Dustbowl (Some Secrets are best left alone)
DUST BOWL :
(Some secrets are best left alone)
It began with an act of supreme violence. A blow on the head was all that was needed to kill him. She wanted to use an axe, but he preferred a spade. As usual, he did not want any complications. In fact, he wanted a weapon that could be cleaned easily. If ever the police came round, he could say he hurt himself out in the garden whilst working on the flowers. He was like that – he had excuses running out of his pocket; his wife knew this too but she was not stupid as I initially assumed her to be. In the end, nothing turned out quite the way I expected it.
He was my uncle, and she, my step-aunt. That is how I remember introducing them to my friends once. I had a thing about telling everyone he was the Malcolm MacBaine, the reputable defense lawyer. People judge you you know the first time they see you, and usually, one’s profession is the first factor. Mind you, it is a good thing people cannot read thoughts, or I would have betrayed my uncle several times over. People would probably just laugh at me for thinking that way anyway. Truth is, they would be right in laughing, for I still cannot understand it myself.
To this day, I still sit in my apartment, finding I have wandered into a world of my own, with my eyes transfixed on some object outside the window. My girlfriend, Jackie, says I sometimes shake when I am in that state. She gets up and finds me a cold towel, which serves to remind me of that fateful day even more. However, that is what I love about her -- her gentleness, warmth, and most of all, her understanding. She is always willing to listen to me talk about my fragmented family and its secrets. I guess this is one of the reasons why Uncle Malcolm -- I still called him that -- stayed with my step-aunt, Margaret for so long.
Auntie Mags -- as I used to call her -- was a strikingly attractive woman with large black eyes. She was of medium height, and could make the average Joe’s head swoon when she walked along in her high-heeled shoes, pushing her long, black shiny hair to the wind. I was fast to find out “Auntie” was far too endearing a term to grace such a vile and malicious character. After what I witnessed from the kitchen window that rainy night two weeks ago, all my positive opinions of her changed. How could she live with a secret like that? What’s more, how could she have allowed my uncle -- whom she claimed she loved -- to keep such a sordid secret?
The night in question, the rain had been trickling down the window with an unrivalled force. I could barely make out my uncle who had just arrived in his car. As the window began to steam up, I remember impatiently wiping the kitchen window with a towel, and trying as hard as I could to make out what he was doing. Margaret, still feeling I was the same naive nephew she had inherited after marrying my uncle, made no remark to me as she put on her mackintosh.
“Where are you going at this time of night?” I inquired.
“Won’t be a minute, Harry”, she said quickly, putting the hood of her green mackintosh on her head, “I’ll be back soon.”
“Why, where you going?” I asked, rather disturbed at this attractive woman -- my uncle’s wife -- going out so late. I instinctively looked at my watch; it was getting to 10p.m. What could she be up to? Why was she meeting up with my uncle at this time? My thoughts stopped short when I saw her clutched hand.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?” she retorted, “I said I’ll be back. Just leave my cocoa in the microwave”, she snapped. Then out she went, slamming the door.
What was I to make of it all, except they had planned a secret rendezvous or something? She had been complaining that he was not spending enough time at home and so, my initial reaction was to think they had planned something exciting together. It was that clutched hand, however, which disturbed me.
I decided to wait for about half an hour, and if they were not back, I would go back to bed. However, something more sinister was to happen in their absence. Forty-five minutes passed and still, there was no sign of them but the dancing, pouring rain outside on the porch. Suddenly, there was a rumble of thunder, then lightning. The lights in the house started to flicker, and soon after, they went out. I thought nothing of it as I bent down the kitchen cupboard to look for a torch. I assumed it had been the faulty lines our household electrician had failed to repair that were playing up again. Then, I heard a noise behind me. As I turned round, I saw a hooded figure in the dark holding what looked like a knife. I froze. Instinctively, I made for the stairs, but out of fear, missed my way and ran into the ironing board. As it clattered to the ground, I hit the carpet -- semi-unconscious. I could have sworn I felt someone lift me up and put me in the boot of a car
When I came to, I was lying next to the body of a dead man. There was a spade nearby, covered in blood. Rigor mortis, it appeared, had set in hours earlier, and he was holding what looked like a bloodstained card. The distinctive gold lettering made me look twice, but I was apparently too preoccupied with wanting to get out of there that I failed to notice the significance of the scene.
