A Serious Accident While Shaving

by Julian Penrod

Preface

This is a story of an attempt to replace an individual with someone who exactly resembles them. But it turns out that there can be complications in a case like this that are unforeseen.


"He'll be in his office", Jack Kelly said, "He's always in his office at this hour."

"I know", said Phil Walsh. And it was right. He did know.

"Usually, people know not to come in and disturb him", Kelly continued, "I'll stay outside to make sure they don't try. It shouldn't be a problem. It'll be over in ten, fifteen minutes. You know what to do with the body."

What was he saying all this for? To make himself feel confident by the relative assuredness of the plan?

"When it should be over, I'll come in. It's not likely anybody else will be interested in coming in. But even if they do, there shouldn't be a problem."

They'd gone over this a hundred times, Kelly wasn't saying anything new.

"And I'll say, 'The way the hours fly by, can we hope to catch any of them?', and you'll reply..."

"'Better to find a way to attract them to stay'", Walsh said tiredly.

It was understandable the way Kelly was going on, even if it was annoying. The seriousness of the business was enough to inspire any of a number of frenetic, almost panicky, responses. Kelly kept having to reassure himself by repeating the plan over and over. Walsh preferred instead to project himself into the moment. Spend the entire time up until the deed going over it, focusing on it, imagining every possible aspect of it.

He was watching Simpson sitting at his desk, involved in the company books. Not noticing as Walsh crept in through the always open doors overlooking the mostly unused section of the grounds outside the office window. Then a couple of shots from his silencer equipped pistol. Then, and this wasn't going to be pleasant, exchange clothes with the body. Then drag the body to the huge sideboard in the far corner of the room, and leave it in the spacious lower compartrment.

Then sit in Simpson's chair and take his place.

Until it came time for him to "die".

"I never would do this if he didn't push me to it", Kelly said, half to himself.

Was that his new way of handling the stress, to justify his action?

"He's been steadily pushing me out of things for awhile now", Kelly continued, "Reducing my position, diluting my authority, ignoring my recommendations. I'm seeing my place being eroded down to nothing, and I'm not going to let that happen."

When they were sure everyone had gone to bed, Kelly would sneak back down and help Walsh move the body to the trunk of his car.

"Fine way for an uncle to treat his nephew", Kelly reflected, "I never thought he held it so much against my mother that she married outside the immediate family. Wilson! It was that Wilson! He poisoned him against me!"

Then Kelly could quietly drive the body away and dispose of it outside of town. Most of the family's bedrooms were in the other wing. And, besides, who would question anything? It's not like Uncle John Simpson won't be there in the morning!

Luckily John Simpson made himself so difficult to approach or be near that something like this could be handled so effectively.

"Whoever heard of anyone exerting so much influence over anyone else so fast?", Kelly said more to himself than to Walsh.

Their individual reflections ended as the house appeared between the trees.

They were prepared.

"I'll take it around the side, near the section outside Uncle John's study."

Walsh looked toward the area Kelly indicated. Far to the rear, untrafficked, especially at this time of night, and very dark.

"At the curve on the drive to the garage", Kelly said, "I'll slow down and you can jump out."

And the rest would be on Walsh from that point forward.

They curved as Kelly planned to the side of the house. In the windows could be seen other members of the family, involved in their own activities, unaware of what was happening, what was going to happen to their lives.

The car reached a curving section of the drive near the rear of the house. It was largely in shadow, so Walsh's moves could go undetected.

"Now!", Kelly hissed and Walsh leaped from the seat, letting the door swing back shut, without undue force.

He watched the car slip around to the garage in the rear.

Walsh had memorized the layout, he knew where the study was.

It took under a minute to reach it.

Moving slowly along the tiled patio outside the study window, he could see Simpson. He head buried in stock reports, his hands working the calculator furiously. He probably didn't even look up as Kelly drove by. That could make this easy.

With slow but fluid movements, he moved to the open door onto the patio, then pushed it silently open and stepped inside. No wind, so Simpson's papers weren't even disturbed. He had no idea what...

Something made him think to look up.

But it did him no good.

Two shots whispered out of the silencer.

Simpson doubled over from the impact, his chair even rolled slightly back. He slumped.

Time to move fast. Keep the blood from overly staining the clothes Simpson was wearing. Make sure he was in place if anyone decided to bid him good night.

