NT Franklin has been published in Page and Spine, Fiction on the Web, 101 Words, Friday Flash Fiction, CafeLit, Madswirl, Postcard Shorts, 404 Words, Scarlet Leaf Review, Freedom Fiction, Burrst, Entropy, Alsina Publishing, Fifty-word stories, among others.
Michael did a double take when he saw his wife with his colleague, Buck, sitting together in a cozy café. Their table by the window gave everyone a clear view of two people in love.
“Buck?” Michael said to no one in particular, just before he collided with a light pole and fell to the ground.
“You okay?” a passerby asked as Michael picked himself off the sidewalk.
“Yeah, the pole didn’t move much did it?” he replied. “I should watch where I’m going.”
“Take it easy man,” the passerby said, his voice competing with the city traffic.
Michael crossed the street and stood at a bus stop, trying to look inconspicuous and not to clench his fists too hard. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the scene at the table. Laughing, touching hands, leaning into each other in private discussion. Buck and my wife? Disgusting. I hate his guts. He got that promotion two months ago instead of me. Polly was counting me getting the promotion and the raise that came with it. I should have murdered him with my own hands when he got the promotion over me. With careful planning, I can do this now and get away with it.
Squealing brakes announced the arrival of a bus and broke his concentration. With his view obstructed, he shook his head to clear his thoughts. One passenger got off. With a cloud of exhaust, the bus was gone. And so were Polly and Buck from their table.
Michael scanned the street. Nothing. The café door opened and Polly stepped out as Buck held the door for her. A bit later, Buck had his arm over her shoulder as they ambled down the sidewalk.
Michael paralleled their movements from across the street. Five blocks later, now arm in arm, the two didn’t look like they were planning a surprise party for his birthday, that’s for sure. Without even pausing, they nodded to the doorman at the Astoria Sheraton as they entered the hotel.
I guess she didn’t leave town to visit her mother every week the past two months. How stupid of me. Now how stupid of Buck. He’s a goner.
Michael leaned against a store façade and stared at the hotel for a half hour. As he did, he formulated a plan. Feeling slowly returned to his now unclenched fists and a slight smile crossed his face.
Michael walked with deliberate and determined steps back to his office. At his desk, he set his phone timer for ten minutes and watched it count down the minutes and seconds to zero. He rose and went to Buck’s secretary.
“Buck around? I need to run some numbers by him,” he asked her.
“Sorry, Michael. Buck’s not around this afternoon. He’s working on wooing a new client. Can I give him a message if he calls in?”
“It can wait, I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” Michael replied.
Earlier, Michael would have tasted blood from biting his tongue, but now, he was calm and calculating. He knew Buck had to be removed from the picture.
Back at his desk, a Google search identified an internet café one block away from the office. Manufacturing an excuse to duck out, Michael left the building. In less than ten minutes, he entered a sketchy room lined with cheap chairs in front of computers. He bought an hour’s time and began searching for execution methods. He needed a method that was personal, fast, and with no clean up.
After twenty minutes of searching, he came upon a garrote. It fit the requirements and was untraceable. A thin steel cable, three feet long, attached to wooden handles, was easily assembled on the kitchen table. Michael made mental notes and cleared the browser history before closing the browser.
The clerk at a hardware store on his way home happily sold Michael four feet of 3/32-inch steel cable for cash. With Polly gone, the house was quiet when Michael rooted around and found electrical tape and a ¾-inch dowel. Wiping everything down and wearing gloves, he was as careful as he could be to avoid leaving DNA or fingerprints.
Michael smiled. With the cable wrapped around the three-inch dowel pieces and secured with wraps of electrical tape, it looked just like the photos online. It coiled up in loops and fit inside his jacket pocket with ease. He practiced taking it out and quickly got the knack of having the cable form a loop at the handles for maximum size to slip over a head.
Michael practiced with a zucchini and a potato. Slick, other than the produce on the floor. Eight to twelve seconds to pass out; one minute to ensure death, according to his previous Google search.
But a person has to be more difficult to garrote that a melon. How can I simulate the real thing before I go after Buck? Michael tossed and turned through the night wrestling with this question.
The morning call from Polly was routine, …mother’s fine, be home this afternoon… Michael played his role as well as she played hers. If he was going to get away with murder, he had to plan details perfectly, especially the part about not knowing of his wife’s affair.
Michael left the office at lunchtime. He couldn’t stand looking at Buck, knowing his wife had been with him. Too upset to eat, Michael just walked. When he stopped walking, he was in front of an ancient theater. He peered into the lobby through spaces between the movie posters taped on the inside of the window. Michael saw a small area with a ticket booth and velvet rope on stanchions guiding patrons to doors leading to what must have been the movie theater.
