It's Your Choice, Tom
by Angel Whelan
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The key, rusty from so long without use, lay patiently on the door mantel. No longer sad and decrepit, the old place seemed somehow energized, excited. It waited, oh so patiently, for someone to come knocking.
You were confused when you saw the note in your lunch bag, weren’t you? How long has it been since Beverly last made you a packed lunch? Not since you hired that leggy blonde, Melissa, I’d bet. She may be naive, my sister, but she’s not completely stupid. And you have a type. Flashy, young, pert-breasted. Tacky, like everything else about you, Tom. I often wonder what Bev ever saw in you. No offence, but you don’t exactly fit in with our family.
Maybe that was the appeal… yes, it makes sense, actually. Bev’s final act of rebellion against our parents – marrying you. A used car salesman from South Dakota… Christ, it was so embarrassing. Even the fashion stylist Valerie hired to make you respectable couldn’t do much to hide your sliminess. Can’t polish a turd, Tom, to use your own vernacular.
And God knows we all tried to make it work. For appearance’s sake, if nothing else. Kurt and Valerie are all about appearances. Our family’s impeccable social standing and enviable wealth didn’t come without hard grift. All those tedious charity luncheons, silent auctions, soirees and opening nights at the opera… exhausting. Bev and I grew up in that maddening carousel, but you… oh, Tom, you were so out of place.
How you’d sit at the table, in one of those bold checkered double-lapel suits you honestly thought were in style, quaffing champagne like it was Mountain Dew. That deep guffaw of yours, I’m cringing now just thinking about it. And how you slurped soup from the dessert spoon, and sent back the ceviche because “you can’t charge this much for cold food, damnit!” It’s a wonder Bev tolerated you as long as she did. I never thought she had that much temerity. She always seemed such a vapid, weak-willed creature. Somehow your uncouth behavior charmed her, Tom. I think, in her own way, she may have even loved you, once.
But not anymore. Not for years, I imagine. How many affairs can one woman forgive? It’s not like you were discreet, either. Kurt’s private investigator was forever having to bribe your floozies to skip town. He kept what he could from my sister, but she knew, Tom. She knew it all. And even Bev has her limits.
So what did you think when you saw that lunch bag sitting on the breakfast bar this morning? Were you surprised? Maybe you wondered if it was a trick… did you suspect my sister might have poisoned your sandwich? I wonder if you ate it… Probably not, more likely than not you took Melissa to the hibachi place around the corner from your office… that’s your idea of a classy joint, I imagine. But you opened the bag, though, or you wouldn’t be here now. You read the note.
“Dear Tom, you’ve probably forgotten again, but this is our 10th wedding anniversary. I know it’s not always been easy. But maybe we should give it one last chance. I’ve fixed up the old homestead as a surprise retreat. If there’s still something here to rekindle, meet me up there at 8pm tonight. I’ll be waiting, B.”
I didn’t know for sure if you’d come, of course. But I was banking on the fact you wouldn’t want a divorce. Business isn’t so good these days, is it? I saw the loan Kurt made out to your showroom last month. If Bev divorced you, you’d lose access to the bank of Pops. No more bail outs, no more Lamborghini and Mercedes, no more trashy women lining up to hang off your arm. Even you aren’t dumb enough to think they’re after you for your good looks anymore.
So I didn’t know if you’d come to the cabin, but I figured it was a small risk. You’re so tediously predictable, Tom.
And Bev really was the one who fixed the old place up. It looks good, doesn’t it? Take a good look around, the floors are refinished, no more smell of damp and neglect. If it was an Air B’n’B people would pay what, $200 a night? Maybe more after tonight – you know how morbid people can be. Thrill seekers, paranormal investigators… maybe I’ll rent it out. I won’t need the income, but it’s amusing to imagine people sitting right there, on the sofa, where you blew your brains out.
I’m getting ahead of myself, I can see you’re looking concerned. Don’t worry, Tom, I assure you, it will be entirely your own decision. I’m a gentleman, and I already promised Beverly that I wouldn’t harm you. I’ll keep my word. After all, it was her last request.
Yes, Tom. I regret to inform you that your wife, my only sister, has passed away. A few hours ago, shortly after you left work. I knew you’d stick to your regular routine, head to that seedy condo you rent for a shower, wash the tell-tale traces of Melissa from your skin. Don’t worry, though. The security cameras won’t have seen you – I dealt with them a few days ago. Nobody will know where you were in the hour before you headed up Route 495. But they’ll figure it out, Tom. I made it so easy for them to figure it out.
