Who doesn't want a nice little place of their own out in the country? But tell you what, the market's tough these days ...
Home Sweet Home by Ed Smith
He opened his eyes but continued to lie in bed. The mattress was comfortable, soft but with just enough support to suit him. He sat up, looked around for a moment, saw that it was just past daylight, the time of day his body’s internal clock had been set for a long time ago. He kicked the covers off and headed into the bathroom. It was nice sized with a large shower and even a Jacuzzi. He took his morning whiz, got into the shower and turned on a powerful, cold spray. The chill probably would have shocked most people but he liked it that way. It woke him up fully, getting all his senses into maximum working order quickly.
After drying himself off he went, naked to the sink and shaved. He didn’t pay any attention to how he looked in the mirror. He was compact with a non-descript but pleasant face. At 29 he was in good enough shape to do anything he had to or would want to do and was young enough that he still had plenty of years ahead of him in which that would remain true. He wasn’t vain. His thoughts had always been utilitarian rather than superficial. That’s what made this house so atypical for him. It wasn’t ostentatious but was well appointed with many small comforts. It was the house of a simple but successful person. He did like that. It reflected the way he thought about himself.
After dressing in a blue t-shirt and jeans he went downstairs and made himself a coffee and an English muffin with jam that he took out onto the big wraparound porch. He sat back in the large wicker rocking chair and placed his breakfast on a matching wicker table. It was a cool morning, dew dampening the grass of the big yard. There wasn’t another house in sight, of course. It was important to him that he have his privacy and the fact that his house couldn’t be seen from any road, requiring a ride down a somewhat bumpy dirt road before it came into view pleased him.
He jumped up after his first sip of coffee and first bite of muffin, having forgotten part of his morning ritual. He shook his head. He was getting lazy. Not a good thing. He went into the den on the first floor and picked out the book he had been planning to start today, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. He liked to read and his taste was eclectic. The book he had just finished was McCullough’s John Adams. He grabbed Heller’s book and went back to the porch and settled in.
When he was done he cleaned his plate and cup and headed out to the barn. He wasn’t particularly interested in farming but the workshop in the barn appealed to him. He liked fixing things; it was his specialty, actually and he got to work mending the lawnmower that he had started on yesterday. He kept busy the rest of the day with various chores around the house. When he was done for the day, by around 10PM he headed up to bed again. He enjoyed the house and slipped into sleep with a deep sense of satisfaction.
* * *
The following days mostly followed the same pattern. One day he went to town to get groceries. The only person he spoke to was the heavy-set check-out girl who wore too much make-up in a vain attempt to cover up her bad skin with whom he exchanged some mild pleasantries. Another night he went to Barrow’s, a local bar and pick-up spot. He had a few beers (he never drank to the point of getting drunk) and started up a conversation with a bleached blonde on the stool next to him. She wore short-shorts and a cut-off T that had the obligatory Born To Be Bad emblazoned across her considerable chest. Within the hour they were screwing away in the back of her van. He started out gentle but she soon made it known that she liked it harder and nastier. As always he was flexible and so obliged her.
* * *
He liked the pattern of the days. If there was anything that disturbed him it was the unpredictable and he was very much attuned to changes that suggested potential problems. So when the sound of a car starting to make its way down his dirt road reached him in the early afternoon while he was working on his car behind the house where he parked it, he quickly got up and ran into the house using the back door and looked out the living room window towards the road. Within seconds he saw a late model blue Ford Explorer and made out two people, a man and a woman in the front seat.
He ran upstairs into the bedroom, rummaged in the nightstand’s draw until he had what he wanted and ran downstairs again, heading into the dining room, off the living room and heard a key in the door in the large entryway. The indistinct muttering he heard became clear when the door opened and the man and woman entered.
“…just don’t get it, Bill.” the woman said dropping a suitcase on the hardwood floor. “If Charlie didn’t do the lawn, then who did?”
From his spot in the dining room he could see them both clearly for the first time. The woman was a casually but expensively dressed brunette. She appeared to be in her mid-forties and obviously took care of herself as her slim waist and the muscled legs he could see sticking out of her white shorts attested. Bill seemed to be about the same age. He looked confused as he too laid a suitcase down. He was medium height, about 5’9”, going slightly bald around graying temples. He wasn’t in the same shape as the woman, a slight paunch bulging under a blue Izod shirt. His arms looked somewhat compact though so while he probably didn’t spend as much time at the gym as the woman did, he likely hadn’t stopped going entirely, either.
