by Margaret Mendel
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
Georgia stood at the kitchen window; her hands wrapped around a coffee mug, watching Bill back his motorcycle out of the garage. He had no idea she knew. Dumb as a nail, her husband had only three talents: fixing cars, drinking beer, and trying to get his hands on any female that walked by. But this time he’d gone too far and it would take more than apologies to right this situation.
She took a sip of coffee and dumped the dregs into the sink. Bill revved up the motorcycle, kicked his bike into gear and drove up the street. Georgia stayed at the window for a short while longer observing the changing hues in the sky as the late summer sun rose over the house across the street knowing that tonight she’d put her plan into motion.
If it hadn’t been Mary Ann this time, she might have let her husband keep this fling. Bill never stayed long with his girlfriends. But everything Mary Ann did recently made perfect sense to her now and that woman sealed her fate, as far as Georgia was concerned, when she opened her arms to a man who thought he’d turned lying and prowling after women into an art form.
Georgia removed the breakfast dishes from the table, put them into the sink and turned off the kitchen light. She remembered how excited she was last year when Mary Ann moved into the area and set up an artist studio in an old farmhouse on the edge of town. A College graduate and touting many gallery exhibitions, Mary Ann impressed everyone and it didn’t take long before a handful of weekend amateur painters signed up for her classes.
Georgia had always wanted to learn to paint and she spent most Sunday afternoons now sitting in the sunny backroom of the farmhouse with the rest of the painters learning watercolor techniques. But Georgia’s recent discovery that Mary Ann was doing some learning of her own with Bill made her realize that this woman needed to be dealt some meanness too, not just Bill.
A little over a week ago, the solution came full-blown to Georgia while she was practicing a painting technique. It was as if the poison from dealing with Bill all these years came rushing up from the bottom of her gut. She felt weak in the knees. Her hands trembled. She put down the paintbrush. Her vision blurred and in that moment she knew exactly what she would do.
She rustled around in the bottom of her handbag, took out a bubble wrapped package, opened it and removed several empty syringes with long, strong and shiny needles. Her heart raced. She hurried to the pantry where she’d stowed a pair of heavy-duty work gloves, protective goggles she purchased yesterday at the hardware store, Pyrex baking dish and a handful of rags. She put everything into a plastic bucket and carried it out to the garage.
The place was a mess. Bill’s workbench on the far wall was cluttered with greasy tools. Spare auto parts scattered across the floor made it nearly impossible to walk without banging her anklebone into something. Dusty spider webs fluttered in the corners. A tingle of excitement wiggled up her spine when she saw the pile of car batteries lined up against a wall. She took a few breaths to calm herself then knelt down next to the discarded junk.
Corrosion spilled across the tops of the batteries like a thick layer of coarse salt. The area smelled of sulfuric acid. She put on the gloves, secured the goggles over her eyes and cautiously slid a screwdriver under a cap on one of the batteries. She had researched this process on the internet and though she hadn’t found anything that fully explained how to do what she intended to do, she knew enough to get the project underway.
It took only a few minutes to pry off several caps on one of the batteries. She slowly, carefully tipped the battery and turned a flashlight beam into the opening. It was just like the guy on the internet said. The fluid was there but the inner workings were dark and corroded. She lifted the syringe from the Pyrex baking dish, and though it was awkward wearing the work gloves, she managed to stick the needle of the syringe into the acid and slowly pull back the plunger until she saw fluid oozing into the glass barrel. Her hands were as steady as they had ever been and when the syringe was nearly filled, she carefully laid the instrument back into the baking dish and then lowered the other needle into the dark cavern of the battery, extracting more fluid.
A slight breeze blew into the open garage door. A car drove passed the house. There was no reason for her to hurry. She could feel her hands were sweating inside the gloves as she cleared away the clutter from one corner of Bill’s workbench. Lifting the baking dish from the floor Georgia placed it on the wooden surface.
The glass syringes sparkled in a beam of sunlight that streamed through the only window. The off-colored fluid in the syringes looked harmless and Georgia stood still for a moment admiring her handiwork. Then her heart raced as she reached into her sweater pocket and felt the tubes of watercolor paint; Cadmium Blue, Payne’s Gray, Hooker’s Green, Dark, and a handful of half empty tubes of paint that she’d absconded with from Mary Ann’s work area.
