In Enemy HandsBy: Michelle Perry
Monday August 1
Gary Vandergriff paused with his hand on the doorknob, trying to compose his expression into a mask of pleasant neutrality. It would not do for Father to read the wrong thing in his expression. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door to the darkened bedchamber.
The room reeked of pine cleanser; it made his eyes water when he crossed the threshold and approached his father’s bed. Perhaps the maid had made an overzealous attempt to mask the second, more subtle scent in the room.
It lingered in the periphery like a spectator in a boxing arena, awaiting the results of the bout between the crusty old diplomat and the pancreatic cancer that had slowly decimated his body for the past six months.
The old man had put up a good fight, but now the cancer had him on the ropes. The doctors said he wouldn’t live out the week.
Gary approached the bed. “Father?”
The old man lay still against the pillows, and for an instant, Gary thought he was already gone. Then his rheumy blue eyes fluttered open. He shot Gary a startled, faintly accusing look.
Gary swiped at his burning eyes, then was horrorstruck at the idea that the old man might think that he was crying. Franklin Vandergriff would not appreciate any tears on his behalf.
“Father, I wasn’t … I didn’t …”
His father rapped his stomach with a gnarled hand. For the first time, Gary noticed the manila folder that blended with the beige sheets. He spotted his name on the tab and felt the first fluttering of fear.
“You’re a liar,” the old man growled. “A thief! “
“Father,” he gasped. “What do you …?”
His words stuck in his throat as the old man’s palsied fingers opened the cover. Gary knew what it was in an instant. Ice water filled his veins and pooled in the pit of his stomach.
Andreakos had learned of the old man’s condition. This was an eleventh hour attempt to take everything Gary had fought for, everything that he would be rightfully entitled to his when his father died.
“My lawyer’s coming,” the old man wheezed. “You will be … disinherited.”
The words gave Gary hope. Maybe it wasn’t too late.
Moving quickly, Gary seized a pillow from the ottoman and pressed it to the old man’s face.
His father’s birdlike hands beat at his arms, but Gary was surprised by how ineffectual his blows were. How easy it all was.
In a moment, it was over. Gary removed the pillow and stared down at the old man.
Finally, he let the smile that had been twitching his lips surface. He giggled, pressing his face into the pillow to mute the sound.
The old bastard was finally dead.
The sly Andreakos had almost beaten him at his own game. After blackmailing him for years, he’d tried to turn the tables at the last moment. But now Gary feared nothing. All the years groveling at his father’s feet had paid off. He would possess the money and power he craved.
And at last, he would annihilate Andreakos and his family.
Gary leaned over to check his father’s pulse one last time, and shook his head in disbelief when he found the old man was still dead. It seemed impossible that a flimsy little thing like a throw pillow had brought down such a creature. He’d half-suspected it’d take a silver bullet.
He giggled again.
Gary arranged the pillow back on the ottoman with the others, then held his eyes open with his thumbs and forefingers. The pungent fumes of the cleaner stung his retinas, and when tears streaked down his cheeks, Gary ran to the door.
“My father!” he shouted into the hallway. “He’s not breathing.”
Wednesday, August 3
Somehow, Gary made it through the funeral without laughing out loud. The situation was so delicious though, that he’d had to take a couple of nerve pills before the service to mute his glee and achieve a look of slack-faced bereavement.
Back at the house, he had somehow tolerated the barrage of condolences from his father’s friends, but one by one, they’d drifted away after eating and drinking their fill at the wake. Only one guest remained, and although Gary hated all his father’s cronies, he took a certain perverse pleasure in speaking with this one.