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     ROBERT CRAIS: EXCERPT - THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT

     "Mrs. Lang, do you know where Mort kept his gun?"
     She looked surprised. "Mort didn't have a gun."
     I showed her the receipt. "Well, this is years ago," she said.
     "Guns tend to hang around. Keep an eye out for it."
     She nodded. "All right. I'm sorry."
     "You say that a lot. You don't have to he sorry. You look away a lot, too, and that's something else you don't have to do."
     "I'm sorry."
     "Quite all right."
     She took a sip of her milk. It left a moustache on her upper lip. "You are funny," she said.
     "It's either that or be smart." I killed the rest of the sandwich and sorted the paperwork: bank stuff together; credit card billings together, phone stuff by itself. Without Janet Simon around, she was much more relaxed. You could look past the frightened eyes and mottled face and slumped shoulders and get glimpses of her from better days I said, "I'll bet you were the third prettiest girl in eleventh grade."
     Happy-lines came to the corners of her eyes. She touched at her hair again. "Second prettiest," she said.
     It was good when she smiled. She probably hadn't done a lot of that lately "You meet Mort in college?"
     "High school. Clarence Darrow Senior High in Elverton. That's where we grew up. In Kansas."
     "High school sweethearts."
     She smiled. "Yes. Isn't that awful?"
     "Not at all. You go to college together?"
     Her eyes turned a little wistful. "Mort was in theater arts and business. His parents had quite a large paint store there, in Elverton. They wanted him to take it over but Mort wanted to act. No one can understand that in Elverton. You say you want to act and they just look at you."
     I shrugged. "Mort didn't have it so bad."
     She looked at me.
     "He had the second prettiest girl at Clarence Darrow Senior High, didn't he?"
     She looked at me some more until she realized what I was doing, then she grinned, and nodded, and finally gave a short uncertain laugh. She told me I was terrible.
     I pushed the paperwork across the table to her. "Be that as it may, I want you to go through and notate all the phone numbers that you can identify. Go through the credit card billings and see if the purchases make sense to you. Same with the bank statements and the check stubs."
     She looked at the stacks of paper. The smile disappeared. No happy-lines around the eyes. "Isn't that what I'm paying you for," she said softly.
     "We're going to have to take care of that, too. So far, you're not paying me anything."
     "Yes, of course." Awkward and uncomfortable.
     I sighed. "Look, I could do this, sure, but it's faster if you do it. I don't know any of these phone numbers, but you will, and that will save time. I don't know what you people bought from the Broadway or on Visa. I see a Visa charge from The Ivy for a hundred dollars a week every week, I don't know you and Janet make a regular thing of it there every Thursday."
     "There's nothing like that."
     "There might be something else."
     She was looking at the paper like it was going to jump at her. "It's not that I don't want to, she said, "it's just that I'm not very good at these things."
     "You'll surprise yourself."
     "I'm so bad with figures."
     "Try."
     "I'll mess it up." I leaned back in the chair and put my hands on the table. At the Grand Canyon, I'd seen a man with acrophobia force himself toward the guardrail because his daughter wanted to look down. He almost made it, both hands on the rail, leaning forward in a lunge with his feet as far back as possible, before the cold sweats cut his knees out from under him and he collapsed to the pavement. Ellen Lang's eyes looked like his eyes.
     She tried to smile again, but it came out broken this time.
     "It really will be better if you do it, don t you see?"
     I saw. "Mort really did it to you, didn't he."
     She stood quickly and scooped up what was left of her sandwich and the Fred Flintstone glass. "You stop that right now. You sound just like Janet."
     "Nope. With me it was just an observation."
     She stood breathing hard for a second and then she went into the kitchen.  I waited. When she came back out she said, "All right.  Tell me what to do again."
     I told her. "Now about my fee."
     "Yes, of course."
     "Two thousand, exclusive of expenses."
     "I remember."
     I looked at her. She looked at me. Nobody moved. After twenty or thirty years I said, "Well?"
     "I'll get it to you."
     I took the checkbook out of the stack of bank paper and pushed it across the table to her. "What's wrong with now?"
     A tick started on her right eye. "Do you . . . take Visa?"
     It was very still in the house. I could hear a single-engine light plane climbing out of Van Nuys Airport to the north. Somewhere down the street a dog with a deep, barrel-chested voice barked. There was a little breeze, but the jasmine was soured by the smog. I slid the checkbook back and looked at it. Most of the couples I know have the husband's name printed out, with the wife's name printed beneath it, two individuals. Theirs read: Mr. and Mrs. Morton K. Lang. There was a balance of $3426.15. All of the stubs were written in the same masculine hand. I said quietly "Go get a pen and I'll show you how."
     She went back into the kitchen. When she didn't come out for a while I went to see. She was standing with one hand on the counter and one hand atop her head. Her glasses were off and her chest was heaving and there was a puddle of tears on the tile counter by the glasses. Streamers of mucus ran down from her nose. All of that, but you couldn't hear her. "It's okay," I said.
     She broke and turned into my chest, sucking great gasping sobs. I held her tight, feeling the wet soak through my shirt. "I'm thirty-nine years old and I can't do anything. What did I do to myself? What did I do? I've got to have him back. Oh God, I need him."
     I knew she wasn't talking about Perry
     I held her until the heaving stopped and then I wrapped some ice in a dishtowel and wet it and told her to put it on her face.
     After a while we went back out to the dining room and I showed her how to fill in the check and how to maintain the balance on the stub. She was fine with the figures once she knew where to put them.
     When the check was written she tried to smile but all the life had gone out of her. "I guess I'll need to do this to pay the bills."
     "Yes."
     "Excuse me."
     She went down the hall toward her bedroom. I sat at the table for a while, then brought the dishes into the kitchen. I washed both glasses and the plate and the saucer, and dried them with paper towels, then I went back out, gathered together the bank records, and went into the living room by the overturned couch. She'd done a fair job of stapling the bottom cloth back on, but she would have a helluva time righting it. I listened, but couldn't hear her moving around. I turned the couch over and put it where I thought it should go and left.


   
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