a short story by Jerry Zinn
The air had the chilled nip of a kiss from an early spring mistral in the French countryside. Paul Van Dyke stood, Bordeaux in hand, at the top of the elevated patio overlooking the endless stretch of fastidiously manicured grounds. Van Dyke felt the cold touch of the breeze against the back of his neck like a stroke from the hand of a siren, receding into the imaginary sea forthwith. He took a sip from the glass and allowed the full body of the wine to roll the fullness of its body around his tongue, its alcoholic constitution a welcome radiance as it made passage. His wrist turned naturally in the constant search of temporal awareness, but he recognized and ignored the inclination to check his timepiece.
The button of his expensively tailored, black wool suit was unfastened, and he thumbed it through the hole as he walked slowly down the stone steps, his arrival at the base marked by the crunch of the fine, white gravel. He proceeded forward with a deliberate lack of pace, placing his hand on the weathered stone ledge feeling the small pores and imperfections as he slid along. The boxwoods lining the long network of green and gravel lines were geometrically flawless as though he were inside a famous diamond, and from his distance the network’s constituents appeared solid as Italian marble. He came toe to toe with the fairway-length lawn, its alternating light and dark green stretching from the caps of his polished oxfords to the horizon point where they met in the distance. The spray of the fountain shot up and fell down continuously, creating the illusion of a transparent tree of water growing forth from the discolored pedestal.
Right or left? That was the decision to be made in order for him to continue without infringing upon the blades of sacred Poaceae. Van Dyke allowed his feet to choose for him, following their heading to the right. Each subsequent, crackling meeting of his leather soles with the tiny stones brought him closer to the somber expression on the Grecian statue who called the garden home, her head turned as if preventing her gaze from falling upon him. With the brilliant canopy of trees stretching to the sky chirping from within, Van Dyke fell into unpleasantness. He had no one to blame but himself for the position in which he was immovably set. After all, he had taken the money, and with that he signed away the luxury of a clean conscience. He finally understood that he wouldn’t be able to eat the cake he had collected, an annoying cliché, frustratingly fulfilled.
As Van Dyke followed the sharp angle of the path, forcing him nearer the fountain, he heard but could not see the plane overhead, remaining as it did, hidden behind the peppered gray matching the shade of his hair. Initially he wished to be aboard the plane instead of where he was, but he struck down the thought with the remembrance that actions have consequences, and those couldn’t be avoided or escaped, only faced as in duels belonging to earlier times. Regrets were poisonous, poisonous as Botrytis blight and just as difficult to treat, Van Dyke thought as he turned another corner and walked to the bench, placed equidistant from the parallel sides of the garden. He stood between the bench and the fountain circled with lavender. Van Dyke could never go back and undo the damage he’d done, the greed to which he succumbed was like spilled soup never to be fully returned to bowl. In his business dealings he became well acquainted with the valuation of land, and to his disgust he also knew his own price, to the cent.
With glass in hand, he felt the gentle mist of the peripheral fountain water brushing against his face. What’s done is done, he mused as he took another appreciative sip of the vintage 2003. Over the years, Van Dyke often stood in the very spot in which he found himself, and presently its familiar comforts were no less familiar or comforting. He closed his eyes and welcomed in the subtly aromatic lavender with none of the artificial enhancements added in reproductions.
“Mr. Van Dyke.” The introduction did not startle him; he knew it was coming. Slowly he allowed his eyes to welcome back the splendor of his surroundings. Van Dyke set the glass down carefully on the moss-patched bench as he about-faced. He adjusted the cuffs of his starched shirt peeking out from his jacket sleeves.
Van Dyke didn’t feel the piercing metal bullet work its way through the infinitesimally thin fibers of the black wool fabric, past his pink silk pocket square, beyond more dermal barriers, and into his heart. He didn’t even hear the muffled pop of the shot through the suppressor. But Van Dyke could feel the life leaking out of his body, and each shuffled step backwards felt heavier as his balance began to fail him. While engaged in a rearward fall, the rippling, clear waters waiting to receive him, a strange thought came into his head given the circumstances: he hadn’t finished his glass of Bordeaux. It was an unfortunate, though appropriate way for him to go out, he thought, as the known world dissolved away.