If it was Turner, I’d have to kill him.
Maybe it wasn’t. I couldn’t see the guy all that well, through the circle I made by rubbing my fist against the frosted-over windowpane. He was having gas put in his car, or rather was putting it in himself, at the self-service pump. A lanky, narrow-shouldered man with dark glasses and dark shaggy hair, wearing a green-and-brown plaid hunting jacket. Bending over, putting in gas...if he turns and I get a better look...
Only now the window was frosting up again. It was cold out there.
But warm enough in here, particularly if you’d had several bowls of Wilma’s chili, which I had. Wilma was an enormously fat woman who liked her own cooking even better than those who made regular pilgrimages to her rambling two-story establishment, an oddball affair left over from some other decade, filling station, restaurant, grocery store and hotel all sharing the same slightly ramshackle roof.
Wilma came over and sat across from me in the booth, and I turned away from the window and marveled at her ability to squeeze her three or four hundred pounds in like that. She had curly brown hair and wore a red tent with yellow flowers on it. She was extraordinarily pretty, for a lady with half a dozen chins. She had the bluest eyes I ever saw on anybody who wasn’t Paul Newman, including Robert Redford.
Business was good, for a couple weeks into April, with skiing season over and warm weather still a month away, easy. I took a lot of meals here, living only a quarter mile down the road, in an A-frame cottage on Paradise Lake; and during this past week I’d had Wilma’s cooking pretty much to myself. But this was Friday and the weekend, and people drove over from Lake Geneva and everywhere else in the area to have a bowl of Wilma’s chili, or some of her beer batter shrimp, or barbeque ribs, or any one of a dozen other items that were specialties of hers.
The room we were in was the tavern part, with a dining room off the rear. The room next door was the grocery store, among other things, all of the rooms having the same low ceiling and rough, gray wooden walls. It was one of those places that made no attempt to create an atmosphere and in so doing did.
"You’re making money tonight, Wilma."
"Ain’t shittin’," she said. She took some cigarettes out from somewhere in the flowered tent and didn’t bother to offer me. She knew I didn’t use them. She lit herself up and said, "See those crazy asses over there?"
She was pointing to a young couple in their early twenties, sitting in a booth across the room. I said I saw them.
"They drove down from Chicago for my chili. Can you beat it?"
I admitted I couldn’t. "Who’s helping you in the kitchen?"
"My niece. You saw her in here yesterday, didn’t you? Little dark-haired girl with the titties?"
"That does sound familiar."
I rubbed the window again. Looked out. He wasn’t there. Car was, though, a recent model Chevy, medium price range, blue-gray. He was probably paying for his gas.
"My father owned this place," she said.
Out of nowhere. She was like that, but this was something new, in subject matter. We’d become friends, over the several years I’d been living nearby, and spoke of many things, but never this.
"I never met your father," I said.
"I should hope to shout. He died in 1948."
"How old were you then?"
"None of your goddamn business. Twenty something. I did the cooking since I was thirteen."
"Who ran the place, after your father died?"
"I did. Who do you think? Took his name down and put mine up."
The painted sign outside said WILMA’S WELCOME INN.
"What about your mother?"
"She ran away with a vacuum cleaner man during the war."
"I forget. You know, it’s slow season and I got lots of empty rooms upstairs. Want to go up?"
"Not tonight. One of these days."
"Shit. I don’t think you’re ever gonna come across."
"It’ll happen, Wilma. You can’t rush love."
She liked that. She laughed about it. Her chins especially.
"Who’s that guy out there, Wilma?"
I rubbed the frost off the window.
"The guy getting in his car," I said. "The guy getting in the Chevy. Ever seen him before, or is he just a tourist?"
"I seen him. Funny you should ask."
"He’s got a room with me. Had it a week, now."
"I think he banged my niece last night. I don’t like that. She might’ve, but I don’t. She’s just sixteen and that fucker’s forty."
"You want me to have a talk with him?"
"I could have Charley do that."
Charley was her bartender, a tough old bird in his early sixties.
"Let me," I said.
"You really want to?"
"I’d like to."
"Okay. He’s in room twelve. But he’s probably gone for the evening. He’s gone most evenings till midnight."
"I’ll just wait in his room and surprise him."
"Okay, then. There’s a master key on my office wall, on a nail."
I rubbed the window glass once again. Turner and his Chevy were gone.
I got up.
Copyright © 1977 by Max Allan Collins.