Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor
At one-thirty, a native woman and her young daughter joined Upton Swann on the love seat. The woman looked straight ahead, minding her own business just as though he weren’t there, but the little girl looked inquisitively up at Upton’s face. “Mama, he’s so white,” she said.
“Hush,” said her mama, quickly standing and pulling her wide-eyed daughter away with her. Wilma Dexter squirmed in her chair.
At three, a young boy asked Upton Swann for a dollah and, when Swann didn’t answer, made an obscene gesture and scurried off. Phil Pomeroy sighed, stood, went inside, and mixed a pitcher of martinis.
At 4:15, a shaggy, rather ragged, man carrying a bottle-shaped paper bag weaved unsteadily through the crowd and plopped down on the love seat. By 4:30, he was engaged in a lively conversation with Upton, laughing, gesturing broadly, and occasionally slapping him on the knee. The somewhat one-sided conversation lasted until 5 o’clock when the man stood, said “See you around, buddy,” and wandered off.
Adele groaned, Phil went for more martinis, and Wilma growled at her husband: “This is all your fault, you know.”
“Me?” said Howard with a look of disbelief. “I didn’t kill him.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Wilma. “It would be just like you.”
“Stop, stop,” said Adele. “I’ll go tell them I did it. You all think I did it, anyway. I’ll confess and go to the stinky jail. At least it will all be over.”
“No you won’t,” said Myrna. “We don’t all think you did it. We’ll just wait. It was a stupid plan, but we’ll just have to wait. Everything will be all right.”
“It will,” seconded Howard. “And now it really doesn’t matter who actually killed him. We’re all equally guilty.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Phil. He raised his glass toward the market. “To the corpse.” They all downed martinis.
At 6, they thought maybe their vigil would finally end. Upton was leaning to the left, barely noticeable at first, but before long with a decided tilt. They watched, five chins on the railing, as gravity took hold, and Upton rolled to his side, lying across the love seat. And he had not been horizontal for three minutes when a policeman appeared. The gang of five looked at one another excitedly, then sat back in their chairs so as not to draw the policeman’s attention to the terrace.
The policeman approached the slumped over Upton Swann and said in a firm voice: “Hey mon, no sleeping here. You take yourself home now.” He gave Upton a couple of taps with his nightstick. “Get along now. If you’re not gone when I get back, you’ll do your sobering up in a jail cell.” He sauntered away, and spirits flagged on the terrace.
The policeman didn’t return, and darkness enveloped the market square with Upton Swann still lying on the love seat. Adele Swann went to bed and sobbed herself to sleep. The others found sleep in various positions on the floor, except for Phil Pomeroy, who technically passed out while dressing down the sleeping Howard Dexter.
They were back on the terrace before dawn, straining eyes to determine whether Upton Swann still lay there in the darkness. As the sky lightened, the darkness slowly dissipated and, to their great disappointment, they were able to discern a familiar shape on the love seat. But with the steady brightening of the dawn, they became aware of a marked difference down there in the market — Upton Swann was still there all right, but he was stark-naked.
The man who had gone unnoticed in the market for a full 24 hours would not go unnoticed another day. By 7, a crowd had formed around the naked body on the love seat, and by 7:30, the police had whisked Upton Swann away.
The relief on the terrace was short-lived, as apprehension quickly whisked it away. A naked American tourist has a heart attack in the market – it didn’t have quite the air of authenticity they sought. Finally, late that afternoon, Adele was summoned to the police station. Her friends accompanied her to act as chorus.
“Do you have any idea why your husband would be naked and dead in the market?” the police chief asked tactfully.
Adele sobbed and grew flustered. The others were certain she was going to say something stupid that would send them all to jail. “Didn’t you tell us, Adele,” said Howard, stepping in to save the day, “that Upton had a sleepwalking prob — ?”
“I do have an idea,” said the police chief, ignoring Howard. “Actually, it’s more than an idea; it’s an iron-tight conclusion. Our coroner made a careful examination, did tests.”
The five culprits were sweating now, and it wasn’t from the tropical warmth. “He had,” Howard recited, “a history of heart — .”
“Naturally, when we find a naked dead man, reeking of alcohol, we are suspicious. We sometimes even suspect foul play. That’s why we were so thorough. But we found no evidence of foul play whatsoever.”
“No foul play,” Adele repeated mechanically.
“No foul play,” said the police chief in a tone that suggested he would prefer no further interruptions. “As it turned out, he had a massive heart attack. Sat down on the bench and died. We caught the thief who stole his clothes. You can pick them up at the desk.”
“A heart attack,” said Howard, dumfounded. “Are you sure?”
As they filed out of the police station, Howard continued to mumble. “A heart attack. But I was so certain it was poison.”
“No, Howard, just a heart attack,” said Adele, with a little smile. “The police chief said so — a heart attack. Poor, poor Upton.”
But nothing gets by the children who sing calypso in the market square:
Stone cold dead in de market, stone cold dead in de market,
Stone cold dead in de market, I killed nobody but me husband…
Listen to Stone Cold Dead in de Market performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan.
This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine for American Airlines. It is one of 15 stories featured in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.