The Death of Thomas Reines

Published: Heater Magazine, (November 2016) 

 

The Death of Thomas Reines

by: Tevis Shkodra

Thomas Reines was murdered yesterday in the small hours of the night, under the starless pitch-black sky and in the middle of a howling rainstorm. Nobody was held accountable for his gruesome death because nobody even realized he had died. There was no police investigation. There were no questions asked.

 

Thomas had been the only son of Bertrand Reines, the billionaire founder of Reines Steelworks Co.— the third-largest manufacturer of steel in the world. Needless to say, Thomas lived lavishly on the monthly allowances of his father, and all it cost him was a typed letter every now and again to let his family know he was alive and well.

***

“I hate it,” Thomas said, rubbing his ink-stained fingers together. “I hate that he makes me write these.” He scoffed. He sat amidst the almost-windless summer breeze, on a rusty metal chair overlooking the crystal- clear ocean. His friend Patrick was slouched on the balcony railing beside him, enjoying the swoosh of the rolling saltwater waves and the seagulls mewing in the distance.

“Oh come on, Tom. The old man’s just worried about you,” Patrick said. “Besides, a letter a month for all this . . ." He spread out his arms, the gentle summer breeze dancing in his hair. "I’m sure any sane man would be pleased with that trade-off.”

Patrick and Thomas had first met in a Parisian piazza. Pat was drooped on the side of the cobble street strumming a guitar with a broken string, an empty black guitar case sprawled at his feet, littered with small coins amounting to little more than a hot meal. Thomas's girlfriend at the time stopped, demanding a private serenade from the man. She was the catalyst to Pat's world changing.

They had been living in Tom’s summer villa in Marseilles for two weeks now, opting to take Tom’s yacht around the Mediterranean, all at the expense of Mr. Bertrand Reines of course.

“Enjoy what you do have, Tom, because a lot of people have it worse.”

“Yeah, but you don’t know him like I do, Pat. The man’s conniving and manipulative.” Thomas sighed. “He killed my mother, you know," he said, pulling a smoke from the pack in his shirt pocket, nestling it between his lips. “He drove her insane with endless talk of that stupid company. A lifetime dealing with his prattling on about the steelworks would drive me to blow my brains out too. Death must’ve seemed like a cakewalk after the hell she’d been living in. And what’s worse, I don’t think he even cared at all. That’s what I can never forgive him for—for not even at least pretending to care." He combed his pockets. "He’ll probably ask me to take over the steelworks just to see me suffer. We both know I’ll have no choice but to take the job, and that’ll be the end of that. Where’s the damn lighter?”

“Tom, that’s bullshit. You just can’t stand the thought of happiness, can you?” Pat laughed. “We both know he hasn’t pressured you to do anything you don’t want to. And it’s not like you need to work. You’re practically richer than God.”

“You know, Pat.” Thomas rubbed the morning sleep from his eyes, the black ink on his finger leaving a thin smear on his eyebrow. “Everyone prattles on about this money.” He lit his cigarette and took a deep drag. “And I can’t lie, it is fun. But the truth of it is, if it were possible, I'd exchange all the money in the world just to be free of my father.” He gave a weary chuckle. “But people don’t see any of that." He inhaled deeply, pressing the balls of his thumbs to his temples. "Well they can have the damn money if it means dealing with Mr. Bertrand Reines, mogul extraordinaire.” Thomas began mocking his father, imitating him in a deep voice that always made Patrick laugh.

Patrick could never piece together why someone like Thomas had taken such a liking to him. Thomas had told him that after months of beating his ear with only French, to hear another American around the same age talk about similar interests was a blessing in itself. In truth, Patrick thought it had more to do with his father. There was something about the vagabond lifestyle, drifting from one place to another, broke and utterly free of all obligations in life, that must’ve appealed to Thomas. At least it sure seemed like it when he got in pissy moods and prattled on about his father.

It didn’t matter that Patrick did not have a dime to his name. He could wear Thomas’s clothes, live under his roof, spend his money, and travel in his luxuries, for as long as he remained in his company. For Patrick, the trade-off worked out just fine.

In those early spring months in Paris, it was as if luck had smiled on the vagabond. But now they had moved to Marseilles and summer was coming to a swift end. Thomas—the real fun-loving, energetic, kind Thomas—it seemed stayed behind. Patrick saw him a hollow shell, a troubled youth who was growing more distant, more erratic by the passing day.

It was normal to grow bored of people, especially for Thomas, who had the temperament of a spoiled kid with all the toys in the world. Tom had never voiced any disinterest, but the thought lingered in the back of Patrick’s mind regardless.

