Practical Joke: Part Two
By Trish Hubschman
“The fire chief says the gas leak in our house was caused by a tube that got loose in the wall in the basement,” David told his parents. The three of them sat at the table in his mother’s kitchen.
His father’s eyebrow went up. “Eh? Could Libby have had something to do with that,” one of her practical jokes?” Albert scowled.
“Now Albert dear?” his wife, Janet, protested, putting her hand on her husband’s wrist. “We mustn’t jump to conclusions.”
“Bah! Albert spat, reaching for the cookie plate in the center of the table.
“Thanks Mom,” David said, turning to his father. “Dad, Libby doesn’t know anything about how the gas works in the house, except she turns a knob on the stove and flames come up,” David said. “She doesn’t know where the gas begins in the basement.”
“Poppycock, boy,” Albert fired. “She’s home all day., I’m sure she knows that house of yours inside and out.”
“It’s Libby’s house too, dear,” Janet defended. David nodded to his mother.
“My point exactly!” Albert said. David rolled his eyes. “Now what is going to be done to protect us from her and her sick jokes?”
David cringed. He looked at his mother. What his father was saying was right. Libby’s so-called jokes had gotten to the point that they were dangerous, even to herself, and illegal. For years, he’d defended her. He couldn’t do that anymore. “She began therapy a couple weeks ago. Doctor says it’ll take time. The first step is to get Libby to admit she has an obsessive/compulsive disorder. That’s not going to be easy, I know,” David admitted. “But just getting her to go to Dr. Mason’s office is a step in the right direction.”
His mother reached out for his hand, squeezing it. “We’ll always be here to support you, dear,” Janet said.
David smiled. “Thanks Mom. Now onto another topic. The in-ground pool is almost finished. We’re planning a party for the Saturday after the Fourth of July.”
Janet glanced over her shoulder at the calendar on the wall. The Fourth was a Tuesday. “That sounds lovely, dear,” she said. They talked about the pool and party plans for a few minutes, then David got up to go home.
A police car was parked in front of his house. David steeled himself as he pulled into his driveway. He swung his door open, got out and took steady steps to the house. His heart was pounding too fast.
“Officer Leeds, how nice to see you,” David said, trying to keep his tone light. “What brings you here?” Leeds was at the house when they had the gas leak.
Libby and the young officer rose. David realized that they had been laughing when he came in. The men shook hands. “Officer Leeds brought us some wonderful news,” Libby chimed, jumping beside David. She wrapped her arm behind his back and stared up at him with adoring eyes. His return look was skeptical.
Officer Leeds cleared his throat. “I came over to tell you that no charges are being brought against Mrs. Tanner,” he said. “Nobody was hurt and there was no damage done, so we don’t have to worry about claims being put into the insurance company.”
Libby clapped her hands. “Didn’t I tell you?” she said to David.
David nodded. “Thank you for coming over to tell us that.”
“Mrs. Tanner tells me she’s started therapy and is doing well,” the officer said. David shot a wary look at Libby. “Let’s hope nothing like that happens again.”
“Of course it won’t,” Libby agreed. She felt half-heartened.
Officer Leeds smiled. “I’m glad. The Chief will be too.” He put his hat back on his head. “I’ll take my leave now.”
David walked him to the front door, opened it and closed it behind the officer. Libby moved up behind her husband and wrapped her arms around his middle.
“I love you, David,” she whispered. “Thank you for keeping me out of trouble.” She ran her fingertips up his back.
Sighing heavily, David turned and wrapped his arms around Libby too. His eyes were serious. “I love you too, Lib, but no more pranks, please. I can’t deal with anymore.”
She shook her head. “No, no, no,” she said, placing her hand on his chest. “You know, the kids are at friends houses until I pick them up,” she winked. “Why don’t we go into the bedroom and I’ll put a smile back on your face.”
