Vincent Zandri

Chapter 1

Call me parasite.

Call my father-in-law the necessary evil. Or just plain call him ugly.

But please allow me to correct myself.

Ugly is not my father-in-law yet. But if all goes according to plan, he will be dead by sundown tomorrow evening. Also, he's not really all that ugly and I'm not sure about the evil part either. He's only ugly and evil when he's angry. And right now, he's fucking seething, if you'll excuse the French.

As I pry open the little black box to reveal the two and a half carrot diamond engagement ring, I can't help but notice the old man's bushy salt-and-pepper brows rise up in alarm (brows so bushy and untamed that the ends rise up in definite points an inch or more beyond the east and west landscape of his forehead, making him look a lot like a comic strip devil). Jagged blue veins pop out of a pale, hairless scalp. His Adam's apple bobs up and down again like a pissed off turkey facing the hatchet (not that a turkey knows it's alive in the first place, but I could be wrong about this).

“I'd like permission to marry your lovely daughter,” I smile.

“Over my dead body,” shouts the convertible sofa bed king inside the wood paneled study of his country mansion.

Exactly, I think. Over your dead body.

Here's what I do in the angry, ugly face of rejection: I bite down hard on my bottom lip, shift my gaze to the fire roaring in a fireplace large enough for a full grown man to stand inside. There, proudly displayed on the railroad crosstie mantle above it, the gold-framed family portrait captured in vivid oils: the old man seated in between his wife (now deceased) on one side and his beautiful golden-haired daughter on the other—my future matrimonial prospect.

Lowering my head as if in deep disappointment, I peer into a flawless diamond that brilliantly reflects the light from the flames. The piece, which is set in a white platinum band, set me back twenty-five large at a Hasidic counter in NYC's diamond district. The custom tailored double-breasted jacket I wear over matching pleated linen trousers went for another nine hundred. The black patent leather Gucci loafers with true gold tassels cost six hundred and change.

Only moments ago I pulled into the Westchester estate not in the beat up Chevy pickup I drove a half dozen years ago, but an automobile more deserving of my newfound financial and social status: a black ZX3 BMW convertible, which I parked inside the front cobblestone turnaround.

“Are you sure you won't extend your blessing?” I plead one last time.

“You don't love my daughter,” Devil Brows spits. “You love her money.”

He's got devil eyebrows. But he's not stupid.

I close up the black box. I shove it inside the right-hand pocket of my jacket. When Devil Brows insists I leave before he calls in the police, it's all I can do to squelch my laughter. With a slight nod of my head, I begin to take my leave.

On the outside I say, “I can let myself out.”

On the inside I say, “Mission accomplished.”

“Don't let the door slap you on the ass,” Devil Brows barks.

Maybe he has no way of knowing it. But I'm not through with him yet.  

Chapter 2

Call me parasite. But also call me romantic.

That night over a candlelit dinner at Les Halle Bistro on lower Park (my finance-to-be loves this place because of some cable Travel Channel personality who used to cook here), I slip out of my chair and pop the question. In front of a packed, tourist-filled dining room, I drop to my knees and in direct defiance of Devil Brow's wishes, ask his one and only daughter (one and only child) to marry me. Voice commanding, eyes filled with real tears, I pour it on.

The twenty-something Kent/Georgetown grad nervously brushes back her sea of golden blond hair, glances at all those sets of admiring eyes. The silence of the moment is screaming.

Clearing her throat she says, “But Daddy doesn't trust you.”

“Do you trust me?” I ask, the rock hard floor causing a sharp pain to shoot into my knee.

“Yes,” she says, a solitary tear falling down an unblemished cheek. “I do.”

The tourist trap breaks out in applause.

I am able to relieve the pain in my right knee by standing back up, but not before slipping the ring onto her finger. Marriage proposals never stop getting any easier, no matter how many you make.

