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The Bones

By: Bill Wucinich

"Edna, will you please get away from that window. Do you have to be so obvious?"

"In a minute. The truck is just leaving. I've never seen so much furniture. There must be at least three bedroom sets."

"No you don't. But yes it is. We must be neighborly. Do we have any more cookies? I'm going over to meet that young man. Be back in a few minutes."

"Do I have to remind you again that it's none of your business?"

Maude rolled her eyes. Why talk she wondered. She doesn't listen anyway.

When Edna reached the front door, she took a minute to straighten her hair, then knocked briskly. A young man, who couldn't have been more than 25, answered the door. Before he could say anything, Edna greeted him.

"Good morning. My name is Edna Scoggins. I live with my friend, Maude Gibbons, across the drive. Maude was a teacher and I worked for the electric company. Welcome to the neighborhood. I brought you some chocolate chip cookies. They're Maude's specialty."

When Edna finally stopped for a breath, the young man quickly took the opportunity to get a word in.

"Hello Edna. My name's John Polini. Please come in."

Before John could thank her for the cookies or offer a chair, Edna was in the living room moving boxes from the sofa so she could sit. All the while her eyes were constantly moving from one stack of boxes or piece of furniture to another. It was obviously not the first time she had welcomed someone to the neighborhood.

"I'll only stay a minute and let you return to your unpacking. It's such a chore. I remember when Maude and I moved in. It must have taken us a week to get the house the way we wanted it. My, this sofa is comfortable. Tell me what you do. Are you new to the city?"

"Yes, I'm from California. I'm starting school tomorrow and working part-time in the evening - at the Dairy Mart on Front Street." John added his work location to save Edna the trouble of asking.

"Working and going to school. Admirable. I admire anyone with the initiative to do both. I always say that you can never have too much education. I wish I had gone to college. But that's life. What will you be studying?"

"Something in the sciences for now. But that could change."

"Admirable. Now remember, Maude taught school. So if you need help, feel free to call her."

"Thank you. You're very kind to offer her services. Can I offer you something to drink?"

"No. No. I must be going. I said I would only stay a minute and I always keep my word."

"I'm sure you do. It was very nice of you to come over."

When Edna returned, Maude was waiting for her at the door.

"Well, what's the verdict. Can he stay in the neighborhood?"

"He's a very nice young man. But you never know. We can't be too careful. After all, we are alone."

"You watch too much television. Let's have some tea."

"Oh, I forgot. He's enrolled at the university taking science courses. I volunteered your services to help him with his work if he needs it."

"You did what? For God's sake Edna, I taught second grade. What do I know about college level science courses?"

Maude, we have to help each other. That's what neighbors are for."

It was a week later. By this time, life in the two houses had settled into a routine. Edna usually could be found in front of the window with one eye on the neighborhood and the other on the television while Maude worked on her current quilt project. John usually left around seven thirty in the morning and did not return until nine in the evening. Whenever they saw each other, there would be a wave and sometimes a few minutes of idle chitchat. But mostly he kept to himself. This was understandable as he was now attending classes as well as working at the dairy store.

Maude and Edna had just finished their daily afternoon treat of cookies and tea and were talking about their new neighbor.

"Maude, have you noticed the peculiar odor coming from John's house?"

"Yes, now that you've mentioned it. Smells like cabbage or sauerkraut. Whatever it is, I wouldn't want it in my house. But it's none of our business." Maude picked up the cups and walked to the kitchen. "It's starting to rain again. This will be a good afternoon to work on my quilt."

Edna followed her with the cookies. "You're right. It's none of our business. But it is funny." Maude didn't answer. She just looked at Edna and shook her head.

That evening around nine, Edna was at her usual post sitting by the front window watching her programs on TV and the neighborhood when John came home. He put the car in the garage and came out carrying a package about the size of a suit box. He unlocked the house and went in. Because their house sat on a bank at least six feet higher than John's did, Edna was able to follow him as he moved from room to room. She was about to turn back to the television, when John opened the box and began to spread its contents on the living room floor. She looked once and jerked back again. She rubbed her eyes and looked a third time just to make sure she was seeing what she thought she was seeing. She was right. John was spreading a human skeleton on the floor!

"Maude! Maude! Come here quick." She yelled.

Maude dropped the quilt she was working on and ran into the living room. "What is it? Have you lost your medicine again?"

