the best way to murder Aunt Maudie
JOHN I. KEASLER
JULES was the sole heir, but his wealthy and whimsical aunt refused to fade away. Then, suddenly, with the help of one of her beloved fortune tellers, he was sure he’d found
Details details, details, dammit!” he muttered. "Everything goes wrong for me.” Jules Wyckson leaned back in the lawn chair and tried to concentrate on how best to murder his Aunt Maudie, but the noises of the party kept intruding and he frowned in annoyance. Even the girls, splashing in the swimming pool over by the outdoor bar on his aunt’s country estate, annoyed him and that was unusual. Ordinarily, Jules Wyekson rather liked girls.
Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have let his chin sag on his neck like that, with such a tender audience within range of his profile. Ordinarily, he would have held his head erect, his jaw jutted a trifle and his eyes purposefully sleepy in boredom, as befitted a man about town, for this was his environment and he knew what was expected of him.
He had on his tweed slacks and his turtle-neck sweater, the Martinis were correctly prepared, the afternoon’s hangover had vanished and Jules should have felt quite well, except for one bothersome mundane matter. No money. He had run out of money some time ago and consequently felt handicapped in life.
It had seemed a rather sizable amount his father had left him but what with one thing and another it was gone now. Jules didn’t see how it was possible to wait to inherit his Aunt Maudie’s estate, what with alimony due and a gambler named Barnes getting rather nasty and one thing and another. The way out, he reflected, was clear. Hasten Aunt Maudie along. But it was not an easy problem.
‘‘What, an asinine situation,” Jules said to himself, frowning, as he stood up and strode away from the lawn chair and the shrill penetrating laughter of the girls in the pool. How, he asked himself, can I kill Aunt Maudie under t hese ridiculous circumstances?
Why, he thought for the hundredth time, they would hang me instinctively. He considered his position as t he debt-ridden sole heir. How trite, he thought ruefully
With one eye on Dr. Desto and his crystal ball, and the other on the scenery, Jules pondered his poverty. And then it all came into focus.
it’s all so incriminating. And yet something simply had t o he done.
Walking across the spacious highly landscaped lawn he paused to insert a cigarette into a long holder. Jules Wyckson was a tall almost paunchless man of forty with a very good sun-lamp tan, wavy brown hair and a thin face. He wore a beret. As he stood there staring moodily at the lanterns strung up for the party, a girl bounced out of the shadows happily and jiggled to a halt in the radius of his arrogant solitude.
“Juley, Juley,” the girl trilled, “do come see the funny, funny man. He’s talking to your Aunt Maudie and you just have to see him. I mean really.”
“I want a drink,” Jules said shortly, holding back as she clutched at his arm.
“We go right past the drinks, silly boy,” she said, yanking him forward. Reluctantly, Jules allowed himself to be steered to a card table around which seethed a group of guests in shorts, and Aunt Maudie, in crimson pedal pushers and a Mexican hat. An odd-looking little man sat at the table. Oh Lord, thought Jules glumly, not anot her fort une teller.
But it was another fortune teller. He could tell that by the crystal ball. This particular fortune teller had a rounded red nose. He was short and fat and he wore a coal-black suit and a Mexican sombrero which did '.’! become him. His face was oval and distant like a pale moon at dusk and his eyes, pleasantly vague, peered mildly from deep-set sockets.
“I do declare!” Aunt Maudie said joyfully, “you’re simply the most wonderful man, Dr. Desto! 1 just do declare!”
The litt le man smiled and inclined his head. With the shabby elbow of his black suit he rubbed a speck of dust from the large crystal ball on the card table.
“Next,” he said, like a barber.
“Jule}', you go next!” Aunt Maudie said excitedly. “Dr. Desto is just plain wonderful !
Continued on page 29
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19
I’m going to live to be ninety-six! Isn’t that nice, Juley?”
Nobody would commit her to an asylum, Jules thought despairingly. Not with all her money. He glared at Aunt Maudie.