There was no doubt in her mind what she would do. Her momentary hesitation wasn’t a faltering in her courage, but a time to appreciate what she was about to do. Mary Ann had brought this on herself, it wasn’t only that she was sneaking around with Bill; it was the way she nagged and embarrassed Georgia in class. At first Georgia thought it felt like a stern master teaching tough lessons. But nothing pleased Mary Ann and though she found fault with every student in the class, she in particular used Georgia’s work as examples of what not to do.
Georgia put the tubes of paint on the bench and removed the lid of the Cadmium Blue. Carefully holding the tube steady in one hand, she picked up a syringe and carefully inserted the needle into the opening of the tube and slowly pushed the plunger down, releasing a small amount of acid into the paint. She pulled the needle out of the tube of paint. Mary Ann, too busy to buy the paint herself asked Georgia – well, really ordered – her to purchase the tubes of paint for her. This was the way things had been going for nearly two months, Mary Ann saying, “Get me this. Get me that.” It was as though shagging Bill had given her ammunition and a reason to be even meaner to Georgia.
She screwed the lid back onto the blue tube, then removed the lids to the other paint tubes and gave them each an injection of acid. When she finished there was still a bit of acid remaining in one of the syringes and Georgia gave the Hooker’s Green another dose.
Mary Ann demanded that the paint be delivered before noon, but knowing how urgently she needed the new paints to finish the canvases that she’d been scheduled to exhibit at a local gallery, Georgia deliberately stalled. She had her own deadline. She needed to pack, though she’d decided long ago what she’d take with her. The bank wouldn’t be open for a couple more hours, but she’d get there early and withdraw what she’d figured was her share of the savings. And then there was the special food to prepare for Bill: a big pot of Irish stew; dense, chewy brownies; and his very favorite, a Key Lime pie.
The phone rang a little after noon.
“Where are you? Where’s my paint?” Mary Ann ranted into the answering machine and then hung up.
Georgia smiled. “They’re right here. Not to worry my dear Mary Ann, I got just what you need.”
“Where the Hell were you?” Mary Ann said when she opened the door.
“I had business to take care of. I couldn’t get here any sooner.”
“You wasted an entire day for me. I swear, Georgia, you have such little regard for other people.”
Georgia did not apologize and handed over the three new tubes of paint, then said, “Do you mind if I go into the studio? I forgot something the last time I was here.”
“Hurry up. I have some place to go.”
“A date?” Georgia asked.
“Someone I know.”
“Doubt it.” Mary Ann turned her back to Georgia.
“I’ll be just a minute,” Georgia said and walked to the back of the house where Mary Ann taught her class and had set up her painting studio. Georgia quickly took the half-used tubes of paint from her pocket and dropped them onto the cluster of other paints.
Mary Ann stood at the door waiting; her tight jeans squeezed in at the waist made her soft stomach bulge over the waistband. In the last couple of months it looked like she’d gotten sloppy about taking care of her grey roots.
They needed touching up, and the years of using cheap bleach had left the ends of her hair dry and brittle looking. She was certainly no beauty, and the entitled look on Mary Ann’s face irritated the hell out of Georgia, and made the incident that had changed everything flash across Georgia’s mind. A surge of blood pulsed in her temples. It wasn’t the way Mary Ann criticized her, or the way she blatantly screwed around with Bill, good riddance’s to that old boy, she thought. But, the last straw was what she had done two weeks ago.
It happened in the middle of a Sunday afternoon lesson. “What the hell are you doing?” Mary Ann shouted from across the room. Bev, the woman who usually sat next to Georgia, looked up startled worried that she had been picked out for criticism. Then Mary Ann stood in back of Georgia, glaring down at her painting. “Some people are just hopeless,” Mary Ann said. Georgia detected a tone of glee in her voice. If Mary Ann had left it at that there might not have been a need to get back at her. But then Mary Ann grabbed a paintbrush and began to smear paint across Georgia’s canvass, using colors that were totally uncalled for, paint that ruined the intent of Georgia’s composition.
