She’s just as beautiful — and cold — as ever as she closes the door to my office and moves uncomfortably closer to me, the compact gun in her well-manicured hand never wavering from its target while she delicately scores the trigger with the long, blood-red painted nail on her right index finger.
Somewhere in her early to mid-50s, she must have married the significantly older, more experienced Coach Smith — who was 70 when he met his demise — at a very young age.
Her long, golden blonde tresses are swept up in an elegant, sleek bridal-worthy topknot bun, her immaculate makeup enhancing her deep blue eyes, high cheekbones and natural Angelina Jolie Pitt-esque plump lips. She has the height, figure and carriage befitting a model IF you go by the industry’s standard toothpick-thin look splashed on the covers of magazines the world over.
She’s wearing a short black peplum dress and black stilettos that accentuate her shapely legs and are far more suitable for a night out on the town than for mourning her late husband. I can envision Bob easily falling under the seductive spell of this vengeful, honey-tongued black widow.
“Hhh … how … how did you get in here?” I stammer, the fear in my quavering voice unmistakable.
“Why, I just waltzed on in the building and those helpful ladies up front directed me right to your office, Miss Granger,” she says conversationally as if we’re two old friends shooting the breeze over a couple of refreshing glasses of iced tea on her front porch during a sultry summer afternoon.
But we’re not, and I know good and damn well she’s here to finish the job that Bob no longer can do, now that he’s behind bars.
“Why me?” I beseech her. “What did I ever do to you?”
She laughs maniacally.
“You were born, weren’t you?” she sneers.
“You’re nothing more than Lester’s bastard child out to tarnish the Wellington family’s good name, but he must have taken a shine to you because he named you as the primary beneficiary on his new life insurance policy. I saw it with my own two eyes, despite his attempts to keep it a secret from me. But I have my ways of finding out. Money always talks, my dear. And, if for some unforeseen reason you meet an untimely death, it all goes to the contingent beneficiaries — my two sons.
“So you see, Miss Granger, you simply have to die so my boys get their just dues.”
Why, she’s enjoying all of this immensely!
Maybe, just maybe I can stall her long enough by stroking her ego like she did Bob’s to get her to tell me about her intricate scheme. It’s worth a shot — no pun intended — to at least try to prolong her endgame.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
And while I’m at it, I for damn sure am NOT going to correct her by pointing out that I’m not hellbent on sullying the Wellington name, nor am I the least bit interested in Coach Smith’s newly changed life insurance policy.
“Before … before you … you k … ki … kill me, will you tell me the truth?” I meekly implore her, honest to the bitter end. “I’ve been lied to all of these years and I … I just want to hear the truth from someone who … who knows everything. Please. I’m begging you.“
She seats herself all ladylike in Jackson’s chair, using the gun to motion for me to do the same in mine.
“I suppose there’s no harm in telling you since you’ll be taking the truth to the grave with you,” she informs me, the smile that never reaches her eyes utterly evil.
“I met Lester when I was 18,” she reminisces. “He was 35 and so worldly, I was smitten from the start. I thought he was, too, because he swept me right off my feet. Two years later, we were married in Lexington. I … I always knew he had a wandering eye, mind you, but I naively thought he would stop once we were wed. I thought my love could change him, that it would be enough for him. But it never was, and he continued carrying on with other women.”
I sympathize with her plight, but a simple divorce could have solved her problems a long time ago. It’s incredibly sad the lengths people will go to in order to protect their precious legacies.
“I gave that man 35 years of my life, my heart, two sons, the prestige of the Wellington family name and all the comfort our money could buy,” she says in a long-suffering tone. “And do you know what he gave me in return? Messes I constantly had to clean up and women I had to pay off to keep quiet because of his many indiscretions, but I did it because I loved him so much, it hurt. And that hurt slowly turned into hatred when I … when I discovered he … he didn’t always take the necessary precautions.”
Sounds about right. That cavalier asshole acted like he didn’t give a flying fuck about consequences of ANY kind.
“How did you find out?” I proceed cautiously, careful not to antagonize her, lest she shoot me now and be done with it.