A just desert of white wedding cake and a Dom split are delivered on the house, compliments of the Travel Channel personality and his staff (or so the pre-printed card of congratulations attests). Marketing is everything.

“We should set a date immediately,” exhales my lovely fiancé after things calm down, her almond eyes open wide and happy. She adds, “You've walked the aisle twice before. But I want a traditional wedding…A big white one.”

Contemplatively I sit back, cross long legs, sip my free champagne. I cut off a tiny triangle of wedding cake, place it inside my mouth, set it on my tongue, allow it to melt. I know I have her where I want her now.

“Well considering your father's ah…sentiments,” I say, “our only choice is to elope. This very night…Right now. It's our only option.”

Reaching out across the small café table, my lovely wife-to-be takes hold of my hand, the light from the ring that now occupies her ring finger reflected in the clear-cut diamond.

“Father Bill Walsh at Saint Patrick's will see us on a moment's notice,” she says, a mischievous smile forming on her face. “Daddy likes to give the church lots of money.”   

“He's buying his way into heaven?” I smile.

“Daddy earned his rightful place in heaven a long time ago.”

Chapter 3

Not long after vows are exchanged (to a young disheveled Father Walsh who we apparently roused out of bed), the two of us stand out on the balcony of my two bedroom tower apartment that overlooks the East River. My new bride sips champagne from long stemmed crystal. I smoke a well earned Partagas Number 2. My lush cotton robe is crimson colored, hers wedding cake white. She makes a half serious joke about having our initials inscribed on the robes over our hearts. But I know there won't be time for that.

After a quiet moment spent soaking up the sounds, sights and smells of the near invisible slow moving river far below us, she turns to me, speaks softly.

“I love you more than myself. Do you understand?”

Her words send a shot of ice cold water up and down my spine. Maybe she is entirely unaware of it, but the words are eerily similar to the confessions my first two wives made not long before their untimely and tragic deaths (the first after slipping in the bathtub; the second after falling ill from a very severe and rare case of influenza).    

Chapter 4

Before retiring to bed, my lovely wants to call her Daddy from the bedroom suite. She's nervous about it. She knows he'll be upset; she knows he'll be sick with worry. But she also knows he loves her with all his heart. That loves transcends all things. His love for her means he wants her to be happy. Or so she tries to explain.

I know differently.

Outwardly I play the good husband. I agree she should call him.

But on the inside, I picture his brows sticking up like thorny bullhorns beyond the end of his pale forehead. I picture his bobbing Adam's apple turkey neck, his bald head, jagged purple vein popping out of the translucent skin like a tapeworm stuck inside a fifty cent condom. I know that once he discovers the truth about the marriage, he will grow sick with anger.

I sit myself on the side of the bed.

She tucks herself in, reaches out for the cordless on the nightstand beside her, dials Daddy.

True to form, when Devil Brows hears the news, he falls into a fit of coughing. He tells her he feels ill, that he needs to lie down for a while. She's relaying all this to me by holding her freehand over the mouthpiece and whispering in my ear. But I don't require her translation. I can hear his elevated voice clear enough over the tinny earpiece.

When Devil Brows insists he's got to go lie down for a while, he cuts the connection without a goodbye to his one and only daughter; his one and only child.

I suggest she call back.

“Right away,” I say.

But when she does it, all she gets it a busy signal.

I sit up in bed, put my arms around her, tell her something must have happened to the connection. That “Daddy” would never just shut her out. I make a promise to her: that all ill feelings will disappear; all wounds healed eventually. Then I slip in closer to her, kiss her lips, slip my hand inside her robe, set it on her warm, moist angel space.

Chapter 5

I dream.

I am walking alone at night inside a city that is abandoned. The sidewalk is cold concrete, the street black macadam and empty, the buildings brick and ugly. I walk with a distinct heaviness in my gait and the feeling that despite the emptiness of this place, I am being watched.

