He turned into his driveway and, as he always did, he paused a second to look at the house. It was an awesome three-story structure of brick and stone. He let his eyes caress its architectural splendor. Sets of triple columns supported the porch roof extension over the front entrance. A large conservatory on the right and an oversize garage on the left, like book ends, anchored both sides of the house. Many gables, two massive brick chimneys, and Spanish tiles adorned the main roofs, all adding enormous grandeur to everything.
He had worked with the architect down to the last detail and felt an enormous pride when the house, his house, was finished.
Oftentimes, with a cocky smile, he mentally referred to himself as the Lord of the Manor, by which he meant a Man of Power and Privilege.
This was an upscale neighborhood, very upscale, and he intended to be at the top of its social and financial pecking order. He knew that many of the people who lived here didn’t like him. Was it personal envy? He didn’t know and, frankly, he didn’t care. He heard that many of his neighbors gossiped that this pretentious house of his was nothing more than a vulgar monument to his ego. Let them think what they wanted. As far as he was concerned, most of them were simply his inferiors.
But these were old thoughts, no longer worth his attention. It was beginning to rain, and he should be getting the car into the garage. He drove up the rest of the driveway and pressed the remote to open the garage door. The door didn’t move. He pressed again, and again the door didn’t move. He pressed several more times. Nothing happened.
He looked around. The rain was coming down heavy now. If he couldn’t get into the house through the garage, the only way in was through the front door.
Annoyed about having to get soaked, he got out of the car and ran through the rain. With relief, he stepped under the front porch roof. His mood changed instantly. It was good to be home.
It had been a long day, taken up with several major contract closings, and he was dead tired. He fished out his front door key, but found himself abruptly shaken out of his reveries when he realized he couldn’t get the key into the lock. He tried again, and again the key wouldn’t go in. He tried several more times. The door still wouldn’t open.
If he tried forcing the key, it would probably get stuck in the lock, and that would be a real headache. He rang the doorbell, but he knew it was useless because his wife was at her mother’s for the day. Maybe he had the wrong key. He checked. No, it was the right key, the same key that had opened the door every day for the past 10 years.
He tried the garage door again, this time using the remote on his keychain. The door didn’t move. No use. Was the electricity out? He took a look inside the front windows and, sure enough, there wasn’t a single light on inside the house.
There was only one more thing to try. Reluctantly, he stepped out into the rain and walked along the front flower beds to the spot where a duplicate front door key had been buried for just such an emergency, found it, and now, thoroughly soaked, walked back to the front entrance. He reached the front door and tried to put the key into the lock. It wouldn’t go in.
He took out his cellphone and called his mother-in-law. She answered. No, Nicole was not there, but she had stopped by earlier in the day and had left a letter that was addressed to him. No, she didn’t know where Nicole was now. He asked his mother-in-law to open the letter and read it to him, but she told him that she had been instructed not to do so, and to give it to him personally. He ordered her to open it. She sternly said, “No.”
All of this was becoming a little disturbing to him. He had always made it clear that when he gave an order, he expected it to be obeyed. But, sensing trouble, he backed off and told her he’d be right over.
He got into his car and headed for his in-laws’. What a damned nuisance all this was. But for the moment there was nothing to do but sit back and be patient until he got there. His mind began to drift aimlessly as he drove. He had had another run-in with Charlie, his new partner at the firm.
Charlie had accused him of being too inflexible in fixing the terms of the contracts that were signed today. He thought the companies involved were being squeezed too tightly and ran the risk of going under. He said that if that happened, their own firm’s bottom line would take a big hit.
Charlie, he began to think, was maybe too soft and weak-kneed in business, incapable of pushing for advantage in tough negotiations. Maybe Charlie should never have been taken in as a partner. Maybe he should be let go.
But what then would be done with Marilyn, Charlie’s wife? She was as tough as nails, and put up with Charlie’s general ineptness because of the good money he made. Everyone knew why she had married Charlie. It was an unspoken exchange of sex for luxury and comfort. In other words, it was unalloyed prostitution.
He smiled when he recalled that he had seduced her within weeks of Charlie’s becoming a partner. His affair with her was the longest of the several he was currently juggling. But she could be dangerous. If he ever crossed her, she might retaliate furiously. Or she might be unable to break away from the masculinity that he provided, a masculinity she could never get from Charlie. He wasn’t sure, if pressed, what she would do.
