Twelve short stories wit.., p.4
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       Twelve Short Stories With A Twist, p.4
 

          
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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 it 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 placed 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 placed 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 y-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 cremated 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!"

  Judge Me Fair

  "Hear ye, hear ye, the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles is now in session, the Honorable Lee Mannerheim presiding." The judge settled into the massive leather chair behind the bench and the long awaited trial began.

  The district attorney, William Crane, made the opening statement. "We will show," he stated, "that on night of March 23, this year, the defendant, Henry Allen Wilton, brutally murdered his wife. We will show that his motive was control of the family owned corporation, Horizons Beyond."

  Henry winced when he heard himself accused of murder. He wanted to shout, "That's a lie! I loved Jan!" But he couldn't do this. John Barkley, had warned Henry that outbursts during the trial would hurt him.

  When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Barkley asserted that the Defense would prove that his client was innocent. Someone else had committed the murder and made it appear that Henry had done it.

  John didn't mean a word of what he was saying. In private, he made no secret of the fact that he thought Henry was guilty. But everyone deserved the best defense that he or she could buy, and John knew that he was the best. He had been able to convince the judge to grant bail for Henry. It hadn't been easy or cheap. Henry was president of Horizons Beyond, an international travel agency worth several hundred million dollars. John had utilized his skills of persuasion, honed to acute sharpness with twenty years of courtroom experience, to convince the judge that Henry Wilton wasn't about to skip the country.

  Henry had grown up in the Bronx. He had always had a manipulative bent and, in his youth, had in
gratiated himself to some powerful movers who had helped him obtain an education at an ivory league college. Then, he had acquired an influential position at a well-known advertising firm. The same powerful friends had helped him infiltrate the highest strata of society. In his early thirties, he had met and fallen in love with Janice Ann Lansbury, of a prestigious San Diego family. She had returned his love and the wedding had been the gala event of the decade.

  The couple made their home at the outskirts of Los Angeles in a luxurious a estate they dubbed Hidden Acres.

  Horizons Beyond had been founded by Janice's grandfather. At the time of the marriage, she was its sole owner. On their tenth anniversary, Janice had conferred upon Henry half ownership in the company. "How else can I show my undying love for you?" she had declared as they toasted each other at their anniversary party.

  The first day in the courtroom was long and boring for Henry. The jury was finally selected and the court was recessed until the following day. John told Henry that the nine man and three women who had been selected to serve on the jury were above average in intelligence. This fact meant that Henry had at least a thirty percent chance to cheat the gas chamber. It could have been much worse. As Henry drove homeward, he reviewed in his mind how he had come to find himself in a battle for his life.

  It had begun on the night of March 23. While Henry was away on business
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