Twelve short stories wit.., p.2
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       Twelve Short Stories With A Twist, p.2

           Mario V. Farina
 
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for a moment, furrowing his brow, then said, "I'm sorry, you've dialed the wrong number. Are you trying to get automobile service?"

  "Oh, yes. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

  "No problem at all." Vincent put the receiver back in its cradle. "That was a lovely voice," he mumbled barely audibly. "I wonder what she's like."

  He leaned back in his recliner. "Sometimes they call back," he thought, as he turned his attention to the TV. "They make the same mistake."

  The phone rang. Vincent grabbed the receiver before it had completed its first ring. "Hello!"

  "Oh, darn!" It was the same voice. "You are not Continental, are you? I thought I knew the number, but I'm obviously doing something wrong."

  "Oh, that's OK," Vincent summoned his most melodious tone. "I know how it is to dial a wrong number. I congratulate you on your choice of cars. I have a Continental too."

  "Oh, do you? What a coincidence! They are very fine cars, aren't they?"

  "Yes, very fine. Very fine, indeed. I believe in owning nothing but the best. I'm Vincent Bradshaw, by the way. And you are…?"

  "I'm Susan Wilkerson."

  "Please call me Vince. Do you live locally?"

  "Yes, I do, Vince. I live in the Tall Oaks area. Nothing but the best, you say?"

  "I go first class, Susan. Always have. Always will! There is usually a way to get what you want even if you have to bend the rules a little now and then."

  He thought about Nancy Beth. Where she was concerned, a little, was something of an understatement. To remove her from his life, he had found it necessary to take some steps that most people would consider extreme. The objective had been accomplished, and the money he had received in insurance had been a pleasant bonus. Half the money had gone into the huge white vehicle crowding the walls of his garage; some, into the stock market. He hadn't decided what to do with the rest. A trip to Bermuda with a sweetheart might be a possibility.

  Vincent missed his wife, but he was looking forward to finding a suitable replacement. If Susan was anything like her voice, she might be the one.

  "Your voice is so delightful," he said. "I can almost picture what you look like."

  "You can?" Susan responded teasingly. "Tell me, what do I look like?"

  Vincent glanced at the ceiling, then made a few flattering guesses. He was wrong in some, but he learned what he wanted to know. She was thirty-two, five, six in high heels, had blue eyes, weighed 108, didn't smoke, and had long jet-black hair. "People tell me I'm attractive," she had said.

  "How could I be so blessed in finding such a dream girl?" Vincent asked himself. It was imperative that he meet this exceptional girl in person. Romantic notions swirled in his mind.

  "Tell me about yourself, Vince," Susan asked.

  "Well, I'm director of Mount Pleasant Hospital. I am thirty-eight, about five, ten, have dark hair, and am of average build." Vincent knew that he was exaggerating his height by about two inches, and that his average build was really twenty pounds overweight. He should have mentioned that his "dark hair" was streaked with a good deal of gray, but he felt that facts like these were of minor importance. A man's personality, intelligence, and sense of humor are the most important things to a woman, he thought. Vincent felt that he possessed these qualities in abundance despite the fact that none of the women he knew had ever mentioned them.

  There was a pause. Vincent sensed that Susan was getting ready to wind down the conversation. He felt an urgency to get something important asked before they disconnected.

  "Tell me, Susan, are you, ah, married?"

  "Oh heavens, no!" She responded.

  "Attached?"

  "No, yourself?"

  "I'm a widower, Susan," Vincent replied sadly. "My lovely wife died over a year ago. I loved her very dearly." Nancy Beth had actually had her so-called cerebral hemorrhage only seven months earlier, but Vincent didn't want Susan to think that he wasn't observing a decent period of mourning.

  "I'm terribly sorry about your wife, Vince. Listen, I don't want to be rude, but I need to do some shopping, then dress for the symphony. Much as I'd like to keep talking, I must run."

  "I understand perfectly," Vincent said disappointedly. "I'd like to talk to you again."

  "I'd like that too," Susan responded. "Why don't you call me tomorrow evening after eight. My phone number is 555–0648. Bye for now."

