“Here he comes now, Regular as clockwork,” one said to the other. The two women in the store craned their necks and looked out across the street to where the old man shuffled along the sidewalk.
“Where does he get them?” one asked.
The other women shrugged. “Search me. But every month he comes in with a fist full or them.”
They continued to watch as the scruffy old man stopped on the roads edge and looked each way. He made to step off then shuffled back as a truck, a bright red Chevy chuggered past. The driver gave the old man wave and the man nodded once in response. Looking to make sure that it was clear, he quickly crossed over. Pausing outside the shop he cupped his hands against the windows and peered inside. The woman had already stepped back away from the window and scampered behind the counter. He gave them a toothy grin, went to the door and rattling the handle, pushed it open and went inside.
“Morning Mr. Bentley,” they both chorused together.
The grin he wore when he came in stretched wider. “Morning ladies, good morning,” he answered brightly. “Lovely day again, isn’t it.”
“Very nice,” one said.
“Gorgeous,” the other one chipped in. “Although I heard it might rain later on.”
He nodded. “Oh well, it’ll be good for the garden.
They both nodded.
“Anything special we can get for you today?” One asked.
His gray eyes sparkled. “No, but thank you anyway. I’ll just poke around and get the usual.” The grin faded a notch. “Well, hang on a minute. Maybe there is something.”
The two women exchanged glances then looked back at him.
“Have you got any caviar?”
Two pairs of eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“No, no I didn’t think so. Silly of me to ask really. It was just a thought.” He looked about him. “It’s all right I’ll just see what you have got.” He grabbed a basket, turned his back on the two women, surveyed the shelves of groceries and then shuffled towards the vegetable display.
One of the women edged closer to the other and whispered into her ear. “Did you hear that? Caviar! Of all the things to be carrying and he asks for caviar.”
The other woman bought her hand up to her mouth and smothered a laugh.
“I wonder how many cans he would have bought if we did have some?” she added.
“Probably half a dozen,” the man said, looking around the corner of the shelves at them. He grinned broadly and then he disappeared.
“Got keen hearing hasn’t he,” one woman said to the other.
“Oh yeah. I’d say he could hear a pin drop.”
Roy Bentley took his time as went along the rows of shelves. He exchanged the basket for a shopping cart. The purchases he was making were too much for the hand basket he had picked up at first. He had carefully selected his fresh vegetables and was now strolling casually along the aisles. When he saw something that appealed to him he plucked it off the shelf, examined the contents and nutritional tables, when satisfied he’d drop it into his cart. By the time he had rounded the corner of the last aisle his cart was full to over flowing. Still grinning, he pushed it up to the register. He watched without comment as his purchases were rung up and placed into plastic bags and then dropped into an adjacent cart.
“That’ll be three hundred and twelve dollars and sixty-one cents,” the woman told him. Gray eyes shining and the toothy grin beaming he pulled a wad of one-hundred dollar bills from his pocket, peeled off four of them and handed them over, sliding the others back into his pocket.
He took his change and then pushed the full cart towards the door. “See you next month ladies.”
“Bye,” they both said.
Half pushing open the door and stopped. “Try and get some caviar next time. Russian if you can get it.”
One of the women said, “We’ll see what we can do for you.”
Roy Bentley nodded. “Thank you.”
He exited noisily and scuttled along the street.
“Like I asked before,” one of the women said, “Where does he get them from?”
“Don’t know, don’t care but he always spends up large whenever he comes in, so don’t complain.”
Both the women smiled and considered the money the old man had spent, secure in the knowledge that he’d be back to do the same next month. All that puzzled them was, as they had previously wondered was, where did he get all his money.
He didn’t work; he was too old for that. And that run down old house that he lived in, the one halfway down Oakley Street, surrounded by trees, with the high back fence, it didn’t look as though a red cent had been spent on that place for years.
That back wall though. It was much higher than usual. Twelve, maybe fifteen feet high. Solid brick. Peggy shook her head. She’d love to know what the reason was at having a house with a wall around its back yard that high.
Jane Puller studied the bills carefully. She’d working at the First Silstone Bank for six years now. She liked her job and the prospects for advancement and promotion looked good. Starting out as a junior teller she had risen steadily through the ranks so that today, she was now head teller and cashier. Yet, in all the time she had been working at the bank she’d never seen anything like this.
Pushing her glasses with her index finger on the metal bridge back up her nose, she looked more closely at the two bills that lay on her desk in front of her.
Two one-hundred dollar bills, crisp, clean, new. Yet the strangest this was, they had exactly the same serial numbers. At first she was convinced that they were forgeries. As routine, she subjected them to all the usual tests, fully expecting the results to confirm her suspicions, yet none of the tests she had carried out told her what her mind said must be true. All the tests came out negative, meaning that the bills were genuine. Impossible, she thought. But there it was.
