It was in the helicopter, the new one, as they flew back from the city after yet another mediation, that George broached the subject. Helen knew something was coming by the way he was straightening his shirt and touching his hair. He was nearing fifty but liked to think he looked thirty. At best he was a very tired forty while she still passed for thirty five in the evenings. His tanned skin contrasted nicely with the leather upholstery of the helicopter’s interior. He had always been good at the small details like that.
“Divorce is so dull, Helen,” said George. “The lawyers. The bargaining. Would you consider another option? A kind of winner-takes-all arrangement?”
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking about the man you shot in Dallas.”
“It was self defence.”
“Like it was in Rio. And New Orleans. And that woman on the highway to Tahoe.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that you might not be averse to a little game of click-click, bang-bang. Spouse is the most dangerous game and all that.”
“Instead of the divorce? We hunt each other?”
“Yes. Send the staff away. No leaving the grounds.”
“Are you sure? You’ve never killed anyone.”
“No, but I’ve put down some dogs in my days. And those were dogs I was fond of.”
“How does the winner stay out of jail?”
“I’ve run it by the lawyers. We’re both on medications that can cause, ahem, breaks, and we can hint at huge losses caused by the pandemic.”
Helen laughed at that. She had her team delaying the divorce until the growth from the pandemic could be fully realised. She may not have to wait.
“It will be an act of self defence,” he continued. “Which will be true. A first for you, if you prevail.”
They pitched the enforced absence to the staff as a vacation. Even those who did not live on the grounds were gifted a three night stay at one of their hotels in the city, room service and pandemic-safe transport included. They had to be pushed, threatened with the termination they supposed was masquerading as this unexpected windfall.
It was late afternoon when the last black Mercedes Sprinter disappeared into the avenue of oaks. George and Helen stood at the top of the marble entrance steps to watch it go. Neither waved. The windows of the vehicle were too dark to see through, but they presumed his valet and her chef were waving furiously, just in case.
“We’ll give it 15 minutes to reach the road,” said George. “So, in twenty minutes we can assume the gates are secure and we can start.”
“Well, then, I’m going to retire to the guest house and get ready.”
“The guest house?”
“We’re free to use the entire grounds, didn’t you say?”
“Yes, but we’ve only got until Friday morning. We don’t want to be chasing each other over hill and dale.”
She laughed. “It’s all part of the game, isn’t it, George?”
George rushed to position himself in the east wing library. The deep windows between the shelves of leather-bound volumes were an excellent vantage point for sniping Helen when she made her way to the guest house.
The door to the hallway squeaked. He turned his head to find Helen standing behind him, his late father’s Hofer shotgun pointed in his direction.
“Give it up, George. I’ve got the drop on you.”
He calmly placed the rifle on the windowsill and faced her.
“You never went to the guest house.”
“I lied. It seemed prudent after I saw your rifle.”
“This was supposed to be a game.”
“It is and you lost. Was it too quick for you?”
“So, what are you going to do with me? Stew? Stir fry?”
“What? I’m just going to kill you, as we agreed. Not eat you.”
“Oh. I was planning on eating you. Some of you. I thought you might be thinking the same.”
Helen’s eyebrows, if not for the botox, would have risen at this revelation.
“This was about cannibalism, not divorce?”
“Both, I guess. Divorce, cannibalism, eating someone close to me. I’m nearly fifty and I’ve never eaten raw human flesh.”
“You’ve eaten cooked human flesh?”
“Every time we visit Aspen.”
“The card nights at the evangelist’s house?”
“Betting on cards is tedious, but the catering is worth it.”
“And you did all this to make me into sashimi?”
“I’ve always loved the way you smell. It makes it hard to hate you.”
“You have? It does?”
She lowered the gun.
“Is this a mid-life crisis thing, George?”
He shrugged. “I don’t like to think of it that way.”
“If it is, can’t you leave it until mid-life. Like when you’re sixty or seventy?”
“Or eighty. Sure. Do you really think I smell good enough to eat?”
“Remember all the biting?”
“I thought it was the drugs.”
He turned to face the window. The staff had been away from their duties for less than three hours and there were already leaves blowing across the lawn. They would end up in the lake, rotting, obscuring the imported pebbles on the bottom. He would have to get the divers out again. It was madness, sending everyone away. They should end this now.
“What are we doing, Helen?” he said without turning around.
“I don’t know.”
He snatched the rifle off the sill, sliding his hand around the stock and his finger into the trigger guard as he spun around.
Helen had to grant he had been right. The self defence was a first. But it was so unsatisfying. She had hit him mostly in the chest. That would look good to the police. And his round had buzzed over her shoulder and lodged somewhere in the ceiling. Plaster was still drifting in the air. He had shot first. Completely justified as long as nobody asked any smart questions.
As the survivor she was meant to call the lawyers before anyone else. They would contact and handle the police, making sure none of those smart questions were asked. But first she wanted to speak to Stephen, who ran their family office. There had to be a wealth of trading opportunities they could get out in front of with this.
“A wealth of…”
She chuckled at herself.