A Brilliant Finesse

Mavis Brown paced nervously up and down the lounge room. For the tenth time in as many minutes she glanced at her watch. She could almost hear her heart thumping. She could feel the blood coursing through her veins. The adrenalin was pumping. She was excited. She felt scared. She liked it. Even sex had never been this good.

She felt guilty. This was not exactly the correct state of mind for a respectable, married, forty-year-old woman, she mused. As always, when she felt this way, her thoughts turned to Sam Parkins.

Sam and Bill were so completely different, both in character and habits. Sam worked with his hands – she thought back to when they first met and how he had emerged from under an old Ford, his skin glistening with sweat and the sheen of engine oil. Bill, on the other hand, worked with his brains and earned a fortune in the City.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate the benefits of Bill’s wealth,” she said to the supine figure on the couch. “It’s just that I need something else, just like he does.”

Sam was thirty and had never married. In fact he was very shy and inexperienced where women were involved. Bill was fifty-two and, as far as Mavis was concerned, over the hill.

“My mother always said the age difference would be a problem,” she continued. “I am a woman at my peak; I need the physical fulfilment that Bill can’t give me. I practically had to seduce Sam, you know. He is the first in twenty-three years of marriage, but I just had to have him, I couldn’t resist.” The figure on the couch seemed to stir slightly at this revelation but quickly settled back in silence.

She paused in her pacing and regarded herself in the large mirror above the fireplace. There was no doubt that she had retained her beautiful English complexion and her figure was still in very good shape. “I could easily pass for thirty-five”, she stated with authority. “While he could pass for sixty,” she added with more than a touch of venom.

“Miaow,” said the figure on the couch.

“Yes I know it’s a bit bitchy but it’s true. I don’t know what that tart sees in him. Money, I suppose.”

Outside it was getting dark. The slow, lingering crawl towards dusk that only an English summer’s evening can achieve. The setting sun painted the western sky in hues of crimson and orange, foretelling another fine day tomorrow. Outside the air was laden with the scent of roses and honeysuckle. Inside she could begin to smell her fear.

Out of nervousness, Mavis began to talk again to her unresponsive companion.

“It might have been different if we had had children, or if he had let me go out to work. All he ever wanted was a nice tidy home to come back to and a nice tidy mindless wife to be there when he needed her. What about my needs? He never considered them. Plenty of housekeeping money, a new dress every month and a coffee morning every week and he thought I was happy. Oh and sex every three months and a peck on the cheek every morning; how’s that for a life?” She didn’t pause for an answer to her question but continued straight on.

“He works till all hours every night, at least he says he does, and then golf every weekend and bridge with that blasted woman twice a week. He wanted me to learn to play bridge in the early days but I don’t think it’s a woman’s game – except she plays it, the tart!” She was in full flow now and nothing was going to stop the venting of her bottled up fury.

“He gets me to buy presents for her birthday and then he forgets mine. He travels to bridge tournaments with her and they stay in the same hotel. He says they are just platonic friends and they have separate rooms. Does he think I was born yesterday? I had my first revenge though; I seduced Sam Parkins on our own bed. That would shock him if he knew.”

“Sam had brought Bill’s car back from its six monthly service and I invited him in to have a drink while I wrote out a check. I virtually had to throw myself at him before he took the hint. I can still feel those rough masculine hands on my body.” Mavis shuddered as the memories came rushing back and the feelings overwhelmed her again.

“We saw each other for four weeks, nearly every day. He said that he loved me. He said he loved me too much to destroy my marriage, so he would not see me again while Bill was around. I was distraught for weeks; even Bill must have noticed.”

“I thought about asking Bill for a divorce, but how would I survive without his money? So I conceived my plan. I would have the best of both worlds; all his money and all of Sam.”

She paused in her monologue, momentarily, to once again check her watch. Time seemed almost to be standing still. “First of all, about a year ago, I began to send him threatening letters – with words and letters cut out of magazines. At first he was very worried and took them to the police. I thought he would have a stroke or a heart attack, he was that worked up. That would have made my job easier, but no such luck. They couldn’t trace them, I made sure of that, and they finally put it down to a crank or a jealous business colleague. I stopped sending them for a while, but started again two weeks ago. Yesterday he received one that told him to prepare to die.”