Walsh pulled Simpson's robe open and ripped his pajama top off. Worry about the pants later. He removed his own jacket, one he had owned for a number of years, long enough for there to be no sales record existing of its purchase, and pulled off his shirt, equally as old and untraceable.

Quick movements, precise motions. In no time what had once been Simpson was dressed in an old jacket, shirt and trousers. And what was now Simpson had fine cotton pajamas, leather slippers and a silk robe on.

Then dragging the body of "Uncle John" to the sideboard, and leaving it where it was planned.

Then a quick dash to the desk and immersion in the paperwork.

He didn't really know what Simpson was working at, but it didn't matter. Kelly knew the business, and Walsh was going to be taking Kelly's orders.

Just give a good performance as needed.

Some steps outside the door. A modestly assertive knock.

"Yes?"

"Can I come inside, Uncle?", asked Kelly.

"Okay."

Kelly entered and walked slowly to the desk. As if afraid of being considered rude.

Walsh only glanced slightly up from the paperwork, as he had been instructed to do.

Kelly had made certain to get comfortable in the relatively short time since he had returned, jacket gone, tie removed, collar unbuttoned, slippers, a robe over his clothes. He stood watching Walsh, almost as if studying him.

Is it possible he's unsure the switch had been made?

"A busy day", Kelly began, "A lot to do." A slight pause, as if screwing up his nerve, then, "The way the hours fly by, can we hope to catch any of them." It was delivered almost as a sing song.

"Better to find a way to attract them to stay", delivered in more normal speaking fashion.

A noticeable easing of Kelly's attitude.

"You have something to say, Jack?"

"No, Uncle, just wanted to say good night and remind you of the meeting with the district managers tomorrow."

"You got the numbers ready?"

"All prepared. If I had to, I could give the report by myself."

"Maybe I'll give you your chance", Walsh replied.

"Don't think I won't appreciate..."

"Grandad?"

A young girl with short cut blonde hair appeared suddenly at the door.

"Yes, Janice?", Walsh said, looking only slightly up from his papers.

"I just wanted to get a chance to talk to you before you went to bed."

"What do you want, Janice?"

The girl walked more into the office and stood unnervingly close and in a direct line of sight.

Walsh kept his head bent low.

"I just wanted to make sure it's okay."

A quick glance to Kelly. A furtive, almost imperceptible show of uncertainty on Kelly's behalf.

A quick decision.

"The answer's 'yes'."

A move too quick to prepare for. Janice threw herself at "Uncle Jack" and wrapped her arms around him.

"Oh, thank you, Uncle, thank you! You don't know what this means to me! I promise, you won't regret it! You'll be proud of me!"

A quick whirl back to the door, then a turn, "If there's anything you want to know, I have all the material in my room! I promise you'll be glad to you did this! I want to make you as happy as you've made me!"

A quick air kiss, a sudden exit and a call of "Good night, Uncle!" a second later from halfway down the hall.

Almost as soon as Janice left, a woman older than Janice, but with bright blonde hair, too. Margaret, Walsh's...Uncle Jacks' sister, Janice's mother. A man with thick brown hair and glasses, Paul, Margaret's husband. A little boy wiping his eyes from tiredness. Jimmy, Janice's little brother. Keeping it all within the family.

"I tried to talk Janice out of being so insistent, Father", Margaret said.

"It's alright", Walsh said, doing his best to keep his face hidden and, by that, imply he didn't want discussion to last too long.

"Well, Janice knows she can't have everything. And we don't her to think she can circumvent us by going running to you", said Paul.

"Well, I didn't see it as so much undermining your authority", Walsh said, "but if you want me to retract my decision,..."

"Oh, no", said Margaret, "If we didn't think there was merit to it, we wouldn't have her approach you."

"Unca?", asked Jimmy.

As much of a turn as Walsh felt he could afford to acknowledge Jimmy, without exposing his face too much.

"Unca? You okay?"

"Yes, Jimmy. Never felt better." A short pause, then, "Do I seem somehow different?"

A pause from Jimmy, then, "I dunno."

Margaret scooped Jimmy up in her arms.

"Pay no attention to him, Father, he's over tired."

"Well, we can't have that. We want him bright eyed tomorrow."

"Yes, Father", said Margaret, hustling from the room.

"We appreciate how tolerant you've been in this, Dad", said Paul, "We'll do what we can to make sure it doesn't go too far."

Speaking obviously for his whole family, he wished Walsh a "Good night" and also left the doorway.

