- ~Arsenic & Cold Grace~by Dean Kuch
This work has reached the exceptional level
It's so lonely at the top...
~Arsenic & Cold Grace~ by Dean Kuch

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

~Arsenic and Cold Grace~
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Bruce Cox, better known as Ou812 on The Writers Block social writing network's pages, was pleasantly surprised when he arrived at the pre-determined table nestled in a dimly-lit corner of Desie's Diner & Coffee Café.

The lady he was supposed to meet was a fox. She was far more stunning than he could have imagined. Rich olive skin, long slender legs with muscular calves. Her silky black hair was shoulder-length and as black as onyx. Her full, red lips appeared to be man-made by collagen injections. She was dressed in a lacy black bodice woven over a body-hugging black dress. Damn, this bitch is a Gothic knock-out, Bruce thought, greeting the woman with a satified smile. 

Still, it was not going to keep him from his task; if he was successful Grace, aka, U Luv Me 2, would be dead before sunrise.

"Excuse me, Miss. Are you Grace Jamison?"

Bruce gave her his toothiest, most feral smile. She smiled and nodded her acknowledgement, so he pulled up a chair.

“I am so glad to finally get to meet someone in person— from the website— ya know?” Grace Jamison said, then checked her reflection in the compact mirror she extracted from her Gucci handbag. “I took the liberty of ordering coffee for the both of us; I hope you don't mind, Bruce.” She smiled seductively, rubbing a tube of liquid ruby-red lipstick over her gorgeous full lips, smacking them together as she spoke.

“No,” Bruce lied, “I don't mind at all. In fact, it saves me the trouble of having to do so.” Just as I thought, a domineering little rich bitch who's used to getting her own way. Well, that ends today. “I'm really glad to finally get to meet you."

“Yeah, I'm glad to meet you too, Brucie. How long you been writing on that site? Four ...five years now?

Before Bruce Cox could even begin to answer Grace's question, she sprang from her chair, nearly toppling over their table in the process.

“Oh Bruce, will you please forgive me? I know you've just arrived, but I must pay a visit to the ladies' room. Traffic was atrocious today! You'll hold that thought, won't you, darlin'?” Grace proposed this with the same dramatic boldness and flair that made her such a popular fixture on “The Block," then pranced off towards the back of the coffee shop, her stiletto heels click-clicking with staccato rhythm across the tiled floor of the diner.

For four years in a row, up until Grace brought her cute ass, along with her too-cute handle, to the website, Bruce Latham had been the top-ranked author and the most popular guy on the entire site. In one year, this brash poet wannabe stole his thunder. She'd yanked his lofty status, along with his comfortable cushion, right out from under him, as easily as one would a well-worn Persian rug.

He'd always felt he'd built an insurmountable lead. However, that was before the bitch came along and ruined everything. With 15, 776 points, Grace was a close second. She'd managed to sweet talk her way to an astounding 15,622 points, all of which she acquired in just a year and a half. Even as she began to rack up the points during her first year, he didn't worry too much. He figured, as long as he kept writing, his fans would carry him and his lofty status always towards the top, then help him remain there. At twenty-six years old and a hopeless loser with the ladies, Bruce found himself more and more addicted to the persona he portrayed on TWB, and nothing was going to take that pleasure—his only pleasure—away from him. Especially not a no-talent slut like Grace Jamison. If she thought she could post her cleavage-laden profile picture and use that to steal his number-one ranking, she most assuredly had a rude awakening ahead of her!

He calmly reached into the breast pocket of his tweed blazer to retrieve the tiny glass vial of arsenic he'd placed there earlier. He took a cursory look around the shop, then dropped one of the BB-sized pellets into Grace's still steaming cup of black coffee. It entered with a slight, “Ploip," sizzled a few seconds, then was still. 

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Bruce's father handled some volatile chemicals as a master craftsman of custom cabinetry and furniture. Over the years, he had acquired many chemicals used in the treatments of wood. Gallons of various chemicals and compounds used in the business were locked away in a storage unit his mother kept in New Brunswick. Many of those chemicals were outlawed for usage today by the FDA and EPA. One such chemical was CCA ,or chromated copper arsenate—commonly known in the industry as Tanalith. Banned by the US government in 2004 for use in consumer products and construction, CCA was readily plentiful to Bruce. Containers of it were but a key card reader away, and he knew from his father's incessant warnings about the dangers of working with the stuff just how deadly it could be. Exceptionally dangerous, if it got into the wrong hands. Today, those hands just happened to belong to Bruce.

Feeling  a bit overheated from the nervousness and anticipation of what he'd done, Bruce removed his blazer, hanging it over the back of his chair. He prayed there were no sweat rings showing beneath his armpits.