Even though the room was catching the evening breeze and was quite cool, the sweat was pouring from her. She felt sticky and uncomfortable and suddenly very afraid. Nervously she continued her tirade, as if to herself, since the figure on the couch appeared to be asleep.

“Soon he will be gone once and for all and I will be free,” she continued, sounding a little less sure of herself. “I have planned this so meticulously; nothing can possibly go wrong. I have made a bomb. Yes, me, the useless, totally technically inadequate little woman. I studied secretly in libraries and collected all the items I needed over six months so as not to raise any suspicions. Today I put the bomb on his car. At half past nine he will be blown to smithereens, and I hope that bitch is with him”.

Mavis paused to check her watch again; it was ten minutes past nine. They would be playing the last hand now and in five minutes he would be leaving. He was so predictable, it was really too easy for her. He had to be home to watch “News at Ten”, have his cup of cocoa, made by his dutiful wife and then to bed. After all he did have an early start in the morning. At nine thirty he would be arriving at her flat to drop her off. They would be saying good night and then it would be good night forever.

She crossed over to the TV set and turned it on, just for something to pass the time. The BBC News was on. A journalist at the Old Bailey was reporting on a murder trial. The defendant had received a life sentence for the murder of his wife. A cold shiver passed through Mavis’s body, setting the hairs on the back of her neck on end and raising goose bumps on her arms and legs. It surprised her that she had never really thought of it as murder before. She wouldn’t be guilty of course, it was the crank who sent the letters who was responsible, she told herself. Somehow it didn’t seem as convincing now as it had before. What if the police made a connection? How could she face losing everything and spending the rest of her days in prison? Mavis would rather die than pass her days with common criminals.

“I can’t go through with it,” she cried out, causing the sleeping figure on the couch to wake up in fright. “I must stop him,” she screamed.

Mavis raced over to the phone and frantically sought the Wilmington-Smyths number. She mis-dialled twice in her panic and then got the engaged tone. “Damn, damn, damn”, she cursed most uncharacteristically. She waited a couple of minutes, each one seemed like a lifetime, and rang the number again. This time the phone began ringing. “Come on, come on, answer it,” she begged and her prayers were answered.

“Wilmington-Smyth here,” a very upper class English voice answered. She had never understood why he played bridge with such a pair of upper class twits.

“It’s Mavis, Mavis Brown here,” she said trying to sound calm and normal, “Is Bill still there, please?”

The figure on the couch got up, yawned, stretched a couple of times and came over to her, wrapping itself around her legs and purring – it was past supper time.

“Oh hello Mavis; long time no hear; how are you? I’m afraid you just missed them. Damned brilliant finesse he played tonight, you know. Was it something important?”

“N.., n..no,” she stammered, “I just wanted him to pick up some aspirin for me on the way home.”

“Nothing serious I hope,” said the male voice.

“Just a bad headache, I’ll get him to pop out when he gets home,” she replied, hanging up. She wasn’t lying, she realised, her head was pounding like a couple of jack hammers were going at it full belt inside.

Mavis slumped down on the couch, head in her hands, totally drained. So this was it, she thought to herself, nothing to do now but wait for the knock at the door or the fateful phone call. The cat, deciding that supper was not forthcoming, jumped up into her lap and settled down for the duration. Mavis hardly noticed, she was thinking about prison food.

She didn’t know how much time had passed when a car entering the drive raised her from her reverie. Immediately she panicked, she didn’t recognise the sound. It was a strange car, maybe the police. She stood up, sending the cat flying, and tried to calm herself and waited for the doorbell to ring.

Instead she heard a key in the lock, the door opened, closed, and Bill walked into the room.

“What’s the matter Mavis? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” he said cheerfully.

He looks very full of himself, she thought to herself as a sense of relief flowed through her body, relaxing the tensed muscles and bringing some colour back to her cheeks.

“It’s just a bit of a head ache, dear, and you startled me, I heard a strange car.”

Bill smiled at her, “Yes, the garage lent it to me; I left mine for them to have a look at. It had a bit of a funny rattle this morning so I took it in on the off chance. That nice mechanic, Sam somebody-or-other, said he would have a look for me.”

