FORTY-THREE, 2.0

Why do they always have a flower garden? Michael wondered this while watching General Stills trim and clip away at his roses.

All the stereotypical “bosses” clip away in a rose garden. Why is that? What’s the deal with gardens?

Michael thought this last bit in his head’s Seinfeld voice, and felt immediately ashamed. This was not a laughing matter.

Two dead, including Stills’s wife. Fourteen witnesses. Stills would be on Death Row in a year unless Michael could sway not just a jury, but the world.

No, nothing about this was a laughing matter.

Stills glanced over to Michael, seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. “Sit down, take a load off. You look like you could use a drink.”

The Good General always knew how to be a gracious hose, even in dire situations. Michael sat, nodding, barely able to utter a word. Actually, completely unable to utter  a word.

Truth be told, Michael was afraid. He watched the Good General pour his “special” lemonade, the pitcher shaking. The man was pushing ninety, but still the most respected member in the community by far. What would drive him to kill his wife? His best friend?

Of course Michael knew the answer. Everyone knew.

Mrs. Stills, the sweet old lady who never left her husband’s side even as the casinos fell, she’d taken up with his best friend, sleeping with him for over thirty years. This was ages ago, naturally, and after the casinos fell, she stuck by the Good General all the time.

Perhaps he’d known back then, and suppressed the images painted for him by hearsay and rumor. Or perhaps he just waited until he knew he had nothing left to give, to payback his former friend and his wife for their affair.

“Why?” Michael was shocked he’d uttered the noise, but not at the question.

He didn’t think General Stills was shocked either, judging by the smile on his face. Michael accepted his lemonade and drank it all in one gulp. “You’d think I’d have an answer for you, that will make you satisfied. Truth be told, I don’t really know, but I did do it, Michael.”

“And you want me to fight -”

“Yes, I want you to fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence.  And you will fail. And that will be the end of it. No appeals, not court of public opinion, just… the end.”

He reached out and plucked a single rose from the nearest bush. “These were her favorite. But I despise roses.”

He crushed the rose in his hands, and wept, a look of relief washing over his face.

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