Edna didn't answer. All she could do was point towards John's house as she backed away from the window. She finally gasped in a hoarse voice. "John has a skeleton on the living room floor. He took it out of the suit box he carried into the house. I can't tell whether it belongs to a man or a woman."

"A what?" Move away and let me see."

Maude walked to the window and looked down into John's living room. After a quick glance, she turned slowly toward Edna. "Have you taken your medicine today?" She asked.

"Absolutely!" "Why?"

Maude didn't answer. Instead, she moved slowly from the window and motioned Edna to take a look. Edna cautiously inched up to it and peeked out. The floor was empty.

"Edna, I've told you that you're watching too many mysteries. You've finally gotten to the point that your imagination can't handle them. Let's have some tea and give it a rest."

"Maude, I know what I saw. My eyesight is still good enough to recognize a pile of bones when I see one."

"Then look again because, as far as I can tell, the room is empty."

"I can see that. But that doesn't mean they were never there. I saw the bones and the box they came in."

Maude turned toward the kitchen. "Why don't you get the cookies and I'll put on the water."

Edna didn't move. She stood by the window with her hands on her hips and her feet planted firmly on the floor.

"Everytime you think I'm visiting another world," she said through clenched teeth. "You put the tea kettle on the stove. I know what I saw and I don't want any tea." Without another word, she stomped into her bedroom and slammed the door.

Edna continued to keep a close eye on John's daily activities. In fact, since the skeleton incident, his was the only house she was watching.

The contents of the box were never mentioned again. But Edna still wasn't talking. Then, one evening while they were silently doing the supper dishes, Maude couldn't hold it in any longer.

"Edna, for goodness sakes, you've been at that window all week and you haven't seen a thing. Why can't you at least consider that there might be a perfectly good reason for carrying a skeleton in a box?" But, even as she was saying it, Maude couldn't think of one off the top of her head.

"I'm not crazy Maude. I know what I saw. And don't forget the odor. Even you remarked that it started when John moved in. That's just a little too much coincidence if you ask me. The only way to settle it once and for all is to look inside the box."

"Edna! Do you know what you're saying?" Maude knew where this conversation was going and she was glad that no one else listening.

Edna acted as if she didn't hear. She had already put down the dishcloth and saucer she was drying and was walking toward the hall closet for her coat.

With a touch of panic in her voice Maude tried to stop her.

"Edna! Your are not going to do what you're thinking. I forbid it!"

But Edna already had her coat on and was at the front door. Before she went out, she turned and asked. "Are you with me or not?"

The night contributed to the mood of their mission. It was cold and so dark that they could hardly see the tips of their hands. There was a wind signaling the possibility of either rain or snow or both. The trees were a mass of shadows. Their bare branches were extended like arms ready to pick up anything they could reach. All that was missing was the mournful hoot of an owl.

When they reached John's back door, Maude whispered. "Edna, no matter what happens, I just want it on record that I always thought that this was one of the dumbest things we've ever done."

"Dumb? Unless you have any other ideas, this is the only way we'll ever find out what's going on over here."

"We'll now that you've asked. One did come to mind. Since breaking and entering is frowned on by the police, why don't we just pretend this never happened and go home?"

"Forget it. Let's not quibble over legalities. This is the perfect opportunity. It's the first time John hasn't taken that box with him when he left. We can be in and out in no time and John will never know. What can possibly go wrong?"

"First. What if we don't find the box? Second, what if John comes home while we're in the house. I'm sure there are others but, at the moment, I'm too cold to think of them."

"Maude, I don't have time to debate it all night with you. You didn't have to come with me. I was perfectly willing to handle this myself."

"Don't remind me. What do we do now? Since this is my first caper in a long time, I'm a little rusty."

"For one thing, a little less attitude would be helpful. OK, here's the plan. I know that John keeps his spare key above the door jam. Don't look at me that way. I just know. You help me up, I get the key and we go in and have a look around."

"A look around? Maude muttered to herself as she bent down and cupped her hands so Edna could step in them. "If I wanted the TV version, I'd watch TV."

At first nothing happened because they couldn't get Edna's jumps in sync with Maude's lifts. It seemed that everytime Maude lifted, Edna was already on her way down from a jump. The result was a standoff - no up, no down and no key.

After five attempts, Maude had enough.

