Story Excerpt

The Beacon Hill Suicide

by Shelly Dickson Carr
 

BeaconHillSuicide_Tim-Foley
Art by Tim Foley

Could he do it?

Orchestrate his own death?

Having purchased the rope at the hardware store, British-born actor Nigel FitzGibbons wondered if he could hang himself. The exposed beams in the old brownstone he and Felicity were renovating might not hold his weight and, like a magician pulling off a conjuring trick, he only had one chance to make this work.

Hesitating on the cobbled walkway, gas lamps flickering through the early evening fog, Nigel pondered (as he had for weeks) his best options. Poison wouldn’t do. He might get the dosage wrong. If found writhing on the floor of the brownstone clutching his abdomen, he’d be rushed to Mass General Hospital, a tube threaded down his throat attached to a stomach pump. He’d be back at square one. And he didn’t own a gun.

So a rope it would be.

Tucking the coiled cord under one arm, Nigel trudged along Charles Street where the neon lights of a pastry shop stabbed through the swirling mist. Brass bells tinkled above the doors of an artisanal cheese shop as they swung open, giving off the pungent odor of Stilton mingled with the acrid smell of fermented marmalade.

Present-day Beacon Hill, with its brick sidewalks, quaint shops, and gaslight—Boston’s eternal flames—reminded Nigel of London in a bygone era. The cobbled streets, so Dickensian. And how apropos to hang himself here, where Mary Dyer went to the gallows in 1660 for her religious beliefs. Dyer’s grim statue, carved in dark granite, anchors the sweep of lawn in front of the State House at the crest of Beacon Hill.

At the thought of Mary Dyer swinging from a noose, Nigel jerked to a stop. His own reflection peered back at him in the glistening window of a liquor store: sunken eyes, distended cheekbones, wild, disheveled hair. But it wasn’t the image of his gaunt face staring back at him that gave Nigel pause, it was the sudden vision of a rope tightening round his neck, harnessing his dangling body.

One of the nastier aftermaths of death by hanging (Nigel had done his research) was loss of bladder control. To this end, Nigel had taken pains to be extra careful about what he ate and drank at his AA meeting an hour ago where, in the mildewed basement of King’s Chapel, coffee flowed in abundance. Not that Nigel was standing on his dignity (no, he’d be standing on a wooden crate, which he’d kick to the side). Rather, he pitied the poor sod who lowered him down.

After the AA meeting, Nigel drifted across the street to the Old Granary Burying Ground, where he meandered down pebbled pathways under a canopy of autumn leaves to his favorite gravesite. Wedged between Paul Revere’s final resting place and Samuel Adams’s headstone stands a moss-crusted marker with the inscription: “I told you I was sick.”

Perhaps his own epitaph should read: I told you I was unhappy.

Nigel pulled his thoughts back to the present and tugged his gaze from the ruby red wine bottles in the liquor store window. He glanced at his cell phone. Dusk was gathering, and he needed the last bit of strangled light to make this work. So he quickened his pace up Mount Vernon Street, passing number 88, where Robert Frost lived almost a century ago. Frost had come to Beacon Hill to find solace after the death of his wife. Would his own wife find solace after he’d hanged himself?

Across Mount Vernon Street, a string of row houses stretching to the top of the hill. In the swirling fog they appeared to be a single, redbrick edifice fronted in strangled ivy, just like the Cotswolds.

Born in the West Country of England and educated at Magdalen College (Oscar Wilde’s alma mater), Nigel had crossed the pond to attend Yale School of Drama. Had he not yearned to be an actor since a very young boy, things might have turned out differently. He might never have met his wife, Felicity.

Falling in love with Felicity Martino had been a “no-brainer,” as the Americans say. But whatever it was that Felicity had seen in him, Nigel wasn’t sure. It might or might not have been his “cut glass” British accent, as she called it. Or his Downton Abbey-esque demeanor. Or even, perhaps, his acting ability.

