Copyright 2016 Mario V. Farina
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
All Rights Reserved
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Correspondence may be directed to:
Mario V. Farina
Email: [email protected]
Service please.” The voice was deep, sensual, beautifully modulated. Vincent hesitated for a moment, furrowing his brow, then said, “I’m sorry, you’ve dialed the wrong number. Are you trying to get automobile service?”
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
“No problem at all.” Vincent put the receiver back in its cradle. “That was a lovely voice,” he mumbled barely audibly. “I wonder what she’s like.”
He leaned back in his recliner. “Sometimes they call back,” he thought, as he turned his attention to the TV. “They make the same mistake.”
The phone rang. Vincent grabbed the receiver before it had completed its first ring. “Hello!”
“Oh, darn!” It was the same voice. “You are not Continental, are you? I thought I knew the number, but I’m obviously doing something wrong.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” Vincent summoned his most melodious tone. “I know how it is to dial a wrong number. I congratulate you on your choice of cars. I have a Continental too.”
“Oh, do you? What a coincidence! They are very fine cars, aren’t they?”
“Yes, very fine. Very fine, indeed. I believe in owning nothing but the best. I’m Vincent Bradshaw, by the way. And you are…?”
“I’m Susan Wilkerson.”
“Please call me Vince. Do you live locally?”
“Yes, I do, Vince. I live in the Tall Oaks area. Nothing but the best, you say?”
“I go first class, Susan. Always have. Always will! There is usually a way to get what you want even if you have to bend the rules a little now and then.”
He thought about Nancy Beth. Where she was concerned, a little, was something of an understatement. To remove her from his life, he had found it necessary to take some steps that most people would consider extreme. The objective had been accomplished, and the money he had received in insurance had been a pleasant bonus. Half the money had gone into the huge white vehicle crowding the walls of his garage; some, into the stock market. He hadn’t decided what to do with the rest. A trip to Bermuda with a sweetheart might be a possibility.
Vincent missed his wife, but he was looking forward to finding a suitable replacement. If Susan was anything like her voice, she might be the one.
“Your voice is so delightful,” he said. “I can almost picture what you look like.”
“You can?” Susan responded teasingly. “Tell me, what do I look like?”
Vincent glanced at the ceiling, then made a few flattering guesses. He was wrong in some, but he learned what he wanted to know. She was thirty-two, five, six in high heels, had blue eyes, weighed 108, didn’t smoke, and had long jet-black hair. “People tell me I’m attractive,” she had said.
“How could I be so blessed in finding such a dream girl?” Vincent asked himself. It was imperative that he meet this exceptional girl in person. Romantic notions swirled in his mind.
“Tell me about yourself, Vince,” Susan asked.
“Well, I’m director of Mount Pleasant Hospital. I am 41, about five, ten, have dark hair, and am of average build. “Vincent knew that he was exaggerating his height by about two inches, and that his “average build” was really twenty pounds overweight. He should have mentioned that his “dark hair” was streaked with a good deal of gray, but he felt that facts like these were of minor importance. A man’s personality, intelligence, and sense of humor are the most important things to a woman, he thought. Vincent felt that he possessed these qualities in abundance despite the fact that none of the women he knew had ever mentioned them.
There was a pause. Vincent sensed that Susan was getting ready to wind down the conversation. He felt an urgency to get something important asked before they disconnected.
“Tell me, Susan, are you, ah, married?”
“Oh heavens, no!” She responded.
“I’m a widower, Susan,” Vincent replied sadly. “My lovely wife died over a year ago. I loved her very dearly.” Nancy Beth had actually had her so-called cerebral hemorrhage only seven months earlier, but Vincent didn’t want Susan to think that he wasn’t observing a decent period of mourning.
“I’m terribly sorry about your wife, Vince. Listen, I don’t want to be rude, but I need to do some shopping, then dress for the symphony. Much as I’d like to keep talking, I must run.”
“I understand perfectly,” Vincent said disappointedly. “I’d like to talk to you again.”
