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Carol Sojka
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shouldvecalledme.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2017

YOU SHOULD’VE CALLED ME

Carol Sojka

 

“You should’ve called me,” she said. “I’d have come over.”

“And done what?”

“Well, if you’d wanted company or someone to hold your hand, I could’ve been there.”

“I was mad. Holding my hand wouldn’t do anything.”

“Maybe I could’ve made you less mad.”

 What made her think that her presence would solve my problems?  

I hadn’t just been angry—I’d been boiling—because my roommate, the golden boy, had stolen my weed.  Everybody loves that jerk because they don’t live with him. 

“I’m gonna kill that guy when I see him.”

“What’d he do this time?” At least she understood my anger.

“Stole my stash.”

“I guess you’d be angry. Is that the last of it?”

“Yep. The very last. And it was good stuff.”

“Yeah, it was.”

I smiled. We’d had some of our best sex under the influence of that particular bud. And now it was gone.

“It’s all gone?” she asked.

“Every last leaf.” 

“What a shame,” she sighed. “Can you get more?”

“It won’t be the same. And I spent a lotta dough. I’ll probably have to hit my dad up for a loan to pay the rent. I hate that.”

“Expensive?”

“Like gold. It was the best.”

 “Is Chas trying to impress someone?” she asked. 

“I don’t know. I gotta get a new roommate, or else I’m gonna murder that guy.”

“Don’t say that. It’s just dope.”

“Just dope?” My voice rose. 

“Take it easy,” she said. 

“That weasel’s gotten the last thing he’s gonna steal from me. He’s not getting another chance.” It felt good to yell. Almost as good as yelling at Chas himself.

“He’s stolen other things from you?” she asked.

“Cash. Lotsa cash. Clothes. Wears them, ruins them. He’s taken books, too, although I don’t think he can read.”

“Oh, come on,” she laughed.

“Well, here’s another thing that drives me nuts. The girls who come here looking for him, crying about how much they love him. They leave me messages for him. Like I’m a service.” That really got me. The girls didn’t pay any attention to me. It was just Chas.

“I didn’t know about that.”

“Yeah. Your friend Lisa’s one of them.”

“Really? She never said.”

“She probably didn’t want you to know. Anyway, I didn’t want to call you when I was so mad. Listen, I gotta go to Chicago tomorrow. I’ll be gone ‘til Monday.”

“How come?”

“Some piece of software I’m supposed to vet. My boss thinks it’ll be huge. I’m not so sure. I’ll call you when I get back.”

“Okay, but don’t kill Chas tonight.”

“I won’t make any promises.”

I hung up the phone and looked around the living room. It was a nice room, comfortable, with a good couch and pillows on the hardwood floor. Chas liked it, I know. He brought his girls back here, often screwed them on the floor by the fireplace, instead of in his bedroom. He said the girls liked it, it was romantic, but I found it a nuisance, having to step over bodies if I got home late. Good thing I had my own john. 

Chas didn’t come home that night, which wasn’t unusual, and I left for Chicago without seeing him. The huge thing my boss was so high on turned out to be a big nothing, but I checked it out and sent him a memo. 

I flew in Monday morning. Chicago had been fun, and now I was ready to tackle work. When I got home Monday night, Chas wasn’t there, but the apartment had some changes: the pillows had been rearranged and the rug in front of the fireplace looked scrubbed, as if he’d finally cleaned up after himself.   

Chas didn’t come home Monday or Tuesday night. I can’t say I was worried about him because to worry I’d have had to care, but I was curious about where he was. Then I thought, hell, he’ll show up. Like pond scum, he always surfaced.

I’d met Chas when I advertised for a roommate. When we got together over coffee, he told me he worked at an ad agency in the Village and came from Wisconsin. I liked him, he gave me half the month’s rent, and he moved in. 

It wasn’t until we’d roomed together for a couple of months that things started to go missing. First, it was food. Not a lot, but it was clear he wasn’t buying his own. I asked him about it.

