Murder tale of a rich man whose breakup with a demanding girlfriend doesn’t go as planned. Then the mermaid appears.
Jackson-David Pitney dusted off the lapels of his cream-colored dinner jacket and took in a deep fresh breath of salty air into his lungs. He had just skidded his Cadillac convertible off a lonely stretch of highway facing the Florida Gulf Coast. A loathsome speck of coarse sand prickled beneath the lid of his left eye. This only added to his already irritable mood. You see, Jackson had just come from a funeral. Oh, not in any conventional sense. But it strangely felt like death creeping in. He had listened to his lover, Millie Burgh-Allen explain most passionless-ly how her feelings toward him had been cooling for some time.
The ungrateful swine had even given him back his engagement ring tonight, and at the beach house they had bought with dreams of starting a new life together. And after all he had done; plucking her out of an unknown chorus at the music hall after the sight of those shapely legs, sheathed in snug silk, had caught his middle-aged eye from the third row. He had paid for her dance and acting lessons. Had bought her pretty clothes and moved her into a more fashionable address near the theatre district. For months, he had lavished her as few women had been lavished, with gifts of gold and money, grooming her talents even as he stoked that ravenous ego with plaudits and lush bouquets of flowers that now seemed quite undeserving.
It was that Bromfeld fellow, thought Jackson as he surveyed the damage to his car. That sleek silver bullet, designed for a man half his age, had careened over the gnarled, grassy embankment. Now it lay on its side some forty feet away from the crumpled guardrail around that hairpin turn, its driver’s side wheels still crookedly spinning in mid-air.
“Damn Tom Bromfeld,” muttered Jackson, “And damn Millie Burgh-Allen too. They belong together; a pair of overzealous wannabes who have about as much talent between them as could fit on the head of a pin.”
His Cadillac convertible was a total write off. Even if it weren’t for the extensive bodywork necessary to resurrect the automobile from the scrap yard, its axle had been hopelessly mangled in the fall.
It wasn’t the money. A weighty rock and gravel inheritance had made his life soft and forgettable. He was nothing more than a garrulous playboy who had dabbled in life the way others found mindless hobbies to occupy their free time. Only ‘free time’ was all that Jackson-David Pitney ever had. He needn’t – and didn’t – bother with a profession. What for? Work bored him silly. And in his own circumstance it was wholly unnecessary. Money was all that mattered – and there was enough of that lying around to sustain him through at least two lifetimes, even as he recklessly ran through his fortune without a care in the world. But now the money he had squandered on Millie seemed to draw a strange sickening emptiness from the pit of his stomach. What a fool he had been – what a damn middle-aged fool, to think she cared for any part of him except his wallet. Every time he opened it, her eyes had lit up like a child’s first glimpse of the Christmas tree.
But now she would have to do without. He had taken the key to the safety deposit box moments before storming out of her house like a petulant child. Tomorrow, he would go to the bank and clean it out, sell off the expensive jewels, liquidate the bonds and deposit the several hundred thousand in fresh bills back into his own account. That would teach her. She could have her handsome suitor, have Tom Bromfeld – but nothing else. How long did she think their affair would last on his modest stipend?
The thin pallor of the moon overhead suddenly disappeared behind a dense bank of low lying clouds. A storm was brewing at sea. Hopefully, it would not arrive before some kind bystander came along to stop and offer him a lift back into town. Perhaps he should return to the guard rail and lean against its distorted metal to catch a driver’s eye. After all, they might not stop for a wreck. But surely, they would pause a moment for the man.
As he turned to go, Jackson felt a sharp twinge of pain in his lower left leg. He removed the lighter from his breast pocket and flicked on its flame to see what was the matter. His black soft woolen dress pant leg was torn from just above knee all the way down to his ankle. Blood was oozing from a horizontal gash across his calf. The strong breeze coming off the ocean smite like an axe hacking into the fresh meaty innards of a maple tree.
