By Marco Etheridge
I am the second Mrs. Roberts. There will not be a third. Waste no time with mourning. Mr. Roberts was not a nice man.
The first Mrs. Roberts is no more. She ceased to be in the fourth year of her marriage to Mr. Roberts. He killed her. Her murder was not a crime of passion. It was a mercenary act. The first Mrs. Roberts had more money than cleverness. Mr. Roberts relieved her of both when he took her silly life.
No one was supposed to know. The first spouse, being dead, remained silent, as did her still-living widower. Murder for money is best not advertised. Loose lips sink more than ships. A key point for you to remember. Remain silent, always, ever. The braggart ends up behind bars.
If all concerned remained silent, how did I know? A valid question.
Death creates paperwork, even a death erroneously believed to be accidental. The last will and testament of the deceased, probate documents, insurance disbursements, and more.
Documents create a paper trail that slithers over any number of desks. One of those desks would be mine.
To the discerning eye, certain words leap from a smokescreen of legalese. Words such as inheritance, behest, or death benefit acquire special meaning when coupled with the phrase dead spouse. I pay attention. I see what others don’t. Details matter.
Thus a few words became suspicion, and suspicions can be verified. A new bride with a lovely inheritance from her rich grandmother. An eager husband who extolls the benefits of mutual life insurance policies. Ah, and the patient period of waiting, the sign of a clever predator. When you know what to look for, the jigsaw pieces fall into place.
Believing yourself to be unique is a trap. No matter how clever the action, someone else has already thought of it. Whatever crime you are about to commit has already been perpetrated many times. Repetition produces recognizable patterns. Patterns are road signs for the observant.
Police detectives seek out patterns. They abhor random crimes because crimes without patterns are difficult to solve. Investigators look for means, motive, and opportunity. Thus, the maxim about killing your spouse or torching your own business. The maxim states that you cannot get away with either crime because you are the number one suspect. True as far as it goes, but not absolute.
Mister Roberts did kill his spouse, the naïve and formerly wealthy Janet Roberts, nee Quentin. He was the obvious suspect. He knew it and the police knew it. But his wife’s death was so freakishly stupid. The poor woman all alone in their large home, falling and breaking her neck.
The authorities telephoned Mr. Roberts at his hotel. The police report stated that the husband was emotionally distraught upon receiving the news, so upset he required sedation. I wonder if champagne counts as a sedative.
After the murder comes the waiting. You must not panic, and you cannot flee. Keep your grief close at hand, your story concise, and stick to the plan. Waiting is hard, but you must wait.
Being a successful predator requires patience. Mr. Roberts was a patient man. I’ll give him that. He waited two years, the amount of time it took for the last of his dead wife’s dollars to settle into his accounts.
I am patient as well. When the widower finally overcame his faux grieving, I made sure his path would cross mine. Every Bluebeard deserves his Black Widow.
On the surface, we were a good match. Everyone said so. He on his way to becoming wealthy, still handsome before middle age took too much of a toll. Me young and doe-eyed, unspoiled and untempered. To his eyes, a pretty toy to be played with before he dealt another fatal blow.
I seduced him by slow steps, all the while letting him think he was leading the way. The path led to his well-appointed bedroom, where I broadened his horizons in ways that left him crying for more. Sex is power. Never doubt it. Judging my new prey’s response, the first Mrs. Roberts was powerless.
Our wedding was small but sumptuous. The honeymoon was exotic and expensive. He footed the bill for both.
Returning to our new life at his lakeside home, two clocks began ticking, each marking the other’s mortal coil. I alone knew the rhythm of both. I kept my newlywed husband very busy and very happy in our bed, thus extending my allotted time.
Mr. Roberts was happy and sated, but not enough to make him abandon his plans altogether. A year into our marriage, he proposed we take out mutual life insurance policies. Being the good, acquiescent wife, I agreed. Whatever my husband thought best. He smiled and contacted his insurance agent. I smiled and set my plans into motion.
It is important to understand that life and death follow a series of rules. You must be aware of these rules in order to follow them. Following these rules will keep you out of prison. For example, to collect a life insurance payout, there must be a body. The dead body cannot be full of poison. Poisons are easily traced and will lead back to you. The beneficiary and the murderer cannot appear to be one and the same. This goes against the rules.
