Donna Brennan is currently working on two novels. She recently sold a few non-fiction pieces and one short story to print magazines. Donna is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG). This September she starts her blog, www.donnabrennan.blogspot.com, where she hopes to encourage others on matters of family, faith, health, writing, and life in general. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and four kids.
“What’s wrong with your brakes?” Brad strode into the living room with a small gift bag in his right hand.
“I didn’t notice anything wrong with them.” Megan sat in her favorite wingback chair, thankful that Brad knew so much about cars. She moved her feet off the ottoman and sat up straight.
“Well, they’re not working right. I was partway into the intersection before the car stopped at the red light.” He sat on the ottoman near her feet.
She tried to keep her eyes focused on his face and not the gift bag. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. But I’m worried about your going to your sister’s tomorrow with the brakes like that.”
The route to Heather’s house was over a long mountain pass with lots of sharp curves and long drops.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go—”
“No, no. You’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. I’ll check your brake fluid. Maybe that’s all it is. I parked your car in the garage so I could work on it.”
Megan smiled at her husband. Brad was always taking care of her. When they got married late last year, Megan’s mom said all that would change soon after the honeymoon.
“This is for you. I picked it up just now when I was out.” He handed her the gift bag, shiny and red. “It’s not much, but I wanted you to have it.”
She reached into the bag and pulled out a small box of bath salts. Vanilla scented. Her favorite. “Thanks, sweetie.” She leaned forward and gave him a kiss—a slow, long kiss.
“Mmm.” He sat back. “If you keep that up I won’t get a chance to check your brake fluid.” He ran his fingers lightly down her forearm. “Why don’t you go relax in the tub while I tend to your car.” He winked. “I’ll clean up when I’m finished, then show you just how much I’m going to miss you when you’re gone.”
“You act as if I’m going to be gone a long time.” She let out a short laugh. “I’m only going away for three days.”
“It will seem like forever, to me.” His light blue eyes looked into hers with such an intensity she felt like she was melting to the floor.
“Don’t take too long in that garage. I’ll be waiting.” She brushed his cheek with a soft kiss and headed up the stairs with her new bath salts. Her mother was so wrong about Brad. He would be taking care of her forever.
Brad waited until he heard the water running in the tub before he entered the garage. He wanted to make sure his wife was relaxing in the tub and not worrying about what he was doing.
He walked over to his workbench, lost in thought. He could hardly believe he and Megan had been married almost eight months already. His two previous marriages hadn’t lasted that long. He hadn’t told Megan about those marriages, but she would meet his two former wives soon enough.
He opened the cabinet above his bench and pulled out a white plastic bottle. He put it next to the driver side front tire, then leaned in the car window and pulled the trunk release.
He whistled a tune as he walked to the back of the car and removed the jack. As he closed the trunk he noticed Megan standing in the doorway. “I thought you were supposed to be taking a bath.”
“The tub’s filling up. I wanted to make sure you’re okay.” She glanced from him to the front of the car and back to him again. “I know you know a lot more about cars than me, but aren’t you at the wrong end of the car to check the brake fluid?”
He smiled a broad grin. “I’m going to take a quick look at the brake pads too, to make sure they’re not too worn or anything.”
“Wouldn’t I have heard them squealing if they were worn down?”
He held the jack in front of him with both hands and took a few steps in her direction. “If they’re very worn down, then yeah, they would be squealing. But you didn’t feel the brakes going mushy—I love you, but you’re not the most observant person in the world.” He hoisted the jack on his right shoulder and continued walking toward her. “Besides, you do play your radio pretty loud. I wouldn’t expect you to hear the brakes over that.” He gave her his most charming smile.
She looked a little embarrassed. Well, good. She should be soaking in the tub right now, not spying on him to make sure he was doing it right. He took another step and then stood right in front of her.
Standing on the threshold she was about six inches taller than him. She stepped down one step and looked him in the eye. “If you’re going to be checking the brake pads, please use the blocks I got you for Christmas.”
She had bought him those large wooden blocks to put under the tires when he used the jack. She said she wanted to ensure he was safe when he “tinkered” under the cars. She must have thought he was some kind of an oaf or something, needing those stupid blocks. And he didn’t “tinker.” He knew exactly what he was doing.
“Of course, dear. I always use them.”
“I just don’t want you getting hurt if the jack gives out.” She smiled and caressed his cheek. “I want to make sure you stay around a long time to take good care of me.”
“Oh, I plan to take good care of you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He flashed another of his charming smiles. She always fell for those. “Now, go relax in the tub while I take good care of your car.”
