The Best of Times Short Story Competition

August 2009 Results

Topping Aunt Gloria

Copyright © B J Stirling 2009

Aunt Gloria, reflected Ryan, had to go.

When, of course, should be as soon as possible. The only questions that remained were how and where. Especially how.

A modest and unassuming lad, Ryan felt he couldn’t endure the frightfulness of a public trial if he was caught. Of course they no longer hanged you for murder, but he strongly felt that if convicted and imprisoned, his rather pretty good looks might make him a target for, say, incarcerated Hell’s Angels. And of course, although he was her principal beneficiary, he wouldn’t be allowed to inherit. Aunt Gloria’s demise would have to be carefully handled.

Actually he was rather fond of Aunt Gloria and rather regretted the necessity for her murder. She had been rejected by her family when she married against their combined wishes. A strongly White Anglo Saxon Protestant family, they were appalled by her choice of a man twenty years her senior, who was not quite Anglo Saxon.

More Chinese really.

Willy Lee owned a small restaurant specializing in Cantonese cuisine but he took an early retirement so that he could ride the new wave of technology. Prawn chips, Willy realized, would never be as rewarding as silicon chips. This was soon proven when he designed a computing program that revolutionized Yum Cha and brought him an enormous fortune. He and Gloria moved from the flat over the restaurant to a harbourside penthouse and would have lived happily ever after had it not been for Willy’s untimely death following an extreme ingestion of monosodium glutamate.

The Lees were childless, so Aunt Gloria, perforce, looked to her estranged family for an heir. Ryan’s mother had also chosen an unlikely mate. A black Irish Catholic. Well, thank God, he wasn’t actually black. Just a slightly suntanned Anglo Saxon. But definitely not Protestant. It made Willy Lee almost acceptable. Willy was descended from gold rushers who had, over the generations, lost touch with the faith of their ancestors and become C of E.

Anyway Annabel O’Hare’s choice had made her, too, an outcast and in a burst of fellow feeling Gloria Lee made a will in favour of Annabel’s son, Ryan, who learned of his good fortune when he was investigating the contents of the Ming vase where Aunt Gloria was apt to dump her bits and pieces. Interesting things like hundred dollar notes, cheque books and bank statements. Copies of wills.

You may well ask why Ryan was in such a hurry to inherit. Well, a few million dollars are always handy but the real problem was that Gloria, a robust forty eight, had lately become the constant companion of a chap she met on a world cruise and who seemed to have a more permanent arrangement in mind.

Gloria had to go before she had time to rethink her depositions.

He thought about poison. Easy to introduce into the system but also easy to detect during the autopsy. He thought about bombs. Could Aunt Gloria’s passing be classified as a terrorist act? His great friend, Paddy O’Malley, knew all about bombs. His dad, who, back in the Ould Country, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the I.R.A., accidentally blew himself up one Battle of the Boyne Day. Of course the intended targets had been the relentlessly marching Orangemen who were still whingeing about the difficulty of getting the bloodstains off their sashes, and bits of Paddy’s dad still occasionally surfaced on the march route. Clearly the late O’Malley’s bomb had been at fault. Question was, would any device designed by an O’Malley do anything other than make one an involuntary suicide bomber.

No, bombs were out. Axes, daggers and guns were also messy, not to mention the trauma of having to witness the bloodshed. Ryan tended to throw up if he as much as cut himself shaving. Really the logistical problems seemed insurmountable. Back to poison.

Whichever way you looked at it, there would always be a body or body parts to be investigated. What Ryan needed was to distance himself from the crime.

Perhaps a contract killer? But Ryan was not particularly gainfully employed and he understood that these things cost money. So how, in the short term could he get his hands on a few thou. The Ming vase had never come up with anything better than a couple of hundred. Anyway he wasn’t sure of the going price so he needed some sort of estimate before approaching Aunt Gloria for a loan.

“How,” he asked Paddy, “would one go about finding a contract killer?”

“Who do you want topped?” wondered Paddy.

“A purely hypothetical question,” replied Ryan. “One reads about these things in the newspapers. And one wonders how erring husbands, for instance, manage to find the, ah, contractor.”

“One,” chuckled Paddy, who was much addicted to taking the Mickey, “might conceivably get in touch with the Mafia.”

“Like, wander into the local fruit shop and ask the owner to put one in touch with a hired killer?”

“You’d do better to have a word with Crusher Malone,” advised Paddy. “Is this your Aunt Gloria we’re talking about, by the way?”

“I said hypothetical,” snapped Ryan. “Where does one find this Crusher Malone?”

“He’s the snooker pro at The Trampled Shamrock,” said Paddy. “Is your Aunt Gloria serious about yon bugger then?”

“Mind your own business,” snarled Ryan. “Where’s the bloody Trampled Shamrock then?”

“Surry Hills,” replied his friend. “Little lane off Foveaux Street. And I’d not be using yon posh accent unless you want a close encounter with a shillelagh.”

With this advice in mind Ryan betook himself to The Trampled Shamrock. Through a heavy haze of smoke and Guinness-laden breath he peered into the snooker room. There was no one there that looked in the least like a Crusher. He braced himself to attempt the brogue that thickened his late father’s conversation and approached a tiny little bloke who he thought might possibly be a leprechaun.

“Can ye be afther telling me where Oi moight be finding Crusher Malone?”

“You’ve found him, sonny. How can I help you?”

“You!” ejaculated Ryan, reverting to Great Public School Speak – he was an old St Ignatius boy - “You don’t look like a Crusher to me.”

“Well bugger off then,” said the dwarf, potting three red balls into different pockets with a single thrust of his cue and swearing profusely because he’d intended to pocket the lot.

“Didn’t mean to be offensive,” muttered Ryan. “It’s just that I thought you’d be, um, more violent looking.”

