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“Thank you for doing this,” says Maddie. She directs me through the backstreets of Yonkers, down blocks of low-slung brick duplexes. Families barbecue on cluttered front lawns. Bathtub madonnas and immaculately-tended geraniums warn us that this neighborhood takes seriously its commitments to faith and honest labor. Maddie’s ex manages a roofing company. She has told me repeatedly that my “best quality” is that I’m “nothing like Michael,” but only now — surrounded by garden gnomes and year-round Christmas lights — do I fully realize how different this roofer’s world is from my own.
I park across from Michael’s modest, nondescript house. Maddie kisses me. “Wait here. I’ll call you if I need your help,” she says. “Try to look intimidating, just in case Michael peeks out the window.”
Moments later, Maddie opens the front door of Michael’s house with her own key — and I am alone.
I do make a brief attempt to look intimidating, but I give up on it. My only two life-skills are throwing my voice and crafting legal briefs — neither of which is likely to prove particularly useful against Michael, who was dishonorably discharged from the Coast Guard for bare-knuckle boxing. But deep down, I suspect Maddie’s fears are overblown: her ex-husband may be a jerk who holds reptiles captive for leverage, but there’s no evidence he’d actually hurt her. I open McCormick’s Evidence, hoping to get a head start on my fall reading. I hear a door slam. When I look up, Maddie’s ex is walking straight towards me.
Michael is shorter than I’d expected, but broad-shouldered. He wears his gunmetal hair in a ponytail. Reflective sunglasses mask his eyes. The notion hits me that he may be carrying a handgun, but by the time I gain the mental wherewithal to consider fleeing, the enraged roofer is already rapping his fingers against the side window. I lower it one-third of the way.
“You her new boyfriend?” he demands.
“I’m with Maddie,” I say, “if that’s what you mean.”
Michael rests his fingertips along the top edge of the window — as though daring me to close it on his hand. “Here’s the deal. I’ve got a job to go to today, but don’t you even think of setting foot inside my house. Maddie has my permission. You don’t. So that makes it fucking trespassing…I’ll know. And I will call the cops. Got that?”
“Nobody’s trespassing on your property,” I say.
“Good,” he shoots back. “Don’t test me.”
Michael sizes me up one last time and my thumb is already on the electric window switch, when his entire face ignites with shock. “Holy shit!” he exclaims. “Jesus Christ. Jesus-fucking-Christ. I know you. You’re the guy with the talking doll.”
It takes me a moment to realize he means Dr. Whipple.
“It’s definitely you. I don’t forget faces,” he continues. “We brought my niece to see you on her seventh birthday. What was the name of that damn thing? ‘Something for Idiots’?”
“Ventriloquism for Dummies,” I offer. “It’s a play on words.”
“This is fucking unbelievable,” Michael shouts. “Maddie leaves me for a guy who does puppet shows.”
It’s only a matter of time, I realize, before this guy informs Maddie. I say, “I hope your niece enjoyed the show.”
“Don’t be a wise-ass,” he replies. “Anyway, I’m leaving. You do not have my permission to go inside. Don't forget that.”
He climbs into his car and drives off.