TIDYING UP - J. R. LINDERMUTH
He invited me in as though the house were his and directed me back to the library - Aaron's favorite room.
I shouldn't have been surprised to see packing crates, empty shelves, covers over much of the furniture. "Where are the servants? Are you going someplace?"
With a sardonic grin, he nodded. "Carole needs to get away. There are too many reminders here."
We'd never met but he was much as I expected. Confident. Efficient. Arrogant. Aaron's suspicions were justified. His message had been waiting for me when I returned from another assignment. By then, it was too late for him. I'd complete the assignment, though. I owed it to him. I'm loyal if nothing else. "There are matters I should discuss with her."
"Not now. She's resting. Perhaps when we return."
"Why don't you explain to me what you need and I'll decide if it's important enough to bother her?"
Since he hadn't invited me to sit, I took it upon myself. I pulled a cover from a chair by Aaron's ornate desk and sat down. He wasn't going to put me off. I needed the two of them together.
Seeing I wasn't going to be deterred, he decided to be polite. I should have taken that as a warning.
"Would you like something to drink?"
Aaron had one of the best wine cellars on the east coast. Memory of what was on those shelves tempted me and I asked for a glass.
He left the room and came back a few moments later with two glasses. Handing one to me, he moved around and sat behind the desk. In Aaron's chair. The cheek of the man. "Just what is it you did for him?"
"I-uh-I tidy up."
He chuckled and leaned across the desk, both hands flat on its surface. "Like a cleaning person? Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Diener. I don't think she'll be needing your services. She has other help."
I took a sip of the wine and grimaced. It was hard. Not at all what I expected in this house. I noticed he hadn't touched his. "What is this stuff?"
"I'm sorry," he said with a smile. "I don't have the keys to the cellar. This is a Bardolino I found in the dining room. Not very good?"
I took another sip. "Musty. It tastes like rotten wood." I pushed the goblet away.
He half rose. "Sorry. Should I look for another bottle?"
I waved a hand. "No. Don't bother. There's business to attend to. I need to speak to Carole."
"As I said, she's resting."
I'd had about enough of his insolence. "Look, you can try to put me off but it isn't going to work. Aaron knew what was going on."
He looked positively mystified. Well, he didn't fool me. I'd been leery of her from the start. Aaron was my employer. He was also my friend. And I wasn't going to let them get away with it. "Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. Aaron was old but he wasn't a total fool. This was what - her third marriage?"
"Fourth," he said, calmly, looking down at his fingernails.
"Fourth. And at least two of her previous husbands died under odd circumstances. I couldn't talk him out of marrying her but at least he listened to me about the prenuptial agreement."
"Ah, that was your doing."
"Yes. He knew about you, too. How you were always hovering about, whispering to her. Going off together when you thought he didn't know."
He had the arrogance to laugh at that. "You think we were having an affair? That's ridiculous. She's got a good thirty years on me."
"And what does that matter when it comes to easy money?"
"Actually, Carole's not my lover. She's my mother."
That surprised me but it didn't change things. "His death supersedes the pre-nup. She's due to inherit everything now."
I slapped my hand down on the desk. "It's not going to happen."
He raised his eyebrows and gave me another sardonic grin. "And how do you propose to stop it?"
"I..." Suddenly there was a burning sensation in my stomach. Beads of perspiration broke out on my forehead. The wine. I glanced at him. He hadn't touched his glass. "What did you.."
He sat back, steepling his hands before him and looking at me over them. "It'll all be over soon. You'll have a little discomfort but I promise there won't be much time for pain."
"You've poisoned me?"
"There are many ways to kill a man without leaving a trace. The physician concluded Aaron died a natural death. Shows how much he knew. In your case, it won't matter. We never met. No connection to us. We'll be long gone before they find you." He rose, came around the desk and smiled down at me.
I wanted to move, to get at the gun in my jacket pocket. My limbs were leaden. My vision went hazy. I tried to speak. My tongue had gone numb.
He patted me on the shoulder and smiled. "You're not the only one good at tidying up, Mr. Diener."
BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is the author of seven novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online.