Donovan.
“Holy shit, don’t shoot,” Lanigan says, backing toward the wall behind him. “We’ll give you whatever you want.” He’s always been a yellow prick.
But the one at the end of the bar just gestures with his gun for Lanigan and Fenwick to line up with the rest of us. Meanwhile, the other one has Donovan opening the cash register—and I know that’s gotta be breaking his heart. It’s a good thing Charmaine is upstairs or she’d be having a heart attack for sure. I’m opposite the cash register and when Donovan takes a wad of money from the drawer I notice a funny thing. But I’m not about to say anything just then.
The robber folds the bills into a jacket pocket and starts backing up. The other one does the same thing, still holding the gun on us. Before anyone can say another word, they’re both out the door and gone.
“Jeez, I thought I’d piss my pants,” Lanigan says, exhaling a breath he must have been holding for at least ten minutes. “How come they didn’t ask for our money?” Spinosa says, scratching his head.
I’m looking at Donovan and he’s got this expression on his face like he wants to say something but can’t. He’s just staring down at the cash register. Then, he slams the drawer shut and looks up. “Anybody want a drink?” he asks.
“A drink?” Spinosa says. “Haint you gonna call the cops?”
Donovan shrugs. “If I do, what am I gonna tell them? Two guys with masks held me up. What kind of description can I give? Any of youse guys know what they look like?”
“And if the cops don’t catch them? Then what? Maybe they come back here and start shootin’ the place up? Kill some of you guys? My friends. My customers. Uh-uh.”
Some of the others spent a little more time trying to persuade him to call the police, but Donovan wasn’t having it. I didn’t say anything at the time, just asked for another drink—which made Donovan happy. After a while—since they hadn’t lost any money—the rest of the guys gave it a rest. If Donovan was willing to accept the loss of his money and didn’t want to call the cops, who were they to care.
I was the last to leave that night. I hung around on purpose and Donovan gave me an anxious look as he wiped down the bar and washed up the mugs and shot glasses. “You want something?” he said finally.
“Not really. Just, I noticed something.”
“You didn’t give the robber all the money that was in the register.”
He gives me a smile and shakes his head. “Nah. You must be mistaken. I gave…”
“No you didn’t. I know what I saw. Something else.”
“That robber had the smallest, softest white hand I ever seen for a…”
Donovan gives me a sheepish look.
“You’d do anything for that girl, wouldn’t you?”
He shrugs, gives me a weak smile. “What can I say? She really wants that dress.”
“You haint gonna tell Charmaine?”
“Nah. This is just between you and me, Donovan.” And I give him a smile as I head for the door. Kelly should look real good in a dress. I’m looking forward to seeing it.