Katie Stafford kept hearing these little clicking sounds upstairs. She was sure, even though Bob, her husband of a whole life practically, made her feel stupid or feel that she’d lost it every time she called his attention to it. Both were sitting in the den or TV room. The TV was on but neither one was watching it. She was working her one of her crosswords as usual while he had his ho-hum face buried in the screen of his PC as usual. It was 9:45 p.m. and both were getting a little too sleepy to stay up much longer.
“I tell you I hear some sound upstairs. When are you going to go up and check it out?” she asked.
“How many times are you going to repeat that?” Bob grumbled. “You have my permission to go up and check it out yourself cause you know as well as I do there’s nothing to it!”
“There is something to it. Do you think I talk just to be airing my tongue? Furthermore, Mr. Stafford, I don’t need your permission should I get adventurous and decide to go for myself!”
“Well, I can tell you one thing.” Bob continued. “That tactic of yours to pester me to death about it won’t get you anywhere. I’ll never go check on it at that rate. I’ll sleep down here tonight!”
“Some nerve you have!” said Katie. “Tell me, do you plan to eat tomorrow? Cause if you do, you’d better plan to cook as well.”
“Oh really,” Bob stammered. “And just what might be your plans for tomorrow or am I not to ask?”
“You may ask anything your bloody old heart desires, Bob Stafford. However, that doesn’t guarantee an answer. Least of all from me!”
The clicking noise repeated itself. This time both of them heard it clearly. No mistake about it.
Bob rose from his chair. “Okay, I’ll just go up and take a quick tour. If I’m not back in ten minutes, you know who to dial.”
Katie stood also. “That won’t be necessary, Mr. Stafford,” she said, stopping him. “It just so happens that I realize I now have the courage to go by myself. Why I persisted in bothering you about it only the stars know.” With that, she left the room.
What bothered Bob was that Katie had not returned and more than ten minutes had passed. Neither had he heard her call his name, scream, bump around or anything of the sort. Now he really was frightened. He rose from his chair again.
“Katie!” he called nervously. “Are you there? Are you all right? I’m coming up.”
Bob ascended the stairs slowly. He was seventy-two years old and he and Katie had been married forty or forty-one years now. He remembered that lately he’d been bothered by thoughts of one of them losing the other. It was a terrible thing to have happen to a couple after so many years of togetherness. Then again, and just as bad, was the realization that it was inevitable. A matter of timing, frankly.
No sound anymore. Neither the clicking nor Katie’s voice. How strange, thought Bob. A few more steps.
“I’m coming, honey. Don’t worry. Sorry if I said anything to upset you.”
The first bedroom at the top of the stairs that Bob looked into presented him with the saddest and most horrifying spectacle he’d ever seen in all his life: Katie lay face-up on the red bedspread with a nylon stocking tightly knotted round her thin, always beautiful neck. Before Bob could release the great, anguished cry that had quickly welled up inside him, everything went away—all sensation of any kind—sight, sound, touch, etc.
“It’s obvious,” the detective with the sunglasses and mustache told his rooky partner as they surveyed the small bedroom and the lifeless old cadavers. “The old couple hears a noise. The old lady comes up to check on it and gets strangled noiselessly and effortlessly since she’s petite. After a while the old man comes up too. He’s bewildered. Thief’s waiting behind the door and whack! Thief climbs back down exiting via the same bedroom window he climbed in. Takes all the jewelry as well as all the cash he found in the master bedroom. Ain’t the first case I’ve seen and won’t be the last.”
The rooky partner’s face was pale.
“Just hang with me,” the detective said. “You’ll learn more than you ever dreamed you would.”
END OF “A MATTER OF TIMING, FRANKLY”