It Happens Sometimes
I dedicate this story to the memory of Judge Patricia Hemann, who gave me the kernel of the idea.
Malcolm “Jitzy” Thompson eased his double whopper-size frame into the Duncan Phyfe lyre back chair in The Blue Boy Restaurant. Devin, his server, let go of the breath he’d been holding. Jitzy hadn’t crushed a Duncan Phyfe in three years of lunches, but you never know.
Jitzy Thompson headed the Cleveland Flats Waterfront Development Company, the front for a small but well-organized and effective criminal organization known to the Cleveland Ohio Police Department as the “Flats Gang.” Jitzy and his associates had their fingers in many pies: prostitution, tourist fleecing, gambling, robbery and extortion to mention only a few.
A number of prominent Cleveland citizens owed their professional and personal well-being to their paid-up accounts with the Cleveland Flats Waterfront Development Company.
The Blue Boy Restaurant, one of Cleveland’s finest, was enjoying its usual brisk lunch trade. Eight linen-draped tables circled a table for six centered under the ornate - some described it as florid - crystal chandelier. A life-sized replica of Thomas Gainesborough’s famous painting, The Blue Boy, stared indifferently at the diners.
Jitzy ordered his usual lunch: Chef Miguel’s famous Frisée salad, a 16-ounce ribeye steak (bloody rare), and a bottle of a domestic lager, no glass. Jitzy drained the last of the lager as Devin placed the Frisée salad before him.
”Compliments of Chef Miguel,” Devin announced, and removed the amber bottle. Jitzy grunted his gratitude. “Another lager, Mister Thompson?”
“Not today. I’m on a diet.” Jitzy shoveled in a hay fork load of salad, chewing
the curled endive suffused with Miguel’s exquisite dressing. He paused, his salad fork halfway to his mammoth mouth. “Damn,” he muttered. Jitzy motioned to Devin.
“Yes, Mr. Thompson?”
“Get this salad out of here. It’s so damn bitter that my lips are...“ Malcolm “Jitzy” Thompson surged backward against the unlucky Duncan Phyfe, a look of surprise and horror stretching the muscles of his face and neck. He was dead before he hit the floor.
A diner seated across the room allowed a brief smile to grace his lips, then resumed eating the softshell crab bisque, the specialty of the Blue Boy. His companion, an attractive young woman named Claire, stared at the commotion, the attempts at resuscitation, the alarmed looks and exclamations of the patrons. Then she noticed her tablemate’s unperturbed demeanor.
“My God, Judge O’Meara! That man...I think he’s . . . dead!”
“It happens sometimes,” said Patrick O’Meara. He napkined his mouth, and reached for another roll.
EMT personnel hurried into the dining room with a gurney loaded with equipment, but after a few minutes they re-packed their gear. Muscles straining, they rolled the covered body of Jitzy Thompson onto the gurney, and exited as swiftly as they had arrived.
“My dear,” said the judge, folding his napkin beside his plate, “if you will excuse me, I must make a call. You haven’t finished the Frisée Salad. If it’s not to your liking, I’m sure Devin will suggest a substitute.”
“No, it’s quite delicious. But I seem to have lost my appetite.”
“It happens sometimes,” smiled Judge O’Meara. He raised his cellphone to signal his intention and walked out to the foyer. He jabbed a number on the keypad.
“Please inform Mrs. Shute that her complaint has been settled out of court . . . Yes, that’s correct . . . Well, It’s sometimes difficult to ascertain the reason for a change of heart in a case such as this, but I believe the complainant’s acerbity had begun to adversely affect his decision-making . . . No, Mrs. Shute need have no fear for the future . . . You are most welcome. Have a blessed day.”
His Honor returned to his table. Devin approached.
“Begging your pardon, sir. The young lady asked me to convey her apology. She was not feeling well, and needed to retire.”
Patrick O’Meara nodded. “It happens sometimes,” he said.
At the curb outside the The Blue Boy, The judge dismissed his driver, taking advantage of the unseasonable early Spring warmth to walk to his chambers. Head erect, gray eyes squinting against the sungleam, O’Meara set off at a steady pace, plowing a straight furrow through the thick field of people returning to their desks after the lunch hour.
Judge O’Meara turned his thoughts to Mrs. Shute. They had been friends for a long time. More than friends. O’Meara owed his election as judge of the Cuyahoga County District Court to Bernice Shute. He had repaid her efforts frequently, and she had rewarded him handsomely.
All the same, this most recent situation had been extremely risky and expensive to settle out of court. By the time the judge arrived at his desk he had made a decision.
“Wilmer,” he said to his bailiff, “Please hold my calls for thirty minutes. Thank you.”
