Murder Has Blue Eyes
The two men sat at the butcher-block island in the large kitchen of the mansion. Seated on wooden stools perpendicular to each other, Duo ate his meal accompanied by his friend and confidant, Jonathan. The Englishman had prepared a wonderful feast of a roast of beef with glazed roasted vegetables and a greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette - Duo didn't want to disrespect him by letting his share go to waste, especially since Jonathan was an extremely good cook. The younger man just needed to get away from what was happening in the dining room. Over recent months, Duo had come into the habit of taking many of his meals in the kitchen with Jonathan, so it felt more comfortable to him anyway.
"I can't believe that son of a bitch," he mumbled around a mouthful of food, speaking as he ate. Duo swallowed hard. His hands still shook somewhat as he cut his next forkful of beef, residual tension from the anger he was experiencing when he left the dining room.
Jonathan wiped his mouth on a cloth napkin. "It does seem as though he's taken things too far this time for sure. I know your mother wouldn't approve of this."
"Approve? Jon, this is exactly what she tried to prevent."
'What are you going to do about it, Mister... um... Duo?"
Duo smiled a crooked half-smile. "Why thank you, Jonathan. It only took you eight years. I appreciate that." Both men were silent for a few minutes while they finished their meal.
Jonathan rose and disappeared from the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with an empty bottle of wine. "They've retired to the master suite for the evening," he said, sitting himself down again beside the pondering young man. Duo was able to make Jonathan laugh with the hand gesture of his right pointer finger sliding back and forth through a loop created by his thumb and pointer finger on the other hand. He smirked.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do about all of this, Jon," Duo confided, sighing. He sat with his chin propped on upturned palms, his elbows on the countertop. Jonathan put on a pot of coffee for them both.
"I wish there was something I could do to help, but I fear that if I say anything, I'll be out of a job. I've never gotten the impression that Mister Banes was the most loyal of gentlemen."
"Yeah, tell me about it," Duo agreed. "I know you would have left a long time ago if you didn't like it here, and leave it to old Bill to toss you out, God forbid you say something that ruffles his feathers. It must really stink to have to turn a blind eye to all this bullshit. I don't know how you do it."
Turning from the gurgling coffeepot on the counter along the wall, Jonathan added, "Your mother was a wonderful person, Duo. Your father as well. You were the light of their lives. I truly miss Victoria, as I know you do." The man sighed. "I do it for them, and for you, and because you've all be a part of my life for so long."
Duo stared off into thin air for a few moments. "Yeah."
Jonathan brought two steaming mugs to the island, then went to the refrigerator to for some cream. He handed Duo a spoon, keeping one for himself and they doctored their coffee in silence - his with only a drop of cream, Duo's with enough to turn the dark brown into a pale tan. Duo sipped, blowing on the hot liquid first before allowing it to touch his tongue.
"Good coffee, Jon."
"I try," he replied.
Duo put his mug down. "If he's gone as far as to make me look like an ass at the office, I wouldn't put it past him to already have something else up his sleeve as far as all the rest of this." Duo referred to the mansion, the estate, and the rest of Victoria's wealth that was supposedly to have been shared between the two of them.
"What about your trust fund?" Jonathan asked. When Duo was only a small child, a trust fund had been set up for him, into which Victoria added money every month for his entire life. Towards the end of hers, the monthly payments to the fund had become substantially larger, in part due to the growth that her company was having. His college money had come from the fund, and the rest was merely sitting, gaining interest, available for him to use whenever he desired to.
"It isn't about the money, Jon. I couldn't care less about the trust fund. Yeah, it's there, and he can't get to it - I think there's about two million in it now, since I hardly ever dip into it. But... it's about her, more than anything. And my father. It's about what they wanted. The company. This house." Duo picked up his cooling mug and drank.
"I understand." Jonathan drank too.
"I have to think of something. Maybe I need to get a new lawyer, one that I know William hasn't corrupted."
"Might be a good idea," Jonathan agreed. Duo sighed.
The evening wore on slowly for the two men. After a while, Jonathan put his coffee mug in the sink and went to clean up in the dining room, bringing the dirty plates and cutlery back to the kitchen, and Duo washed them as he did, only too glad to help his friend out in exchange for helping him. He did it often, sometimes as a way to show gratitude, other times just because he needed the company. Tonight was a combination of both. William would have chided him for doing the servants work, but Duo never thought of it that way. In all the time he'd known Jonathan, he'd never considered himself any more privileged than the Englishman, and Duo felt that was a large part of their strong relationship despite their age difference.
