Right up front, let me tell you why I’m writing this whole thing down. You know how you got a story you like telling and over time it gets longer and longer? Well, it gets that way because the details get fuzzier and fuzzier after awhile. So you just fill in stuff that may or may not have actually happened. I’ve been telling this story to select people for a long time now, and I just noticed I’ve been doing a little filling, so to speak. Since this is my best story (because its 100% true - not all of mine are), I want to make sure it’s told right after I’m gone.
Also, there’s another reason for me finally getting to this. I told myself about two years ago that I was not going to let this story get into the ‘80s. I don’t actually know when this is being read, but I’m here to tell you that right now it is 3:42 PM on Monday, Dec. 31, 1979. How’s that for cutting it close?
I figured that I better start now because, although I can tell my tale in about a half hour or so, I write considerably slower. If I’m going to make it by midnight, I need to get a move on. I actually have another real good reason for getting this done now but I’ll leave that until later when it makes more sense.
So let’s get going. I had this best friend named Ronnie. You’ll notice I said “had” not “have.” Ronnie’s not around anymore, and that will be a lot clearer at the end, too. If you knew him, Ronnie was a little weird. If you didn’t know him, he was just a guy. You know, gets up, goes to work, comes home, watches football, etc., etc. Well, I was around Ronnie ever since we were just kids and we just seemed to hit it off.
Over time though, he slowly changed. Not so anyone could really notice. Unless you were his best friend. Then you notice a lot. His biggest change was the way he would totally get into whatever we were into. I don’t mean really like something. I mean become whatever we were doing at the time. I’ll give you a little example. We didn’t just play Army when were young, we played Guns of Navarone (who didn’t?). This had to be like when we were ten or eleven or so. Anyway, Ronnie always had to be Capt. Mallory (Gregory Peck, of course), and I had to be Cpl. Miller (David Niven). Well, I got sick of that after awhile and wanted to be a German for once. So we played it that way.
About a week later, I get shoved from behind and knocked down. I look around, and it’s Ronnie. I say, “What the hell’s going on?” He’s glaring at me and he says, “Someone's got to take the responsibility if the job's going to get done. Do you think that's easy?” I realize he’s doing Gregory Peck. A week later, for Christ sake. I was never a German again.
So he was my best friend but he could be out there, you know what I mean? Anyway, fast forward to 1972. We still hung out, though not so much as we did before since he was married and I was single. Fine by me, as noted above. Cynthia (his wife) was a really hot chick, and I did kind of envy him for landing her. He called her Cyn and was always reminding me that it wasn’t not just short for Cynthia but also referred to what they did behind closed doors. See, he’s like that.
So I haven’t seen him in awhile when I bump into him at the record store. His arms are full of eight tracks and he’s all hyper. Not a good sign. The first thing out of his mouth is “That sonofabitch Paul is gonna sleep with the fishes.” Not “Hi” or “What’s up?” I don’t know any Paul, but movie references are another bad sign. I try to misdirect him.
“Hey, Ronnie,” I say. “So, how many times you seen The Godfather?”
“Never mind that,” he says. “Six. But I’m talking about vengeance, you hear what I’m sayin’?” He has now begun talking as if he has cotton in his cheeks. And he may well, for all I know.
“Slow down, Marlon,” I say. “Speak like a real person so I can understand what you’re talking about.”
He looks at me like I’m the crazy one. “I’m talking about this,” he says, jabbing at an eight track. The rest of them scatter to the floor. He makes no move to pick them up. “This piece of crap is gonna be wearing cement shoes.”
I don’t think that line is from The Godfather but I get his drift. I look closer at the eight. It’s an album by a guy named Billy Paul. So that’s the Paul of sonofabitch fame. I say, “Who is he, and why you gotta whack him?” You know, laying it on thick, playing along.
“Haven’t you been listening?” he says, looking up. I can’t figure out if he means to him or God. He actually points up, and I look. I see a speaker, and then it dawns on me to listen. I hear the song, and all of a sudden it hits me hard. It can’t be. But, of course, it is. I can see it in his eyes. The song is “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
“Geez, Ronnie,” I say, “it’s not about her. Just because they have the same last name. You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I’m dead serious,” Ronnie says. “And so is he.”
I’m at a loss for words. This is out there, even by Ronnie’s standards. I don’t even know where to start. So I just sigh and say, “Go ahead. Give it to me.”
The way Ronnie jumps into the story, I know he’s given this much thought and obsession. Another really bad sign. Eyes blazing, he begins: “Okay, you know how you can’t go anywhere without hearing this friggin’ song. It’s like #1 or something. You can’t escape. So I start to listen to the words. First off, Mrs. Jones? The guy’s singing about having an affair with a Mrs. Jones! Now that’s either Cyn or my mom and mom don’t get out too much anymore. So there’s that. Then he talks about meeting her at 6:30. Cyn has Bridge Club at 6:30. Right! You ever hear Cyn talk about bridge, huh?”