“You a movie buff?” A voice behind Michael made him jump.
“Uh, no. It’s just that I didn’t know this place existed.”
“Well, it does, sort of. I show old movies Saturday and Sunday morning and the church serves a lunch in the lobby at 1pm. Mostly street people come in to be warm, safe, and maybe escape to a better past, for a few hours anyway.”
“Noble,” said Michael. “More people should help others this way.”
“I’m showing “Gone with the Wind” Saturday morning from 8 to 12. I ask for a cash donation, but most don’t pay. Bring a couple cans of soup, help out serving lunch, and we’ll call it even. See you tomorrow?”
“Might just come with an offer like that.”
Michael knew what he was going to do Saturday morning. He returned to the office with renewed vigor and a solidified plan. The afternoon breezed by at his desk.
The evening with Polly was back to their routine, he watched television and she read in bed. The next morning, Michael told Polly he needed to go to the office for a few hours. A side trip to a thrift store outfitted Michael in dingy pants and an oversize overcoat and cheap shoes. At the office, Michael watched the clock. The theater was a twenty-two-minute walk at a slow pace. At 11:15, he went to the office building loading dock where he pulled on the pants over his jeans and put the big overcoat over his jacket, changed shoes, put them into a bag, checked his pocket for the garrote, and headed out the door.
Michael walked down the sidewalk, smiling to himself at how people avoided him. I actually look like a street person.
Michael shuffled into the movie theater lobby, hunched over and avoided eye contact. He offered two badly crumpled one-dollar bills.
“Movie only has about 10 minutes left, you don’t need to pay,” was the reply.
“I only like the ending, so it’s okay,” Michael answered and smiled to himself, knowing he hadn’t been recognized.
The wadded up bills were accepted with a cheery, “Enjoy the ending.”
Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the theater was less than one quarter full. About half of those present were obviously street people and a fair few were asleep. Michael slid down the first row of seats he came to, the ones farthest from the screen. He sat directly behind a middle-aged man. Unwashed hair sticking out from under a filthy hat and a dirty jacket. He was disposable.
The five rows in front of them were empty. From the odor, he knew why the person in front of him was given such a wide berth. Perfect.
On screen, Vivian Leigh was hurrying down the stairs calling “Rhett, Rhett, …” when Michael pulled the garrote out of his coat pocket, quickly wrapped it around the neck in front of him and pulled for all he was worth. Michael was surprised how quickly and easily the man was subdued. He struggled for less than the count of three with the steel cable crushing his trachea and both carotenoid arteries simultaneously. By the time the man collapsed, Clark Gable answered “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Rhett faded into the mist the same time as did the garroted victim.
Michael tipped the head of the man over so he appeared to be sleeping. He peeled off his overcoat, took off the dingy pants and changed shoes. The unwanted items of clothing were jammed under a seat as he watched the credits roll by. He stood up, smiled at several people still sleeping in their seats, merged into the horde, and exited through the lobby with the others.
Okay, that was easy. Stage one has been completed, now on to Buck. Garroting was quick, quiet, and easy. An office bathroom is a scenario where Buck and I could be alone, but where else?
Michael walked briskly along the sidewalk, noticing how people didn’t avoid him dressed in his weekend casual clothes. Back to the office, open and save some files to have a time stamp on them, and then home to unfaithful Polly. I wonder how she’ll feel when her lover is gone?
Back at the office building entering through the loading dock, Michael hummed loudly waiting for the elevator. He was pulled out of deep thought on how to dispose of Buck by an intense pain in his right side. His knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. Michael looked up to see Buck standing over him with blood dripping off an eight-inch knife.
“What the …”
“Save it Michael. See the blood? It’s black. I sliced your liver and it’s oozing. You have maybe five minutes left. Maybe less.”
Light headed, Michael watched his blood pool on the concrete floor.
“Don’t talk, just listen,” Buck ordered. “You’ve never worked on a Saturday in your life. Why do you think you were passed over for the promotion, huh? Steady, plotting, consistent Michael. Plots and plans but takes too much time and misses out. Just like now. How’d you ever get Polly to marry you anyway?”
Michael tried to sit up but he was too weak.
“Polly called me. Said something was up. You going to work on a Saturday? Ha! I followed you from here and watched you kill that old timer in the movie theater.”
“Buck, help me …”
“By the way, you talk in your sleep. You didn’t know that or plan for that did you? Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of Polly.”
Michael’s eyes rolled back in his head as Buck walked away.