Twice–stolen jewels and the perfect murder, this short story includes a beautiful woman, an heirloom with a dubious past, a greedy husband and friends who may not be so friendly after all.
I do not remember where this story came from, perhaps one of those all-in-one flashes of inspiration a couple of months ago, written and today, at last edited for publication.
The analysis by Ulysses tells me the story is just shy of 1800 words, and should take somewhere around ≤10 minutes to read. Enjoy — w
The bathroom is subway–tiled in adobe red brick. The victim is tall and slender, tubed in one of those stretchy form–fitting dresses, deep cherry red. She leans back against an array of twin oval sinks, each partially sunk into the slab of mottled granite, the large plate mirror behind her, but she hides her own reflection.
She sees the murderer, but does not suspect. She smiles. She talks. Her hair is piled atop her head in a charming loosely rolled bun. Her chin is dimpled, but the murderer is intent that this woman should soon become victim and ignores the dimple, the charm.
The knife, long–bladed, slightly curved and keenly tapered to a deadly point, appears. The murderer lifts the weapon.
The woman seems not to notice, or perhaps disbelieves, thinks the intent is not serious, or the blade is part of a collection—the hilt is jewelled; it’s very old.
She fingers her necklace, but it’s absent; she has already given it to Alex, along with the earrings, and explained what Bobby wanted to do, “you know, defraud the insurance people. I just can’t allow that, but I don’t think he’s serious—he’s always got some scheme or another going.”
(Alex smiled and patted the safe, gave the lock an extra spin before he replaced the framed silkscreen on the wall, number thirteen of forty–seven. It’s a Blackman.)
The point enters her abdomen easily, drawing the blade behind until both have disappeared inside her.
There is surprisingly little blood, but a small darker red blot surrounds the wound. The victim, the beautiful, red–dressed woman still stands, does not react, continues to smile and talk. But the words are silent, the red–tiled walls collect all sound and will not release it. She folds.
The bathroom door swings outward, framing the killer momentarily.
The brother, known to colleagues, friends and family as Robert, ‘call me Bobby, everyone else does,’ is surprised when his sister, affectionately, ‘Sis’, drives up in her own car, a convertible, and parks close to Bobby’s car, her front and his back bumper within an inch of touching.
(This was not the way they planned it, but Sis laughs and says she wants her own getaway. Bobby smiles, but his eyes are angry.)
Bobby’s wife, Constance, waits in the driver’s seat of their car, also a convertible, and acknowledges Sis with a small right–handed wave before she turns to remind Bobby that ‘we should leave.’
The day is without character, but frames the two–storey, symmetrically–winged house set back and behind Bobby. It’s as if the cars and characters have been pulled outside the scene, re–dressed in living colour, while the backdrop remains in its original black and white, or rather, in this case, a lot of grey in varying shades.
The grass is grey, very flat and dense and close-cropped, like a putting green. Flower beds rise in perfect symmetry across the front of the house, couching the wide porch, some of the ornamentals exotic and tall as the rails.
There are no trees, no neighbours; thick cedar hedges guard property lines.
No destination is discussed. Bobby, Constance and Sis know where they are going… a party in the next county. Everyone who counts will be there.
The party is an afternoon affair, an annual event, which will drift through a late pork feast, the pig roasting since early yesterday morning in aromatic leaves, buried in sand in hot stones—it will be ready by nine p.m. tonight. Already the aroma is divine. The party will end as the sun rises.
The hosts, Alex and his wife Serenity, have a beautiful (and expensive) home on the lake, the grounds impeccably manicured for the party, live bands hired for music and dancing.
While Bobby, Constance and Sis are preparing to leave, the caterers are setting up long tables by the lake with shrimp and canapés—tiny square Essene–bread slices as thin as wafers that fit in your palm, toasted and topped with exotic cheeses and California sun–dried tomatoes, with New York pretzels, candied fruit and chews, peanuts and cashews.
The caterers place servers as if painting, adjusting strips and chunks of raw vegetables amid gilted antique bowls of garlic and jalapeño pepper dips and hand–painted linen serviettes.
They touch up their creation with carefully placed long–boats of rose–water for guests to rinse their fingers. (A practice as old as the Romans with their orgies.)
The bar is stocked, lowballs, tumblers and highballs, flutes and stemware, shot glasses and tankards ready. Rock sugar, sliced fruit, mixes, swizzles with little naked cherubs in transparent purple and green, and delicate napkins wait to become libations and concoctions sweet or dry or somewhere between.
Alex stands back and admires his preparations. They are ready. He’s excited, checks his watch.
This is the third year that Bobby, Sis and Constance have attended Alex’s party, the third year Alex has hosted a party of this size. It is a measure of his success in the world of diplomats, a mark of the few weeks each summer he spends at the lake.
