When Drusilla Meerschaum married Rick Tandem, she was in the throes of infatuation. Drusilla, a tall, willowy girl had swirled gracefully and blithely through finishing school, junior college, college and “coming out.” Pampered by her wealthy parents, the culmination of a blood-line beginning in an unmentioned past, in smuggling, slave-trading, privateering and profiteering, her world was cool, calm, blissful, serene, sheltered, antiseptic and impermanent.
All of her life she had been a sub-deb, and it seemed occupation enough for any girl. Then, in a blinding flash of champagne, she was a debutante, and when the foam cleared, she wasn’t anything at all.
A subtle change had come into Drusilla’s life. Her classmates, her contemporaries, were marrying off like flies. The Astor was peopled with strangers and interlopers. Drusilla was suddenly lonely.
Not that she was without suitors. Perfectly eligible young men abounded. They existed in a world of bells–doorbells, telephone bells. Whenever Drusilla heard a bell, she knew a panting young man would be along any minute, bearing flowers.
But it was all boring and wrong and vaguely annoying. The bells rattled her. The flowers were pretty, but useless. The young men spoke exclusively of their “prospects” and their travels.
Drusilla shocked her mother by announcing that she intended to seek gainful employment. In her mother’s long memory, no post-deb worth her salt had ever worked. But papa seemed to understand. He said, “I’ll ask around, Drusilla. See if I can find anything suitable.”
Something suitable was found within a week. Papa, for income tax purposes, had poured a sizable amount of money into a forthcoming Broadway play which was destined, he fondly hoped, to fold on opening night, perhaps before the curtain rose on Act Two. The producer of this unintentional comedy , a pallid piece about the decline of culture in the American South, was in need of a second secretary, one who could type. Drusilla, somewhere along in her schooling, had by sheer chance taken a course in typing, probably the only bit of her education for which she would ever have any use. She immediately went to work for the producer, a balding, pop-eyed, sweaty-browed type named Finkerwald.
While working for Mr. Finkerwald, Drusilla met Rick Tandem, the one great passion of her life. He stumbled into the office, the third day of her employ, and mumbled something about a “poinmun” with Mr. Finkerwald. Drusilla stared at him, entranced. He was about five-feet-five, two inches shorter than Drusilla, had heavily-greased black hair carefully placed on his low forehead above the shaggy brows, was garbed in extremely tight blue jeans, a torn T-shirt, and a black leather jacket containing fifty-three separate zippers, and was, by his own claim, an “aktuh.” Not only was he an aktuh, he was a Mehtudd aktuh.
It turned out, of course, that Rick didn’t have an appointment, or poinmun, at all, and Mr. Finkerwald, knee-deep in stage unions and going under for the third time, ordered Drusilla to give the bum the brush.
So she took him to lunch. Later, she could never remember just how it happened. All she knew was that they lunched together, and that she picked up the check.
But it didn’t matter. Because Rick didn’t talk about his prospects. As far Drusilla could see, he didn’t have any prospects. Nor did he talk about his travels, assuming an occasional subway ride out of the Village could be called travels.
As a matter of fact, it was sometimes just a bit difficult to figure out what Rick was talking about. The language he spoke was almost English, but not quite. It took Drusilla three dates, all at her own expense, before she had learned Rick’s language well enough to carry on an unintelligent conversation with him. And by that time, she was lost. Rick was so totally different than all the ascetic, clean-knuckled young men Drusilla had ever known that the result was inevitable.
Once again, mama was shocked. Papa was shocked, too, this time. Mama and papa listened in stunned silence to Drusilla talking about her Mehtudd aktuh, about her plans to marry him, and within three hours they had reservations for three on the night flight to Paris.
But Drusilla was not a Henry James heroine, She packed an overnight bag, bade a two-second farewell to all she had known, and took the subway to the Village.
The happy Tandems had no honeymoon, in the sense that they did not go to Niagara Falls or Bermuda or Cape Cod or some such place. They merely returned to Rick’s cockroach-laden, Salvation Army-supplied, cold-water two room flat, and their they partook of the fruit of their love.
For Drusilla, there were no hardships, not while she was with Rick. Their apartment was paradise now, their meals (baked beans, tomato soup and cheap wine) were consumed in an ecstatic daze. Drusilla even went to work, happily and uncomplainingly, at a nearby delicatessen.
The only fly in the ointment, and a microscopic fly at that, was Rick’s circle of friends. Rick was almost the only one in the group with a fixed abode, so the apartment was normally crammed with bearded young men strumming guitars and black-garbed young ladies looking soulful. Toward morning, the bearded young men would strum the black-garbed young ladies, and Drusilla would escape to her heaven behind the counter at the store.
