The nurse placed a hot cup of chamomile tea in the study as she always did and left the old man’s house that night at the usual time. She was distracted today and left the front door ajar on the way out. Her walk was faster than usual and she clutched her bag close. She would feel better after she had buried the little bottle of toxic aconite that was currently in the recesses of her handbag.
Within minutes of her leaving, Randy turned the corner onto the old man’s street. He was weaving from the whiskey and other things. And fully in despair. He had gone on tilt playing poker again, and this time he wasn’t good for the money. They had given him 48 hours to cover his losses. “Or else...” Tony had said jokingly, but there was a hard look in his eyes.
A dull panic was rising behind the fog of alcohol, and wild notions of leaving town played out in his head. No one would lend him money anymore. He’d have to steal the cash or leave town. They would find him though. He’d heard about One-Hit Wes who thought he could go live out his days in some tiny mountain town in another state. Wes soon learned that he couldn’t.
In the midst of his delirium, a red door caught Randy’s attention. It was an open front door. There were no lights on in the house that he could see. It was a nice house, especially for this neighborhood. They probably had some cash lying around. At least some electronics he could pawn for cash.
He hesitated. It wouldn’t be the first time he had pilfered money. And technically this wasn’t “breaking and entering.” The open door seemed like a sign. And surely whatever he took from the house would hardly ruin the residents. They may never even notice.
Morality seemed like a distant concept in that moment and Randy made his decision. He’d be in and out, no one any the wiser.
He stepped through the door, flattening himself against the doorframe to squeeze through the narrow opening. As much as his sluggish body would allow. He wouldn’t risk opening a possibly creaky door any more than he had to.
The house was quiet. Either no one was home, or everyone was asleep upstairs. He would stay downstairs just in case. Scanning the room for anything valuable, he was surprised to see almost no electronics. There was a television that looked at least 15 years old, but the rest of the living area was out of the 1990s.
Randy let out an exasperated sigh and then chastised himself to stay quiet. Maybe there was an office or study downstairs that had a laptop he could grab. He saw the kitchen leading off to the left and a short hallway to the right. Swaying, he moved toward the hallway and peered into the darkness trying to make out any doors. He was looking into one of the doorways—a bathroom it turned out—when a confused voice behind him said, “Who are you?”
Randy whipped around, jolted sober, to find an old man squinting at him from one of the other doorways across the hall. Maybe it was Randy’s disheveled appearance—Tony and the guys had given him a taste of what was to come if he didn’t pay up—but the old man’s eyes abruptly cleared and widened as he seemed to register what was happening.
Randy could hear his heart pounding in his chest and the panic was now full-blown. As the old man shrank back into the room yelling, “I’m calling the police!” Randy lunged at him.
He found the old man clutching a landline telephone on his desk. Randy wasn’t much bigger than the old man but panic had given him a desperate sort of strength. His pounce shoved both of them into the side of the desk, knocking over an empty mug with a tea bag in it. Before the old man could react, Randy wrestled him down to the ground, trying to wrest the handset from the man’s grip.
Suddenly, the old man went limp and a pained look took ahold of his face. Like a fish out of water, he gasped for air for a few seconds, and then his body went still. The man’s eyes were open.
Randy blinked. He was still on top of the old man. He had wrestled to the ground an old man in his own house. That Randy had entered to rob.
Feeling like he was emerging from a dream, Randy violently pulled away from the old man, his eyes wide in horror as the realizations sunk in.
As he stared down at the unmoving old man on the ground, a second realization began to dawn on him. Now it was Randy’s turn to struggle to breathe. Cold beads of sweat were gathering on his forehead and the room began to recede as his mind dissociated from the scene.
You killed a man, a voice in his head said. You killed a man, you killed a man. In the midst of the cacophony in his head, he became aware of another faint sound in the stillness. A real voice saying, “Hello? I heard banging and crashing. I am dispatching a police unit to investigate.” It came from the telephone handset still in the old man’s now-rigid grip.
Randy looked around wildly. He had killed someone and his fingerprints were everywhere. He racked his brain, recalling all the police procedurals he had watched. Grasping to remember something about cleaning up a crime scene.
But nothing came to him and a few seconds later he heard them. The police sirens. “F**k! I guess I’m leaving town,” he muttered as he sprinted for the door.
The nurse arrived at the old man’s house at the usual time the next morning. She was nervous, but if everything went well, she would never have to work again.
Her heart started pounding when she saw the parked police cars and the crime scene tape blocking off the front of the house. A small group of neighbors had gathered to watch. The neighbors that she knew—she had been the old man’s nurse for years after all— greeted her and pointed in the direction of the police detective. “He wants to speak with you,” they said.
The nurse went pale. How had they known? The dosage she had used should make it look like a heart attack. She slowly walked over to the detective, her legs beginning to shake.
“Don’t be nervous, m'am.” The detective had noticed her state. There was no denying anything now. Before she could answer, he continued, “This is going to come as a shock but your employer was killed last night in a burglary gone wrong.”
The detective paused, mistaking the nurse’s expression for grief. He patted her on the back with an empathetic smile. “The neighbors have told me how devoted you were to him. It may help in your time of grief to know that the old man meant to take care of you after his passing. We found a will in his study, and you are the only beneficiary.”