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A Manicure for Murder

by Ron Van Sweringen

“She was a miserable, whining witch. She deserved what she got, and then some,” William Frunk said to himself as he popped the top on a can of beer. For over five years he had listened to her bitching, long enough to throw suspicion off of himself, he hoped. Any normal man would have murdered her six months after their wedding night.

The 250,000-dollar life insurance policy on her had been in effect for almost four years, so it wouldn’t look like murder for quick money. No, Martha Frunk would be the unfortunate victim of an intruder, bludgeoned to death while drinking coffee in her kitchen on a Monday morning.

William had planned her murder down to the smallest detail. After all, he was a genius. At least that’s what his mother always told him. “Sonny Boy, you’re a genius at everything except making money.”

“Too bad, Momsy.” He smiled to himself. “Who has the last laugh now? Sonny Boy’s getting rich.”

William decided to do it that Sunday night, after a miserable dinner of tuna casserole and pickled beets. Somehow it just set him off, trying to eat that garbage while Martha smiled at him from the other end of the table with that frickin’ gap between her front teeth.

It was after 11:00 pm before she was ready for bed. It took almost two hours for her to remove her makeup and pin-curl her hair. There were two bathrooms in the small house and an unwritten law that nothing of Martha’s was ever allowed in his bathroom.

“Time’s almost up, bitch,” he whispered to himself. When her bathroom door opened, he called from the kitchen, “Martha, what the hell is this mess?” She appeared at the kitchen door a moment later with a puzzled look on her face. “What mess?” she asked.

“You can’t see it,” William replied, hardly able to contain himself. “Come over here and sit down, then you’ll see it,” he shouted, holding a large hammer behind his back. Martha did as she was instructed, taking a chair at the kitchen table. She was adjusting her glasses for a better view when the hammer came down full force, cracking her head open like a walnut. No question she was dead. William could see her brain quivering as parts of it slid through the opening in her skull.

Blood splattered everywhere with the violent blow. Even into his mouth and both of his eyes, which had to be wiped out.

“Crap,” he groaned, reaching for the paper towel roll on the sink.

Martha’s body had leaned forward over the table, almost as though she was reading the morning paper. “Perfect,” William thought to himself, “an intruder came up from behind and finished her off on Monday morning while I was at work.” William was smart enough to know that if he kept the body unusually warm, the coroner would have a hard time pinning down the exact time of death, so he opened the oven door and lit the gas.

“Now let’s clean up the mess,” he said to himself, taking all of his clothes off and shoving them into a black trash bag, then carefully washing his hands and arms in the sink, watching the bloody pink water swirl down the drain. A hot shower followed to make sure every trace of blood was gone from his body. Then he turned out the lights and went to bed. There were other things to be finished tomorrow morning, but right now, he was exhausted.

The alarm clock went off at 6:30 the next morning, with dampness and the threat of rain in the air. William woke with a thudding headache and felt like crap. He realized the bedroom was warm and the faint odor of gas was detectable. He went into the kitchen and turned off the oven.

The room was warm and clammy and Martha was still sitting in the same position. William took a can of beer out of the refrigerator and sat down at the table across from her.

“So far, so good,” he said, “now let’s make you some coffee and then unlock the bedroom window and raise it a little, so the intruder has a point of entry.” At 7:30, after pouring Martha a cup of coffee, William left for work, leaving the kitchen door slightly ajar, as if the intruder had left hurriedly.

On the thirty minute drive to work, William went over everything in his head. He knew that Martha’s sister would be coming over to freeload lunch at 1:00 pm, the way she did every Monday. It was perfect. She would find Martha’s body and he would be fifteen miles away at work. He would convince the police that Martha was fine when he left for work at 7:30 that morning, so they would assume she was murdered sometime between 7:30 and shortly before 1:00 pm.

William had also rifled the bedroom dresser and thrown Martha’s purse in the black trash bag with his clothes. He had also taken the wedding rings off of her finger, although it was no easy task. For some reason, as he drove, his mind kept going back to Martha’s hands.

William slowed his car briefly on the deserted Parkhurst Bridge and threw the trash bag with his clothes and Martha’s purse into the river. The hammer and a brick would take the trash bag to the bottom and keep it there. He arrived at work in time to punch in at exactly 8:00 a.m.