If Rick noticed that Drusilla was, at times, cool to his friends, he made no mention of the fact, perhaps passed it off as the result of her being taller than almost anyone she knew.
Mama and papa capitulated after five weeks, when mama was told, by a rather smug and catty matron of her acquaintance, about Drusilla’s toiling away at the delicatessen. The Long Island estate was turned over to the happy couple, complete with limousine, chauffeur and allowance.
Drusilla’s happiness was now complete. None of Rick’s friends had the train fare for a trip out to their new home. At last, they could be alone.
The estate to which they repaired, via limousine, had once been written up in Glamorous Homes, where an uninspired and inaccurate staff writer had described the place as “sprawling among verdant greenery.” Such a description gave a completely false impression. The Long Island estate, a broad, looming, two-story stone affair, was much too dignified to sprawl. It stood proudly at the apex of a low hill, a curving private road leading down and away to the highway, just over a mile removed from the house. There was a gatekeeper’s cottage, though there was no gate. There was rolling countryside stretching away on all sides, richly green and dotted with trees. A fox-hunting party would have looked proper and normal in such surroundings, except there were no foxes in the vicinity.
Authorities claim that wealth is a corrupting influence, and they may well be right. Affluence for the first time in Rick Tandem’s life was a heady draught indeed. The seeds of chaos were fast sown.
It all began with the bongo drums. Rick bought them, emptied one of the thirty-seven rooms in the Long Island estate, sat down on the floor, and died to learn how to play them. He was not in the least discouraged by an absolute lack of rhythmic sense.
The servants began to give notice. Drusilla began to take notice. She asked her husband, in the privacy of their suite, if he would confine his practice to reasonable hours. He replied that he only felt it, he only got the old urge, around three or four in the morning. Drusilla spent a sleepless night, thinking.
The motorcycle was next. Rick roared up the private drive, straddling the thunderous monster, and couldn’t figure out how to stop or steer it. As a result, he wound up in the main foyer, unseated, while the motorcycle, driverless, did its best to climb a wall. Rick did no give up easily. He scurried around Long Island, length and breadth, petrifying the peasantry, until at last he got the knack of the beast. But he never did get a muffler, as Drusilla oft requested.
The wine was next. A trailer truck lumbered up to the estate one day, and two burly men began carrying gallon jugs of the cheapest wine in the world into the house, while Rick rubbed his hands in pleasurable anticipation, and the remaining servants hurried away to pack their belongings and the silverware.
And finally, the leopard came. Rick assured Drusilla the leopard was tame, that it wouldn’t bite, scratch, kick or otherwise harm anything alive, but nevertheless another set of servants disappeared into the employment agencies. But love can overpower any number of obstacles, and Drusilla was still in love with her bantam Tandem.
Then came the Season. Parties, dances, the whirl and glitter of the rich aping the patricians of the past, and the Tandems, through Drusilla, received the proper number of invitations.
The evening of the first party was strained. Rick refused to dress in a tuxedo, calling it a monkey suit. By now, Drusilla was only partially blinded by love, and the sight of her husband stalking off to a party garbed in extremely tight blue jeans, ripped T-shirt and black leather jacket with fifty-three separate zippers startled even her. In addition, of course, there was the fact that he insisted upon bringing his bongo drums along, since he was certain they would liven the party. As Drusilla sat beside him in the back seat of the limousine, she was happy for two things: one, she had dissuaded him from going to the party aboard his motorcycle; two, he hadn’t taken up folk singing, complete with guitar.
As the Season whirled on, Drusilla slowly and painfully awoke. She looked at the tall, bright-eyed, Ivy-leagued husbands draped around the necks of her friends, and then she looked at Rick. And she began, for the first time in months, to think.
Divorce occurred to her, but she rejected it immediately. Her marriage was the talk of the town. To divorce Rick would be to admit failure, to admit that she had been wrong. It was unthinkable. Slowly, her lineage and ancestry came to the fore. She decided to murder her husband, but it would have to be done carefully. Drusilla had no intention of exposing herself to the scandal involved in an electrocution. She retired to her room and thought.
The sound of Rick circling the house, via the flowerbeds, on his motorcycle, gave her the obvious answer–an accident. Rick was infamous in the countryside for his wild driving habits with the motorcycle. A slight bit of tampering–no more Tandem.
The next morning, while Rick lay comatose from an overdose of vino, Drusilla, armed with a wrench, invaded the garage. She studied the motorcycle for some time, then loosened a screw here, a bolt there, disengaged a part here and a part there. She then returned to the house, dragged Rick from bed, and begged him to run to town and purchase a newspaper. The highway skirted a cliff overlooking the ocean, on its way into town. With any luck at all, Rick would be going out with the tide.
