Liberty's Short Short|
by Howard Fast
I MADE up my mind the only way was to murder him.
That, after five years. Maybe I had thought of it before, but I don't think so. The five years were pointless and aimless. Going to the office, leaving the office, eating, sleeping, thinking of Gerry sometimes for five years. Some men love one woman, and then another woman, and then another woman. Some men love one woman; they can't change.
So I made up my mind to kill him, and it was like making up your mind to take a six-day cruise, or to quit your job. Something out of the run of things; but not half so important or awful as that day, almost five years ago, when Gerry told me she was taking him, not me, and I had to grin and wish her happiness, all the happiness in the world.
I considered the few things necessary to murder, once I had made up my mind. The place, the time, the gun, where I would shoot him. I didn't intend to be caught or found out. I didn't want Gerry to know. I wanted to free her because I felt that after five years of purgatory she deserved freedom; but I didn't want her to think of me as a murderer. Murder is a nasty word.
So I went into a pawnshop, ostensibly to buy a watch, then mentioned that I had a country place and was interested in shooting, and I let the pawnbroker talk me into buying a target pistol. In the head or the heart, it could kill a man at fifty yards.
I waited two weeks after that, and then, late one afternoon, I called Gerry.
I said: "I broke my word but I had to call you."
"You shouldn't have, Tom."
"I know. But once in six months it's all I have of you, a voice. He has the rest."
"Don't make it worse, Tom."
"I don't want to make it worse. Gerry, give it up. It's not too"
She broke in: "Please, Tom. We've had that out before. I made my bargain; I loved him."
"You don't love him now."
"I don't know. He needs me."
I thought of how he needed her. I thought of the other women. I thought of the scene at the Lido Hotel, of the pictures in the papers.
"All right," I said. " But let me see you tonight. He won't be home."
"No, please, Tom. Anyway, Ann Pierce asked me out to her place for a week-end. I'm leaving now."
I put down the telephone slowly, thinking to myself, Tonight I'll murder a man.
Miss Green came, in, stopped, and said, "Is something wrong, Mr. Norris?"
I shook my head, wondering whether murder changed a man's face. "You can go home now," I told her.
For a long time I sat staring ahead of me, wondering what the five years would have been if Gerry had taken me, not him; wondering why a woman will stay with a man who causes her deep and terrible pain. Loyalty is only a word.
It was quite dark when I reached into my desk And took out the pistol. I felt my way out of the office. From now on, in darkness.
It was a six-story elevator apartment house, where she lived. The elevator operator might remember me or he might not. That was a chance I had to take.
"Three," I said. She lived on the fourth floor. The operator scarcely glanced at me.
I walked up a flight, noted the position of her door, and then walked the rest of the stairs to the roof. Her apartment was at the back of the house and I had counted on that. I went down the fire escape. Her window was locked. I grooved the glass with a diamond I wore, and then deepened the circle with a key. Then I punched in the circle of glass, waited after it had shattered inside the room, then climbed in.
Her bedroom. Her things around me in the dark. Her perfume.
I felt my way into the living room. I raised one of the blinds. There was some reflected light from windows in the court, some starlight, enough to lighten the space before the door. He'd walk into that lightened space, and I'd shoot him. I couldn't miss.
In a chair, near the door, I waited. I held the pistol in my gloved hand, with my coat wrapped around it. The coat would muffle the sound of the shot. A target pistol doesn't crash; it whips. Muffled, the sound might pass unnoticed.
Waiting like that for a long time; until midnight, until past midnight. What does a man think of when he waits with premeditated murder in his mind?
I thought of neither punishment nor rewards; only of her. Her presence seemed all around me. Then I wanted her; desire with more pain than the hopeless desire of five years.
Finally he came. It must have been past one in the morning. I heard his key; I heard the door open. He walked, uncertainly into the lightened space before the door.
You see, he was miserably drunk. And I couldn't kill him. He stood there swaying, groping for the light switch, and I felt contempt, disgust, but no desire to destroy him. I understood about Gerry, why she had endured five years.
I must have moved. He turned, saw me, started back, lost his balance, and sprawled on the floor. He lay there, muttering and whimpering.
I put the gun back in my pocket. I dragged him into the bedroom, put on the light. I laid him on the bed, took off his shoes, loosened his collar, covered him with a blanket. For Gerry's sake. I felt tired, sick.
He slept almost immediately. I turned to go.
And then I saw Gerry's note, a sheet of paper on the dresser. I didn't touch it., I stood there and read:
Phil, I'm leaving you for good, this time. It's not the women; I've always known about them. Nor the drinking, nor the other things. I made a bargain, and I wanted to stick by it. Because I loved you once. Because I thought you needed me. But today Tom Norris called. You know about him. I spoke to him on the phone. Something in his voice made me realize that he would kill you. Sooner or later. And I don't want that not because I love you, but because I care too much for Tom to have him wreck his life by killing you. I'm going to him, Phil for always.
It was signed, "Gerry."