Free Short Stories

Imperfect Murder

By Don Weston

It’s amazing how a little murder will erode the trust in a marriage.
It began unpleasantly enough. Detective Jeff Scott knocked at the front door and asked if he could speak with me and my wife, Sally. He indicated he brought some rather bad news, and asked if we could we spare a few minutes to talk with him.
I called Sally to the living room. She brushed her blond hair off her face with a practiced hand and her blue eyes grew intense when Scott introduced himself to her. She and I sat facing the somber policeman and waited for bad news. I expected a cursory visit from the police, but was nervous just the same. He was here to tell us about the unfortunate demise of Sally’s boss, and I hoped he wouldn’t ask too many questions.
“I’m sorry to have to break it to you like this,” Scott said to Sally. “But your boss, Mr. Evergreen, was found dead Friday afternoon in Waterfront Park a few blocks from his office.”
“Oh no!” Sally shrieked, and fell into my arms. She sobbed uncontrollably for a bit longer than an employee should for a boss, I thought. I was afraid Detective Scott might think so too. However, she managed to pull herself out of a steep dive, and respond to the investigator: “How did he die?”
“That’s what’s so peculiar….”
I couldn’t concentrate on his words. My thoughts raced back to an earlier time, about six months ago. Sally had wanted us to have dinner with a co-worker of hers. He was thirty-five, successful, well built, blonde and witty.
I hated him even before I met him. He monopolized most of Sally’s free time with office projects. She worked for a large advertising agency which handled accounts for up and coming dot.coms. Each week she and Dave locked themselves in his office –into the wee hours of the mornings sometimes — putting together innovative and provocative messages to teen-somethings, designed to pry every spare cent from their targets’ parents’ pockets.
Dave was the wonderboy of Adams, Schmidt and Vanderhusen Advertising. He was going to the top, about to be made president of the company, and he was taking Sally with him. She was to be vice-president in charge of something.
“Jim, try to be nice to Dave,” Sally said to me on the evening of the dinner. “He’s grooming me to take his position after his promotion. I know you don’t like him because he’s always pulling me back to work, but try to find something you like about him—for me.”
The only thing I liked about Dave was his wife, Janis. She was thirty-two, with red hair, luscious lips and statuesquely tall. Being six-foot-three myself, I think tall women are a turn-on anyway, so I was in awe when Janis walked through the doorway for dinner at our humble little home. She owned a perfect figure and the confident walk of a runway model.
Of course I was still in love with my wife at the time, so there were no insidious thoughts bouncing around the walls of my brain. Okay, the thoughts were there, but being married, I kept them in check. Married men know the drill. It’s okay to look and maybe lust a little in your heart, if you’re careful not to let anyone see you staring or lusting—especially not your wife or the eye-candy you’re ogling.
At the time, I was in pretty good shape myself, not the nervous wreck I portrayed during Scott’s visit. I worked out daily and my bright face, steel black hair and blue eyes still turned some female heads—even after seven years of marriage to Sally.
During the dinner, I noticed Janis gave me the once over too. She displayed a comfortable smile, as if to say maybe this experience wouldn’t be so bad after all. We mixed drinks and settled into conversation. It didn’t take long for talk to turn to work, as most get-togethers between co-workers will, so Janis and I paired off in the kitchen and killed some martinis.
“I get so tired of hearing about work,” Janis said. “If Dave isn’t there, he’s talking about it. I feel like his scripted audience. I’m supposed to applaud him every time he does something good. I remember when he used to worship me like that.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “I never see Sally either, except on weekends. I’ve taken to having dinners at the café down the street.”
“It’s like we’re married, living single lives,” she said. “He has his world, and I have — I have nothing!”
It was like the pieces of the universe seemed to suddenly snap into place for us. We’d formed a support group for spouses of work-a-holics. Janis and I spent the rest of the evening talking about the frustrations of loneliness.
She described her role as the idle housewife with no children and nothing to do except shop. Her married friends worked so they didn’t have much sympathy for her plight. She kept busy by volunteering, taking classes and golfing, but in the end she remained bored. Her life stayed meaningless because she didn’t have anyone to share it with her.
I told Janis about my work as a free-lancer and attempts at selling a novel and how Sally agreed to support my desire to write. I explained how the first year I almost went insane trying to break into the world of writing– sitting in front of the TV overdosing on chocolate and cookies, waiting for inspiration to strike. How I became bored, and then depressed, as I struggled to write something . . . anything!
I talked about my first sale to a regional magazine, a short story about the dilemma of a stay-at-home dad having daily sexual opportunities with bored mothers and other non-working women looking for some “spice” from this man who was “here” not away at work. Then, some of my other thirty-odd short stories began to sell.
