By D. P. Blanchard
Bowen killed the Corolla’s engine and shouldered his door open. “C’mon,” he said.
“Your wife’s not here?” his companion asked anxiously.
“Nah. Her work sucks at her like a vampire. She won’t be home for hours. And the neighbors vacation every year at this time.” He offered an easy grin over the car’s roof. “So relax, Lawrence. We’re good.”
At the rear of the big Colonial, a large in-ground pool sat within a vast rectangle of neatly manicured lawn. Overlooking the pool, several pieces of delicate wrought-iron furniture posed virginally atop a patio of blue-gray stone.
The younger man smiled appreciatively.
“The slate was hand-cut in Wales,” Bowen said. “I laid it myself. Unlike Charlotte. I guess she felt I needed help in that department.”
He saw the other man wince.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Rude of me.”
“I heard about…the divorce. Last May, wasn’t it?”
“June,” Bowen replied. “Anniversary’s in a couple days, in fact.” He managed a rumpled grin. “I should buy a cake.”
His companion grimaced. “Must’ve been tough.”
Bowen grunted. “Tough, yeah. Something like that.”
The men continued to the rear entrance of the house in silence. They stopped beneath a vaulted pergola draped with pink wisteria.
Bowen reached for the handle of the Dutch-style door.
“It isn’t locked?”
“Never has been, Doc,” Bowen replied. “Never felt the need.”
He stopped and motioned the other ahead of him.
“What about–” The younger man looked sheepish. “You know…burglars?”
As if in answer, two large Rottweilers padded softly into his vision. They sat stiffly, their low growls filling the room.
“Friend,” Bowen drawled, as the other man retreated a cautious step.
At the sound of his voice, the animals leapt across the intervening space and circled his legs excitedly, tongues lolling. Opening the back door wide, he watched as each took turns chasing the other across the broad lawn.
“All that space and she keeps them confined,” he said blackly. “I ask you.”
The men were in a large kitchen. Bowen grasped the burnished handles of a stainless-steel refrigerator and rested his head against its flat surface. “My shrink would tell you I’ve got issues,” he said softly. “Ah, what the hell. Maybe so.”
He straightened slowly, flashing a lopsided grin.
“Anyway. Old news. C’mon. What we want is upstairs.”
The men stepped into a darkened hallway and down a long passage to the front foyer. Ahead, a broad staircase spiraled gently to a wide upper landing. Wordlessly, the two began to climb. At the top of the stairs, an antique Turkish runner led them to an open doorway.
“Charlotte’s room,” Bowen said, half-turning. “Be afraid.”
Lawrence gave a dutiful laugh.
The room was large and tastefully furnished, if austere. The scent of honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass wafted through an open window. Bowen walked past a high four-poster bed to a corner of the room, where a miniature Japanese maple sat in a glazed ceramic pot. He slid the pot to one side and squatted easily.
“I can’t believe I left it behind,” he said. “Then again, I haven’t exactly been myself lately.”
Bowen gave the other man a disbelieving look. “Yeah, Lawrence, the ah…pistol.”
He placed the heel of his hand on the floor and applied pressure. An oak slat came away with a faint, wrenching squeak. Bowen reached into the dark cavity and retrieved a cloth-wrapped bundle.
is a Colt
Python revolver,” he said, removing a thick square of chamois. “Shoots
“You keep it under the floor?”
Bowen laughed. “I’m a respectable citizen, Lawrence. This is an unlicensed weapon. Besides, Charlotte has a phobia about guns. When she was a kid, a cousin of hers died in a hunting accident – scarred her for life. I had to have a good hiding place. It’s not like I could toss it into my sock drawer and forget about it.”
He looked a question at his companion.
“You say something, Lawrence?”
“I don’t like this, Rick,” the other said finally. “All of a sudden I–I just don’t think I like this.”
Bowen stood and gave the man a quick, confident smile.
“It’s okay, Doc,” he said. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”
The other man grunted noncommittally. “Where did you get the gun?” he said finally.
shrugged. “I lived in south Florida for a time. Got it at a pawnshop on
US 1 in
The man called Lawrence shook his head. “This is a stupid idea,” he said. “Listen, Rick, you don’t have to do this.”
“You’re wrong about that, Doc,” Bowen replied. “I owe you. I haven’t forgotten Kuwait.” He gave the other man a frank stare. “Neither have you. Why else would you have come to see me?”
He patted the air with a reassuring hand, the easy smile never leaving his face.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said. “I probably would’ve done the same thing in your place. Besides, once you got up the nerve to tell me about Gagné, my first thought was just to punch his ticket for you and be done with it. Fuck the elegant solution. Like I said, I owe you.”
