“Duncan Blunt"

Fiction by Mary Vettel

Duncan Blunt shifted his bulk in the black leather and rosewood Eames chair, lifted one bare foot, then the other, from the matching ottoman until his legs were in the air, and expelled a torrent of fetid, malodorous gas. A self-satisfied smile creased his stubble-ringed lips as he inhaled his stench with apparent approval. 

The ghost of mussels and clams from that afternoon’s lobster fra diavolo lingered. A clumsy swipe of his bear-like hand shattered the last of his engraved brandy snifters on the Persian beside his chair. He slugged from the mouth of the VSOP Cognac, smacked his lips and belched. 

Giving the impression of a floating otter cracking clamshells with a rock against its tummy, Duncan patted himself down in amongst the various pockets of his monogrammed shirt, elbow-patched tweed jacket, and bespoke wool trousers. He knew he had a Montecristo Habana on him when he had come into the library to read the newspaper. 

As he wriggled about, the crinkle of the newspaper beneath his bottom got his attention. With a grunt he forced his weight up and off the pinned paper. He gave it a sharp whack against his thigh to release the creases and gazed again at the photograph of Jean Blunt, his wife of 34 years, as she peered out at him from between the bars of her cell on Death Row. After nine years in a Texas prison, Jean had exhausted all appeals and all resources and her time on Death Row had drawn to a close.

Duncan laughed as he snipped the head off the Cuban cigar and greedily wrapped his lips around it. His bleary eyes studied the platinum guillotine in his hand and his mind wandered to his three daughters.

Duncan had never really bonded with Doreen, the first child. He didn’t need a shrink to tell him he felt resentment toward her for trapping him into marrying Jean. And the youngest, Arlene, was Jean’s last-ditch effort to keep Duncan from leaving her. But Jolene, the middle child, was his favorite. She reminded Duncan of himself; her fervent competitiveness and verbal brutality would carry her far in life, he thought. 

He felt a pang as he turned the page and saw the photo snapped of the three girls upon entering the prison to visit their mother one last time. Doreen held a handkerchief up to her face covering her nose and mouth but Duncan could see she had Jean’s eyes. Arlene was clinging to her big sister, her grief making her appear much older than her 30 years. 

But Jolene was dazzling, striking. He admired her posture, the way she strode into the prison with a real purpose, not like her sisters, who appeared like sheep to slaughter. She had his strong jaw and he knew she had a firm handshake, remembering the time or two they’d arm-wrestled and she’d had her old man crying uncle pretty quickly, nearly dislocating his shoulder. Her grin at the time, her delight in having beaten him, had a real glint of vengeance to it, he thought.

He knew Doreen and Arlene were mama’s girls and would never believe the charges against Jean no matter how airtight they seemed. But Jolene was Daddy’s girl and her lack of sentimentality would enable her to accept that her mother had somehow killed her father and done away with his body. He knew Jolene’s fury hadn’t wavered in the nine years since his disappearance and the circumstantial evidence he’d masterminded pointed an ugly finger at Jean. He knew his favorite daughter’s strength would carry her through the execution and on into the future, being the new head of the family.

There was that pang again and Duncan was not sorry he’d mailed that card to Jolene the other day when he went to see the specialist in Prague. Traffic had been light that morning in the Czech Republic’s capital that had been his home for the past nine years, and he had time to walk along the main thoroughfare. 

When he saw the greeting card in the shop window depicting arm wrestling, it called to him. He had to send it to Jolene. He knew it would bring her back to happier times and perhaps give her some solace. He had timed it so the card would not arrive until after the lethal injection had been administered. And what a relief it would be for Jolene to know her father was still alive and well and thinking of her.

Duncan settled himself further back into the reclining chair and puffed and puffed as he lit the cigar. He reached for the VSOP and glanced at his watch. He figured out the time difference between Prague and Texas. A chuckle caught in his throat, causing him to choke. He coughed out a spray of Cognac that was instantly ignited by the flame of the cigar lighter. Duncan felt like a fire breather at the circus and flailed his arms to dispel the combustion. The newspaper in his hand grew singed at one corner before the flames were out. With the cigar clamped between his teeth, Duncan laughed. “That would’ve been hot shit,” he muttered, and swiped at droplets of Cognac on his jacket lapels and shirtfront.

The caption didn’t name the two men accompanying his daughters, maybe Doreen and Arlene’s husbands. He doubted Jolene would have married; what man would put up with such a strong woman? The thought that perhaps she was gay flitted through his mind and he was surprised that the notion didn’t bother him.

He wondered who walked his girls down the aisle if indeed any of them had gotten married. He imagined it would have been a very emotional day for them, their beloved father dead, murdered by their mother, who now sat on Death Row for her heinous crime.

No, Duncan thought, the girls probably eloped quietly if they married at all. The legal fees ate up whatever money they had, he was sure of it. And he had made certain they wouldn’t be able to touch their trust funds until they turned 35. Perhaps the two men in the photo were Jean’s lawyers.

His finger traced Jolene’s flattering profile, hairdo, and smart coat. His eyes traveled to the white square she had gripped in her hand. Duncan stared at it and heard the acid in his stomach churn. He clambered out of the chair, his right foot landing on the remnants of the broken brandy snifter. A shard embedded itself deep into the ball of his foot. He didn’t even cry out in his haste to reach his desk and the magnifying glass. 

He hopped across the room, yanked a drawer open and with a trembling hand, held it above the newspaper. He recognized the open-mouthed brown eagle on the airmail postage stamps he had affixed to the white envelope of the arm wrestling card to Jolene. 

The cigar in his mouth tilted downward as his jaw slackened, realizing the card had reached her in Texas earlier than he’d expected. He slumped onto the desk chair. The pain in his foot got his attention. His jaws tightened as he wiggled and slid the piece of glass from his foot. He hobbled to the bathroom to attend to the wound when he heard tires on the gravel drive out front, and swirls of blue police car lights filled the vestibule.

Mary Vettel is the author of several novels, including one for young adults set in medieval times. She is finishing a 1940s-style “screwball comedy.”