It happened on a Sunday. Frankie and I had been up all night playing Uno or something like that (I remember it well); then in the morning light while the forest (high up in the hills on Shitsville Ranch) rang with the chatter of monkeys, we were having good ole fashioned Texas prawn, pork and bacon toasted sandwiches for breakfast with whisky in our lattes (or something greasy and unrefined anyhow) under the striped umbrella on the red brick patio. Then the phone rang. It was Great-great-great Aunt Olga on the line, calling from America, with news as unexpected as if it had hatched out of a breakfast egg, or Frankie had gone on the wagon.
“Hello Aunt Olga (stop that Francis),” said I as he poured tomato sauce onto his plate, and later stubbed his cigarette out in the pool of it. “That shows a great want of refinement.”
But the relative refinements of Francis Shitsville would soon matter nought as Aunt Olga had some awful news. “We have arrived in Palm Springs in one piece,” she said.
“Oh?” said I. “I hope you enjoyed the zeppelin?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, “But that is another story. Dear sweet great niece, something dreadful has happened. It’s your father.”
“Oh,” said I. “Yes, I know.” (Francis in the background: “Ha, ha, ha.”)
I was struggling to hear and trying to push Frankie’s face into the sauce as she told me: “We arrived at the house in Palm Springs but he wasn’t there; some tarted up cleaner with thick ankles said he’d been in Vegas for a week so she gave us the address of a motel there. And that’s where we found him… My dear, the smell.”
“You get used to it,” said I.
“We found him by the pool. In blue underwear and a terry towelling robe open…”
“He was horribly bloated…”
“He is sensitive about his weight, but too vain to discuss it.”
“Sweet niece, you don’t understand. What I’m trying to tell you is that he wasn’t moving at all…”
“It is usually like that after a Saturday night in Vegas…”
“And he looked slightly greenish…”
“There should be a note on the fridge with the recommended dosage of Pepto…”
“I mean he was dead,” said Aunt Olga.
“Dead? Comatose perhaps sweet auntie but not dead surely. You can try pushing him in the pool if it worries you and he’ll come to soon enough.”
“Dear dear,” said Aunt Olga. “You don’t understand. I mean he was really dead; quite deceased. There was a hole in his head. He’d been shot.”
At last I saw it clearly, the scene by the pool: Archie green skinned in the grey Vegas morn come to sit by the pool and smoke and watch the Listerine-coloured ripples lap while a neon Marilyn’s skirt fluttered up in three lighted stages and empty chip packets shuffled around the Motel court like dreaming hoofers hoping for a dime. He might have fallen asleep, his robe falling open in soft folds either side to reveal the sweet portly stomach and thunder thighs; how tender and boyish he must have looked when the sky above the grey desert turned soft and pink; a strand of hair, errant from the well oiled pouff and duck’s ass falling forward over his forehead, his waxed spotted chest rising and falling as he dreamt as trustingly as a babe; and then some villain with a pistol, stepping out of the awkward chiaroscuro shadows made by the folded umbrellas and plastic flamingoes; some tool of the Vegas Mafia come to seek revenge…
“There wasn’t much blood so the coroner said he was dead from drugs before he was shot,” Aunt Olga was saying; her voice seemed to be coming from somewhere far away (i.e. Las Vegas, Nevada). “We had to make a formal identification… Though I haven’t seen him for years his is a face I’ll never forget. Funny how he looked a little Japanese, his eyes were so puffy,” she said. Meanwhile Frankie was still laughing in the background.