This was a side of his wife he hadn’t seen in years. It should have excited him but it made him nervous. “Well, I guess we can see what we can come up with,” David replied, letting Libby lead him into their bedroom, close and lock the door.
Libby was sulking. She sat on the doctor’s sofa, her arms crossed over her chest. “David is happy. He’s smiling from ear to ear. Our marriage is perfect. I’m pregnant. And I want to cry!” Libby said this all in one breath.
Dr. Mason’s eyebrow rose. “Those are all good things, Libby,” he said. “And congratulations on the baby. Have you told David?”
She shook her head and sighed. “Not yet. He’ll be thrilled. He’ll probably think this will settle me down.” She sounded dejected.
Both his eyebrows rose. “And what is your view on that, Libby? Are you anticipating it, nervous about it?”
She placed her hand on her stomach. “If you mean the baby, mmm, I’m not sure.” She released a sigh. “If you mean my settling down and becoming a boring, humdrum house mom, I hope not.” She sat up straighter. “I’m bored Dr. Mason. I need some fun in my life, or rather, some funny. I need to laugh and make people laugh. I miss my joke playing.” As she spoke, her demeanor brightened. “Can I tell you a secret? You mustn’t tell David.”
He nodded. “What is said here stays here,” he said.
She giggled, then leaned forward and told him about a prank she was going to play on her next door neighbor’s daughter at their pool party. “Mrs. Dawson tried to kill me a few months ago when we had the gas leak, so it’s only fair.” She giggled. “Don’t worry, Debbie won’t get hurt. This will have everyone roaring.”
As he listened, he knew he had to retain the doctor/patient confidentiality rule but he would put in his next report, “Patient, Elizabeth Tanner, is not making progress under my care.”
”Now was the best time to get Debbie Dawson onto the diving board. Most of their guests were hanging around David. He was grilling burgers. No one was paying attention to the thirty-five year old mother of two teenage girls. Debbie sat on the edge of the pool, her legs dangling in the water.
“Beautiful day for diving into the pool,” Libby said, sidling up to her younger neighbor. Debbie looked up. I nominate you to be the first one to use the diving board.” Libby giggled, then leaned over and said in a conspiratorial whisper. “Last one in is a rotten egg.”
Debbie shook her head. “I’ll be a rotten egg then. Don’t like diving boards.” She turned her head to glance over her shoulder. “I think David should be the first one to dive in. This is his baby.”
Libby followed Debbie’s gaze. David was pulling his shirt over his head. “No,! he can’t do that.” She straightened up and started to move away but someone held her arm.
“Oh, let him have his fun,” Janet Tanner said. “He looks so happy these days. I guess we have you to thank for that, Libby, dear,” her mother-in-law went on.
Libby nodded vaguely to Janet but never turned her gaze from what was happening by the diving board. David hopped up the four ladder steps and raced along the board too fast. He slipped on the liquid suntan lotion she dumped on there earlier. One leg rose in the air. His body made a weird circular motion. He rose up high in the air and then came back down into the water with a loud crash and crack. Libby screamed. A number of people jumped into the water. Two men half carried/half dragged David out of the pool. His eyes were closed. He was lying on the cement. Someone called an ambulance. Two paramedics appeared wheeling a stretcher into the backyard. Libby was racing after it. She wanted to go in the ambulance with David. Debbie grabbed her arm.
“I’ll close up the house and bring your car to the hospital,” she said. “Everything will be okay.”
That’s what Libby did.
She sat in a plastic chair in the emergency room. Her parents, Laura and Joshua Irving, were there, so were Janet and Albert and her two children, Morgan and Ted. Libby just stared. Debbie Dawson and her mother came into the ER. Debbie was smiling. She dropped the keys onto Libby’s lap. Libby didn’t look up.
“The house is all cleaned up,” Debbie said. “While mom and I were doing that, Michael took a look at your car like you asked him to.” Libby looked up at her neighbor. She had asked Michael Dawson, Debbie’s brother, that two weeks ago. He was a mechanic. “Says all is fine.” Debbie slid past Libby and took a seat.
