He leaned back against the door, holding it shut against the world. Air rushed erratically in and out of him as his chest hitched. His body spasmed, shoulders shuddering back and forth as he struggled with a powerful emotion … and then the laughter burst forth loud, and long, coming right from the belly. It was the laughter of a man who has just witnessed the funniest thing he’d ever seen in his life, or had been doing something he thoroughly enjoyed.
This, was both.
His stomach ached by the time he managed to get the laughter under control, and he pushed the mask up onto his forehead so he could wipe the tears from his eyes. He gave the dead-bolt a twist, then turned to drop his keys in a small bowl sitting on the sideboard, there for just that purpose. He stripped off his hat and the mask, tossing them onto the sideboard as well, walking unsteadily down the narrow hall toward the small kitchen.
“The look on his face,” he muttered, to no one in particular. “It was priceless!”
The laughter came again, bubbling up painfully through his already abused torso. He made it to the kitchen table just in time to collapse into one of the ladder-backed chairs surrounding it. Pom-poms bounced on his chest as the laughter rolled through him. They were still bouncing when a fist pounding on the door stopping his laughter cold.
* * * * *
“Can I help you, officers?”
“May we come in, sir?”
He opened the door wider, ushering them into the narrow entry hall.
“Bob Gigston? We’d like to ask you a few questions concerning some of the events that took place earlier this evening.”
Bob tried his best to look concerned, covering the nervousness he felt.
“Of course, officer. Anything I can do to help, whatever it is.”
He sounded calm but inside he was scrambling, mentally running through the evening. Did someone see him? Jane? Did she see something, then wait until he was out of sight to call the police? Was it someone else? Jesus… he thought he’d been so careful…
He leaned his backside against the sideboard as casually as he could, raising his eyebrows in question.
“We understand you were out escorting trick-or-treaters this evening with other members of the neighborhood watch?”
Bob nodded, gesturing toward the baggy, polka-dot clown suit he still wore. He flicked one of the pom-poms that ran up the front with a finger and tried for a grin. “Yes, officer. It’s not like I dress like this every day.”
The cop did not smile.
“We understand you witnessed a young man this evening eating a piece of candy before returning to his home?”
“I saw many of the kids sampling their hauls, officer.”
The patrolman shifted his stance, shuffling his feet.
“This particular young man apparently bit into an adulterated Milky Way bar, sir. The needle, or needle-like piece of metal inside lacerated his gums, piercing both tongue and cheek. The boy was rushed to the hospital.”
The boy’s face as the needle came out through the side of his face flitted through Bob’s mind again, and he could feel the laughter roiling through his stomach again. He had to bite his tongue to keep from smiling as he recalled the pig-like grunting screams as blood ran down the boy’s chin in rivulets.
Sad… look sad for Christ’s sake, or it’s over for you!
Bob bit down harder on his tongue, trying not to think of the boy and his delightful cries.
“Yes, officer,” he said, shaking his head as he looked at the floor. The better to hide my eyes, he thought.
“I did see that, and it was terrible.”
“Terrible, sir? One of the other children at the scene reported that you burst out laughing and then fled. That’s why we’re here, sir, to see if you can explain just why you thought that was funny?”
That’s all? thought Bob, then nearly laughed again at his own thought.
“Ah… well, this is a little hard to admit. Please, you have to understand.”
The cop shifted his feet again while his partner simply stared at Bob, motionless. Bob shifted his own feet, looking up to me the man’s gaze, making his voice a little rough.
“Well… I wasn’t laughing. I was… well, I was crying.”
Bob shifted position again and went back to studying the floor.
“I… look, I teach those kids and I have a hard enough time controlling them as it is, never mind if they saw me crying out there on the street. I just couldn’t help it, you know? That was a terrible thing to see, the worst thing I’ve ever seen…”
He trailed off into silence, tracking the two men with his peripheral vision. He saw them exchange a glance, and the silent one took a small step toward the door.
“Thank you for your time, sir,” said the one who had done all the talking. “We won’t trouble you any further.”
As Bob moved to open the door for the officers there was a small thud. They all looked down to see a fun-sized Milky Way bar, though only Bob knew it had fallen from his sleeve. The officer stooped to pick it up, squinted at it, then held it out toward Bob.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to have a bite, sir?”
Bob took the bar, unwrapping it slowly.
I can do this, he thought. Then he popped the candy he knew to contain at least two sewing needles into his mouth, and stared back at the cop.
And he smiled.
* * * * *
“You heard me,” the officer said into the radio. “Put out an alert for adulterated candy! Get the word out there before some other kid gets hurt. What? Yeah, I got the guy. What? Look, I can’t hear you — this clown keeps spitting out blood and laughing. What? Yeah… he keeps laughing.