When will he grow bored of me, Patrick always thought. When will he finally tell me to beat it? Where will I go?

He laughed as Thomas mocked Mr. Reines. “Well come on then,” he said. “Write faster so we can go sailing today. The weather’s holding up nicely.”

Thomas threw one last glance at the half-written letter, flicked the cigarette off the balcony and said, “It’ll have to do.” It was summer in France, the sun was shining, the water glimmering and welcoming enough, and his father could go fuck himself for all he cared.

The South of France was a long ways away from New York, and Thomas's regular hand-typed letters had become more and more sporadic as the months flew by. Each was addressed to Bertrand Reines, from his loving son, and arrived in the post once a month on average, in accordance with Tom's monthly allowance withdrawals. As of late, months spanned between Thomas’s letters. They began arriving from different locations: one from Marseilles, others from Monaco, Barcelona, Rome, Naples, Venice, Lisbon, and so forth.

The letters became curt and distant, riddled with spelling mistakes and half-finished thoughts. At times, when several months passed without a letter, the only way Mr. Reines must’ve known his son was alive was due to the fact that his allowances were still being withdrawn. Tom had always insisted that Mr. Reines was so consumed by his company that he was content just knowing his son was alive and well. The curt letters (or lack thereof) were in everyone’s best interest, he had assured Patrick.

“At times it seems like he wouldn’t even care if I died, yet he still writes me, and asks me to write back.” Thomas reached for another smoke. “And . . . It does sometimes help. I can’t sit here and say that I’ve always hated him. There was a time when I looked up to him, admired him. Then, you know . . ." he sputtered, trailing off, ". . .she died, and it became strange."

Patrick picked up the lighter and lit a cigarette of his own, taking a long drag, leaning on the railing, the sun in his hair.

“I’ve never told this to anyone, Pat, but he never showed up to her funeral." Tom parsed his lips as if to go on, but the words got caught in his throat. " . . .There was something big going on with the company that day and . . . Well, he had other priorities, I guess. How the fuck can you forgive someone for that?”

“It's been years, Tom. You're all he has left. Maybe he's just old and tired from it all,” Patrick said. “I mean there must come a certain time when people realize they’ve pushed away loved ones. They get lonely and they want to make amends with anyone they can find. I think you should talk to him about it.”

“You don’t know him like I do,” Thomas kept repeating, shaking his head, reaching his trembling hand for another cigarette. “I don’t care if he’s old or lonely. He did this." There was a sharp snap in his tone. "There’s no way I can forgive him, Pat. I can’t look him in the face anymore without thinking of her, and that day, being forced to give some bullshit on-the-spot eulogy in the rain because my father couldn't be bothered. That was when I needed him most, you know? If he couldn’t bear to be my father on that day, then he doesn’t deserve to be my father on any other day. Yet something compels me to keep writing to him every now and again. I don’t know, Pat.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Is there anymore of that bourbon left?”

His allowances are what compels you to keep in touch. “It’s too early to be drinking, Tom. Besides, we have to make it to that charity event tonight. I know you hate the suit-and-tie scene but you can have all the bourbon you want, so it can’t be all bad.” Patrick slid the balcony door open and stepped inside the house. “Besides," he said from inside, his shouts muffled. "Gwen’s going to be there and I heard she’s been asking about you. She’s got a little crush on you, and you know how these girls gossip.”

Thomas didn’t seem to be listening to a word he was saying. He was slouched over the balcony railing, trapped in his own thoughts, as Patrick fumbled around inside the room. “They say it’s going to storm tonight.” Thomas squinted his eyes to glance at the cloudless blue sky. “But I don’t see any clouds.” His voice was distant.

“Tom,” Patrick called from inside. “Get in here. Hey listen, were you serious . . . you know, when you said you'd rather not have the money?”

Tom meandered into the room to find Patrick, measuring up in front of a mirror, trying on a black tuxedo blazer.

“It fits you,” he said. “You’re lucky that fits you. And now that we’re on that subject, you're lucky you even found me at all." He grinned. "Who knows what gutter you'd be lying in by now.” Thomas chuckled.

“I hate it when you talk like that. You get so defensive sometimes for no reason at all. I know you may hate to admit, but I did have a life before you. I travelled all over Europe. I met people; I saw things.”

“Defensive is it? Well, get out then! Back to the orphanage with you,” Thomas called out with a large grin painted on his face. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, noticing the seriousness in Patrick’s face. “I’ll stop.”

