The Madness of Treasurer Meecham
As a rule, I object to telephone calls before eight in the morning. Most of them come from telemarketers who are way too happy to be up and overselling at that hour. Others have come from donation sinkers who sound as if they would sink deeper into their private morasses of depression if you don’t give them a promise and a credit card number. For this reason, and the fact that my alarm is annoying enough, I do not have a telephone in my bedroom.
So when the office phone rang the required eight times before going to the answering machine, then rang another eight times, then a third, I checked the time. A quarter past three. We’d been abed a little over two hours. I wriggled out from under the blanket and Charlie’s arm. He stirred, murmured, “What the f-“ but my mind was too full of a blast of indignation laced with profanity for the idiot on the other end of the call to answer him. I hurled myself downstairs. The phone nearly tumbled off the desk from the violent way I grabbed the receiver.
“It is three-fifteen,” I snapped into the mouthpiece. “You’d better have a damned good – “
“He’s mad! He’s tearing up the house! He’s lost his mind!” a female voice I did not know screamed in my ear.
“What?” I held the receiver a little ways away from my ear to try and recapture some ability to think. “Who is this? If this is your idea of a joke, it ain’t funny – “
“Abner Meecham!” the woman was still screaming. “My husband! He’s – oh God! – he’s smashed the Spode china! And he’s starting on the crystal! The Baccarat crystal wine glasses! My God, we paid five hundred dollars a stem! Abner, stop!”
It did take me several seconds to realize that, along with legs, it was quite possible for Meecham to have a wife. And that made it possible that he also had children, but the idea that he had reproduced horrified me more than his wife’s screaming.
“Mrs. Meecham,” I said, then shouted into the mouthpiece, “Mrs. Meecham!” Silence. At last. “This is Grace Farmer, the cemetery caretaker. Why are you calling me? Call the police.”
“But he’s looking for you!” Now she was crying and guilt twisted like a knife blade nicking at my other unkind thoughts. “He woke up, yelled your name, and he’s been tearing the house apart trying to find you!”
I scrubbed my forehead with my free hand, tearing my mind apart for the right words to say. “OK, I’ll come over, but please, Mrs. Meecham, call the police, too.” I stopped. “Where do you live?”
The woman actually sniffed. “On Lynacres, of course! 4488. Now hurry up! He’ll be going after the Hummels, if you don’t!”
Charlie stood at the bottom of the stairs. His eyebrows rose when I replaced the receiver
“Don’t ask,” I said. I pushed past him to retrieve jeans and a jacket.
I don’t drive much. I really do not need to drive, aside from monthly – yes, monthly – trips down Genesee to the grocery store. The keys to my grandfather’s tank hung out of sight, and out of mind to me, inside the cupboard with my dinnerware (Corelleware, inherited from my grandmother). I grabbed them and ran for the garage.
The biggest problem I have with a decades-old car that I don’t drive more than once or twice a month is that the battery tends to get finicky. In other words, I turned the key in the ignition and got a Morse code clickety message that it was not about to start the engine at this ungodly hour of the morning.
For no reason I could give you now, I jumped out of the car and opened the hood. In the dark, I saw nothing but a faint glowing line from the car’s interior light. And I had no idea what to do anyway.
“Well, at least you remembered your pants,” Charlie, fully dressed, said from the open garage door.
“It won’t start.”
He had my grandfather’s flashlight in hand and examined this knob and that wingnut, this fluid level and the oil dipstick, leaving me to recede into the shadows cursing myself as a human wingnut and dipstick.
“You’re going to tell me what this is about?” He closed the hood. “I could bring my car up to jumpstart the battery, but you’re shaking like there’s no time.”
“You have your car.” Three-thirty, or thereabouts, is too early in the day for a second face palm. “If I try to explain on the way, would you please drive me to 4488 Lynacres?”
Charlie whistled. "Rich Bitch Acres? Whose house is that?”
“Treasurer Meecham and he’s smashing up his home and yelling for me.”
Charlie regarded me with a frown. “If I said no, you’d walk, wouldn’t you?”
“More like run, but yes.”
He grabbed my arm, pulled me out of the garage and closed the door. “Doors to the house locked?” I nodded. “Then start explaining. I’m parked a block and a half away.”
“You could have pulled up into the driveway.”
“Right.” He gave me a light slap on the back of my head. “For somebody who’s paranoid about her job security, now you’re being clueless.”
