Elizabeth frowned at her monthly planner entry for August 15th. The heart with the number “5” inside was drawn before the new year, when things were still good. She planned on serving him with divorce papers soon and wanted to keep things amiable until then. A present was just the thing.
According to etiquette expert Emily Post, the traditional gift for fifth anniversaries should be made of wood. Although if you followed the updated modern list, silverware was the suggested token of love. Elizabeth pondered ideas from the internet.
Wood: A keepsake box? Austin would call it a useless chotchky. A picture frame with a photo from their wedding? Definitely not. A clock? A wall plaque? A birdhouse? All of these were too simple for his newly acquired expensive tastes.
Silverware: He wasn’t handy in the kitchen. She giggled at the thought of giving him a large serving utensil with the note, “Fork You.” He didn’t have a sense of humour so that wouldn’t go over well.
How about combining traditions with a fancy wood-handled knife? He liked to refer to himself as a “man’s man” and had done a bit of hunting in their home state of Colorado. That was long before her best-seller was published and their move to upstate New York. Her Google search took her to “Sportsman’s Paradise” and after perusing their website she grabbed her keys and asked Siri for directions.
“Hello, little lady, what can I do for you today?” the burly man behind the counter asked as she walked through the metal-detector.
Elizabeth silently bristled at the sexist greeting but smiled in return. “Hi. I’m an author and I’m looking for inspiration for my next story.”
“An author? This here store’s for hunters and fishermen. I’m not sure how I can help you.” The big man actually scratched his bushy beard, looking perplexed. He’d make a great character in a book.
“I’m sorry. Let me explain. I’m a murder-mystery writer and this is the third book in a series. In the first book the victim died by electrocution, the second was a drowning. I thought it would be fun to take a bit darker of a turn in this one and feature death with a hunting knife.” Elizabeth placed her pretty pink manicured hands on the glass counter and focused her baby blue eyes on the shopkeeper.
“I’m sure a man like you can give me some instruction on the type of knife best suited for gutting.” She paused a beat, batted her eyelashes and demurely whispered, “A deer, of course. I wouldn’t want to make you an accomplice to murder.”
He gulped, unsure how to answer and clearly uncomfortable. Elizabeth broke the tension by biting her lower lip and pointing at a knife in the case. “Tell me about this cute little thing. I love the wood handle. Would you take this hunting? You do hunt, don’t you, handsome?”
The compliment worked. He puffed up his chest and led her to another case filled with much larger knives. They spent the better part of an hour discussing handles and blades. She didn’t mention the book again and he was obviously in his glory as he shared the finer points of hunting and field dressing deer. She asked questions and took notes, not unnerved in the slightest as he detailed the proper way to slit and pull back the skin, cut through muscle, spread the ribs and remove the entrails.
Elizabeth made her choice; a compromise between a sturdy, industrial-looking model that was the current favorite of hunters, and a frightening-looking version that would make any pirate proud. The man rang her up and threw in a complimentary leather scabbard for storage and linseed oil for the wooden handle.
He handed her his card and the receipt, “If you have any questions, come on back and ask for me, sugar.” She blew him a kiss as she left the store.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure she was going to be able to pull off the surprise and it took two more visits to Sportsman’s Paradise and a ton of research to find the perfect location. Austin awoke in a good mood for a change and after serving him his favorite breakfast of steak and eggs he actually agreed to play along with her idea for an anniversary picnic and treasure hunt.
It was the first time the Range Rover had left the city and Austin took full credit for making such a good choice in cars. Elizabeth knew that it was purely a status symbol but didn’t bother arguing as they pulled off the asphalt and followed a dirt road for a few miles before parking in a clearing with a handful of trucks with gun racks.
They carried their picnic basket to a shady spot under a huge live oak and before she had the chance to spread out the blanket Austin was asking for his gift. It was the fourth time since leaving the Greenwich Village penthouse.
Pulling out a hand-drawn map, Elizabeth said, “I told you it was a treasure hunt. You have to find it. I’ll be waiting right here. Good luck!”
He grabbed the map with a grin and took off. Presents were always a motivator for Austin.
Elizabeth unsheathed the beautifully carved knife and sliced a selection of cheeses and meats. Siting against the tree trunk she picked up her notepad and settled in for some munching and writing.
BANG! It was a single shot. And then silence. 10 minutes later she heard “Holy shit, it’s a dude, not a buck! Call 911!”
Although she was a widow in mourning, Elizabeth went ahead with the book tour. Fans murmured their sympathy as she autographed copies of her latest book, “A Toxic Relationship.”
The victim died by poisoning. She preferred a good, clean killing over blood and guts any day.
Written July 2019 and read in August 2019 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s monthly “Alameda Shorts” challenge with the theme of “Five” celebrating the group’s five year anniversary.
If you have a writer’s soul and live in Alameda, feel free to join To Live and Write in Alameda (info available via the link or in the Facebook group)! No experience necessary … members range from those who dream of writing the Great American Novel to published authors. No dues, many free daily/weekly meet-ups, reasonably priced workshops and focus groups and retreats, and tons of encouragement and support. Do it … you know you want to!
PS: Yes, Hubby and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary in June. No, I don’t want to kill him!