Marjory stared at the gargantuan painting, unimpressed. She stepped backwards over the dead body to inspect it from a greater distance. She was still unimpressed, even when Lillian told her that it was an original Rothko, worth upwards of seventy million dollars.
“It looks like a very tall elementary school child did this,” Marjory said, shaking her head slightly. “Or one on a ladder.”
“Perhaps, but it doesn’t belong in the house of a drug empresario. Casting one’s pearls before swine, so to speak,” Lillian said authoritatively, walking around the dead body instead of stepping over it. It wouldn’t do for her to trip and fall, not at her age.
Lillian sighed. She didn’t relish moving such a monstrosity, but it was a necessity. One doesn’t kill a man – even a very bad one – without claiming some spoils.
“Ned has a buyer. Twenty-one million, he says. He’ll settle for one million instead of his usual five percent, for handling things,” Lillian said.
“Young Ned knows his place, just like his dad. I miss Old Ned, though. He always tipped his cap, and he always address us as ‘madam.’ Manners maketh the man,” Marjory said.
“Less of that, Marjory. I can do without schoolgirl lessons.”
“Of course. Still, quite apropos,” Marjory said as she moved toward the Rothko to help Lillian take it down from the wall. The women took the canvas out and rolled it up, transporting it to their van just outside the servants’ entrance. The duo sped off to hide the painting in their senior-assisted living quarters before returning to the drug empresario’s mansion. Keeping their cover, the women reasoned, was the best way to avoid detection.
“The police will think it’s an art heist,” Marjory said, undressing and putting on her flannel nightgown before crawling into bed. Marjory did the same. The bedtime routine never varied, nor did their nighttime attire. Both were oblivious to any new fashion that came along after the 1940’s.
“It WAS an art heist, dear.”
“Plus four murders,” Marjory said, her words almost unintelligible with the toothbrush in her mouth.
“Yes, Marjory. Plus four murders. Now hurry up so I can use the restroom. My bladder rebels when we kill someone.”
“Butcher knife in the neck. Never knew what hit ‘im, I suppose,” Detective Riley said, chewing on a cinnamon bun and sipping coffee. The dead body was on the floor in front of him, face down.
“The three associates…” a blue-clad officer said.
“Bodyguards and thugs, officer. Killers, everyone one of ‘em.” The detective finished his cinnamon bun and slurped the remainder of his coffee before bending down to inspect the knife sticking out of the man’s neck.
“Those three…uh…thugs, sir? Poisoned, I reckon.”
The detective stood up and dusted off his trousers, moving to the room that housed the three dead thugs. He gazed thoughtfully at the dead men, men who had done a very poor job of guarding the body of one Salvatore Lincano, Italian mob boss, thought to be the biggest supplier of cocaine on the eastern seaboard.
He noted the florid, red-ish color of the bodyguards’ faces. He bent down to sniff their mouths: bitter almonds. He stood and dusted off his trousers again.
“Cyanide poisoning. Don’t see that very often nowadays,” he commented. “Old-fashioned. Most people just use a gun.”
“We have a cook who came in to work this morning, and a couple of maids who were here last night, sir. In the kitchen.”
The detective nodded.
“They see or hear anything?”
The officer shook his head.
“The cook found the body when she came in this morning. The two old ladies were asleep when they heard the cook scream.”
“Mmm. Cook’s name?”
“Let’s see,” the officer flipped through some pages in his notepad, “Georgina Burns. Been the cook for almost twenty years for Lincano. The daughter of one of his mother’s friends, I think.”
“A couple of old bats who live on the premises. Make the tea and coffee, do a little light cleaning. That sort of thing. Been here three months. Let’s see…names…here we are.”
The officer found the page he was looking for.
“Marjory Lewellan-Smithwick and Lillian Frobisher-Callaghan.”
The detective whistled.
“That’s a mouthful.”
The detective sighed.