“I’m impressed, a published writer,” Janis cooed.
“Don’t be too impressed,” I said. “People think of writing as glamorous and somehow associate it with financial success. The truth is I make about fifty cents an hour after all the rewrites and hours of marketing stories from publisher to publisher. Just about the time I decide to quit it all, some sadist of a editor seems to realize I’m on the brink of ending this self-torture, and sends off an urgent notice of intent to buy one of my stories. My ego is blown all out of proportion, and I swear to myself someday I will be famous, and they’ve hooked me for another booking in hell.”
Our conversation halted as Sally wandered into the kitchen. “Oh here you are. Dave and I wondered where you had gotten off to.” She brushed her fingers through sandy blond hair with a flick of her wrist, looked sideways at Janis suspiciously, and smiled half-heartedly.
“I guess Dave and I have been yakking about work again. I’m sorry, Jim.” She put her hands to my cheeks and gave me a long, solid kiss.
Dave entered the kitchen during the kiss. He had discarded his gray suitcoat and loosened his tie. His hair was slightly disheveled and his look was apologetic.
“I guess we’ve been ignoring you two,” he said, with a broad grin. “Got any Scotch, Holmes?”
“There’s some in the cabinet above the refrigerator,” I said.
“Got it. Say, Sally and I have been brainstorming about a new idea for the Icon account. You two wouldn’t mind if we finished our talk would you? It should only take a few more minutes.”
Without waiting for an answer, Dave put his arm around Sally’s waist, and ushered her into the living room, the bottle of Scotch in hand. I must have been looking a bit too hard at the scene before me, because Janis noticed.
“I wouldn’t worry about them. Dave gets a little friendly when he starts drinking, but that’s as far as it goes.”
“I didn’t think anything of it. I trust Sally totally.”
“Hmm. Yes, I can see you do. Sometimes I wish Dave would cheat on me. At least it would be something I could compete against.”
“Are you one of those bored housewives looking to spice up your life?” I asked.
“Not yet,” she laughed. “Still, I would like to share some intelligent conversation with an adult. I get bored talking to myself all of the time. Even when I’m speaking with Dave, it feels like I’m talking to myself. What about Sally? Is she supportive of your endeavors?”
“Oh, she’s supportive about my staying home and writing, and she pats me on the back whenever I finally sell a story, but sometimes I’d like a little bit more. It’s like nothing I do can compare with what she does.”
“We should make a pact,” Janis said. “Let’s get together once a week—for lunch or something—and give each other moral support.”
I liked Janis. Besides her good looks, she was enthusiastic, intelligent, generous, and supportive. And thus, our little support group was born. Sally and Dave were both pleased we found something to do which didn’t involve their time.
We met on Tuesdays for lunch at various restaurants. We discussed our frustration with our spouses the first few weeks. Then our meetings evolved into something more. We shared our own activities, personal successes and philosophies. Our casual meetings developed into a friendship. We met more often. I convinced her to attended readings of local authors in quaint little bookstores and she hauled me off to various art exhibits I’d no idea existed.
Sally noticed our friendship if Dave didn’t. “You and Janis have been seeing a lot of each other recently,” Sally said one night. She dripped from her shower all over the bedroom carpet. Sally prefers to drip dry and flirts shamelessly with me in the process. Other than her hair, wrapped in a small towel, she was as naked as an author at a poetry reading.
“We get together a couple times a week. Our arrangement is a support group for spouses who are neglected by their mates. We’re thinking about going national.”
“I’m sorry, honey, but I plan to make it up to you next week.”
“Then we’re still on for the beach?” I said.
She glanced over her shoulder. “You bet, lover,” she said, in a halting voice.
“At an undisclosed cabin,” I said. “No phone calls, no talk about work. Just you and me, lying in bed all week. We’d better go shopping first. I don’t want to leave the cabin for anything.”
“Sure, hon,” she said, slipping into her robe. “Dave’s been pressing me to come in one or two days, but I told him I couldn’t because we made plans. He wasn’t happy. It’s the week before the Icon account presentation.”
When she said it, I knew chances were slim we would have any time together at the coast. Even now she was preparing me. Later, I dreamt about Sally and me in a faraway cabin at the beach. But the woman I saw running up the sand toward me was not Sally, but Janis, with her bright red hair flowing in the wind, and her green eyes sparkling. I awoke with a start, and I remembered thinking this was not a good thing.
Two days later, Janis suggested we have a picnic at a local park. She prepared a picnic basket of smoked salmon, finger sandwiches, and some wine gleaned from a downtown delicatessen.
We selected a spot in the periphery of a duck pond, under a fir tree upon a small hill, and away from the walkers and sightseers. It was cozy and intimate, and I enjoyed it immensely. We dined on the wonderful food and watched as mallards, flying in formation, alit expertly on the still water.