After several minutes, Grace returned. Her perfect white smile beamed at him as she made her approach to their table. To Bruce, it appeared like some obscene, alien sun, shining, but giving off little warmth.

“Sorry 'bout that Brucie baby, but, when nature calls, you...”

“Please, Miss Jamison...”

“Aw-w-w, don't be so formal, will ya? Call me Gracie, everyone else does.”

Bruce let out an exasperated sigh, then continued once more. “Yes, Gracie, of course— whatever. But please, call me Bruce, or Mr. Cox, if that suits you better. Anything but Brucie bab...”

C'mon, lighten up, Brucie-boy!" Grace cut in once more, “We're old friends here, you and I, right? Besides, do you see that guy over there in the corner stall? The distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman wearing the white fedora?”

Bruce glanced around Grace to look in the direction she was pointing to.

"Yes, what of it?”

“Well, that guy is a publisher. Says he owns Cemetery Gates Publishing, or some shit like that. Anyway, when he saw that I was here with you, he asked me if I were your girlfriend. Isn't that exciting?”

Bruce's eyes kept creeping inevitably to the cooling cup of coffee now sitting innocuously between them. Preoccupied with thoughts of what might occur to the pellet he'd put into her coffee a few minutes earlier, whether or not it might create some sort of milky-looking morass-like film on the liquid's black surface, Grace had to yell at him to get his attention once more.! Earth to Brucie-boy, is anyone home?”

Bruce bolted erect from inadvertently leaning in closer to the cup, just to see if he could detect anything out of the ordinary, then looked into the puzzled face of his lunch date.

“I, uh...I apologize, Grace. Something just crossed my mind, an idea for a story. I do that frequently, I'm afraid, “zone-out”, I mean. I find inspiration comes from the strangest places.”

“You haven't heard a damn thing I've said, have you, sweetie?" Grace raised one well manicured eyebrow to accentuate her displeasure at being ignored. “Do you understand what it is I'm trying to tell you? Mr. Burgenstein, the owner and operator of Cemetery Gates Publishing, wants to publish your anthology of horror stories. You know, that nonsense you always post. I believe it's called Apocalyptic Annoyance, or some shit like that.”

Grace had Bruce's full, undivided attention now. It was that one, single word that grabbed him and caused him to take notice.. “Publish”.

“You mean Apocalypse & Atrocities? He's told you he's interested in publishing that? How—where has he seen it, it's not posted anywhere but on The Block?”

“I know,”Grace continued, “that's the beauty of it. He's a fan, a member of the Writer's Block. Says he's been a huge fan of yours, has been for years, but he just needed to see how versatile you were, you know? Publisher mumbo-jumbo, and all. Anywho, he recognized you from your profile picture. You'll be sorry one day, you know?

“Sorry for what, exactly, Grace?”

"When you're a big, famous celebrity— doing book signings all over the world— that you used your real picture.”

“Oh, that. Well, that has not happened just yet, now has it?” Bruce didn't try to hide the sarcasm in his voice. This girl was beginning to get under his thick skin.

Bruce covered his mouth with a palm, an instinctive reaction to his amazement at what he was hearing. “And just when was this conversation supposed to have taken place? In the ladies' powder room?”

Grace shot Bruce a crooked grin, “No, silly. I ran into him on my way out. He was going in, I was coming out. You know, mathematics of impact theory, and all that physics crap? Wham! He ran right into me. That's when he asked me if I was your girlfriend, and it went from there. He wants you to go over and talk with him for a few.”

Bruce pondered what Grace was saying, then observed the elderly man waving his hand in a come-hither gesture, urging Bruce to join him at his table near the rear of Desie's.

“But, I couldn't... possibly. I mean, that would be extremely rude of me if...”

“Brucie, do you think for one second if a publisher wanted to speak with me about publishing some shit I wrote,  I would sit here a minute longer? No offense, but I'd leave you sitting here faster than a cockroach caught in a spotlight. Just get your cute little ass over there and have a word with him. Set something up for later, if ya like, I'll be right here when you get back.” Grace flashed that cold, bright smile at him once more. Bruce couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was something dark and wicked— sarcastic even, one might say— behind that toothy grin.

“You're sure you wouldn't mind? I won't keep you waiting too...”

“Just go already, would ya?” Grace interrupted. “I'll be right here...Brucie baby. I'm not in any big hurry.”

After Bruce spoke with Mr. Burgenstein for about fifteen minutes, he had to admit, the old guy made him feel like a celebrity. They made arrangements for another, more formal meeting later that week at the man's office, to hash out editing, the compensation. Those finer points that published writers are far too familiar with, and fully dread doing.

