Jerome crouched between a row of shrubs and trained his binoculars on a house across the street in a residential San Francisco neighborhood. The last light went off about an hour before; plenty of time for the old biddy to have fallen asleep. He stuffed the binoculars into his shoulder bag, slipped on a pair of gloves, pulled the sweatshirt hood over his head, and headed toward the place.
He halted, frozen for a moment, when a motion detector triggered a set of floodlights as he crossed the lawn. He scampered to the dark side of the house, jimmied open a window with a small crowbar, and crawled through. Inside, he detected faint, tinny sounds of music and crept toward a room with the glow from a TV screen.
She was lying in bed watching a black-and-white movie. She turned to him when he entered and opened her mouth to scream, eyes shocked and bulging. He pinned her down and pressed a pillow over her head. She struggled a little, but quickly went limp. Afterward, he ransacked the room and others in the house to make it look like a robbery.
He felt no remorse whatsoever as he walked toward his car, parked about a mile away. She’d lived long enough and he sure as hell didn’t want to wait another five or ten years for her to die of natural causes, since he was already forty—especially because longevity ran in the family on his mother’s side. No, he needed the money now, as the sole living beneficiary of the property—worth close to $700k based on his market research. He’d been working dead-end shit jobs for way too long and deserved a better life.
He checked his watch after he settled in the car. There was more than enough time for him to get to his warehouse job. Everything went off without a hitch. He listened to first his favorite country western music and, later, sports-talk radio along the way.
Two weeks passed. Jerome’s illusion of well-being received a jolt when he got a call from the SFPD, requesting that he come to the station and answer a few “routine questions” concerning the death of his aunt. He reluctantly complied, not wanting to arouse any more suspicions than they already might have. He didn’t sleep well that night.
He sat in a downtown police station interrogation room, facing Detective Al Faraday, heavy set, square-jawed, with a military-style buzz cut, and Vivian Wu, a young woman with a severe gaze. At first, the questions were easy-going and covered general personal stuff. Later they asked him when he saw his aunt last and how her death affected him. He responded that he last saw her at his mother’s funeral five years before, and only found out that she died from the executor of her estate, informing him of his beneficiary status.
With a tightened expression, Faraday leaned closer and asked him if he knew whether his aunt had any enemies.
The question caught Jerome off guard.
“Ah, no. Like I said, I haven’t seen her in years.”
“The trouble is,” Faraday said, “there were some rather suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.”
Jerome felt a tightening in his gut.
“What do you mean?”
“She had deep bruises around her nose. Someone pushed a pillow down on her face.”
“With blood traces on the pillowcase,” Vivian added.
“She'd been taking blood thinners," Faraday said, "according to the hospice nurse who found her the next day. It often causes such bruising.”
The tightening in his gut became more acute.
“So… you think someone murdered her?” he asked in a raspy voice.
“And tried to make it look like a robbery. A lot of valuable stuff was left. Things thieves usually take like jewelry and expensive vases."
“Someone with a motive,” Vivian answered, staring intently at him.
The pressure in his gut. Like he was ready to explode.
“And then there’s the pictures the camera took after the motion detector lights went on,” Faraday said. A person creeping across the lawn. Couldn’t quite make out a face but our digital team are aces. They should come up with something soon.”
Jerome began to feel faint.
“Would you like some water?” Vivian asked.
That evening, Faraday and Vivian sat in a bar and clinked shot glasses together.
“So that’s how you run a bluff,” Faraday said. “But let me tell you, they aren’t all this easy.”
“I could tell he was going to crack as soon as you shifted the line of questioning,” she said.
“He was putty in my hands.”
“The camera bluff broke him.”
“Yeah, but all he had to do was lawyer up at that point and he’d be a free man now. Since there was no camera.”
“He was too far gone,” she said. “Couldn’t do anything but confess.”
“Some folks just aren’t fit for a life of crime.”
“Such a waste though—huh?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Haven’t you read the coroner’s report?”
“He would’ve gotten the inheritance in another month or two at the most. She had terminal cancer. Stage Five Pancreatic.”
Faraday shook his head and signaled the barkeep for another round.
About the author:
A.R. Bender's short stories, flash fiction, and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals. He's also in the process of self-publishing his historical novel. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking off the grid and coaching youth soccer.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.