The day began as most other days did. Coffee, bacon, toast with strawberry jam. Brian enjoyed the solitude of morning more than any other time of day. It was quiet, calm, and filled with possibilities. Today was Thursday, one more day and the week would be over, and he could relax through the weekend. His plan was to escape to the lake, a fishing trip was just what his soul needed to recharge from all the frustration of this latest job. He was well paid for his trouble, but nothing could compensate him for the headaches. He’d had enough.
A carpenter for nearly fourteen years, and foreman on this job, he’d never encountered as many problems building a house. The mansion in the hills had seven bathrooms, and it still wasn’t enough to process all the excrement he’d had to manage over the past two years. The owner and architect changed the building plans so many times that it was making Brian’s head swim. “Move that wall five feet to the east, but don’t lose the wonderful line of sight through the gigantic window in the next room.” And, “I’d really like paving stones for the sidewalk instead of concrete, they look so much nicer. Can we do paving stones, in blush?” Or, her latest request, “I know we’ve already finished the master bath, but can we add a fireplace near the tub? It’ll make the room so much cozier.” The Diva that owned the place had a penchant for causing trouble, and it followed her everywhere. Brian complained to the architect, but it did him little good. She was adamant, claiming cost was not an issue… and then whined when he told her the budget had to be reworked to accommodate her laundry list of changes. This final change, the gold-plated fireplace in the master bathroom, would be the final change. After this, the house would be done and he would be, too.
It was one o’clock in the afternoon when he got the call. Brian’s mother had been rushed to the hospital from her nursing home in the throes of severe renal failure. Evidently, even after twelve years of dialysis, Martha’s left kidney still didn’t understand the role it played in keeping her alive. Brian called the Diva to explain the situation and let her know that the fireplace would be installed first thing in the morning. She wailed inconsolably about being abandoned, and tried to ply him with more money to have it finished that night. Brian apologized and hung up the phone, not allowing her to delay his escape. He needed to be by his mother’s side. Her life meant more to him than any six-figure income an empty-brained manicure could ever offer, even if she was married to a Congressman.
When Brian arrived at the hospital, he was quietly ushered into his mother’s room by the attending nurse. The nurse explained that not only was Martha’s left kidney shutting down (she’d lost the right one years ago), but to add insult to injury, her diabetes had been affected by a whacked-out sugar level, a complication of the problem in processing insulin. This detail was nothing new, her sugar had a habit of spiking frequently, but it did make matters worse, and now her heart and blood pressure were in agony. Martha’s face was pale and her eyelids fluttered as she worked in vain to maintain consciousness. She was next on the transplant list, but chances were slim she would get it in time.
Brian kissed his mother on the forehead, squeezed her cold, clammy hand, and left the room, unable to stomach the frustration of being so helpless in her presence, even with all his money. He walked to the parking lot and lit a cigarette. Not sure what he could do to help, but feeling he had to do something, he stewed in anger and guilt.
After ten minutes of pacing, he pulled out his cell phone and made the call he had been avoiding.
“It’s me. Yeah, things are at rock bottom. I think we need to do the thing.”
“Are you sure?” asked the snake.
“Yes. It’s time.” Brian’s stomach lurched, nearly voiding his breakfast.
“Okay, if you say so. It’s the standard agreement, fifty now, and another two hundred when the job is done. I’ll send the address for the drop,” the voice hissed.
“Got it. How soon will we have an answer?”
“By supper tonight. That do it for you?”
“It’s cutting it close, but it’ll have to do.”
Brian hung up the phone and waited for the text message with an address to appear. He lit another cigarette and paced the full length of the parking lot twice, before his phone chimed with the text. He got in his car and drove to the bank. The long line made him uncomfortable, but he forced himself to stay calm. In his business, withdrawing large sums of cash wasn’t usually an issue. Gold-plated vanity sinks, pewter clawfoot tubs, fifteen-foot-tall stained glass bay windows… it all added up. The transaction took less than five minutes. He was a very good customer.
Brian dropped the green duffle at the location he’d been given, and drove back to the hospital to be with Martha for one more hour… one last day… before…
Martha passed gently in her sleep that night, with Brian holding her hand and singing softly. Amazing Grace was a favorite old hymn, and she especially loved it when sung to the tune of The House of The Rising Sun. Martha was a walking dichotomy in so many areas of her life, a trait she’d always hoped her son would inherit. “Always live life walking upon the path of what is least expected,” she’d told him. “Always keep them guessing.”
The next morning, he spent an hour on the phone, planning the details for Martha’s cremation. There would be no service, she wanted and anonymous exit. The gentleman at the funeral home ended their conversation with, “Not to worry. We’ll handle everything, sir.” Brian returned to the house in the hills for one last walk-through and to install that blasted fireplace.
Friday evening, the news could not be ignored.
“The new home of Congressman Michael Fieldstone and his wife, Shelly, was incinerated in an apparent gas leak blast. The Fieldstones were not hurt, as they had not yet moved into the house. There was one tragic casualty, however. Thirty-seven-year-old Brian Botox, the construction foreman who was putting the finishing touches on the home, installing a gold-trimmed, gas fireplace in the master bathroom. Botox’s friends and colleagues are claiming foul-play, and calling for a full investigation. They insist that this accident was not an accident, but murder. His associates claim that the gas line was in proper working order, and that Brian Botox had fourteen years in the industry, and would never be so careless as to forget to turn off the gas line before installing a fireplace. The authorities, however, are convinced it was simply a tragic accident, nothing more. Congressman Fieldstone, in response to the overwhelming community pressure, has instructed police to open a case file and look into the matter, leaving no stone unturned. Brian Botox’s remains lie in the ashes of the house. Heartbreakingly, Mr. Botox had just lost his mother Thursday night from complications due to renal failure. He had no other family. After the investigation concludes, and a through clean-up of the debris, the Fieldstones plan put the property up for sale.”
“It’s a live one!” squealed Brian, sounding like a six-year-old boy, as he reeled in the line.
“Yup,” Sam hissed from the boat’s fly deck as he tossed back his Scotch. “The Mediterranean sure is nice this time of year.”
Diana Kathryn Plopa
I love being in love; writing; reading; mammals of nearly every kind, and especially micro-humans! Come enjoy my world with me - Secret Decoder Ring not required!!