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In Lieu of Flowers by John Philpin

The college student tending bar could not make a proper Rob Roy if I pressed a knife against his throat. He would be less likely to create anything palatable and, as much as I favor carnage, whatever concoction he mixed would be far too costly. I have no concern about the expense of the drink, mind you, but the possible repercussions do give me pause. When one has committed murder as many times as I, one must exercise at least a modicum of

Also, I have no desire to disrupt the decorum of the club.

I ordered Glenfiddich neat, which no one can pollute, and surveyed the Toominy Pines Country Club's bar. Old golfers chattered about irons and putts and holes. Middle-aged tennis players wore white sweaters wrapped around their necks, wool arms looped in a loose knot with stripes evident, and debated racquets and faults. The club's few young members, all rugby aficionados, chatted scrums.

God, what a life can be allowed to become.

I do not use our Olympic-sized swimming pool. I swam in the ocean when I was a child, and I refuse to become a red-eyed, raw-throated victim of chlorine because a bladder-challenged few choose to relieve themselves in the shallow end.

Billiards did amuse me for a while. I enjoyed the smoke-filled room, the whiskey, the three-ball physics and geometry. Anything I do well eventually bores me. If I know I will win, if there is no risk attached to the venture, why bother? Which explains in part why I so enjoy murder.

The odds against a successful execution remain quite high despite the ineptitude of law enforcement agencies. Without such excitation, where would we be? Playing golf or tennis or rugby, or sitting in a back ward fingering our spit.

I sipped my single malt and opened the newspaper to the obituaries, the daily list of people who have changed tense in the recent past. Darryl Schnur was dead at age sixty. He was a veteran, a member of the American Legion, a native of Fargo, and captain of his bowling team. His wife and brother had predeceased him; two sisters survived. In lieu of flowers, the
obit read, donations in his memory may be made to the City Cancer Center.

"No children," I muttered.

You see, a page of obits is like a catalog of potential victims. Joyce Dwyer, who had enjoyed gardening and crocheting, departed this incarnation at age sixty-four. Her husband George was alive and presumably kicking, as were two daughters, Phyllis Shafer of Cleveland, and Rebecca Dwyer of right here in Westchester County.

Dear Rebecca was likely in my preferred age range, and would not cause me the geographical inconvenience that my last two selections had. I made a mental note of her name. A personal delivery of my contribution in memory of her departed mom seemed only fitting.

I would not attend this bloody club except my social position requires I do, the bar is at least of adequate ambiance, and the dining room is excellent. A year ago I appeared before the board of directors and urged that they hire the best chef they could lure from New York City.

"There is more than enough money in the budget," I had argued, "and the food now is inedible."

Only the boyish Donald Billings dissented. The rugby pitch required attention, he said, and the board was already committed to a new clubhouse.

"The public is not allowed on your hundred meters of green," I pointed out, "but they are encouraged to use the dining room much like any restaurant in town. Consider this an investment."

I manage a third of the directors’ private portfolios and all the club's assets, and I have consistently shown remarkable gains (as my father had before me). It came as no shock when the board acceded to my wishes by a vote of twelve to one.

Now, McDevitt Dorsey Hanrahan, an Irishman with a thick brogue and an international culinary reputation, strode to my table. "The coppers are looking for you," he said.

I folded my newspaper.

"They've got your Mercedes trussed up," Hanrahan continued. "I ran into them in the parking lot. Figured you'd want to know."

"Thank you, Mickey," I said, fixing my gaze on the French doors.

Since I began plunging knives into unsuspecting victims (well, a few suspected something was amiss), my arrest has been only a matter of time. In all honesty, I did not expect the time to arrive quite so soon. I quickly considered my options. I could leave through Mickey’s kitchen, but where would I go? I have no desire to be a fugitive, to be on the run, to change
my name and live in some horrid city like Paris or Amsterdam. Besides, inertia has a way of overpowering one’s better judgment at moments like these.

I prepared my murders in exquisite detail. Each was a sumptuous work of art, a delectable decoration for an otherwise banal world. Also, I truly thought I had taken all possible precautions for my personal safety. Clearly I had grown over-confident, so pleased with my creative endeavors that I made a serious error. Pride does precede a fall, as they say.