“I’d like that too,” Susan responded. “Why don’t you call me tomorrow evening after eight. My phone number is 555 – 0648. Bye for now.”
Vincent put the receiver down slowly. “What a sexy sounding woman!” he mused. He straightened the recliner and rose from it. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Walking slowly around the living room he bent his head forward deep in thought. Something disturbed him about the conversation. Susan had remarked that she was preparing to attend a concert. His wife had enjoyed classical music. Since Vincent’s lack of interest in the classics had been a source of conflict in the marriage, he had resolved never again to get involved with anyone who enjoyed this kind of music. Still, with the right woman, he could bend a little, he thought.
Yes, Vincent missed Nancy Beth, but only because of the comforts and services that she had provided. Now, he had to do his own washing, ironing, cleaning, and cooking. These were inconveniences but, at least, he didn’t have to put up with that pudgy smokestack any longer.
Nancy had been 35 when she died, but she had looked ten years older. Her mousy brown hair was streaked with gray. Thick glasses gave her face an owlish expression. She coughed. Her voice was raspy. She bore no resemblance to the curvaceous sexpot that she had been ten years before. Their relationship had declined with the years. It reached a new low during the last week of her life when she had referred to him as an arrogant, sleazy low-life scumbag.
Vincent felt he had needed to rid himself of this obstacle to happiness. Divorce would have been too messy, expensive, and time-consuming. He had zeroed in on a feasible, albeit drastic solution. Nancy’s death had become as inevitable as if it had been predestined.
At eight, the following evening, Vincent picked up the receiver and held it to his ear. He punched the digits of Susan’s number with his left hand. Then he leaned his back against the recliner. He felt his heart accelerate when he heard her voice.
“You sound so outgoing, Susan,” he ventured. “Have there been many men in your life?”
“Oh no, only a few,” she responded. “I was married once. But, that didn’t work out. More recently, I was involved with a man named Tom. I can tell you that story at a later time.”
Tom! Vincent thought of Tom Harris, the Chief Medical Officer at the hospital. Tom had once worked under Vincent. At that time, they had also been good friends. Their relationship was not cordial at this time. Vincent had discovered some shortages in Tom’s accounts and had accosted him with the evidence. Tom had admitted embezzling from his department. Vincent had helped him cover up. Although their present relationship was strained, Vincent had Tom under full control. From time to time, he would demand a favor of him and Tom would never refuse.
Mentally, Vincent would often applaud his own cleverness when he thought about how he had arranged for Nancy Beth’s death, and had contrived to have her cremated almost immediately. The insurance company had been outraged, but its investigators had gotten nowhere. Nancy Beth’s ashes had been widely scattered over the Pacific Ocean in a matter of hours.
Tom had been the key. In his position as Chief Medical Officer, he had the authority to ascertain causes of death and to sign death certificates. He also had power to circumvent certain bothersome police regulations.
Vincent’s thoughts returned to the present. “I’d be honored if you’d accept a dinner invitation, Susan, say for tomorrow evening at six. Would you care to accompany me to the Vauxhall?” This place was the most expensive restaurant in the area.
“Oh, yes, Vince, I’d love to do that,” Susan responded exuberantly. “Tomorrow night would be fine. I’ll look for you at six.” She gave him her Sylvan Lane address and hung up. Vincent phoned the Vauxhall and made a reservation, also requesting certain special preparations.
Vincent left his office early the next day leaving word that he would not return. He hurried home and spent an hour bathing, shaving, and brushing his teeth. He drenched himself with aftershave lotion and slapped his face until it resembled a fresh strawberry. He combed his hair making sure that every strand was in place. He polished a pair of black shoes. Then he tried on various ensembles and settled upon a gray suit, which he complemented with a red striped tie. Having completed his grooming, he examined himself in the full-length mirror in the bedroom tucking in his midsection. He smiled with satisfaction.
