That night at dinner, no one broached the subject of Oscar’s death. The atmosphere was as it always was. Mrs. Milkie talked about her day of volunteering at the nursing home. Floyd was quietly hunched over his plate, mechanically shoveling food into his mouth. Robert’s meeting tomorrow with the university officials pretty well occupied his mind. He was going over in his head all potential questions they would have for him and the answers he would give. This account is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. He was, as always, confident things would go his way. They always seem to.
Perhaps, because of the importance of the meeting tomorrow, his brain stopped itching, and the ember in the back of his head cooled off. Even as Mrs. Milkie yammered on and on, his mind was at rest. Very unusual.
The following afternoon Robert rushed through the door of the boarding house. He was on top of the world, his meeting a resounding success. Robert captured the university account. He wanted to share this good news with somebody, so he went into the kitchen; it was nearing supper time and found Mrs. Milkie adding something to a pot on the stove. As Robert walked in, he announced, “The man of the hour is in the house!”
Mrs. Milkie turned from the large pot she was tending, saying, “Sounds like you had a wonderful day.” Robert wanted to hug her, yet something in her tone of voice, and the set of her mouth stopped him. She sounded almost accusatory.
“Well, it sure smells good in here, I’m famished,” he said enthusiastically. Mrs. Milkie looked at him in silence. Her eyes like a falcon’s. Dark, shiny, and very alert.
“Robert, why don’t you get ready for supper. Floyd won’t be joining us; he says he’s not feeling well.” Robert thought, ‘the guy looked like he was at death’s door this morning.’
“Sorry to hear he’s not feeling well.”
Mrs. Milkie turned back to her pot and said over her shoulder in a flat, monotoned voice, “It will be just the two of us tonight.” Robert shrugged uneasily, then went to his room to change and clean up.
“This is my famous chicken stew,” Mrs. Milkie announced as she brought two good sized bowls to the table; aromatic steam rising and filling the room. Per usual, grace was said, “Dear Lord, thank you for this bounty you have provided. And thank you for the wonderful day Robert had. Please bless him with all he deserves.”
With that, Mrs. Milkie said, “Let’s dig in while it’s hot.” Robert went at the stew like a dog on a bone.
“My goodness, you were hungry,” stated Mrs. Milkie as she brought Robert his second bowl full. “I should say. I didn’t get a chance to eat all day I was so busy. And with all the excitement, I don’t think I could have eaten anyway.”
Mrs. Milkie sat, hands folded in her lap, watching Robert eat.
“You know, it’s kind of a blessing Floyd is not with us this evening. I need to discuss something with you.” She said in a low monotone.
Robert thought, ‘here we go, she’s going to put the pinch on me for higher rent.’
“Robert, you know my interest in solving crimes and the group I belong to, ‘Chasing Shadows?’”
Robert felt a little weird. Physically. He shouldn’t have eaten so fast.
“Ah, yes, Mrs. Milkie, you have told me of your group.” His eyeballs itched, and couldn’t focus very well.
“By the way, you may call me Ellie.” Her face changed. The falcon eyes were back, and her lips disappeared into a straight line above her chin. “May I call you Jason. Jason Bohn?”
Robert’s feet and hands tingled. His head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. The spoonful of stew he just put in his mouth dribbled over his lower lip and chin and back into his bowl.
He suddenly couldn’t swallow.
“Robert…..let’s use your real name… Jason. I had a wonderful day too. I want to show you something.” She stood and turned, opening a drawer in the china cabinet and removed a file folder. He saw the folder. His folder from his room! If he could, he would have jumped up and wrung her neck, but he could barely move. And his breathing didn’t feel right. He had to take a breath and exhale consciously. If he didn’t think about breathing, he’d suffocate.
“You see, I had some suspicious feelings about you from the beginning. Your outward appearance and presentation of yourself struck me as…. plastic. Not real flesh and blood. Oh, you did a very nice job covering up the real you. However, you seemed so…..guarded. So calloused. I said to myself; I think Robert is hiding something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. And oh, I guess I am a nosy old woman, but my intuition told me you were up to something. Maybe it’s because of my group, the ‘Shadow Chasers.’ It causes me to see evil behind every door. So, I searched your room, and, oh my Jason; you weren’t very careful with some very incriminating items.”
