My great grandfather used to say the mark of a man was not how wealthy or wise he was, but by how much respect he garnered.
Well, my great grandfather was wealthy, wise, and also respected … by everyone but his children.
It was an interesting tale, oft-told by my father over the dinner table, when we, his children, would bemoan the fact that he was too hard on us.
Like my great grandfather, our father had also made something of himself, took every opportunity afforded him, and made it a success.
Yes, there were failures, like how our mother couldn’t handle the success and virtually abandoned us because of him, like our first stepmother, who hated children, and for a while, virtually turned him against us, setbacks that were eventually overcome.
To the outside world, we always said everything turned out all right, but the reality of it was completely the opposite. Appearances were just that, appearances.
My eldest brother, John, was out the door as soon as he could escape, and into the military, and from that moment we never really saw him.
Then there was me, Toby, with a name I hated, stuck at home to weather the endless storms, and to look after my youngest sister Ginny, who really didn’t have a care in the world.
I don’t think I ever got to have a childhood.
And lastly, my younger sister, Melanie, the tearaway tomboy troublemaker, a devil in disguise, that was responsible for ten nannies in twelve years.
We were as disparate and different as any group of siblings could get, and that was all because of how, in the end, our father finished up exactly like the man he often disparaged, our great grandfather.
Wealthy, yes, wise, the jury was still out in that one, and respected, yes, by everyone but his children.
And, now, I was looking at the body of the man I called my father, sprawled out on the floor, and it was quite plain to see he was dead.
There was no mistaking the bullet hole in his head, Or the puddle of blood emanating from the back of his head.
Someone, obviously, hated him more than we did.
I was surprisingly calm in the face of such a calamity, faring better than Ginny, who was the first to discover him.
She was once subject to bouts of hysteria, and that it had not happened in these circumstances was, in a sense disconcerting. She had reason to hate him more than the rest of us, the reasons for which I had only learned the night before.
She was sitting on the floor, not ten feet from the body, staring at what she had described as the devil incarnate. She had every reason to kill him, in fact, I had wanted to myself when she told me.
And when confronted him and demanded to know the truth, he had laughed at me, telling me that it was just a figment of her imagination.
I had to call the police, but before that, I needed to have a clear idea of where everyone was.
It was a weekend where, for the first time in twenty years, all four siblings were home. It was ostensibly for an announcement regarding the family, read how my father was going to bequeath his worldly possessions in the event of his death.
And I suspect, to tell us about the fact he was dying, the running battle he had with cancer finally getting a stranglehold in his body, and that he had about six weeks to three months left.
Not that he had said anything, I had received an anonymous email from his doctor telling me, that he didn’t believe we should not be kept in the dark. But it was not the news I’d shared with the others, hoping the man himself would.
That secret had died with him.
John and Melanie had both yet to put in an appearance. It had been a late night, and we had all ended up in John’s room, drinking shots of whiskey and talking about how different our lives had been, and how it had been too long apart.
I’d been very drunk at the end and barely made it back to my room before collapsing on the bed. I had no idea what happened to the others.
Ginny didn’t drink, or so she said, but the few drinks she had, had no effect on her. She had Bern in a dark mood and no wonder. She had left all of us in utter silence, devastated at the revelation our father was a monster, the reason why our mother left, unable to do anything to stop him.
She should have taken Ginny with her, but she didn’t, probably saving Melanie from a similar fate.
Threats against his life flew thick and fast, and the once made by John actuary sent a shiver down my spine. He was the only one experienced in killing, and I could totally believe he could kill in cold blood and not even blink.
Great timing. John just walked into the room, still in his pajamas and looking disheveled, as if he had just fought off a pack of bears.
“This your doing?”
“What? No. Saying and doing are two different things, Toby.” He looked down at Ginny. “Ask her, she had more reason than any of us.”
I was going to, but she seemed in a catatonic state.
“No. I did not, and believe me, I’ve wanted to for many years.”
Ginny, obviously not in a catatonic state.
“Have you called the police,” he asked.
“Good. Let’s think about this first. Any sign of a breaking?”
I checked the French windows behind the desk and they were intact and locked. The room, other than the body on the floor was as it always was.
Not a book or paper out of place. The desk was clear. Usually, there was a computer and cell phone on it.
“His laptop is missing. A robbery gone bad?”
“Robbers don’t usually carry guns, let alone be able to shoot so accurately.” He was standing over the body making strange body movements, then, “whoever shot him was behind the desk. He must have heard something and came to investigate.”
If it was any time up to the fifty shots of whiskey, we would have heard a gun going off.
“Silencer?” I said.
“I’m a light sleeper, so I would have heard it. Others too. It screams premeditation. Robbers don’t bring guns with suppressors. If it was a case of being caught unawares, that shot could have gone anywhere. No, whoever was in her was looking for, maybe found, something, and may have made enough noise to get his attention with the intention of killing him.”
“Holy Mary mother of God!”
Melanie just arrived, riveted to the spot, just inside the door.
“I take it you didn’t do it?” John said to her.
“Me? You have to be joking. I wouldn’t know what end of the gun to use.”
Not true, I thought, Melanie was in the gun club at her exclusive school and won various awards for pistol shooting, and we’ll as an expert clay pigeon shooter to boot. But it was school days, a long time ago.
I looked at her pointedly, and I think she realized what my glare implied.
“I think it’s time we called the police,” I said.
“Can’t we just dig a hole and bring him out there somewhere and pretend he’s gone away?”
“A thought, but not practical, unless one of us did it and we need to hide the evidence. Anyone going to own up?”
No one spoke.
“Good. Just remember from this point on, if you have any deep dark secrets, they won’t be for much longer. We will be the prime suspects. Leaving isn’t an option.”
“Let the chips fall where they may. At least the bastard got what he deserved.
I pulled out my phone.
John was looking resolute. Melanie was in a state of shock. Ginnie went back to being almost catatonic. I don’t know what I felt, sad, maybe, but with all that had come before, perhaps a sense of relief.
I dialled the number.
“Daisy. No, I’m alright. We have a bit of a problem here. Someone has shot and killed my father. I think you’d better get here.”
“Right. Don’t touch anything and keep the scene clear. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
I disconnected the call and put the phone back in my pocket.
At that same moment, I had a great overwhelming feeling that one of them did it. I couldn’t see how anyone from the outside could or would.
As John said, let the child fall where they may.
“OK. Daisy wants us out of the room. Let’s go.” I said, helping Ginnie up from the floor
“Daisy? She that girl you were pining over back in elementary school?” John muttered.
“Married her too. Deputy sheriff now, so be a good boy. And don’t think our relationship will make this any easier.”
As I closed the door to the office and turned the key in the lock, I could hear the sirens in the distance.
The die, as the saying goes, was cast.
© Charles Heath 2022