Vincent eased the massive Continental out of the garage and maneuvered it down the driveway into the street. He glanced at the car’s ornate digital clock. It was quarter after five, a bit early. He drove leisurely to Susan’s street to preview the area. He found himself in a new development. All the houses appeared to have been built within the last two or three years. Slipping by 1467 Sylvan Lane, he glanced at the house where Susan lived. It was a brick colonial with tall columns. The lawn was green and well trimmed. The shrubs along the walkway seemed to have been recently planted and were thriving. He stopped the car and let the engine idle. There was time to practice. Twisting the rear view mirror toward him, he tried several styles of smiling.
Timing his arrival to the split-second, Vincent guided the car to a coasting stop in front of Susan’s house. He switched off the ignition. Feeling that there might be eyes observing his movements, Vincent took care to exit gracefully. He straightened up, threw back his shoulders, and walked briskly around to the front of the car, then up the short concrete walk to the colonial’s door.
He rang the bell and waited, peering through the door’s curtained window. Just as he was beginning to wonder if there was a problem, he discerned motion within the house and saw a figure scampering toward him
Vincent was immediately captivated by the beautiful woman who opened the door. He stammered a greeting, grinned weakly, and extended his hand. Susan had instantly met his every hope. She was brunette, just as she had stated. Her hair was shoulder-length. It undulated gracefully as she tilted her head and greeted Benson with an expansive smile. Her blue eyes were of an even deeper hue than he had imagined. She had on a simple, sleeveless, black, knee-length dress that hugged her trimly sculpted figure. On her ears, she wore long silver earrings with pink stones. Around her neck were two strands of pearls, one larger than the other. Vincent noticed that her neckline plunged daringly. Glancing downward, Vince observed that Susan wore a silver bracelet on one ankle. Her feet flowed into black, high-heeled shoes.
“I’ve hit the jackpot!” Vincent exulted inwardly. He and Susan exchanged pleasantries, then agreed that they should be on their way. As Susan scrambled here and there picking up keys, black purse, and matching cloak, Vincent kept his eyes riveted on her figure. Thoughts that he would not have dared share with Susan at this early stage of their relationship occurred to him. Reluctantly, he thrust them from his mind.
Vincent waited until Susan had locked the colonial’s door, then he regally escorted her to his car. He opened to the Continental’s door on the passenger side, and waited until she had entered. Then he lifted her seatbelt from its hook, leaned over, and attached it securely in the belt’s receptacle. “The car complains if the belt is not attached,” he said. He swung the door smoothly to a close, then nimbly darted to the driver’s side, opened the door and swooped in. “Very nicely done,” he commented mentally to himself.
“Stunning car!” Exclaimed Susan. “It’s newer than mine. I’m impressed.” “I’m glad you like it,” Vincent responded. “It has custom everything! He responded delightedly. Events couldn’t be proceeding more favorably!
The autos clock indicated there were still almost three-quarters of an hour to fill before seven. The drive to the Vauxhall should require no more than ten minutes or so. Vincent realized that he should’ve thought about this discrepancy earlier. A thought occurred to him he could take care of the time problem, and make it seem that there had been a plan all along. He turned right on Michigan Avenue and drove steadfastly eastward.
“Where are we going, may I ask?” said Susan.
Vincent smiled broadly, and responded with a lilt in his voice, “I’m kidnapping you.”
“Kidnapping, you say?” She giggled. “Might I be so bold as to ask why?”
“I’ll tell you later,” he teased.
Vincent drove to the Pioneer Mall and parked his car in one of the spaces for the disabled. He turned on the radio and positioned the dial to the first classical frequency he found. “I’m sure you like the station,” he commented, then added, I’ll only be a moment.”
“You’re acting very mysteriously,” Susan observed.
“It will all be clear very soon!” Vincent responded grinning.
He exited from the car and locked the door. He sprinted into the mall through one of the large glass doors. Just a few feet inside was Frederick’s Flowers. He entered hurriedly and was pleased to see that the shop was nearly empty. He caught the eye of one of the salespeople and scurried to where she was standing.