I was shocked! And somewhat pleased at what I had found.”
What did that old bag do to me?!
She came around the table and stood next to Jason/Robert. She moved his bowl across the table and laid the file folder under his face. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” First, she pulled out the xerox copies of newspaper reports from San Diego, Irvine, San Bernardino, Yuma, Tucson, and Prescott in Yavapai County. She arranged the pages in a semi-circle on the table in front of Jason. She had them in chronological order dating back ten years. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve been at this for longer than ten years.”
Wha… tha’ fuck… isss.. dis?
She then placed two sandwich bags containing hair under his drooping head. One snowy white, the other a gaudy mauve color. Next, she put two gallon-sized Ziplock bags beside the hair. The bags were frozen from the dry ice kept in the hidden chest, kept out of sight in Robert’s/Jason’s room’s closet. “The news articles never mentioned that you also kept the breasts of your victims. Though we both know that souvenirs are a big part of what you do.”
“I’m sure there is a psychosexual explanation for the breasts.”
“I can only imagine what else you did to those poor women,” scolded Mrs. Milkie, hands-on-hips, looking down at Jason/Robert with disapproval.
The last piece of paper in the file folder was a copy of a driver’s license. The picture was Robert Washburn; the name was Jason Bohn. “If we had the time, I would like to know who you use for fake ID’s. These are very good compared to the ones I have.”
Jason/Robert was still conscious; he was very alert. His body, however, had folded in on itself in paralysis. He looked like a ball of waded paper. Drool hung from his lower lip.
“Now, I’m sure you are curious as to why you are in the condition you are in…yes?” Mrs. Milkie sounded like someone happily playing a parlor guessing game.
He couldn’t move his eyes. They wouldn’t close or blink. He stared down at the table, his vicious and vile obsession in full view.
She pulled two vials and a capped syringe from the pocket of her apron, placing them next to the baggies of hair. “Sodium thiopental and pancuronium bromide are in these two vials,” she said, hands clasped under her chin and smiling proudly at the two vials like she had just viewed a newborn grandchild for the first time.
“One drug makes you drowsy, and the other causes paralysis. They are the same drugs used in lethal injections. But I just put them in your stew.” She picked up the syringe and removed the cap. “To have these drugs is completely illegal. How I got my hands on them is another story. Let’s just say I know some very…what’s the word….dicey, people.”
She tittered behind her hand.
“And now, since I uncovered your secret’s, I think it only fair that I share some secrets of my own.”
“Secrets you will take to your grave.”
She moved a chair closer to Jason so she could speak in his ear. “Oscar? That was me. Arsenic poisoning over an extended period. The poor man with only one leg. I did him a favor.” “Miss Winkler, the woman who’s room you now have smothered with a pillow. I put phenobarbital in her nightly tea so that she was already unconscious when I put that pillow over her face. Poor dear, just was not happy.”
She sighed as she told these two secrets, as someone recalling bittersweet memories.
“Oh….the nursing homes, yes. I helped twelve poor souls go to their maker. They were, after all, ready to go.” There was another sigh of fond remembrance.
“And now, dear Floyd. Feeling poorly as he’s been, made him very unhappy. Of course, slow arsenic poisoning isn’t pleasant, but he only has a short time left of suffering before he’s gone.”
Jason/Robert was sweating. Mrs. Milkie took a linen napkin and dabbed his forehead, saying, “Oh, I do go on and on. Now about you.”
She held the syringe so he could see it.
“This is my concoction,” she announced proudly. “Potassium mixed with digoxin to stop the heart.” She used an alcohol swab to wipe an area on a neck vein. “The coroner will list a heart attack as the cause of death.”
As she slid the needle into his neck, she said, offhandedly, “This was no more than putting down a vicious dog.”