Drusilla kissed her husband a fond adieu, and waved gayly as he clattered down the private road, barely missing the mailman. Two hours later, a phone call from the State Police informed her that her husband, complete with motorcycle, had sailed into the drink according to schedule. Drusilla broke down, weeping and wailing. Rick would have been amazed at his wife’s convincing acting ability.
While Drusilla was having dinner alone in her room, Rick walked in, sopping wet. “Muh sickle fell in,” he explained, and went away to dry himself.
Drusilla hurled her chicken broth at the wall. In the next room she could her Rick noisily gurgling the grape. She knew what she had to do.
A secret reconnaissance of the gardener’s shack the next morning produced a lovely bottle of poison. Drusilla poured a goodly amount into the half-full gallon jug on the breakfast table, returned the poison to its rightful place, and sat down unconcernedly to ham and eggs.
Rick appeared eventually, picked up the jug, and quaffed a healthy snort, after which he sat down and began to shovel eggs.
Drusilla watched him, waiting, but nothing happened. Finally she said, “Rick, how do you feel?”
“Great,” he told her. He patted the wine bottle. “This stuff cleans out the poisons.”
And then Drusilla understood. The alcohol in the wine and the poison from the gardener had cancelled each other. She hurried away from the table, not wanting Rick to see her in tears.
Within minutes, the house trembled to the sound of bongo drums. Drusilla resisted an impulse to scream. She clenched her fists, her teeth and her eyes, and slowly a steely calm came over her; a steely calm and a diabolical plan.
A quick trip to New York, a brief chat with one or two personages in a seedier section of the city, whose acquaintance she had made when she worked in the store, and Drusilla returned to the house carrying a small package wrapped in brown paper.
Rick was asleep. Drusilla found the bongo drum, removed the small, efficient bomb from its paper wrappings, secured it in the interior of the drum, affixed the wires as she had been instructed, and removed herself to the other end of the house.
When Rick awoke, he spent some time playing with his leopard, then, feeling the muse upon him, closed himself in his bongo room and began to practice.
The explosion was heard in Queens. Drusilla jumped, even though she’d been expecting it. She then hurried through the house, and stood before the closed door of the bongo room. Smoke seeped under the door and through the keyhole.
As she watched, the door opened and Rick came out. His T-shirt was more ripped than ever, and most of his eyebrows were singed off. Otherwise, he was fine. He looked at Drusilla and said, “Muh bongos blew up.”
Drusilla was too shaken, for a few days, to think. But finally she hied herself to a library and read up on explosions. She read about daredevils who enclosed themselves in small boxes with large pieces of dynamite, set off the dynamite, and walked away, hale and hearty, to accept the applause of the multitude.They did this for a living, twice a day and three times on Sunday. She read a theory that a person very close to the source of an explosion has much more likelihood of surviving it than a person a few feet away, since deaths in explosions are not the result of the explosive force but of the hurled debris.
Drusilla was at the end of her rope. She considered starving the leopard for a period of weeks, and then bringing it and Rick together, but in all likelihood Rick wold eat the leopard. She was defeated, and she knew it.
Suddenly she felt much better than she had in months; she realized that her attempts to rid herself of her husband were not so much the result of her own dislike for him as the result of social disapproval. And what, really, did she care for social disapproval?
Actually, she had been terribly unfair to poor Rick. She had married him precisely because he was not like all the pale, cultured, overly-bred anemic young men she had always known. And wasn’t he good to her? Didn’t he offer her rides on his motorcycle? Hadn’t he offered to teach her how to play the bongos? Didn’t they, in their own way, have good times together?
Drusilla saw the error of her ways. She resolved, henceforth, to be a good and loyal spouse, to make up for all of the trouble and inconvenience she had caused poor Rick. The very first thing she would do, she decided, was buy him a guitar and a bunch of folksong books. She would even sing along with him.
As she was thus ruminating, Rick came bounding into the room, waving a telegram. “Look!” he shouted. “Look!”
She looked. It was from a friend of Rick’s, who had only recently made good in Hollywood, and who was now in the process of starting his own independent motion picture producing company. He wanted Rick, wanted him immediately, to read for a good role in his forthcoming epic. It wasn’t stardom, of course, not yet, but they could both see it there, glittering on the horizon.
“Oh, Rick!” cried Drusilla, wrapping her arms around him, and stooping a bit to kiss him. “Oh, darling!” I’m so happy for you!”
“We gotta pack,” Rick told her.
As Drusilla bustled around the room, throwing clothing into suitcases, Rick studied her thoughtfully. He remembered Greenwich Village and Drusilla’s attitude toward the bearded young men and the soulful young ladies. He contemplated Drusilla, and he wondered about Hollywood. Would Drusilla fit in?
Copyright © 1965 by Donald Westlake