The crack of Carl’s head against the corner of the dining table was enough to make Julian take a sharp breath. Had he chipped the varnish? Maybe it was time to get rid of the hand-me-down, anyway. Susan had always detested the ‘monstrosity’ that only just fitted in the room.
Carl grabbed at Julian’s legs, trying to unbalance him. Julian stood firm and casually looked around the room for something heavy. The hideous orange vase Susan’s mother had given them at Christmas would be perfect. He reached over to the outdated mantel piece and grabbed the ugly pottery with one hand.
Before Carl could struggle to his feet, Julian brought the weighty vase down hard on the back of his head. As the ceramic eyesore cracked into pieces, Carl slumped forwards into an almost kneeling position, blood at the base of his skull, arms crumpled beneath his torso. Side by side it was clear that the vase didn't quite match the rug despite Susan's mother insisting it did. That woman had no eye for detail.
Julian bent down over the other man and held his breath, listening for signs of life. Carl was still breathing. It was time to employ something more lethal. Julian left the dining room and swung into the kitchen. He skidded on the faded lino, spun towards the dented sink, and wrenched open the crooked door below it.
Bleach, detergent, and cleaning cloths scattered on the floor behind him as he worked his way to the back of the cupboard. When the final bottle of cream cleanser was out of the way, Julian reached down and back. He found the gap where the base had been fitted slightly shy of the wall, just enough to get his hand down and under the cupboard into the secret compartment.
Julian retrieved the shammy leather from its hiding place and swiftly unwrapped the knife he had made in his early twenties. A 5-inch blade, serrated on the edge, with a deep, sharp, gut hook on the spine. He had no time to admire his handy-work and instead he took a strong grip of the carved wooden handle, wrapping his fingers over the raven with its wings outstretched from the guard to the butt.
Returning to the dining room, Julian discovered Carl kneeling up with his phone out in front of him, camera ready for action. Julian rolled his eyes at Carl's sudden recovery, then bent down towards him and stuck the blade deep into his stomach. The rug was going to have to go after this. Carl pressed the camera button on his phone but, instead of snapping a picture of Julian, he only managed to get an image of the ornate knife handle sticking out from his stomach as his attacker withdrew.
Julian grabbed the phone from Carl's hand, wiping blood from the screen with his shirt sleeve. The photo had been sent to a WhatsApp chat with John Foster, Carl's brother. John lived 150 miles away in Leeds and wasn't likely to know Carl's exact location right now. Julian scrolled through the chat to be sure no further information had been exchanged and was satisfied that he was in no danger of being discovered. But the image had already been viewed so there was no option to delete it.
Julian hurled the mobile across the room. As the back of the phone smashed the glass of the Van Gogh Sunflowers print on the opposite wall, Julian bent forward and twisted the knife in Carl’s belly before ripping it back out of his flesh. Susan had always wanted the Starry Night print, but her mother thought Sunflowers went better with the vase.
Carl let out a distress-drenched scream and grabbed at his abdomen. Blood flowed onto the shocking orange rug, onto the wooden floor, splashing the overly ornate legs of the vile dining table. Julian plunged the knife again, this time into Carl’s chest. There was another desperate scream.
As Julian dragged the knife back out of Carl’s ribs, his body slumped forward and stopped moving. There was no breath, no pulse, no life.
Julian stood up after checking his victim. He was sure now that he had fulfilled his resolution. Never again would he have to bow down to this man, never again would he have to fake a smile while Carl lorded over him, never again would he have to cover up Carl’s shady dealings or lie to Susan about what her favourite uncle got up to at office parties.
‘Why don’t you just quit? If it’s making you so unhappy?’ Susan had asked him a full twenty seven times as of last Wednesday. ‘Maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to get another job. I personally don't see what's wrong with Uncle Carl, but if it's making you unhappy you should get out.’
He’d promised her on New Year's Day that he would be out of the job by the following year. But he couldn’t find a way to explain to her that if he quit, her uncle would make things even worse, for both of them.
Julian stepped back from the body, a little out of breath, smiling with satisfaction. Susan was at her Mother’s for the May Bank Holiday. She’d be home on Monday night. That gave him three days to sort out the mess. First thing first, wash off the knife and put it back behind the cupboard base.
. . .
‘Good trip Love? How’s your Mum?’
‘Ah, tolerable. I ignored her comments about the house, of course. On the one hand, she seems to think we’re made of money and on the other, she thinks she can dictate how we decorate because she feels compelled to pay for things we don’t want.’ Susan opened the car boot and retrieved a pale brown bobble glass jug. ‘I mean, just look at this piece of crap!’