Speaking brusquely, he asked, “Have you any corsages already made up?”
“Yes we do, sir.”
“Please give me your best one that goes with black,” he demanded. “I don’t care what it costs.”
The clerk led him to a showcase, and opened the sliding door.
“Here is the one for sixteen. It’s…”
“I’ll take it.” Vincent whisked out his wallet. “I’ll take it just as it is.”
Vincent handed her a twenty in exchange for the flowers. “That sixteen plus tax. I’ll ring it up, sir,” she said. Vincent couldn’t be bothered with change or paper work. He took the package, turned and fled the shop.
“That didn’t take very long,” Susan remarked.
“I called ahead,” he declared.” I hope you like this.” He handed her the corsage.
Susan gasped. “Oh, how lovely,” she cried. “And look, the carnations match my dress perfectly. How did you know what I’d be wearing?”
“Planned ahead,” he boasted with a smirk. “When I called the Florist, I had them prepare three different corsages for the basic colors that you might be wearing. All I had to do when I arrived was tell them what you actually were wearing and picked up the one that suited you best. I asked them to send the other two to a nursing home.”
“Oh, you’re such a darling,” Susan cooed, “and so thoughtful!” She grasped his hand and squeezed.
“Thank you, ma’am, Vincent said with mock gallantry. “All I ask in return is the privilege of helping you put on the corsage.”
“With pleasure, sir!”
Together, they fastened the corsage on the collar of her cloak. Studiously, Vincent avoided any semblance of approaching forbidden areas, but privately, he was making plans for next time.
Vincent’s time calculations have been accurate and they arrived at the Vauxhall at exactly seven. The valet took Vincent’s car. Arm in arm, Susan and Vincent walked through the entrance. They approach a tuxedoed individual stationed at a podium.
“We have reservations for two,” Vincent announced. “The name is Bradshaw.”
The maître d’ glanced at a large leather-bound book, then, conspicuously satisfied, elevated his nose and said, “Certainly, sir. This way please.”
He led the couple to a cozy-sized, tablecloth-covered, table in a corner of the elegant dining room. A tall vase with three roses dominated the center of the table. There were two places set, each with a white dish lying within a larger, flowered one. There were arrays of gleaming silverware at each place, and tall champagne glasses and goblets for wine and water. A flame sparkled atop a long white candle set in a silver holder. There were upholstered armchairs at both ends of the table. A stainless steel wine bucket was positioned at one side.
Almost immediately, a waiter arrived to take their drink order. Susan ordered a Sombrero, and Vincent, a Whisky on the Rocks. He also ordered a magnum of vintage champagne.
“Tell me something about yourself,” began Vincent. He had heard that a fine way to make a hit what a woman is to seem interested in her, especially her mind.
“There isn’t much to tell,” she replied “I’m an ordinary person with simple desires.” She leaned forward, opening the “V” at her neck. She placed both forearms on the table, one crossing the other.
He averted his eyes. “Do you have special interests, hobbies?”
She smiled. “Well I like good music and live theater. I enjoy gardening.”
“They touched grasses when the drinks arrived.
“I also like hiking,” she continued. “I’ve been doing this for several months. I used to weigh a bit more than I do now, and I find that hiking is a good way to stay trim.”
“You’re so slim, you don’t look as if you could ever have had a weight problem.”
“Oh yes, I do have a problem. I like to eat, but I keep my appetite under control. But you couldn’t guess what my greatest weakness once was.”
“Chocolate covered cherries!”
Vincent winced. It was Tom who had supplied the chocolates that Nancy Beth had eaten that night. Tom had had easy access to arsenic and had laced the candy with enough poison to do the job several times over. Later, supposedly, he had responded to her frantic call for help. But, upon arriving, Tom had found her dead. He certified that her death had been caused by a cerebral hemorrhage.
