DEATH HAS A PRICE

Submitted into Contest #160 in response to: Start your story with the whistle of a kettle.... view prompt

4 comments

Crime Fiction Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Life was never supposed to be this hard. I tried to understand his sickness. His brain twisted the very fabric of his reality. Trying to teach him to process things in a non destructive way was like trying to coax a spider into not weaving an intricate web. Once the webs are spun and its prey is captive the spider is compelled to poison the victim. Just as my son spun webs of deceit he would poison his victims with intoxicating venom; the lies, he spewed from his mouth. Once they trusted him, he would strike then watch as their life faded away.

Did I do enough as a father? Did the pre-teen deer hunting trips affect his pshcosis?  Were the 14 lives he took my responsibility? 

The faint whistling of a tea kettle brought me back to conscious thought. Back to reasonable, rational thinking. Water boiling in a kettle for me represents life, the process, the natural order of things working behind the scenes. The steam billowing from the spout was a release of pressure. A boiling point could be reached and used to do something good. My son didn't have a 'spout' he was closed off. Using that boiling point to release pressure and steam was never an option. Every time he felt heat and pressure he would explode. 

I'll never forget the day he pleaded, "I love you dad, you help so many people. Can we go somewhere together just for a weekend? Just you and I. There is something I want to, no-something I have to tell you" I was so stupid, so blind to my only child. You know what I told him?

"Son I love you too, but the international conference for excellence in psychiatric counseling is in town this weekend.  I am one of the speakers. Can we do it next month? My schedule is lighter then."

Yep, that's the answer I gave him. My ego had to be stroked. Men and women in suits and fancy dresses, donors to my charitable foundations couldn't go unattended.  That's the lies we give to purge our guilt. So many times I had counseled other fathers to listen and put their children before their work.

HYPOCRISY…at its finest

Somehow I never seem to take my own sage advice. 

I later discovered that was the weekend he took a trip up to Yonkers and ended the lives of a young girl and her brother, who "got in the way." He dumped the precious children in the Hudson river. They eventually surfaced about 3 miles from the cabin our family rented on summer breaks when he was in middle school.

I sat up straight in my leather recliner. Pressing my butt against the back of the cushion, my hands pushed up on the armrests and I rose to my feet. They were numb, I hadn't been on them in three hours when my last session ended. I stood for a moment in the office library surrounded by books about mental health. My doctorate (MD) and my psychiatry license hung in matching ornate custom crafted wood frames on the wall behind the oversized chair. The matching leather couch with the overpriced chaise and a pair of faux palm trees lined the wall in front of me. I shook the blood back down into my legs and feet and exited the office.

I arrived in the conference room. I listened and watched for a moment as the whistling and steam became more intense. I placed my hand over the spout for a moment, I held it there until it burned me. I wanted to feel something, anything. Pain for a Price…

I opened the cupboard and grabbed a tea cup. The fancy kind, white porcelain, with hand painted pink and gold flowers. I opened the drawer under the cabinet and grabbed a bag of handcrafted Oolong tea perfectly rolled and bagged. I dropped it into the cup. I slid the kettle off the electric countertop burner and poured steaming hot water over the bag into the cup. It wasn't  Oo'long before the water became a rich warm amber color and the tea was ready to drink. 

I took a sip, slurping the piping hot delight, slowly leaving the cold dark reality behind me for just a moment.  One more sip; then I took a deep breath, and entered the hallway.  Perfectly polished white and gold marble floors welcomed me. I took two steps forward…

Had the floors at the home of his final victim been cleaned or was the carpet still stained with Cindy's blood. I heard the family left their home abandoning it and all their earthy belongings. They moved back to Arkansas the day the Jury reached the guilty verdict and sent my son to prison for life. 

I tried talking to Cindy's mother after the trial but she spit in my face. I don't blame her, I still can't reconcile the atrocities he had perpetrated myself.  Cindy was her oldest daughter and best hope for her family to get out of poverty. She had two other girls, one nine and one sixteen. I will always remember the look that nine year old Cherri gave me after her mother spat on me. She held her hands up forming a heart and mouthed what could have only been,"Its not your fault Cindy and I forgive you." She took her mothers hand and led her away from the press and chaos, they disappeared into the cold New York night.

Cindy had earned a full scholarship to Columbia University, which ranks 4th in the nation for our field of study. Her family moved here to New York, to be close to her. Ironically she was studying for her doctorate in psychiatry and that's how she met my son. 

He was waiting outside my office one day and she was applying for an internship with one of the physicians in the building. My son was distraught, so I told him we would talk after my session. Cindy saw him in the hallway crying as he waited for me to finish. She did what I so often failed to do, what any decent person would do. She engaged in a conversation with him. Her instincts and training kicked in and she just listened while he talked. She then gave him her number, and that compassion was her fatal mistake. 

