The Fall of Mr. Baxter

Submitted into Contest #165 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “This is all my fault.”... view prompt

4 comments

Fiction Suspense

CONTENT WARNING: Death


“This is all my fault” a single tear slid down Lana’s flushed cheek. “It was me. I did it. I am so sorry…” She trailed off, tears now dropping like heavy raindrops, sobs racking her chest.


Tori had no idea what Lana was doing. She knew Lana couldn’t be to blame, so why was she insisting on pointing the finger at herself? Tori gazed at her, confused, but Lana didn’t notice. They were together all weekend. It would have been impossible for her to have anything to do with this. Besides the fact that it simply wasn’t in Lana’s nature.


Lana tried to continue, but her chest was convulsing; she was bawling so hard she couldn’t speak. If Tori was watching this on a TV drama, she would have guessed the character was faking, putting on a show, to deflect guilt. But this was Lana. Surely she was genuinely distraught. Tori watched the detectives closely. She feared the police felt a confession coming and were not about to let it out of their sights. Did they actually suspect Lana? Or were they just hoping this would be a simple open-shut, slam dunk of a case that they could close within the first 24 hours?


The female detective, Robinson, produced a bottle of water for Lana and cast a sharp look in Tori’s direction. “And you are?” she prompted with a quick look up and down Tori’s long, lanky form.


“I’m Tori, Lana’s sister.” She looked at Robinson cautiously. “Look, I don’t know what…” she was cut off abruptly by the male detective, Stone.


“Maybe we should speak with Lana alone,” Stone said artfully. Tori guessed he was playing the role of Good Cop.


“I would really prefer to stay with her,” Tori pleaded. “She clearly isn’t up to any kind of interrogation.”


“No interrogation. We just want to ask Mrs. Baxter, Lana, a few questions.” Detective Stone turned to Lana, “Is that alright with you, Mrs. Baxter?”


Lana had calmed some during the exchange between Tori and the detectives. She glanced toward Stone, nodding her head in confirmation. She wiped her face to dry her tears, smearing her streaked makeup across her beautifully troubled face. Tori squeezed Lana’s hand in support and walked away, giving the police the privacy they requested.


Tori had always admired her younger sister, although certainly not at this moment. Lana was born one year and one month after her, and the two grew up thick as thieves, the best of friends. They were inseparable with similar interests yet different personalities. The most significant difference among them, though, was their looks.

Tori was just shy of six feet tall with long limbs on a slender frame. She had fair, peach skin, wavy brown hair, brown eyes, and freckles that danced across her slim face. She was pretty in a simple, natural way but never felt confident in her appearance. Tori was sometimes envious of Lana’s more classic body type, wishing she didn’t stand out like a sunflower in a garden of roses.


Lana stood 5 foot 8 inches tall, and while she too had a slender body with long legs, her shorter height allowed her to blend in, which Tori so desperately wanted to do herself. Tori saw her sister as a fully blossomed rose in the center of the rose garden. Thick chestnut hair, flawless porcelain skin, and full lips that looked stained by strawberries. Her eyes were a mesmerizing shade of hazel green sprinkled with light brown flecks. Her body was slightly curvy in all the right places, while Tori was more angular. And Lana always possessed an adventurous spirit and self-confidence that was rarely shaken. That was what Tori revered in Lana the most.


Though she noticed over the last few months that Lana seemed anxious and sullen and even made excuses to avoid leaving her house. It was entirely unlike her, and Tori was increasingly concerned. Lana claimed it was likely because her only child, Brett, had recently moved out after coming back to live with his parents after college graduation. That was why she had planned this weekend away for the two of them, to attempt to shake off the funk Lana had been in. And it had seemed to work until she received the call about Edward on their way home from the resort.


Tori wondered what the police were asking Lana. She was suddenly concerned for her once again at the recollection of the news they received from that phone call.


LANA:

“Unknown caller? Probably some telemarketer. No thanks.” I silenced the call and continued the conversation Tori and I were having. Just seconds later, another call came through.


“Maybe you should take it,” Tori said.


“Hello?”


“Hello, is this Mrs. Lana Baxter?” the unknown caller asked.


“Yes, this is Lana.”


“Mrs. Baxter, this is Sheriff Monroe. I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your husband was found dead in your home by your son. Your son is currently being treated at the scene by paramedics for severe shock. We were able to get a little information from him. He said you would be home this afternoon. Is that correct?”


“What? What happened? What is happening?” My hysterical verbal vomit spewed at the Sheriff like an open fire hydrant.


“Ma’am, I can explain everything when you arrive home. Are you en route?”


I stared blankly at the phone. Tori asked what was going on. I felt my hand moving independently towards her. She took the phone from me as I gazed ahead, trying to comprehend the words I’d just heard.