“Ok. Bring in the two old ladies so I can send ‘em away after they tell me they didn’t see or hear anything. Keep the cook on ice. I don’t trust cooks, especially when it comes to poison.”
The detective closed the door where the three bodyguards were eternally resting, hiding the sight from the civilians. He sat down and waited for the maids.
“Very nice, Lillian. Very nice indeed,” Marjory said, gazing at the dead man slumped over the door of the safe. The knife in the man’s neck gleamed dully in the fluorescent light of the cramped, smelly office. A cigar was burning in the ashtray, the smoke causing Marjory to cough.
“My dad has scads of books in his library, though he never reads anything. At least, not as far as I can tell. I found some medical books and studied up on things, you see. Hit the carotid artery and death follows quickly.”
“What’s our haul?”
Lillian did some quick mental math.
“A few thousand in cash. We can get thirty cents on the dollar for the diamonds, according to Old Ned. He’ll get five percent of that, of course. Now that he has a son, he’s more than willing to help us out. Umm…about twenty thousand, all told.”
Marjory nodded, satisfied.
“Do you think we did the right thing, Lil? After all…”
“After all, he’s a gangster. He kills, he sells drugs, he employs loose women for profit. The man is…was…a blight on society.”
“Where did you get the nun’s habits, Marjory? I say, your idea was clever. No one suspects a nun.”
Marjory smiled, proud of her contribution.
“Simple. I asked the nuns at St. Anthony’s convent where they got their habits. I had to order five of them, though. That’s the minimum order.”
“Five! What will we do with all of those?”
Marjory laughed softly.
“Again, easy. I’ll wash these two and then donate all five to the convent. The other three are large sizes, though. I don’t know if you’ve noticed those nuns there, but they’re quite hefty.”
“Mmm. They probably don’t exercise much, what with all that kneeling,” Lillian said.
“A tad unkind, Lil.”
“Perhaps. Let’s get out of here, Marjory. Mind the blood.”
“I must say, it was a lovely funeral, Lil. Your dad looked so peaceful in his coffin. And the reverend said some very nice things about him as well. Very comforting, that,” Marjory said, musing on the proceedings of the past week.
“Yes, lovely. Though dad didn’t really deserve such a sendoff to the hereafter, in my opinion. The man left me $10,000 per annum. My brother, of course, gets the bulk of the estate. I receive a few thousand per year and he is bequeathed millions.”
Lillian sat back in her seat, posture perfect, sipping tea and nibbling on a scone. Her grim aspect and clipped words attested to her irritation.
“He also let Old Ned go, more’s the pity. Young Ned is taking over the stables now,” Marjory observed. She didn’t nibble her scone; she ate it – and one more – with gusto. Lillian frowned at her ostentatious display of gluttony.
“He replaced everyone over the age of fifty. And please, don’t gobble your scones so. You were raised better than that, Marjory.”
“Of course, dear, but I’m positively famished.”
“Not to worry, my dear. We have another miscreant to dispose of next week.”
Marjory clapped her hands in delight.
“Wonderful! And then we’ll have cucumber sandwiches and iced cakes.”
“One must keep tradition, even if my brother sees fit to demolish them. We must hold the line, Marjory.”
“Well, that was different,” Marjory said, looking at the dead man with two bullet holes in his chest.
“Needs must, Marjory. It’s a new era. Everyone is so aggressive. I blame it on the drugs and the Democrats.”
“Lil! You can’t blame the Democrats! That smacks of elitism,” Marjory said, sidestepping the body and staying away from the blood-spattered walls.
“If they had their way,” Lilian said, waving the gun around, “I wouldn’t have this. We put paid to a drug dealer – again – and we’ll walk out of here with more money than we could earn in a decade. Not that we’re the type that work, mind you.”
Marjory considered what Lillian had said, and she had to agree.
“True. We come from landed gentry,” Marjory said.
“That was clever of you, my dear, to slip that ‘free delivery if you order two pizzas’ coupon under his door,” Lillian said, patting her friend’s shoulder with the hand that didn’t hold the gun. Marjory smiled and stood up; her back hurt from scooping the bundles of money into a canvas bag.
