Wheeler stood over top of Ken with envelope opener, the sharp point touching his nose.
“If I catch you looking in my mail again, Mr. Stoppard, I will not only lop off the end of your nose, but I will put IT in a dish and serve IT to my cats . Do you understand me?”
Ken nodded, sunk even lower in the chair in front of Wheeler's desk. “Yes sir,” Ken said beaten down. He hung his head, actually feeling ashamed.
“I hired you as my personal secretary. And that does not include in your duties to read my personal letters so you can leak it out to the press.” Wheeler said with enough venom to poison an entire village.
Ken jerked his head up, flabbergasted. “No sir! I would never do---”
“Oh yes you would,” Wheeler snarled. “It matters not if you are my cousin. Family can be the last to be trusted, now still after all the rage I have caused with my love life.”
Oh, yeah. Dirty old man, Ken thought. A seventy year old queen taking nude photos of a twenty year old college student. The press was certainly having a field day with a famous gay Playwright.
Wheeler looked up from the letter he was reading, the glasses on the end of his pug nose, eyebrows raised high. The jowls on his fat face was moving around like jello on a spoon. “You're still here. Why are you still here? I'm through with you for now---get out, boy!”
Ken leaped from his chair and speed-walked out of Wheeler's office. The door slammed hard behind him, knocking a picture of a younger version of Wheeler to the floor. Ken stood in the hallway, his hand on his forehead. The pool of secretaries broke from the coffee area. Five headed to their desk. Only one remained, Terri. Tall red head that had been on and off with Ken for the last six months. The other secretaries were for two magazines and a lawyer that shared the same office building with Wheeler. Not withstanding, the lawyer was in Wheeler's employment, and he held stock in both magazines.
Terri approached Ken cautiously. She stood behind him, nervously fiddling with her hands, wanting to touch him. When Ken finally noticed her, he could barely manage a smile.
Terri flashed a smile. “Everyone heard him.” She said. “I hate the way he treats you.”
Ken shrugged. “It comes with the Territory.” He said apologetically.
“Oh. Where does it say you have to let someone treat you like scum. Even if it's your boss.” Terri touched his arm faintly.
“Or if they are your family.” Ken rubbed her hand.
“You should fight back.”
“And be out of a job? No thanks. I'm accustomed to the money my cousin provides for me.”
“I guess he blames you for the bad publicity.” Terri said. She led Ken to her desk, sat him in her chair. She sat on her desk, crossed her legs, nearly cracking him on the chin with her knee.
“I don't see how he could,” Ken rested a hand on his sullen face. “Even today, people are more excepting of Horace Wheeler and his love life. But hiring prostitutes and living with drug addicts is not going to get you good publicity.”
“Um...I just had a thought.” Terri bit her lower lip. “A terrible thought.”
“Please keep it to yourself, Terri. I'm not in the mood.”
“No, wait.” She paused, recrossed her legs, again nearly catching Ken in the face with her knee. “You....you are his sole beneficiary after Thomas and he broke up, correct?”
Ken looked at Terri suspiciously. “What are you getting at?”
“Horace Wheeler is old, is he not?” She giggled.
“Oh I hate it when you go off on a tangent. Are you smoking weed in the bathrooms again?”
“No, darling. Listen....”
“I know what you are getting ready to say.” Ken then leaned in to her. He whispered, “ We would never get away with it.”
“Come to my place so we could discuss it better in private,” Terri gave him a quick kiss.
They heard Wheeler clearing his throat behind them. Both of them jumped up and clashed in the process. They turned to Wheeler and smiled.
“I just wanted to tell you,” Wheeler said to Ken. “I will not be attending Mrs. Gaines fifth grade class next Monday---”
“You did promise---” Ken broke in.
“I know I did! I have to attend the reading of my new play, boy! Auditions. Understand? Some of us work for a living.” Wheeler stormed back into his office.
Ken was fuming. “At your place.” He said.
“Around six.” Terri said.
“I'll be there,” He told her. “I'll be there.”
Ken met Thomas at park on a perfect spring day. He looked frail. Track marks up and down both arms were visible. Thomas was smoking a cigarette and frantically pacing. He stopped, tossed the half-smoked butt in a mud puddle. Thomas was overjoyed when he noticed Ken. Immediately began flirting.
“Hello, Kenneth,” He hugged Ken too close. Ken did not hug him back, but wiggled out of Thomas tight embrace. “I'm so glad to see you. Surprised you called. Wow. It's been forever...”
“Yeah, Thomas. A year. That is a long time.” Ken backed away from Thomas and a kiss on the cheek.
“Well, among friends it is a long time.” Thomas rebound from the failed advance.
“Look...I need a favor from you.” Ken said.
“I need you to mix something.”
“Except that,” Thomas started to walk away.
Ken caught his arm. “Come on. Thomas. You should do this.”
“I can't have anything to do with chemistry anymore,” Thomas showed Ken his arms.
“Don't make me do this,” Ken took a manilla folder from his coat pocket. He showed photographs of Thomas with a prominent Congressman.
Thomas face fell.
