The impact of the bullet dropped Stanfield Margason to his knees. He clutched his chest and gasped, “You!” On his knees, he squinted up in surprise at the man dressed in a black tee shirt, black jeans, and shoes covered by hospital slippers. “What the hell are you doing?”
The second and third shots missed as the pistol recoiled slightly, the bullets shattering panes in a large glass window. But the fourth and fifth shots hit Stanfield in the lower chest and abdomen. He fell slowly backward, his head bouncing on the carpeted floor. As he lay sprawled on his back, his eyes fixed in a sightless stare toward the ceiling, his blood bubbled out in odd geometric shapes from the three gaping holes.
Half an hour earlier, Stanfield had eaten dinner with his estranged wife, wealthy heiress Cathy Willock, in the dining room of the Aster Road mansion in which he once lived with her. After the meal she had invited him to his favorite room, the library, where hundreds of books filled the bookshelves. “We can have an after-dinner drink and sign the divorce papers.
“Finally. So that’s why you invited me. You know I shouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t worry about that Order of Protection. It was merely a piece of paper. I had my lawyer draw up the agreement to include maintenance of ten thousand dollars a month you wanted. Until you get your inheritance.”
As they entered the library, Cathy walked quickly to the bar at the far end of the room. She muttered to herself, “I need that drink.” She poured two ounces of Glenfiddich single malt in a tumbler.
Stanfield had stopped in front of the floor-to-ceiling window and looked out over the twinkling lights of Phoenix. He had turned when he heard a sound behind him of books falling from a shelf, surprised by the sneering man in black wearing socks but no shoes. In his gloved hand he held a Czech 9 mm Luger. “Good thing you kept it in the hiding place behind the Dean Koontz novels.”
After the five shots, Cathy stood frozen, staring at the man with the gun whose jaws were tight, his mouth set in a grimace. He stood silently looking at Stanfield’s body, the gun still pointed toward space Stanfield had occupied before he fell. As if she suddenly thawed, Cathy drew an audible breath, covering her open mouth with her hands. “Oh my God. What did you do?”
“What do you mean by what did I do?”
“He promised to give me half of the inheritance when he got his money.”
“You mean his father’s money? And what would I get?
Expecting to inherit his father’s five hundred million dollar estate, Stanfield had not led a productive life. He had partied through three universities, but never finished. He had dabbled in several financial enterprises, all unsuccessful. Although he received a generous yearly allowance from his late father’s trust, he often found the amount insufficient.
Well known in wealthy societies in the United States, several countries of Europe, and parts of Africa, Stanfield’s abiding objective in life had always been to have fun. Of medium height and slender, he carried himself with an arrogant air which invited comparison to Fred Astaire, although Stanfield had neither the liveliness nor the intellect.
Inheriting his late father’s estate required Stanfield demonstrate to the trustees that he had created a responsible and legitimate career before he reached his forty-fifth birthday, the age at which his father had earned his first million. At the start of his forty-fourth year, Stanfield had felt immense pressure to accomplish something.
Now Cathy and the shooter stared at the unmoving man who lay bleeding on the floor, his head a several feet from the broken window. Then like a cornered fox looking for an escape, Cathy’s eyes darted from the body on the floor to the man holding the gun. “My God, what if someone heard?” Her voice, nearly inaudible, squeaked, high pitched. “I think I’m going to throw up.” She turned her face away.
“A bit late for remorse now. This was the plan, wasn’t it?” His mouth downturned in a scowl, his eyes narrowed.
“I. . . I suppose so.” Her voice trembled.
“What stupidity. You lure him to dinner to discuss the divorce and the maintenance, and he takes the bait like a mouse going after cheese in a trap.” He paused and handed Cathy the gun. “You better fire one shot into him.”
“But he’s already dead, isn’t he?”
“I think so, but the police can determine whether or not you’ve fired a gun. And your fingerprints have to be on the gun. Put one into the cheap bastard’s heart.”
“I don’t think I can.” Tears began to form in her eyes. “This isn’t like target shooting.”
“You have to, Cathy. Otherwise all this is for nothing. It has to be self defense, remember.”
She took the Luger and inched over to the body, careful not to step in the blood seeping from his chest and soaking into the carpet. When she leaned over his body, the pungent, musty odor of blood mixed with urine filled her nostrils, causing an involuntary spasm of her stomach. For a moment she thought she might vomit on top of him, but she sucked in her breath, positioned her arm about two feet over his chest, clenched her teeth, and fired one shot. Cathy winced as the impact of the bullet caused Stanfield’s chest to move slightly and then he lay still, all his grandiose ideas silently sliding into the abyss of death. Cathy straightened up, tears clouding her vision. She walked back to the bookcase and dropped the gun on the floor next to the scattered books.
“Now we need to shatter the window. Did you put your dressmaker’s dummy in the closet like I told you?”
In her foggy state, his voice struck her like a bright light. She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hand and nodded. Walking to a door between the bookshelves, she opened the closet and rolled out the life size dressmaker’s dummy, supported on a metal stand with four small wheels. She pushed it into the center of the room, its wheels leaving tracks in the carpet. “What about my prints on it?”
“It’s your dummy. They should be there.”
He removed Stanfield’s shoes and slipped them on his own feet. Pulling the mannequin up from its post, he carried the figuret outside to the large window, raised it over his head, and heaved it. The many-paned window exploded, showering shards of glass and pieces of wood over Stanfield’s body. The dummy landed on the body and rolled to one side, smearing its side with blood and pushing the blood on the floor in a wider pattern.
He then returned. At the door, he slipped on his own shoes, and walked back to the library. Replacing Margason’s shoes, he picked up the dummy, put it back onto its stand, and hoisted both over his shoulder like a sack of wheat.
“You’re getting blood on your clothes.”
“Who gives a shit. No one will ever see these things again. But that son-of-a-bitch has treated me like an outcast for the last time.” He walked back toward the door. “Fortunately for us, he didn’t have the guts to go through with that casino purchase.”
“Where are you going?”
“I have an idea for this thing. Things should be quiet this early on a Saturday morning. You keep to the plan. All the dishes into the dishwasher. Vacuum the carpet where he walked. Remember. He crashed through the window threatening to kill you. He was acting crazy.”
Once Cathy Margason heard the front door close, she vacuumed the carpet from the dining area to the library. Then she gathered all the dishes, glasses, and utensils, placed them in the dishwasher and set the dial on high heat. She wiped the table and chair where Margarin had sat. Finishing all her cleanup chores, she hurried upstairs to her bedroom to lie down. This death was messy, unlike when her grandfather had died peacefully in his sleep and her father had called people to take care of everything.
She had never seen so much blood. Thankful she didn’t have to clean up his mess, she shuddered, the sight and smell imbedded in her mind. To have had a hand in such an enterprise was ghastly. She started to shake and wanted a martini but knew drinking might mess up the plan. Instead of another drink, she took time. Time to collect her thoughts and calm down. Time to look properly distraught instead of agitated. She went upstairs to bed to lie down and rehearse her story of self defense from an estranged and abusive husband who had threatened to kill her.
Three hours later, she called the police.