His eyes fixed on the pistol.
“Impulsive? Yeah, sure. I’m like that. But simple, too. And simple is always best.”
“But then I figured, I only met him once, and that was at one of our entirely forgettable company Christmas parties, what…three, maybe four years ago? You need to be there with me – make sure I don’t pop his Maytag repairman by mistake. You know what he looks like better than I do. Hell, you know him personally.”
“Not really. Just a couple of beers together after work now and then,” Lawrence said. “That’s all. I told you.”
“And now he wants to turn you in,” Bowen said. “Lesson for us all, I guess.”
He shrugged and gave the other’s shoulder
a rough shake. “Relax, Doc. This’ll be a tit. All we gotta do is make
like a robbery that got away. Cops’ll think Gagné decided
“But I don’t understand how–”
“We’ll take his wallet. Hell, we’ll
take his fucking shoes if it’ll
it look good. And
Lawrence ran a trembling hand through his thick mane of dark, unruly hair. “What if he’s gone to the SEC already? What good would it do to kill him then?”
Bowen dismissed the notion with a quick shake of his head. “I don’t see that happening. Not yet. You told me yourself he’s got nothing solid.” He grinned. “He’s just messin’ with you, Doc. Wants to see you squirm a little. Kinda like how we played with those Iraqi snipers. Remember them?”
“Why couldn’t he just leave things alone?” the other said, hunching his shoulders. “He’s such a straight stiff.”
Bowen nodded. “That’s why we’ve gotta do this now. We can’t give him the chance to involve anyone else.”
He made a clucking noise with his tongue and winked. “’Sides,” he said, squinting along the pistol’s barrel. “If what you say is true, I’ll bet the smug bastard’s practically pissing himself at the thought of you sweating the consequences. Nah, I’m thinking he’ll wait a bit.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Lawrence said weakly.
Bowen smiled. “I have to admit you took me by surprise with that story of yours.”
“I thought you would just laugh and tell me to get lost,” the other man said. “I might have.”
“Yet here I am,” Bowen said.
His companion looked away. “I’ve got expenses, Rick–”
“So you said.”
“The job hasn’t been paying enough to keep up.”
Bowen shrugged. “It pays okay.”
“Not for me! Christ, not nearly enough.”
“So you promised all your trusting retirees a golden parachute and then…oops!” he said, grinning. “I bet you crossed your fingers so it wouldn’t count.”
“It was just so, I don’t know, easy–”
“I’m only surprised Gagné didn’t catch a whiff of what you were up to sooner. If my marriage hadn’t been tanking I might’ve seen it myself. I mean, you’re a good broker, Lawrence, but hell, you’re not that good. The clothes. The trips.” Bowen aimed a pointed stare at the gold watch on the other man’s wrist. “The jewelry. Oh, and let’s not forget the nifty wheels.”
The other man twitched a shoulder impatiently.
“A car!” Lawrence said. “One fucking car!”
Bowen chuckled. “A Dodge Viper, Doc. Be real. Even Bernie Madoff kept a lower profile than that.”
“I told everyone it was second hand, that my cousin was a used car salesman from Salem!”
Smiling, Bowen said, “Yeah, I remember now. Here, hold this a sec.”
He handed the pistol to his companion. The other stared.
“I’m holding the gun!” he said.
“Which we lose later,” Bowen explained, crouching to replace the floorboard. “Relax.”
“I can’t. We’re talking about killing a guy!”
“Yeah,” Bowen said. “But it’s either that or your boy goes to the feds. Which he will. Especially now after you tried to bribe him–sorry, how much was it you offered again?”
“Fifty thousand. More than enough you’d think. Am I right?”
Bowen nodded. “Would’ve been for me.”
“Yeah, me too,” the younger man said with a grimace.
“Don’t look so insulted, Lawrence,” Bowen said, chuckling. “No one’s calling you a cheapskate.”
“How ’bout I make a bigger offer?” Lawrence said. “A hundred, say. Hell, two.”
Bowen gave him an interested look. “You got that much?”
His companion pursed his lips, nodded absently.
“I suppose you didn’t divert all your client’s funds into dummy accounts,” Bowen said. “No. Gotta have some cash on hand. Gotta have fun, too. But they probably don’t make mattresses big enough so where would you put it?” He pulled absently at an earlobe. “I don’t know…what, a safety deposit box, maybe? Kind of risky, banks being such nosy institutions.” He nodded at the empty space in the floor. “Or make yourself a little hidey hole like this one? That’s what I might’ve done.”
The other man grunted noncommittally.
“Yeah,” Bowen said. “That’s what I might’ve done. Still, not even all your ill-gotten loot would be enough for your friend.”
A faint flurry of excited barking made him pause. He cocked an ear in the direction of the distant clamor, but the noise ceased as abruptly as it had begun.
“Rabbit.” He turned. “Honestly, Doc? Guy like that ain’t gonna bite no matter how much money you throw at him.”
Bowen jimmied the oak slat in place and restored the potted tree to its original location. Stuffing holster and chamois into his coat pocket, he stood. “People like Gagné see only up and down, in and out, black and white,” he said. “No imagination. No fun.” He grinned. “I know. I was married to the type for twelve years.” He thumped the other man’s shoulder. “Forget the bribe, Doc. You’d have better luck trying to corrupt a nun.”
“Yeah, but killing him–”
“Killing who, Richard?”
A well-dressed young woman stood in the doorway holding a small, silver-plated pistol.
dropped the gun. He mumbled an apology as Bowen stooped to pick
“S’okay, Doc,” Bowen said, spinning the cylinder and checking the action. “No harm done.”
a relaxed smile, he lowered his arm and began bouncing the Colt
sniffed. “Your car is in the drive, Richard,” she said acidly. “Which
pleased. “So whadja do? I don’t hear ’em.”
The woman scowled. “They’re in the shed. With the potting soil and the manure.”
Bowen grinned. “You’re gonna spoil ’em, sweetie. There’s nothing those two like better than rolling in horseshit.”
“What are you doing here, Richard?” the woman asked tiredly.
“This was my house, Bree,” he said, holding the smile. “Case you forgot. Just picking up a few things I left behind.”
“The judge ordered you not to come within a hundred feet–”
Bowen’s smile widened. “More like two after that episode in court,” he said. “But Doc here offered to help pack up the rest of my things. I couldn’t pass up the chance, could I? By the way,” he added, nodding at the pistol in the woman’s hand. “How did you get that past Charlotte?”
“I convinced her we needed it,” Bree said evenly. “After the episode in court.” The young woman eyed his companion with distaste. “And your movers came last month.”
Bowen looked around. “Yeah. I guess I forgot.”
Bree raised an eyebrow. “Please. Do I look that stupid?” She moved purposefully into the room.
“You didn’t answer my question, Richard. He spoke of killing someone. Killing whom?”
Lawrence replied quickly. “Raccoons,” he said. “A family of them got into my cellar. They’re tearing up the whole house.”
Bree raised an eyebrow. “A family of raccoons. Really.”
Bowen laughed loudly. “Doc’s just clowning,” he said. “He’s got a three-bedroom flat over by the museum. Very upscale. I doubt he’d know a raccoon from a harbor seal.” He flashed the other man a grin. “Ain’t that right, Doc?”
“Then who was he talking about?”
Bowen snorted softly. “Why you, Bree, honey,” he said, raising the Colt and shooting the woman in the center of her chest.
The woman lurched backwards as if rudely shoved. Mouth slotted wide, she sat down hard on the floor.
At the sound of the tight explosion, Lawrence recoiled, putting his hands to his ears. He straightened warily. “Rick…?” he began.
the men watched, the woman slumped onto her side and lay still, a deep
stain spreading rapidly across her white shirtfront. Bowen crouched and
“Jesus!” the other man yelled. “JESUS!”
Bowen frowned. “Calm down, Lawrence, will you?”
“You just killed this woman!” the other said. “How the fuck can you tell me to calm down?” He stared. “Why, for crissakes?”
placed the Colt carefully at his feet and gave the other man a patient
“What does that have to do with anything?”
The big man maintained his easy smile. “Think about it,” he said. “As soon as she heard about Gagné’s death she would have put two and two together and had the cops surrounding us like we were the Daltons. Our little scheme would have been deader than she is and we both would’ve ended up doing a life-size chunk of prison time.”
The other man’s face was ashen. His arms hung limp.
“Besides,” Bowen added. “She’s dirt. A disease.”
“You said–you called her Bree. This isn’t your wife?”
“Nothing gets by you, Lawrence,” Bowen said. “Bree here was Charlotte’s boon companion.”
“Her what?” Lawrence said.
Bowen sighed. “Charlotte and Bree, sitting in a tree, Doc.”
“Oh,” Lawrence said, nodding slowly. “Oh. Well, so they…”
“So–” Bowen continued. “Girlfriend here had my ex-wife’s ear the entire time we were in court; telling her what to say, how to react. Because of her, the judge at the trial (another woman, mind you) chose to ignore not only my testimony but Charlotte’s infidelity. I was deemed a poor husband, unwilling or unable to supply all of her needs.” He snorted again. “Her needs! What about my fucking needs?”
Lawrence said nothing.