“Ma’am? Ma’am!”


“Hello, this is Lana’s sister. Who is this? What is happening?”


“Ma’am, this is Sheriff Monroe. I’m afraid there has been an accident at Mrs. Baxter’s home. Are you on your way to the Baxter residence?”


“Oh my God! Yes, yes, we are on our way. We should be there in about 40 minutes. What happened?” Tori’s voice trembled with concern.


“Ma’am, we aren’t certain of anything yet. We will be able to tell you more when you arrive. Please drive safely.”


The call disconnected, and Tori looked at me, eyes brimming with tears. She pulled off to the shoulder of the road and asked, “What is going on? The Sheriff said there was an accident. What else did he tell you?”


“Edward is dead.” Such a surreal experience to hear it, but to say it was shocking. To say it made it real.


“What! Oh, Lana! Oh, God! Okay, let’s go.”


Tori pulled back onto the road, and I spent the rest of the ride attempting to process what little I knew as tears silently streaked my face.


*****


Lana and Tori arrived at the Baxter home to find police cars, an ambulance, and a dozen or so people moving about like ants spilling out of their mound. Tori helped Lana from the car, and they set out to find the Sheriff, Tori supporting Lana by her arm.


“Sheriff Monroe? I’m Tori, Lana’s sister. We spoke on the phone.”


“Yes, hello.” He held out a hand to Lana, “Mrs. Baxter.”


“What is going on? Where is Edward? Where is Brett?”


“Brett is resting and being observed in the ambulance. He has suffered quite a shock. He hasn’t been able to tell us much about what may have happened to your husband.” He paused. Lana waited for him to continue with wide eyes. The Sheriff took a deep breath and proceeded. “Mr. Baxter was found at the bottom of the stairs. It appears he fell, his neck breaking on impact. I am so very sorry for your loss.”


Tori gripped Lana tighter to keep her from falling as she leaned heavily into her. “I need to sit down,” Lana breathed. They moved toward a chair, Lana sitting, dropping her head to her hands, rocking her body, and taking deep, intentional breaths. After a minute or two, she asked to see her son, Brett.


Sheriff Monroe guided the women out of the house and to the ambulance, where Brett lay on a stretcher, an oxygen mask on his face. The moment he saw his mother, he began to cry. Lana sat next to him, cradling his head, rocking him like a baby, trying to soothe away his tears. He tried to speak, but Lana shushed him, running her hand through his hair as though he was a small child awakened by a bad dream.


The Sheriff pulled Tori aside. “The sheriff’s office took the call, but the police will want to speak with Mrs. Baxter soon.”


“We’ve been out of town all weekend. I don’t think she will be much help.”


“Standard procedure. I’m sure you understand.”


“Yes, of course. Thank you, Sheriff.” Tori turned and walked back to the ambulance to find Lana and Brett still embraced.


LANA:

“No interrogation. We just want to ask Mrs. Baxter, Lana, a few questions.” Detective Stone turned to me, “Is that alright with you, Mrs. Baxter?”


Lana nodded in agreement. Tori left Lana alone with Detectives Stone and Robinson to talk.


Stone began, “Mrs. Baxter, I understand you were not at home this weekend. Is that true?”


“Yes. My sister and I were at a resort about two hours from here. Spa weekend. We left Friday afternoon and were on our way home when the Sheriff called.”


“When was the last time you spoke with your husband?”


“Friday night. I called him to say good night.”


“And what time was that?” Robinson asked.


“Um, let me check my call log. It would have been around ten o’clock, probably. Yes, it was 9:52 pm.”


“And how long did you speak?”


“Five minutes. We talked about our plans for the next day. He told me to relax and enjoy myself and that he would see me when I got home Sunday.” At this, I begin to cry.


“And what were his plans for Saturday?”


“He said he would probably go to the club and play golf. He didn’t mention going with anyone specific. He would often just go by himself and see if there was anyone there he wanted to play with. Sometimes he would just go to the driving range. He had a stressful week; he may have just wanted to clear his head.”


“What happened this week that made it stressful for him?”


“I don’t know the details. It was something that happened at work. I could see he was frustrated about something when he came home Wednesday evening. I asked him what was wrong, but he didn’t want to talk about it.”


Robinson stood. “And how was your marriage?” she asked, peering down at me.


“Excuse me? What does that have to do with anything?” I was shocked that she asked, although I probably shouldn't have been.


“You stated earlier that this was your fault, that you did it.” She made the air quote gesture with both hands. “The state of your marriage could have a bearing on the situation,” Robinson declared. Stone observed her from his seated position and looked slightly embarrassed at her lack of tact.


