Murder, envy and a new start in life

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write about someone who’s desperately trying to change their luck.... view prompt

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Fiction

Penny offered to make some tea to calm things down, and Rod gratefully accepted. He was fond of Penny and appreciated her genuine concern and compassion for him, unlike Tom his brother, who returned to the drawing-room to join them. “Look, Rod. I’m not about to make a speech, but I wanted to say that Penny and I understand the stress and strain you are under right now. We know you didn’t kill Mary, of course, you didn’t you had a happy marriage, everyone knew that. We’ll do all we can to make life as comfortable for you whilst you’re here, but I think we need to agree on some ground rules…” Rod was quick to retaliate. “…Ground rules? You mean, I have to do and say what you expect of me!”

Tom was equally keen to assert himself.  “Can’t you hear me out? I’m not looking for an argument, Rod. I said we’re sorry you’re going through all this and will do what we can for you, but you need to understand that you’re our guest…” Again, Rod was riled. “…Your guest! I’m your bloody older brother and I expect more respect. All you’ve ever done is try and undermine me in everything I’ve done to change our lives for the better!” Penny heard the argument and came in with the tea to quell the anxiety. Tom left the room seething.

Penny sat with Rod and was honest with him. She acknowledged that the two brothers had had a difficult relationship that had worsened over the years for no justifiable reason. Tom had been a huge success in his business while Rod, his older brother had struggled with the challenges of life and envied his brother’s lifestyle. Penny understood the dynamic but was keen to point out that Tom was not the ogre Rod thought he was. He was trying to help him during this difficult time and Rod should try and be patient with him. Rod listened but he failed to respond in the way Penny had hoped. It was clear that they would have to tread warily if they were to avoid regular confrontations while Rod stayed in their home, after all, he wasn’t about to return to his own home knowing his wife had been brutally murdered in the kitchen. After Rod had finished his tea, Penny took him and his suitcase to the bedroom she had prepared for him. It was agreed he would unpack and shower before coming down. 

After she’d left him, she joined Tom in the study. Tom was still seething.

“What the hell do I have to do to please him? Is it not enough that we’re putting him up?” “Tom, his wife has been murdered. He has spent the past few days in a cell. He’s grieving. You know how much he loved Mary. We need to be patient with him. Please, let him get upset. Let him get angry and ignore anything negative he says about you, rather than getting angry yourself. I know it won’t be easy but it’s the right thing to do.” Tom saw the logic in what Penny had to say, despite his frustration. “I know. I will try my hardest to contain myself, but it won’t be easy.” 

“He’s your brother, Tom. We must do our best to support him.” Tom grimaced. He kissed Penny on the cheek. “I think I’ll go for a short walk, get some fresh air. I won’t be too long.” He put his jacket on and left the house.

Rod showered and returned to the drawing-room. Penny was waiting for him. “Does that feel better?” “Yes, thanks.” He sat on the sofa and Penny sat next to him. She looked at him and smiled as he became emotional once again. “Do you think I killed Mary?” “Of course not. We know you loved Mary, why would you harm her?” “The police do. I know they do! I can tell by the way they talk to me. Why would anyone else want to kill her? She had no enemies and there were no signs of robbery, not that we have anything to steal. I have spent all our married life trying to change our luck for the better, to have a lifestyle like you and Tom and where has it got me? My life’s over, Penny. I’ve lost Mary. I will lose my house. I have no way of paying my debts. I’ve borrowed so much money from friends that I have no way of paying back, and everyone hates me believing I killed Mary. It’s not true, but that’s how they see it. I have no friends now, not even a brother who really believes I’m innocent!” He broke down in tears.