After lunch, Janis grew distant as we sat on a blanket strewn on the grass. “Are you okay?” I asked. “You seemed to be distracted earlier and now again.”
“It’s something Dave said yesterday,” she said, softly. “It kind of set me off. We were talking about money and I told him I wanted to set up a separate account for myself. Everything we have is in joint accounts. And out of the blue he said it was his money which makes up the bulk of our fortune and my money is invested in more conservative stocks.”
I knew both she and Dave, unlike Sally and me, had serious money. She inherited, and Dave invested his well in the stock market. “Strange,” I agreed. “What did you say?”
“I didn’t know what to say. I told him I only wanted to set up my own account so I could keep track of my money. I didn’t think it was a good idea to commingle our accounts. We signed a pre-nuptial agreement. What we owned or earned prior to our marriage, would remain ours if we ever divorced. It sounded like a good arrangement to me. But then he started mingling my money with his in his investments.
“Don’t you see? He could say he lost my money and earned his money off investments from his earnings. I could be broke for all I know. I think he’s worried I’ll divorce him someday, and he’s trying to tie me to him financially. He has a ton of very shrewd lawyers who could prove whatever he wanted them to prove in court.”
I tried to be sympathetic, but inside a feeling of satisfaction was being cultivated. I didn’t like Dave. He was obnoxious, overbearing, and self-centered. I realized, with a surrealistic epiphany, I was jealous of Dave on two fronts.
He was married to this beautiful woman, and I wanted her. He also seemed to be wrapping his tentacles around Sally, which further angered me. I wanted to be supportive of Janis, but inside I was thinking, ditch the son-of-a-bitch for me.
“Maybe you should divorce him, Janis. It doesn’t sound like you are very happy. It’s like you said earlier: you and Dave are married, living single lives, and I’m sure you could find your own tenacious lawyers to protect your money.”
“It’s not just the money. He has a reputation to uphold. Adams, Schmidt and Vanderhusen is a very conservative firm with strong family values. The partners don’t believe in divorce. Dave is trying to become president. He can’t afford to have any hint of a breakup now.”
“If his firm is so strong on family values and marriage, why do they require Dave and Sally to work such long hours? They should be encouraging them to spend more time with us.”
Janis heard my passion and moved closer on the blanket, stroking my arm. “It’s okay,” she said. “Don’t worry about me. Things will work out. The worst scenario? I’ll stay married to Dave whether I love him or not. A marriage of convenience is what they call it, I believe.”
Her eyes avoided my glance. She wiped a tear and managed a smile. I brushed her hair with my fingers and she leaned forward and kissed me softly on the cheek. We hesitated and fumbled awkwardly, like two school kids trying to avoid bumping noses. It was a tender kiss, passionate and real. A burst of energy welled inside me. It was raw emotion—passion for Janis and hatred of the man who ruined both of our lives.
She whispered in my ear and we stumbled to verbalize feelings for each other, necking like two teenagers in a public park on a warm summer afternoon. It was in this passion, this pouring out of love, I became determined to free Janis from her husband.
The opportunity presented itself rather unexpectedly. Several bags of groceries were on the kitchen counter when I returned home from the picnic with Janis. Our date lasted longer than I planned, and Sally arrived at home much earlier than I anticipated.
On the kitchen counter also sat an old box of rat poison from the storage shed. Sally brought it in and left it there for me. She asked me to get rid of it weeks ago when she caught two neighborhood kids playing in the shed.
The active ingredient, according to the box, was strychnine, a particularly nasty and effective poison for rats and humans. I chuckled to myself. Dave was both. It gave me a little idea. I could get rid of the poison and solve some other little problems too. The next day I put my plan into action.
I dialed a number programmed by Sally into our home phone. “Dave? This is Jim Holmes. Say, could we meet this afternoon for lunch? I’ve got a personal problem I need to get some perspective on and I thought of you. I know Sally’s out of the office today, so I hoped you would be free.
“What? No, I’d prefer not to talk about it on the phone. It’s kind of embarrassing. Dave, I value your opinion. Sally says you’re great at problem solving. I was hoping . . . Twelve-thirty? Great. Can we meet at the park near your building? At the Seawall? Perfect. I’ll pick up a couple of deli sandwiches. What would you like?”
At twelve-thirty, I met Dave and we lunched on a park bench away from the main crowds. He scarfed down a turkey deluxe from a nearby deli and sipped from the bottled lemonade as we spoke. I must mention, I brought my own container of mustard and heaped some on his sandwich to cover the bitter taste of the strychnine. The lemonade further masked the taste.
I told him I was concerned about my marriage to Sally due to the amount of time she was away from home. “We’ve been looking forward to this little vacation for months now, Dave. Now, Sally’s making little noises like she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to take the whole week off.”
