The sun was just setting when a car with heavy tinted windows pulled up to the dilapidated plantation at the end of an overgrown private way. A beefy, dark skinned woman wearing a secondhand flowered dress stepped out of the car into the sweltering August dusk, beads of sweat immediately appearing on her forehead. She mopped at her brow with a lacy handkerchief, grabbed a worn leather briefcase, then beat a path through the overgrown lawn to the paint-pealed and termite infested porch of the old manor house. Florence Moses knocked tentatively, afraid that a pane of glass from the oak front door might come crashing down as the lead sealant had all but worn away.
Florence heard a snapping, crashing sound and turned just in time to see a gator dive into the swamp ten yards from the house. There was a second one and it stared at her hungrily. She shivered in ninety-degree heat.
“Whaddya want?” croaked a male voice so old it sounded as if it were covered in dust. Florence, who had been distracted by the large reptile, gasped and jumped back slightly, the porch creaking dangerously.
Florence tried to compose herself. “Mister…Rehnquist?” She asked tentatively.
“I don’t want no encyclopedias,” scratched the voice. “No vacuum cleaners neither. Now go ‘way.”
“No,” Florence said, confidence returning. “Nothing like that, sir. I’m here from Miss Dupree’s office.”
The door squealed open a fraction of an inch. “Dupree? My solicitor? Guess you better come in, I suppose.”
The man—Rehnquist—shuffled away from the front door, leaving it open. He was wearing little more then a stained nightshirt and a pair of moccasins. Florence went in quickly, snapping the door shut behind her. “Yes, thank you sir for inviting me in.”
But Rehnquist had kept walking, turning the corner at the end of the foyer.
Florence followed, looking at stacks of yellowing newspapers and dried animal feces littering the once opulent reception area rug. Careful not to step on anything, she turned the same corner Rehnquist had to find herself in what remained of a large kitchen. There was a camp bed in the corner, and rickety card table with two folding chairs piled high with empty TV dinner boxes, and an old rotary phone.
Rehnquist pulled out one of the chairs. “Sit,” he said, turning to face her. “Miss Dupree done what I asked then?”
“Yes sir. I have the paperwork here,” she said patting her briefcase. “The manor house, 107 acres of property. The old mill down by the river. It’s prime Charleston area real estate—we have already found a buyer, willing to pay cash.”
Rehnquist held out his hand, Florence quickly took out a sheaf of papers from her briefcase. Multicolored post-it note arrows stuck out at random intervals.
“I’ve already marked where you need to sign…”
Rehnquist took the papers with a dismissive gesture. He signed without reading. “Miss Dupree’s pappy and I go way back. Helluva solicitor. He and I…well, we used to feed you sorta folk to the gators out back.”
Florence took back the paperwork slowly as Rehnquist handed it over with out looking at her.
“Thank you, Mr. Rehnquist. I’ll see myself out.”
Her lip only trembled once as she got out of that house as quickly as she could.
# # #
It took nearly an hour to navigate around the flash floods the summer evening torrential rainfall caused. The windshield wipers beat at full speed to little effect on the car that pulled up to a smart-looking triple-decker. Dupree Solicitors was on East Bay Street in the professional district of Charleston near the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon.
Florence shut the engine off, got out of the car and hurried up the front steps clutching her briefcase. She didn’t bother with an umbrella—wouldn’t have done much good anyway. The main entrance was still open and there was a light in the hallway.
She shivered a bit as she crossed the hallway to Ms. Dupree’s office; her soaked shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor. She opened the heavy oak door without knocking. The acrid smell of burning tobacco permeated the office.
Ms. Dupree, an anorexic waif of a woman with dirty blonde hair tied up in an elaborate bun, was sitting at a large desk that had been hand crafted from the timbers of a sunken steamboat. The desk was sparsely used; only a laptop computer, it’s bluish light washing out the lawyer’s features, sat on its surface. An expensive rubbed-oil bronze floor lamp illuminated the rest of the office with a soft yellow glow. The luxurious blood red carpet already had towels down to mop up rain water brought in by visitors, and mahogany bookcases filled with leather-bound law books lined the walls.
A smoldering cigarette sat with it’s burned out cousins in a glass ashtray.
Florence hurried over to one of the chairs facing the desk, careful to stay on the towels.
“Don’t sit,” said Dupree, never looking up. “Is it done?”
“Yes. The old bastard never even read it.”
“Good work,” Dupree said, looking at Florence. “This calls for a celebration. Be a dear and pour me a drink.”
Florence put her briefcase down on the chair she’d been told not to sit in and walked over to the matching mahogany mini-bar across from the desk. She poured a generous portion of a rich amber liquid into a glass.
“Here you go, ma’am,” she said turning. Dupree had gone into Florence’s bag and already had the deed transfer papers in her hand. Dupree began to read the papers, absentmindedly holding out her hand for the tumbler.
Florence handed her a drink. She remained standing while Dupree sat.
Dupree downed her drink in one quick motion.
“Wait. What’s this? These aren’t the documents I gave you,” said Dupree, irritated.
“No, ma’am. They aren’t,” said Florence calmly.
“You bitch! You put your name in! You had Rehnquist sign over the deed to you!” Dupree threw the papers at her.
Florence stood impassively, watching the papers scatter across the carpet.
“You’re fired. And I’m going to have you arrested…” Dupree broke off, her eyes bulging. She began to cough as white foam appeared at the corners of her mouth.
“Guess you should’ve read the papers too, ma’am.”
Dupree had fallen on the carpet, her breath coming in wet-sounding rasps. It was over in less than a minute.
# # #
It didn’t take long for Florence to tidy the office, pour the poisoned bourbon down the toilet, and move Dupree’s towel-wrapped petite body out to the trunk of her car. In this rain, there would be no witnesses. She locked the office and got in the drivers seat.
The dashboard clock read 9 PM.
Pulling out her mobile, she dialed a number.
“Mr. Rehnquist, Florence Moses here, from…yes that’s right. Sorry to disturb you. I realized I forgot one last bit of paperwork…my fault completely, yes. I can pop out tonight if you…” There was a buzzing sound on the line.
“Appreciate it! See you in a while.” Florence pressed the off button.
She checked her briefcase and found her snub-nosed .38 next to the papers recovered from Dupree’s office. Florence put the car in drive and headed back toward the planation. She left just as the first tongues of flame began to lick at the curtains of Dupree’s office. The fire chief’s report would list the cause of the blaze as a poorly discarded cigarette.
The plan was almost finished. Along with the body in the trunk, there remained one last loose end. As for the bodies, well, Rehnquist’s gators were going to eat good tonight.
R. B. Wood is a technology consultant and a writer of speculative and dark fiction. His first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, was released to critical acclaim in 2012. Mr. Wood is currently working on the second book of his Arcana Chronicles series, multiple short stories, a graphic novel and a science fiction trilogy that he dusts off every few years. Along with his writing passion, R. B. is host of The Word Count Podcast – a show that features talent from all around the globe reading original flash-fiction stories.
R. B. currently lives in Boston with his partner, Tina, a multitude of cats and various other critters that visit from time to time.