If his wife ever learned of any one of his affairs, his marriage and his career would be over. Though he dominated her totally, Nicole would never let herself be shamed by infidelity. Shortly after he married her, he discovered that Nicole was essentially a very weak person, and what little affection he had for her turned to contempt. He treated her with an icy indifference, essentially locking her out of his life. He also saw to it that there were no children to complicate a divorce. But she was quietly beautiful and had a social charm that was useful in company gatherings.
But Nicole’s not being where she said she would be was odd. He made sure that she always apprised him of where she was going, and reminded her that he would be checking on her. Instead of seeing his actions as that of a classic control freak, she interpreted them as a demonstration of his care and affection! He knew this and secretly laughed at her gullibility. But, still, her disobedience disturbed him. In fact, any challenge to his authority set off his anger.
As he turned over and over in his mind the thought of what Nicole had done, his anger turned into a simmering fury. Suddenly, the whole day began to bear down on him. So many things were going wrong.
His breathing became more rapid and heavy. He broke out in a sweat. These symptons, which he knew well, meant only one thing: He was on the verge of a full-blown psychotic break. He had suffered such attacks before, and he knew what was coming.
He now experienced real fear. And, on cue, a huge surge of uncontrollable rage rose within him. He tried to push it away, suppress it, but he couldn’t. He needed his medication, but his last seizure was so long ago, he had gotten used to leaving his medicine at home.
But Nicole’s defiance and unknown whereabouts, on top of everything else, had broken his emotional balance. His face contorted horribly. He was in the grip of a maniacal rage.
In such a state, he was dangerous. He tried again to control himself, but the events of the day, without any effort on his part, arranged themselves in his mind in a deadly pattern. Did he say something to Charlie that possibly contained a hint that Charlie might be fired? If, in fact, in an unguarded moment, he had done exactly that, then the rest of the day’s events were as predictable as one domino falling against another in a line that led directly to him, a line that he himself had set in motion.
Yes, that’s what had to have happened. Charlie must have told Marilyn about his fear of being fired. Marilyn, in retaliation, told Nicole about the affair she was having with her husband. Nicole then told her mother, which led to the letter, probably telling him that Nicole had left him! But he really didn’t need to read the letter.
He now understood Nicole’s little joke with the house! He made a sudden and dangerous U-turn with the car and raced home. She must have thought herself so clever! Lock him out! Change the locks and shut off the electricity! She would be locking him out just the way he had emotionally locked her out of his life! What perfect retribution!
He began to laugh. The pieces of his neatly arranged life were coming apart before his eyes, and the irony of it was that he was the one who had pushed over the first domino.
He wove in and out of traffic at top speed. His house was the symbol of his success, the symbol of everything he desired and had struggled to get. Nobody, nobody, could keep him out of his house, not for a second!
He was out of control, beyond reason, beyond everything. He turned the corner and sped toward the house. Nobody was going to keep him out of it! His house was his sanctuary, where he needed to be, especially now!
He would get into the house. He knew how. He swerved into his driveway and stepped hard on the gas pedal. The last thing he would ever see was the front of the car buckling the garage door, and a second later, smashing into the cement wall at the back of the garage. It was a frightening crash. He knew he was hurt. He felt the blood rapidly soaking his shirt. The wound was fatal. Losing consciousness, he fell forward on the car’s horn, which instantly began blaring.
The noise jolted him back into awareness. Unable to move, but conscious again, he listened as the horn’s shrieking sound spread through the neighborhood. It was fitting, he thought.
In the past, a wailing sound was often used to mark the passing away of an important person. He had read it in the books on lineage and genealogy that he had long collected. As for what the reactions of his neighbors would be to his death, he didn’t care. He had always held them in total contempt. His last living thought was of his superiority to all of them.
By now, many of the neighbors had gathered outside the garage. The few who dared to go in found him slumped, dead, over the wheel. One man, a doctor, confirmed the death and said that the body could not be immediately extricated. The horn was still blaring. It was soon joined by the distant sounds of ambulance and police sirens.
Later, as people got word of what had happened, everyone was ready with a comment. Of all the comments, one alone spread rapidly through the crowd. Someone among the spectators had acidly said aloud: “It would seem that the Lord of the Manor has actually built himself a very fine-looking mausoleum! Given the situation, why don’t we do him a favor and just leave him in there? He would have liked that.”
Al Burrelli worked as an English teacher. In retirement, he has enjoyed the time to write his own short stories, several of which have been previously published by The Star.