Exclusive extract from Author Susan Swain and her novel Bounty
He lay propped up on pillows in a nursing home bed. The bed head, positioned to the right of the picture window, placed his back to the skeletal stemmed winter rose garden. Despite the comfortable room temperature, he drew the baby blue coverlet closer to his body. Perce peered round the room with resignation. Beside the bed, visitor chairs and a cluttered night stand competed for floor space. The photograph of a sign that read Bounty lay carelessly discarded among drinking vessels and medications on the night stand. A red brick ranch house sprawled behind the sign. Unrelieved, green grass grew in the back yard of the house. In the privacy of his room, Perce’s eyes moistened at the memory.
Across from him, on the other side of the window, his latest and last, all channels package wide-screen television, though muted, dominated the corner room. A Zimmer frame had been discreetly parked beside it. Out of reach atop a chest of drawers lay a paperback novel. Plumbed in before the door, a white wash basin contrasted with the blank screen of the nursing home television mounted above it.
Although in need of assistance, Perce didn’t press the nursing home buzzer button he fumbled between his thumb and forefinger. The button would summon Ivy and the end of his life. His cell phone no longer lay within reach on the night stand. He suspected Poison Ivy had pocketed the phone. Perce wondered where his wallet was. He couldn’t remember when he’d seen it last. While out of sight, Poison Ivy was always within hearing. So he lay quietly counting last breaths.
But on a promising spring morning two years earlier, he received a call on his cell phone from Ivy at Bounty. It signaled the end of another life. His wife’s life. While his older wife endured bad health, he enjoyed good health. Perce looked forward to taking control of her estate and cashing in on the generous insurance policy he’d taken out on her life. After an indecently short period of mourning, Perce intended to openly pursue his long-term love interest, Kitty. She was a thirty something, short, slender, single mother with dark brown eyes and shoulder length black hair. He’d banked on this one’s returned interest in him. But before Kitty, he’d set his cap for Bounty.
Perce regarded himself as lucky. Lucky that Luce had hired him. He’d phoned her about the advertisement she’d placed for the position of Handyman and Groundsman in the Work Available column of the local newspaper.
Luce told him that she and her late husband Bert had retired from an accountancy practice and inner city apartment in Riverside. The city, with its scenic river walks, was about an hour’s drive north of Midway. The town of Midway was a further twenty minutes from the sign that read Bounty. Bert had the sign made and erected shortly after they bought the property. They had the house built as an early retirement present to themselves. Utilizing Luce’s gift for interior decorating, they’d fully furnished and moved into the house with the early onset of winter.
Bert’s morning routine changed somewhat when they took up residence at Bounty. He was tall and fair-skinned but soft thanks to a career spent in an office chair and Luce’s home baking. His gray eyes looked small and vulnerable after too many years spent squinting at small print. Although normally propped on his unremarkable nose, he’d left his silver rimmed glasses on the dining room table in readiness for his return. Face flushed with the cold, he wore gray cotton sweatpants and sweatshirt, and sporty gym shoes. His thinning straight gray hair flopped over his forehead as he dashed out to retrieve the newspaper from the driveway beside the Bounty sign.
Bert savored the inky smell and crackle of crisp pages as he unfolded them at his leisure on the breakfast table. He set the financial section aside for himself (can’t teach an old dog new tricks) and passed the entertainment section across the table to Luce. Luce, wearing a gray cotton leisure suit, pink lipstick, and fluffy slippers insisted it was to keep abreast of the conversation at her weekly beauty salon appointment in town. Bert suspected she enjoyed the gossip. He refolded the national and international news sections for Luce after he’d perused them while she cooked breakfast (eggs, toast, and coffee).
But his last run-of-the-mill breakfast took an unexpected turn. Bert looked up from the financial section with a startled expression on his long face and then slumped from his chair to the polished wooden floor, his glasses askew.
Luce collected herself quickly to phone for help, but it was already too late.
The kindly doctor told her that Bert had died almost instantly. He said, “Apart from chest pain, Bert probably didn’t feel a thing,” in an attempt to comfort her.
Bert left the large, flat property and hardly lived-in house for Luce to manage alone.
Two months passed along with Bert before Luce realized she needed help to run the property. Luce did not intend to retire to town just yet.
She placed an advertisement in Midway’s weekly newspaper. Of the dozens of phone calls Luce received about the position, she interviewed six applicants. On a chilly late winter Friday morning, she employed the final applicant, Perce.
Perce spotted the white wooden sign hanging from a rail attached to a post. The bold black Roman letters spelled Bounty. He turned off the two-lane rural road into the driveway beside the sign. Directly ahead lay a two car parking pad in front of a double garage, its doors closed to prying eyes. He eased his late model, red sedan along the front of the red brick building. Large picture windows overlooked the driveway. Perce braked beside the covered entry. He got out of his sedan, locked it, and walked up to the bright red front door. Perce liked the color red.
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