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"Twisted Whispers"
by Bryan Adrian

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Jack, a pharmacist, had been Scott and Brenda's best friend for many years. He had known Brenda since his days of teenage lust which he had shared with her. Everyone found it remarkable too, how deeply he had earned Scott's trust over the years, despite his status as her schooldays "former lover."

Today, Jack hesitantly told all the relatives of Scott and Brenda assembled at the funeral that "the sum of Scott and Brenda's married life for the last decade weighs 22-pounds."

This weight included the fabric of the coarse thick sack containing the unaltered ashes of the couple. Each word was difficult for Jack to pronounce at the funeral. He said them, nonetheless, with a gentle authority. Jack knew several of the details of Scott and Brenda's deaths with precision, and not due merely to his scientific training.

He delivered the epitaph at the burial proceedings over in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where Brenda had first met Scott years back at a well known country club there. The very same country club which Jack had scorned privately for fifteen years, ever since Brenda had moved out of her family house in Harlem, stopped her frequent visits to Brooklyn to see him, and sailed among the Long Island nouveau riche. Jack had been left behind in Williamsburg, struggling with his common pharmacy in its infancy in a poor neighborhood, and bound by duty to support his invalid mother who lived nearby. Jack found himself also at that time in the awkward position of finding a new sex partner.

When a team from the coroner's office first arrived at the site of the housefire, they sighed relief to hear that the firemen had extinguished the flames before the fire could spread to other homes in Oyster Bay. Scott and Brenda's house was now non-existent. Not even furnishings nor wall supports remained. The coroner's men did find however, two human shaped white-and-chalky deposits upon the smoking ground of the blackened shadow of Scott and Brenda's former house. The residues of these deposits were powdered calcium and scorched earth, which together provided the materials used as "the deceased" at the funeral.

One of the city officials at the scene indulged in black humor and joked about the deaths as "eternal homelessness" and "permanently checking out." An African-american EMS driver who had chauffeured Scott on a few occasions when he was a part-time limousine driver employed by the insurance company which Scott managed suddenly shouted out "now that sucker know what it be like to be black!"

Being burned out and run out and black in America didn't appeal to these predominantly white government officials and inspectors, so they drove off as quickly and silently as possible in their sleek municipal car.

Years before this marital holocaust, Scott and Brenda had shared consuming passions. Love had flourished in the mixed blood of their marriage for a long and happy time. In those days they resembled a pair of dewy and decorative tulips, one white, one black, in the grassy meadows of the secluded North Shore of Long Island. Now, ten years later, nothing remained but a mound of ash bundled up in a canvas sack. Ashes of the same color and composition.

The police determined Scott and Brenda's deaths to be "accidental." They quickly negated all suspicions of foul play, especially a crime of passion.

Jack the pharmacist, however, knew several nefarious details. Details which had been stabbed into his ears by twisted whispers through the receiver of his Williamsburg drugstore telephone. Scott, and Brenda, had each called him independently several times, and confided to him their well calculated plan to ignite their marriage partner into oblivion. Each had thought that Jack was the only friend in the world who they could turn to and trust and confide in. Jack had shrewdly, from nearly the beginning, kept both Brenda and Scott thinking he preferred only the one of them, and that he too was against the other. Scott and Brenda often complained about one another to Jack, for years and years. He had never betrayed their confidences, at least never before their devilish inferno plot with its insurance scheme.

Scott and Brenda simultaneously, yet independently and without consulting the other, decided to torch their "till death do us part" partner in a housefire and to make it look accidental. It seems that throughout their years together they had become a marriage of equals. Sometimes a submerged thought in one of them that was just beneath consciousness became a full-blown idea in the head of the other. The scheme seemed a perfect plan. The living spouse would collect a handsome insurance payment. A nice hedge to beat back the endless years of global depression. The corrosive effect of cruel economic cycles and the increasing unreliability of their friends unhinged them and propelled them to act beyond reason and above the law. They had both become now initiates amongst the criminally insane.

Their marriage had survived many body blows during the bleak Dubya Bush years. In-laws suddenly developed racist attitudes, maligning each other because of the different color of their skin. They never looked at the spiritual poverty of the times nor at the sinister hypocrisy of many top layers of government as the probable cause. Hate and discontent were monstrously born from what had been at one time only minor social differences. Community values were replaced by communal hatreds. Scott and Brenda were driven apart and so were their friends and relatives, often on the basis of race. The international economic paralysis brought out the beast from the belly of the competing classes, separated from each other by limitations and imbalances, everything contingent upon economic mobility and race, which in its darkest heart was singly about money and class. Murder was continuously broadcast on television dramas, without any moral or political point. Such cultural developments promised to spew out toxins much deadlier than simply bad television advertisements and pointless productions bordering on carcinogenic.

Everyone started to think, "Why blame a guy, when he's up against the wall, to scheme a bit and get by? Any sucker next to me had better fend for himself, dammit!" With unblinking eyes millions of viewers were washed by waves and waves of electromagnetic garbage, the selfish and childish themes repeated night after night on television, sandwiched between advertisements that demanded more and more product consumption, requiring lots of money that not many really had anymore, to feed an endless anti-spiritual appetite.

Neither Scott nor Brenda had ever suspected Jack of leading them skillfully to execute their secret schemes in absolute synchronicity, one against the other. They never realized that Jack harbored an age old class-grudge against each of them for having established themselves into their much higher Oyster Bay social station, rather than toiling like himself in his bleak and humble Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where his best customer was a mailman.