“You’re a child. Are you done? I was being serious. Answer my question. Were you serious when you said you wanted to be rid of your father—and that you’d give up all the money to have that peace?” Patrick’s tone grew more serious and less playful by the syllable.

It caught Thomas by surprise. “Why are we still talking about him?” He seemed irritated, shaking his head. “I don’t know, Pat.” Thomas took a step back. “I mean, I-I guess so.” He sauntered around the room, stopping to study a figurative stone bust of Julius Caesar that decorated his desk, which they had bought in a flea market together in Rome a month ago. “Why do you ask? Should we murder him?” He flashed a mischievous grin.

“Not what I had in mind. What would happen if your father found out you had died. Maybe you drowned at sea while sailing, or had a heart attack, or . . .or even better, committed suicide. It wouldn’t even have to be a complex death, just a random fluke—you know? Nobody's fault, these things happen. A new passport, identity and poof.” Patrick snapped his fingers. “Just like that, you’re a free man. You’ll be penniless, but you'll be free. Besides, you don’t need money to be happy, right?” Patrick’s mind was racing and his tone was as serious as could be. “You could do it you know. I could even help.”

He had hoped for a thin smile, but Thomas only stood shocked for a moment in the silence that hung between them. He wore a blank expression on his face. “That’s not funny Pat,” he said seriously. “Because If I were to not be wealthy anymore, then what would become of you? You’d have to find a way to fend for yourself and not leech off me anymore.” He burst into laughter.

“You’re such an ass sometimes,” Patrick said, strutting out of the room. Thomas had always treated the people around him as if they were stranded in the middle of a desert and his presence was an oasis.

***

The limousine ride to the gala was awkward. Rain drizzled on the sunroof and inside Thomas had begun drinking early, and probably would not stop until he found himself in a hospital or a police station. He pounded back drink after drink as Patrick watched, nursing his own. It would turn out to be just like any other night out: Thomas drinking himself unconscious and Patrick having to take care of him. When alcohol and an egomaniac mingled, the result was always negative.

Odette, a friend they had met on the beach in Marseilles, waited for them by the steps of the building, wearing a pearl-colored dress and a matching necklace.

“Is he drunk?” She kissed Patrick's cheek as he stepped out of the limousine. “Gwen is here,” she whispered to him. “He better not fuck this up, or I’m never hooking him up again.”

Patrick shrugged. “He does what he wants. Who am I to stop him?” He noticed beautiful blonde-haired Gwen standing at the top of the staircase ogling the limousine.

“I don’t give a fuck if Gwen is here,” Thomas muttered to Odette, stumbling out from the limousine with a half-empty champagne glass clutched in his hand.

Outside, the storm was picking up pace, although this did little to interrupt the booming music emerging from the La Strade Hotel Banquet Hall. The room was well lit, with a crystal chandelier sparkling in centre. The hallways were white marble, with a red carpet covering the dance floor. The walls were a crème colour with black columns running throughout the room. It was what one had come to expect of French décor.

Thomas scampered off, leaving Patrick and Odette to comfort Gwen for most of the night. Patrick rubbed the small of her back and Odette assured her that Tom could be an ass at times, but their words didn’t seem to make her cry any less. Thomas was making a fool of himself with what looked like the early stages of a brawl about to ensue. This seemed to calm Gwen a bit, although Patrick felt a stirring in his gut. He fixed her a drink and they danced for a bit. With every drink she consumed she began to fret about Thomas a little less.

The storm was at full-tilt. The gust whistled as it smashed against the trees outside and rattled the windows. Thunder cracked like a whip and the lightning came and went in strobes.

“You’re so kind to me, Pat,” Gwen said with her arms around his neck. Patrick smiled. “I just wanted to say . . .” Gwen tried to manage before boisterous sounds of a fuming argument interrupted her.

Thomas was staring down a French gentleman, slurring insults as fast as his mind could come up with them. The man’s friends crept around him like hyenas. It was three against one, but Tom was too drunk to care and too stubborn to back down.

“I’m sorry, Gwen.” Patrick squeezed her arms. “I have to help him.” He rushed to the commotion and spoke to the men in a suave French accent and calmed them down before dragging Thomas off.

“Fuck you too, Patrick!” Thomas shouted, squirming out of his grip. “Get away from me! What are you, my father? I don’t need you to take care of me!”

“I’m just trying to help you, man.” The reek of fine Kentucky bourbon stung Patrick’s nose.

“Help me? I don’t need your help. You need me!” His shouting was drawing people’s attention. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. I see you dancing with Gwen, her arms around your neck. What kind of a friend are you?”