“Sorry. I haven’t had time to shop. I didn’t think you’d mind. I’ll make good.” It was hard not to believe the guy, he looked so innocent.  But then it happened again and again, and he usually didn’t replace what he’d taken.

When I confronted him, he said he was just so busy. The funny thing was he didn’t seem busy. He slept late every day and was still in bed when I left the apartment for work. When he got home from his “job”, he was casually dressed, not at all like what I expected of an ad executive.

He was out most nights and often didn’t come home at all except for the times he screwed his girlfriends in the living room. I didn’t worry about whether or not he had a job. My concern was the rent money, which he produced promptly for the first three or four months. Then the rent was late, and I got stories from him about waiting for a paycheck or a commission that would arrive soon. He usually gave it to me by the tenth, but I couldn’t afford to pay for the apartment on my own, and I got worried. It took me a while to connect the missing clothes, missing cash, and missing books to him. I was just about ready to throw him out when he stole the dope. And that was it.

But then I couldn’t throw him out because he didn’t come home.

Chas was gone for five days when I got a call at work.

“This is Lieutenant John Naylor, NYPD.” the man said.  “Do you know a man named Charles Richford?”

“He’s my roommate.”

“Have you seen him recently?”

“No. He hasn’t been home,” I said. 

“We’d like you to come down to the morgue. A body washed up in the East River. The wallet ID’d him as Charles Richford.”

Chas?  I couldn’t believe he was dead. “Are you sure it’s him?” I asked.  “How’d you find me?”

“He had your card in his wallet. We’re not sure it’s him. He’s been in the water a while. We’d like you to take a look.”

I agreed, told my boss some story and headed for the morgue. I was ready for the body to be somebody else and to get the hell out of there. But it wasn’t somebody else. It was Chas, his hair coated with mud, his body bloated from the water, a bullet hole in his chest.

I turned away. “That’s him.”

The morgue attendant asked, “Are you identifying this body as that of Charles Richford?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s Charles Richford.”

He pushed the drawer in. “The police will want to talk with you,” he said.

“I’ll be at home. They have my number.”

Lieutenant Naylor arrived at four-thirty that afternoon. He shook my hand briefly, then asked if I’d mind answering a few questions. I said okay, and he sat down.

When was the last time I’d seen Chas? What was our arrangement on the apartment? What did I know about his private life, his job, his parents, his life before we met? Where had I been during the last week? Could anybody verify my whereabouts?

I told him what I knew and said I thought Chas had been in the apartment after I’d gone to Chicago because of the missing cushions and the clean rug. Then the Lieutenant asked if I’d mind a search of the apartment and some fingerprint dusting. He said the police wanted to find out where the murder had been done.

The fingerprint experts and the crime scene investigators arrived, dusted every surface they could find and sprayed the living room floor, the fireplace, the rug and the pillows with something called Luminol.  Nobody said anything to me. 

Finally, the Lieutenant asked me to come down to the station for some further questions. I asked, “How come?” and he said, “Just a few formalities,” so I went to the station where I sat for a while alone in an interview room.

When Lieutenant Naylor came in, he brought another cop with him—his partner, Sergeant Matteo. 

Matteo started by asking me about my whereabouts from the time Chas went missing. I explained again about going to Chicago, and he said they would need the details: the tickets, the names and telephone numbers. I asked him why, and he said they had to check everyone out.   

I asked if they knew when Chas had been killed, and Naylor said it was hard to pinpoint because of the water but probably Friday or Saturday, although it could have been earlier. They asked me why I hadn’t reported Chas missing after he was gone for more than a week, and I said he was gone a lot, and besides, I wasn’t his keeper.

Then they told me that Chas had been killed in the apartment. Matteo said that Luminol revealed traces of blood on the newly cleaned rug, on the floors and on a couple of cushions.   

“You got any suspects?” I asked.    

“It’s early yet. We’re still gathering information,” said Matteo. “You know a woman named Cara Trinidad?”