“A man named Jack Gallant called our house one night a long, long time ago,” she reveals, making me wonder if she had anything to do with his mysterious disappearance. “He was very agitated, and he demanded to speak to Lester. My husband was working late like he always did, so I told him about Mr. Gallant’s call the next morning. Lester got very angry and told me he was just a parent who was upset about his son not getting enough playing time, so I didn’t think anything of it until I read a story in the paper a few years later about a man from Perrysville vanishing who happened to have the exact same name. It made me curious because he was supposedly from Bluegrass, but I didn’t dare mention it to Lester. I suspected he might have had something to do with that man’s disappearance, but I suppose we’ll never know for sure now that Lester is gone.”
She pauses briefly to gather her thoughts before continuing.
“About five years ago, Lester came home from work rip-roaring drunk. He never drank as a rule, so I knew something — or someone — must have driven him to it. Lester kept on mumbling gibberish about Maggie coming back to haunt him with a piccolo, which made no sense whatsoever to me until I was sifting through the previous day’s newspaper over breakfast the following morning and saw your picture with a short story about Piccolo — what an odd name for a woman, by the way — Granger joining the Daily Herald staff as a sports writer. The possibility of you being his daughter dawned on me then, but I turned a blind eye to it because … because I still loved him at that point, you see, even after all I had endured because he just couldn’t keep his pants zipped up.
“I still had hope, as foolish as that may seem to you.”
My heart goes out to her. I’ve been in her shoes, and I empathize.
We can’t help who we love.
But I also learned something she never did: There comes a time when you have to walk away because staying only will succeed in destroying you from the inside out.
And I know for certain she wouldn’t have recognized the name Meggy O’Brien written on that piece of paper found at the scene of Coach Smith’s murder because she thought she heard him say Maggie, instead. Still, Bob knew my home number AND I now have a question that needs answering despite my previous wishes to never find out.
But there’s no getting around it anymore.
“Am … am I really his … Coach Smith’s daughter?” I have to know.
“Yes, you are, Miss Granger,” Mrs. Smith confirms my worst fears.
“I had DNA tests done using samples I collected from you, Bob Gallant and Lester without any of you the wiser, you see. Do you recall the sports memorabilia auction I organized in January to help raise funds for Lester’s football camp for disadvantaged children and the sit-down dinner that I served following it? Well, I collected both of your napkins — which I needed so I could get your dried saliva stains tested — when I was helping the servers clear the dishes from all the tables — an absolutely brilliant idea on my part, if I do say so, myself. Getting Lester’s was no problem because his DNA is all over our house. Anyway, as soon as I got the results, I set a plan in motion to get even with Lester once and for all by using one of his own children to do all the dirty work for me.”
“Bob was so easy to manipulate,” she brags. “Lester despised him from the moment he met him and made no secret about it, which worked in my favor. I think he knew Bob was his son, and I believe Jack Gallant’s call had everything to do with Lester getting his wife, Jane, pregnant all of those years ago. I guessed as much after I read the story about Bob being hired as the Daily Herald’s new sports editor last year because of his last name, but I knew when I saw him. He resembles Lester when he was much younger, but I had to be sure, so I had your DNA tested.”
As we get into the homestretch of her story, it occurs to me that she seems to be getting off having me as her audience, having me hanging on to her every word as if each one is a lifeline.
Truth is, they are … because the longer she talks, the longer I live.
I just wish I could see Dic … Richard one last time to tell him how much I love him before Mrs. Smith does away with me, but at least he’s far away from here, far away from HER. As long as he’s safe, I can accept anything Fate might have in store for me today.
“I took great pleasure in telling Bob you’re his half-sister because he hates you as much as he hated your dear, departed father,” she states with vicious glee. “Bob has always been insanely jealous of you because Lester publicly respected you, and publicly disrespected him.