Two of the hotel security staff came rushing to the commotion. Patrick explained the situation and Thomas threw every French word that came to mind, most of them insults. Their faces looked weary, as if to say “just another rich American asshole drinking too much and causing trouble again.” They wrapped their arms around Thomas with as much grace and decorum as they could muster, and guided him outside the building. Patrick brisked behind them, faced-down and rosy-cheeked, thanking them for their understanding and apologizing for the mess.

The gala music soon faded and the soothing hum- drum of showering rain was all that was heard. “There is nothing going on between me and Gwen, you egotistical bastard.” Patrick said once the men had left, “You’re just drunk. Now let’s get you home.” He put his arms around Thomas.

“Get away from me!” Thomas burst out. “Just leave me alone! Go back to begging on the streets. I don’t need you anymore. I’m done with you! You mean nothing to me.” The words were a dagger to Patrick's heart.

“Tom, you’re going to get yourself killed in this storm, you idiot.” Patrick’s voice was stern, distant, and weary. He waved down a taxi, opening the door and forcing Thomas in. The raindrops fell hard, like needles on his cheeks. “If you won’t let me take you home that’s fine, but I’m at least making sure you make it there in one piece.” He slammed the back door and gave directions to the taxi driver, handing him a hefty tip.

The man’s copper skin and bushy arm-hair gave away his foreign descent, but it didn’t matter as long as Thomas got home alive and well. He glanced one last time at Tom where he sat, soaking wet and miserable, pouting like some worn-out pup caught in the rain.

That night, Patrick took a walk along the beach in the pouring rain and the crackling thunder. The tuxedo Thomas had loaned him for the night was soaked, but that was the least of his worries. It was all coming to an end. Luck only carried a man so far, after all. He loathed the idea of going back to the Parisian streets to do nothing but bake in the sun, pluck his guitar strings until his calloused fingers blistered. After having seen the glow in strangers' eyes when Tom pretended they were brothers, Patrick already loathed the hollow glares he knew he would get from the passers-by on the streets—as if he were some pestering nuisance.

It had to be done, but Patrick was determined to leave on amicable terms, and not when Thomas was drunk. He owed him that much at least.

The villa was a three-kilometer walk along the beach, but the rain was refreshing and the walk sobered him up. When he did finally arrive, the house seemed abandoned from the outside. None of the lights were on and the front door had been unlocked and ajar. It was as if nobody was home.

“Thomas?” Patrick called out, entering the house.

He must have stumbled off into one of the rooms. That is, if he even made it home in one piece.

He pattered upstairs to check. Aside from the thin beam of light creeping under Thomas’s door, the villa was an pitch-black void of silence and shadows. Patrick swung the door open to see Thomas looking out to the rain cascading down. He turned and faced Patrick with a determination in his eyes.

“I was serious back there, you know.” He inched toward Patrick. “This isn’t working out, Pat. You know I hate opening up to people. Sometimes they’re just in it for the money and I can’t trust them. But then you came along and you seemed genuine. I opened up. I shared my relationship with my dad. I told you personal shit about my life, and the first thing you did was joke about how I should fake my suicide and get a fake passport.

"Just because I tell you about him doesn’t mean you know the ins and outs of our relationship. Some days, I think I could just hire someone to write those fucking letters for me, and other days I think I should stop writing them altogether. Escaping from him isn’t the hard part. Maybe a part of me wants to fix things between us, and I don’t think you can understand that. My mom blew her fucking brains out man, and you tell me that I should also fake my death just to stick it to my father? Just . . . just get out.”

“Look, Tom I’m sorry about all that . . . I-I didn’t think it’d be a big deal. But you’re drunk right now.” Patrick put a hand on his shoulder. “We can talk about this in the morning, and if you still want me to leave, I will.”

Thomas slithered out of his grip and swung a fist at Patrick. Blood began trickling from his nose, dripping onto the marble tiles. “What the fuck, Tom!”

“I don’t want you out tomorrow. I want you to leave now. You’re a leech, Pat. A mooch. Get out! And give me my suit while you’re at it.” Thomas tugged at Patrick’s suit jacket so hard he tore the stitching off one of the arms.

“People aren’t just things you can ditch when you’re done with them, Tom." Patrick shoved him. "And I’m done with this bullshit about leeching. You know why you told me about your dad and your mom? It’s because you’ve got nobody else to talk to. All you’ve got are your stupid yachts and cars and villas, but no friends. Who do you talk to at nights, when you can’t sleep and are feeling lonely? Who do you call? You need me way more than I need you, you miserable bastard. Look at you. You can barely stand on your own most nights. No wonder your father is still looking after you at twenty-five. His son is too incompetent to even handle his liquor. Stop blaming me for your shit.”