Mavis blanched. She suddenly felt like her insides had been ripped out of her. The bomb…., if Sam had tried to remove it…., she shuddered at the thought and for the first time in her life, she wished that she were dead.

She hardly heard what Bill was saying but something brought her attention back. “….. dicky shock absorber. They rang me at the office this afternoon and are waiting for parts. I’m expecting a call after the news to let me know if they managed to fix it today. The strange thing was they found a package tied under the car. They were a bit silly and took it off themselves; they should have called the bomb squad. It turned out it was a fake bomb. The timing device was quite professional but the explosive looked like a housewife had concocted it in a food processor. That’s what the police said. They think it is the same crank who is sending the letters. I didn’t phone and tell you because I didn’t want to worry you. Are you alright Mavis?”

Mavis was certainly not alright. Her insides were desperately trying to rearrange themselves without spilling their contents all over the lounge room floor. They failed. Unfortunately the sleeping cat caught the full brunt of the attack. It decided that life in this crazy household was too much for a cat to bear and fled to its best hiding place under the spare bed, leaving a noisome trail through the house.

“I’m sorry dear, it must have been the shock,” Mavis stammered an embarrassed apology. “You sit down and watch the news while I clean this mess up and then I’ll make you a nice cup of cocoa.” A rather pale, nauseous looking Bill did as he was told.

By the time the adverts came on, in the middle of the news, they had each recovered their composure. Mavis figured that this had been the worst day of her life and the best thing she could do was pretend it had never happened. Bill was thinking what a strange thing shock was. He had never really been worried about the letters or even the bomb. He and the police were of the opinion that it was the work of a harmless crank. He was surprised that Mavis was so upset. She must really still love him after all.

Bill tried to brighten up the atmosphere. “We had an excellent rubber of bridge this evening. We didn’t really have the cards but we thrashed the Wilmington-Smyths anyway. Doreen played superbly and if I say so myself, my play was inspired.”

There were few things in life that Bill enjoyed more than repeating his great bridge exploits. There were few things in life that Mavis enjoyed less than listening to him. Tonight she didn’t really care, she was happy to let him enjoy himself, the words washed over her anyway. She would reorganise her priorities, maybe get Bill to let her get a part time job and she would definitely work on Sam again. An affair would probably be more exciting than having him around all the time. Yes, she thought, life really wasn’t all that bad after all.

“We were in the final rubber,” Bill continued. “We were both vulnerable and they had a forty part score above the line. They had a sure three spades but we pushed the bidding up to four diamonds as a sacrifice. Mrs Smyth bid four spades so I had to raise to five diamonds, even though we had no chance of making. Wilmington-Smyth doubled of course and Mrs Smyth led the ace of hearts. When Doreen put her hand down I could count five sure losers for three down doubled and vulnerable, that would have been 800 points to them and even if we had won the rubber after that we would have lost on points.”

Mavis had already lost the thread of his story. She had never understood bridge scoring. In any case she was in the throes of making mad passionate love to Sam in her mind. Bill, oblivious to her thoughts was continuing.

“Suddenly a plan came to me. If the cards lay correctly, and from the bidding there was every chance that they did, if I finessed the king of clubs, the queen of hearts and the jack and queen of diamonds, I could make the contract. Of course if the finesses failed I would go even further down, but that really wouldn’t make any difference.”

Mavis was just about to yield to Sam’s’ strong passions. She imagined his strong hands roughly caressing her body, his eager lips seeking out hers, their combined ecstasy as they spent their desires.

Bill was concluding his story. “So we made an overtrick, two hundred below the line, two hundred and fifty above the line and five hundred for the rubber. Even Wilmington-Smyth had to concede it was a brilliant finesse.”

Both their thoughts were interrupted by the insistent ringing of the phone. Mavis, still a little on edge, jumped at the noise. “That will be the garage,” Bill suggested as he reached to answer it. Mavis listened with detached interest to one side of the conversation.

Bill looked a bit pale as he hung up.

“The car is ready to be picked up in the morning,” he said and then added, “There was an accident at the garage this afternoon, the car slipped off the jack while they were working on it. Unfortunately someone was underneath it at the time. Sam Parkins was killed.”

Bill never understood why Mavis screamed.