No, Jackson reasoned, the leg needed tending to first. He took off his dinner jacket for a clean place to sit. What did it matter now anyway, he reasoned. He would burn these clothes when he came home, incinerate them in the cavernous hearth in his great room along with all the others Millie had given him as presents during their yearlong affair. Fire alone would cleanse him of her memory once and for all. He would melt down the gold in those cuff links she had paid for with his money, perhaps turning their soft precious metal into a ring, or maybe even a key chain for the new roadster he would go shopping for tomorrow.
Yes, Jackson reasoned. It would be a fresh start, a new beginning. No more dalliances with women half his age. At least, none that would last. He would use them all as he himself had been used by Millie. And every last one of them who came to his bedroom from this day forward would know that he was in charge, that their happiness was dependent on his own.
At present, a curious glow across the open waters caught Jackson’s eye. It was yellowish and strange, flickering upon the crest of the new waves like a million tiny golden sparks of amberish fire. And then, something else. The head of a woman bobbing up and down in the frothy surf, slowly but surely rising up and out of the sea, her slender frame becoming more detailed to him as she approached like a mirage. The water must not be as deep as all that, thought Jackson as he observed her small painted toe nails emerge from the briny foam. A stiff breeze suddenly arose from the ocean, tugging at her from all around and blowing her dry.
She soothingly approached – a pretty young thing draped in diaphanous entrails the colour of seaweed and long strands of auburn hair dancing about her face that shamed the swaying hibiscus plants nearest him. She smiled as though they were old friends, knelt down to his level and took the thick and hairy ankle bone of his left leg into her fragile hands. They were oddly cold and even more miraculously dry.
“You’ve hurt yourself,” she cooed, her voice an amorous chime to his ears.
“Yeah,” admitted Jackson, “Not nearly as bad as my pride.”
The woman laughed.
“What’s so funny?” said Jackson, leaning back on his elbows to get a better look at the willowy stranger who had come to his rescue.
“Oh, nothing,” said the women.
“Do you live around here?”
The woman nodded.
“Close?” said Jackson, “I mean, I don’t think I can walk too far with this leg.”
“It’s not so very far at all,” the woman replied.
Jackson observed as the elongated shadow of the woman’s fingers crawled up his pant leg. He felt a twinge of excitement mingle with his pain, like the prick of an acupuncturist’s needles being inserted into his wounded flesh. Then, quite suddenly, his leg felt better. Jackson looked down. His abrasion had been cauterized. All that remained of the gash was a thin pinkish line that ran crookedly down from just behind his knee to the inner swell of his bulbous calf muscle.
“Are you ready to come home?” the women inquired.
“What?” said Jackson.
“Home?” repeated the woman with a curious faraway look in her eye.
“You bet,” said Jackson, getting up and dusting his jacket off. “Is your car very far? I mean, did you park it up the road? Oh well, it doesn’t matter now. I mean, I can walk to wherever it is. By the way, how in the world did you do that?”
The woman smiled – a queer, all knowing smirk that he completely failed to comprehend.
The sound of a car fast approaching from the highway distracted Jackson.
“Hey,” he said, “There’s someone else. Maybe we can both get a lift.”
Leaving the woman on the beach, Jackson scurried up the weathered embankment toward the highway, digging his smooth heels into the spongy earth that continued to crumble under his feet. When he had reached the road, Jackson began to wave his hands wildly over his head to attract the attentions of the oncoming vehicle.
Its headlamps momentarily blinded him. But the car did slow down just enough, before coming to a complete stop at the hairpin turn where Jackson’s Cadillac had gone over the edge. The door to the driver’s side opened, and Millie Burgh-Allen stepped out from behind the wheel.
“Thank God,” said Jackson.
He was about to express his gratitude in more tangible terms when the passenger’s door swung open too. Out stepped Tom Bromfeld.
As Jackson quietly looked on, the two cautiously approached the crumpled guardrail. Tom appeared slightly worried. But there was only a look of absolute satisfaction about Millie’s face.
