I rang the bell and waited for an answer. I rang a second time. "Mr. DeChooch?" I yelled. Angela Marguchi stuck her head out her door. She was half a foot shorter than me, white-haired and bird-boned, a cigarette rammed between thin lips, eyes narrowed from smoke and age. "What's all this racket?"
"I'm looking for Eddie."
She looked more closely and her mood brightened when she recognized me. "Stephanie Plum. Goodness, haven't seen you in a while. I heard you were pregnant by that vice cop, Joe Morelli."
"A vicious rumor."
"What about DeChooch," Lula asked Angela. "He been around?"
"He's in his house," Angela said. "He never goes anywhere anymore. He's depressed. Won't talk or nothing."
"He's not answering his door."
"He don't answer his phone either. Just go in. He leaves the door unlocked. Says he's waiting for someone to come shoot him and put him out of his misery."
"Well that isn't us," Lula said. "'Course if he was willing to pay for it I might know someone ... "
I carefully opened Eddie's door and stepped into the foyer. "Mr. DeChooch?"
The voice came from the living room to my right. The shades were drawn and the room was dark. I squinted in the direction of the voice.
"It's Stephanie Plum, Mr. DeChooch. You missed your court date and Vinnie is worried about you."
"I'm not going to court," DeChooch said. "I'm not going anywhere."
I moved further into the room and spotted him sitting in a chair in the corner. He was a wiry little guy with white rumpled hair. He was wearing an undershirt and boxer shorts and black socks with black shoes.
"What's with the shoes?" Lula asked.
DeChooch looked down. "My feet got cold."
"How about if you finish getting dressed and we take you to reschedule," I said.
"What are you, hard of hearing? I told you, I'm not going anywhere. Look at me. I'm in a depression."
"Maybe you're in a depression on account of you haven't got any pants on," Lula said. "Sure would make me feel happier if I didn't have to worry about seeing your Mr. Geezer hanging out of your boxer shorts."
"You don't know nothing," DeChooch said. "You don't know what it's like to be old and not to be able to do anything right anymore."
"Yeah, I wouldn't know about that," Lula said.
What Lula and I knew about was being young and not doing anything right. Lula and I never did anything right.
"What's that you're wearing?" DeChooch asked me. "Christ, is that a bulletproof vest? See, now that's so fucking insulting. That's like saying I'm not smart enough to shoot you in the head."
"She just figured since you took out that ironing board it wouldn't hurt to be careful," Lula said.
"The ironing board! That's all I hear about. A man makes one mistake and that's all anybody ever talks about." He made a dismissive hand gesture. "Ah hell, who am I trying to kid. I'm a has-been. You know what I got arrested for? I got arrested for smuggling cigarettes up from Virginia. I can't even smuggle cigarettes anymore." He hung his head. "I'm a loser. A fuckin' loser. I should shoot myself."
"Maybe you just had some bad luck," Lula said. "I bet next time you try to smuggle something it works out fine."
"I got a bum prostate," DeChooch said. "I had to stop to take a leak. That's where they caught me ...at the rest stop."
"Don't seem fair," Lula said.
"Life isn't fair. There isn't nothing fair about life. All my life I've worked hard and I've had all these ...achievements. And now I'm old and what happens? I get arrested taking a leak. It's goddamn embarrassing."
His house was decorated with no special style in mind. Probably it had been furnished over the years with whatever fell off the truck. There was no Mrs. DeChooch. She'd passed away years ago. So far as I knew there'd never been any little DeChooches.
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