Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink
D. Paul Angel
Dolores rushed into the kitchen to pull the roast out. The buzzer on the oven had stuck again, and she had lost track of time polishing the silver for dinner with Ableforth’s boss tonight. She’d asked Ableforth to fix it, but his reply was the same to all of her difficulties, “It’s not like you don’t have the time. I do enough work, at work.”
Dolores lifted the cast-aluminum lid to check the roast and potatoes. The potatoes were a little crisp, and the carrots were rubbery, but at least the roast didn’t feel dry to her poking. Ableforth hated dry roasts as a matter of course, and tonight was already important to him (“I don’t know how to get perfect out of you when you can’t even manage adequate, Dolores, but that’s what I need for tonight,” he’d commanded on his way out). As for the veggies, he’d barely touch his potatoes anyway, and he’d howl if she put even a sliver of carrot on his plate.
She was still setting the table when Ableforth bustled into the house shouting for her. She rubbed some of the last dust off a crystal goblet with her apron before rushing to the foyer. Ableforth hated it when he had to wait for her. Ableforth introduced her to Mr. Black, laughing and nudging the air next to him. “The Mortuary has my name on it, Dolores! You really think I have a Boss? That’s too rich. Mr. Black is what we call Death in the Industry. You’ll believe anything won’t you!?”
He continued on into the dining room, laughing to himself the whole way. It was better than his usual scowls, sarcasm, or drunken anger, but not by much. She almost jumped when she realized there was someone else in the foyer. He was every bit as slender as Ableforth wasn’t, and his formal, Victorian suit looked straight out of one of the Sherlock Holmes movies she watched on PBS when Ableforth had his Poker nights.
“Mr. Black?” she asked quietly. The little man didn’t respond out loud, but gave her a knowing wink as he placed his top hat and thin, black umbrella on the wooden coat rack by the door. Then he took her by the hand and pulled her into the kitchen. He held his finger to his lips to quiet her as he pointed towards Ableforth in the other room. Ableforth had poured a couple glasses of wine, but was pouring a clear liquid out of a small, dark bottle into one of them. The one he then placed on her end of the table. Mr. Black motioned her to continue making up their plates before letting himself into the dining room just as Ableforth came into the kitchen.
“It’s a great day, Dolores!’ Ableforth said, leaning on the counter as she grabbed the plates to take into the dining room. As they turned to leave, she saw Mr. Black switch the glasses of wine before primly taking the chair she had set for him. Ableforth continued without noticing Mr. Black, “The probate attorney called and your Father’s estate is finally settled. The check came this afternoon and it’s already deposited. I’m done here. Done with this town, done with this life, and done with- Well, I’m just done.
“So a toast, Dolores, to a new life,” he finished, holding up his glass and inviting her to toast. She looked over to Mr. Black who gave her a sympathetic smile and encouraged her to drink. She raised her glass with a forced smile and drank deeply as Ableforth drained his glass with a loud gulp. She was watching Mr. Black stand up when she heard Ableforth’s first gasp. She turned and saw his face contort in fear and pain as he clutched at his chest. She rounded the table as he collapsed to the floor, flailing.
She panicked, not knowing what to do and unable to speak. She let herself be moved aside by Mr. Black who, having collected his hat and umbrella, stood over Ableforth. She watched dumbfounded as Mr. Black swiped his umbrella through Ableforth, instantly stilling his convulsions. Mr. Black turned to her again, looking at her with both sympathy and encouragement. He doffed his hat and formally bowed to her before squeezing her hands and smartly walking out.
She sat back down and drained the rest of her wine in a single gulp, before smiling, truly smiling, in as long as she could remember.