My mistake must have occurred on my last adventure. I had been idle for nearly a year before that. Her name was Amanda, and her father had recently joined the heavenly chorus. In lieu of flowers, I flew to San Francisco, rented a car, and drove the coast to Big Sur. She lived in a structure of wood and glass blasted into ledge high above the Pacific. I lingered that time, sitting on her white sofa gazing at her dazzling view of the sea. Amanda lay crumpled in a disreputable pile on her deep white carpet. Had she ever appreciated her view, I wondered, or had she been content with merely
her prestigious address?

Where had I strayed? What forensic tidbit had I neglected? I practice safe sex. One never knows what one will contract during capricious encounters like mine. I wiped down every surface I touched. I had not tracked anything in with me. Amanda would have had a coronary if I had violated her white shag. I parked my rental car — a bland, American thing — off the road with the license plate obscured. I received no traffic tickets, and the entire trip was completed by a mustachioed individual with a name nothing like mine.

As I pondered my dilemma, the French doors opened. Donald Billings, accompanied by an attractive young woman, entered the bar, spotted me, and strode in my direction.

"I want to level with you," he announced.

I held up my hand, palm out, as I stood. "Not now, Billings," I said. "This is a bad time. Surely we can discuss the pitch on another occasion."

"Now," he said. "This has nothing to do with the pitch. I want to speak with you before the police come inside. I have a confession to make, and I want there to be no misunderstanding."

"Billings, I assure you that anything you have to confess would pale by comparison with some of the tales I might tell you. I will refrain, of course, because there is a delightful young woman present."

With that, the remarkable creature smiled and lowered her eyes. I noted just a hint of rose color touch her cheeks. My, my.

"I’m the one who called the police," Billings said. "You may think that your illicit behavior is your personal affair and does not reflect on the club. I disagree."

"My illicit behavior," I parroted, thinking how clinically precise his phrasing was without invoking any of the horror that newspapers from coast to coast insisted my little adventures caused.

"I have to add," he continued, "that I did not expect the police to come after you here. I will make my apologies to the board."

Again the French doors opened. This time a police sergeant marched across the room.

"This him?" the cop asked.

Billings nodded.

The local officer handed me a sheet of paper and said, "Eight hundred and forty-six dollars in cash now or the Mercedes goes to the impound lot."

My heart hammered in my chest as I scanned the document, an accounting of three dozen parking tickets and a hefty scofflaw fine. "Excellent math," I muttered.

Mickey Hanrahan appeared from the kitchen as if on cue. I initialed the club check he offered, and he gave the sergeant the cash.

"I’ll leave the car in the lot," the cop said, and walked to the doors.

"We are a part of this community and its laws," Billings said, "whether you like it or not. I’ve mentioned this problem to you before, but you chose to ignore me. I hope you can understand, and I hope there are no hard feelings."

"Only about your rudeness, Billings," I said. "You haven’t introduced this voluptuous maiden who, I assume, consents to being seen in public with you."

"Oh, I have been neglectful, Rebecca, haven’t I? This is my fiancee, Rebecca Dwyer."

I took the young woman’s hand in both of my hands and gently caressed it. I bowed my head slightly and said softly, "Oh, my dear Miss Dwyer, you’ve had a recent loss, haven’t you? I read the obituary only this morning. Your mother was it? Terrible thing. Death’s arrival in one’s life can be such a shock."

We walked together through the French doors and into the garden. Billings remained behind, rationalizing his call to the police to anyone who would listen.

Soon, Rebecca’s head rested against my shoulder as she wept silently and spoke of her mother. "You make talking about it seem almost easy," she said.

I plucked a rose and tucked its stem into her thick dark hair. "One day soon I will come visit you," I promised. "You can talk as long as you wish. I will listen."

I did keep my word.

Other fiction by John Philpin:

The Fact: A psychologist determined to prove that a Serial Killer can be rehabilitated.

John Philpin is co-author (with Patricia Sierra) of "The Prettiest Feathers," a work of fiction called "the ultimate psychological profile of a serial killer."

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