The phone was ringing as Larry walked in through his front door. He didn't even put down his backpack, he just walked over and glanced at the caller ID as he picked up the phone.
"Hello, Mom." He swung the backpack around and put it on the floor next to the hall table.
"Larry? Are you OK? It's your mother." Her voice sounded concerned but that was not at all unusual.
Larry Walter (no "S" on the end) smiled to himself once again. He was 32 years old and every time his mother called him on the phone, she began the conversation by telling him who it was. He loved her and felt very lucky to have her as his mother and as he had told her countless times, he actually recognized her voice. Always had, always would. He didn't even try to explain caller ID to her.
It was always the same, ring, ring, pick up the phone, "Larry, It's your mother." He was still waiting for the time that she would omit her introduction, he knew just what he would say. He'd say, "Who is this?" It would be great, but, he'd never gotten the chance. Probably never would, it was just part of having her as a mother, and he loved it.
"Hi, Mom. How are ya?" He said still smiling.
"How am I? I'm worried sick, that's how am I. How should I be, hearing on the news that my son is dead? I almost had a heart attack, right there. So, you're not dead? Right?" She pronounced it "hawt attek". He smiled again.
"Right, Mom. I'm just fine. I just walked in the door from work. I took off a little early cuz I've got some papers to grade. We're coming up on the end of the semester." He taught a beginner's writing course at the community college.
"I tried to call you at work and you didn't pick up. Scared - me - to - death," dramatic pauses between each word. This was very much in the style of his mother, May Zykliss-Walter. She'd grown up enthralled by the great ladies of film and could do some pretty fair impressions. Her Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck were quite good and, of course, a young Katharine Hepburn. She and her younger sister, Sophie, who lived just down the street from her, would regularly perform small vignettes from their favorite movies and the other would have to guess the movie and the actress. These closet thespians regularly appeared at holiday get-togethers, especially those including a little wine. It was family lore, spread, of course, by them, that the Zykliss Sisters (not a professional stage name) were the hit of many a neighborhood party back in the Brooklyn of the 1940's.
Larry delighted in occasionally reminding her that "all fame was fleeting" to which she would take an exaggerated swing at him. Everything but the cymbal crash.
"Sorry, Mom. You could call the other number you know. The cell phone, remember? I got a cell phone." This was another well-worn path. He knew exactly what she was going to say next.
"If I call and you're driving, you might swerve into a truck, God forbid. Then how would I feel? I'm responsible for your fiery death and I'd feel, how? It's not safe, Lawrence. How would I live after that?" He nodded through this part and just let her finish.
"I understand Mom, but really. I would just pull over to answer it. But, it's OK, I understand. But in this case it would be an irony, right?" He thought he'd make the call a little lighter by pulling her chain.
"Lawrence! That's not funny. God forbid that I'd -- That's just not funny. I'm concerned, darling. You know that. You, living there all alone. You could fall and..." She was going over the same things again and pointing out that he hadn't married. He cut her short.
"Mom, I'm all right. I haven't fallen. I'm still wearing my bicycle helmet all the time, especially in the shower. I'm being safe. Besides, I'm thinking of turning gay to see if I can find a date that way."
"From your mouth. Pshh. Bicycle helmet!" She snorted. "All right Danny Kaye, you're quite the comedian now, huh? You're a shit, that's what. It's just not funny, kiddo. But seriously Lawrence, if you're gay, you can tell me. It's OK, honey. I understand. Your father didn't help much raising you, the bastard, may he rot in Denmark or wherever it is he ran off to. But darling, nowadays it's OK. You could even get married now. It's legal and if that makes you happy, then God Bless." She paused expectantly, waiting, once again, for him to finally come out and confess the love whose name must not be spoken.
She'd started down this line before he'd even gotten out of high school. He kept telling her, he liked girls and he dated them, regularly. But he just hadn't found the right one yet. It worried him too sometimes, but he didn't want to settle, and he didn't want to fight with his Mom about it. They were both too old.
"Gee thanks, Mom. I'll keep it in mind. I've had my eye on a guy at the JiffyLube, I might make a move." He wouldn't explain again, it wouldn't help anyway. She was going to worry about the things she was going to worry about.
"So Mom, how did I die today? Did the news say?" He knew this would get her going again but it was all part of a conversation with Mom.
"Lawrence!" An accusation. "What did I say?"
"Sorry, Mom. Just naturally curious. What was the deal?" He held the phone between his shoulder and ear, sat up on the hall desk and started flipping through the mail he'd picked up on the way in.
"Sophie and I were having coffee time and watching the Channel 5 news show. I had Sophie over, you know Sophie?"
"Yeah, Mom. I know Aunt Sophie." Flipping. Some car insurance stuff, the cable bill.
"Well, we were having coffee time and, anyway, that nice looking lady on Channel 5 said that the police activity that was causing the backup downtown was from a man who was found dead in front of the Wayling Plaza, by the fountain, where people eat their lunch downtown. You know the place?"
"Yeah, Mom. I know Wayling Plaza and the fountain. It's nice." Almost every piece of mail had an "s" on the end of his name. What was so hard about this?
