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Partners in crime

March 1st, 2007

BY CATE GARRISON

CHAPTER 17 OF THE JJ CHRONICLES

Geographically orphaned by my rattish parents’ abrupt departure from the sinking ship of my marital home, a disaster occasioned by our dog JJ’s consumption of my car’s internal organs, I had no one to consult about my next move, and, namely, the relation of the above events to my increasingly absent American husband. Clearly a phone call had to be made to his office, where he seemed to live. Once my children, my dog, and I had returned home from depositing the Aged Ps at the airport, delaying tactics were in short supply, though I still hadn’t finished mentally writing the script of my story. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t intend to tell the truth (though whether the whole truth and nothing but was a matter of some internal debate). My hesitation was more to do with who to blame. The dog for actually eating the car? My mother for insisting on leaving him inside it while she slaked her hunger? Myself for acquiescing despite my better judgment? And then there was the matter of repair costs. “Could be a fair amount,” might sound more acceptable than “over three thousand dollars,” for example, though I was doubtful he’d consider any amount as “fair.” To protect youth and innocence from anything that might sound like equivocation, I sent my two live-in lads off to their bedrooms. I’m not sure why I pointed the dog in the direction of his bat cave. I suppose youth, rather than innocence, was still on his side.

I sat down to make the call. I didn’t want the force of my husband’s response to knock me over. I stared at the phone for a long while before picking up the receiver. My heart was beating pretty fast as I pressed the familiar numbers.

I didn’t immediately recognize the voice at the end of the line. It was too manly for my husband’s lisping secretary. And it was far too cheerful for him.

“Hi there,” it said. “Just tell me what you need.”

It took a moment to register my mistake.

“Handy Jack here,” said the voice, after a pause. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m sorry,” I began. “I thought I’d…”

“Oh it’s you,” said HJ. “I was thinking of stopping by tomorrow. What do you need?”

No doubt hearing the distant tones of his best friend over the airwaves, JJ meanwhile had slunk from his hiding place and slithered onto the couch beside me, ears cocked. The warm and toasty feel of him must have made me relax. Next thing I knew, I was telling HJ the whole incredible saga, from my mother’s starvation act through my sons’ “spaghetti” discovery, the mechanics’ mirth, and my parents’ flustered departure; by the time I reached my misdialing of his number, I was alternately hiccoughing and laughing like a drain.

“Steady on, ” said HJ. “I think you’re a bit hysterical.”

JJ licked me on the nose in agreement
.
“Sorry,” I burped. “I’ll try to calm down.”

“What time’s he coming home?” asked HJ.

The thought of my husband’s return stopped the laughter dead.

“Late, I expect.”

“Well just go to bed early, then,” said HJ. “We’ll deal with him tomorrow.”

I took his advice. By the time my husband crawled between the sheets around eleven p.m., JJ and I were pretending to be fast asleep.

My luck held when next morning he also left early, with just a quick cheek peck and a pro-forma “call ya later!”

He didn’t seem to notice the lack of parents.

“Did JJ really eat the car yesterday?” asked the elder of my two young sons, rubbing his eyes over breakfast.

“Yes, did he, did he?” said his brother. I guess they both thought they’d shared the same nightmare.

Handy Jack arrived right after they’d left for school.

“Place seems more like home now your mum’s gone,” he said.

I don’t know why I flung myself into his arms. Next thing I knew I was weeping onto his shoulder while he stroked my hair and whispered “There, there!” into one ear.

I’d like to say it was with horror I sensed something long and hard come between us, around the level of my groin. Truthfully, I felt a tiny frisson.

“Down, boy, down,” said Handy Jack. I cringed a little at the cliché. But I smiled a secret smile. Fortunately, before my lips had formed some coy response, I realized that JJ had pushed his nose between us and was trying to pry us apart. I stepped back from the embrace with what I hoped was a nonchalant air.
If HJ noticed my discomfiture, he was too gallant to mention it.

“Car in the garage?” he asked.

I nodded.

“You stay here, then, hon. I’ll take care of it.”

It was the first time he’d called me “hon.” I tried not to read too much into it.

JJ and I sat on the sofa together for the next half hour. As I rubbed his ears, I thought of my husband, and what I’d just done. I felt oddly guilty.

“There you are,” said HJ, wiping his hands on a rag as he came through the back door. “All done. Now just call the insurance company and say the car’s been vandalized.”