Drumming her fingers on the desk top, her face etched in concentration. Rising smartly to her feet, she pushed her chair back with her legs and marched out of her office and went straight to her drawer. Pulling it open, she extracted the four one-hundred dollar bills that Peggy Caston had deposited just after lunch. Clutching them tightly, she marched back to her office and closed the door. Spreading them out on the desk, she perused each one closely in turn. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Her gaze swept over the bills and her heart leapt into her mouth. I’m going crazy, she thought. Snatching the up the bills, she looked rapidly at the serial numbers. They were identical to the ones that she had before her. Shaking her head with utter disbelief she sat with her hands pressed in her lap. All the bills were genuine.
She ran a trembling hand through her honey blonde hair, letting her fingers linger as she reached the tips, teasing and toying with the few loose strands that were entwined in her fingers. “This is a total screw up,” she thought as she swept up the bills into her right hand with one motion. Locking the bills into her drawer, she marched out of her office, her high-heels click-clacking on the tiled floor.
“I’m going out for short while,” she called to the receptionist as she passed her while at the same time pushing firmly on the door. Pausing at the top of the stairs she surveyed the scene. Toby Wren, a tall, handsome man who worked at the insurance office, gave her an engaging smile. Jane only half returned his smile, yet she appreciated the gesture all the same. She was attractive and she knew it.
The sun was warm but not too hot. It was the time of year she loved, that period between late summer and early fall. A time when the trees were hinting at changing color and the sky was a glorious blue. There was crispness in the air that invigorated her. If it wasn’t for those damned stupid bills it would be the perfect day.
Marching into the shop, the door opening loudly she looked briefly about her, then walked straight up to the counter. “Ladies, there’s something I need to discuss with you.”
Peggy threw Martha a sideways glance. “Like I said all business and no civility.”
“What?” Jane asked, looking first at one woman, then the other.
“Nothing,” Peggy mumbled.
Jane scrutinized their faces, biting the inside of her bottom lip, then said, “I need to ask you some questions regarding a deposit you made a short time ago.”
“Oh yeah,” Peggy answered, suspiciously. “Nothing wrong, is there?”
Jane hesitated. “Well, yes and no.”
“What kind of an answer is that?”
Jane’s features softened slightly, while her forehead furrowed. “A confusing one I’m afraid.” Pausing, she thought how to begin. How many people came in today and used One hundred dollar bills.
Both women looked as though they had been slapped hard in the face. Martha was the first to speak. “Only one, as a matter-of-fact.”
“Really, who was that?”
Jane spluttered, “That scruffy old tramp which lives in that ramshackle of dump on Oakley Street!” she said incredulously.
Martha nodded. “One and the same.”
Jane snorted. “Where does he get that sort of money?”
Both women shrugged.
“Go and ask him, Peggy muttered.
Jane paused, re-adjusted her glasses, then said, “I’m going to do just that.”
Striding out of the shop, the door clattering behind her, she walked with long strides to her next port of call, the plant shop.
Megan Reynolds was outside watering and arranging houseplants on the display stands.
“Megan,” Jane called out as she approached.
The watering can lurched in her hand as she stood bolt upright. To Megan she felt like she had leapt ten feet into the air. “Jesus, Jane. You ought not to go about scaring people like that. You’ll give some one a heart attack and I don’t want it to be me.”
Jane ignored the shaken woman’s comments. “This morning you deposited two one hundred dollar bills.”
Megan’s face looked blank. “Yes. What of it?”
Jane composed herself. “Do you recall who used them?”
Megan blinked. “Sure I do. Old Roy Bentley, who lives . . . “
“. . .the one on Oakley Street. Yes, I know,” Jane irritably said, finishing the sentence for her. “Thanks,” she muttered, turned on her heel and click-clacked away.
“Such a pretty girl, pity she has such a rude manner,” Megan mumbled as she went back to tending her plants.
Oakley Street was well within walking distance so it didn’t bother her to make the trip on foot. Besides, it gave her the opportunity to think how she might approach Roy with the problem she was faced with. Find out first where Roy got them from and then go from there. After all, in the end it could be a colossal gaff by the treasury department. Her pace slowed. Slowly the corners of her mouth played into a smile. What if the treasury had made a blunder? Those bills would rocket in price far above their face value. She could take them. No one would know. She had been the only one to spot the mistake. She turned into the street where Roy lived and noticed his house was further along that she had thought. Nothing else was anywhere near it. Arriving outside Roy Bentley’s home she stopped and with her hands on her hips stared with incredulity at the sight before her. A rundown dump was what she thought. The wall! And that barbed wire at the top, what was the point of that. The sheer height would deter most people. It looked new as well. Very new in fact. That was a puzzle! People who had walls that high either wanted to keep others out or they had something to hide. Or both, she mused.