“So people are eating their lunches and someone finds this man, dead. At first, they thought he was napping on the grass. People do that sometimes on a nice day."
"Right." He'd like to be napping right now.
"But they looked closer and found out he was dead. They won't say how, but it wasn't natural, like a hawt attek or something. The pictures show they put up big sheets and a tent to hide everything. They're keeping everybody back from it."
"They do that." Apparently, the "s" didn't matter. They cashed his payments and it all appeared on his statements.
"Sophie said, 'It was so sad that these things happen,' and I said yeah. So then a little bit later they said that they had a name for the victim, they called him a victim. They said his name was Lawrence Walter and I almost shit, excuse my French. Sophie said it probably wasn't you but I was crazy with worry, and then, when I couldn’t reach you, well, I - almost- died. That's all. But you know, I held onto the hope, honey. I didn't give up on you."
"Thanks for--whatever that means, Mom. That's quite a story. I can see why you were so worried. Everything's OK though. I'm sorry you couldn't reach me and you got so scared. It just, it's the end of the semester and I left early, but it's OK."
"Thank God, that's all. Of course, now I feel bad for that poor man's family. What, Sophie? Sophie says she's so relieved that you're OK too!"
"Thank Aunt Sophie and tell her I'm sorry she was worried." It was pretty weird. His name must have been more common than he’d thought.
"Sophie, he says he's fine and thank you." A pause, Sophie speaking in the background, then, "I don't know, I'll ask him. Since you're OK, we're going down to SaveMart. Do you need anything, honey?"
"No, Mom. I'm OK. Tell Aunt Sophie thanks for asking. You guys go and have a good time." He said. He'd make a sandwich and start into the papers in his bag and then go online to work on the rest. He might make quite a dent by 6:00 pm.
"Good time! I don't know about that. But we'll be careful and watch out for crazy people. That SaveMart can be quite the freak show, you know."
"Mom! I'm shocked. You of all people. The queen of tolerance and crypto-socialism." He couldn't resist getting one more wag of the tongue in.
"Lawrence! Your smart mouth is going to ..."
"Mom!" he interrupted, "I love you! Tell Aunt Sophie I love her too. You guys go, have fun. I'll be by tomorrow to see you and have a decent meal. OK?"
"Of course. I wouldn't let you go hungry. I'm going to roast a chicken and have the cheese noodle hot dish you like so much. Sophie and Marv might be here too."
"It'll be great, Mom. I gotta go. You're making my mouth water. Bye, Mom. Bye to Sophie."
He hung up the receiver and shook his head. He'd get to the bills later, now for the turkey sandwich.
As he stood the phone rang again. Larry immediately imagined his Mom had forgotten to tell him some major news item and she was calling back. He picked it up.
"Whajja forget?" he said.
"Lawrence Walter?" A man's voice said.
"Yeah. Sorry. Thought you were someone else. What can I do for you?" Maybe someone from the school, although they didn't usually call him Lawrence.
Click, and a moment later the dial-tone come back on.
Weird, he thought. It wasn't a wrong number. The guy'd said his name, and without an "s." Suddenly, he thought back on the news story his Mom had told him about. Did the victim's name have an "s" at the end? Surely his Mom wouldn't have missed the significance of that detail. What was that deal?
The phone rang again and startled him so much he actually jumped, like in a cartoon. His heart rate jumped too.
That explained it, the last call had been dropped by mistake and the guy was calling back to complete whatever it was. The pulse pounding in his head started slowing to a more normal state.
"Hello, Lawrence Walter." He said hoping to cut to the chase.
"Lawrence Walter?" The voice was a man but not the last guy that called. This voice was higher in pitch. That was really an annoying question after the way he answered.
"Yes. This is Lawrence Walter. Who is this?" He needed to get to the bottom of this and get on with his afternoon's work.
"Mr. Walter, this is Lieutenant Shafer of the Sacramento Police. Are you alone, sir?" Wow, this took him by surprise.
"Yes, Lieutenant. I'm alone. What's going on?"
"Sir. I want you to stay on the phone with me right now. There's nothing to worry about, but we're sending a couple cars to your house on Montrose right now. You may be in danger and we just trying to be careful. Do you understand, sir?” Larry's heart did a U-turn and started back up.
"Yeah, but what's going on? I don't understand. What kind of danger?" As he said this he began to hear distant sirens. This had to be some weird coincidence. It had to be a joke. Who did he know that'd pull something like this?
"I'll tell you in a minute, but tell me first, are your doors locked? I'm just asking as a precaution. As I said, we're just trying to cover our bases," the man's voice said.
Larry's head started spinning with a thousand different thought's. Was his door locked? Had he locked it when he came in? This couldn't be real. The sirens were getting closer.
"Wait, wait. Lieutenant... What did you say your name was? Is this a joke or something? Come on. It's not funny." He glanced at the door to see if it was locked but what he saw was the silhouette of a man walking up to the door cast against the curtains that covered the window in the top half of the door.
"Sir, we just got a call from the State Police that five people with your name have been killed in the state in the past four hours. We don't know what this means, but we're not going to take any chances." Lieutenant Shafer's voice was receding in Larry's mind.
The sirens were getting louder, but it might not matter.
The door was opening.
* * *