A quick look to Kelly, without expressing the obvious overtly, in case anyone was listening. A confident nod from Kelly. He would find out what it was all about.

More to the point, Walsh said, "I think I'll be turning in soon", and, "there's a lot I want to get done here tomorrow. I think you know the situation well enough to make the presentation. Just tell them that I've reviewed your material and agree one hundred percent."

"I will, Uncle. Don't worry, you'll be proud of me, too."

Courteously, Kelly left the room, as well, although Walsh knew he would be back later. Right now, all he had left to do was wait for everyone else to be in their rooms and get to his own quarters.

So far, so good.

Actually, the so good lasted a good deal longer.

Kelly had returned and taken care of his part of the matter. No one seemed to notice.

But what if they did? They'd see him sneaking around, but what would they connect it to? "Uncle Jack" was still here, no one had any thought he would be replaced, so there was no reason to see a connection. There was no reason to suspect Kelly of anything.

You can be drenched in blood, but, if nobody is listed as missing, so many will just chalk it up to a really bad accident shaving.

The next day, was to be the start of actively putting the substitution into action.

Undoing the changes in company policy initiated by Uncle Jack. Changing patterns of expenditure and investment. Eliminating the new connections the company had forged and going back to the old ones. And instituting a program of employee evaluation that would have the inevitable result of ousting Wilson. Kelly instructed Walsh in every facet of the operation.

Kelly also came through in the Janice matter. It turned out she was just angling to be backed in choosing a more prestigious college than her parents had recommended. Being the real voice behind the fortune, now, Kelly decided not to raise a row about it, and so authorized the expenditure. As the voice of "Uncle Jack", Walsh made it official.

But, then, they would get down to the real business.

At least, that is, Kelly would inform Walsh what to say, do, sign, and Walsh would do it. Kelly would also run interference, keeping any unwanted individuals from getting too close to "Uncle Jack" for too long a stretch of time,

Especially Wilson. It was anticipated he would try to get an audience with "Uncle Jack", try to put him under his spell again. They were prepared for that, they would fight it. But, then, why even give Wilson the opportunity? Let him stew, the way he had caused Kelly to stew. Let him taste the ineffectiveness that his future status in the company held for him. Assuming it was decided not to to fire him outright.

The first few days were a whirlwind. Kelly attended most of the meetings; when necessary and unavoidable, Walsh attended, too. But always in the company of Kelly, always at a distance, at the dais in the corporation's massive meeting hall. What basic aspects of company operation Walsh was familiar with, he was drilled on. When more sophisticated or nuanced matters entered, Kelly took over for him. And why would anyone be suspicious? John Simpson was there, right in front of everyone, he was merely choosing to give Kelly the position to answer for him. Who says he wasn't allowed to do that?

The new campaigns Wilson had championed were swept away. Monies were diverted back to previous operations. New executives brought in under Wilson's aegis were likewise booted. A handsome parting compensation for each of them, but the old friends and allies were brought back. Budgets retooled, product lines brought back to where they were. And Wilson looking more and more the fool.

At first Wilson complained, fought, retaliated. He tried several times to see "Simpson", but was repeatedly rebuffed. The first few times it seemed almost to be an unbelievable circumstance for Wilson, he behaved as if it was beyond the realm of possibility that he wouldn't be allowed to speak to "Uncle John". So complete had been his compromising of Simpson's loyalties. Eventually, he accepted the situation and, within a short amount of time, he retired from view entirely. Kelly didn't mind. He was too busy planning and implementing the rerouting of the corporation. Wilson's absence only made it all the easier to carry out his plans, and facilitated something that was of critical importance. Completely eliminating Wilson's importance and influence in the company.

Time passed and, bit by bit, the company began to resemble its old self. Kelly was back in charge, second only to "Uncle John". Old priorities, product lines, industry connections were re-established. And it was earning money.

Word came that Wilson was taking a vacation. When that ran out, he was listed as taking "sick time".

And then some curious signs began to show up. Cases where the alterations Wilson had overseen were actually eminently unwise and even should have begun to ruin the company. That they didn't suggested funds were coming in from somewhere else to make up the shortfall. Was Wilson tapping the company's resources? Was he drawing on its credit line? Was this all a plot by a competitor to compromise the entire earnings potential pf the company, keeping it artificially afloat until it was irretrievably lost, then taking all support out?