Looking sternly across the street at Roy’s home she began to frown. What did the old bastard have that he didn’t want others to see or know about. The wall intrigued her. Smoothing her crisp white blouse, she crossed the street. Halting at the gate she looked with distain at the weed cover path that led to the door. Her new shoes may get ruined if she weren’t careful. Treading carefully, she made her way up to door. Raising her hand to knock she paused, while her gaze took in the badly cracking and peeling gray paint on the door. How could people live like this, she thought sadly? Shaking her head she knocked loud and long and waited.
Moments later the door opened without a squeak, which surprised her. She was expecting it to groan and complain. Roy stood there, erect and beaming, dressed as she had always seen him, scruffily.
Roy’s eyes shone as he took in Jane’s form. “Hello Miss. Puller, this is an unexpected pleasure.”
Jane saw he licked his lips. The man was positively salivating at seeing her. Dirty old fart, she thought. “Mr. Bentley, I need to speak to you on a rather delicate matter.”
The smile faded a few notches. “Oh dear, I haven’t done anything wrong I hope.”
Jane’s face remained impassive. No, I don’t believe you have but I do have some questions for you that I need answer’s to.” She looked him directly in the eye. “May I come in?”
Roy hesitated. “Okay,” and stepping backwards a few paces opened the door wider for her to pass through.
Jane crossed the threshold and she heard the door close behind her. The inside of Roy’s house was immaculate. Tastefully decorated and furnished. She could see the inside of the living room. The latest stereo and television equipment were resting inside what appeared to be an antique cabinet. Plush rugs adorned the hallway and into the living room floors, covering, in part solid polished wood floors. On the wall was a fierce looking crossbow.
Jane stared in awe. This was the last thing she expected. Roy watched her face with amusement, gloating at the expressions that came and went on her face.
“You like it?” he asked, clearly enjoying the moment.
“It’s . . . it’s beautiful,” she stammered.
Roy’s face radiated pleasure. “Take a look around if you like.”
Jane wandered from room to room, Roy trailing behind her. On top of the sumptuous furnishings and décor, Roy commented on different antiques that he had collected over the years, curios from every corner of the globe, yet not too many as to make the place look cluttered. Palms and plants were placed carefully throughout each room giving life to Roy’s home. This was all too much and Jane said so.
“Mr. Bentley, this has got to be the most fabulous home I have ever been in. Looking form the outside, it looks like the whole place will fall down around your ears at any moment.”
Roy giggled. “That’s the whole idea. The building, I can assure you, is perfectly sound. I made sure of that before I started doing all this. The reason I don’t do anything to the outside is I don’t want to encourage any unwelcome visitors. Thieves and burglars and the kind,” he spat.
Jane’s face glowed. All the things she would like to see in a home of her own were here.
He stood there for a few moments watching Jane as she continued to look around her. She noticed a door to a room that she hadn’t seen inside. As she took a step towards it, reaching out with her hand towards the knob, she was suddenly startled when Roy grabbed her wrist firmly and pulled her hand away.
“I’m sorry but you can’t go into that room.” His countenance stern,severe.
She pulled her arm free. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
Roy looked hard at her. The smile was still on his face but his eyes were cold.
Straightening herself she said firmly. “Mr. Bentley. The reason I have come here is that I need to ask you something.
“Let’s go into the living room and sit down while we talk, shall we.’
Resigned to doing things in Roy’s time she agreed.
Roy sat in a chair that was by the large window. Jane seated herself in and easy chair close by. She immediately felt the luxury of the chair as her weight settled into it.
She folded her hands into her lap and asked solidly, “Mr. Bentley, I have to ask you this because something has arisen that concerns me greatly.”
Roy paid close attention to her words, his eyes unblinking.
“I, I mean the bank, has received six one-hundred dollar bills, all bearing the same serial number. When I asked the depositors who had used them at their place of business, they all told me it was you.”
Roy’s face remained impassive.
“Mr. Bentley, do you know anything about those bills?” she asked urgently.
Roy’s eyes diverted from hers and his gaze began to rove around the room. “I might,” he said at length.
Jane bit her bottom lip. “Mr. Bentley, Roy," she asked gently, "where did you get them?”
“I’m not at all sure I want to tell you. You see, it’s very private. Very private indeed!
Jane folded her legs making her skirt ride up her thigh. Roy flashed a glance her legs then just as quickly looked back at her face. Jane clutched the hem of her skirt and pulled it down an inch. She looked intently at the face of the craggy old man. Standing she slowly began to pace around the room, always making sure that she could see Roy out of the corner of her eye.