When William told Duo not to bother returning to the office in the morning, he hadn't been kidding.
Duo arrived at his normal time, dressed to work in dark brown business slacks, an ecru linen shirt and expensive brown Italian leather shoes. He went to park in his normal parking space, a space close to the main entrance that used to be labeled with his name, and noticed that another vehicle was in the spot. Checking down on the pavement between the two yellow space markers, he saw that his name had been removed and another name was spray-painted in its place. Bastard. Duo drove through the lot to find another spot.
Once he entered the lobby of the building, he head toward the locked double glass doors that would lead him to the elevators. His passkey card wouldn't activate the lock. He tried it three times with no luck. Duo walked over to the reception desk where a perky-looking brunette was sitting, answering phones. He waited until he had her attention.
"Oh, Mr. Maxwell," the girl said hesitantly.
"Dana, can you please let me in? My passkey won't work."
She paused. "I-I'm sorry M-Mr. Maxwell...Mr. Banes..."
Duo sighed. "GodFUCKINGdamnit! I OWN half this COMPANY!" He raised his voice and the young woman was starting to look concerned. Duo shook his head in disgust.
"I'm so sorry, sir... Mr. Banes said..."
"I know, I know. You're just doing what you were told." Duo looked at the woman sympathetically. "And I suppose he also threatened you with your job if you let me in?"
Dana nodded, ashamed. "Would you like me to call the police, Mr. Maxwell? Perhaps they can convince Mr. Banes to let you in?" Her voice was mousy.
He sighed once more, hands on his hips, while contemplating what he wanted to do. "No, Dana, that won't be necessary." Duo bid the young woman a good day, then left the lobby of Maxwell Financial Corp. He got back in his car and drove back home, where poor Jonathan was about to get another earful.
If William Banes was anything, he was crafty. He was a ruthless businessman, known by a few for his corporate pirating of small, easy to overthrow, businesses and he very rarely didn't get what he wanted. Case in point, Maxwell Financial Corporation. He'd had his eye on the company since he'd been promoted to the position of Vice President after only two years employment as a chairman. William was one of four other VPs, Victoria Maxwell included, that Jake Maxwell had appointed, people he thought had the interest of the company at heart, and were capable to see to its growth, to the benefit of every employee and stockholder.
During his two-year climb to the Vice-Presidency, he'd planned out the strategy needed to eventually have Maxwell Corp. as his own. William's carefully laid plan had actually been fairly simple in the making, but had taken years to execute. He first had to befriend Jake himself, becoming indispensable to the young tycoon, which really hadn't been that difficult at all. Jake was a nice guy. He was such a nice guy that William had almost started to feel guilty about his endeavor to possess Maxwell Corp. Originally the plan was to try to purchase enough of the stock in different names, stock which William had partial control over, to make him a 52% shareholder, enabling him to take the company from Jake, but then the unexpected happened. Jake announced to him in confidentiality that he was sick - really sick, and the doctors didn't give him more than two years at best.
That was an interesting period for William. Interesting because he honestly did sympathize with Jake, and have concern for the man, but at the same time he was elated because his work was essentially being taken care of for him, by the force of nature itself. If his condition was as advanced as he'd said, Jake would be out of the picture in a few years time. One big red check on William's list of "people to get out of the way." In the meantime though, William played the best friend role like an Oscar-winning star, some of it real, some of it show. He did enjoy Jake's company very much, and had William not had such an agenda, they probably could have been best friends, but the draw of Jake's money was stronger than his friendship, especially considering that now there was a time limit on that friendship anyway. William convinced himself to stay an arm's length away from the man and not put too much effort into that friendship, no more than he had to, to be convincing, since before long Jake Maxwell would be no more. Why bother himself with the troubles of a man who was shortly going to be dead?
Jake lasted a little over a year after his confession to William. One major hurdle had now been cleared.
As expected, Jake left the entire company and his fortune to his wife, Victoria, and their son. Victoria was now the new owner and president of Maxwell Financial, which William had counted on being so. Duo, at the time, was finishing his first year in college, majoring in business.
As Jake's final months closed in on him, William availed himself to the couple, taking on an extra workload at the office to compensate for Jake's inability to do it. He also made it known that Jake was the closest thing to a best friend that he'd ever had, which was partly true, since William tended to fly solo. He considered people to be baggage who got in his way, so he rarely maintained close personal relationships - all of his were convenience-oriented. He'd been married before for a few years but it was a miserable existence, so he ended that, including severing all ties with his ex wife and his now grown children, so that there was no longer anyone who could come after him for money. When Jake finally passed on, William had been almost as close to Victoria as he'd been with Jake. She would be his next hurdle, of course.