“Depends on the situation, boyoh. Was you lookin’ for a fight?”

“Actually I was looking for a contract killer,” confided Ryan. “I was told you might know some one.”

“What’s it worth?”

“Ah. Well, I was wondering about the going price.”

“Ten thousand dollars. Deposit. Ten thousand on completion. Oh, and a further ten thousand to be donated to the I.R.A. superannuation fund of which I happen to be the treasurer. What’s the job then?”

“Well,” countered Ryan, “perhaps I’d better get the money for the deposit before we go into details.”

“Too bloody right,” replied Crusher. “Friday. Ten a.m. Here. And in the meantime I could handle a pint or two of Guinness.”

With this in mind, and clutching a bouquet of asters, Ryan called on his aunt the following afternoon.

“Aunt Gloria,” he said tentatively, “I have this strong desire to improve my lot. I want to go to university and learn a profession. To do this I need a large sum of money. I wondered if you would give me a reference for my bank so that I can get a loan?”

“Reference? Bank? Good God, boy. You don’t want to get involved with banks. Bloody sharks all of them. How much do you need?”

So, Friday, ten a.m, The Trampled Shamrock. Money and a photograph of Aunt Gloria changed hands, with a proviso that the deed be done in such a way that Ryan would never be suspected.

Crusher looked at him pityingly. “Sonny,” he said, “aint nobody going to be suspected.

About the time this business was being transacted Cyril St Clair was calling on Gloria Lee. Who was enthusing about her wonderful neffy poo, Ryan O’Hare. “Wants to go to university and study doctoring, would you believe? Wanted me to give him a reference for the bank, silly boy. Of course I gave him the money but he insists that he will pay back every cent as soon as he qualifies. As if he’s not going to inherit everything when I’m dead and gone.”

At this Cyril fell on his knees before Gloria, praising her generosity, her beauty and all that stuff and begged her hand in marriage. She accepted like a shot.

Now Cyril, who was still under thirty, good looking, sartorially splendid and so on, was in a bit of a fix. He was very short of the ready and had borrowed heavily in order to squire Gloria around the traps. Certainly they would soon be married but what about this will leaving the dibs to Ryan? Gloria, for some reason, believed Cyril to be a merchant banker. How could he disillusion her? What was the legal position any way? He made his way thoughtfully to The Trampled Shamrock and engaged Crusher Malone in conversation.

There is a school of thought that the Irish are, well, thick. Of course this is a slander probably generated by the English. Crusher Malone - witness his prowess at snooker and that fact that with upwards of fifty notches on his shillelagh he’d never been suspected, much less convicted - was a long way off thick. He had an excellent head for figures and worked out that if he accepted Cyril’s contract on Ryan he would be sixty thousand ahead. But only if he collected before either of the intended hits were, actually, so to speak, hit.

On the other hand Ryan was the son of an Irishman and St Clair was a pommy bastard. Decisions, decisions.

He’d promised to do Gloria on Sunday morning, on the way home from early service. Rest her soul. Mind you as an Irish Catholic he had serious doubts about the peaceful resting of Protestant souls, but if she’d been to Communion she might just make it. He’d promised to do Ryan on Saturday night as he emerged from that nightclub in Randwick, and, assuming he’d earlier been to confession, in a State of Grace. As a good catholic Ryan might have to do a stint in purgatory but by and large he’d probably be okay.

But Crusher wasn’t easy in his mind, especially about how to go about collecting the extra forty thou. And he was damned if he liked that Sassenach.

So he decided to sacrifice the money and do Cyril.

Very tidily. Well, falling under a train isn’t exactly tidy, but considering the huge crowd in the underground that afternoon, the pushing and shoving and the proximity of his victim to the platform’s extremity, the death could only be interpreted as an unfortunate accident.

The newly affianced and subsequently bereaved Gloria was shattered. The person she needed to comfort her could only be her beloved nephew, Ryan. Who felt a great surge of relief. It would not, after all, be necessary to have his aunty topped.

He dropped into The Trampled Shamrock to tell Crusher the deal was off.

Crusher was not pleased. He had already inconvenienced himself on Ryan’s behalf. He pointed out that he had done Ryan a great service in topping Cyril St Clair and he’d be buggered if he was going to suffer the financial loss that not doing Aunt Gloria would entail.

Ryan realized, of course, that the removal of Cyril put him deeply in debt to Crusher. (“Forty thousand dollars,” interpolated Crusher.) But his chances of screwing a further, and larger, sum from Aunt Gloria, while she lived and breathed, were unlikely. The matter required thinking about but Crusher was impatient.

“Give me till tomorrow then,” begged Ryan. “I’ll see what I can come up with.”

“Forty thousand dollars is what you come up with,” pressed Crusher. “Otherwise Aunty cops it on the way home from church as per schedule.”

Ryan needed help on this one so he approached his friend, Paddy O’Malley. Together they decided to risk the late terrorist’s bomb recipe and blow up the The Trampled Shamrock on Saturday night, thus eliminating Crusher from the equation. To this end they put their heads, as well as a lot of nails, petrol, old bottles and rags, together, in Aunt Gloria’s guest bathroom.

Alas for the fatal flaw. The penthouse was mostly unharmed but Paddy and Ryan’s departure to a higher plane might have been choreographed by a rocket scientist. Aunt Gloria was inconsolable. She even missed church on Sunday morning.

Crusher, too, was inconsolable, but not for long. The demand for his services made it unlikely that he would ever go into receivership.

Aunt Gloria married the police officer in charge of the investigation into the boys’ deaths and further incurred the family’s displeasure. Okay, he was White, Anglo Saxon and a Protestant but his football code was anathema. They were all Union supporters and he had played half back for the Sea Eagles.