"If you need me, don't hesitate to call." She gave her pleasant southern smile and walked away as I called him into my office.

My teacup hit the floor and shattered on the marble. I jumped, when a hand came to rest on my shoulder. Apparently I was in a zone of unconscious thought, standing there in the hall. The Oolong tea pooling there on the floor took me back to the trial, to exhibits of victims' blood in picture and video. I fell to the floor and began to weep uncontrollably.  I looked back to see who had reached out, who had touched my shoulder. There was no one. The hall was empty.

Later that night as I watched the Yankees lose a stunner to the Red Sox,  a commercial for a law firm which shall remain unnamed came on the tele and bashed my son. They announced that a civil suit had been filed on behalf of the victims' families and that my office and I were named as litigants in said case. That was the first I had heard of the matter. 

I was boiling now! I felt like my spout was closed. Fire burned in my belly, and I needed to release some steam. How dare they go behind my back. We had reached a preliminary agreement that included free counseling sessions to any of the victims immediate family members. We also conceded a reasonable cash settlement where we had already given them access to the funds. In exchange they agreed to keep us out of the news and away from any further civil litigation as long as my son didn't file any appeals for his sentence.

I yelled at my T.V. telling it to turn itself off. Then screamed at the lights to dim. I sprung off the couch and knocked a vase from a pedestal. They weren't the only ones suffering here. 

I testified against my son. I gave the jury and the world the bombshell they would never let me live down. That courtroom was the first time I revealed to anyone that my wife was in fact my son's first victim. At the time I believed it was an accident, we were on what would be our last hunting trip. We were in Lake Taghkanic State Park. My son asked if he could show his mother the spot where we tagged our first deer. We agreed, thinking maybe they could bond a bit. I kissed my wife for the last time. 

They left the campsite and an hour later my son showed up covered in blood panicking, screaming that some hunter had shot his mother and ran off into the woods. My son's Shotgun was still at our site so I didn't put it together until many years later. He led me to her. Her body was lying about one-hundred yards from the spot he wanted to show her. We called 911 but it was too late she was gone. 

Autopsy revealed she had died of a .22 caliber wound to the head. The previous summer my son had sold his .22 cal to his uncle when we got him his first shotgun. When the first charges were filed against him I asked her brother about that weapon.

"That .22 I wanted?" He asked, looking puzzled.

"Yeah the one he sold you."

"Sorry to break the news to you, but Doug did not sell it to me. He got cold feet and said he couldn't part with it." Then he knew, it became real to him. He fell to his knees. "He- he did this, how dare you stand there and-" Tears streamed down his face, he fell flat in the green grass in front of his house. 

Douglas or Doug:  I haven't spoken his name for a couple years now. Just son, that's all the courage I could muster. Saying his name makes it somehow more real. It sounds crazy I know, letting go is hard. When we first saw our baby boy and uttered his name for the first time we were in love. Everything else faded away in that moment, however brief,  anything was possible. The strange thing is, my wife and I didn't pre plan his name. It just felt…Right

[Ironically, Linguistically, Douglas is derived from the Gaelic elements: dubh, meaning "dark, black"; and glas, meaning "stream" (also a derivative of glas, meaning "green").]

I reached down to pick up the shattered pieces of the glass vase. Each piece reminded  me of a broken family that would likely never be fully mended. 14 lives removed from the planet, but dozens maybe even hundreds of lives forever impacted. I held a shard of glass in my right hand, it was beautiful, yet eerily dark.  

"Do it," two simple words filled my mind, "Dooo ittt!" I held up my left hand and sliced it with the piece I held in my right. Blood slowly formed in my palm. I turned my hand sideways and watched as the blood dripped over each piece of the broken vase.

A one hundred year old intricately carved grandfather clock, which my father passed down to me, stood tall next to the pedestal where the vase recently stood. It chimed 10 times alerting me it was 10pm. I closed my eyes and pictured each victim starting with my wife, and ending with Cindy. I sat down among the broken pieces and fell asleep. It was morning when I awoke to the door bell ringing. It felt seamless from clock chime to doorbell ring interwoven like a D.J. mixing melodies from my dreams back to the harsh reality that had become my existence.

I rose to my feet and brushed the glass off my pants smearing dried blood from my hands across them in the process. The bell rang again. I stepped over the fragments of vase and pulled a small shard from my palm. I made my way to  the kitchen and grabbed a towel. Pressing it into the cut on my left hand. I wrapped it and tied it off. I held it with my right hand and used my teeth to tighten it. I glanced into the foyer. Two people stood outside the door. They peered into my home.