A doctor came out to see them. His expression was grim. Libby’s heart caught in her throat. Albert stood up. “How is my son, doctor?”
The doctor turned to Albert. “He’s sustained a nasty blow to his head. The CT scan shows swelling. He’s still unconscious, so I can’t give you a prognosis as yet,” he said. Libby whimpered. “If he awakens in the next twenty-four hours things will be more positive.”
“Did he break anything?” Janet asked.
The doctor looked at her. “His left leg has two fractures but they have him in surgery now to repair them.”
Albert thanked the doctor and he excused himself. “You girl are a menace,” Albert spat at his daughter-in-law.
“Albert!” Janet warned.
Laura Irving was crying. Her husband, Joshua, jumped to his feet. “Just a second here, Bert,” he warned.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” Libby said.
“You never do,” Albert said. “Your stupid jokes have caused my family too much misery. If my son wakes up and gets out of here, he’s going to divorce you and take your children away from you,” Albert shouted. Joshua was ready to defend his daughter. “She’s got to grow up, Josh. She’s hurting too many people and should be in an institution or something.”
“No,” Libby said. She jumped to her feet. “I need some air.” She turned and walked swiftly away.
“Mom?” Morgan cried, about to run after Libby. Ted grabbed his sister’s arm when his grandfather said to let her go.
She couldn’t believe how dark it had gotten. What time was it now? What time was it when they got here? The tears were pouring down Libby’s face. She couldn’t see where she was going and didn’t care. She loved David. She was carrying his baby. She would never do anything to hurt him. Was she a poor excuse for a person, a poor excuse for a wife?
Without paying much attention to it, Libby’s foot went down harder on the accelerator. She turned a corner too fast. She didn’t see the big truck pulling out of a parking lot. She slammed full force into the side of it. Glass shattered. Metal crunched. Libby didn’t have a chance to scream. All was dead quiet after that.
Well folks, did she live? Stay tuned to see if Trish writes part three.
In the meantime here’s more about Trish and her work.
RATINGS GAME (TALK SHOW QUEEN)
by Trish Hubschman (C 2019)
In print ($9.50) and e-book ($2.99) from Amazon, Smashwords, and other online sellers.
The e-book is text-to-speech enabled.
Cover image, free text preview, buying links, and more:
Trish Hubschman has three previous Tracy Gayle mysteries in print: The Fire, Unlucky Break, and Stiff Competition (Miss America).
Synopsis of Ratings Game:
The Danny Tide story continues.
Somebody’s trying to kill the rock star’s second wife, talk–show hostess Blair Nelson. Danny and Tracy, now a couple expecting a baby, get pulled into it because Danny finally agrees to do an interview with his ex–wife. She’s been bugging him for a while.
That evening, after a draining day at Blair’s studio, when Danny and Tracy are home in bed, Danny’s phone goes off. It’s his and Blair’s daughter, Liz, announcing that she found her mother unconscious on her bathroom floor. Blair ingested a drug overdose.
Who would want to eliminate the talk show queen, and why? Could the perpetrator be Blair’s housekeeper? Her personal assistant? The owner of the television station? The show’s producer? Even Danny and Liz are on the suspect list.
Everyone had opportunity, but no one has a motive. They’re all devoted to Blair. They need Blair to wake up and give them some answers.
In the foreground, a black TV camera is in sharp focus against a blurry blue and orange background. The words “A Tracy Gayle Mystery” are centered at the top of the cover, and the author’s name is at the bottom of the cover, off to the right. Both of those are in white letters. The main title, Ratings Game, is in red-orange letters just above the camera. The subtitle, Talk Show Queen, is in parentheses in dark gray letters on an off-white background on the small screen on the top of the camera.
Editing, cover design, print layout, and e-book conversion are by DLD Books Editing and Self-Publishing Services. Cover photo is by Joshua Hanson on Unsplash.