At the Tone | Audio
By Jeffrey B. Burton
The lies of Jeffrey B. Burton have appeared in dozens of genre magazines (horror, mystery, literary). Jeff is a member of the Horror Writers Association. A collection of his short stories, Shadow Play, was published in 2005. His mystery novel, Sleuth Slayer, was published May 2008.
"Hello. You have reached the Mark and Danielle Becker residence. At the tone, please leave a message and Danielle or I will get back to you as soon as--
"Aw hell . . . who am I kidding? . . . none of that's actually true. It pains me to admit that Danielle no longer lives here. Not anymore, that is. And, quite frankly, I'll be shuffling off to Buffalo myself by the time any of you listen to this message.
"Hey, if this happens to be Danielle's parents, I just want you to know that--yes, indeed--I heard all of the gossip. You know, 'That Mark's certainly a slacker' or 'Danielle sure picked a deadbeat, didn't she?' or, simpler yet, 'Why did Princess have to go and marry that lazy lemon?'
"Yup, Danielle Dearest was certainly vocal with any and all of your editorial comments whenever we got into a quarrel, which, sorry to say, had become part of our daily regimen. By the way, that 'lazy lemon' comment was a bit beyond the pale, don't you think? Although, it did start me thinking.
"Just a quick aside--did either of you ever take an extended peek at your dear Princess? I damn near popped my seventh cervical carrying Precious over the threshold of that Belize villa you set us up with on our honeymoon.
"And our beloved Princess certainly acted like one, didn't she? Christ on a crutch, I felt myself shrivel and turtle up every time a waiter or maid discovered some new way to displease her. Thou shalt never slight the Princess--not unless you want all hell to rain down invoices, that is. I simply can't imagine where Princess got that particular trait from . . . hmmm, Mrs. Vanderpate?
"You know what's crazy? Whodda thunk there'd be so much money to be made in coffee cup coasters? Whew-Wee! Amazing how some fartskulls become millionaires, isn't it, Mr. Vanderpate? And those jobs that you set me up with at the plant? Simply riveting. Four stars for challenging my growth potential and utilizing my specific skill set. Counting pallets and quibbling with United Parcel--bless you for allowing me to leave my mark on the world, Sir, for allowing me to pee out my niche, if you will.
"By the way, Mr. Vanderpate, did you know the managers call you 'Doggy Breath' behind your back? But let's be honest here, you do have a bit of a halitosis thing going. Would brushing your teeth every few hours or popping a Certs now and again be far too beneath you, Mr. Vanderpate? Hell, even that schmuck Henderson, whose side you always took--even when I explained the reason I'd put those goddamned cartons in my trunk was merely so I could save the vendor a trip--calls you 'Doggy Breath' behind your back.
"Hey, as long as I've breached the 'Let's check Mark's trunk' ordeal, my-oh-my, that was quite unpleasant for all concerned, wasn't it? Certainly was for moi. Many things were vociferously implied about your son-in-law that day, Mr. Vanderpate, many things that went several exits past polite. Nope, not polite in the least.
"What's that asinine motto of yours again? Something about 'Rising and meeting the challenges.' With you, it was always 'Rise and meet the challenges, Mark.' Yet day in and day out you treated me like a useless embarrassment--a lazy lemon--didn't you?
"Well, let me tell you a thing or two about being a lazy lemon, Mr. Vanderpate. Would a lazy lemon set up a P.O. Box in a false name? Would a lazy lemon unearth the name of a deceased male that would be about the lazy lemon's same age had he lived? Would a lazy lemon get a social security number for the aforementioned dead fella and begin setting up credit cards, licenses and bank accounts in this fella's name in, say, parts unknown? And untraceable. Quite labor intensive for a lazy lemon now, wouldn't you agree, Mr. Vanderpate?
"I'm certain you had to put up with all sorts of whispered hints and allegations of nepotism, Mr. Vanderpate, but I for one will eternally be grateful for you allowing Princess that set-her-own-part-time-hours gig in Finance. Eternally grateful. Amazing the things you can do electronically these days. Sure makes life more convenient than in times past, huh? All you need is a password here and an account number there . . . and the world is truly your oyster.
"Amazing the information that Princess volunteered during our last little row--a fount of information, Mr. Vanderpate, a virtual fount of banking facts and figures. And, after a very minor tete-e-tete, Princess proved quite flexible in permitting me to convert all her assets to cash. Quite flexible, indeed.
"Just a final question regarding the family portfolio, Mr. Vanderpate. Why'd you hold nearly 80% in GMAC and over 15% in IBM? Tut-tut-tut. But rest assured, Sir, I've diversified all such oversights in the new holdings.
"Well, Mr. Vanderpate, methinks there may be a few challenges of your own to rise and meet in the upcoming days. Yessiree, Sir, a few challenges of your very own.
"Not much else for me to say, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderpate, but, after all the water that's gone under the bridge and over the dam these past few years, please let me try to end things on a civil note and leave you with one last little tip.
"You may not want to be the first to open our walk-in freezer . . ."