A Life Less Ordinary

 

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Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Jarod tapped gently on the door and, hearing a voice calling from inside, pushed it open. “Argyle said you wanted to see me?”

“Thanks for telling him, Jarod. I really appreciate it.”

Jarod smiled. “It’s not a problem, really. Is there anything else I can do?”

“Sit down.” He nodded to a chair in the corner and took something from the drawer of his bedside table. Looking up, he fixed Jarod with a stern eye. “I know what that son of mine’s like -- he can’t keep a coin in his pocket if there’s somebody around to tempt it away from him -- and he told me all about his latest fiasco. You saw it, right?”

Reluctantly, Jarod nodded. “We…drove by, yes.”

“In other words, my boy tried to find out what was going on and you had to save his skin again.”

“Something like that.” Jarod grinned faintly and Benny nodded.

”I knew it. After my Adela passed on, I started putting a little something away for myself and, a couple of weeks ago after I found out, I went to the funeral home and set things up.” He handed over a long, white envelope. “That’s got all of the details, including the plot and everything. It’s all arranged.”

“Next to your wife?”

“That’s right. When I began to think that something was wrong, that’s why I came here with the two of them. This is the same apartment we were in…”

Jarod nodded again. “I understand. Uh, I hate to have to ask, but…”

”Don’t worry, Jarod. The rent’s paid for until the end of next week.”

* * * * * * * * *

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Benny knew what was going on. He seemed to have a sixth sense where Argyle was concerned and it was one that his son was lacking - the common variety. After taking the envelope, I went out to the poolside and told the two of them that I would be back in the morning and we would work something out then. Mona reminded Argyle that he’d made an appointment for both of us to try on suits for the wedding and that acted as a reminder of the reason he’d sent for me in the first place. The sight of a weary-looking Dog outside on the doorstep as I was about to leave was another and I guess I deserved that nip he gave my ankle.

* * * * * * * * *

And not just that, dear Jarod. I had figured that you of all people would never leave me to the elements all on my own. Guess I was wrong about THAT! Instead you are all just lounging around the pool? Sigh. Where’s my dog bed?

* * * * * * * * *

Getting back to my hotel, I opened the envelope and looked through the pages inside. Benny had certainly planned ahead. He had paid for the funeral, casket and the gravesite. The envelope also contained the receipts showing that, as he said, the apartment was paid for. That was certainly a weight off my mind. All we had to do now was find enough money to pay for what I had no doubt would be a very expensive wedding. Taking out the bankcard I usually used to access the Centre funds, I dropped it on the bed in front of me and stared at it. I knew, to the last penny, how much was in it and the thought that it would perfectly cover an expensive wedding and honeymoon for the happy pair was now rapidly becoming a thorn in my side.

My mind went back to the money that I knew Lyle had withdrawn from his account and, a couple of rapid calculations later, I knew it would be the perfect sum for a wedding on a slightly smaller scale. Putting on my jacket, I left the room. Their hotel was just a few blocks away and it only took a few minutes to get there.

Skulking around the parking lot, I was trying to think of a way to get Lyle out of his room for a while when my eye was caught by something familiar. LYLE-4. Well, at least he’d got himself a replacement after I ‘accidentally’ pushed the last one over a cliff. Oops. Anyway, I was pleased to note that it was in a spot on its own, a safe distance from any other vehicle. For several moments, as I unlocked the gas cap and unscrewed it, I admired the beautiful red of the paintwork. Although I hate admitting it, the man doesn’t have bad taste.

Taking off my socks, I replaced my shoes and then tore the socks into strips, shoving them into the gas tank. A discarded lighter lying near by provided me with the small flame I needed and then I ran for cover.

With the explosion distracting all eyes, I sidled up to the building and peered around it, working out in my mind how long it would take for them to inform Lyle and for him to come down the stairs. Less than two minutes later, he appeared, and, as he tried to approach the flaming car, I slipped into the reception and, finding it deserted, looked up Lyle’s room number. Going around to the rear of the building, I went up the fire escape and in through an unlocked window.

Looking around, I was pleased to note that at least most of my lairs were neater than the room Lyle had been occupying and, for a moment, I had no idea where to start. Suddenly a box, poking out from under the bed that looked as if it had been recently used, caught my eye and I snatched it up. A quick glance was enough to show me that I had found the object of my search and I was just about to hotfoot it back through the window when I heard a familiar voice outside the door. For a few seconds I considered grabbing her to ask her why all three of them were in California but, although I know Miss Parker’s attitude towards me has changed in recent times, particularly with what we had shared at Barrow, I made the sudden decision that if I was going to help Argyle, Mona and Benny, this wasn’t the time to be testing it. Closing the window took just a few seconds and I was on the ground again inside of two minutes.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Argyle?”

