Excerpt for An Unfortunate Death by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

An Unfortunate Death

A truffle, by Vince Iuliano

© copyright 2018 Vince Iuliano

Harry Whipple had a problem. Judging by the sound of its relative weight and impact with the hard winter ground, it might be an enormous problem for Harry and perhaps especially for Harry’s wife, Lucinda.

For a moment, Harry was frozen in his tracks – half-bent over the outside electrical outlet, his hand still on the cord.

The moment he plugged in the Christmas lights, his house was plunged into darkness. Lucinda’s strangled Unnnh and the sickening splat of what Harry could only guess was her falling body – dropping like a sack of potatoes – made him instantly queasy.

He straightened and walked slowly around the corner of the house.

“Lucinda?” he said timidly in the darkness.

The only response was a slight keening wind and the increased pounding of his own heart.

Next to the yellow step-ladder , he saw the crumpled form of his beautiful bride, motionless on the frozen land. A slight smell of burned cloth could be gleaned on the wind.

Lucinda’s shirtsleeve, where she’d been reaching up to plug in the house wreath, still glowed at its hem. Errant embers, yet straining for full-blown conflagration. Harry snuffed out the embers with the toe of his sneaker. He knelt beside his wife’s inert body and poked her with an index finger.

“Hey. Quit foolin’ “ , he said. “ Luce, you’re very funny. Get off the ground.”

She lay where she fell. A bone in her neck seemed to jut out at a crazy angle. Probably she had broken her neck in the fall.

Whipple went inside and dialed the Police. He was old enough to still have a grounded phone and his fingers twined with the chord as he waited.


A cold detached feminine voice.

“There’s been an accident,” said Harry. “An unfortunate death.”

“A death?” said the dispatch operator in the same monotone. “ Who died, sir?”

“Well, no one , I hope,” he said earnestly into the plastic transmitter. “But thing’s don’t look good for ol’ Lucinda. No sir, things don’t look good at all.”

“Who’s Lucinda, sir?”

“My wife,” said Harry. “She fell from the rooftop. I can’t say whether electricity had anything to do with it or not.”


“ I was plugging in Christmas lights when she tumbled from the roof.”

“So you think you might have electrocuted her?”

“Well, not intentionally,” said Harry miserably. “I love my wife.”

“No one doubts that, sir. Is she breathing?”

Harry knelt beside his wife’s body and squinted hard at her face. “I don’t think so,” he said to the 911 operator.

“Can you find a mirror?” she said. “Can you place it near her mouth and nostrils?”

Harry climbed back tiredly to his feet. “Are you gonna send somebody?” he said as he walked back to his front door.

“Sir, an ambulance has already been dispatched. We just have to establish if your wife is still breathing -.”

Harry found a small hand mirror on Lucinda’s beauty console and trudged back to the crumpled body on the front lawn.

The neighbor across the street – a balding busybody named Fred – had begun walking across the street.

“Everything OK, Harry?” he said as he paused mid-way across the lawn.

“Everything’s fine,” said Harry. “Lucinda’s dead.”

“Zat right?” Fred advanced two steps, but paused again, craning his neck for a better view.

Harry knelt beside his wife and held the glass to her face. “What am I looking for?” he said into the phone.

“Mist on the mirror. When you hold it close to her nose,” said the operator.

He placed it directly against her nose. “Nothin’ .” he said.

“I’m gonna walk you through CPR,” said the operator. “Unless you know it already –“

“Only what I saw on BayWatch,” Harry admitted.

Lucinda continued to lay there, unresponsive. Harry could hear the low, steady whine of an ambulance off in the distance.

“Make sure there’s no obstructions in her mouth,” said the operator.

“You mean like a sandwich?” said Harry.

“Put your fingers inside her mouth and make sure she hasn’t swallowed her tongue.”

Harry complied. While he was feeling around inside his wife’s mouth, he somehow dislodged her dentures.

“Her teeth,” he said into the phone. “They must have come loose in the fall.”

He was removing them from her mouth as the operator instructed, giving her a more slack-jawed appearance , when the ambulance pulled to the curb. Harry was secretly happy to step aside as a stocky man and a slim woman wearing all-white appeared at his wife’s side.

They carried a portable oxygen tank as well as a cot with extendable legs and a first aid kit.

Harry stood uselessly to the side as they worked over Lucinda.

He pushed his hands deep into his pockets, fiddling with his change as he watched their frenetic efforts.

When they transferred her to the stretcher, the girl motioned to Harry to follow. Hands still in his pockets, Harry tagged along.

He slunk around Lucinda’s prostrate body and took up position in the ambulance beside her head.

