Harmless by Ernie Lindsey (Excerpt)

Posted on Saturday, September 28, 2013


Let me share something about Clarence here.  I know, I know, I should just get on with it, tell you what happened in the living room, but this is important, and it’ll be relevant later.  I promise.

I actually talked to Clarence the night before Kerry died. 

Surprising?  Probably not.  Do I seem like the kind of guy that would be able to let things go?  Well, I am.  I don’t hold grudges.  They’re bad for your health.  Too much stress leads to an overproduction of a hormone called cortisol, which leads to an increase in abdominal fat.  The Pendragon Castle doesn’t need an extra layer of padded protection.  It’s defended well enough already by diet and exercise.  By compulsion, too, and I realize that can be an unattractive quality in a partner to someone who doesn’t share the same level of commitment.  Shayna had grown pudgy, likely due to a self-imposed level of stress that I couldn’t comprehend.  Kerry, not an ounce of fat on her.  We would’ve been a good match.

I was in the grocery store, picking up my weekly rations.  Lots of meats and vegetables for protein and general health, lots of legumes for caloric intake.  Try it sometime.  See how much fat you lose.

Anyway, Clarence, he had a pizza and a bottle of red wine, along with a stupid, confused look on his face, standing there over the expensive cheeses, like he didn’t have any synaptic connections happening inside that birdbrain of his.  I didn’t have one iota of sympathy for that guy at the time, but I decided to help him, mostly for the chance to scope him out, to see what he was like.  To see what kind of man was so warmly welcomed inside Kerry’s home. 

There had to be a reason, right? 

What did she see in him?  Unattractive, balding.  Goofball, in every sense of the word.  The likelihood of a giant, porn star schlong being the decided factor was completely out of the question.  I knew Kerry wouldn’t have been enticed by that—not on him.  You can put a pile of shit on a silver platter, but it’s still a pile of shit.

And money?  Did he have a lot of money?  Doubtful.  Not with that cheap suit.  Not with those discount bin loafers.  And certainly not based on the fact that wine and cheese pairings seemed to confuse him worse than handing a Rubik’s Cube to a blind man.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that sounds shallow—the fact that I immediately went to penis size or money as a reason.  But come on, you can’t tell me that neither of those things runs through your head when you see a ten with a two, no matter where they are.

Nobody admits it, everybody does it.

I had to know. 

Maybe he was funny.  Maybe he was smart (ha!) and challenging.  Maybe he could play the cello like Yo-Yo Ma and Kerry loved classical music. 

She didn’t, by the way.  Her speakers spoke volumes.  Pun intended, of course.  Due to Kerry’s taste in music, I’m now a fan of Justin Bieber.  What do they call his fans?  Beliebers?  As a forty-three-year-old male, I have no shame in confessing the kid has talent.

What in the almighty name of Eris (the Greek goddess of confusion, to the uninitiated) did Kerry see in him?

I absolutely had to know.

Big shocker here: our first meeting didn’t go well.

He insulted me with six little words.

Here’s how: the grocery store I frequent makes their employees dress up in black slacks, a white, collared shirt, and a red tie.  Why?  I would imagine it has something to do with an air of professionalism, which I support, but in the end they’re making their employees spend money on good clothes that will be ruined in a week. 

My opinion—since you asked—is that it’s more of a disservice to a hard-working guy who’s already scraping by on minimum wage.  It’s a waste of money and morale.  Give me a bagger wearing a cheap, blue polyester pullover, provided by the company who purchased it in bulk, at a massive discount cost, any day.  My steaks will taste the same. 

I’ve contemplated becoming a business consultant.  I see problems like this everywhere.

It just so happened that I’d decided to wear a similar outfit to Thrifty’s that day.  White shirt, dark slacks, crimson tie.  Not red, mind you.  Crimson. 

I could blame Clarence for his ignorance and be insulted by it if I wanted to, but I shouldn’t, because in hindsight, I looked like a valued team member. 