“There,” she declared, exceedingly pleased with herself, “I told you. Just another accident along the highway.”
“I don’t see a body,” said Tom, leaning over the edge.
“He’s probably still inside or maybe even under the car,” said Millie, “Anyway, it’s done now. Just like we planned.”
“What if the police discover the severed brake line?” said Tom.
“They’ll think it was part of the crash,” explained Millie, “Oh, darling, we’re free. Don’t you see? Free of the old fool for good.”
Jackson could barely believe his ears. How could they have overlooked him, standing there in the dark only twenty feet away?
“And best of all,” added Millie, “He left thinking he’d taken the safety deposit key with him. Only I had a duplicate made. Come on, Tom. Let’s get out of here. I feel like celebrating. Let’s go and spend some money.”
“That’s what you think!” shouted Jackson in a voice loud enough for them to hear, “Just wait until the police find out about this!”
Yet, to his amazement Tom and Millie ignored his defiant declaration, got back into Millie’s car and drove away.
“Come back here!” Jackson shouted, “Cowards!”
“It’s no use,” a voice reminded him from behind, “They can’t hear you.”
A supple female hand draped itself across his right shoulder, clutching tightly around his chest. In all his awe and disbelief, Jackson had quite forgotten about the woman on the beach. But when he turned to face her, he discovered a most hideous creature staring back at him.
Her skin was scaly green and fish-like, her eyes deathly dull with a thin film of the sea splashed over them. Her diaphanous gown was soaked through, a distinct hint of sulphur wafting about her fiery hair, draped in long tenacious strands of seaweed that seemed to anchor her to the ground. A fine net webbing between her fingers stuck to his shirt like the poisonous tentacles of a sea spine.
“Now are you ready to go home with me?” the woman inquired.
“What?” said Jackson, pulling himself free, “No! Go away! Go away!”
He turned and sprinted up the highway. But again, there she stood before him like a monstrous beached thing, her auburn tresses melting away to reveal a reddish fin parting her brow.
“You will come home to me,” she commanded.
“I won’t!” shouted Jackson.
He ran down the embankment, back to his car, and reached into the glove compartment where he always kept a revolver. But to Jackson’s shock and amazement, the metal had corroded through.
“No!” he exclaimed, “I don’t understand.”
“Come home with me and I’ll explain,” said the creature.
Jackson felt her tentacles wrap around his waist, pulling him back and closer to her. The coarse granules beneath his feet became a fleshy quicksand. He sank beneath its spongy ground, his head barely sustained above the surface, just enough to be able to stare up into the murky midnight sky. And finally, the tide came in. It washed over him in warm enveloping blankets, filling his lungs with bitter waters.
“Come home to me.”
Early the next morning, the police came across Jackson’s wreck. But all that remained of the man who had driven it so carelessly was a pair of discarded black dress shoes and two curious pairs of footprints, one male, the other female, leading off into the distance.
Dogs were called in. The police trailed the imprints in the wet sand to a fashionable beach house ten miles up the road. There, they discovered two badly decomposed bodies, fully clothed and floating face down in the backyard swimming pool. One was Millie Burgh-Allen; the other, Tom Bromfeld. They had drowned together. Or had they?
For as the officers fished out these bloated remains they were also to find curious deposits of fish scales in each cadaver’s mouth and fresh seaweed cleverly braided into their hair. And something else – the decorative hood ornament of the scuttled Cadillac, still tightly grasped in Millie’s left hand.
About the author
Nick Zegarac is a freelance writer/editor and graphics artist. He holds a Masters in Communications and an Honors B.A in Creative Lit from the University of Windsor. He is currently a freelance writer and has been a contributing editor for Black Moss Press and featured contributor to online's The Subtle Tea. He's also has had two screenplays under consideration in Hollywood. Currently, he has written two novels and is searching for an agent to represent him.