Aunt Maudie weighed a plump 159. She gushed a great deal. Several times a day she took pills and miracle drugs for she worried about her health and always had been, she insisted, delicate. She just loved fortune tellers for they told her she was healthy as a horse, which she was, and that she was a fine judge of human nature, as well as being compassionate and generous to a fault.
“Sit right down and get your fortune told,” she told her nephew, pulling him off balance and spilling his Martini. “You’ve been looking a little peaked lately.”
“Yes,” said the little man. “Do sit down, Mr. Wvckson.”
“Let go of my wrist,” Jules snapped at his aunt. “Where do you get these phonies?”
“Jules Wyckson! I’m ashamed of you,” Aunt Maudie said. She patted the little man on his shoulder. “Pardon my nephew, Dr. Desto. He’s such a cynic. Even when he was in school.”
“I know.” said Dr. Desto. “Can’t say as I blame him.”
“Oh hell,” Jules growled, pushing through the ring of onlookers. “Let me out of here.”
AND HE WALKED AWAY by himself into the early evening trying to organize his thoughts. I couldn’t put poison in her pills, he thought. That’s the first thing they’d check. He wished he were more of a detail man for, he understood, details were quite important in a matter like this. He decided to have another drink and walked into the big house where the bar, built like an ocean-going liner, was located in one corner of the rumpus room. Aunt Maudie followed him.
“I do wish you would be nice to Dr. Desto,” she said. “I think you hurt his feelings.”
“Great Scott,” Jules said, “these fakes are going to take you for a real ride one of these days.” He resented this.
“The very idea! Did you know that Dr. Desto won’t take a cent from me above his silly little regular fee? I tried to give him a bonus.”
“Well, he won’t. He said his professional ethics prohibited it. That’s why he doesn’t advertise either, and I was very lucky to hear about him. And then you have to be so rude.”
Bah,” said Jules, walking away and leaving his aunt standing there saying tsk,tsk.
Jules walked down the long driveway, past the pool, through the gardens, around the greenhouse, down the gravel path to the groves and headed for the far bench. Dr. Desto was seated on the bench in the moonlight. He had gotten rid of the Mexican hat and a soft coal-black hat was square on his head, and the moonlight, made soft shadows on his face.
“What are you doing here?” Wyckson demanded.
“Oh,” said Dr. Desto, “just sitting in the moonlight. I thought maybe you’d like your fortune told. No extra charge, you know.”
“Get the hell off this property.” “Maybe you’d like your fortune told some other time,” said Dr. Desto, handing Jules a business card. “Rather
It is scant consolation to me,
And I get more and more apprehensive, When the best things in life may be free But the things that I want are expensive.
P. J. BLACKWELL
helpful in some cases.”
Jules crumpled the card and threw it down angrily. He said, “Get out of here! Now!”
“I don’t see why you’re so angry with me,” Dr. Desto said sadly. “I never really did anything to you, you know.”
“Get going, you old fake,” Jules glared.
The small man got up resignedly and said, “In special cases 1 drum up business this way.”
“I’m warning you,” Jules gritted.
So Dr. Desto shuffled off down the path, a roundish little old man carrying a round crystal ball and, Jules noted with belated rage, a tumbler full of Aunt Maudie’s rum. Pretty soon he was gone.
Then a brilliant ray of inspiration flooded into the dark brooding of Jules Wyckson’s mind, a veritable flash of genius illuminated his dilemma and he stood up and clapped his hands together, once, in exuberance. The sharp sound echoed in the night.
“I've got it!" Jules exclaimed aloudj “I’ll make it look like that tramp fortune teller killed my aunt!”
With the heavy brass poker near the fireplace by the wall safe! By golly, Jules exulted, that’s it ! He snapped his lighter into flame and found the crumpled card without any trouble.