“Well, I-” I begin.
“See what I mean? It’s her. Bridge, ha! She don’t even like cards. So then the topper is she ain’t even keepin’ up her end of the matrimonial duties, if you catch my meaning. She must be gettin’ it on the side, she don’t want my manroot.”
Well, I can’t combat that argument, so I try an end run. “Let me see the tape,” I say. He hands it to me and suddenly realizes that all his other eights are on the floor. As he’s picking them up, I use the time to study the album. It is as I had expected. “Look, Ronnie. This guy didn’t even write the song. Three guys did.” I show him the writing credits. “Me and Mrs. Jones” was written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Cary Gilbert. I head him off at the pass. “Now, don’t even think gangbang, Ronnie,” I say. “It isn’t mentioned in the song.”
Ronnie thinks hard for a long time. “You’re right. I don’t know which of those four douche bags is doing the dirty deed. It wouldn’t be fair to take out the wrong guy. So it’s simple. Cyn’s got to go.”
I don’t see Ronnie for a couple of weeks when all of a sudden he shows up unannounced at my house. I’m working on my Gremlin, and I’m all covered with grease and oil. (OK, sidebar: Laugh if you want. It’s what I could afford at the time, and it was surprisingly roomy for a compact.) He doesn’t seem to notice since he’s ready to go.
“Got everything we need. Just need you and we’re ready.”
“Ready for what?” I ask.
He gives me that look again. “Where you been?” he asks. “We’re taking out Cyn.”
I just look at him. You know that saying, “Never assume anything. It makes an ass out of u and me.” Well, I’m the ass, I guess. I assumed that when Ronnie said Cyn had to go, he meant divorce. Silly me. He meant kill her. I can’t think of anything that could make sense of this situation, so I just say, “Why do you need me?”
He gives me the I-guess-I’m-talking-to-a-three-year-old expression and says, “Cause they would expect me to do it. On account she’s cheating on me and all.”
Now I realize that I’m the hitman. “Oh geez, Ronnie,” I say. “I’m not killing anyone, let alone Cyn.”
This does not deter him. “Just hear me out,” he says. He doesn’t wait for me to protest. “First, I got the gun. Cost me a bunch, but it’s a beaut.” He opens a bag I just notice for the first time. I guess I’m not that observant so soon after finding out I’m a contract killer. He pulls out a gun that looks vaguely familiar. “Ha! I knew you’d recognize it. It’s a Luger. A real one. Walther P38. Figured it’d be perfect for you, seeing as how you always had to be the Kraut officer in Guns of Navarone.”
“Jesus Christ, Ronnie, that was more than ten years ago and it was once!”
“Hey, once a Kraut, always a Kraut, I always say.” I never heard him say that but I’m more concerned about the troubled look on his face. Ronnie + troubled look + gun = very bad combo. “I thought you’d be happy,” he whined. “I went to a lot of trouble to get this and it cost me my left nut. That’s why I can only give you a grand.” Before I can say anything, he opens the bag wider and I see it’s full of cash. My payment.
“Ronnie, listen to me,” I say. “I’m not killing Cyn. This is-”
“No, wait,” he interrupts. “Just go over there. Case the joint and let me know if it’s doable.” He pauses for a moment, then adds slyly, “I know you could use the money.”
He is right about that. My rent is $188, and I’m two months behind. The Gremlin needs more work than I can do myself, and my overtime is shrinking daily. A thousand bucks would more than come in handy. But this is Cyn we’re talking about. Man. Ronnie can sense me wavering a little and he pounces. “Just check it out, huh? Take the gun-”
“I’m not taking the gun!”
“Okay, okay, leave the gun,” he says. “Just go over and look around. Cyn’s not home. Probably out at the café with Billy Paul or one of them.”
It’s not even close to 6:30, but I let that go. I’m thinking I can go over there, wait for Cyn and try to get to the bottom of this. My luck, she is seeing Billy Paul. “All right,” I finally say. “You wait here, and we’ll talk when I get back. Go inside and have a beer or something.”
“Thanks, man,” he says, letting out a huge breath. “I’ll be waiting for you. Can I put this cash somewhere? It’s making me nervous.” If Ronnie’s nervous, I’m nervous, so I tell him to stash it under the bed and to go watch TV. I head for his house.
I’ve had a key ever since Ronnie bought his house, so I let myself in. It’s not a great house, but it’s his. Suddenly, I’m pissed at the world. How can it be that a nut case like Ronnie can have a job that allows him to buy a house, buy a nice car (Chevy El Camino), buy a gun, and have $1000 left over to pay a hitman while I rent my house, drive a Gremlin, can’t buy a stick of gum, and have $79 in my checking account? These thoughts are quickly pushed aside when the smell hits me. It is not a pleasant smell.
