martin.r.jones@skynet.be

Hard Boiled

He killed his second wife with a barley sugar. She was fond of boiled sweets and the notion came to him in a moment of inspiration. But it had required careful planning. A search in the medical section of the local library had provided him with a good idea of the time he would need. Then he needed to consider where and when. Home, obviously. He didn’t want to run the risk of interruption, and a sunny day when he could be sure his neighbour would be out, fussing over his garden.
He was prepared to wait for the opportunity but it had come sooner than he had expected. It was a glorious summer afternoon. They were in the kitchen and through the open window he could hear the hum of a lawn mower from next door. She was sitting at the table, thumbing through a magazine. He took a deep breath. He would only have one chance.
‘Would you like a sweet, darling.’
She glanced up at him and smiled. ‘That would be nice.’
He took a packet of sweets from the shelf beside the sink and leant towards her.
‘Open wide.’
She looked at him knowingly, enjoying the intimacy of the moment, and pouted, opening her lips to take the sweet. With a deft flick, (he had practised this) he propelled it to the back of her throat. Her eyes widened in alarm. She began to gurgle and clutched at him.
‘Don’t get in a tizz,’ he said soothingly. ‘Keep calm. I’ll get help.’
She was gasping for breath, eyes bulging. She tried to stand up but he pushed her gently back into her chair. He made for the door, and looked back. She had started to jerk convulsively. Her eyes were pleading for help, yet even at that moment she must have seen the shadow of indifference in his expression and something broke, crumpled, in her face.
He shut the door behind him and went into the garden. The weather was perfect, the sky a smooth sheet of blue velvet and the air full of the scent of freshly cut grass. He leant over the fence.
‘Lovely day,’ he said.
His neighbour switched off his mower. ‘Isn’t it, ‘he said mopping his brow. ‘Bit hot though.’
‘Make the most of it, I say. I’m going to get a cold beer and sit out for a bit.’
‘Good idea.’
‘Why don’t you join me.’
‘You know, I think I will.’
‘I’ll get some out of the fridge.’ He casually strolled back to the house.
In the kitchen his wife was now on the floor, gasping for air, flailing wildly like a fly on its back. Her eyes were thick with blood and he could hear rattling in her chest. He looked at his watch. The time was about right. He spent a moment, preparing himself mentally for his part, then rushed into the garden,
‘Help!’ he cried. His neighbour, fiddling with his lawnmower, looked up in alarm.
‘Call an ambulance! Quick! My wife. I think she’s dying!’
The ambulance arrived ten minutes later. She was still alive, just, but it was too late to save her and she died on the way to hospital. The coroner decreed that it was accidental death, and tragic for a woman so young. Of course, everyone felt terribly sorry for him. Friends and neighbours would ask if there was anything they could do, the women sorrowfully, dabbing at their eyes. The men would shake his hand solemnly, perhaps with a little squeeze to show they understood the pain he must be feeling. At the beginning he rather enjoyed the attention, but after a while it began to irritate him. But he consoled himself. Every occupation has its drawbacks.
It had been a strange career path, and unplanned. His first foray into murder had been almost ten years ago. He had gone to visit his widowed father, not out of affection, there was precious little of that between them, but with the aim of borrowing money. Not for the first time. Behind him he had a string of get quick rich business ventures, all failures.
He knew his father despised him. He loathed him back for his overbearing ways. As usual they had argued. In a fit of temper he had pushed him backwards. He had tripped on the rug and cracked his skull against the dining room table. He sprawled on the floor, blood gently seeping from a head wound. He moaned softly. He looked down at his father impassively. Well, that was one cash cow that had dried up. Then an idea struck him. No-one knew he was here. If he had the nerve he could solve all his problems. He looked around the room. The furniture was old, none of those fire retardant materials like the modern stuff. And his father was a heavy smoker.
Taking a knife from the kitchen he slit the upholstery on the sofa to reveal the foam beneath. He took a packet of cigarettes from the mantelpiece, lit one and took a couple of drags. He placed the burning cigarette on the foam and waited till it caught. His father was still motionless but he could see his chest rising and falling. Without a backward glance he left by the back door. He looked up and down the road. It was deserted and casually, he strolled to the bus stop.
That had netted him a nice little nest egg, and no-one had suspected a thing. In retrospect, perhaps he had overdone the grieving son bit, but no matter. Being the only child he had inherited the lot. He bought himself a flat in a nice part of town. The rest of the money he invested in various shadowy ventures, all of which, inevitably, fell through. Sooner than he had anticipated his capital began to run low. He looked around for a new source of income.