“Oh, of course, Tom doesn’t think you murdered Mary. I said that earlier. You will work your way through all this, you really will. Your luck will change you’ll see.  It will take time, but you need to remain positive. One day at a time. Set yourself daily goals…” Rod became more agitated and interrupted her, “…You don’t understand. I have nothing, absolutely nothing. What have I got to look forward to? The best thing would be for the police to charge me with Mary’s murder, and I could go to prison where I wouldn’t have to think about anything.” “I know you’re hurting Rod, and I know everything looks so bleak right now, but it will get better. You will get through this, and we’ll help you, of course, we will.” Rod reflected.  “I can’t see Tom helping. He loathes me, always has. I’m a waster as far as he’s concerned.” Penny wanted to reassure him that wasn’t the case but knew the truth. “You’ve had your differences over the years, but Toms’, not the person you think he is. You must let him help you. If you continue to row with him, it will just make things worse. You need him right now.”

Penny offered to make more tea, which came as a welcome respite for them both. As she busied herself in the kitchen, Rod sat staring into space, reflecting on what Penny had said. He wasn’t a strong character and losing Mary, his rock, had left him vulnerable. Added to the loss of his wife, he also had huge debts and the prospect of retaining his home was unlikely unless a way could be found to pay off his mortgage and, just as importantly, the personal debts he had racked up that needed to be settled. His prospects were not good.

Tom returned from his walk and went into his study. He had had time to clear his head and think of how he was going to deal with his brother. He composed himself, then joined Penny and Rod in the drawing-room.

“Good walk, darling?” Before he had a chance to respond, Rod blurted out, “I’m sorry, Tom. I know you’re doing your best for me. I have been ungrateful. Can we start again with a clean sheet?” This came as a great surprise to both Penny and Tom. They had never heard Rod utter such reconciling words before. There was an awkward silence before Tom responded.

“No. I’m sorry. I know things are difficult for you right now and I haven’t been very sympathetic. On my walk, I was trying to think of a way of helping you out of this situation to give you a fresh start. I know you don’t want to go back to live in your family home; there are too many memories. I would feel the same.

Assuming the police no longer see you as a suspect, and that’s certainly what I believe, then we need to plan a future strategy for you. Clearly, I haven’t discussed with Penny what I am about to propose, but I’m sure she will agree. We will take the responsibility for paying off your mortgage in full, and we will settle all your outstanding personal debts. We will deal with the sale of your house and will fund a rental property for you for twelve months to give you time to get on your feet, find a job, and effectively start your life afresh. I know it won’t be easy for you, starting again, but we’ll provide as much encouragement and help as we can.” Both Rod and Penny were tearful. This was a grand gesture and just what Penny would have wanted Tom to do. Rod found it emotionally difficult to respond. He got up off the sofa and embraced his brother. Tom awkwardly returned the hug as Penny looked on, nodding affirmatively. She gave them a few seconds, then joined in the embrace. It was the perfect solution.

“Tom, and you too, Penny. Thank you both. This is so very generous. I already feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. This will help me, as Tom says, to make a new start. I know it will be difficult coming to terms with the loss of Mary, but I know I need to! Thank you…thank you.” He sat down and smiled. It was the first smile they -or he - had seen in a long time. “My suggestion is that over the next couple of days you draw up a list of your debts and how pressing they are, as best as you can recall, so that we can determine the extent of the liability. Once the police allow you access back to the house, you can gather any details that verify how much you owe and to whom. I can then make arrangements to settle up.” Rod nodded in the affirmative. Penny smiled broadly. “Why don’t we have a glass of champagne?” She was eager to celebrate the new accord between the brothers. Rod was happy to celebrate, although Tom would have preferred his gesture wasn’t seen in celebratory terms; in truth, it was more a way of relieving him of the burden of his brother in the longer term. The last thing he wanted was for Rod to live with them for any length of time and be a constant thorn in their side. His theory was that by allowing him a fresh start, unencumbered with debt, that he would get on with his life and, hopefully, leave them in peace.

That possibility would come at a hefty price, but it was a gamble Tom thought he had no choice but to take. Time would tell if he was right. 

June 12, 2021 09:56

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