Patrick crumpled the jacket and threw it on the floor. In that moment, he hated the fact that Thomas had money, because nobody could see him for the pitiful individual he really was. He never wanted it to have come to this. He hated to argue with others, but in truth, all Patrick wanted now was to leave the house and never see the smug face of Thomas Reines again.

Thomas charged at him like a bull, tackling Patrick at the waist, as they both collapsed against the table. The decorative stone bust of Caesar, the one they had bought together at the flea market in Rome dropped to the floor and broke into myriad pieces of solid stone.

“I’ll kill you!” Thomas pummelled him with punches, “And when I do, nobody will care!” He continued swinging his bloodied hands at Patrick’s face.

Patrick grabbed the first thing his hands found: a piece of the broken bust lying beside him, and swung it at Thomas’s head as hard as he could.

The stone crunched as it connected with Thomas’s head, sounding like the soft cracking of an eggshell being split open. A streak of blood spurted on the wall beside them and drops of blood smeared into the scarlet-coloured wool carpet. Thomas’s body went limp and thudded to the floor, twitching.

Blood began pooling around his head almost immediately and his face froze into a blank stare, His eyes lifeless and wide open, staring off into nothing. In that moment, as Patrick gazed down at him, there was no more rage in his eyes. There was nothing in his eyes.

Patrick tried to shake him awake, terrified. Finally, he realized Thomas Reines was dead.

"No . . ." he whispered, swallowing hard. "No, no, no."

It all happened too fast. I-I-I didn't even want to fight with you, let alone . . .kill . . . No, no, no. Self-defence. It was self-defence. 

But what detective would believe that?

Thomas was wealthy and popular, and Patrick was penniless. It would’ve ended up being a coin-toss and they would’ve crucified him on the spot. They would have asked the guards at the event, who would confirm the two had been fighting throughout the night, arguing. They would have accused him of trying to run off with Thomas’s money. Who knows what other charges they would have slapped on him. His throat tightened, his hands still bloodied and trembling.

And that was only the police . . . one phone call from New York and Patrick was bound to face life in a high-security prison somewhere—Mr. Reines would have made sure of that.

Patrick’s gut sank, and for a moment he thought he would hurl right then and there, on top of Thomas’s limp body. There were too many loose ends.

Think, he urged himself. Think, think think. Prison's no place for you. You're not cut out for it. 

Millions of thoughts flooded his mind as his body froze staring at Thomas face down on the floor. The bloodied piece of the broken bust was still taut in his hand.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Patrick started pacing around the room frantically, turning on occasion to glance at Thomas’s body, to reassure himself this was not a sadistic nightmare, before again repeating: “fuck, fuck, fuck.”

The pool of blood oozed through the carpet, creeping forward and tainting everything in its path. Speck of blood had stained the walls. It was everywhere. Patrick even stepped in blood as he paced, leaving bootprints of evidence all over the hardwood. It was not as if he noticed—or even cared—at that point. He couldn’t tell if it was his or Thomas’s.

Outside, the storm raged on. Lighting seemed to crack the horizon open in white flashes, thunder cracked like a whip, and the falling droplets of rain sounded like a snooping policeman tapping at the window.

Patrick knew it promised to be a long, sleepless night.

***

The next day, Odette received a text message from Thomas saying he was bored with France and leaving Marseilles for a while. "Gettin' out while the gettin's good," the text had said, in true Thomas fashion.

The brief message also mentioned an apology meant for sweet Gwen, which Odette surely rolled her eyes at when she read. A hand-typed letter was also mailed out of Marseille, addressed to Bertrand Reines—as always, from his loving son.

Enclosed in the letter was Thomas’s intention to leave Marseilles for an unexpected trip around the world. He said he wanted to see the continents, to explore its cities and towns. Thomas said he had no intention of returning to New York again, something which he apologized for to his father. The letter was curt and to the point, like many of Thomas’s other letters.

In this letter, however, Thomas apologized to his father for having being so distant. He also forgave Mr. Reines for the resentment he had felt toward him all this time. His mother’s death was an accident, the letter stated, and nobody was to blame; it was as much his father’s loss as it was Thomas’s.

That morning a large sum of money was also withdrawn from Thomas’s bank account in preparation for his trip.

“This is quite an amount,” The doe-eyed bank attendant said with an inviting smile.” Would you like large bills or small, Mr. Reines?”

“Assorted,” Patrick said forcing a smile. “You never know what life may throw at you.”

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