“Should be fun,” Constance says. She does not turn, but Bobby beside her, is turned part way, his long arm slung outstretched across the back of his seat, a single finger of his other hand resting lightly on the wheel to adjust the steering with tiny moves. He talks to Sis, who has been persuaded to join them and is sprawled across the back seat, a silk scarf tied about her head to keep her hair from flying. She wears big dark sunglasses, a là Jackie Kennedy.
“Two cars is awkward,” Bobby says. Sis nods. She is sorry, though, to leave her convertible behind.
It is very dark and quiet. The guests have been allowed to leave, the caterers and musicians dismissed. Serenity can be heard from the great room, her sobs muffled and worn down.
Sis’ eyes are red–rimmed. Bobby sits beside her on the wrought–iron bench, his shoulders slumped.
The detective stands before them, his little notebook flipped open. He taps his Bic™ against his cheek. His eyes jerk back and forth across the pages of the notebook.
“I’m sorry,” the detective says. His voice is a soft ripple that parts the silence and disappears into the water lapping on the shore. He has been very sensitive as he questions Bobby and Sis.
Bobby nods. Once. His body is motionless.
“I’ll have someone take you home.”
This rouses Bobby.
“No. Thanks. I think we’re okay to drive ourselves home. Sis will be staying with me tonight.”
Alex is approaching with a uniformed cop.
The detective frowns, shakes his head. The cop disappears back into the house; Alex nears, stands beside Bobby and Sis.
Bobby puts his hand on top of Alex’s hand on his shoulder, pats it. As boys, they were best friends, inseparable. Bobby’d heard his mother describe their friendship that way.
He looks away. He can see beyond the house to the driveway, and the lighted pillars that guard its entrance from the highway. His eyes narrow when he sees the hearse turn east into the road. A white and black police cruiser follows the hearse, a small red strobe flashing.
The first wisps of a streaky faded sunrise appear over the treeline on the lake’s opposite shore.
My wife. Bobby thinks, Aw, Constance. Babe, you should’ve agreed. He hears Sis take deep shaky breaths beside him.
“If you leave, these stay.” Bobby stroked the nape of Constance’s neck, just above the clasp of the heavy old necklace.
Bobby stands behind his wife where she sits at her makeup table in front of a tall mirror. The mirror’s bright sidelights make the diamonds dance and sparkle when she moves.
The jewellery is a family heirloom.
(Constance remembers watching her mother at the same table, hair swept up not unlike her own style, her father’s fat fingers fumbling with the clasp while she clips earrings to lobes well–adapted to such bobbles.
When Papa got it done, he would stand back, cross his arms and say, ‘aah.’ Constance was never sure if it was working the clasp closed, or the diamonds themselves that he admired.)
Constance pauses, her arms upraised, a pin poised to capture her hair.
“I will not be a part of this, Bobby. I don’t care how much you think they’re worth.”
She gazes at the mirror—his mirrored eyes meet hers—knowing he is angry and threatened. She considers flight… she’ll wait until after the party. She’ll leave the jewellery in Alex’s safe. She’ll talk to Alex at the party; he’ll talk to Bobby, make him see sense.
This is not the first discussion about the diamonds and heirlooms and who gets what. They’ve been leaving each other for years.
Sis passes through the final set of doors at Zurich International, finished with customs, her luggage retrieved and inspected, her passport stamped and replaced in her purse. She studies the waiting crowd, sees Alex as he sees her. They smile together.
Alex lifts his left hand in a brief wave as Sis nears him, then takes over her luggage, pulling the handle up a few inches to adjust for his taller height. His ring finger wears nothing now but a ghostly indentation.
The luggage wheels make a click–clickety noise as they walk.
Alex leans in, kisses her. “It’s done,” he says. His breath is warm on Sis’ neck.
He gestures her through the doors, points to his car. It is a convertible, which pleases Sis very much. And surprises her; she thought he would bring an embassy car.
Alex opens the passenger door for her.
She pulls her silk scarf from her purse, ties it around her head. It was a gift on her sixteenth birthday. She wonders if Alex remembers.
Alex presses the ignition. Before he engages first gear, he turns to Sis, reaches over and touches the scarf.
“You were right. The collectors were all over them, once they recognized the jewellery was part of a nineteenth century theft, missing since. The story still does the rounds. Do you think she knew?”
“She bragged about it to Bobby. Some great-great uncle or something.”
“Fool. She should’ve… the insurance.” Alex shakes his head. “The sale here is worth as much as Bobby’s payout back home. Nobody’s heard of the second theft.”
Sis smiles. “If you can call it that… how can you steal jewels that are already stolen? Besides, she gave them to you.”
Alex returns her smile. He touches her scarf and nods.