“It was even more clever to put our phone number on it, Lil.”
“Yes. You possess a rare talent for these things, dear.”
“I plan, you kill. It’s an equitable arrangement.”
“Yes, yes. Quite right,” Lillian said, looking around the room for anything else worth taking. “Let’s get out of here. I need to go to the pharmacy for some more bunion balm. They act up when we kill someone.”
“As does your bladder,” Marjory said.
“Yes, quite. Getting older is hell, Marjory.”
Marjory grunted as she heaved the canvas bag onto her shoulder and trudged next door to their apartment.
“Don’t I know it,” Marjory grumbled.
“Terrible business, ladies. I’m sorry you have to go through all this, but it won’t take a moment,” the detective spoke, smiling at the women.
Jesus. Older than Methuselah.
“We heard the screams. Blood curdling, wouldn’t you say, Lillian?”
“Quite. And all that blood. I don’t believe I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” Marjory added.
The detective eyed the women with pity. He felt some empathy for those who still had to earn their living at such an advanced age, and these two were very advanced.
“So, anything you can help us with? See anyone? Hear anything?”
The women shook their heads. Marjory dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, though she was shedding no tears.
“We are owed our wages, detective. I wonder…where will we collect our wages? We have so little, you understand,” Marjory plastered a worried expression on her face.
The detective shook his head.
Poor biddies. Bet they can’t afford new clothes, by the look of those skirts. My granny wore skirts like that.
After a moment of thought, the detective closed the remaining open door, walked to the desk, and extracted several bills.
“Here,” he said, handing the money to the women. “It’s evidence, but it won’t be missed. Just don’t tell anyone I gave that to you.”
Both women feigned tears and more eye dabs with handkerchiefs. The detective sent them away, feeling damned good about helping two old ladies in need of assistance.
Marjory and Lillian packed their belongings and left, stopping briefly to kiss the detective on the cheek and to thank him for his kindness.
“Quite like a Boy Scout, young man. We are indeed thankful for men like you,” Lillian whispered to the detective. He had the good grace to blush.
The women got in their van and drove away at a pace that might be considered glacial. The detective watched them leave, shaking his head. He returned to the house and worked the case.
The killer was never found.
“Do you think he ever knew love?” Marjory asked Lillian. Both women gazed at the dead man.
“I don’t consider such things, Marjory. The man dealt in human trafficking.”
“Did you have to shoot him in the…uh…”
“The jollies? It seemed fitting, dear,” Lillian said, putting her pistol away in her capacious handbag.
“Mind the mess, Lil. Remember what happened last year when you shot that man in New Hampshire.”
“Of course I remember, Marjory. I have a new hip because of it.”
“You know,” Marjory paused, looking at the mountain of cash that they were currently liberating from the dead man, “I believe that we have more money than our families now.”
“May we finish our work and leave? I prefer to discuss financial matters in private,” Lillian said.
The dead man, however, turned out not to be dead. He stirred and groaned. Lillian shot him two more times, both bullets piercing the heart. The dead man was now well and truly dead.
Lillian held up her pistol and smiled.
“Young Ned procured this little item for me. It’s called a silencer. Wonderful thing, wouldn’t you say?”
Marjory picked up the old canvas bag and put it in the cart that the women used for transporting their groceries.
“Younger Ned purchased that, Lillian, not Young Ned.”
“Oh, yes. Quite right. Fine young man. Understands traditional values.”
“Right. Let’s scarper,” Marjory said, wheeling the cart towards the door.
“Scarper? Please, Marjory, no more loose language like that. One would think that you’re a common thief in England. Scarper indeed!”
“I read it in a book.”
“That’s all well and good, Marjory, but keep that sort of language out of our world. Decorum and good breeding, dear. We adhere to a higher standard.”
“Of course we do, Lil. And it does have its advantages.”