The card proclaimed: “Dr. Montague Hiram Desto. Sees All. Knows All. Past, Present, Future. Office Hours: 9 a.m.—4 p.m. Weekdays, 10 a.m.—1 p.m. Saturdays. 142 Fourth Street, Suite 309. Special Rates for Parties.”
Jules tucked the card in his wallet and walked back down the path, hashing over his plan, and went to bed. He was up early the next afternoon and he borrowed one of the convertibles from Aunt Maudie and drove downtown.
DR. DESTO’S SUITE was down in the hock-shop district. Jules made his way down the littered sidewalk, his thin nose wrinkled in distaste.
His soft Panama hat was tilted down over his receding hairline and the gold cigarette holder was clenched firmly in his bridgework. He was careful with his perforated soft-leather shoes as he made his way around a pile of debris. (Two hoodlums lounging in a doorway watched longingly after him but the afternoon sun shone bright and clear and alley slugging was a pursuit confined to the night.) A fine location, this dump, Jules thought sardonically, as he made his way around a sleeping man on the sidewalk. He found the address. It was a rickety building and he climbed the crooked stairs.
I’ve got a tine plan here, he cautioned himself once more, and I must be exceedingly careful. He knocked on the
door of Suite 309.
“Come in,” said a voice, rather thickly. Jules went in. Dr. Desto was seated in a rocker at a teetery table. The crystal ball was on the table.
The room was nearly bare except for a cot, another rocker, a framed license on the wall, a hot plate, assorted books, cans and bottles and a stuffed
swordfish, about five feet long, in one corner.
“Left by the previous tenant, a taxidermist,” said Dr. Desto. I
always feel called upon to explain that swordfish. Well, Mr. Wyckson, you’re fine—how’m I?”
Jules stared blankly.
“A little joke in the profession,” Dr. Desto said apologetically, taking a drink of rum. This old geezer Is half whiffed on rum now, Jules thought. That might make it all easier.
Dr. Desto had on his black hat and his black suit and a coal-black tie. His dark eyes were distant. He scratched his red nose casually with the tip of a stubby thumb and asked, “I can be of assistance?”
“Well,” said Jules, “I came for that fortune telling you mentioned.”
“We’ll get right to work, then,” Dr. Desto said, with a half-hearted try at briskness. “What tense were you interested in?”
(“Let’s see,” Jules was thinking. “Get this old boy out to the house, use the poker on Aunt Maudie, then on the good doctor here. Call police. Show them the rifled safe, the stuff in crystal-ball’s pocket. Everybody knows Aunt Maudie would come to this with those fortune tellers. Tell how I overpowered the murdering intruder. Look bereaved. Pose for press pictures. Yep, that should do it, all right, all right.”)
“I asked what tense interested you,” Dr. Desto repeated.
“Oh,” Jules said, blinking back to the present. “Oh, pardon me. What tense/
I don’t believeoh, of course. Well, tell me about the future.”
“That will be a dollar fifty,” Dr. Desto said, and took the money. He rubbed the crystal ball with a handkerchief. He blew a speck of dust from the glassy surface. It was about the size of a bowling ball, but slightly flattened on the top and bottom so it wouldn’t roll around. Light made bubbly blue gleams deep inside it. It was crystal clear. Dr. Desto moved it to the exact centre of the table and peered at it.
“You came on a had day,” said Dr. Desto. “For some reason the reception isn’t as good on clear days. That’s odd, isn’t it? And there’s a quack foot doctor upstairs who has a vibrating machine which doesn’t do the reception pattern much good. Sometimes I wonder how I got into this business.” Dr. Desto jiggled the crystal ball impatiently, and struck it sharply on the side with the palm of his hand. “Ah,” he said, “here we go.”
“Why don’t we drop over to my house?” Jules asked innocently.
Dr. Desto was intent. “Hm,” he said. “Next Saturday’s roller derby. Drop over to your house? Why, sir?” “Oh, we could have a couple of drinks,” Jules said casually. “Thought I might have some friends over for a group seance, or whatever you call it.” Dr. Desto eyed Jules with cocked eyebrows.