When I come to a dark alley, I find myself looking inside. There, I find a set of eyes reflected in the light of the waxing moon. I go to the eyes. The closer I come, I see they belong to a little child.

A little girl of no more than three or four.

She is brown-eyed, brown-haired and rosy cheeked. Her long dark smooth hair veils her face. Despite the raw cold, she's wearing only a simple floral print dress. She looks up at me, opens her mouth.

“Daddy,” she says before turning and disappearing into the darkness of the alley.    

I am startled to a ringing bedside phone.

I judge the time to be an hour before the dawn shines upon Manhattan. Lifting the receiver, I bring it to my ear. There is a strange but not unfamiliar voice speaking to me from the opposite end. It is the voice of a man who calls himself, “the Caretaker.”

Her father, the Caretaker tells me, has suffered a massive coronary in his sleep.

Or, so it will appear to the county coroner. Lying in bed, I feel a great weight lifted from my torso. After all, the Caretaker's work is as good as his word.

“I assume you will no longer be requiring my services,” he says. “You may forward the balance of the fee to my Swiss account, just like the first two jobs.”

Beside me, I smell my wife sleeping, feel her warmth, the weight of her slender body.

“I understand,” I say. “Perfectly.”

“Very well. Then please understand this too: it's too dangerous what you are doing.”

“I assure you,” I whisper into the phone, “this is my last one.”

The connection suddenly terminated, I turn back around to face my newlywed.

She's awake, but barely.

“Who…was…that?” she groggily asks, eyes still closed.

For a brief moment, I find myself staring into her face. Her beautiful, pale face. It reminds me of the face of the girl in my dream. However fleeting the emotion, I feel real empathy for her; perhaps love. It is a raw emotion I discover. Why the change in me, I can't say, other than I feel as if someone or something has injected a foreign chemical into my veins. Reaching under the sheet, I fish around for her hand, until I find it. I take hold of it, hold back my tears with a swallow.

“I'm afraid I have some tragic new for you,” I whisper.  

Chapter 6

Call me Parasite. But also call me a good husband. Maybe even a changed man.

A month later, a reading is conducted of Devil Brows's last will and testament at a midtown law office. It's a solemn affair. I make sure to choose the right suit. A charcoal Brooks Brothers double-breasted, pleated trousers, one and a half inch cuffs at the bottoms. My shoes are polished brown patent leathers—lace ups, like the old Florsheim's my Dad used to wear to church on Sunday mornings after the usual Saturday night bender.

My heart goes out to my newlywed as I sit on the leather couch pressed up against her trembling, feather-light body, my hand gripping her left hand while with her right, she clutches an old cracked and faded snapshot of her beloved “Daddy.”

God rest his soul…

I hold her hand and I help dry her tears and if I could I would wrap both my arms around her, feel her body tight against me, inside me, if only it would make her feel better. I want to run my hands through her golden hair, feel her smooth young skin. I want to eat her flesh and quench my desire for her by drinking her tears and swallowing her blood. I want her all for myself and I want to crawl up inside her chest and go to sleep beside her beating heart. I want to make her happy. Just like Daddy wanted to make her happy. I didn't plan it this way, but I know that she is the one.

She will live.

She will be the mother to my child. Our child.

When the bespectacled young lawyer enters the room, a manila folder gripped in his hand, I perk up at attention. He takes his seat behind a large mahogany desk, unbuttons his jacket, sits himself down, clears the frog in his throat. Slowly opening the folder he slides out the thick, stapled, legal-sized document.

Looking up and locking eyes on my significant other, he says, “I'll get right to the point.”

My heart begins to pound not in my chest, but in my throat and temples. My palms grow moist and cold. I feel the urge to swallow, but I can't. I hold my wife's hand tight and I try to keep my emotions in check. This is not my moment anymore.

It is hers.

“To my loving daughter,” the lawyer goes on. “I bequeath to you my one-hundred-ten million dollar estate, including the Westchester, Manhattan, Vermont and Palm Beach properties.”

