For the Vamplit Friday Flash I chose Small Town Madness and Serial Murderer as my prompt.
The Dead Husbands Club
By Lisa McCourt Hollar
Even though the paper had been filled with stories about the serial killer that had been running rampant around the small town of Dumont, Stella didn’t think anything about it when she came home and found the front door unlocked and slightly ajar. She didn’t pay attention to the turned over table by the entrance, nor did she care that the plant she had nursed since it was a little sprout, was laying on its side, dirt smeared across the floor.
Her husband was an asshole that took every opportunity to belittle her, always pointing out the few pounds she put on, because she couldn’t keep her fingers out of the cookie jar, or mentioning that there was a smear on the window that she must have missed when she washed them; if she even bothered cleaning at all, because as Larry was wont to point out, she seemed to be allergic to soap and disinfectant. Perhaps asshole was a bit too kind. He was a fucking lard ass that drove everyone away with his constant criticism and superior attitude. Asshole was too kind, bastard, a compliment and fucktard not accurate enough. Stella rued the day, fifteen years earlier, when she ditched her boyfriend of three years to marry the war hero, just returned home. He was tall and handsome and so much more than what she thought she was getting. Now she knew her loss and would have divorced him, if it was possible, but she believed the words, till death do us part. And it was till death that she intended to keep.
It was her friend Sally that told her about the Dead Husband’s Club. It cost a sizable fee to join, murder didn’t come cheap, and a friend in the club to vouch for you, but once you were in, your husband problems would be taken care of. Sally’s husband had been one of the first victims of the Dumont Killer. It was a month ago, over coffee, that Sally told Stella the truth about what happened.
“You mean you paid someone to kill him?” Stella had looked around her kitchen, expecting to see a hidden camera crew.
“Not just someone, the Dumont Killer. You remember Morgan James? His wife is the one that first came up with the idea.”
Morgan James was one of the richest men in town. Was, because over a year ago he had been the second victim of the Dumont Killer. The first had been Old Man Whittaker, also one of the richest men in town. Old Man Whittaker and Morgan had been partners and at first the police thought the two murders were related. Then Sally’s husband was killed. Bobby hadn’t been connected to the other two men at all and then when the janitor at the elementary school was found dead in the school library, it was declared to be the work of a serial killer.
“But I don’t understand, how do you even know Ruth James?”
Sally was far from rich. She worked at The Dirty Spoon, which wasn’t exactly the hangout for the rich and famous.
“Her dog got loose one day and I found him digging a hole in my garden. I called the number on his collar and she came to pick him up. She came when Bobby was in one of his moods. My eye was nearly swollen shut, but she didn’t say a word. Just gave Bobby the money he was demanding for finding her dog and left. She came back later. We talked for hours. Her husband Morgan was just as bad as Bobby, if not worse. At least Bobby only hit me. Her husband did worse, but she couldn’t prove it. And she couldn’t just leave him. He had the money, the lawyers and the family history to be able to take everything from her, including the kids. Then she said something that changed our lives. “
“The men in this town have lost all respect for women. I see it everywhere. Even Old Man Whittaker treats his wife like a servant, making her wait on him hand and foot, even though she can barely walk. He has more money than God and he won’t spend a dime of it to hire a maid. I volunteer at the women’s shelter and you would be amazed at the number of calls we get, yet the place is nearly empty. Why? Because even though we are there to help women, they are afraid to leave their husband’s.”
“She volunteers at the women’s shelter?” Stella had called there just the week before.
“Not just her. I do to. It’s part of the condition of joining the club. You have to volunteer at the shelter. I recognized your voice when you called.”
“The Dead Husband’s Club. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Ruth’s plan. We hire someone to kill our husbands. “
Stella had joined that day, but had to wait a month for Frank to fall onto the roster. There were women ahead of her. She didn’t know their names. It was safest that way. If any woman ever felt remorse and went to the police, she would only have a few names, at best, to give them. But finally it was her turn. She wasn’t supposed to come home yet. The plan was for her to go shopping and spend the morning being seen around town. But Larry kept creeping into her mind throughout the day and she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to see if he was dead.
When she walked into the kitchen, Larry was tied to a chair. It was the man standing behind the chair that caught Stella by surprise.
“I wondered when his name would show up on my list.”
Stella stepped further into the kitchen, staring at Frank’s brother, the man she had almost married fifteen years earlier.