“Roy,” she said regarding him closely, “those bills that you used, it is highly irregular to have two bills with the same number, in fact I’ve never known it to happen.”
“They are not fakes,” he blurted.
Jane’s face relaxed. “I know that Roy,” she said, walking over to his chair. “But what I desperately need to know is how you came by them.” She crouched in front of him, her gaze holding his. “What would it take for you to tell me where you got those bills from?”
Roy’s face grew redder and his gaze fell into his lap.
His head suddenly jerked up. Jane was caught by surprise and jerking back almost lost her balance.
“Have dinner with me,” he said. “Tonight, come around tonight, around seven. I’ll cook you a meal, we can chat a little, enjoy a glass or two of wine and . . .” his voice trailed off as his eyes flashed with mischief, “I’ll tell you where I got those bills.”
Jane steadied herself on the arms of his chair. Her tongue licked slowly around her lips as she considered his proposal.“Are there any more?” she asked evenly.
“Maybe. Come around tonight and I’ll tell you.”
She sighed. Alright, I’ll come.”
His grin spread wider. “Good.”
Jane got to her feet and taking a pace backwards, held out her hand. “Tonight then.”
“Tonight,” he echoed.
With reservations and misgivings she left Roy’s house and made her way slowly back to the bank.
That afternoon she succeeded in getting the six bills into her pocket book, slipping them into a cashier’s drawer and then cashing a check. Her mind buzzed with the thought of what lay ahead that evening. How many more did Roy have? Five, ten, twenty, a hundred! God, just think what they would be worth!
Jane had dressed conservatively but tastefully for dinner. Looking one last time in her mirror and making sure her hair was in place she left her house satisfied that she looked the part.
Roy was the model host. He had surprised her by cooking a fabulous meal, cordon bleu chicken stuffed with blue cheese. The wine too was perfect. Kiwi fruit cheesecake was the perfect complement for desert washed down with a very good sauterne.
They sat on opposite sides of the Italian marble coffee table that stood on a Persian carpet. Her host was not a stupid man either. He knew why she had come and was determined to draw out the evening for as long as it suited him.
“Brandy?” he asked, holding up a cut glass decanter.
Jane smiled and nodded. Inwardly she sighed.
He poured some of the dark amber liquid into the brandy bulbs and pushed one to her.
“You look positively radiant tonight,” he said.
Jane blushed slightly. The tone of Roy’s voice suggested strongly the complement was genuine but with implication.
“Thank you,” she replied, honestly flattered. She took a sip of her brandy. Her eyes shone as the liquid tantalized her palette and then warmed its way to her stomach when she swallowed. “Mm, this is very good.”
Roy grinned. “I’m glad you like it.”
“You know Roy, you utterly amaze me. To see you in the street it never crossed my mind you had such a beautiful home and courted such magnificent culinary skills. You’re truly a marvel.”
He ignored her comment. “I think it’s time I satisfied your curiosity.”
Jane's heart leapt. “Has it been that obvious?”
“Jane,” Roy said, “please don’t take me for a fool. I know why you agreed to come here tonight. It wasn’t to enjoy my company. You came here for entirely selfish reasons.”
Jane closed her eyes with resignation.
“Oh, it’s all right. I don’t mind in the least. After all, what else were you to think? I’m years older than you, and like any man my age I find younger women very attractive and desirable. And it is with that thought in mind that I decided to invite you here tonight.”
Jane’s stomach lurched. Oh God, he wants me to have sex with him, she thought despairingly.
It was as though Roy could read her thoughts. “Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to sleep with me. I have something far nobler in mind. You see I have a great need, one that will need to be fulfilled very soon. I’m not getting any younger and I know that I will have to pass on my legacy to another.”
Jane’s eyes narrowed a fraction as she tried to capture the point that Roy was trying to get across.
Roy sipped some more of his brandy. “Before I go into details let me show you first part of my secret.”
Jane leapt from her seat as if she were scolded. At last she was going to see what she had come for. Settling her glass on the marble top she moved towards the door.
“You might want to take your brandy with you,” he said disarmingly.
Puzzled, Jane returned to the table and retrieved her glass, then followed Roy, who was waiting for her in the doorway. Slowly he led her along the hall to the door that he had forbid her to go into earlier that day. As he approached he slid a hand into his pocket and withdrew a key. Slipping the key into the lock he turned it full circle and she heard a mechanical click, one that suggest that the lock well made. He pushed the door wide open, stood to one side and motioned for her to enter the room. Jane hesitated at the threshold. The room was completely dark. She looked at Roy with unsure eyes.
“It’s all right,” he reassured her, “there’s nothing inside that will do you any harm.”
Slowly she stepped into the room.
“Keep going,” Roy urged, “I’ll tell you when to stop.
