TKnC welcomes Matt with this humorous crime tale.
Worst in Show
On the way to Milt Woczniak’s No Fuss Carpet Cleaners, Hattie's head was full of veal parmesan and puppies. Not Taser burns or bloody clumps of hair or the smell of sex. Hattie was bringing lunch for her husband. Italian take-out. For two. She’d drink gasoline before bringing food for Milt’s receptionist Ronette.
That was the excuse, anyway. What Hattie really cared about was her little dog Ferguson. “Settle down, Little Boy Blue,” she said as she walked. “We’re almost there.”
Ferguson was a tea cup poodle, bred with powder blue fur. He yipped at the cuffs of Hattie’s pantsuit as they walked.
She found the front door unlocked but an unattended store. She did not concern herself with Milt’s whereabouts. “Great,” she said. “We have the place to ourselves.”
In the middle of the room were two circular stands covered in off white carpet. One was labeled “before” and the other was labeled “after.” The before stand was covered in stains—red wine, mustard, something that looked like blue razz Kool Aid—and the after stand was immaculate. Just like the winner’s platform at the American Kennel Club.
She placed the take-out boxes on the reception counter and guided Ferguson onto the after platform. “Stay, Ferguson. That’s a good boy.” She went into her purse and took out her eleven megapixel digital camera and began to snaps shots of her little champion from all the most flattering angles.
Hattie imagined Photoshopping a Kennel Club background into the background. She hit the review button and went through the photos she’d taken so far. “Fudge,” she said, noticing that her camera was low on power. “I forgot my battery charger.”
Hattie tethered Ferguson to the reception desk and wandered in past the display where Milt’s slogan was displayed proudly on the wall: “There’s no mess we won’t stick our nose into.” She went toward the plastic drapery that separated the supply room from the storefront area. Milt sometimes kept double-A batteries in back office.
She slowed when she heard the echo of giggling off concrete walls.
Hattie rounded the corner to the image of Milt Woczniak, No Fuss Carpet Cleaner, sticking his nose into Ronette’s mess.
“Oh my God!” Hattie cried, betraying her presence to the entwined lovers.
“Sweetie!” Milt said. “It’s not what you think!”
Her arms flailing, Ronette lunged toward her dress and stockings, which were hanging haphazardly from Milt’s Roll-o-Matic 5000 office chair. Hattie backed away.
“You son of a bitch!” Hattie clutched her chest. “I brought you veal parmesan!”
She stormed back to the reception area. Ferguson had somehow found his way onto the desk and was sniffing at the take-out boxes. “No! Bad doggie!” tears were streaming from Hattie face. “Bad, bad dog!” She pulled Ferguson away from the boxes.
Milt emerged from the back room, his naked shoulder and chest showing under a half-on flannel shirt. “Baby!” Milt tried. “Oh, baby. C’mon, I know I screwed up. I’m an asshole, I know it.”
“Shut up. Just shut your fat face. I swear to God—”
“But I love you!”
“I will cut off your fucking dick!” Hattie searched the reception area for a box cutter, a pair of scissors, anything. No luck. Finally, she reached for the take-out box and carried it to the after platform.
“Not tomato sauce!” Milt cried. “That’s gonna take me forever to clean.”
“God forbid you do your job for ten minutes instead of grabbing Lucinda von Carpet Slut’s ass all day.”
Milt stood helpless as she upended the canister. Marinara flowed onto the carpeted surface. A now-dressed Ronette emerged from the store room to witness the pouring motion.
“You bitch!” Ronette screamed. “I’m gonna rip your face off!”
Ronette flew at Hattie in a wild fury. Hattie hands went up in defense, but her late response was no match for Ronette’s full force tackle. Both women fell to the floor in a chaotic muddle of hair extensions, press-on nails, and pink pantsuit.
“Ladies! Ladies!” Milt said. “Settle down. There’s enough of me for both of you.”
Ronette tried to find Hattie’s neck with her outstretched hands. Hattie drove an elbow into Ronette’s midsection. They grappled on the floor until neither could continue. Ferguson yipped wildly.
“You stupid whore,” Ronette said, breathing heavily. “He’s divorcing your ass and marrying me.”
“Look, ladies,” Milt tried again. “Let’s just calm down.”
“What?” Ronette glared at Milt.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves is all I mean.”
“Milt. Tell your wife you’re leaving her. Tell her.”
“I mean, hey, let’s just take things one step at a time, right?”
Ronette’s grip on Hattie’s hair loosened. Hattie pulled away from the padded shoulder she’d been attempting, unsuccessfully, to bite into. They both turned toward Milt.
“You told me you loved me,” Ronette said. “You’re not leaving her, are you?”
Hattie saw Milt’s bashful shrug, then looked back at Ronette. She’d climbed to her feet and was cracking her knuckles. Hattie stood and brushed herself off. She pulled a red press-on nail out from a crevice in her suit coat and let in drop lightly on the floor. “Ronette, you want a hand kicking this guy’s face in?”
“Yeah, why not?”
Milt began to back way but soon ran out of floor space. Ronette reached behind the counter and grabbed the thick, heavy Maglite she kept for nights when she closed up alone. Hattie brought out her pocket Taser.
Ferguson looked left, then right, and left again. No one seemed to notice his presence. He crept toward the after platform, where the smell of something irresistible was calling him. In the distance, he could hear the sounds of a Taser firing, a heavyset carpet wizard falling to ground, and a Maglite landing blow after blow against soft human flesh. None of it mattered to Hattie’s little champion. He knew only the overwhelming truth of veal parmesan.
Contributor Bio: Matt Lavin is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Iowa. He has a bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY and a master’s degree in American Studies from Utah State University in Logan, UT. His fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in “Boston Literary Magazine,” “Broome Review,” “Elimae,” “Foliate Oak,” “Paradigm,” and “Prick of the Spindle.”