 “Yeah. She’s my girlfriend.”

“Her number was in Richford’s cell phone. She said they’d been seeing one another.”

“What the hell?” I asked. “She’s been seeing me.”

“She told them you threatened to kill Richford when you talked to her just before you left for Chicago.”

“You’re kidding me. She said that?”

“She said Richford had stolen things from you, and you were furious with him, said you’d kill him.”

“I was pissed, but I wasn’t serious. I was going to kick him out whenever he came home, that was all. You don’t really think I killed him, do you?”

“We’re just trying to get the facts, Mr. Rankin. You can go now. Just don’t leave town.”

I left the precinct house and grabbed a cab. I couldn’t believe Cara had been screwing Chas. What a two-timing bitch! And telling the cops I’d threatened to kill Chas. She knew I’d been kidding.

The next day I got another call from Lieutenant Naylor. He asked if I’d stop in to the precinct again. I waited again in the same interview room until Naylor showed up about twenty minutes after I got there. 

“You said Richford worked for an ad agency?” he asked. “Did he tell you the name?”

“No.”

“Maybe he was, but he was also making porn flicks in the Village.”

“Chas?” I was totally floored. I knew women liked the guy, but a porn star . . . ?

“By the way, the blood in your apartment has been identified as that of Charles Richford. Blood spatters indicate he was shot in front of the fireplace.”

I just sat and stared at the Lieutenant. Did all those girls who chased him know that Chas was making porn flicks? Did Cara? 

“Do you have anything to add to what you’ve already told us?” Naylor asked.

I didn’t answer, just stared at him, my mind a blank. Chas hadn’t been what I thought he was. The up-and-coming ad executive had turned out to be a sleazeball starring in porn flicks. 

When I got home, there was a letter for Chas from a doctor’s office. I knew I should turn it over to the cops, but I opened it anyway. I’d make some excuse to the cops later. The letter was brief. It said that the doctor had been trying to reach Mr. Richford for some time to inform him that the doctor had notified his contacts about his status and asked Mr. Richford to get in touch with the doctor promptly to begin his own treatment. Beginning treatment was, the letter said, essential to Mr. Richford’s health.

  I read the letter several times, unable to make sense of it. Notification of what? Contacts for what? What kind of status?   

Then I remembered that Chas was a porn star. Something on TV a couple of weeks ago talked about porn stars getting STD’s, and efforts being made to get them to use condoms. Is that what the letter was about? Did Chas have an STD?  Did he have AIDS? Son of a bitch! Could I get it from contact with him? Maybe I should get tested.

I thought about Cara and Lisa and the other women Chas had screwed. Maybe Chas had infected them. 

 I thought: one person couldn’t have gotten Chas’ body from the apartment to the elevator, down to the ground floor, and across four long blocks to the East River. That would take at least two people and a car.

  The doctor’s letter said Chas’ contacts had been notified. I guessed that meant that they’d been told that Chas had tested positive for AIDS. Or syphilis or some other STD. And Chas’ contacts knew. They knew he might have infected them. Maybe they were angry enough to want him dead.   

It was still early, and I hadn’t had any dinner. I called Cara to see if she wanted to meet me. I was angry at her for telling the police I’d threatened to kill Chas, but I wanted to know if there was anything else she could tell me. 

I had to offer to bring in dinner before Cara agreed to see me. I ordered from an Italian restaurant near where she lived, bought a bottle of wine, and was at her apartment in about half an hour.

 “Apparently Chas was killed in my apartment,” I said.

She didn’t seem surprised. “What have the police told you?” Cara asked. 

“Not much. They wanted all the receipts from Chicago. I guess to be sure I’d been there. Did they tell you when he died?”

“I think they said Friday or Saturday. You were gone by then, so you’re in the clear.”

“Maybe. Is that why you told them I threatened to kill Chas?”

Cara looked embarrassed. She wouldn’t look at me. “They told you?”

“Of course they told me. That gives me a motive. Why did you tell them that, Cara?”