“Well,” Dave began, sheepishly. “There have been some complications. I’m not sure if I can spare Sally a day, let alone a week. Would it be possible to put your little vacation off for two weeks? Everything should be finished then.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “We’ve had these reservations for some time. It would be impossible to change them at this late date.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Don’t get your hopes up.” He munched on the sandwich and his face suddenly contorted. “Say, does your sandwich taste funny?”
“A little bitter,” I agreed. “I ordered oil and vinegar. Must have gotten too much vinegar. You didn’t tell anyone you were meeting me did you?”
“Nah, just said I was going out for a business lunch.”
“Good, I wouldn’t want Sally to find out I interceded like this. She’d kill me.”
Dave didn’t hear me. His face turned white, his lemonade bottle fell to the ground, and his hands mashed into his stomach what was left of his turkey sandwich.
“Can’t breathe,” he gasped. “Ohhh my stomach. It’s on fire!”
“Are you okay? You don’t look too good. Stay here and I’ll go get some help.” I jumped up from the bench and looked to see if help was at hand. There was nobody near enough to notice Dave’s predicament. I nonchalantly walked away toward the main path.
I tried several times to reach Janis without luck. I felt bad for her having to hear about Dave’s death from some policeman, and I wished I could be with her to console her in her time of need. But I knew the further I stayed out of the picture, the better off we both would be. I decided to cool things with her until Dave’s death was announced. It was Friday afternoon and Sally was out of the office on sales calls. She might not hear about Dave’s death until Monday if she didn’t call him at home.
I fantasized about a new life with Janis. We would travel abroad, see the world and spend all of our time together. I realized I was in love with her and thought she must feel the same way about me because she reached out to me to solve her dilemma with her husband.
I felt smug and I shouldn’t have. I should have been more worried about being found out. I should have listened closer to Detective Scott’s account of Dave’s death. I’d allowed myself a pleasant daydream and it was about to turn into a nightmare.
Because something Scott told us jarred me from my thoughts.
“What did you say?” I asked incredulously.
“I said, I understand you both knew the deceased couple.”
“Deceased couple?” I said.
“Yes, Dave and Janis Evergreen.”
My heart pounded so loud in my chest, I was sure they both heard it. My throat constricted. “What? Dave’s the one who’s dead. Not Janis.”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Holmes. Mr. and Mrs. Evergreen both died early yesterday afternoon, sitting at different benches within three hundred yards of each other at Waterfront Park.” He looked at me suspiciously. Hadn’t I been listening? “The coroner says they both died from strychnine poisoning, both ingested from sandwiches they ate around lunchtime.
“It’s as if they formed some suicide pact except they died separately. We’re treating it as a possible murder-suicide. One of them murdered the other, then walked away and ate their own arsenic-laced sandwich.”
I looked at Sally with rage and remembered the rat poison I spooned into a baggy from the open box. I was sure the box was unopened when I noticed it in the shed. Someone undid it before I helped myself, and I knew who. Sally killed Janis the same way I killed Dave.
It was incredibly ironic and unbelievable we would both concoct the same scheme on the same day in the same park. Why would she kill Janis? We exchanged puzzled expressions as Detective Scott rambled on.
We stood in motionless shock as Scott walked down the steps, and finally I closed the door quietly behind him. Sally lunged at me, clawing at my face with her long fingernails. I tried to choke the life from her, and she punched me in the stomach.
“You killed him, you fool. I hate you!”
“Why did you kill Janis, you bitch?” We struggled more, rolling on the floor, punching at each other and finally fell away exhausted. Her eye was red and swollen where I slugged her and blood stained my shirt from scratches to my face.
“What a joke,” she sobbed. “You were in love with Janis and I loved Dave.”
I stammered in disbelief “You and he were having an affair?”
She nodded.
“How could I have been so stupid? Hell, he deserved to die then.”
I grieved for my loss. Janis was dead and I’d lost her forever. I would never hear her sweet reassurances, never see her sparkling green eyes, never have a reason to get up in the morning again.
“You killed Janis, then . . . so you could have Dave to yourself.”
“He wouldn’t divorce her. This was the only way we could eventually be together. After a proper period of time, I would have divorced you and married him.”
The only thing worse than losing Janis would be staying with Sally. But we summed up our options and agreed we needed to put on a front for a few years, lest someone, namely Detective Scott, might put things together. So we continue to live as man and wife for the benefit of our friends and her co-workers, and the cops. It’s ironic, because we became closer in this sham marriage than we had been before the deaths of Dave and Janis.
However, now we fix our own meals and both of us do daily checks around the house for poisonous substances or other weapons of mass destruction. Of course, because of our dedication to each other not to get caught, our friends still think we are the perfect couple.
At least until one of us figures out another perfect murder.