“So I began planning my husband’s death by initiating a naughty little affair with your brother in January, after I told him I knew he was Lester’s son and you were Lester’s daughter, and he enjoyed getting back at my husband as much as me by having the raunchiest, hottest, most deviant sex right under his own father’s nose. Every time I fuck Lester’s bastard son’s brains out, every time I suck his bastard son’s dick, every time I make his bastard son cum is … liberating, exhilarating, empowering. Bob worships my body, does anything and everything I ask of him like a good little boy because I reward all of his deeds with the goods God gave me that my no-good husband took for granted the entire time we were together because he was too busy sticking his dick into his endless supply of whores instead of me.”
EW, EW, EW, EWWW!!! WAY TOO DAMN MUCH FUCKING INFORMATION!!!
I can’t conceal the revulsion these disgusting truths of hers evoke in me while this sick bitch is positively gloating over my transparent distaste for her heinous methods.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Miss Granger,” she says coyly. “Lester had it coming, and he got exactly what he deserved in the end. We came up with the perfect alibi using that horrible boss of yours as the reason why Bob quit, and then I set him up in an apartment on one of my family’s properties where no one could find him. But Lester got suspicious after a while and started carrying a gun on him, so I had no choice but to put the final stages of my plan into motion when he was working late this past Friday. I supplied a Smith & Wesson Model 29 — you know, the big revolver Clint Eastwood had in that Dirty Harry movie — for Bob to use as he saw fit and, well, you know the rest.”
I wish like hell I didn’t know, but stopping her now will be the end of me.
“Bob told me what was on that piece of paper, so I had him follow you and Mr. Headrick to Tideville,” she substantiates our feelings of being watched during our travels. “And when he couldn’t get to you, I sent him on a little errand to kill his mother after convincing him that she would run her mouth and ruin our special relationship. Sex is such a powerful weapon to wield over men, don’t you know? And the very thought of not being able to get it on with me anymore was enough motivation for him to murder that piece of trash mother of his with the same gun he used to kill my Lester.”
Poor Mrs. Gallant.
Blood really is no thicker than the water that washes it away.
“We were going to pin it all on you when you got back into town, but you foiled our plans when you didn’t go home Saturday night,” SHE has the audacity to chide ME. “I sent Bob to your apartment to kill you and then make it look like a suicide with a note confessing to Lester’s and Jane’s murders, but he flew into a rage and tore your place apart when you didn’t show. He had been looking forward to killing you, Miss Granger, but you were way too busy spreading your legs to that boorish boss of yours! You’d have done your father proud whoring around like that, you little slut!
“You’re just like him!”
The only father I’m going to do proud is William Lawrence Granger. If I’m going to die, I’m going to die fighting.
“You’ve ruined everything!” she screeches at me, the gun dangerously flailing about in her right hand. “It’s all your fault Bob got caught, but I will avenge him, and there’s nothing your precious boyfriend can do to save you now!
“It’s time for you to die, Miss Granger!”
I lunge for her in the same instant she pulls the trigger, the explosion from the gunshot causing a faint ringing in my ears as our chairs topple over and we fall onto the carpeted floor in a life-and-death struggle.
She slits my bare legs using those lethal stilettos of hers to dig into them, succeeding in making me loosen my grip on the hand wielding the gun as I cry out from the intensity of the stabbing pain. She manages to wrestle her hand away from mine, but I pull a Mike Tyson and bite down on her cheek so hard, I draw blood. She lets loose a furious howl, clutching at her face, and in that one moment of weakness, I slap the gun out of her hand.
And then I start whaling on her, my fists coming down hard like a judge pounding a gavel over and over and over to maintain order in the court. I continue pummeling her until she stops moving and my fists are bruised and bleeding and swollen.
I roll away from Mrs. Smith’s still body, completely spent, when both doors burst open and uniformed police officers converge in the sports office, their guns drawn. I notice Briscoe and Harpo among them while paramedics tend to us and carefully place each of us on stretchers. I hear them say Mrs. Smith has a pulse. Barely.
And that I’ve been shot.
Strange. I don’t remember that happening.
The last thing I glimpse is Richard’s tear-streaked face hovering over mine.
The last thing I hear is his desperate voice begging me not to die.
The last thing I taste is the softest of kisses.
The last thing I feel is love.