A few years ago I did a couple of TAFE courses in short story writing.  From this, several short stories were hatched, which will eventually form part of a book of short stories.  One of these short stories is offered below.

 Top Job

by Judy MacDonnell

MARTIN PUT THE phone down carefully.  The conversation he'd just overheard left him feeling as though he'd dived into an empty swimming pool.  After twenty years of marriage his wife was having an affair!

"I have to see you soon," she'd said on the phone upstairs in the bedroom. 

"How about Friday?  I’ll be free around midday." The man's voice was calm and husky, with intimate undertones.

"Perfect!"

"I think we're doing the right thing, don't you?  You deserve a brand-new life.  I'll do my best to make you the happiest woman alive."

"You've no idea how much I need this!  Martin mustn't know.  I'll tell him I'm staying with my sister—she'll cover for me." Julie's voice had been barely a whisper.

The man had chuckled. "Hang in there. Here's to Friday then," and the line went dead.

Martin fell back into an armchair and closed his eyes.  Now a lot of things made sense—conversations cut short, papers shuffled when he walked into a room.  Evasiveness when he´d asked where she´d been.

The footsteps on the stairs matched his heartbeats.  His eyes flew open.  

"Hi, honey," said Julie.  She looked guilty. "You´re home early! I've been talking to Mandy—she wants me to go over on Friday."

"Oh," said Martin casually. "For how long?"

"Mmmm...maybe a week."

"OK. Take as long as you want."

"Thanks," she said with a quick smile.  "I'll fill the freezer so you won't starve."

He shrugged.  "No need. I can eat out."  He was glad she was going; it would give him time to think.  His mind was turning like a butter churn but an odd sensation of excitement tingled in his mouth.  Calm down, he told himself, think this all through logically.

As a politician he'd trained himself to be objective.  This affair of hers could be the catalyst for a plan that had been simmering at the back of his mind for a long time.  He flicked through his options.

He abhorred failure.  "I don't belong where I'm not first," had always been his motto and losing his wife to another man was unthinkable.  But did he really want to keep her?  Julie was no longer the woman he'd married.  Her face showed lines of unhappiness and fatigue and her figure had thickened.  She had grown dowdy and people no longer shot him the envious glances they once did.

Now he needed a younger, smarter woman, one who could turn heads his way as Julie once had.  I've had the luck of the gods, he thought, a perfect physique, the looks of a movie star and brains too.  I should have no problem finding a new spouse.

Divorce was out of the question. People usually blamed the man in a divorce—it would ruin his image, just as the Prime Ministership was within reach.

Should he confront Julie?  It wasn't his style.  And he'd have to admit eavesdropping.  What would he say—that he wanted her back?  He might as well swim with piranha; she'd probably try to drag him off to marital counselling again. 

It had been twenty years since their courtship.  He'd chosen Julie for many reasons.  The girl had been sublime and he'd loved her of course; every man who saw her had wanted her.  Her aura had swept him away.  Together they had charmed the public, blasting upward like a comet in the political universe.  But beauty and popularity were not enough to entice him into marriage—most importantly there was the money her parents had left her.  Martin had had the best architect in the country design a showcase of a home, with a gym and a pool so he could keep his body in perfect condition.  Her money had paid for it all and had helped to kick-start his political campaigns, although that was information he preferred to keep private.

Later in their marriage, Julie's sweet, conforming manner began to annoy Martin, made him want to dominate her.  He'd grown increasingly irritated with her.  Then she'd first begged him to attend counselling but he'd refused, of course.  Accepting advice from someone else meant surrendering control; he couldn't do it, then or now.

If Julie died, he reflected, public sympathy would definitely be with him.  Headlines might read, "Promising Candidate Loses Soul Mate," or, "Brave Face of Prime Minister Elect".  It might have been even better if they'd had children.  Children could really arouse emotions.  "Motherless Children Cling to Bereaved Minister for Comfort"... but this was foolishness!  Children had never been on his agenda although they had been on Julie's.  A smirk twisted his face.  Children were noisy, expensive and attention-demanding as far as he was concerned.

Yes, Julie must die.  It was for the best, for him and for the country.  He was needed in the top job.  After an acceptable period of grieving he would marry a new, glamorous spouse—but it would have to be before the next election.  He'd be the Prime Minister of the century and his future would be secure.  Oh!  And he'd have Julie's inheritance too, of course.

Martin began researching.  Julie had once been quite a health nut and had lots of reference books.  There must be a herb or potion he could enlist.  Several plants were good candidates.  Suddenly, there it was—Savin Tops, or Juniperus Sabina.  Used for gout, rheumatism, warts...severely toxic...six drops of oil are life-threatening to humans…fatal poisonings have occurred.

          On Julie's thigh was a large wart, which had always annoyed him.  A plan formed.  Yes, he'd be ready for her when she returned.  Martin knew just where he could get the oil discreetly.  His lips spread into a thin, grim line.  She's going to take a new treatment! 

Julie used at least six drops of a liquid sweetener when she drank a mug of coffee.  He'd fill her sweetener bottle with the poison and put powdered sugar in her creamer so the coffee would still taste sweet.  She would never suspect!  The end would be unpleasant but fairly quick.  He'd destroy the evidence and plant fresh containers in the pantry; the rest of the oil would remain in its bottle in the bathroom.  Julie's fingerprints would be on all containers.  He'd see to that.

She rang during the week and he played the game.  How are you?...fine thanks, sweetheart...see you later.  While she was away he purchased the poison, and waited.

One afternoon, when he came home from the office, the shower was running.  He settled into an armchair with a cup of tea and mentally rehearsed his plan.

There was a movement on the stairs.  Instead of the middle-aged frump he'd been expecting, the woman smiling down at him was stunning.

"You've had your hair done!  A new dress?  Make-up?  You look... younger..."  He felt dizzy.  Then she was by his side, laughing as in old times.

"I've had a make-over!" she said.  "Face lift, tummy tuck, a different hair style.  Bought some new outfits.  I've been dieting too, for a few months, but you didn't notice."  She looked at him reproachfully.

She was gorgeous; he felt himself stirring.

"I thought you were having an affair."  His voice was petulant.

Her eyes filled. "There have been opportunities, and I've been tempted.  But I'm not a cheater!  Maybe I should have told you about the surgery but I wanted it to be a surprise. The doctor told me it would take about a week for the swelling to go down and I didn't want to come home before that.  I didn't really lie—I have been at my sister's for most of the week!"

Martin felt sick.  Darn her!  All this effort to plan the perfect crime and she was only having a face-lift.

"It was time," she was saying.  "I noticed the way you were looking at me and I knew I'd lost it!  I had to make myself beautiful for you, to start again.  Did I do wrong, using all that money?  Oh—I've had that wart removed too!  The one that's always bothered you.  Remember?"

His skin prickled at the thought of her dying now.  There would be no motive for her death and all fingers would point to him.  The aftermath would be horrendous!  Panic rushed through his veins.  He couldn't go through with it...would have to get to the poison before she did...

He went quickly into the kitchen, grabbed the sweetener bottle and poured its contents into the sink.  The bottle felt cool in his clasped hand.  Done!  His knees were shaking.  He turned to Julie, who'd just arrived with his empty teacup.

“Hey—wasn't your tea too sweet?" she asked, her eyes twinkling. "I thought you liked it black and strong!  I put my sugar substitute in that cup before I decided to have a shower."

Shock hit Martin like a cricket ball in the belly, and piercing pains followed.  Nausea came crashing in on him now; fiery cramps snatched and tore at the depths of his body.  He doubled over, retching.  Dizziness overcame him.  Then the light faded and he began to fall...

THE END

 

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