“I wasn’t trying to focus suspicion on you. They asked me what you and I had talked about.”

“Did you tell them Chas stole my drugs?”

She flinched. “No. Just that Chas had stolen things from you and you were angry.”

“Why, Cara? Why did you try to focus their attention on me? You were screwing him, weren’t you? How come I didn’t know that?”

“I wasn’t really. It just happened.”

“What? Like an accident?” I asked. I watched her. Maybe she was involved in his murder. Then I asked, “Did you know Chas was making porn flicks?”

“Yes. I knew about the films.”

“Has his doctor been in touch with you?”

“What do you mean? Why would his doctor be in touch with me?” I was sure she knew what I meant. 

“I think Chas gave you an STD. What was it? AIDS? His doctor notified his contacts, and you were one of them.”

“No. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She was lying.

“Chas infected others, too. Lisa and some of your friends. I think you got together and decided to kill him because he’d infected you, and he was still having unprotected sex. Was it AIDS?”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re crazy.”

“Am I? It took at least two people, maybe more, to kill Chas and move the body. He was killed in my apartment, then his body was carried out to the elevator and downstairs. Someone had to have a car. You don’t, but Emily has one. I know Emily slept with Chas. I think you met Chas at the apartment, killed him, and you and Emily and maybe others moved his body to the river. How’m I doing?”

“Have you shared your interesting theory with the police?”

“No, but I’m sure they’ll get there on their own.”

She smiled.“Or they may arrest and convict you, and that’ll be the end of it.”

“Is that what you’re hoping?” I asked. I knew now that what I’d said was true. I should have talked to the cops.

Cara opened a little drawer in the coffee table, and suddenly there was a gun in her hand. It was pointed at me. “I’m thinking that you killed Chas before you went to Chicago. Then you came here, very angry because I told the police you’d threatened Chas, and you tried to kill me to keep me quiet. So I pulled out my gun, which I keep for self-defense, and killed you when you attacked me. That’s why I had to kill you.”  

“You won’t want to use that. It’ll match the one that killed Chas.”

“No, it won’t. That one’s in the river. This is one my parents sent me when I moved to New York. For protection. And that’s what I’m going to use it for.” She pointed the gun at me. She really was going to kill me.

I tried to distract her. “Did the rest of your co-conspirators bargain for another murder?  I imagine they just signed on to help you with Chas, not to kill me. Emily isn’t a killer. Nor Lisa.”

Cara laughed. “No one’s going to rescue you, Bobby.”

“You killed him, didn’t you? You’re the one that fired the shot. Did you bring the others in afterward? Did they know what you planned?” I was alive as long as she kept talking. 

“They didn’t know what I planned, but they helped me get rid of the body. They knew it was the right thing to do.”

“You’re crazy, Cara.” 

“I am not crazy. He deserved to die. He was killing other people, helpless people.” As she spoke, she waved the gun in the air. 

I saw my chance. I slid off the chair, to the side of Cara away from the gun. She turned and tried to aim, but she was clumsy with the gun. When I leaped at her, I wasn’t fast enough to stop her from firing, but I knocked her arm away, and the bullet hit me in the side. It hurt like hell, but by that time I was on her, and the little gun in her hand was pointed up to the ceiling. She fired once more, but then I got the gun and held it.      

 “Now, Cara,” I said, “shall we call the cops?”

The cops and the paramedics arrived quickly, took Cara into custody and loaded me onto a gurney to carry me downstairs. 

As we were leaving, Cara said, “By the way, Bobby, I got a letter from my doctor, too. I have to notify my contacts that I’m HIV positive, so I’m telling you.”

What a bitch!


Carole Sojka has had a short story published in an anthology from Red Coyote Press and in Storyteller magazine. She has also published three mystery novels, the latest of which is Psychic Damage. All of her novels are available on Amazon.

She has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and was for many years the administrator in a public law office. She is now retired and can write as much or as little as she pleases.

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