Jane’s knees were trembling.
“Okay, stop right there,” Roy called out to her.
She stopped and turned to face the door that she had come through.
Roy was standing in the doorway but he looked some distance away. Ten, fifteen feet in fact. She saw him raise a hand and suddenly the room was bathed in brilliant light.
Jane’s mouth gapped open as she took in the surroundings. Stacked head high on both sides of her, with only a narrow pathway down the center of the room that she had just a few seconds ago walked through, were piled one-hundred dollar bills.
Jane’s eyes bulged and unconsciously she gulped a mouthful of her brandy. “My God! Roy! Where the hell did you get all this cash?”
Roy stayed silent.
Jane put her glass on the floor and took random bundles of cash and examined them. To her utter amazement they all bore the same serial number. No matter where she took the bundles from, high or low, deep within the stacks or close at hand the result was the same. The numbers were identical.
“It can’t be true, it just can’t be.”
“Oh but it is true,” Roy said as he arrived at her shoulder.
“Where did you get all this money?” she asked incredulously, still comparing bundles of cash.
“Ah,” he purred, “now for me to answer that question you have to answer one for me. It is a simple yes or no answer. Answer yes and I’ll show you. No and you leave here empty handed.”
Jane licked her lips. This changed the entire complexion of things. For all this money she’d do anything. There were millions in this room. Her greed overshadowed her resolve.
“Ready?” He asked.
She nodded. “I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?”
Jane looked as if she had been hit hard between the eyes. Unblinking she said, “Can you repeat that?”
“You heard me clearly. The question was straight forward enough. I want you for my wife.”
Jane’s mind was spinning. This was the last thing she expected. Her gaze wandered lustfully over the piles of cash. Then Roy’s words came clattering back into her whirring mind. Say no and you leave here empty handed. She thought carefully. What was to stop her from saying no, returning later, with a weapon, and bumping off the old man and taking it all?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Roy said. “You’re thinking, I can kill the old fool and have it all. But it won’t do you much good and for the simple reason, that you’re greedy. It doesn’t matter how much money there is in this room, you’ll always want more. Of course, if you do kill me you will certainly have all this and the source where it came from but then, killing me will be like killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The source needs extra special care, without it, it will perish."
Jane had no idea whether Roy was telling the truth or bluffing but it was too bigger risk to take.
“You know, I think those designer glasses that you where are very becoming.”
Jane barely heard the complement. “Hmm, what? Oh, thanks,” she said absently.
Her mind was almost made up. “If I say yes, how much of this money can I have?”
Roy shrugged. “All of it. There is plenty more.”
“I’ll do it.”
Roy nodded with quiet satisfaction “I knew you would. All right, now follow me.”
Roy led her along the rest of the hallway to the back door. Again he slipped a key from his pocket and unlocked the door and went outside. He flicked a light switch as he stepped into the yard. The high wall was clearly visible and now she saw the reason for its unusual height. In the center of the yard, with nothing else around at all, standing about the size of an apple tree stood a tree, yet its leaves were unfamiliar to her. Roy ushered her closer to the strange tree. When the branches were close enough to touch he motioned for her to stop.
Jane looked bemused.
“Pick a leaf,” Roy said.
“Pick a leaf, any leaf.”
Jane looked closely at the tree then back at Roy, then at the tree again. The leaves were odd looking, almost like they were not uniform in color. Shrugging, she selected a leaf that looked like it was ready to open and reaching up with her free hand pulled the leaf from the branch. The whole tree shook slightly from the force she exerted.
“Now unfold it.”
Jane slid Roy a sideways glance and obeyed. As she did so, her eyes widened and her mouth fell open as she recognized the unmistakable shape, size and color of a One-hundred dollar bill, crisp as if it had come fresh off the press. “Good grief!” she exclaimed, “It’s a money tree!”
Roy beamed. “Yes and it stays in leaf all year round, providing of course that it get proper care.”
Jane’s eyes were out on stalks. “And what is this special care?”
Roy laughed loudly. “Oh come, come. Do you really expect me to tell you that?”
Already Jane’s mind was swimming with the thought of all that cash and what she was going to spend it all on. The finest clothes: trips overseas. She started to giggle and very soon burst into outright laughter.
“How the hell did you come by this thing?” she asked, wiping tears from her eyes.
Roy didn’t look at her directly. “It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that it’s here and it’s mine.”
“Ours,” she corrected him.
He smiled thinly. “Until we’re married, it’s mine.”
Jane flushed a little. The rebuke stung like a wasp. Driven by the rebuttal and her latent greed, her resolve did a u-turn. She wasn’t going to marry the old fool after all. Instead she decided to do what had flashed through her mind earlier, kill him.