When Bruce returned to his table, Grace was drinking her coffee while thumbing furiously on her cell phone keypad.

“All settled then? I was right, wasn't I, the old fart wants to publish you, doesn't he?”

Bruce couldn't contain his elation over what transpired that day. His smile cut a broad white slash across the lower half of his face.

“Yes, Grace, thank you. You were right. He intends to publish my anthology. We're going to go over the particulars later on in the week.”

Bruce picked up his coffee, taking a huge, scalding gulp. What the...? This has been sitting here for over twenty minutes, why the hell is it still so freaking hot? Bruce gulped in huge breaths, then took a long drink of the ice water the waitress had brought along with their java.

“I had old Betsy Boop over there warm it up for us, Brucie. Aren't I a sweetie?”

“Uh,...yeah, you're a gem, Gracie,” Bruce wheezed. “And it's Betty Boop, Grace, not Betsy.”

“Aw shit, Brucie. Betty, Bestsy...what's the difference?”

“The S,” Bruce replied curtly.

Finally, the realization of what Grace just told him sank in. Bruce was  instantly overcome with dread. She'd drunk the spiked coffee while he was speaking with Mr. Burgenstein, then gotten a refill. How long would it take for the arsenic to kick in, he wondered? What would happen if she began to convulse and foam at the mouth here, right in front of everyone in the coffee shop? That would mean the needle for him for sure. He'd been the only one seen here with her , and he was certain now that Mr. Burgenstein would be able to identify him in a line-up. The wheels in his mind were spinning out of control, like a gyroscope on a bent axis. He had to get her out of there, and he had to do it quickly.

Before he could reply, Grace abruptly stood up from the table. “Can we get outta here, Brucie? I suddenly don't feel too well. I think I could use some fresh air, if you don't mind?”

Bruce couldn't believe his sudden stroke of good fortune. Not only had Grace turned him on to Mr. Burgenstein and his interest in publishing his stories; Grace had given him the out he'd needed in getting her the hell out of Desie's Diner. Life was looking good.

“Sure, Grace, whatever you say. Let's head over to Palladain Park; it's just a few blocks from here. We could walk there in a few minutes. That should give you some air, give your nausea time to subside.”

“No,” Grace groaned, “I'd rather go to my place. I just live fifteen minutes from here. You follow me in your car, deal? Besides, I have to look in on my parrot and my cat. Natural enemies, ya know? You just follow me. We'll be there in no time.”

Soon, both were heading down Route 17 in East Brunswick, quickly arriving at her apartment complex on Mockingbird Lane, just opposite the Rutgers College campus.

Grace let them into her small, one-bedroom apartment, tossing her Gucci bag and car keys arbitrarily on the kitchen table as she passed it. Bruce took in the quaint surroundings. Cheap, abstract art on the walls, small dark-brown love-seat and recliner. A flat-screen TV took up the majority of the wall directly in front of the recliner. The shrill screeching of a parrot rang out from somewhere in the tiny darkened bedroom. Drawn shades and pulled draperies kept the place cool and dimly illuminated. Antique white paint on the walls was obviously the landlord's choosing. Grace seemed far too flamboyant for such a drab color choice. Threadbare rugs and miscellaneous whatnots rounded out the sparse decor.

“Have a seat,” Grace said cheerfully, then made her way towards her bedroom to calm the squawking bird.

As Bruce sat there, he heard Grace singing something to the as yet unseen parrot in the bedroom, and within minutes, she returned to the kitchenette. “Brucie, would you like some tea; I have camomile. It's good for what ails ya.”

“No, thanks, Grace. I have to be going soon. I just wanted to see that you got home okay.” Why was he pretending he cared? No need for charades, they were the only two in the apartment. A fat Persian cat jumped into Bruce's lap then, nearly startling him off of the sofa. Its soft, vibrant purring let Bruce know in good, old fashioned cat-speak, that it wanted to be petted. Or food, depending upon whichever came first.

“Oh, I see you've met Spanky,” Grace said, watching as the large feline nuzzled Bruce's chin. “He seems to like you, too.”

“Uh, yes... I suppose so,” Bruce stuttered, nearly to the point of sneezing as his nostrils were assailed by the cat's fluffy white fur.

Bruce began to notice the room was moving. It undulated up, and down, almost like a living, breathing thing. Slowly, the world began to spin, things in the room elongated and began to tilt. His head pounded with a jack-hammer-like thumping, and he could feel bile rising up in his throat, burning. He made an effort to stand, but just as quickly plopped down upon the sofa once again. Dizzy and disoriented, he looked up and noticed that Grace was leering at him. Her cold, wicked expression sent pangs of fear up and down his spine. He felt as if he were about to black out.