Distraught after Jake's death, and with no one to turn to for support since her life had been consumed by her family and the company, Victoria naturally fell right into William's waiting arms.
Things were pretty rocky at first for Victoria, who was suddenly in the top position of the very large firm, responsible for everything from seeing that birthday cards got sent to the really good clients to approving the payment for the window washers. It all wound up piled on her desk for approval or review, and in no time, she was overwhelmed. William conveniently came to her rescue, since by all accounts, he had already been running the company those last few months before Jake's passing.
The next year seemingly flew by for William as he gained a tighter hold on the corporation every day. He ran it, side by side with Victoria, mentally noting everything he came across. He followed the client trends, the company profit, the stock shares. He had an answer for everything, and gladly aided Victoria in the daily grind, making her extremely indebted to him. William positioned himself exactly where he wanted to be, in a most advantageous position.
Victoria was a smart businessperson herself though, and was well aware of what was happening at the head of Maxwell Corporation - or so she thought. She was aware of just how much information William had about the company, and the fact that he had enough knowledge to ruin her of he so desired. But she trusted him, the same way Jake had, and in business, many times, trust is everything. For his loyalty to her and to the company she regularly reviewed and increased his salary and stock holdings, being very careful to monitor his percentage, but all the same knowing that he deserved reward for his exceptional work.
Victoria's real surprise came when, after working closely for nearly two years, William asked her out socially. At first she declined the offer, thanking him but insisting that she felt awkward bringing their working relationship to a personal level, but he patiently continued the offers, gently prodding her. He harped to her about how she never went out to have any fun, nor was she addressing her personal and emotional needs - she hadn't dated, or done anything social, for that matter, since Jake's death. Promising nothing more than dinner and a play, William finally convinced Victoria to go out with him one Friday evening, and as the phrase goes, that's all she wrote.
He wined her and he dined her. He held the car door for her as she got in and out. William took Victoria to the most expensive French Restaurant that he knew, and then downtown to see Carmen, which was one of her favorites. He made sure that she had more fun that evening than she'd had since Jake's passing, and then cordially bid her goodnight on the doorstep of the Maxwell Mansion, placing a gentle kiss on her cheek. It wasn't until catching up with the woman in the office the following Monday morning that he asked how she'd enjoyed herself, and she happily admitted that she'd had a wonderful time, more so than she'd had in a long time, and William smiled. They began going out every Friday or Saturday night after that. Approximately one year later, they were married.
Preparing for the marriage, a marriage that Duo, twenty-two at the time, vehemently opposed to, there was much in the way of legal paperwork to be done. That had been the one thing that even remotely satisfied him - the pre-nuptial agreement. He'd already begun to have feelings about William by that point so, if he couldn't talk Victoria out of marrying him, at least he could see to it that she had a good pre-nup. During the hectic period of writing the agreement, Victoria had misinterpreted that Duo was selfishly trying to keep her fortune to himself as her heir, rather than risk ever having to share it with William, but that just wasn't the case. She didn't really understand his point, that William was a crook, since in her mind there was no reason to doubt him, a man she now loved and trusted wholeheartedly. The lawyers naturally understood it from Duo's point of view, but Victoria repeatedly told them all that they didn't know what they were talking about. She listened instead to William as he ironically seeded her mind with the thought that her son was "no different than the rest of society," looking out only for number one. As intelligent and savvy a woman as she was, Victoria was naive as well, since she couldn't fathom the idea that anyone she was close to would try to hurt her in any way, so she refused to take any heed to Duo's warnings, stuck between her son, her soon-to-be husband and her money.
Now married to one of the richest women in the country, William was half way through his checklist. Victoria's unfortunate "accident" a year later would be one more item marked as complete.
Victoria had always been the adventurous type, and much against his own instinct, William encouraged her in her adventures. He encouraged her to swim with the sharks in the Caribbean, and to repel into the mouth of a dormant volcano in South America. He accompanied her to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, although he himself stayed well out of harms way. In a year's time, William and Victoria went on half a dozen trips, each one centered around some sort of dangerous activity. Each time they returned, she did so with her face beaming and her blood racing to do it all again, and he with a feeling of indifference as he got to work researching the next place they could go for Victoria to experience her next thrill.
