Tom Terrific was barely on the edge of good-looking. Sometimes women fell for his gray-blue eyes, but most were turned off by his twitchy upper lip. He tried growing a mustache but could only manage one that was John Waters pencil-thin, which simply accentuated his small but noticeable spasms.
Tom’s vocabulary was no better or worse than any other close-to-30-year-old man, but his favorite and most frequently-used word was “terrific.” He could use it in a variety of ways. When good things happened, which was not often enough to his way of thinking, he simply said, “terRIFic.” On those occasions, the word had a lilt and an uplift in the middle. When things did not go his way, which was a much more likely scenario, he’d say “terrific” low and slow, like the word had a hundred-pound weight attached to it.
I’ll give you a for instance.
The last time I broke up with Tom, he winced and then said “terrific” from deep inside his throat, swirling it around in his mouth as if trying to rid himself of the rubble of his bad experience. Then he left. That was years ago.
But there was no getting away from Tom Terrific. He was known for several things around town besides his “terrific” tic. One was that he could drink two cans of Bud in under ten minutes and stay stone-cold sober. Another was his love of BBQ. Most of all, though, he was famous for his deep-seated need for speed. Not more than two months ago, the local paper reported that Tom T was driving down Route 110 at oh, maybe 20, 25 miles over the speed limit—he’d gone way faster than that in his lifetime—when the county cops pulled him over and gave him a ticket. Not only for speeding, but also for driving without a license. Due to his propensity for pushing his Junker way above the limit, Tom’s permission to drive had been revoked a year earlier. Nevertheless, Tom kept driving and kept getting tickets. The judge kept telling him one more offense and he’d find himself in the pokey for sure. Tom didn’t care. He’d pay his fine and ignore the warnings. This time, though, the judge—although known to be susceptible to the lure of the open road himself—opined that Tom had better not be caught behind the wheel again, said Tom was lucky he didn’t throw him in jail, and fined him $300.
“Terrific,” Tom told his public defender. Since this was a good news/bad news situation, he kept his voice in neutral territory. He walked out of court, got in his car and drove away.
Stopped at the Breeze By Bar & BBQ for some pulled pork and a Bud.
On the way home, he hit a deer.
Two days later, Detective Gruesome came to call. His real name was Grissolm, but most everybody called him Gruesome. Not to his face, of course. His face was the problem. He had the longest face in the history of faces, stretched and tapered from forehead to chin. Sunken cheeks added to the horror movie vibe; dark circles under his eyes didn’t help. Gruesome and Tom went back a long ways. In fact, it just might have been Tom who came up with the name “Gruesome.” They were pals in school, even though Gruesome was a year older. They knew each other’s flaws and soft spots.
“Hey, Tom,” said the detective. “How ya doin’ this morning?”
“Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it. Listen, Tom, ol’ Grady down at the garage tells me you came in yesterday to get your front end fixed. Smashed headlight, cracked windshield. Damaged bumper. How’d all that happen?”
“Hit a deer.”
“Oh yeah?” Gruesome narrowed his under-bagged eyes and looked at Tom. “What did you do with it? Leave it in the middle of the road?”
“It extracted itself and ran away.”
“Really? Cause we didn’t find no injured deer. Didn’t see no skid marks, neither. Matter of fact, we didn’t find nothing from the courthouse to your house.”
“Well, I hit something. Maybe one of those plastic garbage cans rolled into the road. It was pretty windy that night.”
“Hmm. Maybe. Maybe. You didn’t see no blood or nothing on your car when you got home? Or in the morning?”
“Didn’t even look. Took it right over to Grady. Gotta sell the thing ’cause I can’t drive any more. Wouldn’t want to break the law, would I?”
“Guess not. See you ’round, Tommy T.”
Gruesome turned to leave, walked ten feet and stopped in his tracks. “Almost forgot to aks you,” he said. “You remember Marciella from high school? Mexican chick with a noseful of freckles?”