Jack shed a minuscule tear as he dredged up yet another time, in the asylum of his evil thoughts, each lethal sequence of events which had lead to the double murder. He tried to control himself, but couldn't refrain from crying out loud and betraying his large dry eyes. His masterly woven crime wore the blemish of an imperfection. "Good lord!" he blurted out. It couldn't be true. A small detail had been overlooked. This kind of trifle always bothered him endlessly. One time he had measured out a prescription for a customer one pill short and nearly drove off the road thinking about it. His most recent oversight, however, could get him grilled in the big electric chair. Then, he too would be a loser and not one of the few lucky winners in the game of trade-offs, sellouts, rip-offs and betrayals on the national social scoreboard. Such failure felt to him even more difficult to endure than a slow and painful death.

Francine, the young cashier from Flatbush he hired less than half-a-year earlier, could possibly tip the scales of all his dead reckoning. She was only nineteen years old, cute, shapely and a very competent cashier. Nearly all the male customers, young and old, lingered at the over-the-counter medicaments rack to get a better look at her. Jack had never hired an employee like her throughout his entire career. He was very proud of her. He always let his male patrons linger and lounge their eyes on her body as long as they needed, unlike the manager of Manhattan pharmacies over on the wrong side of the East River. This way he kept his customers in Brooklyn and tripled his sales of Penthouse magazine.

It didn't take Francine long either to help Jack discover that her commendable cashiering skills were dwarfed when compared to her superior gifts in the art of backroom sex. She even did it with a smile. A wide, welcoming, enveloping smile. Somehow, every time he sighed in ecstasy, Jack knew that this habit would one day extract an unseen price. Especially when she begged him not to stop and snorted in pleasure during the moments leading up to her climax when she rushed towards it like a thoroughbred racehorse nearing the finish line. At worst, he reckoned she would ask him some day for a promotion to the assistant manager's position. He might even have to pay for her medical insurance. This thought caused him terrible distress.

He never suspected her to have blackmail on the bottom line of her personal accounting. Now he felt foolish for not having seen that her evil side neatly matched his own. Yet his envy of Scott and Brenda's success continued eating away at him with a hunger that devoured him, despite the conventional wisdom he had accumulated throughout his lifetime, and made him fallible. His greed was constantly fueled by the stories in the papers about Lotto winners and the corporate raiders pillaging the concrete canyons of the Wall Street area and of stupefying embezzlements on almost every Main Street in America. These were the nightly epistles of consumer television. A massive vortex of moral collapse and ambiguity was accelerated by decades of class anger and resentment and a senseless hunger for acquisition shared by all. Jack's own hostility toward the comfortable and cushy sliver of middle classes which still somehow miraculously existed now knew no bounds.

Francine's hunger for money and success was only just beginning to bud. Francine had a disturbing habit of eavesdropping momentarily on some of Jack's personal phone calls at the drugstore. He tolerated this because Francine gave him what his wife wouldn't give him by choice. Sexual gratification. Their marriage was both frigid and childless, in that order. All along he had thought that his sessions with Francine were only a minor indulgence on his part. Now he swallowed with difficulty as he remembered how imprudent he had been to conspire against Scott and Brenda on the telephone at the store. He had always prided himself on Francine's submission to his authority and had never once considered her in his detailed precautions. He certainly had underestimated the skillful range of her activities.

Jack looked down again at Francine's slender legacy. Her letter of resignation. Minutes earlier she had walked out on him, saying he had better come up with $350,000 if he wanted her to keep her lush succulent red lips still. She gave him one week to make up his mind.

This would be long enough to devise a plan to silence her, Jack told himself after he had thought long and hard upon the matter. He marshaled out his invincible logic, an aptitude that helped him build up his small business when he was younger. That nearly forgotten period of his life proved to him that he had the iron will necessary to eliminate former friends and classmates who were in the same business, also struggling to make a living, but had unfortunately been in his way. As Jack measured out the next customer's prescription a solution came upon him in a rush.

Slip a deadly compound into her regular beverage which she kept stocked in her refrigerator made up of chemicals leaving no trace of their effect behind in any unnatural way. A much less complicated project than Scott and Brenda he realized with satisfaction. He wouldn't have to invest much emotion in this exercise either. Brenda and Scott had been different. He had nearly reached with Brenda the plateau that poets have indiscriminately labeled "love" in the excesses of their inspirations, and he had also felt unusually comfortable with Brenda's family in Harlem whenever he visited her during their schooldays affair. Brenda's parents had never looked down upon him and had earned his undying respect. Coolly, Jack calculated that Francine would no longer be a threat, to anyone, after the weekend. He knew many of her domestic habits, timetables, etc., and still had a key to her apartment from a lurid weekend they shared when his wife was visiting her family in Israel.

Jack called his widowed mother in Bushwick where she had her little cottage to confirm his dinner with her at her home for that Saturday night. She asked him if he could stay over part of the weekend and help her with some lifting and gardening. He quickly answered yes, knowing full well that this was an iron-clad alibi. He then measured and mixed his solution from a few of the many viles and bottles on the rows and rows of shelves. His measurements were sure-fingered and smooth.

"How unfortunate that she must die," he thought to himself, as he finished off the last touches of orchestrating Francine's elixir. She was so much like himself, he reflected proudly, and she had shown an extraordinary level of endowment and gumption to get ahead. She would have gone far in New York if not for her youthful miscalculation. Her years of experience were no match for Jack's sense of survival.

He knew her death would be a great loss, to his working class pharmacy, and to the world at large. He sighed a moment, set his watch, pulled down the iron shutters and adroitly padlocked the heavy iron doors of his store on his way home.



Bryan drinking his favorite Irish whiskey on the rocks at RUDY'S BAR & GRILL in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, with his old German pal Norbert Bergrath

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