She would return home full of excitement and stories, explaining every minute detail to Duo, who was still enrolled in school and did not travel with her as he had previously done so many times before. He had mixed feelings about it all. On one hand, he was grateful that William was ensuring that Victoria got away from the office enough, and enjoyed herself while she was still young, but on the other hand he didn't trust the man as far as he could throw him. The young Maxwell wasn't sure what his issue was with William and all the trips, but there was definitely something. Something seriously bothering him about it all. As crazy of an idea as it seemed at the time, it almost appeared as though William was trying to get Victoria killed.
That one thought would haunt Duo Maxwell for the rest of his life - the premise that William was out to accidentally kill his mother without her even being aware of it. The thought had resided in the back of his head for many months as the couple went on trip after trip, and he full well knew that if he mentioned it, Victoria would think he were mad, jealous or both. All the while he was not able to strike it from his conscience, though. When the fateful finally day came that he received the call from William in Australia, suddenly everything made sense to him. Everything was suddenly so black and white, and he blamed himself for Victoria's death from that day forward, since it had been his job to take care of his mother now that Jake was gone. He'd failed miserably.
William boarded the plane to Sidney fully intending to return alone. In all the travel and dangerous fun with Victoria, he'd begun to grow impatient, having realized that she was presenting more of a problem to him than he'd anticipated. The woman simply wouldn't die, and it was time to do something about it. Enough of a base had been laid with her that there would be little doubt of his intentions, William discerned, and now was the time, before he lost his patience and got careless. So they set out together for a winter adventure down under, with a whole host of activities planned - rock climbing, scuba diving, hang gliding and whatever else they could fit into two weeks that was dangerous enough to cause Victoria's accidental demise, only this time, William had a fail-safe.
Through a number of internet contacts, William had anonymously been put in touch with an "agency" that specialized in, as they phrased it, "exterminations." They didn't ask who, they didn't ask why. The less information they knew about the client and the victim the better. All that was required was a large sum of money numbering in the upper five digits to be deposited into a special Swiss bank account and a photograph, and a clean, trace-free job was guaranteed, performed by one of their numerous agents. This agency didn't cater to your run of the mill client, either. They only did work for clients that were referred by other clients and then again, only the ones willing to pay the fee. A person had to want someone dead pretty badly to go through all the red tape to find this group, so they managed to keep the "joe-shmo pissed me off and I want him dead" crowd away quite well. Also, they would not do drug hits. It was too dangerous, plus, they had other uses for drug offenders in their line of "work," since they always made the best scapegoats when a job didn't go as smoothly as anticipated. There was never a shortage of junkies who didn't know their own names, let alone whether they had just killed someone, and they were perfect for taking the rap when a suspect needed to mysteriously rise to the surface in order to protect the identity of the group.
William simply provided a good photograph of Victoria and a travel itinerary, having already made the required deposit, and went on his merry way. The surprise as to just when and how was going to be equally as unexpected to him as it would be to the victim, but in order for his reaction to be genuine, as he had been informed, that was the way the agency worked. The less suspicion the better, and how suspicious was an accident that even William didn't know was going to happen? It could have happened at any point during the Australia trip - it happened during repelling a steep cliff to a streambed below, and following the suggestions made to him, William actually took part in all of Victoria's sport on this trip, much to her amusement and his dread.
The second major hurdle on William's list had now been checked off. That only left one. Duo Maxwell.
Duo was proving to be a real problem in William's whole scheme, since he'd been on to him from the beginning. The boy had developed a feeling of mistrust in him way back when Jake was still around, and it had carried over, heightening as he'd advanced his position on Victoria and Maxwell Financial. By the time of Victoria's death, Duo had graduated with a bachelor's in business, and she'd given him a position at the company, the company that he'd grown up with. He was a natural born leader in that the other employees and the clients especially adored him, which made him very dangerous to William's cause.
The reading of Victoria's will had changed things in a way that had been expected - she'd willed her fortune equally between himself and her son, and made it so that neither man could try to take what the other had. Or so she thought. All it meant was that William was going to have to get really tough to get rid of the other man. He'd come this far - he certainly wasn't about to let a twenty-four year old kid keep him from what he'd worked so hard to steal.
William had already failed at numerous attempts to get rid of the young man. Knowing better than to simply try to pay him off, he'd tried to have him arrested first, when the incident about the eavesdropping from the dumb waiter occurred. That, William admitted to himself, had been close call, and he made sure to practice more caution in the future than be overheard spewing his secrets again like he had done. It was a good thing the police didn't believe Duo, but William would have been more comfortable if they'd locked him up for slander and defamation of character, or for anything they could get him on. Trouble was, as with Duo's accusations of William, there was no evidence that he'd actually done anything wrong, and unfortunately, calling people bad names wasn't against the law.