The door opened when Jarod gently pushed it and he walked in to the apartment to find Mona sitting on the sofa.

“What’s going on?”

”Argyle’s in with his dad.” Nodding, Jarod sat opposite her, and she looked at him. “You were serious about that, right?”

”I’m afraid so.”

“How long?”

”I don’t know for sure, but maybe only a few days. These things can be sudden.”

”And -- is it hurting him?”

”No. Like I said to Argyle yesterday, it’s not painful. Benny probably won’t wake up one morning, that’s all.”

She nodded. “Did you figure something out?”

Jarod was about to respond when Argyle walked out of the bedroom.

“Hey, Jay-dog.”

The quiet tones were a contrast to Argyle’s usual manner of speaking, but no great surprise, and Jarod produced an envelope, holding it out.

“I have something for the two of you.” He smiled. “Think of it as an early wedding present.”

Argyle took the envelope and opened it, pulling out the bundle of notes, several of which drifted out of his grasp towards the floor. Dog grabbed one between his teeth and started to wrestle with it as both Argyle and Mona stared at the pile of wealth sitting on the table in front of them.

* * * * * * * * *

Money, eh? Where did Jarod find this? While I am still hurt at being left with that awful thumbless man, Jarod bringing this money to Argyle seems to have lifted the mood a bit. And when Argyle is happy, Dog is happy. (grrrrrrrr - shaking head and clenching a twenty).

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Jay-man, what…?”

”I told you, Argyle.” Jarod smiled in satisfaction. “It’s my wedding present and it should also cover a nice, quiet honeymoon somewhere, as well as a week or so in Dog-paradise at a kennel near here.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

”Does that look like I’m kidding?” Jarod nodded at the money. “I understood why you didn’t want me to pay for your dad’s trip to the Vatican, but this is different.”

* * * * * * * * *

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Argyle hugged me, nor when Mona did, and I was glad to see the grin back on his face. Bending down, I rescued the note that Dog had been trying to shake to death and added it to the rest of the pile, putting the lot back into the envelope before looking up.

* * * * * * * * *

Dog paradise? Does that mean I actually get a vacation away from all this, with some time to myself and maybe the chance to meet some new acquaintances? Well, I always knew there was a benefit to going out and finding Jarod that day, except for the fact that he seems to want to take away my new toy and is manhandling my jaw in order to do so! Hey, pretty-boy, I was playing with that!

* * * * * * * * *

“Did you say something yesterday about a fitting?” Mona queried as Argyle finally stopped staring at the pile of money I was replacing in the envelope.

Watching him nod gleefully, I began, for the first time, to wonder just what colors and styles Argyle had been thinking about wearing. Knowing that nothing I would say could make him change his mind, I could really only hope Mona had more taste than he did. Eyeing the outfit that she was wearing that day, I had to doubt if that would be the case…

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“Lyle?” Sydney looked up as the man stormed into the room. “Is something wrong?”

“You mean apart from my car?” the man snapped.

“Yes,” the psychiatrist responded calmly. “Is there a problem?”

“Where was Miss Parker yesterday afternoon?”

“All three of us were here, together, until we went to get you for dinner. When you weren’t there, we went down to the restaurant, still together.”

“She didn’t sneak back upstairs for anything?”

”Of course not. Why, what’s wrong?”

“I’m missing a lot of money.” The man threw himself into a chair that groaned in protest and the psychiatrist hid a smile. “All the money I brought with me disappeared while I was trying to put out the fire.” He glared at the other man. “Do you have any idea where my money might be?”

“None, but I’m sure you could withdraw some more for the rest of your time here, couldn’t you?”

“Dad wants me back at the Centre as soon as this whole fiasco’s over.”

“Well, never mind.” Sydney attempted to speak soothingly, smothering his amusement. “I’m sure, with the way you can twist your father around your little finger, you’ll manage a vacation at some other time, and you’ll probably have earned enough money by that time to pay for a couple more escorts.”

Giving the older man an indescribable look and muttering something inaudible as he did so, Lyle got up from his chair and stalked out of the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Thankfully the fitting didn’t take too long -- only an hour, to be exact. It was just the choice of color that made me feel slightly nauseated. I could cope with a black tuxedo. I could even deal with the pale cream shirt. It was when they produced the bright orange bowtie that I started to get worried. The lime green waistcoat, covered with purple checks, almost induced motion sickness, and the blue shoes brought back memories of Bernie Baxley. Still, as I once heard someone say, it wasn’t my…sorry, that’s not in great taste, is it? Anyway, you know what I mean.

