For the Love of Dottie
Third-place winner, 2022 BWG Short Story Award
By Ellen Kazimer
I was searching for my wife, Dottie when I found Tom face down in the pink oleander bushes that ringed the community putting green. From the contusion on the back of his head, I guessed someone had clobbered him with his own putter. I could not feel a pulse. He had not been dead long, though. The grounds crew at Citrus Grove Senior Living would have already removed him. They keep this place immaculate, and poor Tom was unsightly.
Tom was once my golfing partner. Since I gave up golf to care for Dottie, I had not seen him lately. I was itching to analyze the possible crime scene. I used to be a fraud investigator for the big insurance companies in Hartford, Connecticut. Learned a lot about what people do for love or money. These days my investigating was limited to finding my wandering bride, Dottie.
When she developed vascular dementia after her stroke, we moved to Citrus Grove. We did not want to be a burden on our kids. We have everything we need: transportation, a movie theater, two putting greens, a nine-hole golf course, a lap pool, a health clinic, skilled nursing, and a memory care unit. I had hoped the Florida sunshine would buy us time before Dottie forgets who I am.
Dottie left our condo while I was napping. Maybe she told me where she was going, and I did not remember. I called Citrus Grove security and told them about Tom. Young Ray came right away in his electric security cart. He paid his way through college by working security.
“What happened, Mr. Byrnes?” Ray pulled out his two-way radio.
“I don’t know, Ray. I found Tom like this when I was looking for Dottie.”
“Not again, Mr. Brynes,” Ray said. “You should have called us. Check the movie theater. They have an afternoon matinee today. Was she wearing her medical alert necklace?”
“I think so.”
“Go, I’ll take care of this.”
Ray was right about the theater. Dottie might not remember where she is, but she remembers the details of every movie she ever saw. Won the Grove’s Hollywood Trivia Night a few weeks ago.
I was nearly at the theater when I heard sirens. They usually come in quietly so as not to alarm the residents. This was a crime, though. I stared in the sirens’ direction, but I could not see anything over the orange trees. Bill Dotson, our neighbor, surprised me by sneaking up behind me in his double rider scooter. Dottie sat next to him in the co-pilot seat.
“Howdy, neighbor,” Bill said. “Look who I’ve got with me.”
“I got lost, but Walter found me. We’re going for a drink. Want to come along?”
“Sure. I’ll follow you and Walter,” I said, nodding to Bill/Walter.
Bill was a retired pilot, a tall, lanky man. His knees were as high as the handlebars. Dottie called him Walter because he looked like the character actor Walter Brennen from To Have and Have Not. “I found her ten feet away from Big Al,” he said.
“The alligator?” Big Al was a six-foot alligator that hid every time some state trapper came by to “relocate” him.
“He saved my life,” Dottie said.
“Glad he did.”
Bill tinkered with his hearing aids. “What’s with all the lights and sirens? Another one of us drop dead?”
“Tom Sheridan. Died over near the putting green. Ray from security found him.”
“Oh no!” Bill’s face turned pale. “Any word on what got him?”
“How about I fly Dottie back to our condo.” Bill gestured to the plastic propellers propped on the handlebars of his double scooter. “Harry, why don’t you meet us there for a drink?”
Bill and his wife, Betty Lynn, lived across the cul-de-sac from us. As I walked right into their condo unit, I nearly tripped over a pair of grass-stained white sneakers left inside their front door. Dottie was sitting with Betty Lynn at their kitchen table. As soon as Dottie saw me, she said. “Oh, Harry! Thank heavens for Bill. That croc was going to eat me alive.”
“Well, I wouldn’t hold that against him. The same thought crossed my mind a time or two,” I said, quoting back Mick Dundee to her Sue Charlton from Crocodile Dundee.
“You remembered.” Dottie smiled, and I saw the girl I married fifty-eight years ago.
I leaned over and kissed her.
“It was an alligator, not a crocodile,” Bill said, hobbling over on his walker. “You two lovebirds ought to know that by now.”
“Alligator or crocodile. Dottie had quite a scare. Didn’t you, dear?” Betty Lynn reached across the table and patted Dottie’s hand.
“The alligator did not scare me,” Dottie said. Her hands shook as she picked up her iced tea, and the glass slipped out of her hand.
“Oh shoot! Look what I’ve done.”
I grabbed a nearby dish towel and mopped up her spilled tea.
“Maybe the alligator killed, Alfie?” Dottie asked.
“Who’s Alfie?” Betty Lynn asked.
“Tom Sheridan. Dottie calls him Alfie,” I said.
“Tom was a womanizer like Alfie,” Bill said.
“Who’s dead, Michael Caine or Jude Law? Dottie asked.
“Poor dear. She is all mixed up.” Betty Lynn said. “I ran into Tom this morning.”
“Tom Sheridan is dead, “I said.
Betty Lynn’s eyes grew wide. “Bill, did you know about Tom?”
“I was just about to tell you that you will need a new dance partner,” Bill said.
Betty Lynn and Tom had been ballroom dance partners since Bill could barely walk without assistance. They had won a few ballroom dancing trophies.
“They do not suspect foul play, do they?” Betty Lynn asked.
“Of course not,” Bill said. “Nothing like that happens at Citrus Grove.”
“The police will handle everything,” I said.
“Harry, let’s go home,” Dottie said, stood up, and walked to the door.
“I’d better do what she wants,” I said. “Thanks for taking care of Dottie.”
“That’s what neighbors are for,” Bill said.