“There,” Mary Ann said. “Isn’t that better? Some folks just don’t have a color sense and, well, I wonder if it’s possible to teach some people to paint.”
Mary Ann stood in the doorway, the new paint tubes clearly clutched in her hands. Georgia wondered if the tubes of paint felt warm. Would they bulge, perhaps even explode? She sighed disappointed that she wouldn’t be around to see the results of her handiwork.
Georgia got into her car. A full tank of gas, the trunk of the vehicle packed with clothes and the few possessions she didn’t want to leave behind, her paints, a big wad of money from a joint savings account and Georgia was off on an adventure. She’d given it a lot of thought. Anything she’d left behind could be thrown in the dumpster. She’d even written a congenial note for Bill. At first, she thought she’d just write out in big letters, GO TO HELL, but decided against that. She wanted it to seem as though she was on an impromptu trip to visit her sister. She wanted it to seem natural and she wanted time to get settled before anyone might come looking for her.
It took Georgia four tanks of gas and seven day to get her to where she wanted to be. She turned off the cell phone and only listened to her messages in the evening when she was bundled up in a motel. The first call came from Bill the night she’d left, asking if she knew when she might return.
Georgia understood what he was hinting at. “Go for it Bill,” she said after he’d hung up. “You better enjoy yourself while you can, sweetheart.” She couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
There were no calls for almost four days. Then she listened to a message miles and miles away from her old life. It was Bill. He sounded awful. “Georgia, I need you. I’m sick as a dog. I think I have cancer of the gut. You have to come home. Why don’t you answer your phone? Georgia, are you there? Please.”
The phone went dead. Georgia turned up the sound on the TV. “Oh, you’re going to survive, you idiot. You don’t die from a bellyache.”
She had no intentions of returning to her old life and she had no idea what lay in front of her, but she’d left enough food dusted with a tasteless laxative powder to keep Bill miserable for quite some time. The sugar, easy to contaminate, was the first food she messed with. The Irish stew and brownies was a no brainer. Then she doctored everything she could think of with orange and lemon flavored laxative powder and that Key Lime pie, well that, she was particularly proud of. “No, Bill,” she said, “You aren’t going to die. You’re just going to feel like it.”
It didn’t take Georgia long to settle into a comfortable cottage in a small mountain community near the California-Oregon border. Then one evening her curiosity got the best of her and she wondered how things had gone for Mary Ann. There was no reason for her not to call an old friend from the painting class. She opened the address book in her iPhone and called the woman who often sat next to her.
“Yeah, Bev, it’s me, Georgia,” she said.
“Where are you?”
“I needed a vacation, some time away to think. You know how it is.” Georgia had watched this woman cringe every time Mary Ann said something. Frightened and lonely, Georgia knew that this store clerk would still be in the class.
“Yes, I understand,” Bev said.
“So, how are things in the class?”
“It’s just awful what happened to Mary Ann. Did you hear?”
“No, I’ve been out of town.”
“Mary Ann developed a terrible skin condition. It got so bad she couldn’t hold a brush in her hands. And then something happened to her canvases. They just disintegrated. They looked so bad the gallery owner took them out of the show. Mary Ann was going to sue them but then she got this skin condition and no one has heard from her since.”
“That’s awful,” Georgia said and she tried to sound as sympathetic as she could, but knew it probably wasn’t very believable.
“I miss going to the class,” Bev said. “You coming back any time soon?”
Georgia went out onto her small deck where she’d set up an easel and a table for her paints. The light was just right, a late afternoon amber glow washed across the foothills in the distance and there was a hint of a Cadmium Blue in the upper portion of the sky.
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
4 large eggs
1 ½ cup flour
¾ cup cocoa
2 tesp. baking powder
12 individually wrapped caramel squares cut into quarters
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips
Chopped nuts. Cut caramel squares in quarter.
Lightly butter and dust with flour a 8 X 8 baking pan.
Set oven at 375. Baking time is 25-30 minutes.
Cream butter with sugar and then add 1 egg at a time to the butter mixture and incorporate completely.
In separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and then add to the creamed butter / sugar mixture.
Add caramels, nuts and chocolate chips to the batter and pour mixture into prepared baking dish.
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