* * * * * * * * *

And Argyle’s still trying to put things around my neck. What is this anyway? It looks the same as the object that some stranger just tied around Jarod's neck. Great, so now we’re going to be dressed the same as well? But if he tries to put anything like that on my feet, I’m taking the first chance to disappear out the door, no matter how far it might be back to the apartment.

* * * * * * * * *

Getting back to the apartment was the hard part. Dog was still wearing his bright orange bowtie, Argyle wanting to show it to ‘Pop,’ but there was a distinct lack of noise in the apartment when we got there. I’ve never claimed psychic powers among my abilities, but something told me what had happened, so I went to Benny’s bedroom while Argyle was still finding a place for Dog to ‘diddle.’ As I’d told Mona it would, the whole thing had clearly been easy. Coming out of the room again, I stopped Argyle before he could go in.

* * * * * * * * *

Funeral Home
Long Beach, California

“Will you stop moaning about the money?!” Miss Parker rolled her eyes, trying to concentrate on the road.

“I swear, Parker, if you so much as laid a finger on it…”

”I don’t like dirty money,” she replied sweetly. “And all three of us know precisely what you were planning to use it for.”

Parking in front of the funeral home, Miss Parker ignored the glare Lyle shot in her direction and got out, followed by the others. As they walked into the building, Miss Parker pulled Broots aside.

”Do we know exactly when on Tuesday this funeral is?”

”N…no, Miss Parker, not exactly. I’m hoping they can tell us here.”

Nodding and trying not to cough at the incense in the air, she followed him to the desk and waited for him to make inquiries. In a few minutes he joined the others.

“It’s at three. It’ll take about an hour and then there’s another right before it, so we’ll have to wait until it’s over before we go in. Oh, and apparently it’s a private burial for Bennie’s funeral.”

“How devastating,” Miss Parker responded, turning on her heel.

“But we can view his body.”

Freezing, she turned, lowering her voice to a menacing whisper and glaring at the technician. “And you want to?”

“L…like I said, Miss Parker, Bennie was a friend.”

“Fine. But make it quick.”

She swept in through the door but was stopped by security personnel who indicated the visitor’s book. Casting a baleful look at Broots, she scribbled her name in the relevant place and led the way inside to one of the rooms where the deceased were on display. Just as the door shut behind them, the front door opened again and a group of three humans and one dog entered.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle had taken the news better than I expected him to. He didn’t even seem all that surprised about it and, not believing that my words had had that much of an impact, I wondered briefly what Benny had said. Argyle suggested we could go to the funeral home so that he could see what his father had set up, so that was why we turned up so soon. It was no surprise to me that Benny had even set up the date and time for his funeral and it was also going to take place before Mona and Argyle got married, meaning that they could go away for the honeymoon that they had planned, using the money I’d provided, courtesy of Lyle.

We found out that the funeral was going to be held on Tuesday at two, fitting very well around the planned wedding that evening. Both would be short and we were likely to be the only people in attendance at either one. That all suited me just fine. I just had one small problem, and that was when I happened to look down at the book of people currently inside the funeral home. I think the four of us -- we didn’t forget Dog this time -- left there faster than we’d abandoned the beach.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Jarod arrived at the apartment the next morning in time to see the bride-to-be on her way out the door.

“Where are you…?”

”Audition.” She grinned. “Wish me luck.”

Keeping the surprised expression away from his face, Jarod gave her his sincere best wishes and watched as she jumped into the elevator. Going inside, he sat down beside Argyle as he stared at the photo of himself and his parents. “You know,” he began carefully. “In a way, this is quite good.”

”How?”

“Well, had you thought about the future? After the wedding, where were you and Mona planning to live? Here with your Pop or somewhere else?”

The surprised expression on Argyle’s face told Jarod that, as he’d surmised, this wasn’t a point that had been considered.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Argyle shrugged.

“But you’ve got somewhere for the honeymoon, right?”

”Yeah.” He gave Jarod a weak grin. “But that’s only a week.”

Taking the envelope Benny had given him out of his pocket, Jarod took out the receipt showing the lease of the apartment. “You’ll have until the Friday after you and Mona get back to find some other place, or to find the money to pay the rent for another month.”

“Pop did this?”

Jarod gave him a sad smile. “Yes, Argyle. Yes, he did.”

On to Act IV

 
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