After finishing his dissertation, The Tragedian’s Use of Catharsis in Shakespeare, Nigel hightailed it to Las Vegas, the quickest and easiest place for a nonresident to obtain an Actors’ Equity card. He landed a gig as one of the (many) assistants to Mungo the Magnificent. And it was on stage at the Bellagio that he met Felicity, a snake charmer for Penn & Teller, the illusionists.

Billed as “Felicity, the Serpent Enchantress,” she was a stunningly beautiful, crowd-pleasing favorite, wearing a snakeskin corset, fishnet stockings, and mile-high stilettos. By summer’s end, they were married in the Rock-a-Billy Wedding Chapel by an Elvis minister. Felicity had wanted the “Camelot Wedding Package” with all the pageantry of King Arthur’s Court (she adored all things British), but Rock-a-Billy won out.

A year later, still madly in love, they packed up Felicity’s king snake and ball python and moved to L.A. so that Nigel could pursue a “real” acting career. Felicity, who had kept her maiden name, dropped the o in Martino, and in the blink of an eye (or so it seemed to Nigel) her fame began to skyrocket. After winning a Saturn Award for her role in Teen Titans, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the sci-fi movie Snake Princess of the Underworld.

Realizing that there were few roles in Hollywood for classically trained thespians, Nigel decided to try his luck on the East Coast, home to three world-class Shakespeare companies. But Felicity, with a shake of her raven tresses and spark-flash of serpentine green eyes, had begged him to stay.

“I love you. I need you. You’re my rock. My best friend. My coach. I can’t do this without you,” she had pleaded. “And I have that new video game coming out that will make us a fortune. Why can’t you be happy with what we have? Why go chasing rainbows? If you leave, it will kill me. Devastate my career. My awards, my stardom, everything is due to you.” And it was true. Nigel had worked tirelessly with Felicity, helping her get into character, rehearsing her through every script. Every line. Every word.

So Nigel stayed with Felicity in L.A. But when acting jobs continued to dwindle for him (he refused to trade in on his wife’s name), Nigel tried his hand at stand-up comedy with, at first, a modicum of success, even incorporating Felicity’s ball python into his routines. But his brand of self-deprecating British humor didn’t seem to resonate with younger audiences of late. His agent complained that his monologues were too pedantic. Couldn’t he ditch the literary references? Add more reptiles?

That’s when Nigel attempted to do what all failed actors do: Write a screenplay. With equally disastrous results. Nothing Nigel did, said, read, or thought about seemed good enough fodder for the nonreading general public. Or so he told himself. In truth, he knew it was not the fault of the audience, but his own.

Now, twelve years later, Felicity was the second highest-paid film star in Hollywood with her own best-selling video franchise, and Nigel, who earned less than a barista at Starbucks, was trudging up Beacon Hill with the instrument of death looped under one arm.

 

Sxip Ludycrous (Sxip with an x, Ludycrous with a y) had been following Nigel FitzGibbons all week. Stalking him. He was itching to understand why Felicity refused to dump her loser of a husband.

“Nigel’s depressed. I can’t leave him right now. I won’t leave him. He’s the most decent guy I know,” Felicity had told Sxip with a sad shake of her Medusa-coifed ringlets. “He’s devoted to me. He might do something . . . drastic.”

Sxip was frustrated. What did she see in the jerk? Why was she being so loyal? What would make Felicity choose a guy like that over him? When pressed, Felicity said her husband was brilliant. An Oxford scholar who totally understood the nuance of classical theatre. “Nigel’s a genius at setting the stage, helping me get into character. Even sci-fi roles need to be mined for motivational insights. Digging deep takes time. My vocal choices. Everything. It’s all a process. Nigel coaches me. Tutors me. Drills me. There’s an art to creating backstory, especially when the writer hasn’t provided any. My awards, my stardom . . . all due to Nigel. He helps me get to the emotional core of my characters.”

Get into character? Anyone can do that.