  Vincent put the receiver down slowly. "What a sexy sounding woman!" he mused. He straightened the recliner and rose from it. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Walking slowly around the living room he bent his head forward deep in thought. Something disturbed him about the conversation. Susan had remarked that she was preparing to attend a concert. His wife had enjoyed classical music. Since Vincent's lack of interest in the classics had been a source of conflict in the marriage, he had resolved never again to get involved with anyone who enjoyed this kind of music. Still, with the right woman, he could bend a little, he thought.

  Yes, Vincent missed Nancy Beth, but only because of the comforts and services that she had provided. Now, he had to do his own washing, ironing, cleaning, and cooking. These were inconveniences but, at least, he didn't have to put up with that pudgy smokestack any longer.

  Nancy had been thirty-five when she died, but she had looked ten years older. Her mousy brown hair was streaked with gray. Thick glasses gave her face an owlish expression. She coughed. Her voice was raspy. She bore no resemblance to the curvaceous sexpot that she had been ten years before. Their relationship had declined with the years. It reached a new low during the last week of her life when she had referred to him as an arrogant, sleazy low-life scumbag.

  Vincent felt he had needed to rid himself of this obstacle to happiness. Divorce would have been too messy, expensive, and time-consuming. He had zeroed in on a feasible, albeit drastic solution. Nancy's death had become as inevitable as if it had been predestined.

  At eight, the following evening, Vincent picked up the receiver and held it to his ear. He punched the digits of Susan's number with his left hand. Then he leaned his back against the recliner. He felt his heart accelerate when he heard her voice.

  "You sound so outgoing, Susan," he ventured. "Have there been many men in your life?"

  "Oh no, only a few," she responded. "I was married once. But, that didn't work out. More recently, I was involved with a man named Tom. I can tell you that story at a later time."

  Tom! Vincent thought of Tom Harris, the Chief Medical Officer at the hospital. Tom had once worked under Vincent. At that time, they had also been good friends. Their relationship was not cordial at this time. Vincent had discovered some shortages in Tom's accounts and had accosted him with the evidence. Tom had admitted embezzling from his department. Vincent had helped him cover up. Although their present relationship was strained, Vincent had Tom under full control. From time to time, he would demand a favor of him and Tom would never refuse.

  Mentally, Vincent would often applaud his own cleverness when he thought about how he had arranged for Nancy Beth's death, and had contrived to have her cremated almost immediately. The insurance company had been outraged, but its investigators had gotten nowhere. Nancy Beth's ashes had been widely scattered over the Pacific Ocean in a matter of hours.

  Tom had been the key. In his position as Chief Medical Officer, he had the authority to ascertain causes of death and to sign death certificates. He also had power to circumvent certain bothersome police regulations.

  Vincent's thoughts returned to the present. "I'd be honored if you'd accept a dinner invitation, Susan, say for tomorrow evening at six. Would you care to accompany me to the Vauxhall?" This place was the most expensive restaurant in the area.

  "Oh, yes, Vince, I'd love to do that," Susan responded exuberantly. "Tomorrow night would be fine. I'll look for you at six." She gave him her Sylvan Lane address and hung up. Vincent phoned the Vauxhall and made a reservation, also requesting certain special preparations.

  Vincent left his office early th
e next day leaving word that he would not return. He hurried home and spent an hour bathing, shaving, and brushing his teeth. He drenched himself with aftershave lotion and slapped his face until it resembled a fresh strawberry. He combed his hair making sure that every strand was in place. He polished a pair of black shoes. Then he tried on various ensembles and settled upon a gray suit, which he complemented with a red striped tie. Having completed his grooming, he examined himself in the full-length mirror in the bedroom tucking in his midsection. He smiled with satisfaction.

  Vincent eased the massive Continental out of the garage and maneuvered it down the driveway into the street. He glanced at the car's ornate digital clock. It was quarter after five, a bit early. He drove leisurely to Susan's street to preview the area. He found himself in a new development. All the houses appeared to have been built within the last two or three years. Slipping by 1467 Sylvan Lane, he glanced at the house where Susan lived. It was a brick colonial with tall columns. The lawn was green and well trimmed. The shrubs along the walkway seemed to have been recently planted and were thriving. He stopped the car and let the engine idle. There was time to practice. Twisting the rear view mirror toward him, he tried several styles of smiling.

  Timing his arrival to the split-second, Vincent guided the car to a coasting stop in front of Susan's house. He switched off the ignition. Feeling that there might be eyes observing his
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