You’re a creature of habit, you see. Always smoking those ridiculous Cuban cigars, chewing gum all the time to hide your obnoxious bad breath. And I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but you’re kind of a pig. What kind of a man leaves chewed up old gum in a cupholder of a fancy car like a Merc? I didn’t even have to be subtle to gather enough DNA to fool any forensics team. You left it all there for me, like a row of breadcrumbs, leading the police here, the final piece in the puzzle.
You’re probably wondering how they died. Don’t worry, it was very clean. You know I don’t like to get my hands dirty. The gun on the table in front of you, the one you’ve been eyeing for the last twenty minutes, hoping to use on me. Pick it up, why don’t you? See? It’s loaded. I wouldn’t bother trying to use it on me, though. It only has one bullet, and you’re going to need that soon enough.
That’s the murder weapon, and now it has your fingerprints all over it. And why wouldn’t it? It’s your gun. At least, it’s registered to you. I thought about taking one of the fire arms from your house, but you know what Bev was like about safety. I didn’t want to use the combination on your cabinet and leave an electronic trail for a particularly thorough detective to sniff out. No sense taking risks, is there?
I killed Kirk first. Told him I’d had a call from you, that you needed me to bail you out of jail. Caught soliciting, I told him. It says a lot about your character that he never even questioned it. Just wrote out the check for $100k… I shot him before he could make it out to the NYPD. A neat shot, right in the forehead. Old Pops looked more surprised than you do. He never saw it coming, that’s for sure.
Valerie was even easier. She never even heard the first shot, she was in the basement, digging out some photo albums of your wedding for Bev. Seems my dear sis really did have something planned for you tonight, after all. I like to think my arrangements were more exciting, though.
I shot Valerie in the back. I’ve always been strangely fond of her, despite her obvious failings as a mother. I didn’t need the drama of watching her emotions while she died. When she stopped twitching I took the albums up to the living room. Bev was due any minute – she’d had a bunch of flowers delivered by you, with a note to meet you there. Your secretary sent the flowers, of course. She’s always had your back like that. I just intercepted the delivery boy and switched out the cards.
Bev arrived right on time, still holding the flowers. She was confused when she saw me, but I told her you’d invited the whole family for an anniversary dinner. I scattered your wedding photos all over the living room, and she sat much like you are now, completely bewildered, holding the divorce papers I left on the coffee table. The hurt in her eyes, Tom! It was touching, really it was. She genuinely hadn’t expected you to ask for a divorce.
Then she saw the gun. I think the penny dropped, because she started to cry. “Why?” She kept asking. I told her there was no hard feelings, she had been a perfectly adequate sister and I was grateful for our times together. But it was time to cut the ties. She asked where Kurt and Valerie were, and I told her I had killed them.
She was almost peaceful, when I pulled the trigger. She asked me not to hurt you, and I promised I wouldn’t harm a hair on your head. As long as she and the baby were out of the picture, there was no reason for you to die too.
Oh, you didn’t know she was pregnant? God, Tom, what kind of a husband are you? Do you even look at your wife? She was nearly 4 months gone, for christ’s sake. It was getting pretty hard to hide.
I don’t know if it was yours, I’m guessing from your reaction probably not. It doesn’t matter either way, does it? Any child of Bev’s is another strain on the family wallet. And I don’t much feel like sharing my inheritance anymore. I’m nearly, 40, Tom. I’ve got plans, big plans. And big plans require deep pockets.
I think I can hear sirens… can you hear them? I’ll have to leave you now. I parked my car a ways up the hillside. Don’t worry, they’ll never know I was here. I’ll be fine. They’re not looking for me, after all. I’m not the reluctant father-to be, looking at bankruptcy and divorce, extorting thousands from my father in law to bail out my business. And I’m not the one whose name is on the receipts for the remodel of this cabin. It’s all yours, Tom. Happy Anniversary.
You still have a choice, you know. Bite the bullet yourself, or go down in a rain of gunfire – death by cop. Or you could just confess, avoid the death penalty and go to prison. If you get lucky, you might live another thirty, forty years. Up to you, old chum. Up to you. I took the note from your car before I came in, and I don’t think I’ve any other loose ends to tie up. So if there’s nothing you’d like to say, I’ll be going now… Adios, brother in law. I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure, but we both know I’d be lying.
The cabin had been abandoned for years, but now a candle shone in the window, and the front was lit up with blue and red flashing lights. A state trooper with a loudspeaker called out from behind one of the sheriff’s cars, ordering the suspect to come out with his hands above his head. There was no response. A figure could be seen, peering through the front window, eyes sunken and filled with fear. He picked up a gun, his hand shaking.
The final puzzle piece fell into place.
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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters