Clever, clever plan, thought Albert Swine. A job well done!
He carefully closed the door to the study. He was tempted to peek one last time into that dark abyss, to flick on the light and with his eyes follow the thin fishing wire to the trigger of a small .38 hidden by a pot of daisies behind the chair. The barrel had been positioned at Bernard Snow’s head. The moment Mr. Snow sat down the fishing wire would tighten through the loop in the ceiling and pull the trigger.
Albert practiced this in an open field. Old office chairs sat with holes through the backs from misfires, and largely from Albert’s own enthusiasm. Perhaps too much enthusiasm, he thought as he twisted the key and locked the study. Albert limped up the stairs and back to Mr. and Mrs. Snow’s Master Suite to replace the key in Mr. Snow’s nightstand drawer. Albert turned the key a little to the left, stood back, and repositioned it again exactly the way Mr. Snow had put it away last night.
A giggle escaped his throat. He covered his fleshy lips with his hands, looked around, then softly closed the nightstand drawer. The maid had left a silk nightgown across Mrs. Snow’s bed, pressed and without a stain. Mrs. Snow’s favorite perfume sat on the dresser. He walked over and sprayed it in the air and closed his eyes.
A door opened downstairs. Albert left the suite and pulled some towels from the linen closet. Footsteps came towards him.
“Where’s Libby?” Mr. Snow grumbled.
“Quit. This morning.” Because of you!
“Geraldine forgot to tell me.” Mr. Snow rummaged through his briefcase. His tie hung crooked down his white shirt. “Albert, could you take my briefcase to the study. Put these files on my chair.”
Albert slid the towels onto the shelf. He stared at the briefcase.
“Albert?” Mr. Snow held out the briefcase and files.
Albert grasped the handle of the case and felt the weight of the heavy files on his arms. Sweat drops formed on his brow. “Yes, sir.”
“And Albert? Fix me a cup of tea…the Earl Grey. Add a drop of Scotch to it.” Mr. Snow closed the bedroom door after handing Albert the key from the nightstand.
Albert walked down the stairs and stood in front of the study door. He dropped the briefcase, balanced the files on his arm and inserted the key. He switched on the light and walked towards the chair. With both hands, he carefully set the heavy files on the chair seat and the briefcase next to the chair on the floor. He looked at his hands and rubbed them on his pants. He closed the study and pocketed the key.
Such a clever, clever plan! He skipped into the kitchen and put a pot of water over the fire. When would it happen? Doubtless, it would happen, for Mr. Snow never spent any time with his wife. He left her languishing in the bathtub and worked on contracts until midnight in the study with the news on his small flat screen. He came home early always to chase Libby around the kitchen island, threatening to fire her if she didn’t pretend to like his attentions.
Libby wouldn’t quit. She has a five-month old to tend and a mother with Alzheimers. Albert took Mr. Snow’s favorite mug—the one his office awarded him for kindness on the job. Who awarded hypocrites for kindness? He poured a shot of Scotch with the tea bag and waited for the water to heat. His fingers tapped on the counter and he strained to hear the gunshot. Any minute now!
The intercom buzzed. “Albert, is that tea ready yet?”
Albert pressed the white button. “No, sir. Almost.”
“Well, hurry, then. It’s been a long day.”
The disappointing thing about intercoms was in not knowing the caller’s location. Mr. Snow could have entered the study now. The intercom box was near his chair, connected to his phone. Any minute now, Mr. Snow will sit down and feel the hot bullet enter his skull. Albert will drink his tea and dance in his blood.
The tea kettle began to whistle low. Albert turned off the gas and poured the hot water watching the tea bag drown in it. He stirred it slowly, the string of the tea bag tangling with the handle of the spoon. He took the tea bag and squeezed the last drop into the cup.
He pressed the intercom button again. “Sir? Where might I bring you the tea?” Albert held his breath.