‘Wow, that’s worse than the vase.’
‘She thought it would go well with the dining room colour scheme.’ Susan rolled her eyes and lifted her suitcase out of the boot. ‘You know, the one I hate.’
‘Let me take that.’ Julian relieved his wife of her suitcase. ‘I have a surprise for you, it’s a perfect excuse to send that jug to the charity shop.’
‘You may be my favourite person.’
They dropped the luggage in the hall and Julian covered Susan’s eyes as he opened the dining room door.
‘Open them on three.’ He said as he removed his hand from her face. ‘One…two…two and a half…’
‘The suspense is killing me!’
Gone was the bright yellow woodchip wallpaper, gone were Van Gogh’s sunflowers, gone was the awful floral fire surround and the overly fussy dining table and the bright orange rug and her mother’s hideous vase. In their place was the room décor she had described to her husband many times. A simple dining table, with two leaves that could be folded down, took centre stage. Starry Night, framed and mounted on the chimney breast, giving a basis for the colour scheme of the whole room. Shades of blue and pale yellows covered the walls, the curtains, the carpet! There was a carpet! Everything she hated had gone and only things she loved had replaced it.
. . .
Julian swished his hands in the soapy water. He hated the round sink in their kitchen, totally impractical, not to mention too low down for him to do the dishes without hurting his back. He caught his knee on the wonky cupboard door handle again and winced.
‘Have you seen the news, Love?’ Susan shouted through from the lounge with a catch in her voice. ‘It’s Uncle Carl. Look!’
Julian glanced round at the dingy, peeling, paintwork and pushed open the steamed-up window while he collected his thoughts. With a nod to the perfect hiding place of his trusty knife, he steeled himself and entered the lounge looking suitably puzzled.
‘What is it? What’s happened?’
A headshot of Carl Foster filled one half of the TV screen and a news reporter filled the other.
‘Missing since Thursday night, local Millionaire businessman, Carl Foster sent a cryptic message to his brother John before his disappearance. The picture appears to show a carved wooden handle of some kind with a bird on outstretched wings.’
The picture of Carl’s face was replaced with a blown-up image of the handle of Julian’s knife. Julian supressed a grin as he silently admired his own craftsmanship. That raven was spot on.
‘If anyone can identify the item in this image, or knows anything about the whereabouts of Carl Foster, they should contact local police and quote the crime number on screen now.’
‘What’s happened to him?’ Susan’s mouth fell open and her shoulders shook. ‘I only spoke to him two weeks ago.’
‘I’ve no idea Darling, what a shock. Maybe you should call your Mum?’
. . .
The couple curled up on their sofa, cradling mugs of hot chocolate by the fire and admiring their Christmas tree.
‘So,’ Julian ran a tender hand over Susan’s knee. ‘Any New Year’s resolutions for you in January?’
‘I might have one in mind.’ She flashed him a coy smile.
‘Oh, it’s a secret, eh?’
‘Maybe.’ Susan stuck out her tongue and flashed her big brown eyes at her husband.
‘Cheeky!’ he puffed out his cheeks and blew a raspberry at her. ‘But really, you don’t have to tell me. I may have a secret of my own.’
‘Oh! Intrigue!’ Susan giggled and drained her mug. ‘I think it’s time for bed. Maybe I’ll dream of a brilliant resolution for you and by morning we’ll both have one.’
Julian smiled as he left the jewellers. For the first time since he married Susan, he had finished his Christmas shopping before Christmas Eve and had a whole week to wrap her gifts. He dodged puddles as he hurried back to the car. His mobile rang just as he flipped on the wipers.
‘Hi Sweetie, everything ok?’
‘Yes, and no.’ Came Susan’s voice on the line. ‘I’m fine but I’m going to have to work a little late. Two people have called in sick and the ward is full. I’ll just stay long enough to do medication rounds and then I’ll head back.’
‘That’s no problem. I’ll get dinner ready a bit later than planned.’
‘Yeah, maybe just two hours or so.’
. . .
Susan pulled on her coat and headed out of the hospital, brushing raindrops out of her eyes as she crossed the carpark. Once in the driver’s seat she checked the postcode and set the sat nav for the big retail park on the edge of town.
‘Hi, Susan Parker, I have an appointment with one of your designers.’
‘Ah yes, kitchen, wasn’t it? It’ll be with Gerry.’ beamed the young woman in the red shirt from behind the enquiry desk. ‘Is it just you for the consultation?’
‘Yes, just me. I’ve inherited some money and I'm making a New Year’s resolution to use it to surprise my husband, since he did so much for me this year. First up in January is a new kitchen!’