“Cash in advance,” Jules said and, becoming more uncomfortable under the enigmatic gaze, then “Uh, how does that thing work? The crystal ball.”
Dr. Desto grew enthusiastic and said, “Now that you ask. I’ll show you. Very interesting process, I’ve always thought. It works sort of like television, but on an entirely different principle, I’ve always suspected. Quite difficult to explain to the layman, really. Watch now.”
Jules made an idle pretense of staring at the ball, but actually lie was weighing details.
Dr. Desto said, “The first thing you do is to think very hard about what you want to know. Then you watch for the answer. For instance, I’ll simply wonder about what would happen if we went over to your aunt’s house.”
Disinterest melted suddenly from Jule’s face, which turned rather white. Several of his lower vertebrae chilled simultaneously. In the flattened top surface of the crystal ball he saw himself—^creeping across the rumpus room carrying a poker. Plain as day.
“Wait,” Jules choked. “Quit! That’s impossible. Turn it off!”
The chill climbed jerkily up his spine.
Dr. Desto looked around with concern and the images, or impressions, flickered, faded and were gone. It was hard for Jules to tell whether they had been images, now that they were gone, or impressions in his own mind—it was as hard for him to decide that as it is difficult to determine if you think in words or not. Jules Wyckson was very pale, with a light-green tint to his alarmed, drawn countenance.
“Damn thing works,” he muttered.
He wanted it. In this crystal ball lay opportunity, the answer to all his problems. He could see that. A house didn’t have to fall on him. Oh, how he wanted it!
“May—may I try it?” he asked.
“Sure,” Dr. Desto said, and hiccuped. His eyes were heavy-lidded and his face was flushed; his tongue was thick.
“I think I shall—I think I shall rest my eyes briefly,” said Dr. Desto, sagging forward on the table and going quietly and instantly to sleep. The rum bottle was empty.
Eagerly Wyckson hitched his chair up to the table a little closer. He thought long and hard about something to think about and then, hitting upon an appropriate subject, wondered what steps his second wife was taking about the alimony.
ÏM MEDIATELY she flashed on, bright and clear except for a little fuzziness around the edges. She was talking to that judge who had been so nasty. Jules shuddered slightly. Rut that was all he needed to know—he could work the crystal ball. He got next Wednesday’s headlines to make absolutely sure, and then pure undiluted joy welled up within him. I can work the crystal ball, he said over and over. I can work it-
“To hell with Aunt Maudie,” he said. “I could buy and sell a dozen like her!”
Wrapping the crystal ball in a copy of the editorial page of the New York Times, which he found under the swordfish, Jules Wyckson tiptoed out the door with his treasure. Dr. Desto snored peacefully. The world is mine, Jules thought in delight. Now I’ll show ’em. He was relieved that he didn t have to bother murdering Aunt Maudie; things were finally breaking his way.
Juley, where have you been?” Aunt Maudie called from the library. “We were going to the club for the Mirksons’ all-day brunch, did you forget? Hurry, it’s nearly five.”
I m not going,” Jules said, and finally herded his aunt out of the house, still protesting. Then he was alone . . .
First, to savor the fullness of possession without hurry, he mixed a shaker of Martinis, put cellophane straws in it, sipped luxuriously, and just looked at his crystal ball. Finally he could wait no longer.
He moved the crystal ball to the exact centre of the polished library
desk. The big house was quiet. Jules Wyckson looked into his crystal ball.
It worked fine. He got the fight which was to start at 8.30 that night.
Urn, by golly,” he said. “An upset. Wilson all the way.”
“Hello, Cuffs?” he said on the telephone to the gambler named Rarnes. “Never mind the threats. You’ll get the money tomorrow. That’s right, tomorrow. Now' get me loaded on this —Wilson by a TKO in the sixth. Of course I’m good for it, do you think I’ve lost my mind?”