“I am sorry you saw Tom like that. Do you want to talk about it?” I asked as soon as I shut the front door.
Dottie went into the bathroom and locked the door. “I don’t know, Alfie.”
“Unlock the door, honey.”
“I am not a ‘poor dear’ like Betty Lynn called me.”
“I am sorry you heard that,” I said.
Dottie opened the door and poked her head out. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I never understood that line from Love Story, and I still don’t.
News about Tom spread like wildfire throughout Citrus Grove Senior Living. So did stories of Dottie’s dementia condition. Three people stopped me in a single trip to the post office to say they were sorry to hear that Dottie was struggling mentally. One of Citrus Grove’s staff even handed me a pamphlet on their memory unit. Who was starting these rumors?
Ray stopped by our unit to give me a new security alarm necklace for Dottie. “I know she lost hers. This model is more recent. The battery will last longer.
Ray lowered his voice, “The police found Mrs. Byrnes’ alarm necklace at the crime scene. The police have it. They may want to question her. I am sorry.”
My suspicions were correct. Dottie had seen Tom. “Come into the kitchen,” I said. “I’ll get you a drink. We can talk.”
Dottie walked into the kitchen and took my arm. “Is Ray here to lock me up?”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
Dottie pounded her head with her fists. “Betty Lynn says I am always forgetting. I am confused.”
“Everyone is forgetful now and then,” Ray said. “We all get mixed up.”
“But I saw the murder, I saw the murder!” she cried.
“What did you see, Dottie?” I asked.
“I cannot tell you. They treat me like Barbara Stanwick.”
I racked my brain out, trying to figure out what she meant. All I could think of was Barbara Stanwick in Christmas in Connecticut. “Elizabeth Lane?”
“No, no, no.”
“Double Indemnity?” I asked. “Phyllis Dietrichson?”
“Witness to Murder, right Mrs. Byrnes?” asked Ray. “Cheryl Draper sees a murder, and people act like she’s crazy.”
“That’s it! Who are you?” Dottie asked Ray.
“I’m Ray. I am a Barbara Stanwick fan like you. We see each other at the movies sometimes. I brought you this new security alert necklace.”
It finally came to me. Barbara Stanwick’s character was being gaslighted. “Who’s making you think you are crazy?”
Dottie stared at the floor, but she did not move. “Not supposed to tell.”
“Nobody is going to hurt you, Mrs. Byrnes. I have a badge.” Ray showed Dottie his “Citrus Grove Security Badge. I am the law here.”
I lay awake that night trying to piece things together. Perhaps Betty Lynn and Tom had more between them than ballroom dancing. Maybe they quarreled, and she hit Tom with his own putter. Maybe Dottie saw it happen, and Betty Lynn sent Bill out to look for her. Or perhaps it was an angry Bill tired of his wife dancing with another man.
I reached for Dottie, but her side of the bed was empty. I found her standing at our kitchen window. She looked across the cul-de-sac right into Bill and Betty Lynn’s window. Bill was sitting at the kitchen table, and Betty Lynn was standing before him shaking her finger at him. He slammed his fist on the table.
“Come away from the window, Dottie. If we can see them, they can see us, too.”
“Turn out the light so they cannot see us,” Dottie said. “They are hugging now. Been in cahoots the whole time.”
“We should not be standing here watching,” I said as I turned off our kitchen lights.
Dottie sighed. “I’m not much on rear window ethics.”
“Rear Window. Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart?”
“Grace Kelly,” Dottie said. “Are you going to investigate? Tom was once your golfing buddy.”
“The police will handle it,” I said.
Dottie lowered her voice a couple of octaves and said, “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner, and you’re supposed to do something about it.”
“I was never Sam Spade, Dottie. I was a simple insurance fraud investigator.”
“It’s trash night,” Dottie said. “Every Tuesday is trash night.”
“I already put the trash at the end of the walk.”
“Go get their trash.” Dottie turned on our back patio light. “Remember when I used to help you?”
For the love of Dottie, I stole the Dotson’s trash and brought it to our backyard patio. I laid out the contents of two bags of trash. Dottie watched me from inside, behind the sliding glass doors. I found a man’s blood-stained golf glove and held it up for Dottie to see. She started gesturing to me, waving wildly. Then something hit me over the head. “I didn’t take you for a nosy neighbor, Harry,” said Bill. The last thing I saw was Bill’s grass-stained sneakers as I hit the ground. My final thought was about Dottie.
I woke up in the emergency room with a bad headache. Dottie saved me by pushing the call button on her security necklace. The police, Ray, and an ambulance arrived quickly on the scene. Bill and Betty Lynn were apprehended. A jealous Bill had killed Tom. Without Tom, Betty Lynn needed Bill’s sizeable retirement savings. She agreed to silence the only witness, Dottie.
“You are my hero,” Dottie said, taking my hand and leaning over my hospital bed.
“And you are mine. Now, do you want to dance, or would you rather suck face? I asked, quoting from On Golden Pond. “Then you are Henry Fonda, and I am Katherine Hepburn,” said Dottie. We sucked face.
Born a New Englander, Ellen Kazimer now lives along the Savannah River in Georgia with her husband and a bossy Norwich terrier. When the dog does not demand her full attention, she writes stories and poems for adults and children. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University and was a 2020 AWP Writer-to-Writer mentee. A Navy veteran, she is published in As You Were: The Military Review and O-Dark-Thirty. To learn more about her work, please visit her website at www.EllenKazimer.com