Following the same set of rules, you must not kill your spouse with your own hand, no matter how much you might desire to do just that. Murder attracts attention, and spilled blood is easy to detect. Even the slowest detective knows enough to light up bloodstains with luminol. Old blood turns bright blue, and that blue light will put you behind bars. Violence leaves evidence, and evidence is not healthy for those who wish to become wealthy.
No, it is an accident you want.
Accidents are lovely things. They appear to be random, the cruel hand of fate striking without reason. Not so. Accidents are predictable, the culmination of a series of events, actions, and mistakes. Hindsight transforms the random hand of fate into a causal chain that is logical and verifiable. The trick lies in being the person who forges the casual chain without appearing to do so.
There are other factors you must keep in mind. A man killing his wife is not news. A wife killing her husband, however, will make the headlines. There is no justice in this, but it is so. Think dog bites man versus man bites dog. You will be under more scrutiny than a man who commits the same crime.
As our happy marriage unfolded, I began to set the chain of events into motion.
I warned him about that boat, and I made certain that others heard my warnings. Of course, I was also responsible for the lovely full-color flyers of vintage motorboats that appeared in our mailbox.
A beautiful, polished mahogany speedboat, the perfect toy for a newly wealthy man eager to show off his spoils. Mr. Roberts could jet away from our lakeside dock, the boat’s expensive hull carving an impressive wake on the mirrored surface of the lake. And pushing that slender craft across the water, the throbbing power of a small-block V-8 engine.
Mr. Roberts bought the boat, and the causal chain began to take shape.
I forged another link using ineptness rather than action. Through a series of staged misadventures and deliberately broken do-dads, I made it quite clear that I was a mechanical klutz. My helplessness became the subject of dinner party conversation, wine glasses raised in jest. To my wife, an amazing woman, so beautiful, but she can’t change a lightbulb without my help.
He never knew the truth because I never let him know.
A decade and more ago, while my skinny adolescent body morphed into a curvy teenager, I hunched under the hood of whatever junker my stepfather was bringing back from the dead. I spent many a long hot afternoon with a wrench in my hand while that lecherous bastard pressed himself up against me.
When he wasn’t teaching me about carbs and fuel lines, the old goat tried to corner me in the tool shed or out beyond the tree line. My mama might have killed him if she’d known, but she spent most of her day sprawled on a ratty sofa in the trailer house, dead drunk and snoring.
By the time I turned seventeen, I twirled a wrench better than any boy I knew. Better than my stepfather, that’s for sure. His wrenching slowed down after that engine hoist failed. It’s the damnedest thing, a big-block Chevy engine falling on a human arm. Crushes the bones beyond healing. A regular tragedy. All the neighbors said so.
Two things to consider: Your past is your own, and silence is golden. One peril of cleverness is the urge to have your cleverness recognized. Never give in to this temptation. Act alone. Tell no one. Let your husband believe that you are a bumbling fool.
I set my plan in motion, one calculated move at a time. I knew that Mr. Roberts had schemes of his own. Think of it as two chess games being played with the opponents locked in separate rooms and playing on two different boards. But I held the advantage. Of the two of us, only I knew that both games were in play. One would end before the other.
Some game pieces I had at hand. Others needed acquiring. Careless purchases leave a trail. Do your shopping out of town. Pay cash. Have nothing delivered. You must be aware of every detail.
The individual items seemed harmless enough when purchased piecemeal from different suppliers, one part at a time. Two digital timers, a fuel valve, a venturi and jet from an old carburetor, and a simple igniter. Assembled into a functioning whole, however, the sum of the parts told a fatal story.
Remember this: Be slow in planning and swift in execution. Risk and reward hang in the balance, as do your life and freedom. Now, the circumstances were laid and joined together. The deed only waited on the moment.
The moment came on a Friday morning. Mr. Roberts was at his office, playing with his money as if he knew what he was doing. His new toy floated at our dock, moored and unattended. The lake lay under a thick blanket of morning fog.
