Hawthorne enjoys one of the ultimate highs.
Sweeter Than Wine
Hawthorne had always been enormously intelligent. And from the time he was a mere boy he had exhibited an uncanny ability to figure out solutions to problems. His keen mind now perceived his new-found knowledge of his wife’s infidelity as a problem that required an ingenious solution.
What did he know? He was, to his knowledge, the only one (other than his wife and her lover) who knew about the affair. That was a useful tidbit, since it lessened the likelihood that the police would suspect him of anything. He smiled imperceptibly as he realized that his solution would necessarily involve the authorities.
What else did he know? There was of course the afternoon when he saw the lovers emerge from a motel room and embrace before Jeannie got into her car and drove away. And there was the knowledge that her partner in deceit was none other than Peter, his best friend since college and his law partner for 20 years.
Peter had divorced his own wife a year before and had changed. At first Hawthorne simply attributed the changes to the divorce. But lately Hawthorne had wondered whether it had something to do with the firm. Indeed that was why he had decided to discreetly follow his partner when Pete had left the office without informing anyone of where he’d be. Such behavior had become a habit Peter repeated several times since the divorce.
Hawthorne of course also knew that Jeannie, his wife of 25 years, had completely blindsided him. Had it been with a complete stranger it would have been bad enough. But she and Pete? He smirked now, realizing that it was the oldest betrayal in the book.
What should the solution be? The idea of quietly divorcing Jeannie, so that she and Pete could be together, was unthinkable to him. Hawthorne decided that Peter would have to die, and that Jeannie would have to grow old in prison.
Being a criminal lawyer, Hawthorne had no trouble finding a hit man to murder Peter. He used a small-time criminal who owed him a big favor as a middleman. Peter’s assassination was quietly and anonymously arranged, even to the point of telling the hired gun that it was a woman paying for his services. Payment would be in gold coins from his and Jeanie’s stash at the local bank. Hawthorne also arranged for some compromising shots of Peter, with a nude actress, to be photographed during a forthcoming trip to Los Angeles. The plan was that the actress would be given access to Peter’s hotel room before he arrived, and would surprise him. Hawthorne got to look through the portfolio of actress photos, and picked one out that no red-blooded male would be able to refuse, at least for the few moments needed to take some pictures.
Hawthorne asked Jeannie to accompany him to the bank and to retrieve some stock certificates from their lock box. He had her sign the access card while he browsed through some brochures. Once inside the private viewing room, he asked Jeannie to take an inventory of the lock box’s contents and, while she was occupied with that, he quietly pocketed 50 gold coins.
The 50 coins were paid to the criminal go-between, with the reminder that the payment was to be said to be from a jealous woman. Things proceeded on schedule, and two nights later Peter died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head.
Hawthorne studied Jeannie’s face when the police informed them later that night of Peter’s mishap. With smug delight Hawthorne candidly watched several emotions ripple over her pretty features, all disguised to register concern for him and for the loss of his dear friend.
Hawthorne was asked to accompany the detectives to police headquarters for questioning and he made sure, from his demeanor there, that he aroused their suspicions, while admitting nothing. Two days later a group of uniformed officers, accompanied by two detectives, predictably arrived at the Hawthorne residence with a search warrant. Hawthorne had been expecting them and, before their arrival, had deposited the photographs of Peter and the blonde actress on a top shelf in Jeannie’s closet. He made sure, the day after, that the police were anonymously tipped off who the hired killer was. As planned, the killer had 50 gold coins on his person when arrested, and confessed that the money had come from some unknown woman.
After recovering the gold coins, it didn’t take the police long to check with the bank and to note Jeannie’s signature on the lock box access slip. When she insisted that Hawthorne had been with her that day, he confirmed it but swore that he had not removed any coins from the lock box.
In the course of their investigations the police learned of Jeannie’s affair with Peter. Hawthorne acted totally surprised when they asked him about it, increasing their confidence that he wasn’t involved in the murder. Presented with all of the facts, the District Attorney indicted Jeannie. The charge was conspiracy to commit murder. At the trial her protestations of innocence fell on deaf ears. Throughout the entire proceeding, Hawthorne acted like he was firmly in her corner, despite her infidelity. He hired a fellow criminal lawyer to defend her. But the only loose end the attorney uncovered was the identity of the middleman. When questioned, the hit man swore that the middleman wasn’t in court, even as he looked right at Hawthorne.
Jeannie was convicted. Her sentence was 25 years without the possibility of parole. A week after she had settled into penitentiary life, Hawthorne visited her. He lied to her that, in the year or so she’d been dallying with Peter, he’d been having an affair with his secretary. The secretary would be moving into their home. Naturally his future visits to the prison would be few and far between.
The thought of his pretty secretary taking her place was the final blow for Jeannie. It occurred to her in a rush that Hawthorne hadn’t been in her corner all along, as he’d put on a show of being. As he took leave of her, she blurted out, “You Son of a Bitch, you set this whole thing up, didn’t you?
Hawthorne grinned in delight and answered, “On advice of counsel, I plead the 5th.” As he left the penitentiary’s forbidding walls and was walking out to his car, Hawthorne couldn’t help humming a happy tune. It had all gone according to plan. He had won. As a top criminal attorney himself, he wasn’t bothered by the thought that there might have been a miscarriage of justice. Indeed, he mused, a higher justice had been served.
Hawthorne was a religious man, and he recalled a Bible passage to the extent that “Vengeance shall be mine, saith the Lord.”
"That was one time they didn’t get it right," he thought. "Vengeance is sweeter than wine."