A SAMPLE FROM THE EVIL BLESSING SERIES
Edwin Merrick had married seven times, been divorced never, and each wife had been richer than the last. He was an athletic man, though hardly a young one, and the guise he wore belonged to one who was gentle and kind. The women and their money won were more of an accident than a design. Edwin preferred to earn his own bread--and he earned plenty.
He was comfortable in his skin and the passion of his life was the study of human nature. It produced a neat dollar, plus benefits. The chief benefit was that he never had to wave money to attract young women; they came willingly like eager puppies anxious for a stroke. Edwin knew how to touch, and where, and when. That was the least of his magic. His sense of timing rivaled that of a watch and at a stroke one garment would disappear, then right on the tick another would drop, then another was lost until the sweet little Miss was peeled to her tender parts.
There were occasional girls who were bothered by Edwin, wondering why their names never quite registered behind his smile of nectar. Babe. No other name need apply. She was Babe. Sometimes these girls left, sad. Perhaps the old guy was losing it.
Edwin never lost anything. After miles of women, it was far easier to give them identical labels and thus simplify the equation.
He believed in Eli Whitney: interchangeable parts.
He was good for a season and a woman was adored for a season, pampered to the day when she became inconvenient. The luckier women were let go with hardly a feather ruffled. But still they cried, hearts broken, not realizing the ones who won him--married in an expensive Vegas chapel where he was unknown--seldom survived one year, for it was time for a little house cleaning.
The police were incurious about Edwin Merrick, for untimely events or his other activities, for things had a way of explaining themselves: Karen Merrick, formerly Karen Strouthuser, swerved her Mercedes into a Mac Truck. The driver had a spotless safety record, was ignorant that Merrick existed, and had a wife and five kids. The investigators tore Karen’s car down to the bolts, and found it was mechanically sound prior to the wreck.
Susan Merrick swam out to sea on a sultry August day, the beach she left packed to near capacity. Alone she swam cutting a line through the water, and her attractive eyes were vacant as she pumped her limbs furiously as though to set a record—California to Hawaii in one burst. Forensics performed a perfunctory examination and found: zip. No alcohol, no drugs, nothing but healthy female who churned herself as if seeking oblivion. Susan may have hallucinated toward the end; her black lips formed the trace of a smile.
Edwin happened to be out of town.
Merrick owned a considerable amount of income property in South Los Angeles, and had a knack for finding apartments in the lousiest part of town. He bought at fire-sale prices from sellers who couldn’t make a dime. Merrick’s tenants either left hurriedly or became model renters. Many of the renters paid cash and consequently he had a permit to carry a concealed firearm, beneficial for trips to the bank though his routine was to walk heavy. He ran his empire from an office building, a squat single-story eyesore that had the attire of ironworks so common in the ghetto. As a proper businessman, Merrick’s desk was aimed at the door. His chair was flush against the wall; his seating was always against a wall, including restaurants, bars, and cinemas—not that he ever went to any in South L.A.
He encountered angry tenants when the heating was out, or the roof leaked, or the smell of urine seeped from the walls. Merrick typically handled gripes in his office, where he had the edge. “I could’ve sworn that was set right,” Edwin would say, the atmosphere reeking of cigarette smoke. “I’m positive the receipt is in here somewhere.” He opened the desk’s top drawer and hunted through disorganized paperwork. His .44 American Derringer rested on top of it all like a paperweight. Unlike a paperweight, however, it snagged his fingers. He fumbled the gun inside the drawer while he searched, though the twin barrels never drifted far from his guests stomachs. “I was told the work order was done but you claim it wasn’t?” he said kindly. “I don’t understand why they did a poor job.” He lifted the gun that was minus a trigger guard from one of the unexamined stacks of paper and let it drop over sharpened pencils. The minute crack didn’t help the tenant’s nerves. “It’s here; Rome wasn’t built in a day as the old saying goes. What was your address?” Merrick was a determined, courteous, accommodating man, and when the receipt didn’t surface, he pledged to send over the repairman first thing in the morning.
The drawer failed to close as along as the renters were there.
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