The evening had come to an abrupt end once the episode with the tree had been revealed. He had made her swear to secrecy and forced her to promise marry him before the end of the month.
In the darkness of her bedroom, she laid face down, her arms folded under her head and with her eyes wide open, schemed and plotted on how to get rid of the old man while leaving her beyond suspicion. In the early hours a satisfied smile spread from the corners of her mouth until her entire face was beaming. Tomorrow she would lay the foundation for securing her future. Closing her eyes, her mind settled, she let herself fall into a satisfied sleep.
The next morning she dressed in a business suit that she knew would attract attention. Walking past his office, she slowed, almost to a stop and peered through his window. She saw him look up and he did a double take as he recognized her. Stopping she faced him and beckoned him to the door. Toby practically sprinted across the office, a chair spinning as he rushed past in his haste to get to the doorway. Opening the door he stuck his head out.
“Toby,” she gushed, “I was hoping to see you. How about lunch today?"
Toby stuttered and blathered like an idiot. “Sure,” was all he could come out with.
“Shall we say one o’clock?”
Toby responded with an enthusiastic nod of his head.
Jane grinned broadly. “Good. Drop by the bank and we’ll head off together.
Her plan was simple. All he had to do was to kill Roy Bentley and she’d promise to marry Toby. Why did she want Roy dead, was the question that was bound to be asked? Easy! The old man had property that was worth a greatdeal of money and that as he had no living relatives, when he died, the government would snap it all up. She would provide Toby with his alibi when the police investigated Roy's death. He used the house as collateral for a loan he had negotiated, and that they, or rather she, would take over the title of the house and contents on the event of his death.
During that morning she had drawn up the bogus papers, forged his signature and initials at the appropriate clauses and sat back in her chair feeling like the cat that had just swallowed the canary.
At precisely one o’clock Toby tapped on the glass of her office door, leering like a schoolboy. She looked up from her desk and gave him a warm, alluring smile and rose from behind her desk. Walking to the door, she opened it and said softly, “Toby darling. Thanks for being so prompt. Let me get my pocket book.”
Side-by-side they walked and as they neared the restaurant she took his arm. Toby felt a rush of excitement at her touch.
When that were seated at their table it was Jane who initiated the conversation topics, kept the subject rolling and did her best to put him at ease. While they sipped their coffee Jane let her gaze rest on Toby’s eyes. She kept it there, looking and searching, all the time taking slow deliberate sips from the rim of her cup.
Toby gazed back, not speaking. It was like he was mesmerized.
The time had come. There was the possibility of him rejecting her proposal, that was until she had discovered that he had a loan with the bank for a very expensive sports car and that he had missed a few payments and was struggling to catch up. One word from her and the bank would repossess. It was the ace up her sleeve.
“Toby,” she began, slowly, deliberately, “What is your impression of me?”
Toby’s expression was one of shock. This was his big chance, if he didn’t come out and say what he really felt right now, another opportunity might never again present itself. “I thought it was fairly obvious,” he said softly, “I think you’re the most incredible woman I’ve ever known. You are, at least I think so, a stunningly attractive and very desirable woman. I’ve admired you for months. For so long I’ve wanted to ask you out but never have . . .”
“Why is that?” she cut in.
Toby gulped some coffee. “I always got the impression that you weren’t interested in me, that somehow I wasn’t good enough.”
Toby was watching her face intently, taking in every word that her full lipped mouth was uttering.
“Perhaps we can get together tonight and have supper.”
Toby’s heart skipped a beat. “Sure,” he blurted.
“My place, say around seven thirty?” she asked.
Slowly she dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “Good.”
He hesitated before asking, “Shall I bring anything?”
Jane smiled. It was a smile that promised him the moon and all the riches of the Earth in one breath. "No," she whispered.
The evening was everything that he had hoped it. He was stunned beyond words when after supper, Jane had led him by the hand to her bedroom and closing the door asked him to make love to her.
Afterwards, when she lay resting her head on him, her fingers trailing through the hairs on his chest that she asked him quietly. “Is there anything that you would do for me?”
“I would move heaven and earth if you asked me to,” he replied stroking her hair.
Jane struck like a fisherman after a prize trout. “There is something I want you to do but I’m afraid to ask it.”
“Hey, come on, say it. I’ve said I’d do anything for you.”
Lifting herself onto one elbow she studied his face. “You know, I believe you would. But this is serious, very serious and I’m not sure I should even be thinking it, let alone asking it.”
Lifting a hand he softly stroked her cheek. “How many more times do I need to say it. I’m desperately in love with you."
Jane let her gaze drop and biting her lip went to speak but caught her breath. “I want you to . . . No, I can’t say it.”
Toby’s expression became serious. “Jane, I love you and I’d do anything to keep you and make you happy.”
