As Janie and Betsy Ann go for their morning jog, the city sanitation vehicle follows its normal five-mile Tuesday morning route through their retirement community of Sunset Acres. The two Bunco-playing biddies spot a leg dangling out of the dumpster when the truck lifts the trash container high in the air. Someone diced up one of their newest residents—a grouchy loner named Edwin Newman. Did he unpack too much of his dicey past when he moved in last weekend?
Betsy Ann Hunt huffed up the hill, breathing in time to the slap of her sneakers on the early morning dew-dampened pavement. The lavender, velour-covered backside of her neighbor and Bunco playing buddy, Janie Manson, wobbled ahead of her, her elbows swinging in sync with her steps, no doubt to some early Beatles song on her I-pod.
Janie claimed to be one of the privileged few who squealed on the first row of the band’s concert at Sam Houston Coliseum during their first British Invasion tour in April of 1965. But Janie bragged about a lot of things, such as her physical stamina—which appeared to be ebbing at the moment as a result of the sultry Texas humidity.
Betsy Ann urged her sore calves to accelerate on the incline. With every ounce of gumption mustered in her quivering ligaments, she edged alongside Janie. Exhaling a slight wheeze, she tapped her friend on the shoulder. “Can we slow down?”
“Huh?” Janie pulled out the left ear bud. She waited at the top of the lane near the entrance to the club house parking lot in their fifty-five-plus community of Sunset Acres.
The rumble of the sanitation truck on its Tuesday morning rounds to empty the dumpsters drowned out Betsy Ann’s breathless response.
“What did you say?” Janie jogged in place as she leaned closer.
“Have...to...stop.” Betsy Ann raised a hand with fingers spread and then pressed it to her thigh as she bent over. Her ample breasts bounced with each chest heave under her fuchsia zip-up jogging jacket.
“Okay, all you had to do was say so.” Janie clicked off her music. “It’s only been three weeks since you slipped on your tailbone, Betsy Ann. I realize you gained six pounds lying around, but are you sure you should be power walking so soon? Dr. Pearson gave me strict orders about exercising when I chipped my hip bone two years ago.”
Always knows everything. With gritted teeth to keep her from speaking her mind, Betsy Ann straightened upright in slow motion as she counted to ten. But the sincere concern on Janie’s apple-cheeked face dissolved her angst. She edged up to her friend’s ear and spoke louder to compensate for the trash vehicle’s droning engine.
“I’m fine, really. Just need a breather for a moment or two.” A whiff of three-day-old, fermented garbage combined with diesel fumes left her a tad lightheaded. She waved a hand over her nose. “Whew, away from that monster.”
The two widows eased to a bench under one of the many sprawling live oak trees dotting the community. Their eyes followed the commercial dumpster as it rose in the air. The sanitation lorry’s built-in forklift maneuvered the box up and over the cab.
“Amazing how they lift and dump, isn’t it? The dumpster must weigh several tons.” Janie nodded. “Hydraulics, no doubt. My bother became a mechanical engineer, you know. Explained them to me one Thanksgiving, oh, back in 1972...”
Betsy Ann’s eyes glazed over. Janie exhibited the epitome of a walking encyclopedia. Her mind, even though encased in seventy-two-year-old wrinkles, still resembled a sharpened pencil lead. Her attention left her jogging mate’s diatribe on modern mechanics and turned to the labored whir of the metal arms grasping the garbage container. Black plastic sacks, white ones, and various cartons tumbled into the truck’s receptacle like upturned chocolate-covered mints into a wide open mouth.
Then, something long and blue-jean colored caught Betsy Ann’s eye. She jolted to her feet. “Oh, my word. A leg! With an orthopedic shoe attached.”
“Dear, I thought you quit taking oxycodone for pain.” Janie pushed a sweat-dampened silver curl off her brow.
“I’m serious. Look.”
Janie’s gaze followed her friend’s finger. “Oh, my heavens. It is!”
She jumped up as she waved her hands over her head. “Stop. Stop.”
Her words didn’t reach the city worker’s ears over the automatic grinds and thunks. Betsy Ann dashed in front and proceeded to slam her hands onto the driver’s door. A middle-aged man knitted his thick black eyebrows. He jerked the lift to stop and rolled down the window. “What?”
The community’s trash receptacle dangled at a precarious angle. The senior citizens sputtered in unison.
“Stop. There’s a body.”
The man shook his head in confusion.
Betsy Ann motioned to the back. “A body. Get it? Dead person.”
The man shut down the engine. “¿Muerto?”
“Yes. Uh, sí.” She bobbed her cropped, reddish-blonde hair.
The worker crawled down from his seat and walked to the back of the sanitation truck, which rumbled and spewed more putrid fumes. The dumpster titled down at a forty-five degree angle. Suspended in time clung numerous trash bags, pizza boxes, a broken lawn chair and...an arm?
“Blessed Mary, Mother of God.” The man crossed himself and dug a cell phone from his back pocket. He punched in a number and began sputtering Spanish rapid fire like a machine gun from a 1940’s film noir movie.
The two spinsters edged around to peer up into the dumpster’s contents, their cupped palms shading their eyes from the morning sun’s rays. Janie scrunched her mouth to one side. “If I am not mistaken, it’s Edwin Newman in there.”
“Who?” Betsy Ann swiveled her torso towards her sprinting partner.
“You know. The old grouch who moved down the street into the Williams’ old condo last Friday.”
“Oh, yes. The Williams transferred to the assisted living units, didn’t they? He developed advancing Alzheimer’s and she’s recovering from double hip replacements. Or a knee and a hip? Oh, dear, I get fuddled sometimes about all that medical stuff. So many of us are losing body parts and getting titanium joints...”
“Betsy Ann!” Janie hissed. “Body. Dumpster. Remember?”
“Yes. My, aren’t we testy?” She brushed her jacket with the palm of her hand. “Why do you think those belong to... What did you say his name was?”
“Newman. Edwin Newman. He chewed out Mildred Fletcher because her Yorkie barked at him. Threw a coffee mug at the poor animal. Whack! Right on the nose. It left a raw, sore spot.”
Janie gave her a quick nod. “Mildred must apply a special salve on him three times a day. Says it cost her $22.95.”
“On Mr. Newman?”
Janie scoffed into her velour v-neck. “No, the Yorkie.”
Betsy Ann’s lips formed an “O.”
Janie pointed to the dumpster. “Mr. Newman’s in there all right.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Janie bent to Betsy Ann’s ear. “I see his head.”