A matter of social status.
|Another Dinner Party
“Entropy. It’s all about entropy,” said Max. “The natural trend of the universe is towards death and disorder. I merely help it on its way.”
Hutchins the butler stood, patiently awaiting the moment of his dismissal. “Yes sir. I believe you may have mentioned this before.”
Max looked at him sharply. “Indeed I have, Hutchins. And I shall continue to mention it whenever I wish.”
“As you are entitled to, sir. But you forgot to add that it pays my wages.”
“I was relying on your excellent memory, Hutchins. The day you forget anything is the day I throw you on to the street.”
“That is well understood, sir,” answered Hutchins. “May I go now?”
“Yeah, yeah, off you toddle.” Max waved a dismissive hand but stopped as a thought crossed his mind. “Oh, Hutchins, any communication from his Snottiness yet?”
Hutchins turned back to his employer. “No, sir, nothing as yet. But his butler tells me that he doubts you’ll get one. You just haven’t paid your dues to the Homeowner’s Association as yet, it seems.”
“Paid my dues? I’m up to date on their stupid membership fee and I keep their house and garden regulations better than anyone. My lawn is greener and neater than their frigging golfing greens. What more do they want?”
Hutchins coughed discreetly behind a white-gloved hand. “I believe it’s breeding they want, sir. You haven’t the right family name.”
Max threw his hands into the air. “Ah, the Eastern European thing again. Always the same in this goddamn country. Be free to make as much money as you like but don’t ever expect me to talk to you. And as for getting invited to one of their blasted dances or dinner parties, I can forget it. If they expect me to change my name to Ponsonby-Smythe or Grandbury, they can whistle. My name’s Czeskowski and I’ll live in their neighbourhood and embarrass them till the day I die.”
“Yes sir,” replied Hutchins. “The best approach, I’m sure.”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking about that, Hutchins. I wouldn’t be averse to coming out of retirement for a few days if it means teaching the bastards a little lesson. Let them see that there’s more important things in life than your last name.”
Hutchins stood quietly, showing no reaction to his employer’s thoughts. Max waved a hand at him and the butler left the room without commenting on the intentions of the man he worked for. He knew only too well what Max meant.
Max Czeskowski smouldered a while in thought, then rose and adjusted his bathrobe. Being a man of action rather than words, he needed to be doing something if he were to calm the emotions surging through him at the obvious insult to his origin.
He left the room and trudged wearily up the impressive staircase leading to the second storey. Not for the first time, he considered putting in a stair lift as he laboured upwards. It was still good for him to get this exercise, but the time was coming when he’d no longer be capable of it. He hated the idea of spoiling the lines of the staircase with such an ugly contraption, but he would do whatever was necessary when it came to the push.
Thinking back to his conversation with Hutchins, he reflected that, if he was going to do something about this outrageous snub from Snotgobbler and his damned Association, it had better be soon. He was losing the ability to move around as stealthily as his profession called for.
At the top of the stairs he paused briefly to catch his breath, then continued to his bedroom. Once there, he opened the main walk-in closet and plunged between the array of suits hanging in the alcove on the right. In the gloom behind the suits, he pressed his hand to the screen on the wall and waited while the computer verified his ID. Then the steel doors slid open and he was confronted with his armoury, backlit and menacing in its array of killing equipment.
Ignoring the firearms hanging on the wall, Max bent over and grabbed the handle of the aluminium case that lay on the floor of the safe. With case in hand, he pressed the button to close the doors and left the closet. Back in the bedroom he threw the case on to the bed and sat down next to it.
He paused, looking at the case and wondering if he was up to this after all. It had been so many years since he’d taken a job. Was it really that important to get back into the game at all? And then he remembered a quote somebody had once spoken to him.
The dying process begins the minute we are born, but it accelerates during dinner parties.
It was just too appropriate and Max had always loved a bit of irony. He reached down and flicked open the catches.
Inside, the case was a solid foam insert with precise cutouts in which nestled the parts of his favourite weapon of execution. The barrel at the top stretched almost the full length of the case. Beneath it, the stock and action had their own peculiarly-shaped homes. The telescopic sight dwelt a little apart, its neighbour a cylindrical silencer, and there were rectangular holes for ammunition and cleaning materials.
Max took out each piece in turn, examined it, and cleaned it lovingly. He did this with painstaking care until everything had been checked and proved in good working order. Then he allowed his hands to remember the process of long ago as he assembled the rifle in seconds. He nodded in satisfaction, having proved to himself that he still had that skill.
Standing up, he moved to the window and aimed at a tree in the forest covering the hillside opposite. It was as if he’d never been away and he knew that he could do this. He returned to the bed and disassembled the weapon, storing it as before. The case he placed on the floor next to his bed, partially hidden by his bedside table. Might as well get it done tomorrow, he decided. It would be a Saturday and, if Max knew anything, the fool would be having one of his stupid dinner parties that evening. He always did.
The next day, Max said nothing to Hutchins about his decision, but he knew that his butler would have noticed the case in his bedroom and drawn the right conclusions. Max had no wish to discuss the matter and congratulated himself on finding such a discreet and private man servant.
In the evening he took a light supper and then set out for the woods behind the house, case in hand. He knew that Hutchins watched from a window and would be ready for his return with a cigar and brandy in the study.
Once in the woods, he moved silently but a little more slowly than he would have managed when young. This must definitely be the last one, he told himself.
He knew, from long experience, a suitable place to give him a clear view of the front door of Snottie’s place. This chosen vantage, at the top of the cliff with adequate cover from the bushes that grew right up to the edge, had long appealed to him as a perfect spot for the task now at hand. The eyes still searched out and found such spots wherever he went, in spite of his retirement.
Max knew the route to the vantage point well but he was slower than expected, his journey being more uphill and tiring than he remembered. Definitely getting older, he mused. He was later than he’d planned when he came to the edge of the cliff and settled down into his hiding place. Down at the house, the black saloons were arriving already, with Snotnose standing at his front door to welcome them.
Max worked quickly now, taking each piece from the case and assembling them expertly. As soon as the weapon was ready, he whipped it up quickly, only to have a branch of his sheltering bush knock it from his grip. Max cursed and grabbed it, shoving it through the foliage and bending to the sight. Snottie was still there and more guests were arriving.
Now Max calmed himself, settling into a steady position and focusing the sight on Snotface’s nose. A head shot, he thought. I always loved the head shot. No possibility of mistakes with that.
He relaxed and concentrated on the crosshairs, waiting for the right moment. It came and his finger squeezed the trigger.
The police found him easily, the guests being unanimous that the bang had come from the top of the cliff opposite. Max was a terrible mess, the barrel exploding at the blockage of clay forced into it by its fall to the ground. The sight had blasted straight into his forehead, causing terrible damage. His face was not a pleasant sight at all. The coroner reckoned death had been instantaneous. Which is a pity, since Max would never appreciate the true irony of the quote he’d remembered the day before his death.
Word Count: 1,540
For Quotation Inspiration: Official Contest, September 2020
Prompt: The dying process begins the minute we are born, but it accelerates during dinner parties.