He hung up. rather irritated because
Rarnes would only advance him two thousand, but the odds would be immense. But there were other events, other bookies; he got down good on a dog named Odif and got loaded on the ball game, the Packers 7 to 3.
That w'ould be enough for tonight, he decided. Oh, the confidence, the
suret y of it all !
The feeling of power surged t hrough him. I do this so well, he reflected. His eyes glittered, there in the gloomy library.
Rut he was not too buoyant to remain realistic to any extent. For
what of the old man he took the bal’ from?
He felt it was somewhat unfortunate, in a way, the manner in which that problem must be resolved, for it was rather messy he saw as the solution unfolded in the crystal ball. Rut things which were to happen were to happen.
He saw himself shoot t he old man in the right temple, when the old man came that night for his crystal ball, and who can change the future as seen in advance? Not me, Jules said, that’s out of my line; so he got the 32-calibre revolver from the study and put it on
the desk right next to the crystal ball.
Twilight came and dark. A pale moon climbed the dusk. Jules Wyekson waited excitedly for the hours to pass—he had never felt so alert and exhilarated. He passed the time by watching varied and entertaining affairs in the crystal ball. There were no barriers, he found, to what he could see.
He chuckled aloud occasionally, and the throaty noise filled the big library.
His eyes were shiny, beady, as he sat there.
Oh, he thought, I do this so well— I’ve always needed a crystal ball.
Once, for no specific reason he could think of, he threw back his head and roared a long high-keyed series of laughter peals. Much later, the phone rang. The dog named Odif had run last, not first.
The phone rang back almost immediately before he could actually comprehend.
“The Packers lost 7 to 3,” a grating voice said. “See you early, Buster, and have it ready. No excuses this time.”
And Wilson lost by a TKO in the ninth. Jules Wyekson, his eyes unbelieving, let the receiver fall back, clicking off the metallic warning voice. The old man, Jules Wyekson hissed.
The old man is doing this to me.
I’ll kill him, Wyekson whimpered, pulling unknowingly at his hair. I’ll kill that old man.
TEVERYTHING GAME OUT backawards, he said to himself, and his whimpers were gutteral in his throat; everything came out backwards. The thought churned dull rage in his brain.
His mind was a mass of hate for all the things gone wrong, forever wrong, when he saw Dr. Desto standing just inside the library door.
Jules Wyekson screamed in his rage and the scream ricocheted through the house.
“You did it!” Jules screamed.
“I didn’t do anything,” said the little man. “Not me.”
All the pent-up frustration in his life, the scalding memories of things gone wrong, plans awry, always wrong, the things which never worked out right—all of these things boiled in Jules Wyckson’s head as he snatched up the revolver and aimed it at the old man’s right temple.
“You made everything backwards,” Jules screamed.
Dr. Desto walked over the thick rug to the polished desk, casually ignoring the revolver. He looked blandly at the twisted face of Jules Wyekson, then down at the crystal ball.
“Backwards?” asked Dr. Desto, picking up his crystal ball and inspecting the surface which had been on the hard desk, looking for chips or mars. “Why, I shouldn’t be a bit surprised.” And Jules Wyekson understood all at once what he meant. As he stood there leveling the pistol he understood completely and thoroughly and irrefutably.
They’ll wonder if I lost my mind, Jules thought almost idly—they always wonder that in suicides. And, as the old man walked out the door and down the driveway, Jules Wyekson shot himself in the left temple.
“Poor fellow,” the old man said, as he walked into the night, when the shot blasted out behind him. In a way it seemed a shame, but of course it couldn’t be helped . . .
“No wonder everything was backwards,” the old man said, and he shook his head a little. “He had it upside down.”
The old man vanished into the darkness and then everything was quiet around the big house, except for the frogs which croaked for rain beneath the cool pale moon, it