I stomped down the driveway. I’d at least kissed him. Okay, I almost broke his teeth and he claimed I split his lip, but it was a kiss.
Now, how would you explain a scrap of cloth (maybe a shirt, maybe a shroud), a vengeful ghost causing a shotgun murder and a two-legged bull to smash up his own china shop, all because too many bodies for a two-acre Potter’s Field? Worse, how would you explain all that in ten minutes?
I lied. I didn’t really try to explain. “It has to do with the Potter’s Field,” I said. The tremor that started in my ankles worked its way up through torso and arms to my vocal cords. “You’re going to have to trust me.” Charlie gunned the engine and refused to look at me.
Yes, I mean the normally eighteen minute drive took ten minutes. Red lights at Genesee and all. Yes, Charlie exceeded a few speed limits. And he waited for an explanation, or at least a sign that I was willing to take questions. But I hunkered down in the passenger seat. I could not invite those questions. Not that I think he could have asked any intelligent questions, mind you. He was not stupid, was my Charlie Tischler. However, the man could barely keep up with me running out into the cemetery half-dressed and/or in the middle of the night, let alone the increasingly weird shroud the vampires and the ghosts were currently weaving. The past month had already beat all I’d ever seen and I grew up there. If I had thought about it from his or another outsider’s point of view, it would have sounded insane to me, as well, and I’m the one who lives there with the undead!
And so it was also that night, or morning if you’re going to be finicky, that I told myself that I had had it with the undead. If we survived the night, I had it almost firmly in mind that I would call the President in the morning and tell him I quit. Let the God-botherer with stakes take this job. Maybe he knew how to exorcise ghosts, too.
The Meechams lived on the west side of the Green Lakes (and blue blood) Country Club. If the name conjures up a vision of grand houses with manicured lawns, perfect flower beds and a Baccarat crystal-clear pool somewhere on the multiple-acre property, you’ve got the right picture. 4488 was a two-story stone house with whitewashed pillars and shutters around what had to be twenty or more windows, most of which had the lights full on inside. From the street, we trod the red herringbone-brick walk to the front door, noting a narrower path branching off to the brick driveway in front of a three-car garage. Topiaries in the shape of upward spiraling screws guarded the front door. The doorbell rivaled Big Ben for volume, or at least what I’d imagined Big Ben to have for volume in order to be heard all over London, as this doorbell had to be heard all over the house.
A woman in a satiny, bright green bathrobe flung open the door. Whatever the chaos within and the panic all over her face, she had at some point taken the time to brush her permed and bottle blonde hair, and then to paint her face to something of gracious youth. Stress something – Mrs. Meecham looked painted and haggard and very annoyed. I should note that her fingernails and toenails were painted bright fuchsia, but they were just a little chipped at the edges. Nobody’s perfect.
“Are you Grace?”
“Just call me amazing,” I said, but she was not in the mood. She grabbed my arm with pointed fingernails and hauled me into a large, oak parquet floored entrance. A large circular table in the middle of the place and three tables to any of the three sides of it had huge piles of what used to be flowers in vases. I supposed those were on the high price end as well, but said nothing. We had more than income inequality to worry about here.
Something big and heavy banged and crashed with a steady rhythm at something else upstairs.
Mrs. Meecham made an impatient noise that, from another direction, might have been called a fart. “Forget the Hummels. I locked the library so he wouldn’t tear up our vital papers and the first editions. Now he’s trying to break down the door, and he’s got a pistol in there!”
“Right,” I said, peeling her clenched fingers off my arm before she punctured my flesh with those claws. I ran up the dark wood and crimson carpet stairs. I thought I heard Charlie introduce himself to Mrs. Meecham before he dashed up behind me.
Thank God for straight, well-lit halls painted in some unimaginative variation of beige, even if they have umpteen rooms on either side with all solid wood doors closed and no way to know what is a library with valuables or a pistol and what is an overpriced toilet. Five doors down and to the right, Treasurer Meecham was in fact ramming his shoulder into one of the doors. One would hope he knew which door he was attacking, but I would not automatically bet on that.
I pushed Charlie back behind me.
“Grace –“ he started to object.
“Shh! You don’t know what you’re dealing with here.”
“And you do?”
He had a fair point, but whatever brain chemistry kicks in and blots out thought in situations like this had me in a tight non-thinking grasp. I moved forward with waves behind me to keep Charlie away.