Crime Fighting Sisters

Police detective Joy Nelson grimaced across her sister’s kitchen table.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do Trace,” Joy said. “Captain Wilson gave me a week to nail Dale Jones or he’s givin’ the case to Charlie Logan, and you know what a bonehead Logan is. If he gets it, it’ll die on the vine like a ‘ol rotten tomato.”

“This is the one where that college kid, Tommy Grant, disappeared from that seedy downtown restaurant?” Tracy asked.

“Yeah, The Bullseye.

“That was the river debacle.” Tracy said.

“Don’t get me started sis. I still got egg on ma face. I got that tip that Jones—he was Tommy’s boss– stuffed the boy in an ol’ stainless steel refrigerator, drilled some holes in it and dumped it into the Willamette River under the St. John’s bridge  in North of Portland. Informant said the kid stole $25,000 from the safe so’s he had to go.”

Tracy guessed her younger sister, a former beauty queen, went into police work to avoid dealing with grammar and spelling because she mangled both.

“It was some circus media,” Tracy said.

“Yeah, we wanted to keep it quiet cause we weren’t sure of the location. Our informant was solid on the dumpin’ of the refrigerator in the river—an ol’ one in the back of the restaurant went missing ‘bout the same time as Tommy.”

“I remember,” Tracy said. “The media had a field day at your expense. They named Jones as the chief suspect too. It was on the television news and in the papers for a week.”