She shook her head. “Toby, I can’t. This is too serious. It’s too dangerous. I can’t ask you to do it. I simply can’t.”
Toby clasped her hand and held close to his face. “Jane, ask me, I won’t turn you down.”
She raised her gaze and looked into his eyes. “I want you to kill Roy Bentley.”
Toby’s face went pale. Murder was the furthest thing from his mind and suddenly it lurked in all the shadows of her room. “Why,” was the only word he spoke and even then the word wasn’t much louder than a whisper.
Jane played the performance of her life as she detailed her plan to Toby. Toby, for his part, was totally sucked in. As Jane talked, giving details and reasons as to why Roy Bentley must die, she could see in Toby’s face that he was buying every word. Her argument was sound and her explanations assured. She said she would provide the concrete alibi to cover his part of the scheme and then she would become his wife. Her plan seemed flawless.
To think of killing a man was one thing. To carry out the act was something quite different.
The next morning was passing quickly and Jane got the shock of her life when Roy appeared in the doorway of her office.
“Roy,” she beamed, getting up from her desk. “It’s lovely to see you.”
Roy smiled but it was a veiled offering, one lacking the usual warmth. “I understand you spent the evening and the night with Toby Wren and that you had lunch with him yesterday.”
Jane slowly sat back in her chair. “Yes, yes I did. Is that a problem?”
Roy entered the office and closed the door. “I think it could be if the reasons that you are about to give me aren’t satisfactory.”
Jane ran the tip of her tongue around her lips as she contemplated her answer. “Roy,” she started slowly, “Toby and I have been intimate for a few weeks and in view of our arrangement it was my way of telling Toby that it was over between us. I wanted us to break up quickly but Toby was upset. Also at lunch I had to discuss some bank business with him. He had taken out a loan with the bank and was close to defaulting, which meant that we would have to foreclose on his property. I was talking it over with him during lunch to see what arrangements we could come to so that he would not be publicly embarrassed.”
He nodded his understanding. “You know, I convinced myself that there had to be a logical explanation as to why you had done what you did. I needed to be reassured.”
No sooner than Roy was out of the office and clear from sight, Jane snatched up the phone and stabbed the buttons. Toby answered at the second ring.
“It’s me,” she said. “Have you decided how you’re going to do it?”
“I have a gun,” he whispered back into the receiver. Just tell me when and I’ll do it.”
“Give me a couple of days,” she said quietly back at him. “I want you to make it look like a burglary that has gone wrong, that he has disturbed you and you shot him while escaping. When the police begin investigations they routinely ask where you were when he was killed, that’s when you say you were with me. I’ll corroborate your entire story.”
“Why should they question me?” he asked, panic suddenly rising in his voice.
“Toby, this is a very small town. They’ll ask everyone. If we stick together, everything will be okay.”
He agreed with her plan and rested the receiver back down.
Three days before her intended wedding to Roy she called Toby. “Tonight, it has to be tonight.”
He breathed heavily down the phone. “Okay. Tell me, what exactly do you want me to do?”
“At precisely eight o’clock I want you to come to the bank and in the parking lot behind the building you’ll see a white truck. The keys will be under the seat. Get in and drive it to Roy’s house, and park it right outside.”
“Isn’t that a bit obvious?’
“It won’t matter, there aren’t any other houses for a couple of blocks and no one will notice it there.”
“But a truck, why do I need to use a truck?” he argued.
“Just do it,” she snapped at him.
He fell silent for a moment then said, “All right. Then what?"
"Wait a few minutes, get out of the truck and without looking at the house lift the hood and pretend that you’re poking around at the engine, as if it has broken down.”
Toby was puzzled. “Why?”
Jane closed her eyes. “Roy will be looking out of the window, and he’ll see you doing what I just said. He’ll assume you’ve broken and he won’t get suspicious. Then you’ll look up and down the street, still avoiding looking at the house and then you’ll make your way back into town on foot. He’ll think you that you’re going to get help.”
“Okay, I got it so far.”
“Fine. Then at eleven-thirty you’ll go back, force your way into the house, I don’t care what method you use, just get inside. When you’ve accomplished that, kill him. Ransack the living room and the bedroom, making it look like a robbery gone wrong. Don’t bother with the other rooms, there’s nothing in them, they’re just empty. After that, leave. Don’t worry about the truck; I’ll take care of it.”
In the evening Toby carried out Jane’s instructions to the letter. However, just as he was about the leave the ‘abandoned’ truck Roy’s front door opened.
“Hey!” he called. “Hey! You there!”
Toby ignored the calls.
Roy left the house and walked down the path to the front gate. He called out again.
This time Toby stopped and turned. Roy was leaning over the gate calling and beckoning him. He might as well kill him now, if the chance arose. He walked back to where Roy was standing.