"Edna, unfortunately, we don't have unlimited time or strength, so I'll count to three and then lift and you jump. OK? Here we go. One…two…three."

It worked - after a fashion. Edna grabbed the key just as Maude ran out of strength and let Edna drop. Although she wasn't as graceful as she would have liked when she fell on Maude's head, Edna did hang on to the key. After untangling themselves from each other, they took a minute to put their hats and hair in place and adjust their clothes. Then Edna inserted the key in the lock and, with a groan right out of Mystery Theater, the door opened and the ladies peeked in.

"Give me the flashlight", whispered Edna.

"Flashlight? I thought you had it", Maude whispered back.

"Me. Do I have to think of everything?"

" Oh my. Well it looks like we can't do anything more tonight. Too bad. I guess we'll just have to put the key back and go home." A suddenly chipper Maude was already cupping her hands and bending down to lift Edna. "Some things just don't work as planned do they?"

"What are you saying? We don't need a flashlight. Lucky for us John's night light is on."

This extraordinary piece of luck was met with a soft groan from Maude.

Just to be sure, they peeked inside again before taking their first steps into the house. The first thing that struck them was the pungent smell coming from two large pans on the stove. Maude, whose eyes were beginning to water from the strong odor, was all of a sudden starting to take Edna's suspicions more seriously.

The house was filled with the sounds of emptiness. A creak from the living room, the quiet hum of the refrigerator and shadows appearing and disappearing in the windows. All conspiring to make each step they took sound like a stone rattling around in a tin can.

When they were halfway into the kitchen, Maude suddenly stopped and grabbed Edna's arm. The result was predictable - both screamed. Edna because she felt someone touching her and Maude because Edna did. Edna immediately turned to run for the door and ran into Maude who was thinking of doing the same thing but hadn't turned yet. The result was that for the next minute or so, they were tangled in each other's arms doing a tango with both trying to lead.

When the recital was over and Edna was sure she was still breathing, she whispered to Maude. "Please tell me that that was your hand on my arm."

After Maude assured her that it was, Edna turned on her. "Have you lost your mind?" She hissed. "One more like that and you'll have an extra room to rent by this time tomorrow. Lucky for me I didn't forget my medicine this morning."

Maude ignored her. She was still concentrating on getting out of the house. She had reached the door and was about to open it when a shaft of light spread itself on the driveway. John had returned home early.

"Maude! Don't move."

"I couldn't even if I wanted to," whispered Maude, who stood frozen in her tracks like a hypnotized deer in the middle of a highway. "What are we going to do now. I'm too old to do time." As she said it, Maude shook her head. Now she was sounding like one of Edna's TV bad guys.

"You won't have to." Edna said. This reminds me of the time when Mannix was trapped in a suspect's house and…"

"Mannix! We're about to be caught in our neighbor's house in the middle of the night and your telling me about Mannix!"

"This is not the middle of the night. It's 7: 30 in the evening. And don't laugh at Mannix. You should watch his program with me. Then you'd know what to do if you ever found yourself in a tight spot."

Maude couldn't believe what she was hearing. Edna, in some perverted way, was living in a TV program. Besides that, she was having a good time! She vowed right then and there, that if she ever got out of this alive, the first thing she would do is look in the Yellow Pages and get help for her friend.

The car had reached the garage. John got out carrying two packages and walked to the back door. When Maude heard the key in the door lock, she took charge. She was no hero. But she was scared to death that Edna, depending on what TV show she was currently living in, would do something foolish that would get them into deeper trouble. She looked around and saw a door in the living room. She grabbed Edna's hand, pulled her toward it, opened the door, shoved her in and closed the door as quietly as possible. Another piece of luck - it was a closet and not a set of steps.

John came into the kitchen, turned on the light and put the packages on the table. One was a large bag of groceries and the other was smaller and wrapped in plain brown paper. He checked his phone messages and then began putting everything away.

Maude had opened the door just enough to watch. The closet was barely large enough for two persons. Above them was a wooden shelf that extended out over their heads. On it, was the dark shape of the suitcase-sized box. They had found what they were looking for. Unfortunately, they couldn't do anything about it at the moment.

By this time, John had put away all the groceries and was opening the second package. It was the size and shape of a necktie box. On it was printed For Professionals Only. He took the top off and lifted the contents out. It was a large meat cleaver with a black plastic handle. Mercifully, Edna didn't see anything else because, when she saw the cleaver, she looked up at the suitcase box and fainted.