“It was a mess, Trace,” Joy fumed.  “Made me look like a damn rookie cop. Photographers trippin’ over each other on the river bank and TV helicopters fightin’ for the best shot from the air. And of course we come up with zip.

“Captain Wilson and me looked real bad. The Mayor was pretty upset too. He ‘s a friend of the Grant family.”

“So what are you going to do, sis?”

“That’s why I come to you,” Joy said. “You used to be a cop. Before you quit to raise a family. I need an outside perspective. We’re all just going ‘round in circles at the station.”

Tracy was enjoying herself. She valued her quiet time, while two-year-old, Ian, napped and Alyssa and Brianna were in school. She like solving criminal puzzles too and often came up with offbeat ideas for her sister.

Tracy closed here eyes. Joy knew her sister would mull things over, maybe taking several minutes before speaking.

Slowly, a smile crept upon Tracy’s oval face. Her impish blue eyes twinkled. “Joy, the river was pretty high last summer when you were looking for the body, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, well we had all that spring rain and the river nearly overflowed downtown durin’ the winter. That was the year we had all those volunteers sand baggin’ the banks, remember?”

“Yes,” Tracy said. “Well look at this!” She held up the daily paper with a banner headline: Summer drought plunges Willamette River to all-time low.

Joy shrugged. “So?”

“Well, I was thinking. If you were to do another river search this summer, it would be a lot easier to spot a big stainless steel refrigerator in the water. They fished out three cars last week that have been in the river for forty-some years.”

“Look, Trace, I’m not going through that again. Last time . . .”

“Whoa, hear me out Joy. What have you got to lose?  You still think the informant was right about Jones dumping Tommy in the river?

“Yeah, it was the location he was unsure of.”

“Okay, suppose you got an army of Explorer Scouts, some volunteers boaters from the river marinas and other community volunteers to help search the river a couple of miles each way outside city limits.

“I don’t see how that’s going to help much. It’s still a longshot.”

“I think it’s one worth taking. Today is Monday. You could organize volunteers this week and be scouring the river by Saturday.”

“Well, it might be worth a try,” Joy said, doubtfully. “I wonder if there’s any way I could keep it from the press?”

“Oh no,” Tracy said. “You must tell the media about it. You’ll need all the help you can get.” She explained why and Joy smiled.

By Wednesday the media had taken the story and run with it. Newspapers heralded the massive search as imaginative, if not a bit amateurish, and issued phone numbers to call for people who wanted to help.

Television station anchors nearly frothed at the mouth, announcing the search three times daily all week, each time showing video footage of the divers in action the previous summer. People were talking about the case again and wondering if Dale Jones was finally going to get his due.

Saturday morning, even as media and searchers were getting underway, two sisters enjoyed leftover homemade coffee cake at Tracy’s kitchen table. The kids had gone to soccer practice with their dad.

“I have to admit, I didn’t think this was going to work,” Joy said. “I was as anxious as a cat on a hot lead roof. Apparently so was Jones.”

“Tell me all about it,” Tracy said.

“Well, it was just like you figured.” Joy giggled.  “Jones couldn’t stand the pressure.  He went out to where he dumped Tommy to see if he was in danger of bein’ caught.

“He got up early yesterday and drove to Terminal Point at the edge of town.  We scared the heck out of him when we came up from behind and caught him gazin’ out over the river. The divers found the refrigerator 50 yards North of where Jones was lookin’. Tommy was still inside.”

“Could you see it from the shore?”

“No way. It was in the channel about a mile North of where we was lookin’  before.”

Have you told the media, yet?

Heck, No. After making us look so silly this past year. Let ‘em have their fun and report on another failure. We’ll tell ‘em tomorrow how they helped us catch Jones.”

Note: This story was inspired by a police investigation in Portland in the 1990’s where a employee from the now defunct Starry Night night club went missing and police suspected owner, Larry Hurwitz, of foul play.

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Comments
  1. Doneva says:

    I really liked this short story! Of course I liked it because it was ‘Portland’ based but beyond that, it was short, catchy and believable! You’ve got a good handle on how women think, too! No matter what anybody says! Loved it!

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