“Oh, it seems you're starting to feel the effects of that mickey you so cleverly tried to slip me back at the restaurant," Grace
 said, glowering over him.
"Arsenic, wasn't it? You are a very bad boy, Brucie baby. Glenn told me what you'd done just after you dropped it into my coffee.

Grace sounded far off, as if she were in a deep, vast canyon. Every syllable resonated in his throbbing head like a gong. Instinctively, Bruce reached for the vial in his breast pocket. It was gone.

“Is this what you're looking for, Brucie?”

“Huh—how did you...”

“Acquire it?” Grace presumptuously finished the sentence for him. “I told you, Glenn was keeping an eye on you the entire time. I needed him for an alibi. You know, after I brought you back home and bashed your fucking skull in? He'll be here within the hour, and I must say, you've made the job of doing you in a lot less messy than it would have been.”

"Buh...but, did you know what I was going to do? There's no way you could..."

“Oh, shush now, Brucie. Try to save your breath. Soon, you'll wish you had. You're already gasping for air.
 I was setting you up, fuck face. You're the number-one ranked author on The Block, and I don't do anything half-assed. I was going to bring you here, fuck your brains out, then spill them all over the plastic I have back there, in my bedroom. Too bad for you, you get to miss the best part. You would have enjoyed it.”

All Bruce could think about was missing his meeting with Mr. Burgenstein next week, as the world began to close in on him and envelop him in darkness. “Mr. Burgenstein, he knows I'm here. I told him we were living together and...”

“Nope, sorry Bruce, there is no Mr. Burgenstein. You're a liar! The man you spoke with, that was all prearranged, darlin'. His name is Glenn Palto. He's the one I had keeping a close eye on you while we were at Desie's. He is the person I was texting when you came back to the table—he told me everything you'd done. He's also the one that made it possible for me to check out what you'd slipped into my drink. The smell of almonds was unmistakable. I may be a female, but I am far from stupid, sweetie. I read all of the good murder mysteries and Gothic romance novels I can get my grubby little paws on. Before you came back, I dumped the entire fucking thing into your coffee. Should be anytime now's my guess.”

“Whu—why? Why did you want to kill me?” Bruce slumped to the floor, as white frothy foam, the consistency of the head on a good mug of beer, poured from his mouth.

“The same could be said for you, Brucie. But it's a little late for second guessing now, don't you think? Glenn will be here soon. We'll wrap your near-dead body in the plastic, put a blanket around you, then dump you in the Elizabeth River. No blood. No exchanges of bodily fluids while fucking. Yeah, I oughtta adorn your final resting place with a bouquet of red roses. You made this all too easy for me. With you gone and out of the way, nothing can stop me from overtaking the number one spot on The Writer's Block. Like I said, I don't do anything half-assed.”

Just before the lights were extinguished in Bruce Cox's life forever, he heard a faint tap-tapping on Grace's apartment door. His body heaved with violent spasms and fits of retching. As vertigo overwhelmed him, the last sounds Bruce could distinguish were those of Grace Jamison's guttural laughter, and a parrot, as it sang a song he'd never heard before, from somewhere in the darkened bedroom.

“Hah ha— yeah, cutie, he's over there on the floor. Let's wrap this up and get him outta here, Glenn, darlin'. I've got a lot of writing to do!”


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Author Notes
Who said you can't murder your way to the top? Bruce certainly thought so, and how about that Grace, huh?

Thanks for giving this one a shot, everyone!

Arsenic is a very toxic substance that is found in food, water and household items. Tobacco smoke, laundry detergent, bone meal, sea food, beer and even drinking water are a few of the items arsenic can be consumed from. Headaches, confusion, sleepiness, and even convulsions can be the effects of arsenic poisoning. Vomiting, diarrhea, kidney, liver and lung problems can occur, including death in extreme cases. Here is how to avoid and cure arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic is found in many different places. Arsenic is used to poison pests such as rats and mice, and can be used to kill any living thing. Arsenic is found in tiny amounts in many things that we consume. Some food items that may contain arsenic are seafood, water, bone meal, dolomite, kelp, table salt, and beer.

If you work in a job that produces any kind of pesticide, agricultural insecticide or spraying of any of these, you are at risk of arsenic poisoning. Other jobs that are at risk are copper smelting, mining, sheep dipping and metallurgical industries. Continued exposure to arsenic builds up in the system and there is an accumulated effect. The more you are exposed the more serious are the consequences.

Arsenic poisoning is usually determined by a hair analysis. If arsenic is found in the hair follicles it will stay there for years. If it is in your hair follicles it is usually in your body as well. Arsenic is also deposited in the fingernails and skin.


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