“Charlie would have told me if he was keeping things up.”, Bill said. “I talked to him last week and he said he hadn’t been here since we left. Maybe he’s trying to surprise us but…” The man abruptly stopped in mid-sentence as he looked into the living room and spotted something that caught his attention. He walked towards it.
On the sofa was a copy of Catch 22 with a green bookmark sticking out of it, about three quarters of the way through. The man picked it up and looked at it.
“What the hell? I wasn’t reading this when we left. I read it years ago and I know I’d left it in one of the shelves in the den. You didn’t leave it here, did you, Kate?” he said, turning to the woman still standing in the entryway.
“No. Bill let’s get out of here. Something weird is going on. Let’s get the police and come back with them and we can look around some more.”
Standing in a corner in the dining room and taking all this in, he’d been standing very still, waiting to see what would transpire before making his mind up firmly about his next move. The woman’s words were the pulled trigger he’d been waiting for. Slowly he moved out of the dining room and into the entry where he could see both of them.
“There’s no need for that.”
They were both so startled by his appearance that their screams almost sounded melodic, hers a sharp soprano and his, a blunted tenor. They both flinched spasmodically and the woman took a step away from him.
“I’m sorry I startled you. Why are you back so early, Bill?”
“What? Who are you?” the man in the living room asked, dropping the copy of Catch 22 back on the sofa.
“Who am I? I’m Terry Monette, of course. Why are you acting so surprised to see me? Didn’t John tell you I’d still be here?” Terry looked at them both, a confused expression etched onto his face, his body language indicating discomfort.
Kate had made her way into the living room to stand by Bill who, reading the stranger’s nonthreatening physical presentation was relaxing a bit from his initial shock. Suspicion was still ringing bells in his head, though and he stepped up a foot or two to stand between the stranger, this “Terry” and his wife.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, mister. John who?”
“I don’t get this.” Terry said, raising both hands in a gesture of bewilderment. “He said that my staying here was done with your approval and that you wouldn’t be needing the place this year.”
“I don’t know what “John” you’re talking about but you’d just better get the Hell out of here because we will call the police.”
“That’s not necessary. This is obviously some terrible mistake.”
Bill, bolstered by the stranger’s apologetic attitude, seemed emboldened and moved closer to the entryway, raising his chin and shoulders, beginning to feel that the power balance in the situation was moving his way.
“What kind of “mistake”? You had better explain exactly what the Hell you think you’re doing here and do it fast.”
“Please, let’s all calm down.” As if demonstrating his own intention to do just that Terry walked two paces over to the stairway leading to the second floor and sat down on the third stair. “I’ll tell you everything and hopefully we can all make sense of it.”
Unwilling to reflect Terry’s attempt at de-escalation Bill stood his ground while Kate remained his shadow behind him. “Get on with it.” he demanded.
“Ok, ok. Like I said my name is Terry Monette. I’m an executive for a diamond company. Three months ago I saw a murder in New York. It was a gang killing right outside my office. The killer didn’t see me but I saw him and I reported the killing to the police that night. I picked the killer’s picture out of a photo book the cops showed me. The following day I picked him out of a line-up and he was arrested right then and there. I agreed to testify against him.
The only problem was that the killer was a leader in this gang and they’re known for intimidating witnesses against them at best, and killing them at worst. The DA said that he had a cousin who had an out of state country house that would be secure and that they could probably put me up in until I had to come back to NY and testify and until the trial was over. He said that his cousin wasn’t going to be using the house this year. I agreed again and here I am.
Now you’re telling me you don’t know who I am and don’t seem to know anything about my using this house? I don’t mind telling you that I’m as uncomfortable as you claim to be by this whole thing.”
“Who did you say this DA “cousin” of mine is?”
“His name is John DaSilva.”
“Well I don’t know any John DaSilva and I don’t have a cousin who is a DA anywhere.”
Terry sighed and shook his head, a picture of confusion.
“Look, there’s only one way that I can figure to clear this thing up. Let me call John.
“I’m going to reach down with my right hand to get my cell phone.” He said this as he pointed to his cell phone in its holster on his belt. Bill nodded in agreement. Terry punched in a number and put the phone to his ear.