She looked as though she was about to say something else. Thankfully she didn’t. Just turned and left. And she was so unobservant she probably didn’t even notice the bottle on the floor next to the front tire. He smiled. That sure wasn’t brake fluid in there.
He jacked the car up and crawled underneath—without those stupid blocks, thank you—bringing the plastic bottle with him. Funny how the acid would eat through metal but
not the plastic container. But that meant he couldn’t expect the right results if he just put some of this stuff on the rubber seals or hoses. He’d have to put it on one of the calipers, right where it connects to the brake line, to make a tiny hole.
This way, each time Megan applied the brakes, a little more fluid would leak out. Eventually, the brakes would be useless. It was a three-hour ride to her sister’s place, and most of the route was through the mountains. If she made it to that first big incline, it didn’t really matter when her brakes gave out completely.
He scooted closer to the front tire on the passenger side and opened the bottle carefully. This stuff would eat through flesh, too. He poured a few drops on the connection. He watched, but the acid didn’t seem to do much. He poured a few drops more.
This stuff was supposed to be very corrosive, but he didn’t notice much corroding taking place. Maybe he should put some by the other tires, too. But that might be noticed by the police or insurance adjuster.
He lay there staring at the darn thing, wondering what he should do. It wasn’t this difficult with his first two wives. The first one really was an accident. He pushed the second one—a non-swimmer—into the pool when she was drunk.
This time he had upped the insurance policy. A lot. But it didn’t go into effect until six months after they’d signed the papers. And it took a long time to convince Megan to sign. She thought it was all unnecessary. But he told her he wanted to make sure she’d be well taken care of if anything ever happened to him. She agreed to get the same amount of coverage for each of them.
He grinned, thinking of how he might spend it. Maybe a month in Vegas. Or down at the Islands. Always lots of pretty girls looking for a guy with loads of cash down in the Islands.
Just then, something dripped on his shoulder from the underside of the car. Shoot, that acid will burn through my shirt and my skin. He twisted to get out from under there, but his hand holding the bottle banged against the tire, spilling acid all over his arm and on part of his face.
And it burned.
“Arrugh! AAAAHHH!” He got some in his eyes, He couldn’t see! He had to get out from under the car. Quickly! He scooted and twisted and scooted some more, until—
Bump! What was that he hit into?
The weight of the car crashed down when the tire fell on his chest. He tried to scream but he had no air. Thankfully, it took less than three seconds for the pain to stop and his world to go dark.
“I don’t understand why you’re not having the funeral until tomorrow.” Heather sank back into the thick cushions on Megan’s living room sofa. “After all, he died almost two weeks ago.”
Megan sat on the wingback chair and stared at the ottoman in front of her. She could see her mother and sister sitting directly opposite her, but her head was too heavy to raise enough to make eye contact. And her throat was too parched to speak.
“Because,” said Megan’s mom, “the police didn’t release the body until yesterday.”
“But why not? I mean, it was just a freak accident.” Heather seemed oblivious to the stern looks her mother was trying to give her.
“They just had to confirm it was an accident,” said her mom.
Megan hadn’t told her family all the facts about Brad’s death. For now, the only ones who knew the truth were Megan, the police, and the insurance companies.
“But why? Did they think Megan or somebody else murdered him? Get real.”
Megan blinked twice, and continued to stare at the ottoman.
“Of course not,” said Mom. “But maybe because of all the insurance money . . .”
“He had good insurance?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. Here I thought the man a nincompoop when it came to financial matters. I mean, he always had a get-rich-quick scheme that never seemed to work the way he planned. Who knew he had prepared so well for Megan’s future.”
“Oh, yes.” Mom nodded. “He didn’t have much life insurance at work—because I don’t think he made all that much with that job of his—”
Mom, I’m right here.
“—but he had taken out a policy on the mortgage, so that’s paid off. And he also had a life insurance policy for five-hundred-thousand dollars.”
Heather’s eyes grew wide.
“Not only that,” said Mom, “but there was a double indemnity clause in the policy. Since Brad’s death was ruled an accident, Megan’s going to collect one million dollars.”
Heather let out a low whistle, then she turned her head and raised her eyebrows at her sister.
Megan sighed and closed her eyes. Fortunately her family wasn’t devious enough to guess Brad’s real intentions for those insurance policies.
Mom leaned closer to Heather, but still spoke loud enough that Megan heard what she said. “I have to admit, I was wrong about that Brad. I thought he’d never be able to provide for my Megan. I didn’t think he’d be able to take care of her.”
“That’s why Brad married me actually.” Megan lifted her head and smiled a crooked smile. “He planned to take care of me.” But like her mom had said, most of his get-rich-quick schemes never seemed to work the way he planned.