Eyeing my reflection in the window wall directly behind the lawyer, I realize the broad smile that has formed on my clean-shaven face is about to betray my excitement. The act of releasing my lovely's hand and shooting up from the couch is as involuntary as it is impossible to prevent. If only my skin were transparent, my clothing removed, you would see the blood not swimming through the veins and capillaries. You would see it shooting.

“Darling,” my wife says, her voice a painful whisper, “what is it?”

“And to my son-in-law,” the lawyer goes on, “you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder.”

The floor does not shift out from under my feet. It drops out.

The office door opens so wide and so fast it slams the wall behind it.

Call me parasite, but I love my wife. They have me all wrong. I love her. I want to be with her. I love her. I want her to bear my brown-eyed daughter.

Blue uniformed police officers barge into the room. Behind them a middle-aged man wearing a cheap gray suit. I recognize him as a homicide detective. I know his face from the newspapers. Behind him, some television news reporters. Somebody's blown the lid on something and it wasn't me.

I find myself stuttering.

“I love my wife…I love my wife…I love my wife…”

One of the officers begins reading me my rights.

The others have un-holstered their service weapons. They're aiming eternally black barrels at my heart.

One man shouts out for me to drop to my knees, hands behind my back.

I do it.

“I love my wife,” I repeat. But no one listens.

From down on my knees, I turn to the still seated lawyer, then to my wife. She's standing now, peering at me dry eyed, face expressionless, without emotion. It is a blank foreign face that I do not recognize. It suddenly hurts to look at her.

I turn towards the door once more, if only to peel my eyes off of her.

That's when he shoves his way in.

Devil Brows.

When my wife spots him, makes her way towards him, he takes her in his arms, embraces her tightly, lovingly. A strange young, dark haired woman pushes her way into the room right behind him, goes to my wife. The strange young blue-jeaned beauty takes my wife's hand in hers, pulls her away from Devil Brows, embraces her with a slow lover's kiss on the mouth.

“You had me so worried,” blue-jeaned beauty says, never letting go of the hand. “All these days and nights sleeping alone.”

“It's over now,” my wife says. With a laugh she adds, “Don't worry, baby. We're not married. Father Walsh made sure of it.”

There's a noise coming from inside my head. The noise is almost harmonious and it's getting louder and louder all the time. Like a symphony of strings warming up.

A police officer slips behind me, bends down, pulls cuffs from his utility belt.

I fix my eyes on Devil Brows. I recall his white casket being lowered into the raw earth. I recall his dead waxen face when it was exposed for us during the private viewing (a wax replica maybe?), the now fully gray eyebrows combed and neatly trimmed and defying gravity, like a pair of sharpened devil horns.

“You're alive,” I whisper to myself.

I think about the Caretaker. Did he rat me out?

The officer grabs hold of my left arm at the bicep, squeezes hard.

“How did I do, Daddy?” begs my wife as her lover hands her a small leather wallet, the gold-plated badge of the FBI pinned to it. When the lover attempts to hand my wife her holster, the service weapon tucked neatly inside it, she reaches out for it. But not before facing me, looking into me, into my eyes. It's like she's sending me a message. It's like she's telling me to do something.

Fumbling the exchange, she drops the holstered piece to the floor.

With automatics poised on me I yank my arm away from the officer's grip, drop to the floor, reach out for my wife's gun.

I grab the gun.

I grab the gun, pull it out of the holster, turn the barrel up at my wife as the room explodes in shouts and screams.

I grab the gun, turn the barrel up at my wife as the room explodes in shouts and screams and as the symphonic noise inside my head becomes deafening.

I thumb back the hammer, slip my finger on the trigger, aim it pointblank for a sea of golden blond hair.

Call me parasite.

But call me a good husband.

Call me unlucky.

But call me lucky to find true love.

Call me pathological.

Call me a dead son of a bitch.

I squeeze...