“I didn’t mean that I actually did it," I sobbed. "I just meant that maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had been home! It was an accident, right? You said Edward fell." I trailed off, wiping tears, and pausing to blow my nose. I swallowed hard, trying to calm myself, and continued, "We have been married for 22 years. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, of course, and he has been under a lot of stress lately, but everything is fine. Was fine.”


Robinson sat across from me, folding her hands and leaning close to me. “And you remained at the resort all weekend? You didn’t make a quick trip home?”


I looked at Detective Stone, mouth agape. He seemed as stunned as I. “Are you kidding me? Is this a joke?” I considered the two of them carefully. Robinson remained blank-faced. I gathered every bit of strength I had and stood. “Yes, I was at the resort all weekend. No, I did not make a quick trip home.” I took a deep inhale, pulled myself together, and continued. “I am done here. I am going to take care of my son.” I walked away, feeling my body start to tremble. I found Tori and collapsed into her.


*****


The next day Detectives Stone and Robinson arrived at Tori’s home, where Lana and Brett were staying, with a new line of questioning.


“Mrs. Baxter, did your husband have any health conditions? Anything that could have contributed to the fall?” Stone asked.


“Edward took medication to control his high blood pressure. And he had been having a lot of headaches lately. We both presumed it was related to stress from his job.”


“And what did Mr. Baxter do for a living, exactly?”


“He is… was a VP at a software company. They were under investigation for a wrongful termination claim, someone he had let go. He didn’t talk to me about it much, and I didn’t make him. I figured I should let him forget about it when he was home.”


“How very thoughtful of you,” Robinson chimed in. I moved to look at her. She was wearing a sarcastic smirk, and her eyes were accusatory.


I turned back to Stone, who was giving Robinson a look of disapproval. “Was Mr. Baxter a big drinker?” Stone asked.


“A big drinker? No. He might have a nightcap now and again but generally never more than two glasses. Whiskey, neat. Why do you ask?”


“There was a broken tumbler near his body. We assume he was carrying it as he made his way down the stairs”, Stone explained.


Lana envisioned him descending the stairs, drink in hand, then falling to his death. Slip and fall? Dizziness? Heart attack? She burst into tears, apologizing between sobs. “I just wish I knew what happened,” she sniffed.


LANA:

I knew what had happened; my plan worked better than I could have dreamed.


Three months ago, I discovered my husband was carrying on with some power hungry bitch at his office. I called Tori with zero intention of telling her, instead sharing that I was feeling a bit anxious and sad. “I’ve been feeling like this since Brett moved out. It’s probably just empty nest syndrome. I’ll be fine.”


In order for my plan to come to fruition, I couldn’t “be fine,” and so I spent the last couple of months canceling plans with Tori, claiming to be “not up for it” or “so out of sorts.” I knew she would willingly leap into big sister mode to try fixing me. Sure enough, she planned a weekend away at my favorite spa resort.


That is when I began spiking Edward’s meals with potassium chloride. I started small and gradually increased the amount, adding it to his food and coffee. I also crushed some of his blood pressure medication, adding it generously the few days prior to leaving for the spa. I also mixed it into the food I had prepared for him for the weekend and added several crushed pills to his Whiskey decanter. The stress headaches were a bonus and an opportunity to give him a double dose of Aleve, a drug, like the potassium, he shouldn’t be taking with his blood pressure medication. I didn’t know if it would work or when. I could only hope that the overdose of his prescription drug, coupled with high potassium levels, would cause him to suffer cardiac arrest while I was gone so I could be free and clear of any wrongdoing.


The timing was perfect. But the fact that he fell down the stairs, breaking his neck, was a miracle. Ruled an accident, there was no further investigation and, therefore, no autopsy. Sure, Brett no longer had a father, but what kind of role model was he anyway? We were better off without him, in my opinion. And just as my mother taught me, I kept my opinion to myself.

October 01, 2022 01:58

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4 comments

Vj Hamilton
00:31 Oct 08, 2022

Hi JL, I loved this story, especially how you switched between 2 PoVs. One thought about dialog is to maybe use contractions when a character is speaking in a high-stress situation. For example, “What is going on? Where is Edward? Where is Brett?” would more likely be stated urgently as: "“What's going on? Where's Edward? Where's Brett?” Just a suggestion. Your story was a joy to read!

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J L Jones
17:38 Oct 08, 2022

Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Excellent point about the dialogue; I will definitely remember that in the future!

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Mustang Patty
09:41 Oct 02, 2022

Hi there, You've presented a fascinating storyline. The style worked well for this, and the dialogue was crisp. (Though be careful about using adverbs too frequently as action tags.) Thank you for sharing, and good luck in the contest, ~MP~

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J L Jones
15:49 Oct 02, 2022

Thank you for the feedback! I think I've always been adverb-heavy, even in conversation. I'll keep my eye on that!

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