"Now ladies. Could you tell me what you were doing in my closet?"

The look on John's face was somewhere between anger because someone had broken into his house and puzzlement because of who it was. Maude looked at Edna. It was her idea so she should answer. But Edna still hadn't recovered from the closet and was going to be no help. So, the two of them sat on the living room couch facing John waiting for someone to say something.

Finally, he asked again. "I'm waiting ladies. What were you doing in my house?"

Since Edna looked as if she was content to remain silent for the foreseeable future, Maude finally spoke.

"Edna thought she saw you putting a skeleton together on the living room floor. You had it in a suitcase box like the one in the closet. So, she wanted to see it for herself. I couldn't let her come over all alone. So… I … came … to." By the time she finished, Maude's voice was barely higher than a whisper.

But she had said enough to finally rouse Edna. The word skeletonhad jolted her back to the present. "Maude," she snapped. "I know what I saw." Then she turned to John. "As for you young man, last week you bought a skeleton into your house and laid it on the living room floor. And now you're asking us what we doing in your house? The real questions are whose body does the skeleton belong to and what are you doing with a cleaver? Are you some kind if ghoul?"

When she finished, she looked at Maude and nodded her head as if to say, 'now we're getting someplace'.

But someplace wasn't where Maude wanted to be. "Edna!" she shouted. "What are you saying?" She turned to John with a stricken face. "Please ignore her. I think she forgot to take her medicine again this morning."

To the ladies surprise, John started to laugh. Shaking his head, he got up, walked to the kitchen table, picked up the cleaver and came back into the living room. When the ladies saw this, they both had the same idea. Edna recovered first.

"D-d-d-don't you touch us," she stammered. "I called the police before we came over here and told them that if they didn't hear from us in an hour, to come and pick you up."

John was still laughing as he continued walking across the room toward them.

Maude was puzzled. She could almost swear that there was no such phone call although she was pretty sure that she vaguely remembered something similar on a recent Mannix rerun. But, considering the overall situation she found herself in, she decided not to raise the issue at this time. Instead, with all the strength she had left, she pointed her finger at the cleaver and shouted. "And the hour is up!" Even Edna jumped.

John didn't say anything. He had stopped laughing and sat in the chair opposite them casually switching the cleaver from one hand to the other. His face was serious but his eyes were twinkling. More than anything else, it was the twinkling eyes that worried the ladies.

Edna had decided that as long as John sat in the chair, she and Maude were safe. All she had to do was keep talking. The key was not to run out of things to say. So she began.

"You know you'll never get away with this. My brother is a homicide detective. His specialty is skeletons."

Maude listened with her finger still pointing at the cleaver. But now she found herself in a world of bewilderment because of the two things bothering her. One was that Edna was an only child. Which brought point number two into play. Since this was so, how could she have a brother who was a detective? She was about to bring these points up when Edna gave her a don't you dare look. So, since her finger was already in the air, she waved it back and forth and with all the authority she could muster, she commanded, "And don't you forget it young man."

At this, John stopped switching the cleaver and held it in one hand. The girls shrunk deeper into the couch. "Ladies," he said. "Did the thought ever cross your minds that there could be a logical explanation for what you have seen?"

Maude remained silent. Once again reasoning that, since the entire evening was Edna's idea, she should be the one to answer this question also.

Edna apparently agreed. "Oh yes and we think it's fairly obvious." She said looking at Maude, who with a fairly obvious look on her face, was nodding her head in agreement.

John, playing the innocent asked," What's obvious. What I have I done?"

"Oh nothing," replied Edna. "Unless a box full of bones, a meat cleaver and a strange odor are what you'd ordinarily find in a house."

"I'll agree. It is unusual," John replied.

"Aha! So you admit it." Edna glanced at Maude like Perry Mason always did at Stella, his secretary, when he was ready to finish off a witness.

Maude reacted with a robust "tell him Edna!" Her concern of a few moments ago that Edna would do something foolish was now replaced with a perfect confidence that anything she did was the result of pure genius.

Edna could feel the strength of Mrs. Fletcher on Murder She Wrote growing within her as she closed in on the mystery of the suit box. With a wry smile, she said. "Instead of us telling you why we were in your house, perhaps you should tell us what a skeleton is doing in the box you have been carrying with you for the last few weeks?"