“But do they pay for dog damage?” I asked. I was amazed to think American companies might be so full of human kindness.

“Don’t mention the dog,” said HJ. “Just say ‘some vandal.’ It’s the truth, after all. You don’t need to say ‘four-legged’.”

I’d never considered myself meek. Yet now, at HJ’s prompting, I heard myself cobbling together a string of sentences to a listening agent whose occasional silences sounded to me like pure suspicion.
“Yes,” I heard myself say. “Seat covers in tatters… senseless sabotage… no, nothing taken… not even the radio.” My story sounded so plausible I began to believe it. Even the agent began to sound sympathetic. I was almost enjoying the drama of the situation when I heard her say an adjuster would come and inspect the damage in the next few days.

“They’re going to send some kind of inspector,” I told HJ as I rang off. “They’ll see the dog hair. And the bite marks. And the claw scratches.”

“No problem,” he said. “Go look.”

I crept out to the garage and looked in the car. The once chewed seats were now slashed to ribbons, the tooth marks all cut away. Every last dog hair had been vacuumed from ledges, rugs, cracks, and crannies. The floor was now covered instead with ground-in footprints from large, ridged muddy boots. The steering wheel and dash were drowned in cold, spilled coffee. The crime scene looked so real I felt violated.

“You look pale, hon,” said HJ, when I dragged myself back into the kitchen. “Remember you are the victim here.” Oddly I felt more like the co-conspirator. “Now give me the number of that husband of yours.”

Weakly, once more I complied. Within minutes, HJ was in full spate. “Poor wife of yours… parents had to leave… dashed to the airport… car in the car park… yes, she’d locked it… got back there… terrible discovery… I was here when she got home… someone must really have it in for Mercedes owners… maybe even someone who knows you? Anyone got it in for you? Insurance will take care of it I’m sure… maybe you should be here when the adjuster arrives? Wife’s too upset… here she is, by the way.”
He handed me the phone. In a daze, I heard my husband say, “I’m so sorry. You must have felt terrible.” He sounded for a minute like the man I married.

“Yes,” I said, “thank you.”

“I’ll try to get home early this evening,” he said. “Now I’ve got to get back to work.”

“How did you do that?” I asked HJ. I don’t know whether I was referring to his work on the car, or my husband’s transformation.

“Took a bit of determination, I admit,” he said. “Tearing into a Mercedes, even into a damaged one.” He grinned with pride.

“By the way,” he added, “I won’t be around when the adjuster comes.”

I told him I thought that was right.

He was still around when my sons came home from school. They were pleased to see him, as always. He tended to horse around with them and fix their stuff when it broke.

He punched them playfully in the stomachs. “Hear the dog ate the car the other day!” he said.

“Totally,” said the older.

“Totally, totally,” echoed the younger.

“Probably best not to talk to your dad any more about it.”

“Not my dad,” said the older.

“Not dad,” said the younger, giving me a worried look. He knew my early desire for family harmony.

“You know who I mean,” said HJ, cuffing them again.

“You want us to lie?,” said the older boy, eyes wide, with the beginnings of a smile. The younger one, eyes wider, was too shocked to speak.

“Not lie,” said HJ. “No need. He knows about it already. Just don’t want to make him madder at JJ.”

“Right-oh,” said the older, going up to his room.

“Awright,” said the younger one, following.

That evening, as promised, my husband came home in time for dinner, stopping only to look at the car on the way in. His indignation carried us through the meal and made up for my lack of conversation. Yet even as he ranted and raved, there was something artifical about his bluster, something that gave me pause.

Fortunately, the adjuster, when he arrived by appointment two days later, had no sense of falsehood. I watched him and my husband together from the bedroom window, one man nodding gravely as they inspected my poor car, the other flapping his arms around like an angry, flightless bird. Within a month, the car was fixed and my ex-machanic paid, with no loss to our check book except the deductible.

My husband dined out on the story for months. In his version, his role became increasingly heroic while mine sagged further and further into the helpless female. When he wasn’t around, my sons, with their rather different account, giggled frequently over my mother’s expression when she first saw the ruins and plopped herself down on top of them. HJ himself would simply smile on occasion and sigh, “Never thought I’d take a knife to a Mercedes.” JJ, who had come to no harm at all, went back to his double life of escapologist garbage eater cum acquiescent lap dog. Me, I simply felt wretched.

And that is how JJ, HJ and I became partners in crime. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Garrison | Link to this Entry

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