“Got a bit of trouble?” Roy asked.
Toby shrugged. “Yeah, the truck’s broken down.”
“It’s not yours, is it Toby?”
Toby looked away. “Nah, it belongs to a friend of mine but the damn thing has broken down. He told me he was having trouble with it, that if it stopped then I should give him a call.”
Roy regarded Toby the said. “Well, why don’t you come into the house and use my phone?”
“Well great,” he smiled, that’ll be real good. Thanks.”
Roy led the way back to the house. “It’s really tough luck that you broke down, just like that.”
“Yeah,” Toby agreed.
Roy turned his head and grinned. “Ah well, not too worry. Call your friend and get him to come and get you.”
He guided Toby into the living room.
“The phone is over there,” Roy said, pointing to a small antique table in the far corner.
Toby smiled his thanks. When he got to where Roy had directed him he saw there was no phone there. “I’m sorry,” he said turning around, “I thought you . . . ”
As soon as he was fully facing Roy, Toby’s eyes bulged in horror. Roy was standing in the center of the room the crossbow that had been displayed on the wall, firmly in his grip and leveled at Toby’s chest.
“Hey, man,” Toby began. “Is this some kind of a joke?”
Roy beamed. “No but if it were, then the joke is certainly on you.”
Before Toby could move a muscle, Roy squeezed the trigger and there was a loud thwack as the mechanism was released and the quarrel flew across the room and struck Toby’s chest, piercing his heart. Toby stood for a moment, his eyes unblinking, then his legs buckled and he fell dead to the floor.
Roy crossed the room and gave Toby a kick. He didn’t move, his eyes staring into nothing. Satisfied, he pulled the arrow from Toby’s body and going into the kitchen washed it thoroughly under the cold water tap, after drying it he returned to the living room and replaced the bow on the wall and fitted the quarrel back in position. Then he dragged Toby’s body to the back door and out into the yard. Whistling, he looked longingly at the tree with its strange green-white leaves then went back into the house and called Jane.
“I need you to come over right away,” he said to her. “I have something to show you.” Then he hung up.
Fifteen minutes Jane was knocking on is door. Opening it Roy beamed. “Ah there you are my sweet.”
Puzzled she followed him inside but instead of going into the living room he strode straight past the door way and went to the back of the house. Jane followed.
“Roy,” she asked, “what’s this all about. You call me out of the blue and demand that I come right over. There must be an explanation?”
Roy was positively flushed. “There is. You recall I said the tree needed special treatment to keep flowering?”
She nodded. “Yes but . . .”
“Well, I’ve decided to let you in on the little secret earlier than I anticipated. You
see, I know about you little plan with Toby Wren but of course me being much smarter I’ve been able to thwart your clever scheme.”
Jane’s countenance paled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about”
“Yes you do,” he snarled. “You were going to have that stupid fool kill me. Then the tree and the money would be all yours. But of course you were overlooking one thing, the special treatment. Without it the tree would soon whither and die.”
Jane felt her knees weaken and she grabbed the bench-top for support. “How did you find out?”
“One of the simplest ways ever. I wanted to make sure that my investment, you, was going to be loyal and true so I had your phone tapped. It’s quite incredible what can be done with money and what people will do for it. I have tape recordings of your conversations with that useless boyfriend of yours.”
He opened the back door and gestured her to go outside. When they reached the yard she saw that the soil around the base of the tree had been dug up.
“Come see what I have to show you. Dreading what was waiting in the trench that Roy had dug she walked slowly and with uncertain steps over the lawn. Reaching the edge, she peered in. she let out a gasp and turned her head away. Lying at the bottom of the trench was Toby’s naked body his skin had been lacerated all over and the open wounds were red and bloody.
“Now you know what the secret formula is that keeps the tree blooming. It’s blood. Any blood will do but human blood is especially nutritious and tonight it will get a double dose.”
She turned her face towards him, her features contorted with distress. “How could you?” she said, starting to cry.
“I had to. You left me no choice.” Roy walked behind her and closed in on her trembling body until he was almost touching her. He could feel her shaking. “You know, it is such a waste. You’re a beautiful and attractive woman. You wanted to have the tree, well, you can’t have it. Instead, you can help feed it.” Roy raised Toby’s gun to her back, pressed it hard against her and squeezed the trigger. The shot sounded like and fire cracker and Jane lifeless body fell into the pit. Roy jumping and cut her flesh as he had done Toby’s then covered the bodies over with the fine soil. When he finished, beads o sweat trailing down his face he looked at the tree and gently stroked some of its leaves. “There you are my pet,” he said smilingly, that should keep you going for an awful long time.” Resting the spade on his shoulder he went whistling back into the house.