Sxip was rehearsing for a play at the Huntington Theater in Boston, so the timing was perfect. It had been easy to follow Nigel, who knew zilch about his wife’s affair. The clueless moron. Sxip was angling to tell him, force the issue so he and Felicity could be together. None of this sneaking around anymore. The world needed to know that he, Sxip Ludycrous (his agent gave him the name), and Felicity Martin were lovers. The publicity would blast his career into orbit. But there was more. Sxip genuinely loved Felicity. Worshipped her. She could do no wrong in his book—except not tell her husband she was in love with another man.

At first Sxip thought he’d manage the confrontation casually. Felicity was on location in the Berkshires filming Jo and the Vampires, the sequel to Little Women Bite Back. So Sxip had five days to follow Nigel and contrive a “chance” meeting. Sxip was an actor, after all. He could make it look like a surprise encounter and somehow let it drop that Felicity was cheating. Something inside Sxip—something twisted and unwholesome—made him want to meet the husband face-to-face. Man-to-man. Show Nigel he was outstripped by the competition.

As long as the weather held, Sxip followed Nigel every afternoon after tech rehearsals, trailing him to that gutted brownstone on Beacon Hill. But the cold, damp New England rain was driving Sxip crazy. He was a California kid through and through. And at twenty-four, a rising star in Hollywood—or would be when word got out about him and Felicity. He’d only taken the role (a bit part) at the Huntington because Felicity insisted he needed stage chops (he had none) and because she was excited to show him Beacon Hill where her favorite author, Louisa-May-Something-Or-Other, who wrote Jo and the Vampires, had died.

But the icing on the cake was that Nigel FitzNobody was also in Boston this week overseeing construction on that run-down relic of a house he and Felicity were renovating. Why anyone would want to live in a crumbling old brownstone on Beacon Hill when they could live in modern digs in L.A. was beyond Sxip.

Stalking the guy had been easy. Felicity’s husband was a flat-out creature of habit. First he’d go to AA meetings, then he’d wander around Beacon Hill; then he’d hoof it up Mount Vernon to check on that gutted wreck of a house where, two days ago, the idiot forgot to lock up.

But tonight was different. Sxip would confront the loser. He wanted Nigel FitzNobody to know that he, Sxip Ludycrous, was the better man. To this end, Sxip purchased a leather jacket on Newbury Street (with Felicity’s money), hipster boots, Armani jeans, and a badass muscle shirt. He wanted to set himself apart from the Oxford guy with his baggy cords and frayed tweed jackets, which Felicity claimed he wore as a matter of pride. The tweeds were Nigel’s grandfather’s.

Dude! Sxip wanted to scream. Buy your own frickin’ threads. What a jerk! Pilfering from some old geezer.

After the AA meeting today, Sxip had followed Nigel into a decrepit old cemetery where Sam Adams, that beer guy, was buried, then tailed him to a monument of some pouty Pilgrim chick named Mary.

But when Nigel darted into a hardware store on Beacon Hill and stumbled out with a pocketknife and a coil of rope, Sxip moved in closer. The knife was one of those foldable jobs with multiple blades and tiny tools that fit into the handle. Sxip watched Nigel tuck the rope under one arm and slide the knife into the pocket of his tweed jacket.

Was the husband planning to fix something in that gutted house?

Sxip followed at a close clip. Too close. Nigel glanced in a shop window, and Sxip could have sworn he was staring back at him in the reflection. But no. It was a liquor store and the idiot was ogling cases of wine . . . almost as if he’d kill for a drink.

The dumb-ass was hungry for booze. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell him right here and now that his wife was cheating? Offer him a slug of Jack Daniel’s. How awesome would that be? Except Felicity might find out. Helping your lover’s alcoholic husband go on a bender was not a good idea. Especially if you wanted to keep her.