(That was on the application I filled out at the grocery store.  “Become a Valued Team Member!”  I didn’t get a second call.  The job-hunting paradox of being overqualified yet inexperienced perplexes me to this day.  And this is an assumption, but I’m sure they called Donny Row for a reference, even though I specifically marked the Do Not Call checkbox.)

As Clarence read the cheese labels, his lips moved.  Poor bastard.  It made me wonder if he’d have to take his socks off to count to twenty.

But like I said, I don’t judge.  It’s merely an observation, not a statement of fact.

I walked up beside him—“sidled” is a better word, since our shoulders were touching—and took a peek at the wine varietal he’d chosen.  A merlot.  Classic, but uninitiated.  (I’ve often wondered if the merlot industry suffered after Paul Giamatti’s outburst in Sideways.  His character was wrong—you can find some incredible merlots if you know what to look for.)

Clarence picked up an aged Chevrot, examining it with a befuddled expression, like he’d rubbed two pieces of flint together and set his hut on fire.

Casually, just a random guy making conversation, I said, “Probably not the best choice for that merlot.  They don’t go well with goat’s milk cheeses.  Your best bet is something made from sheep’s milk.  Try that one right there, the one with the blue label—the Roncal.”

It took a second for the realization to envelop his lone brain cell.  “Oh, hey, you’re Jan’s neighbor.  I didn’t know you worked here.”

First, note that he didn’t call her Kerry, which was bad enough, because he didn’t know her like I knew her.  The surreptitious, clueless infiltrator.  Also begging the question of, why had she lied to him, too?

Second… “I didn’t know you worked here.”

What.  The.  Hell.

I don’t know why I took such offense.  I have nothing against grocery store employees.  They work hard.  Eight, ten, twelve hours on your feet all day, bending over, picking up heavy things, dealing with picky customer demands such as making sure each vegetable type is individually bagged. 

That one’s on me.  Guilty.  I have this thing with vegetables.  None of them should ever, ever touch.  It makes shopping cumbersome because I have to carry at least fifteen bags with me, but I’ve gotten used to it.  The baggers that are familiar with my minor quirk have made a game out of it.  They’ll try to slip a squash in with a head of broccoli and laugh when I protest.  Joke’s on them, though, since I laugh, too.  I know it’s ridiculous, and I’m okay with it.  Shayna hated this about me.  Hated, hated, hated.  I believe the word she used was “psychotic,” which, again, is a matter of observation, not a statement of fact.

Most likely, it was simply in the way Clarence said it.  “I didn’t know you worked here,” as if it were some sort of punishment or comment on my character.

“You know what,” I said, “maybe you should go with the goat cheese.”  If screwing up his palate was my only recourse, then so be it.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.  My wife loves goat cheese.”

Did you get that?  His wife.

Let me repeat it: his wife, said without a hint of shame. 

Without a hint of, “Hey, don’t say anything, okay?  One wretch to another, let’s keep this between you and me.”

I tried not to sound offended.  Or shocked.  I’m not sure it worked.  “You’re married?

“Long story, but yeah, thirty-five years today.”

You want to know how many times in my life I’ve been struck speechless?


The first time was in response to the following:  “Steve, would you like to tell me about the thong I found in the backseat of your car?”

The second:  “Thirty-five years today.”

The nerve of that guy.  On a minor note, what kind of last-minute, procrastinating dirtball picks up a pizza and a bottle of wine for his thirty-five-year anniversary?

But more importantly you have to understand his tone.  There was nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, no hint of remorse whatsoever.  Nothing that said, I know you know.  I know you see me every Thursday.

It was absolutely baffling.

The only thing I could come up with, the only thing that seemed like a rational, adequate response was, “You’re a dick.” 

I walked away.  I hoped he took the goat cheese.

And later, when I learned the truth, guess who felt like a dick?




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Genre - Mystery/Suspense

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.ernielindsey.com/


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