A Level-Headed Man
by Tony Noland
His makeshift tools were sharp and slippery, but Larry kept working on the lock. Even more than his schoolboy likability, Larry's ability to focus on the task at hand was the thing about him that Caroline most admired and most despised. In nine years, she had never once seen him lose his cool. Or fail.
"Don't worry, babe. I've almost got it. Shouldn't be long now." He sounded optimistic and encouraging, as he always did, but he didn't turn away from the lock.
He'd said the same thing ten minutes ago. She wanted to slap him. She was exhausted, her eyes were burning and she had to pee. He'd been up just as long as she had, but his hands kept moving slowly, deliberately as he manipulated the sharp little bits of aluminum he'd torn from her can of Coke Zero. She was also starving. They hadn't eaten since Mexico City, more than fourteen hours ago. She sat on her suitcase and watched him work.
Whatever the situation, Larry could be counted on to keep his head and come up with a solution. One time, they'd had a blowout doing 90 in heavy traffic on the freeway. The car had whipped around so hard it actually left the ground. If she'd been driving, they would have died on the spot. But Larry had flipped the wheel with one hand, slapped the hazard lights on and blared the horn with the other. With the car fishtailing madly, he'd negotiated across four packed lanes, bringing them to a grinding stop on the shoulder. Then he'd just turned and given her his "kick-ass grin", a shit-eating mass of toothiness he wore whenever he'd pulled off something especially clever. She'd opened the door and vomited onto the pavement through the stink of melted tire and hot metal. Larry had wound up making friends with the tow truck driver and getting the tow for half price. He was an amazing guy, and she had grown to hate him.
He said, "Ah, there we go!" and she saw both his hands rotate clockwise in unison as he succeeded in picking the lock. He turned the knob to open the door, then looked back at her with the beginnings of a grin. Just as he did so, both of them were blinded by an intense white light.
"Police! Don't move!"
Larry's grin faltered and turned into a look of surprise, then he smiled again and laughed out loud. "Oh, man," he said, "oh man oh man. Okay, officer, no problem." He got to his feet, his palms spread out by his sides. Caroline turned as well, but her reaction was far less sanguine. Her need to pee was intense.
"It's alright, officer, I can explain everything." Larry stopped, then laughed again, this time at himself. "Oh my God, I didn't think people actually said that, and here I am saying it myself! Seriously, though, this is my house. You must think this is some kind of a break-in or something."
The officer in front had his flashlight held high, a long six-battery police brutality special. He kept the light shining in their faces. Behind him, lost in the glare, the other cop was watching the scene while he spoke quietly into his radio. Officer Flashlight said, "Stay where you are. I want to see some ID from both of you."
"No problem, officer. I'm going to get my wallet out, and my girlfriend's is in her purse, right, honey?" Larry gave her a big apologetic shrug to go with a frat boy wink. She wanted to die. She wanted to kill him. He smiled and nodded at the officer, and made exaggerated motions of getting his wallet out with three fingers, like people did on TV to show they were unarmed. She made no attempt to hide her irritation as she undid the snap of her purse and reached in. She saw the cop's hand move to his gun.
She took a deep breath. She slowly took out her wallet and removed her driver's license for the cop to see. He studied their ID's for a moment, comparing the pictures to their faces, then handed them back to the other cop. He lowered his flashlight, playing it over their luggage. "Alright, while my partner is running your ID's, how about you start at the beginning. We got a call about a possible burglary in progress at this address. We pull up and see you standing outside a freshly opened door. You said you had an explanation?"
"Jesus, my timing sucks, huh? We just got back from vacation," Larry said, "and I must have left my house keys in the hotel or something. When we got home, we couldn't get in. I didn't want to break a window or anything, so I, uh, I just thought I'd... " He spread his hands and grinned in an embarrassed way.
"You thought you'd pick the lock?" The officer did not sound impressed.
"I saw a guy do it on the Discovery channel, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Cheaper than a locksmith, you know? And my girlfriend really would like to get inside to powder her nose. It's been a long day, if you know what I mean." Larry smiled at both of them, but she only glared back, silent. "It took a little longer than I thought it would. I guess it looks easier on TV than it really is."
The cop didn't say anything, but continued to look at them, the house, the luggage. The second cop brought back the licenses and nodded slightly. Officer Flashlight handed them in turn to Larry and Caroline. "OK, Mr. Karlman, this all checks out. We had to check to make sure this was really your place; sometimes burglars make fake ID's with the address of the place they're breaking into. You're both free to go about your business. Let me give you a piece of advice, though. A lock that you can pick in ten minutes, any criminal can go through in ten seconds. I'd get some better locks if I were you. And next time, call a locksmith."
Larry shook his head and laughed again. He said, "Thanks, officer I will. And thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your work, even if it was a false alarm this time, thank God. Good night." He waved good-naturedly as the cops got back in their car and left without further comment. Larry pulled their suitcases through the door and closed it behind him.
Caroline was already sitting on the toilet with her skirt up and panties down, shuddering as she tried to get her body to relax. Larry tapped on the door, then walked in. She looked at his face, his grin as wide as she had ever seen it. She twisted her torso around, trying to face the sink. She almost made it. She convulsed, splashing urine on her legs and vomit over the floor tiles.
Larry shook his head as he undid his belt and lowered his pants. "Babe," he said, "you have got to learn to go with the flow." He stepped out of his pants and briefs and squatted on the floor. "You always get so tense, and always at the wrong times." He reached up between his legs and grabbed hold of a thick piece of string. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his wide grin serene as he smoothly expelled the first of the bags of heroin.
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