Family Matters

fiction by Glynis Scrivens

Family Matters

Illustration: Liz Argall

I didn’t really expect Anne to go through with it. It’s one thing to talk about killing your husband. Quite another to do it.

There’s no doubt he had it coming to him. He’d been impossible to live with. I should know. He was my kid brother. The bane of my life until he got married. Magnus turned bad living habits into an art form. Put him near a bar and there was bound to be trouble. He’d served time for some of the things he’d got up to while under the influence of a beer or 10. And all he’d managed to learn while he was inside was how to get into even worse trouble. He’d also acquired a gambling habit. He’d place a bet on a grasshopper race if it was on offer. And not hesitate to write I.O.U.s he’d never be able to repay.

It was easy to understand why Anne had run out of patience.

Still, I’d miss him. Blood’s thicker than water, and all that.

“How did you manage to make it look like suicide?” I asked.

Had Magnus told her this himself, I wondered? That was the sort of advice he spouted from time to time. Too often when there were kids around, or gentle older folk. We assumed he’d heard it in prison, but who knows? He didn’t keep very nice company at the best of times. Me and Anne excepted, of course.

Anne sipped her chardonnay. We were sitting in the local pub. There was a private courtyard area, so we didn’t have to worry about being overheard.

“I knew there had to be a note left behind,” she said. “Something handwritten that contains an explanation and a goodbye.” There was a faraway look in her eyes. Had she looked like this when she’d…?

I wouldn’t allow my mind to go there.

“You mean Magnus actually wrote the suicide note himself?” I asked. This was hard to believe. I’d assumed Anne must’ve forged it.

She nodded, seemingly miles away. Perhaps murdering someone did this to you? Put you in limbo so you were no longer part of everyday reality?

“But Magnus wouldn’t have done that,” I protested. “That’s out of character.”

Had she held a gun to his head, I wondered? But even under those circumstances, I couldn’t imagine him doing it.

She looked me fairly in the eyes. I felt a shiver travel from my neck vertebrae down to my tail, rattling all the way. This was a new side to Anne. Something terrible that Magnus had unleashed. We’d let her reach breaking point, and were experiencing the results.

“It didn’t matter if he meant it or not, just that he wrote something that would convince the police.”

Her words chilled me. They also aroused memories of murder mysteries I’d watched on TV involving these notes. Sometimes there’d be a letter and the murderer would’ve torn off the “Dear somebody” part, or the address or something. And perhaps the date as well. So it meant something different when it was found. Had Anne done this? Looking at her now, she seemed capable of it.

“How did you manage that?” I asked. She’d got me curious now. Perhaps I’d joined her in this weird time warp she inhabited?

She smiled. I could’ve sworn she looked pleased with herself. She had that I’ve-done-something-clever look. The sort goody-goodies used to get at school when they got top marks in a math test.

“We played a game of Clue,” she said at last. “You know, Professor Plum in the kitchen with a lead pipe. That sort of stuff. I told Magnus it’d be fun to act it out.”

“That doesn’t explain why he’d write a note.”

“I knew he was getting bored. He always hated having to keep rules. Even in a board game.” She paused. “I wasn’t surprised when he tried to cheat.”

“And?”

“Cheats don’t prosper,” she blurted out.

After this chilling conversation I’m not really sure why I accepted her invitation to dinner and a game of Clue.

Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, I reasoned. And I was curious. I needed to know exactly what had happened to Magnus and why nothing was done about it. How had Anne managed to convince the police of her innocence? And that Magnus hadn’t been murdered by “person or persons unknown,” as they say in the murder mysteries on TV.

So I turned up at my brother’s bungalow the following night armed with a bottle of merlot and an overactive imagination.

She’d roasted a duck and made blueberry cheesecake for dessert. I hadn’t expected such a lavish meal. Was she celebrating her new freedom, I wondered? Dinner parties had been few and far between, what with his unpredictable behavior and everything. But it didn’t feel right to be here in these circumstances.

After coffee Anne produced the game of Clue.

“The easiest way to show you what happened would be if I pretend to be Magnus,” she began. “We’ll act it out.”

This was becoming weird. But it was fascinating. And something made me agree.

As I watched, she slurred her voice and put on Magnus’s denim jacket. “I’m sick of this game. I never win.”

I could certainly imagine him saying that. He’d been the same when we were kids.

She shuffled through the game cards. “Silly game; it’s all murder,” she said, in Magnus’s tones.

“What if someone committed suicide and it had nothing to do with Mrs. Peacock or Professor Plum or any of these suspects?”

I sat forward in my chair, absorbed.

She looked at me expectantly, willing me to join in. So I tried to pretend I was Anne and to speak in her Midwest accent. “You’d have to write a note, and leave it somewhere the police would find it,” I said.

There was a nod. “Give me a pen and paper.”

I handed over a pen. As I watched, unable to speak, the words were written. Different ones this time, of course. Out of respect for my feelings. But just as clear in their meaning. Anne read the letter out to me, slurring her voice to imitate Magnus. “That should convince them,” she said.

“What happens next?” I asked. “Where are the weapons?”

Silently a rope, a revolver, and a lead pipe were produced. They’d been hidden behind books on the bookcase. No wonder they hadn’t been discovered. Who’d think to look behind a huge dictionary for a gun? I couldn’t help wondering how long Anne had been planning this. She seemed awfully well prepared.

My hands felt cold and clammy.

This had been a trap, cleverly set. And Magnus had been too drunk and too trusting to realize.

Had I made the same mistake?

Was I to be her next victim?

Maybe Anne had developed a taste for murder? The once-is-not-enough mania I’d read about. Would she end up as a serial killer?

But she looked innocent enough as she handed me the revolver. “It’s even loaded,” she said. “And the rope is thick enough to use. Everything’s real.”

This was too much for me. Something inside me snapped.

As she said the word “real,” I pulled the trigger. She had a look of utter disbelief in her eyes as she slumped forward. Dead.

It wasn’t hard to wipe away my fingerprints and put the weapon in her hand.

The note was still on the table.

In her own handwriting.

There was no need to feign shock as I phoned the emergency services.

“My sister-in-law just shot herself,” I told the police when they arrived. “She hasn’t been the same since her husband took his life last weekend.”

One of them made me a cup of tea.

“She couldn’t bear being in the house on her own,” I said. “That’s why I joined her for dinner this evening.”

The older policeman had attended the original death and nodded. “Yes, she seemed distressed,” he said. “But why would she play Clue after what happened?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “I’d gone to the bathroom, and ran back when I heard the shot.”

It took a while for the scene of crime officers to do their work. But just as last weekend, the handwritten note paved the way to a “case closed.”

It was around midnight when the older policeman offered to drive me home. “This has been quite an ordeal for you,” he said. There was a note of sympathy in his voice.

As I washed off my makeup in my own bathroom, I looked at my eyes. Had they changed? Did they have that chilling faraway look?

Not that I could tell.

I felt relieved as I lay down in bed. I didn’t blame Anne for what she’d done. But I couldn’t let her get away with it, could I? After all, he was my kid brother. And you know what they say. Blood’s thicker than water.

 
Glynis Scrivens writes short stories and has been published in Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa, U.S., India, and Scandinavia. Her book Edit is a Four-Letter Word includes what she has learned in the process (see www.glynisscrivens.com).

This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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