This rude awakening prompted me to reach for my pocket, and my mobile phone, until I realized where I was -- nowhere that I knew, and with a body as cold as a winter day for an unwelcome companion. I looked around in despair only to find a solitary pigeon standing on a plank of wood, and looking curiously at me. As I moved closer, it flew off, as if shrieking, through a small hole. It looked like I was in something that looked like a fortified shed. I tried to trace the path of the pigeon until I managed to locate its nest, which had almost covered what looked like a man-made ventilation hole. I seized the opportunity to scrape the hole wider with a stray screwdriver until my hand was big enough to clench a fist, and punch the lock. This yielded little result. In a flash of intuition, I picked up the plank of wood and started banging the door. With each strike, a multitude of questions arose in my mind -- who was he? What was I doing there? Who was the man in the house, and why did he not kill me?
After about thirty minutes of banging, sunlight started to come through the heavily cracked door. As the sweat poured profusely down my face, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. This soon turned to anxiety as I heard a strange but familiar wail in the distance. I stopped short for a second, but soon dismissed it. Holding my breath, I listened again. This time, I froze. I could just make out through the trees blue lights reflecting on the surrounding trees around the shed. It now sounded like there were more vehicles as I saw the cars move alarmingly close. It was then that I heard a crackle.
“Harold MacBaine! Come out with your hands behind your head!” came a rough voice through what sounded like a megaphone. “There’s no way of escaping. You have been surrounded”, it continued, “so if you co-operate with us nicely, we can all go about our business...”
I did not even wait for him to finish when I leaped out into the trees and crouched behind a tree just outside the shed. Through the trees, I could just about make out five police cars, with their sirens turning the area into a dancing waltz of blue. Waiting for a second, I jumped out of the place, and looking for a familiar landmark, ran for dear life.
It turned out whoever had put me in that car boot had not gone very far, for it was not long before I came to the road that led straight to my house. As my head started to pound, I felt the extent of my exhaustion. I sat down, feeling rather weak, and was only able to lift my head up to see my uncle’s parked car in the driveway, when I passed out.
When I came to, I was in a bed, with a towel over my head. I instinctively began to get out when I realized the familiar surroundings of my own room. There was a knock on the door.
“Ye-ees”, I said rather reluctantly. The door opened, and in walked my uncle.
“Uncle Malcolm! Where have you been? What the hell is happening here?” I shouted frantically.
“It’s alright” he responded rather coolly, “the police came round earlier and I told them I hadn’t seen you” he answered. There seemed to be a kind of serenity surrounding him I had never seen before.
“Are you all right?” I asked, rather taken aback by his apparent indifference to the gravity of the actual situation.
“Actually,” he said, then sat on the side of the bed, “I’m not. Harry, I’ve got something to tell you”. There was an air of gravity in his articulation.
“Like why the police were after me, I suppose?!”
“That too, but point is, Margaret’s been having an affair.”
“I didn’t know” I responded, suddenly changing my tone, “but what’s that got to do with the police coming after me?”
He said nothing. Instead, he just looked at me blankly.
“Why do you think I covered for you?” he asked.
“I don’t know -- to protect your backside as usual?”
“That’s unfair!” he snapped, getting up from the side of the bed. “Look”, he continued, “I’ve made some mistakes I know...”
“Alright,” he continued exasperated, “I’ve done you some disservice”.
“That’s right. Just snap back into your legalese mode”, I retorted rather angrily.
“Harry, just shut up and listen to me”.