Besides that episode, William was slowly grating on the long-haired man's patience by making sure to cause his home life to be a living hell, especially when it came to his homosexuality. Victoria had been supportive of her son's preference, the open-minded woman that she was. William, on the other hand, was repulsed by it, and he made sure to let Duo know that it repulsed him every chance he could get. Between the rude remarks and the intolerant behavior, William hoped that one of two things would happen. Either Duo would become so annoyed that he'd decide that his own happiness was more important than fighting for his mother's estate, or he'd be thrown into a depression, as many homosexuals facing intolerance are, and "hurt himself." Either way, the end result would be the same. No more Duo Maxwell. The trouble was, of the people who knew the truth about Duo, William was the only one who disapproved of it, so an emotional breakdown was unlikely.
Now going on a year after Victoria's death, the intolerance bit didn't seem to be working. The young man was like his mother apparently, and just wouldn't go away. Getting rid of Jake Maxwell had been so much easier, but then, that was also a bonus, as William had referred to the man's timely death. Now, all William's actions had done was caused Duo to refrain from bringing anyone to the home any longer, and some nights he stayed out altogether, just to be away from the place. Duo was annoyed, yes, but apparently not enough to give up on trying to out-do William in the fight for Victoria's estate, and her name. It was then that the sly, underhanded man chose a different attack - to try to tarnish the pristine reputation of Victoria Maxwell's son, and then to be finished with him once and for all.
The plan was two-fold, really. First, William began sneaking behind the young man's back at the office, making decisions without him and holding private meetings that Duo knew nothing about. He further shredded the young businessman's reputation as a business owner by contacting many of Duo's clients, explaining that Duo was experiencing some emotional and personality issues residual from the tragic death of his mother, and therefore would not be able to provide service to them as he had previously. William handed all of Duo's clients over to himself and the other higher-ups in the company. The rumor mill was then begun. Before long, the entire company not only knew that Duo was gay, but that he supposedly slept around whenever and with whomever he could, frequently after wild nights of drunken splendor, only to find himself waking up in places that he knew not where he was. As much as any of what William was telling them didn't really affect any of them as long as the company continued to profit, falling true to human nature, most people who came in contact with the rumors chose to believe them, even if only slightly, and they allowed their opinion of their co-employer to be drastically changed. In only a matter of a few weeks time, William had managed to totally destroy Duo Maxwell, as far as his career was concerned.
When William announced at dinner that Duo had been ousted from the company, it had been his way of making the man disappear before things became too suspicious. The last thing he needed was for people to be wondering why Maxwell hadn't been showing up for work. This way, with a bad reputation, it easily looked as though Duo had been the deceptive one, hiding things about himself from the people who supposedly knew and trusted him, and leading a life that was detrimental to himself and the business. William made himself out to be the hero in this case, having slain a dragon before it had become a threat to the productivity of the company, and in doing so, had garnered the unsuspecting approval of the employees and clients along the way. When William was done with him, they were all glad and relieved to learn that Duo Maxwell, seen as a disappointment to his mother's aspirations, had been relieved of his duties at Maxwell Corporation, and William had assumed total responsibility himself. None of them knew the details of Victoria's explicit instructions, so no one doubted William in the slightest. They had all blindly allowed themselves to be tricked into believing that Duo was now the enemy, and that William was their savior.
As far as the threat of lawsuit against him from the determined young man, William had taken care of that little detail as well. It seemed as though at least one or two of Victoria's lawyers were more interested in their own gain than upholding their deceased client's wishes, since she was, after all, dead, and were busy creating a loophole that would prevent Duo from suing the pants and everything else off of William Banes. Duo would have to get a new lawyer, one that was totally foreign to the situation, and in that case, , Victoria's lawyers, now William's lawyers, would see to it that any legal proceedings were stalled indefinitely in the hopes that the young Maxwell would just give up, feeling helpless in a sea of red tape and allegations.
With Duo out of the company, William had just one more transaction to take care of, before the Maxwell fortune would be his. Again relying on the common knowledge that homosexual men frequently suffered from depression and rash behavior brought on by societal non-acceptance, he was counting on Duo having a depressive episode some time soon. An episode conveniently caused by his being ousted from the company, which was the indirect result of the revelation of his lifestyle coming out. Of course, William had blown all of it completely out of proportion, but a bout of depression was what he needed to have happen, even if only in the eyes of onlookers. A fatal bout of depression.
With a few clicks of the mouse guiding his notebook computer, William completed his deposit, then erased all of the history files before logging off the internet and shutting down his machine.