Opposite the slim girl, Harry watched with morbid fascination as she held an oxygen mask to his wife’s face and adjusted an overhanging drip. He played with a piece of lint in his pocket as the small white vehicle screamed through the streets, throwing crazy shadows on the facades of the neighboring houses. He remembered vaguely that he’d forgotten to lock the front door of his own home.

Like something out of a medical tv show, the ambulance whined into the emergency roundabout of the hospital. Two men with a collapsible stretcher wheeled Lucinda’s body through the hospital entrance and straight into an available room.

Harry talked to the admitting desk and then paced in the waiting room for the next forty minutes. He watched a sports round-up show on tv hosted by former athlete has-beens, he thumbed through a New York Post someone had left behind. When the doctor came out to talk to him, Harry was starting to think about dinner.

“Mr. Whipple?” the doctor pulled down the mask covering his mouth. A sheen of perspiration covered his forehead and upper lip. “Mr. Whipple, your wife’s a very lucky woman. She survived a very nasty fall with nothing more than a slight headache. She has a mild concussion but I’m certain she’ll be bright and zippy in no time. You might want to keep her off ladders –“

Harry Whipple thanked the doctor profusely. They were keeping Lucinda for observation . Coud he see her?

“She’s resting right now,” the nurse told him. “Why not go home and get some rest? You’ll see her fresh as a daisy in the morning.”

Harry called his brother-in-law Bob, explained what happened , and asked for a ride home. As he waited for Bob to arrive, he walked outside for fresh air. There was a man sitting under a bus canopy . He was smoking and Harry noticed that his hands were shaking.

Harry sat on the opposite side of the long aluminum bench.

“You waiting for someone?” said Harry.

“My wife,” said the man. “She wasn‘t responding.”

He seemed almost dazed as he lit another cigarette. The stub dangled from his chapped lips. “Want one?” he asked Harry, almost as an afterthought.

“Thanks, no,” Harry nodded amiably. He didn’t know what else to say. How do you respond to a man whose future hangs in the balance?

“They think she might have had a brain thing,” the man continued. “Who knows what brings that on? Could be inherited, you know?”

“That’s tough,” said Harry, trying to sound more masculine than he felt at this moment. He suddenly wished that he’d accepted that cigarette.

”That’s all you got to say? “ said the other. “I tell you my wife is in a poor condition and you say ‘that’s tough’ ?”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Harry mildly protested. “I’m only saying that it’s unfortunate, the whole thing. Life just isn’t fair , is it?”

The man was becoming more incensed with every comment. Harry thought of just remaining silent – it wasn’t often that he spoke with a psychopath – he had grown rusty. “You think my wife’s brain thing is unfortunate ? Are you kidding me now? You’ll probably be thrilled if she doesn’t make it. What kind of a heartless bast –“

Harry began to move away. “That’s not what I meant,” he sputtered weakly, like a leaky old tire bladder. “I would never presume – “

He gasped audibly as the stranger produced a handgun. “You know what’s really unfortunate?” he said to Harry Whipple. “The fact that my wife isn’t here to watch me kill you.”

“Hey, I’m just – I didn’t mean any harm by it,” said Harry. “We were just talking and – “

The first shot caught him right under the rib cage, close enough to puncture his left lung. Harry crumpled to his knees with an expression of abject surprise on his face. “ My front door is unlocked ,” he said painfully, pointlessly. Every breath was a searing hot iron to his chest. The second shot was the killshot : Harry flopped uselessly on his side with his right arm extended into the gutter.

His blood began to quickly pool on the sidewalk.


When Lucinda came out of her medically induced coma two days later, she was told that her husband Harry was waiting for her at the local morgue.

“The police stopped by your house and found a robbery in progress, which we foiled. It seems in his haste to get you to the hospital, your husband left the front door wide open and some local kids decided to take him up on his challenge,” said the head nurse as she held a compress to Lucinda’s forehead.

“He’s such an idiot, “ his wife said, frowning deeply. “ Can’t do anything right.”

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Heartfelt thanks, the author

Heavily influenced by the wonderful comic novels of the great Donald Westlake, author Vince Iuliano embarks on a life of (virtual) crime in some short character studies of the way crime ought to be. Not fruitful perhaps but light and tasty confections without added calories or guilt. The perps? The one that started it all : "Last Will and Testicle", followed by a sequel of sorts called "Horse of a Different Color." Wrapping it up at the top of the stretch, we find an odd little stand-alone called "The Push-over" which gives new meaning to giving up everything for love.

Klepto's, nudists, petty theft and prisons from the inside out, this is a rainy day morsel to be savored. Hopefully you'll find some of it laugh out loud funny, or at least true to its dictum that Crime Does Not Pay......unless you do it right!

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