Shadowing Nigel all week, Sxip had come to understand, in a vague sort of way, what might have attracted Felicity to her husband in the first place. The jerk walked like he owned the world. His nose was straight, his eyes a sparkling amber, and his hair the color of cider. He was handsome in that British tight-ass sort of way. And tall. Taller than Sxip. Which irked Sxip. And after watching Nigel’s stand-up routines on YouTube (which were actually funny), Sxip detested him. The comedy riffs were full of biting humor, big words, and lame jokes about snakes. Sxip didn’t like snakes. They made his skin crawl.

Now, watching Nigel stride up Beacon Hill with his jaw-jutting arrogance, Sxip wanted to smash the husband’s face in. The guy didn’t deserve to be married to the most beautiful—not to mention famous—woman on the planet. Nigel FitzGibbons was like one of those aristocrats on Downton Abbey who had everything handed to him on a silver platter.

Sxip spat on the brick sidewalk. He hated British dramas. Why chicks loved those prissy English accents was beyond him. Felicity’s husband was a triple threat: He had that upper-class British accent, those chiseled cheekbones and, most importantly, the famous Felicity Martin for a wife.

I’ll have Felicity to myself if I have to take that rope under his arm and strangle him with it!

 

A cold sweat engulfed Nigel.

Could he do this? Pull off his own suicide?

The thudding of his heart was so loud it reverberated in his ears like bubble wrap snapping. And there it was. Up ahead. The brownstone he was renovating for Felicity so they could have a future together. In a city that valued the Bard.

Shrouded in scaffolding, the five-story house loomed tall as it was narrow with a pitched slate roof, crooked chimney stack, and circular bowfront crusted with withered wisteria vines. Somewhere in the bowels of that damp, boarded-up house, Nigel would cut a length of rope, hoist it over the rafter, and test his weight.

He took a deep breath and stepped off the curb. The air smelled coppery from rain gutters bursting with wet leaves. Up and down the cobbled lane, gas lamps flickered, giving a glimpse into Beacon Hill’s past, while the trickle of laughter wafting up from outdoor cafes on the flat of the hill held a promise of the future.

A future of Nigel’s own making.

In front of the brownstone now, Nigel skirted around a dumpster bulging with demolition debris and ducked under scaffolding to a small entranceway below the front stoop. He thumbed the four-digit code into the keypad and, before shoving open the basement door, cast a long, lingering glance over his shoulder.

Dusk had settled on the townhouses of Louisburg Square across the way with their purple slate rooftops and redbrick chimneys, making a kaleidoscope of pale blues, lavender grays, and rusty pinks in the swirl of moonlight, which showed and hid and showed again through clouds scudding across the dark sky. The effect was dizzying, ethereal, otherworldly; almost as if the clouds were stationary, the chimney stacks moving.

Through the spikes in the wrought-iron fence circling the greensward, Nigel could just make out Louisa May Alcott’s terraced house shredded in mist. The famous author had died at Number Ten Louisburg in 1888. The same year Jack the Ripper began his reign of terror.

Nigel swung back around and heaved open the basement door. Inside it was pitch-black and reeked of damp cement. He didn’t see the ladder until he’d slammed into it, sending shock waves zinging through his chest. Righting the metal rungs that thrummed like a dying harmonica, Nigel fumbled in his pocket for his cell phone and pressed the flashlight app.

A beam of eerie white light bounced off cinder-block walls and crumbling masonry. Stepping on nails and bits of twisted wires, Nigel scooped up a wooden crate from the corner of the empty basement and moved to the dog-legged staircase. Mounting each step, he was conscious of the mournful echoing tread of his footfalls. Just like playing Zombie Rivals, the video game with Felicity’s computer-generated likeness.

Who would have thought? Nigel wondered. His wife, who had started her career as a magician’s assistant, was now a renowned actress with numerous awards, her own video game, and an obscure husband standing in the wings about to give the performance of his life. Today was his day to die. . . .

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month's issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2018. The Beacon Hill Suicide by Shelly Dickson Carr

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