The waiter took their orders. Susan ordered broiled sole with a light lemon dressing; Vincent, a large T-bone smothered with mushrooms. Each requested escargot as an appetizer.
The dining room began to fill and became more noisy. The two had difficulty conversing. Vincent didn’t greatly mind. He spent a good deal of time staring into Susan’s beautiful eyes. He marveled at the contrast between Susan’s and Nancy Beth’s eyes, which had been of a nondescript hazel cast.
Vincent had asked that the champagne be served last. Neither diner had wanted dessert opting to linger over the effervescent wine.
On the drive back to Susan’s home, Vincent wondered whether she would invite him in. This would indicate how she felt about him.
At her home, Vincent assisted Susan from the car, then walked her to the door. The porch light shone casting a warm, romantic glow.
“Would you like to stop in for a cup of coffee?” Susan asked.
Would he! Vincent made no pretense of hiding his exhilaration.
Seated at the kitchen table, Vincent and Susan chatted animatedly. An hour passed, then it was time to part. Vincent and Susan walked to the door. He took her hand and pulled her slightly toward him. He would have been satisfied with a peck on the cheek, but Susan surprised him by throwing her arms around his neck implanting a fervent kiss on his lips. Instinctively, Vincent put his arms around Susan and pulled her closer. He initiated a kiss of his own. Susan blended into his arms. She placed her arms on his back, then raised them to his shoulders, fingers pointing upward, as the kiss matured. Suddenly, she broke her way.
“No more; not now, Vince. It’s too soon,” Susan murmured. “I like you – maybe too much. It would be best if you left now.”
Vincent left her house in lighthearted befuddlement. He entered this car and, somehow, made it safely to his home. His mind was filled of what would happen the next time he was with Susan. Exhilarated, he picked up the phone and dialed.
“Susan, this is Vince. I just wanted to say good night one more time before going to bed. I’m going to dream sweet dreams of you.”
“You’re such a dear, Vince,” she murmured. “I enjoyed our evening together.”
“Susan, may I see you tomorrow?”
“I’ve already made plans for tomorrow, Vince. But how about Thursday – the day after tomorrow? Say, I have a great idea! Why don’t I cook for you at your place?”
What fantastic luck! Vincent couldn’t believe his ears. “Yes, yes, oh yes!” He blurted. “I’ll come to get you.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Give me your address. I’ll do some shopping and come over to see you around six. Will that be all right? In some circles, I was known to be a good cook. I’ll make you an unforgettable meal.”
Vincent eagerly accepted the offer. Then, fearing that she might change her mind, he took the initiative in terminating the call.
Vince hurried home from work the next day and spent the evening clearing up the clutter that he normally allowed himself. He put all his papers in one place, dusted the furniture, hung his clothes, washed dishes, swept and mopped the floor, cleaned the bathtub and the sink. He found a candle and inserted in the neck of an empty wine bottle. Finally he retrieved a large bottle of champagne from the wine cellar and put it in the refrigerator.
On Thursday, Vincent began pacing the floor at five. Would she renege on her offer?
She didn’t. Smartly attired in a white blouse and matching skirt, Susan arrived at six and began fussing with the chicken that she had bought. She removed the skin, seasoned the meat, and place it in the oven. She put two potatoes in the microwave, then began working on the salad. Vincent’s entreaties to assist were to no avail.
At seven, the small dining area in the kitchen was ready for the feast. Susan had found a white linen tablecloth and had covered the table. She had also located Vincent’s best tableware and place the cutlery neatly on the soft material. Vincent contributed by lighting the candle and placing it between the two settings. He also fetched the bottle of champagne, opened it, and poured. They lifted their glasses and gazed into each other’s eyes. “To an incomparable evening,” Vincent proposed as their glasses clinked. Susan smiled teasingly.
An hour later, Vincent put one last bite in his mouth and took a final sip of wine. “I don’t think I can eat another morsel,” he moaned. “My tummy hurts, it’s so full. That was a remarkable meal.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Susan said. “That’s exactly what I had in mind. Now, the bedroom!”
