A Reminder

01/31/23

The basement window had been shattered long before Gunselle decided to kill the businessman. A piece of plywood had been cut to fit the empty hole, but set lazily against the frame. She loathed unfinished projects.

Squeezing into the home’s deeper shadows, Gunselle dropped onto an empty workbench. The businessman was tidy in some ways. Wiping her fingers against the rough dungarees she wore when she worked at night, she fished a flashlight from her leather jacket. A bright beam erupted. He should have set her neatly on a hook with all his other tools.

Gum soles met the concrete floor as Gunselle moved through the cellar, past rows of paint cans and garden implements.

The Hi-Standard .22 she carried in her other hand was the same pistol she’d used to kill the businessman’s partner a month ago. It sported the same Maxim silencer. He’d paid her three grand up front to help him gain control of the business, but then refused her calls when she tried to collect the second half. Such disorder was inexcusable.

The man dead in the car across the street had been watching the house, not the low shrubs behind him. If he was a thug waiting to take her apart, then he got what he deserved. If he was a cop staking out the house on a hunch, then so be it.

Rough stairs brought her to the kitchen. The smell of fried onions and pork chops stained the air. A rumble of snoring led her to an office off the living room. The door was open a crack. She spied the businessman on the couch, a shotgun propped against his thigh. He’d been reading Life magazine when he fell asleep. A lamp behind the couch blanketed him in warm light. She didn’t have anything to say to the businessman at this point, so she made a neat round hole in his forehead.

Moving to the staircase off the front entryway, Gunselle wondered what she’d find upstairs. The bedroom at the back of the house would have a nice view of the bay. That’s where he and his wife would make their bed.

And she was there, awake, her wet eyes sparkling in the low lamplight. The woman’s lips trembled when she saw the pistol. She closed her book.

“Is my husband dead?”

“He owed me money. Now you do.”

The businessman’s wife, who was suddenly the sole owner of a lucrative regional grocery chain, nodded with acquiescence.

“He was not a good man,” she said.

The wife’s eyes weren’t the only thing that sparkled in the room. Gunselle pointed the pistol at a bulky wedding ring. The rock had to be ten carats. She could easily get seven grand for something that big. Maybe eight. And the woman didn’t need it anymore.

“The ring,” said Gunselle.

The woman pulled at her finger. The ring wouldn’t budge. Easing her thick body out of bed, she hurried into the master bathroom. Gunselle followed. The wife ran water in the sink, frantically soaping the ring. It still wouldn’t come.

Gunselle hit her over the ear with the butt of the pistol. Caught her hefty frame as she crumpled. Dropped her into the tub.

After turning off the faucet, Gunselle stopped to think. This had to hurt. The theft had to be convincing. Notable. A sign of strength for both women. The wife was in charge of an empire now. A businesswoman of means. People needed to know she could handle any shit they brought her way.

And everyone needed to be reminded to pay their debts.

Gunselle fetched loppers from the basement. A bottle of bleach stood next to the toilet. She poured some of the corrosive liquid onto a washcloth, then wiped the blades. She repositioned the businesswoman so her left arm hung out of the tub. Rummaging through a closet in the hallway, Gunselle found a ball of string. She tied a knot around the finger, close to the hand, then twisted it tighter with a nail file, tucking the metal ends underneath the neighboring fingers.

The soft snap reminded her of pruning apple trees as a teenager in Idaho.

~ fin ~

Russell Thayer

Russell Thayer’s work has appeared in Outcast Press, Evening Street Review, Cirque, Close to the Bone, Expat Press, Bristol Noir, Hawaii Pacific Review, Punk Noir, Pulp Modern, and Tough. He received his BA in English from the University of Washington, worked for decades at large printing companies, and currently lives in Missoula, Montana.