Meecham still wore the powder blue jacket and pants, but I could not see the shirt or the tie on his bulldozing body. He backed up against the far wall, then ran to smash with his beefy left shoulder with all the force that speed and mass and sheer madness can pour into a ramming weight against the door. repeated this attack two times more before I got into hearing range and yelled, “Mr. Meecham!”
He stopped, snorting, then whimpering as he felt his left shoulder. I moved a little closer and saw he’d torn his striped shirt away from his chest. Tatters fluttered under his arms and hung from the jacket hem.
“Mr. Meecham, it’s Grace. You called for me.”
He repeated my name like an unfamiliar word, then again in a sigh. He collapsed beside the door and drew his legs up to his chest, like a panicked child. “Grace?” A little boy’s voice to go along with the position.
“There’s a ghost in my hanky.” He groped through the torn shirt, then into the jacket’s side pocket for the scrap. He held it out for me to see. “Can you see him? I know he’s in there. He won’t leave me alone! He keeps moaning and saying awful things to me! He says he’s going to tell on me!” I blinked. Treasurer Abner Meecham was crying like a child.
Now, some people might have gone on to discover just what David had on Meecham, but not yours truly. Frankly, in that hallway in the wee hours of that morning, I did not want to know.
Grandpa Dov always told me that such men do not get so much money and keep it all while making more without doing some things that have to be immoral, unethical or plain illegal. “One of the immutable facts of life,” he’d said; I’d nodded sagely, though it was a good ten years before I knew what ‘immutable’ meant. Now, I do not exactly have skeletons in my own closet, aside from a man I have not married in my bed, but I do have more than enough ghosts and vampires with stories that will freeze blood and stop hearts. I did not then, and do not now want to know the sins of the living as well.
“Give me the cloth,” I told him. I held out my hand, palm up, and moved slowly towards him. “Give it to me, and I’ll take him away.”
“You’ll take him away so he never comes back?” Even a man in his sixties can widen his eyes like a pleading kitten when he’s weeping. Meecham let me take the cloth. I shoved it into one of my jeans pockets.
“I can’t promise that,” I said – yes, it was not the kindest thing to say, but there was an opportunity here. Not quite whatever Ambr’ did to Beth, but I sensed an opening in his mind and I had to try. “I will do my best, but you have to do what he’s asking you to do.”
“What he’s asking me to do? He won’t tell me!”
I’ve told myself since then that, if I went back on my resolution and had a son swore, I would teach him not to whine. “Yes, you do. You have to approve a purchase of more land for the Potter’s Field. And you have to do it as soon as possible.”
He wasn’t closing his dribbling mouth or taking his wet eyes off me. “Purchase more land for the Potter’s Field.”
“As soon as possible. And stop double-burying the poor. They don’t like it.”
“Don’t like it.”
“That’s right. So you’ll buy the land and the ghost won’t come to scare you anymore.”
If you think I must have felt silly saying all this the way a mother would as she soothed a frightened child, well, you’re right. But it had to be done.
“Won’t scare me anymore.”
“You’ll buy the land, Mr. Meecham.”
“I’ll buy the land.”
“Good. Now you go change into your jammies and go to bed. I’m taking the ghost home with me.”
Mrs. Meecham had tried to collect the fragments of the entryway vases in a stainless steel mixing bowl (I could only guess that she had retrieved it from the kitchen when we’d stopped her husband from assaulting the library door). She stopped when she saw us come downstairs, her cheeks scarlet under her rose pink blush powder.
“I think he’ll be all right tonight,” I said, “but you will want a doctor to look at his shoulder tomorrow.”
Her fuchsia fingernails were in my arm again. “I expect you will have the good taste not to mention any of this. I plan to tell the police we had a break-in.”
“We won’t say a word about what really happened,” Charlie finally found his voice to say, “on two conditions.” I stared at him. The man could rise to an occasion.
She huffed a moment. “Go on.”
He took her hand off my arm. “One, you don’t tell Mr. Meecham we were ever here.” “Gladly.”
“And two, you yourself make sure he authorizes an expansion for the Potter’s Field.” “What makes you think I have that kind of influence over my husband?”
I patted the hand that stabbed me. “Please. Do it, Mrs. Meecham. And if the police come to my door asking anything at all about all this – “ I gestured to the destruction. “We’ll be more than happy to tell them the truth. And I have the phone messages to prove it.”
At that, and as we left the grand house, Mrs. Meecham threw herself into a first-class temper tantrum on the parquet floor.