For the first time in his life, he actually sounded contrite. I almost felt sorry for him.
“What is it?” I asked, irked by his sudden volatile temperament. He was rarely like this, except when something very serious was preying on his mind.
“I think there’s something you should know about Margaret. It also has something to do with your father.”
“Dad? What -- what about him?”
“Your father -- my brother -- was killed, as you know, during a freak dustbowl storm that swept the area when he was in the States. I know you know about the car overturning, but there is something else you don’t know. He wasn’t alone in the car.”
“What?! How do you know this?” I was nonplussed by this out-of-the-blue revelation.
“As my source confirmed to me, Maggie was with him, but she escaped with minor injuries. Apparently, he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt on account that they had got into a row just before they set off for your grandfather’s place.”
“Maggie?” I enunciated, “she knew my father?”
“In fact, she played a greater role in your father’s death than you can care to imagine. Sex and money. Isn’t that what it is always about? I see it every day in court yet am perplexed beyond belief when I find the same very trail has also ran through my family.”
“I don’t understand, Uncle Malcolm...”
“She tampered with his brakes. He was threatening to cut her from Dad’s will.”
There was a long silence as he left me to digest all this information. Why was I never told this? So, she had been married to him then. It was all beginning to fit in place -- the affair, the axe, but that still did not quite explain my uncle’s involvement.
“So why are you telling me this now?” I asked in a frustrating tone.
“I want to somehow explain -- I don’t know --my attitude towards you all these fifteen years; I thought I loved Margaret despite her whims and caprices. She somewhat reminded me of your real aunt -- God rest her soul -- but with Margaret, it was...different. She made me feel, what, alive? Loved? I don’t know, but she was a very different person from what she has become. So, even despite her affair -- which I have known about for some time now -- she was the only one who could probably understand me.
“Is that why you killed for her?”
“What do you mean -- killed?” he asked turning sharply to my face.
“I saw your car last night.”
“A---h, I see” he sighed.
“She took an axe, and you took the spade”, I went on accusingly, “but thinking I was still a naive little boy, you thought I wouldn’t find out.”
“You’ve got it all wrong, Harry”, he shouted, “you’ve got it all wrong”.
He began to pace up and down. I could see him begin to sweat. Then he turned his back to me and looked through the window.
“You saw what you needed to see -- my car -- but not me inside”
“What do you mean it wasn’t you?”
“You were supposed to see the car and her going out -- the perfect alibi”
“What about the man in the house then?”
“That was Adrian Hicks, Maggie’s lover”
Then it dawned on me. All this time, Margaret, my uncle’s wife for ten years, had been hatching a sinister plot to get rid of my uncle, yet here he was trying to protect her.
“Uncle Malcolm”, I said slowly and sullenly, “you’re not going to like this...”
He interrupted, asking, “what do you mean?”
Again, he interrupted. “Yes, I know” he said rather coolly, “he was an insurance investigator. Apparently, he knew too much about Margaret. In her eyes, eliminating him was inevitable.”
“That’s...that’s not what I mean though. I think I saw your card in the dead man’s hand.” I responded, enunciating every word.
“What?!” He seemed genuinely shocked and alarmed.
“Do I have to repeat it? She double-crossed you! Whilst you were protecting her with the perfect alibi, she was plotting against you with that Adrian guy.”
“What does this mean, then?”
“You’ll have to disappear, Uncle Malcolm.”
“Where to? I 've got nowhere to go!” He sounded rather pathetic for such a professional, but I still felt sorry for him.
“Think of something, uncle! Your life’s on the line!”
He could hardly speak. His face grew suddenly pale, and something told me he knew there was probably no way out. As for me, I was nonplussed. I heard myself asking “why, Uncle Malcolm, why?” He shook his head in silence, and walked to the window. As he drew the curtains to the side, his eyes met five marked cars coming down the driveway. As their sirens danced silently round the trees, he knew it was too late -- far too late.