They didn’t suspect that I knew. At least, it seemed that way. They were both willing to continue their sordid charade right in front of me, without a thought for what I was going through.
Gwen had continued her loving wife act as we welcomed Max into our home that evening - the home I had provided for our family through blood, sweat, and tears. She always loved her Christmas decorations and the frills of hosting guests, and so in the warm glow of the Christmas tree, I poured champagne for both of them.
Gwen looked puzzled as I popped the cork.
‘Louis Roederer, Daniel?’ she asked.
‘It’s a special occasion,’ I replied cheerfully, wanting to tell them both how near they were to a reckoning.
‘That’s very generous of you, Daniel,’ Max said, looking at the expensive bubbling wine in his glass.
‘Come, now. We’ve known each other for twenty three years, Max,’ I said, pouring myself a glass. ‘You know I like to share with my nearest and dearest.’
I saw a glance between Gwen and Max, between wife and lover. They were beginning to grow suspicious, I knew it. I had to divert their worried looks to something more wholesome.
‘Please, help yourself to some cold meats.’ I grinned, picking up a plate from a nearby table and offering parma ham, chorizo, and other cured meats. ‘Best you’ll find in the city, I think you’ll agree.’
Max and Gwen took a small amount and then washed it down with another few sips of champagne.
Call me self indulgent, but the meat was the best in the city. I had cured it myself down in the cellar months previous. This was no mere hobby. I liked to experiment with different recipes. I’d had a full kitchen installed in the cellar - wood oven, walk-in freezer, smoker, and much more - a place of solitude where I could develop my next culinary masterpiece. If a recipe worked, I would proudly share it with my chefs and expect them to mimic it perfectly.
Owning several fine dining restaurants had paid for the house. It had paid for Gwen’s extravagances. It had given us what was supposed to be a good life. An irony then, that my passion for food would all fit perfectly into my plan.
‘I have some chestnuts cooking in the oven, won’t be a second,’ I said to them both, moving out of the lounge and into the kitchen where I couldn’t be seen.
Opening the oven, the chestnuts smelled delicious. I took them out on their baking tray and then decanted them to a silver serving platter. The moment had to be perfect. I intended to eat them later after the denouement.
I could hear low whispers coming from the lounge as I approached with the chestnuts. They abruptly ceased when a floorboard creaked under my foot.
Entering the warm glow of the room, chestnuts on the silver platter in my hands, Gwen and Max looked at me with smiles. Underpinning those smiles was a clear nervousness. So nervous were they, that they had all but finished their glasses of champagne.
‘Could I have another, Dear?’ Gwen asked, sipping the last.
‘I don’t think you need any more… No, one is quite enough.’ I moved over to a small mahogany table and placed the serving dish before taking a chestnut and throwing it into my mouth. Perfection.
‘Don’t be stingy, Old Chap,’ Max said. ‘Give your wife another glass.’
I turned from the chestnuts, chewed then swallowed, then smiled at them both.
‘She’s not my wife any more, “Old Chap”.’
Gwen let out a nervous laugh.
‘Daniel… Whatever do you mean?’ she said, the Christmas lights twinkling in her eyes.
I looked down at my watch, ironically a Christmas gift from Gwen a few years previous. Tapping the glass of the watch, I looked up at Gwen and Max, my wife and best friend.
‘Well, Dear,’ I said. ‘Our vows were ‘till death do us part. Your death should be hear any second, so be ready to depart.’
‘Stop it, Daniel, you’re scaring me.’
Max suddenly clawed at his throat. He let out a groan as saliva frothed up out of his mouth. He staggered towards the hall doorway and then fell to the floor.
‘That’ll be the poison, then,’ I said. ‘Right on schedule.’
Gwen began to scream, but I lurched forward and put my hand over her mouth. Her eyes bulged red as she shook and tried to break free from my grip. I couldn’t help myself. As spit bubbled from her mouth through my fingers, I wrapped my hands around her throat and slammed her body against the hard wood floor. Something cracked open, and blood oozed from the back of her head.
She gazed at me as she breathed her last, convulsed slightly, and then died.
‘Stupid, stupid,’ I said to myself.
And it was stupid. There was now evidence of my plan. Blood on the floor. Gwen’s vacant, red stare was now permanently glazed over. She was gone. Max was lying on the floor near the door having tried to escape. His wrist looked to have been broken by the fall. A shame he couldn’t feel any pain anymore.
I scratched my head and tried to think as I ran to a closet and pulled out a mop and bucket. Soaking up the blood so that it didn’t contaminate more of the floor, an idea fermented in my mind. Yes, a good idea at that! Out in my work shed, there were some extra pieces that had been left over when the floor had been installed. I’d just have to replace the contaminated planks and dispose of them.
A mild diversion from the plan, but nothing soul destroying. There would still be time for chestnuts and wine later.
For now, moving the bodies was critical. I walked into the hallway nearby and opened the door beneath the main staircase. It led straight down into the cellar, but this was no darkened level of the house. It was a brightly lit culinary workspace. I was an artist of sorts, and the cellar was my studio. Gwen had hated how much time I spent down there working on recipes instead of idly spending time with her.
‘No more arguments, My Dear,’ I said with a grin under my breath.
After retrieving two large sheets of rolled plastic, I returned to the lounge. I moved Max first. I struggled to roll his body onto one of the sheets, but eventually I managed it. I then pulled the sheet out to the cellar door and dragged his corpse down the stairs into the cellar. I must admit that I took no small amount of pleasure each time his head clattered against one of the wooden steps on the way down.