“And the alimony,” Bowen continued. “Don’t get me started. Look around. Think Charlotte needs any more of my money?”
“This is better?” the other said, jerking his chin at the dead woman.
“Want me to take it back, Doc? Stop the bleeding? Make like the little Dutch boy and stick my finger in the dyke?” Bowen looked amused. “I don’t think it’ll help. I’m pretty sure she’s dead.”
His gaze turned sullen.
been as slick with my clients as you were with yours, we wouldn’t be
He turned and fixed the other man with a knowing look. “Don’t forget, you had thoughts of doing a bit of murder yourself just a few minutes ago. Remember?”
“That was you,” Lawrence said, flushing. “Your idea.”
“I never twisted your arm,” Bowen said. “Well,” he amended, “Maybe I did a little. But you came to see me.”
“I was numb!” Lawrence said. “Gagné wants me in prison!”
Bowen’s grin widened. “Well, yeah, that’s what happens when you’re caught doin’ a Ponzi, Doc. I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you, but it’s a crime.”
“Don’t–” Lawrence looked away. “You keep calling me Doc.”
way you bled those mutual funds from the old ladies accounts? A
The other man stared, his face ashen.
“Yeah,” Bowen said. “But I don’t think you have to worry about Gagné now.”
He looked up, saw his companion begin to sway.
“Don’t be sick!” he said, his tone harsh. “C’mon, Doc. Get a grip.”
The other man swallowed, scrubbing his face hard with a brisk hand. “Wh–why should he be any less of a problem now? How does this stop him going to the feds?”
Bowen didn’t answer. Instead, he busied himself over the dead woman, cradling her unresisting fingers in his own. When he was satisfied, he raised the hand holding the pistol. The shot sent the other man staggering against the bed. A tasseled pillow tumbled to the floor.
“Shit,” Bowen muttered. He called, “Hey, Doc!”
Clutching one of the octagonal posts, Lawrence turned a tottering half-step. His blazer opened, exposing his white silk shirt.
“Better,” Bowen said.
squeezed the woman’s
finger once more. The other man jerked and fell to the floor,
Bowen lowered the woman’s arm. “You’re a lousy shot, Bree, honey,” he said. “I could’ve sworn you were aiming at his chest.”
Sidling to the fallen man, he peered intently at the slackened features.
“Sorry, Lawrence,” he said. “I told you I tended to be impulsive. Charlotte’s girlfriend there changed everything. Believe me, I know her like I know the size of my own dick. The moment we left here she would’ve been on the phone. No way did she believe that dumbass story of yours.”
He laughed softly. “Raccoons. Jesus.”
Putting the gun in the palm of the outstretched hand, he curled the limp index finger around the trigger and applied pressure.
loud. A hole appeared in the molding near the woman’s head. Bowen
“Need some residue on your sleeve there, Doc,” he said. “Let the cops try and figure out why the other shot.” He began to prod the other’s clothing. “Let ’em decide what brought the two of you here together, too.”
His probing produced a small ring of keys from an inner pocket of the blazer. One key wore a set of serial numbers and the name of a local bank. He removed this and gave the others a cursory swipe before returning them.
“And I gonna be honest with you, Lawrence,” he said, straightening slowly. “The way you reacted to Bree’s death I knew you wouldn’t hold it together long if a couple of sweaty-faced cops started asking awkward questions. Killing Gagné’s one thing, but this? This has jilted ex-husband painted all over it in bright neon colors. You’d have given me up before their first coffee had gone cold.”
Bowen grimaced apologetically. “You were dead before her ass hit the floor. You just didn’t know it.” He stared down at the key, scraping his chin with a thumbnail. “Still, I don’t know if I can use this thing. Let’s hope I find your little pot of gold.”
A plaintive yelp drew his attention to the open window.
“Get comfy, boys. Mommy won’t be home ’til late.”
Moving to sidestep the body, he was brought up short by a woman’s sharp, disbelieving tone.
“Bree? Richard’s car is in the drive. What is he doing here? Why are you here, Richard?”
Bowen stiffened, then with a shamefaced grin held up an inverted fist to examine the smooth arcs of his fingernails.
The woman spoke again. “Bree?”
Dropping his arm, Bowen tilted his chin up. “She’s with me, Charley,” he called.
The woman’s reply was slow in coming. “There had better be a good explanation for you being here today, Richard. I’ve had a rough day and I’m in no mood for your shit.”
Nodding to himself, Bowen stared reflectively at the floor, lips pursed. After a moment, he shook his head, chuckling softly. “Same ol’ Charlotte.”
a soft, scratchy, ‘shave and a
haircut,’ he bent and lifted the gun from the dead
His arm swung up easily.
Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.