Kelly was going to have some pointed questions for Wilson when he came back.

If he ever came back.

Walsh, meanwhile, basked in the advantages the position afforded him. Quality accommodations, fine dining, being called on to do nothing more than make a few speeches. Of course, when conditions were right, he would "die", but he would be more than amply rewarded by Kelly. He had already been forwarded half of the agreed upon price, and even if he received no more, than would be more than enough. But Kelly was going to cooperate. Walsh had too much on him and Kelly wasn't going to overtly arrange the death of his uncle. So far, he hadn't. What he had arranged, no one even suspected had occurred. If "Uncle John" now genuinely went missing, the questions would be endless.

For Walsh, the road ahead was clear.

Then, one night, about a month before his "death", he was "working' in the study. The house was empty, except for the staff, who were in the other wing, Kelly, somewhere, going over company records, and himself.

Studying a speech Kelly had provided him for an upcoming meeting, he suddenly became aware of a presence.

Wilson, entering slowly from the hallway. Caught by surprise, Walsh was looking directly into Wilson's face. He could see Wilson's eyes narrowing and studying him intently.

This wasn't good. There was too much purpose in Wilson's demeanor. Call Kelly? Try to get a message to the police? Try to take him down, kill him, claim Wilson had tried to kill him?

Before Walsh could decide, Wilson spoke.

"What do you think you're doing? Do you know the damage you've done? What would make you do this?"

They had expected a confrontation with Wilson, they only didn't know when. They had decided the only response would be to discount everything he said and refuse to cooperate.

Before Walsh could reply, though, Wilson continued, "We had an arrangement! What did you think you would get out of this? What's the matter with you?"

Wilson was becoming too demonstrative. There was no telling how far he would go. Perhaps his long absence was getting up nerve to retaliate violently. Draw this out until you can make arrangements to get Kelly or one of the staff to enter.

"I just decided the benefits of your plans didn't outweigh the threat to the business. This company's been around for more than a century and depends on the product initiatives that brought it so far. I saw what the new ideas were doing to the company's earning structure and decided they had to go."

"What?"

"What?"

Wilson stood staring at Walsh for a long time. Walsh started to worry Wilson could see the tiny traces that differed his face from Simpson's. Slowly, but deliberately, he started to make his way to the door.

Almost as if awaking from a dream, Wilson said, "Wait a minute."

After a second, Wilson intoned, slowly and carefully, "We define our decisions and our decisions define us", delivered in a sing song.

What?

A second's pause, then, again, "We define our decisions and our decisions define us", again in a sing song.

What the devil was Wilson...

The realization hit Walsh like a thunderclap. He didn't even need to hear...

"You're not Bennett!"

Of course! That was how Wilson got Simpson to go along with his ideas! That's how he convinced Simpson to ignore even his closest relatives! That's how he had arranged with Simpson to completely alter the structure of the company!

"Prentice!", Wilson called, "Prentice!"

It did not strike Walsh as strange to see himself entering the office by the doors that opened onto the unused portion of the grounds. Carrying a pistol with a silencer.

"He's not Bennett!", Wilson roared.

"Doesn't make a difference", said the "Uncle John" standing in the door.

Walsh needed something to throw them off, so he could escape and call Kelly or the staff.

And he needed something fast, since Prentice was raising his gun.

Looking frantically to his desk, Walsh spotted a heavy ashtray, and a heavy stapler.

The ashtray he lobbed at Prentice, the stapler at Wilson.

As they recovered from the attack, Walsh bolted for the door.

"Get him!", croaked Wilson. Walsh didn't need to look to know that Prentice was probably bounding across the room.

Reaching the doors that led to the rest of the house, Walsh grabbed the knobs and threw the doors wide.

"Kelly!", he yelled, "Kelley! Kell..."

A shape filled the door.

"Kelly! It's Wilson's plan! He substituted someone for Simpson. We didn't kill Simpson! He was already gone! That's how Wilson got him to agree to all his ideas!"

Waiting for a reply, Walsh heard Wilson in the background.

"Know a friend by the most that they will willingly do for you", Wilson intoned in a sing song.

"Even a modest friend outshines a faithless brother", was returned from the doorway. In a sing song.

"This isn't Bennett", Wilson said, "Kelly and this guy did away with Bennett and he's been taking Simpson's place."

"No problem", the man named "Kelly" said, raising a gun with a silencer, "We were already committed to removing two bodies."

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