“You’re a fricking genius,” he said to himself, changing into his overalls. “Pretty soon I’ll shove this job.”

The morning went smoothly. William had three minor jobs. Two sets of tires to be rotated, a rear turn signal bulb to be replaced and a new set of windshield wipers to be installed. It was during his coffee break at 10:00 o’clock that William’s world began falling apart.

The Café Mojo was half empty when William took a seat at the counter. The waitress greeted him with a big smile as usual. She was outgoing and attractive in a flashy way. Her hair was bleached and she wore too much makeup. A thirty-eight inch bust struggled to get out of the tight pink uniform she wore and each time she leaned over, William wanted to lick the crack between them.

She placed a cup of black coffee in front of him and it was then that he noticed her fingernails. They were painted a bright attention-getting, orange. For a moment he couldn’t take his eyes off of them, until it struck him. He realized why he had been thinking about Martha’s hands on the drive to work. Her nails were unpainted.

“That’s not possible,” he thought. “Martha’s nails were always painted.” William felt sick at his stomach when he realized the mistake he had made. Martha had cleaned her nails in the bathroom last night and he had not given her time enough to repaint them before killing her. In hindsight he could see her now, sitting on the edge of the bed every few nights, painting her nails.

Sweat began rolling down William’s arm pits when the full impact of the mistake hit him. Gladys, Martha’s sister was shrewd. She would notice the three discolored nails on Martha’s right hand, knowing since childhood how phobic Martha was about anyone seeing them. Gladys would suspect something was wrong and she would keep picking at it until the police suspected it too.

By the time William finished his coffee and got back to the garage, he had a plan. It was risky, but he had no choice. If he took an early lunch at 11:30, he could be home by twelve, paint Martha’s nails and be back at work before Gladys arrived at 1:00 pm.

The kitchen door was ajar, just as he left it. William had had waves of panic on the drive home, thinking that someone might have noticed the door and investigated it. Martha’s body was positioned exactly the same with the cup of coffee sitting on the table in front of her.

Painting her fingernails took longer than William expected. It had to be a neat job or Gladys would suspect something. The polish seemed unusually thick and hard to apply evenly. When he finally finished it was after 12:30. He rushed to put away the polish and get out of the bungalow. A feeling of relief flooded over him on the drive back to work.

* * *

The 911 call came in at exactly 1:00 pm. Detective John Marsh, a ten year homicide veteran was at his desk, finishing a second corn dog with extra mustard and relish. In ten minutes he was in his squad car with the siren on full.

The scene was bloody and grisly. The body of a woman in her night clothes was sitting at the kitchen table of a modest suburban bungalow, her skull cracked open.

The victim’s sister made the 911 call and sat quietly in the living room. Detective Marsh noted the strain on her face, but what impressed him more were her hands, balled into clenched fists. Detective Marsh introduced himself and began the conversation.

“It appears your sister may have been murdered by an intruder. The bedroom window is open and several drawers in the house have been rifled. We are trying to determine if anything was taken.”

“Her wedding rings,” Gladys said without looking at Detective Marsh, “someone took the wedding rings off of her finger.”

“That would seem to clinch it then,” he replied. “Murder and robbery by an unknown intruder.”

“I doubt that,” Gladys shot back angrily, “unless the intruder took time to paint her nails after he killed her.” Detective Marsh looked confused until Gladys opened her fist and thrust her palm at him. What appeared to be red paint smears stood out in the palm of her right hand.

“Detective, my sister’s fingernails were still wet when I took her hand, looking for her wedding rings. At first I thought she might have painted them herself just before she was murdered, so I looked for her bottle of fingernail polish that she always kept in her medicine cabinet. It was not there.”

* * *

The bungalow was crawling with police when William arrived. Detective Marsh met him at the front door and led him into the kitchen, watching his face intently. William purposely flinched when he saw Martha’s body.

Detective Marsh spoke slowly and deliberately, a slight smile on his face. “Tell me, Mr. Frunk, was your wife usually in the habit of keeping her fingernail polish in your medicine cabinet?”

Copyright © 2012 by Ron Van Sweringen

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