Wilmer knew nothing of Mrs. Shute. Not the real Mrs. Shute. Few people knew the real Mrs. Shute, which is how Bernice Shute operated. She avoided the fashionable society of Cleveland, shunning publicity. Yet, the fate and circumstances of many elite Clevelanders turned on the sub rosa schemes and actions of Mrs. Shute.
“Bernice! How lovely to hear your voice . . . Miguel outdid himself today. The crab bisque was exquisite . . . Gladwell told you I called earlier? . . . Yes, I’m sure you’re relieved to have that settled. Actually, I’m calling on a personal matter. A very personal matter.
“To come to the point, sweetheart, it has been some months since we . . . Yes, exactly. Has Gladwell opened your house on Chautauqua? We’ve enjoyed some . . . Yes, as a matter of fact, I am free this weekend. Wonderful, darling! Will you remember to pack the . . . how sweet of you. I’ll meet you there mid-morning Saturday. I can’t wait to be with you.”
Carl Shute had invested some of his coal mining millions in five acres of lakefront property on Chautauqua Lake at the turn of the 20th century, a move that ensured seclusion and privacy throughout the passing years. Carl’s great-great-grandson Carl IV inherited Serenity Cottage in 2000.
Unfortunately, Young Carl number four died one year later when the engine of his Chris-Craft triple cockpit speedboat inexplicably exploded, killing him instantly. The trust left the house to his beautiful widow Bernice, 30 years of age.
During the ensuing years, Patrick O’Meara and Mrs. Shute had rendezvoused at Serenity Cottage at regular intervals, with mutually agreeable results.
Saturday morning, Judge O’Meara packed two bottles of Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Champagne (Bernice’s favorite), chilling in an insulated bag. In a small nylon carryall he gathered an assortment of tools, a small vial of clear viscous liquid and a hypodermic syringe. The judge was diabetic.
The drive to Serenity Cottage took only a few minutes longer than two hours using interstate and multiple lane highways, but Judge O’Meara preferred the more scenic two-lane back roads. Traffic was light, and with the windows open and Ella Fitzgerald’s voice belting “Mack the Knife”, he recalled traveling this same road with his father on one of their frequent fishing trips to Chautauqua Lake.
As he drove he went over the various aspects of the decision he had made. From Bernice’s response on the phone, O’Meara knew she was as eager as he to spend the weekend together.
O’Meara turned onto the winding gravel drive that descended gradually to Serenity Cottage, a misnomer for the spacious lakeside house.
Bernice had prepared a superb lunch of various patés, fruits and cheeses, served on the deck overlooking the lake, accompanied by the perfectly chilled Cliquot Champagne. When they had drunk the last of the wine, Bernice rose to stand behind Patrick’s chair, her hand ruffling his graying wavy hair.
“Why don’t you relax while I put on something more comfortable?” she said softly, and kissed his neck.
A few minutes later they made love. Judge O’Meara marveled at Bernice’s sexual hunger. If anything, her appetite for sex had increased through the years, which suited Patrick O’Meara just fine.
Lying next to Mrs. Shute Judge O’Meara felt a momentary pang about his decision to end their relationship. He brushed it away. O’Meara knew it would be for the best. At least for him. The judge was not a mean person. He intended to make the break gently, minimizing the anguish as much as possible. O’Meara had planned that dinner would be the most appropriate time - “if there is an appropriate time for these things,” he mused.
Bernice Shute prided herself on her culinary skills. She had gone to extra lengths for their dinner. White linen on the table, crystal, china, silver, candles, with a view of the sun setting beyond the hills above the far shore of Chautauqua Lake. They drank the second ice-cold bottle of Cliquot with the bacon-wrapped figs appetizer. A full-bodied Shiraz accompanied the main course: poached salmon with orange-creme sauce.
While Bernice prepared the salad course, Judge O’Meara opened a refrigerator-chilled Montoli Sauvignon Blanc and poured two glasses. He added two drops of clear liquid to one of the glasses, swirling it expertly. He examined the delicate green hue of the wine. Satisfied, he placed the glasses at the table.
Bernice carried two plates of salad from the kitchen.
“I couldn’t resist the delicious irony, dear Patrick.”
“Frisée salad!” O’Meara exclaimed with a deep laugh. “Perfect choice, Sweetheart.”
Bernice laughed, and clasped his hand. They raised their glasses in a toast.
“The Montoli tastes a bit off,” said Bernice, frowning.
“Perhaps it’s the aconite,” replied the judge with a smile.
“Wha . . . ?” He watched her struggle for breath, eating his salad as Bernice Shute fell forward on the table, still clutching her glass.
Judge O’Meara swallowed another bite of the Frisée. He threw down his fork. He lurched to his feet, tearing at his throat. As he fell Judge O’Meara gurgled,
“It . . . happens . . . sometimes.”