Vincent faltered, “W-what did you say?”
“The bedroom!” The timbre of Susan’s voice bordered the edge of harshness. “You do want to go to the bedroom, don’t you?”
“Why yes-yes, of course, I guess so…”
“Come along, then.”
Vincent’s stomach discomfort was becoming more pronounced. A heavy meal normally did not bother him. He cast off all thoughts of indigestion by thinking about the exciting entertainment that Susan was promising. Hastily, he led the way.
In the bedroom, Susan ordered, “Off with your clothes!” She began unbuttoning her blouse.
This was unexpected. Vincent had counted on, at least, a token struggle for the conquest. Perplexed, he began to comply with her instructions. Susan removed her blouse.
“Off, off!” Susan ordered. “Everything has to come off! Don’t be embarrassed. It isn’t as if I haven’t seen anything like this before.” Vincent was surprised by the crudeness of her speech, but continued obeying her demands.
Naked, awkwardly self-conscious, Vincent stood before Susan. She pointed to the bed. “Under the covers. Now!”
He pulled back the blankets and crept under the sheets. The misery in his abdomen was increasing in ferocity. Glancing at Susan, he noticed the crimson birthmark on her left shoulder. “Susan, my wife had a mark like that,” he exclaimed.
Susan glared at him. The pupils of her eyes, now immense, blazed. “Do you think it’s a coincidence? Look at me, Vinnie Boy.” Susan bent forward as if to propel her voice with greater velocity. Her mouth was distorted as she opened it a crack and forced her words through gritted teeth. “Look close! Do I look familiar to you?” Vincent pressed his hands to his midsection. Only Nancy Beth had used that pet name. The anguish in his bowels had turned to a conflagration that was consuming his belly.
An awesome realization drilled itself into Vincent’s brain. “Nancy Beth! You’re Nancy Beth,” he whimpered. “You’re alive! He clasped his hands to his belly. Oh, honey, help me, I need a doctor.”
“You didn’t recognize me, did you, Vinnie Boy? Frumpy, lumpy old Nancy Beth is dead. Figuratively of course. She died the night that she supposedly ate the chocolates you gave her. But a new person was born that night whose life was dedicated to only one purpose – to take vengeance. That person took Nancy Beth’s old body, lost forty pounds, dyed her hair, quit smoking, threw away her glasses replacing them with colored contacts, studied voice, and started wearing stylish clothes. All this, so that she could have these few moments of glorious revenge!”
The inferno in Vincent’s gut was raging out of control. “Get me a doctor, please,” he groaned.
“You thought you had Tom Harris under full control. You thought you could order him to authenticate my death, and have my body cremated. You didn’t count on Tom’s not having the guts to do this. He told me what you are planning. When you gave me that box of chocolates and told me you had to work late, I disposed of them where they would do no harm. My stand-in, the body that was created was a convenient derelict from the morgue.”
“I took on a new identity and a new name. Tom and I fell in love. We’ve been married six months.”
“Nancy Beth, what’s happening to me? For God’s sake, please forgive me! I’m sorry! Honey, I’m dying! Please help me!” Vincent attempted to rise. He gasped for breath, unable to speak further. His eyes, drenched with tears, he carried on his pleadings for mercy.
“Stop that mewling, you arrogant, sleazy, lowlife, scumbag. You’re not dying! Tom gave me stuff for your chicken that was meant to give you a bellyache you’d never forget. That’s all! The pain will continue for a long time but you won’t die. I have to leave now. But, do think of me! Think of me a lot! Think how much worse this could have been. This evening’s banquet could have been a meal to end all meals!”
Vincent had not been happy with Nancy Beth and had taken steps to remove her from his life so that he could seek a better partner. Susan Wilkerson seemed to be the ideal replacement. One happy experience with her was followed by another, then another. There came a time when she cooked a splendid dinner for him. It had been a meal to end all meals. See whether you can guess what happened after this sumptuous repast.