The bell rang again before I could get to the door. I was sure they were just there to serve me papers for the civil suit I learned about last night. I opened the door just enough for them to slide the papers through when one of them spoke.

"Excuse me sir, is this the Price residence?" I was taken aback, surely she was joking. The media had all but camped out for over a month watching my every move until a couple days ago when the trial finally ended. They knew damn well who I was. Phillip Price,"psychiatrist of the psyco" at least that's what I was dubbed in social media circles and on the news. 

"Yes, yes it is."

I tried to sound like it mattered what they had to say. There was nothing that could make me feel worse than I already did. Until she said it…

"Doctor Price, I am here to inform you that your son Douglas was found hanged in his cell last night. Preliminary reports say it was suicide, they discovered him at 10pm." Her voice was cold and matter of fact. The man behind her seemed distant; he wasn't there with her like I had previously surmised.

He stepped forward, brandishing a badge of some sort. My mind was racing, thinking of my son, as atrocious as his crimes had been. I still loved him, I still bore the weight and pain for his life. I was still paying the; Price. 

I forgot about the towel wrapped around my hand. Forgot about the blood smeared across my pants, forgot about the fragments of broken vase that still lay on the floor of the family room interlaced with my blood. 

I stepped outside the door. He drew his side arm as I reached out my hand to greet him. "Stay where you are, hands up!" I complied and then understood why he was jumpy.

"Sorry sir, I broke a vase and cut my hand. I was in the process of cleaning it when you arrived." 

"Sure you were Physco, like father like son." Then he asked "Where is the girl?" He raised his sidearm then repointed it at my head for emphasis. "Did you harm her, is she okay?" 

I really had no idea what he was talking about. "Sir if you want we can sit down inside and discuss it. Must be some kind of misunderstanding." 

"We can discuss it at the station."  He proceeded to read me my rights and place me under arrest.

We arrived at the station, where I was once again greeted with a familiar frenzied blitz of news media trying to be the first to get the scoop. A scoop whose flavor was foreign to me. I still wasn't in on the joke that had become my existence. Why I was here in cuffs I still did not know. He led me to a conference/interrogation room. 

Once inside I was given the old, good cop bad cop routine. I was glad to learn what I was in for. Apparently, Cherri, Cindy's nine year old sister was missing and she was last spotted in my office building, and they thought I killed her.  It was her hand that touched my shoulder. When I dropped the cup she ran away. The one communication I had with her was positive, she was one of the few who showed me grace and love.

"Okay Doctor Price, you are free to go." The police chief himself stood behind me and spoke. I was so confused in that moment. "Your story checks out. And well- there is someone who wants to see you." He removed the handcuffs  and opened the door to the room. I walked out and before I knew what happened I was embraced with a huge hug.

Cherri was squeezing me. She held me tightly. I welled up with tears, It had been years since I had felt truly loved. I hugged her back and looked her in the face. She looks just like Cindy. "I'm sorry for your loss." Her sweet Arkansas accent and innocence was refreshing. "Your son was not evil, he was sick. I'm sorry we couldn't help him."

I was lost for words, very few people understood life, at least mine, the way she did. "Where is your mother Cherri, does she know you are here?"

"Of course she does, what kind of a mother do you think I am?" She stepped forward and stood next to her daughter. "I too am sorry for your loss Phillip, I'm also sorry about spitting on you at the courthouse."

"Apology accepted, I never blamed you. And I am extremely sorry for your loss." 

"Where do we go from here? I can never make up for the damage my son created." She paused for a moment, searching for the right words. Even though we were in a busy police station surrounded by people it felt empty. 

"We will start by dropping the civil suit against your business and estate, I was so angry, Cindy was so full of life." I placed my hand on her shoulder. She grabbed it and placed it in hers. 

We wept.

Sometimes the Cost of success far outweighs  the Price…

August 23, 2022 13:42

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4 comments

Graham Kinross
15:18 Dec 23, 2022

There are some great phrases here and the dialogue is very sharp.

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Sharon Williams
14:06 Sep 01, 2022

Dear Eshawnial, Critique Circle here. Your story contained some clever ideas. For instance, 'Sometimes the Cost of success far outweighs the Price…' and 'Douglas is derived from the Gaelic elements: dubh, meaning "dark, black"; and glas, meaning "stream" (also a derivative of glas, meaning "green'. Also, the way you used the image of the boiling kettle to describe the narrator's response to life's stimuli. I feel that some of the dialogue could be worked on. To give an example, where Cherri says, 'Your son was not evil, he was sick. I'm so...

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Susan Williams
02:31 Sep 01, 2022

Yikes, so disturbing. Well written.

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Eshawnial Lowry
12:35 Sep 01, 2022

Thanks Susan, I will checkout some of your stories. Congrats and good luck.

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