“The Master Suite, Albert. I decided to take a bath. My muscles ache.” Mr. Snow spoke slowly, fatigue in every word.
“Yes, sir.” Albert grimaced. How long must he wait for justice?
He walked up the stairs, trained as he was by his father and grandfather how to bring the master a cup of tea without spilling a single drop to stain the tile. Mr. Snow had the bathroom door cracked. The bath water ran. Music played from the radio.
No news today. Strange. Albert called, “Tea, sir.”
“On the dresser. I’ll call you again when I need you.”
“Yes, sir.” Albert placed it on the nightstand. “I’ll just put the key next to your tea for later.”
The bath went quiet. The whine of a violin sadly followed Albert out of the room. He went into his own room adjacent from the kitchen.
His intercom rang a moment later. “Where did you say Libby was today? Quit?”
“Yes, she quit.” Albert answered irritably.
“Why didn’t Geraldine tell me? Curious.”
“Don’t know, sir.” Albert buried his face into his pillow after answering. He paced his room from wall to wall. The waiting only aggravated him. The deed had to happen tonight. All the planning and the persuading of most of the staff to take the evening off would backfire in the morning. Mrs. Snow was on her way to her mother’s house. She thought her mother was sick.
“Is there anything else you need, sir?” Albert called Mr. Snow on the intercom again two hours later.
“No.” Mr. Snow yawned. “Why don’t you take the evening off?”
“Yes, sir. Not going to work tonight in your study?”
“I don’t know. Where did Geraldine say she was going again?”
“Oh, that’s right. My secretary told me.”
“Are you sure there isn’t pressing work to do in the study?” Albert trembled.
“Well, there’s that file…” Mr. Snow sighed. “Albert, do you ever feel as if you are always working, always too busy?”
Albert’s palms sweated again. “No.”
“I do. I’m thinking of taking some time off and spending more time with Geraldine.”
“But there’s that file.”
“There’s always some important file.” Mr. Snow long sigh hissed over the intercom.
“It’s on your chair.” Albert’s eye lid began to twitch.
Mr. Snow said, “I suppose you’re right. I shouldn’t run away from today’s work. I will schedule some time off though. I’ve too long neglected her. Tell Libby I wish to speak with her tomorrow afternoon. And Albert?”
Albert sat down on the edge of his bed. His feet twitched. He watched as the hours elapsed slowly. The heat from the lamp pressed down on him. The house creaked. The strains of a violin could be heard upstairs.
Do it all ready! Sit in the chair!
A door opened and shut upstairs. Albert straightened his spine. Then, he leaned forward and pressed his fists into the mattress. Shoes crept down the stairs towards the study and hesitated.
A whine came eerily into the silence. Albert realized it was his own cry. He bunched his fists through his white hair.
“Albert?” Mr. Snow called. “You okay?”
Albert said nothing, rocking to and fro on his bed, yanking on his hair.
He heard the study door unlock. Albert jumped to his feet and pressed his ear against his bedroom door. His hand gripped the knob. The study door closed.
Then, opened again. Steps retreated up the stairs.
Impossible! He swung open his door and walked through the kitchen and into the foyer. The study door leaned open. The dark abyss called to him. He stepped inside.
Maybe the fishing line wasn’t tight enough? Maybe the gun jammed? Albert’s bloodshot eyes wildly took in everything and he groped in the darkness of the study towards the chair. His feet knocked violently against the briefcase, which slugged against the chair.
The gun went off.
Clever, clever, Albert muttered. Time paused, if that was possible. He fell to the floor.
“What did he say?” Someone asked, the voice fading in.
“I don’t know. Something about being clever.”
Albert’s face contorted and his life flowed away from his head, staining the floor.
“Wasn’t clever enough,” Mr. Snow sounded upset.
And why not, thought Albert. I am clever. I am clever…I am clever…clever…clever…clever.
©Nikole Hahn, 2012 (no reprints without permission)