I venture into the living room and see Cyn lying on the couch. I have forgotten what a great dresser she is. Her little mini boots go perfectly with her dress, and her bracelets and earrings are a matched set. The only thing that clashes is the rope around her neck and the sock stuffed in her mouth. Points off for that.
Even though I know she’s not alive, I still call out to her. “Cyn,” I say, “are you all right?”
“Of course she’s not all right,” says Ronnie. “She’s dead.” His voice startles me so much that I almost faint. I left the door open and didn’t hear him come in. “I figured that you might have some cold feet, so I got a jump on the situation.”
“You killed her?” I gasp. One thing about me, I’m quick. “Then what did you need me for?”
“Well,” he says, “I looked at it like this. Me, I’m an action type guy. You, you’re more of the idea sort. Cyn’s out of the picture but we need a look, so-”
“There’s no ‘we,’” I yell.
“Oh yes there is,” he says quietly. “Two best friends standing over a dead wife, fingerprints all over the place. Oh yeah, there’s a ‘we.’” Before I can think if I touched anything, Ronnie’s off to the races. “So, what’s our look here? Simple robbery gone bad, maybe?” With that, he begins to rip apart the room. He’s in a frenzy, talking super fast as he goes along. “Where’s the Sterling? Not here.” He pulls out a couple of drawers, dumps them on the floor. “Where’re the credit cards? Hmm, doesn’t seem to have any.” He tears Cyn’s purse apart and throws it on a table.
He stops abruptly. “No, wait,” he says. “Not simple robbery. Robber surprised and rape/murder ensues.” He runs over to Cyn and pulls up her dress and is in the process of pulling down her panties when I tackle him.
“Are you out of your mind?” I scream. It is the rhetorical question of all time.
He pushes me off and says, “You’re right, no need to overproduce. Robbery gone bad is cool. Okay, now for our signature.” He gets up, pacing and muttering to himself. “What’s good, what’s good?” He snaps his fingers. “I got it! We leave the TV on tuned to PBS. We’re the Smart Bandits.” He flips on the TV and finds PBS. He frowns and then turns it up full blast. He smiles. Much better.
My head is about to explode. And not just from the screechings of Julia Child priming a flank steak (although that doesn’t help). I yell for him to shut it off, but he seems to be mesmerized by Julia’s mastery of gravy prep. I move him aside and turn off the TV. By this time, several minutes have passed, I guess. “This is beyond insane,” I say. “A signature only works if there are more crimes to follow. Then it’s a pattern. What are you gonna do? Rob and kill five more people so you can work in your signature?”
He looks at me and seems to be mulling over this new development. I have a horrifying feeling that I have just planted a seed. Finally, he says, “Well, that would be a lot of extra work. Okay, no signature.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. (The situation I’m in and I’m breathing a sigh of relief? you ask. You had to be there.) I stress the importance of getting out of here - now. Ronnie wants the scene to look just right before we leave. Lost in argument, we don’t notice the two cops who walk right in through the open door. “Excuse us,” they say. “We got a complaint about a TV playing too loud.”
Things move pretty quickly from there. The cops can’t help but notice Cyn on the couch. I loudly protest my innocence. Ronnie just as loudly says, then why did you accept the thousand bucks from me? It’s under his bed, he mentions to one of the cops. I then try to kill Ronnie with my bare hands. Where is that Luger when you need it?
They, of course, arrested us both. Since I couldn’t raise the bail and Cyn’s parents wouldn’t come through with any cash (yes, Ronnie did ask them - and no, it didn’t go over well), we sat in jail for more than two years awaiting trial. There must have been some backlog of murderers in our neck of the woods. But contrary to popular belief, once at trial, the criminal justice system can move with surprising speed. Our convictions came quickly and easily. Ronnie’s came quicker than mine since he acted as his own lawyer. I always thought his best shot was an insanity plea, but he saw Anatomy of a Murder on TV in lockup and had to become Jimmy Stewart as Paul Biegler, Attorney at Law. Jimmy was better.
My lawyer wasn’t that good, but at least he went to Law School. What I gained was time during trial. While I stayed in relative safety in the County Jail while in court, Ronnie lost quick and was thrust right into the yard at Wentworth Maximum Security Prison. Not such a good place for a guy like Ronnie. He was taken out a little less than two years ago, yet here I am still kicking.
Well, that’s pretty much my story. Not bad, huh? And, like I said before, it’s 100% true. I probably should have also detailed my “incident” concerning the unfortunate death of a guard here (he just had to make his rounds whistling “Me and Mrs. Jones”, didn’t he?), but remember I also mentioned that I was on a strict time constraint. Looking at my watch, I am pleased to announce that not only did I beat my midnight goal, but it’s only 9:17 PM. More than enough time for my last meal and a quick movie. Hope they have Guns of Navarone.