“Can I speak to DA DaSilva, please? Tell him this is Terry Monette calling.” He put his hand over the mic and softly whispered to the couple. “This should all be cleared up in a minute.” He took his hand from the mic.
“Yeah, John. Hi, this is Terry. I’ve got a real problem here. Just now Bill and Kate arrived telling me that they’ve never heard of you and know nothing about the arrangements for me to stay down here for a few months. Would you care to explain what the Hell is going on.” He looked up at the couple with a look on his face that indicated he’d asked the question that would hopefully make sense of things.
“Really? Oh, well that is strange. Well I have to tell you that I’m not happy about this. Yeah, that is a pretty damn big mistake. It doesn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence. Right. Do you have any ideas about how you can make this right? Yeah, that does sound fair. One more question: Do you have any idea if you’ll be needing me soon? No, huh? Not until then? Ok, then. I’ll be talking with you soon.” Terry closed the connection and put the phone back into its case on his belt. He smiled sheepishly and looked up at Bill and Kate.
“Well, that explains it. It’s been a big mistake.”
Bill and Kate stood their ground, looking at him expectantly.
He smiled and shook his head as his right hand reached to his back and he briefly scratched himself. When he brought his hand out again it held a gun. Bill’s eyes went large and he opened his mouth to speak but before a sound came out Terry had the gun pointed at his head and fired. Bill wrenched backward falling into Kate who started to slip to the floor and seemed about to scream but no sound came from her either as a second bullet hit her right between the eyes.
“Shit.” “Terry” shook his head. “What a fuckin’ mess.”
He was certainly caught by surprise when they’d shown up early. Fortunately he was fast on his feet and came up with the whole “Terry Monette” bit in seconds. He had really hoped that when he’d called his handler that he’d say that since Bill and Kate had shown up a month early that there was another job waiting for him and he’d have to leave anyway. That way they could have lived. But there didn’t seem to be anything on the horizon for at least another month. His handler apologized for not knowing that the owners would be showing up early. It was a real fuck up. This sort of thing had never happened before. “Terry”, of course didn’t want to leave early so the situation really left him with no option. He had no choice but to shoot them. And leave a big damn mess on the carpet. Shit.
He went upstairs to gather some towels, came downstairs, and wrapped their heads up as neatly as possible. He went out to the barn, grabbed a tarp and laid it on the floor in the entryway and picked up the bodies and put them on it. He went into the kitchen, filled a bucket full of lukewarm water, gathered up some more clean towels and ammonia and detergent and some club soda he had in the fridge and got to work.
It took him most of the day to clean up the living room and by the time he had buried both the bodies and put their car into the barn, which he then locked up the sun had gone down. He went upstairs, took a shower, came down to the kitchen and made himself a sandwich of salami and cheese on rye, got a beer out of the fridge and took his supper out onto the porch. He dropped into the rocker. He was tired and frustrated.
Their showing up early was certain to mean that he would have to leave early. Someone was bound to get suspicious about their silence after a few days and send the local cops out to check. Maybe he could answer the phone when it rang and run some interference that would give him some more time. But he’d still have to leave earlier than he had planned. In his line of work he was always moving on. Sometimes he stayed in motels, sometimes in houses when the owners would be away. When they came back they’d see that someone had been there but he was off the grid, no fingerprints (he always wore surgical gloves at “home”) or DNA on file. He never stole anything. He’d never liked a place they way he’d liked this place. It was the first time he really felt at home. When his handler had gotten him this place, hundreds of miles away from Detroit where he’d done that banker who was about to go to the Feds he’d expected it to be just another place. He was surprised at how quickly he’d become comfortable here. His next job would probably lead to his staying in another motel somewhere. He hadn’t been in the business all that long but already he was growing tired. The money was certainly good and he’d saved up a helluva lot of it. And he generally enjoyed the work. If somebody wanted the targets dead they were dead. If he didn’t do it someone else would so he might as well get the money for it. He prided himself on being good at it.
Maybe in a couple of years he’d hang it all up and buy himself a place like this, a little farmhouse out in the country. He’d still be young. He looked around the porch and out at the darkened field in front. He could see the outline of the barn against the sky of the fading day. He got up, went into the kitchen, cleaned his dishes and went up to bed. He lay there, his eyes open. There was a smile on his face.
Home sweet home.