I exited our house dressed in my gardening togs. Our security cameras recorded a black-and-white video to prove it. I entered our gardening shed and dressed myself in workman’s coveralls, my breasts strapped down tight, hair knotted under a ball cap. Even disguised, I took great pains to ensure I was not observed. I knew my neighbors’ schedules and habits. Timing is everything.
Thirty minutes later, it was done. I returned to the house with a basket of cut flowers, a happy housewife smiling for the cameras.
That Friday evening was memorable only for me because I knew it would be the last. The compliant wife, I did everything in my power to guarantee my husband’s contentment, including a wild finale in the bedroom, one he would have savored if he had lived long enough to savor anything.
Saturday dawned bright and clear, though we were not awake to see the sunrise. I cooked him his favorite breakfast. We ate on the deck. Below the sloping lawn, the lake stretched away, flat and calm as a mirror. Mr. Roberts suggested a boat ride, but I pleaded a headache. One too many drinks the night before. He shrugged off my refusal, not really wanting me along to begin with. The boat was his toy, not ours.
I busied myself cleaning the kitchen. As I loaded the dishwasher, I heard the boat motor thunder to life. I did not look out the window. Every action was choreographed for the security camera mounted in the corner. My performance had to be perfect.
My body acted out a role in the kitchen, but my mind floated in the hidden recesses of the engine compartment. I felt the boat idle away from the dock, then the powerful surge as Mr. Roberts opened the throttle. Fuel flowed to the engine, and the boat cut across the mirrored surface of the lake.
Back in the kitchen, I scraped stubborn egg yolk from our good china.
Mr. Roberts loved that boat, and he loved to make it roar. He gave it more throttle, and the big V-8 engine reached the magic threshold. An RPM sensor tripped two digital timers. A valve opened. Gasoline pumped through a venturi, filling the engine compartment with fine, highly combustible vapor. The second timer ticked away Mr. Roberts’ last moments. Then the igniter fired.
The first explosion sounded like the soft whomp of a gas oven being lit. Distance and the double-paned kitchen window muffled the sound of the blast. A heartbeat later, a second explosion echoed over the lake as the boat’s fuel tanks exploded, incinerating the boat and everything aboard.
I snapped my head up to stare out the kitchen window, then dropped the plate I was holding and screamed. You can see it on the security cameras, a distraught woman becoming hysterical, weeping, then falling to the floor. A very convincing performance, if I may say so. I gratify myself imagining the police detectives watching the video, rewinding it, and watching it again.
As I mentioned before after the murder comes the waiting. I did not panic, and I did not flee. I wore my grief like a mask, my story was concise, and I stuck to the plan. Waiting is hard, but a skilled predator knows how to abide with patience. And I am nothing if not a predator.
My patience bears fruit in its own good time. The death of Mr. Roberts has been ruled a tragic accident, and one that might have been prevented. If blower motors had been installed to ventilate the engine compartment, the fatal accident might have been averted. A common peril of vintage runabouts.
Meanwhile, the insurance company is grinding its begrudging path to issuing my settlement. The police suspect, of course, but they are plodding at best, and lack imagination.
Only a bit more waiting, and the story will come to an end. I will mourn, of course, for mourning is required. There will be no rushing off on an exotic vacation. I drag myself around the empty house, let myself go, forget to eat. Our married friends drop by to offer their condolences. They see that I am grief-stricken and tell others. Appearances are everything.
You may remember me saying that silence is golden. Act alone. Tell no one. Then why am I telling you my story? The answer is simple. I’m not. I’ve written these words to silence myself. Now it is done. The match scrapes, and the flame flares to life. I hold the flame to the corner of these pages, and they ignite. The fire burns away my words, licks the paper to curling ashes. The story has ceased to exist.
I am the widow Roberts, but you need not waste your time with mourning.
Bio: Marco Etheridge is a writer of prose, an occasional playwright, and a part-time poet. He lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His work has been featured in more than seventy reviews and journals across Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA. Marco’s volume of collected flash fiction, “Broken Luggage,” is available worldwide. When he isn’t crafting stories, Marco is a contributing editor and layout grunt for a new ‘Zine called Hotch Potch.
He can be found on his website.