Returning to the lounge, I rolled Gwen’s body onto the second plastic sheet, but her head seemed stuck to the floor. I lifted up the back of her head, pulling the hair away from the floor. It had congealed surprisingly quickly in a bloodied mess and become sticky. At the back of her scalp, I could feel a deep depression where her skull had caved in. I felt the depression with my fingers for a moment and felt a strange elation. I had broken her with my own bare hands as she had broken my heart.
Throughout both murders - and I have no problem calling them such - I had been surprised by how little the endeavour had phased me. I’d never killed before, but I felt in my bones that these two people deserved it for their betrayal. There was no room for empathy or remorse. They had to be dealt with. I gave Gwen a final push onto the plastic sheet.
Despite how easy I had found it, moving Gwen’s body did cause me some anxiety. When I pulled her onto the plastic sheet, she let out a gasp of air. I’d heard about this before. Nurses often hear air being expelled from the lungs of deceased patients when moved, but nonetheless, the sound startled me.
I stopped pulling the plastic sheet and looked down at my wife’s corpse. Her eyes remained vacant. I leaned over and put my ear an inch from her mouth. No breath. No life. I was quite satisfied that she was dead.
I pulled the plastic sheet into the hallway and to the cellar door, revelling once more in the sound of her head smacking against each step as we descended.
Once we were down in the cellar, I began to feel happy again. My plan was working. I walked past a row of cupboards to the North wall and then glared through a small circular pane of glass to the frozen sterile room beyond. I pulled on a large metal latch. The door in front of me opened with a tug, and I was greeted by a blast of bitterly ice-cold air.
I’d used the large walk-in freezer to store cuts of meat and other foods throughout the years. Letting anything go to waste was a pet peeve of mine. Despite hating the amount of time I spent in the cellar working on recipes, Gwen had loved the freezer as it had allowed us to store large amounts of food for the busy dinner parties she enjoyed hosting.
I giggled to myself that she would now become another piece of stored meat in the freezer, temporarily at least. I’d store her and Max there for two days. Max had no family to speak of, this I knew, and Gwen’s sister lived across the country. They barely spoke at all, and certainly not on Christmas day. No one would miss them for a couple of days.
The cold would stop the bodies from rotting and stinking the house up. I’d do the rounds on Christmas day and tell my friends that the two of them had run off together, playing the part of the heartbroken husband. On Boxing Day, I would move them to a small meat processing factory I owned. The workers were off for the holidays, so no one would be around.
I would grind my wife and friend up into mince away from prying ears and eyes. Yes, by the evening of the 26th, there wouldn’t be a trace of Gwen or Max once I was done with them.
Moving back to the foot of the staircase, I pulled Max’s sheet and dragged him across the cellar floor to the freezer door. There was a lip on the bottom of the doorway. It was hard work getting his body over that, but I managed it eventually. I then pulled the body over to the corner of the freezer and lay Max there. He stared into nothingness, his face pale and his jaw wide open. I stared at him for a moment to enjoy myself. He would be frozen through in a matter of hours. How I wished he could feel the agony of such a fate.
‘You underestimated me, “Old Chap”,’ I said, laughing in his face.
Turning, I then stepped back towards the door to retrieve Gwen’s body from the other side of the room, but to my horror, the door moved slightly. I thought at first it was just a draft.
A face then peeked out from behind the door. First a single glassy eye, then the contorted features of a woman soon accompanied them. The face was bloodied and bruised, but there was no mistaking it. It was the face of my wife. Somehow she was alive. The poison, the impact on the floor, it hadn’t been enough!
‘No, Gwen!’ I yelled, but it was too late.
She slammed the door. The grating sound of the latch came immediately after. I was locked inside the freezer.
The noise went through me, right down to my bones, because I now knew that if my wife didn’t let me out, I would freeze to death in there; an agonising death I wouldn’t have wished upon my worst enemy… Well, with the exception of Gwen and Max.
Leaning against the door, I pushed with all my strength, but it was no good. It wouldn’t budge, and no one would hear me down there. I slammed my fist against the small glass pane, but it wouldn’t shatter. Even if it had, it would have done no good. It was only a few inches wide, and no one would have heard me, regardless.
The cold ached through my veins. It would take a few agonising, tortured hours, but if I didn’t escape I would soon be frozen solid.
All I had left to me was persuasion. I would have to persuade my wife to let me out. I peered through the small piece of glass in the centre of the door. My breath fogged against it, but I could just about see something moving in the cellar. A figure standing there.
‘Gwen! Please… I don’t know what came over me. You can’t let me die in here!’ I screamed.
Gwen said nothing, but I could see a shape of sorts standing in the dimness beyond the door.
I turned and looked at Max. Maybe he could be my ticket out.
‘Gwen!’ I said, trying to sound hopeful. ‘It’s Max! He’s moving! He’s alive! We have to get him to a hospital.’
But the lie brought no response.
‘We can save him, just open the door, please!’
The shape in front of the door then moved. I watched in disbelief as it shambled back across the room to the only way out. It then stepped over something on the floor and began to slowly walk up the stairs.
I’ve screamed and shouted. I’ve kicked and punched the door, my hands now bruised and bleeding. My breath is laboured and each beat of my heart causes painful throbbing throughout my body. I’ll be dead soon.
The pain from the cold is unbearable, but not as unbearable as what I’m looking at now. Max isn’t moving. His body remains still. But while I’ve been desperately trying to open this freezer door, something has changed. Maybe it’s the cold or rigamortis that’s caused it. But somehow Max’s jaw has closed shut, and on his face he now wears a frozen grin.