The only relative he had was his father’s sister. She had never married and having no children of her own had always regarded her only nephew indulgently. He had barely given her a thought for many years, but now he began to cultivate their relationship. She lived alone, with only her cat for company. He would go to visit her on Sunday afternoons, normally bearing a small gift, chocolates, a bunch of flowers. She was overjoyed to see him again and these afternoons spent sipping tea and reminiscing became the highlight of her week. It was all too easy. Like most maiden aunts she had a little vice. For some it was cream éclairs. In her case it was gin. One Sunday he brought her half a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and some tonic water. He filled a generous tumblerful and topped it up as the level sank. She had become quite girl-like, almost flirtatious.
‘You’ll be getting me tipsy, you naughty boy,’ she giggled.
‘There’s no harm in it. Every now and then,’ he smiled.
Eventually she had fallen asleep in her chair gently snoring, with her mouth open. He had gone all over her flat to make sure all the windows were secure. The only heating she had was an ancient gas fire, the sort that has to be lit with a match. He had turned on the gas tap and waited until it started to hiss.
Almost a week had passed before the police had turned up at his door. The policeman was young but his expression was grave.
‘I’m afraid I have some bad news for you,’ he said.
It seemed that the neighbours had smelt gas, and getting no reply to their knocks, had broken the door down. Her cat had miraculously survived the gas but had had nothing to eat. As a consequence she was not a presentable corpse. Not that that mattered. He was her only living relative and as he had expected he got the lot. Not much, but it would keep him going for a while.
His future path was now clear to him He had always suspected he was better than everyone else, now he knew it. He was owed. But having run out of elderly relations he would need to search elsewhere for another opportunity. It came in the shape of a woman.
Valerie was a successful businesswoman with a string of beauty salons in the Midlands. She had a luxurious apartment, expensive sports car, all the trappings of success. She was attractive too, but at the age where she had almost given up on the hope of marriage and children. He was astute enough to sense her vulnerability and quiet desperation, and to realise that people looking for love are easy to persuade that they have found it. Within months of meeting they were married in a quiet civil ceremony. At first she had been happy and he was content to spend her money, but as the months passed she began to bore him, with her constant talk of children, buying a cottage in the country. Worse, she was an intelligent woman. He realised she was beginning to see him for what he was. She had to be dealt with before he was cast off. Problem was, she wasn’t going to be so easy to kill. He racked his brains, made and discarded plans for being too obvious or too hard to pull off. Then fate smiled on him. She had kept her sports car, which she drove well, but too fast. One winter evening returning from a visit to one of her salons the car hit a patch of ice and careered into the path of an oncoming lorry. She was still alive when they cut her from the wreckage but her injuries were too severe. She never regained consciousness and died in her hospital bed, her devoted husband holding her hand and wishing she would get it over with.
He had attained an enviable lifestyle. He had also begun to consider himself as something of an entrepreneur , even if his line of business was unconventional. And in the same way a successful businessman takes pleasure in expanding his interests, he began to enjoy the process of acquiring new victims. He had got into the habit of frequenting exclusive West End drinking clubs. One evening he had been sitting at his favourite table, toying with a glass of vintage brandy and half listening to the conversation of those around him, when his chance fell into his lap. Literally.
He had noticed a young woman at the bar, talking animatedly to a pair of callow looking young men, wearing clothes too grown-up for them. From her exaggerated gestures he guessed she was rather drunk. They seemed to regard her with fascination, as well they might. She was tall and slender, with chestnut hair and high cheekbones. She was wearing a tight red dress which she filled in all the right places. He was put in mind of a living flame. She moved across the room, swaying slightly and passing his table, she tripped. As she fell she grabbed at him for support and they ended up sharing the same chair.
‘’Oh, I do apologise,’ she said, but made no attempt to get up. ‘You don’t have such a thing as a cigarette on you, by any chance.’
He took out a packet from his jacket pocket and passed her one.
‘A light?’
He struck a match and she leant towards him to accept it. As she did so, she looked him in the eye. He instinctively recognised her sense of desperation and vulnerability, and he was stirred.
‘Would you care to join me?’ he said.
Although still young, she was a widow. She had married a wealthy farmer with large tracts of land in Yorkshire. He had been older than her, but even so, his death was unexpected. She had been distraught. She was lonely too. Rattling around on her own, in that big old farmhouse. Her friends had advised her to come down to London for a change of scene, meet some new people.
She’ll do for number three, he thought. Definitely third time lucky. He liked her too. Shame. But a man has to make a living.
He was in the kitchen, boiling a kettle for tea. The wind from the moors rattled the windows of the old farmhouse. He glanced across to his wife.
She was sitting at the table, an unread magazine in front of her, gazing pensively at the distant hills. Her fingernails softly drummed the varnished wood. He had begun to know the signs. Something was bothering her. She was searching for a solution to some private conundrum. It was strange. He had always felt disassociated from other people. With her it was different. She possessed some intangible quality which drew him to her, a dimly perceived connection he had never known before.
Her fingers abruptly stopped their tattoo and she tilted her head slightly to one side, half smiling. She twisted in her chair to look at him.
‘George,’ she said sweetly, ‘do you like humbugs?’