Again, the glance at Maude. Again, a returned look of endless adoration.

"You're right, I do have a set of human bones. Now wait a minute. Let me finish before either of you say another word. Edna, remember asking me what I was going to study in school and I told you that it was going to be something in the sciences?"

"Yesss … But …"

"Just listen and I'll explain. My father is a doctor and I decided to follow in his footsteps and enrolled in the Pre-Med program. I'm taking a basic anatomy course and I need the skeleton to learn the name and location of all the bones in the body. See? Nothing sinister. I'm just an ordinary student."

"It's just as I thought," said Maude, who was now shedding her faithful companion role. "It was so obvious."

What was also obvious was that she wouldn't look at Edna who had a if looks could kill look on her face.

John completely ignored Maude and continued.

"Now, let's talk about the cleaver and the odor."

"Oh, never mind," said Maude sweetly as she rose from her seat. "I think it's time for us to go. Come Edna."

John held up his hands. "No! No! Sit down…. Sit down." Maude immediately sat. "You at least deserve an explanation. After all, both of you have gone through a great deal of trouble to be here."

"But you must be tired," Maude practically begged. "You've had a long day and so have we." She looked imploringly at Edna. "Come Edna. It's time for our tea. Let's go."

Edna didn't move. She was looking at Maude. Did she honestly think that John was going to let them go after they've seen all the evidence? An anatomy class. Didn't she realize that that was the oldest trick in the book? Edna had seen it at least a dozen times on the Rockford Files alone.

As if to prove her point, John rose from his chair. The light from the kitchen struck the cleaver. It's sharp edge gleaming like the edge of a sword. That was enough for both of them. Both started talking at the same time.

"Now John. You really don't want to do this. We won't tell a soul."

Then Edna stopped in mid sentence because Maude, in a voice that had become ever so sweet and syrupy, was saying, "I know. Why don't you come over to our house and have some hot tea and cookies with us?"

After making sure she heard what she thought she heard, Edna forgot her problems with John and his cleaver. It was apparent that Maude and reality had become total strangers.

"Maude," she roared. "Have you lost your mind? He could just as well do the deed there as here. You must be suffering from a charley horse of the brain."

"How dare you Edna. I'm simply being neighborly." She turned to John and gave him an assuring look. "Isn't that what you're always preaching to me?"

There are times in life when things get so far out of hand that a person doesn't even know where to begin to make them right. This was one of those times for John. He now had two ladies talking at once sometimes to him and sometimes at each other. So, he decided that the first thing to do was to get them calmed down. Realizing that the only consistent theme about the entire evening so far was that every time Maude and Edna looked at the cleaver they were off and running, he put it carefully on the floor.

"Look ladies. I'm not holding anything," he said quietly as he moved away from the chair. "The cleaver is on the floor by the chair and I'm over here."

This had the desired effect. Both stopped discussing their problems and brought their attention back to him.

"Now, I'm going to tell you about the cleaver and the odor and then we'll call it an evening. You see, I enjoy cooking. It's an avocation of mine. I especially like to experiment with different pasta sauces. Presently I'm working on a tangy beef sauce and the result, I admit, is not what I had in mind and which I apologize to you for. As for the cleaver, I purchased it today so that I could cut my meat into the size I needed. That's all there is to it. Nothing more, nothing less. Do you have any questions?"

Neither lady spoke. They just looked at him shaking their heads in unison that, yes, it really was a big to do about nothing and, no, they had no questions.

"Good. Now, if you will excuse me, I have things to do tonight. So I must ask you to leave."

Recognizing that this was a polite command and not a request, the ladies immediately got up and walked to the door like two zombies. Never taking their eyes off him, they reached the door, put on their coats and nodding their heads goodbye, opened the door and left.

As soon as they were outside, Edna looked at Maude. "See how smooth? He didn't fool me for an instant. Did you notice how shifty his eyes were? Mannix always looks at a suspect's eyes. That's how he knows if their telling the truth. OK, here's the plan. Tomorrow morning, as soon as John leaves, we'll go back and finish looking around. I want to …. Maude! What are you doing? Take your hands off me!" Maude didn't even look at her. She gently held Edna's arm and led her across the drive to their house. Once inside, she went up to the TV and pulled the plug. She then turned toward Edna and, in a sweet and syrupy voice, said. "Edna, put some cookies on a plate. I'll put the tea on.

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