“Quite. Ah! We need to make a quick stop at the pharmacy. Incontinence pads. We’re out.”
“This is very good sherry, Lil. Well, yes, a little more, if you please,” Marjory took a generous sip of the amber liquid and sighed contentedly. Lillian was on her third glass.
“Lil,” Marjory gazed at Lillian as she spoke, “do you think it has all been worth it? I mean, the…uh…”
“Disposal of the dangerous elements in our society? Of course, my dear. We have been following God’s example.”
Marjory blinked. Lillian continued.
“He didn’t have a problem killing people. Sodom and Gomorrah. The Great Flood. The parting of the Red Sea, killing all those Egyptians. A true Republican, God is.”
“I wonder, Lil. Not about that, no. About…us.”
Lillian looked at her lifelong friend, cocking her head and frowning slightly.
“I see. Well, we were ousted by our families for our…uh…proclivities. Despite that, we stayed together, and thrived. I’d venture to say that it’s all been worth it.”
Marjory sipped more sherry, nodding at Lillian.
“You know that you’re very flatulent in bed,” Marjory said, her eyes gleaming with the effects of the sherry.
“As do you, dear. Not to mention the snoring.”
“I suppose…I suppose that’s what love is.”
“We’re both seventy-seven years old, Marjory. I think we know what love is.”
“Do you ever miss it, Lil? I mean, the balls? The rambles on horseback and the cucumber sandwiches after Sunday services? The lawn parties and the big houses?” Marjory asked, so quietly that Lillian had to strain to hear her.
“Sometimes I do,” Lillian said, and then eyed her sherry. “I believe this sherry is loosening my tongue, dear.
“However, I have you and that makes up for all of it,” Lillian added.
Marjory smiled at Lillian and kissed her.
“I reciprocate, Lil.”
Lillian laughed louder than she meant to do.
“You certainly don’t have a silver tongue, Marjory, but you have a good heart.”
“A true heart. Yes. I wouldn’t call it good.”
“I understand you perfectly, Marjory. Now, shall we go to bed? The sherry is gone, dear.”
Lillian leaned forward.
“Do you…do you ever think about dying, dear? That is…”
“I do. I mean, I have,” Marjory said. “I…uh…pirated some pills from that man you knifed in New Rochelle. Vicodin, I believe. I did some research on the matter. You crush up a dozen or so pills and mix them with food or drink and then quickly eat – or drink – the concoction. You’ll drift off and never wake up.”
“Sounds peaceful,” Lillian said softly.
“I have enough for both of us, Lil.”
Lillian kissed Marjory on the cheek.
“When the time comes, dear. The day that I can’t shoot a man and you can’t haul their cash is the day we might consider such an option.”
Marjory leaned toward Lillian, speaking softly.
“It works a treat. I tried it out on old Mrs. Hamilton. You know, the one who died last week. Poor dear. Terminal cancer. In a lot of pain. Remember how would complain that she wanted to pop off and no one would help her?”
Lillian looked at Marjory, frowning slightly.
“Yeeees,” she said, half questioningly.
“Well, she and I came to an agreement. I would help her out of this world, and she’d give me her Spode.”
“Is that what’s in the boxes?”
“Yes. A lovely set, Lil. She didn’t want her daughter to have it.”
“Yes, I mixed in a dozen of those pills in her tea. Had to let it cool off before she drank it. The poor woman couldn’t drink anything hot. Or cold. Anyway, she drifted off.”
“And then I left. She’s where she wants to be, and we have some rather nice Spode.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You were cleaning your pistol.”
Lillian smiled and stood up. Marjory followed her to their bedroom. The night was chilly, and both women felt it. Hot water bottles were stuffed under the blanket. Both women got into bed and pulled the covers up to their noses.
“You aren’t angry, are you?”
Lillian kissed Marjory on the forehead and stroked her wrinkled cheek.
“You were always good at planning, dear. Don’t monopolize the hot water bottles.”