“Please,” He said. “Ken....don't......” Thomas shook his head. “I'm in the middle of a lawsuit with Horace. This.....this would destroy my chances....”
“You do this for me. You see, I'll make sure you get the amount you want from his will.”
Thomas thought a few minutes. “You know something? I still love the old bastard.” He lit another cigarette. “ Horace wrote ONE OF TWO for me. He dedicated it to me. A few months ago I saw the play had been republished again. The dedication was removed. “ Thomas paused, thought a second. “He's not the easiest human being to be around---well...you know that.”
“He's done some good. Giving money to schools. He helped my family at one time.” Ken said. “Now he's just evil. Takes pride in hurting others. Very selfish man. I'm just making the score somewhat even.”
“What do you want mixed and how?” Thomas said. He drew in the smoke and released it through his nose.
“You know how Horace loves Swedish fish?”
“Yes. He's obsessed over them.”
“I don't know what you could mix n it. Maybe cyanide?”
They were quiet a few minutes. Until it dawned on Thomas. “Ricin.” He said.
“What's that?” Ken was perplexed.
“A poison made from castor beans. Causes diarrhea, vomiting...takes a week or so for death. Can die of shock as well.” Thomas said.
“Only if it is done specifically for that poison. Otherwise...not terribly.”
“You think you can do this? Make the amount that is in a jar?”
“I can,” Thomas looked around, making sure no one was listening. Paranoia was already setting in. “But,” He touched Ken's cheek with a roving finger. “I want half of what you get in the Will.”
Two weeks later:
Terri was not happy. “Why did you agree to that?” she said.
Ken sat behind Wheeler's desk, he was looking in drawers. “Looks like Horace took the candy jar.”
Terri angrily shut one of the drawers. Ken barely drew his fingers away. “Hey!” He screamed in a broken voice.
“Why didn't you tell me of the agreement you made with Thomas?!” Terri screamed.
Ken jumped from the chair and rushed to the door of Wheeler's office. He slammed it shut. “Be quiet. You don't want anyone to hear.”
“Half of the Will? What the hell?”
“Thomas would never get it all in one lump sum. Only in small checks. Anyway he'll be dead in less than a year. He's nothing but a junkie.”
The phone rang. Still stewing, Terri grabbed the phone and yelled into the receiver. She listened, then offered it to Ken. “It's Mr. Wheeler's driver. He wants to talk to you.”
Ken snatched the phone from her. He listened, first the lines on his face were contorted in confusion. Then they formed an exhilarated expression. Ken put the phone on its cradle and laughed.
“Horace Wheeler, the great playwright, is in the hospital.” Ken said.
“Really?” Terri almost laughed, placed a hand over her mouth to stifle it.
“Yes. It seems he fell ill in the car. Boy, can you imagine the mess? All over Horace white seat cover.” Ken broke into a maniacal giggle. Suddenly, he was a bit confused. “But....I only put the jar on his desk yesterday. I didn't think it would work that soon. Oh well.”
“Now what?” Terri asked.
Ken kissed her and Terri was more than willing to accept it. “You ring the florists, send flowers to his room. Have the office sign the card, all the secretaries. I'm going to see Horace at the hospital.”
Ken walked through the halls of the hospital whistling, happily shuffling his feet. He walked past Wheeler's driver, not even acknowledging him. He went to go into Wheeler's room when a Doctor caught him.
“Excuse me. Are you family?” The Doctor said.
“Yes. I'm Mr. Wheeler's cousin.”
“Oh good. I'm Dr. Hart. Just wanted to give the specifics. Mr. Wheeler is doing fine. He had vomiting, serious diarrhea.....”
Ken swallowed hard. Fought back tears. “That's terrible.”
Dr. Hart noticed Ken's overacting. He looked at him sideways. “Yes. Uh...it is. Anyway Mr. Wheeler will be able to make a full recovery in a few days.”
“He will?” Ken was shocked. Perplexed.
“Yes. It was just a mild case of food poisoning.” Dr Hart said.
Ken mouthed food poisoning. Then he looked at Dr. Hart, said, “Can I see him.”
“Of course....go right in.”
Ken smiled, pushed the door open.
Wheeler was lying there watching the TV. On screen was a photo of Tennesse Williams. A woman's soft voice narrating.
“Oh please,” Wheeler said faintly. “His plays were melodramatic.” Then Wheeler noticed Ken.
“Hey,” He smiled a bit. “I'm glad you came, Cousin.”
Ken was rather shocked at the greeting. “Oh,” Ken smiled. “Me, too.”
“Damnedest thing, Ken. Eating left over chicken. Never do it again.” Wheeler said.
“Did you see the candy jar?”
“Oh yes. Thank you. Very kind of you.” Wheeler broke a smile again.
“So how did auditions go?” Ken felt an odd panic come over his body.
“I didn't go,” Wheeler said.
“Why not?” Ken asked, his voice faltered.
“I was wrong,” Wheeler waived a hand. “That's next Thursday. I went to Mrs. Gaines fifth grade class.” Wheeler snorted a laugh. “I had such a good time, I even left the candy jar for the whole class!”
Ken's hands began to shake and a cold sweat came over him. Suddenly, he found his legs had given out on him.