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Now, one month shy of his thirty-first birthday, James Michael Goodwin was a man with his best days behind him, a man who’d outlived his usefulness. Now his failure was complete, and his silence would be eternal.
“Has-been,” Toni had taunted him. And his ex-wife had been right.
Gently, he slipped the manuscript back under cover, rose and placed it on the piano bench. It could stay as it was. Maybe someone in the music world would treasure it more that way. Like Schubert’s unfinished Eighth Symphony.
Taking a deep breath, he crouched down and opened a squat oak cabinet, took out a half-empty bottle of scotch and a glass. He willed himself to ignore the slight spill as he poured, amber drops over the side of the glass bespeaking his unsteady grip. One finger, two fingers. He tossed down the burning liquid, quelled the urge to choke. This was his celebratory toast to himself, for knowing when to leave. A man couldn’t lose it on that.
He paused a few moments, allowed the liquor to warm and numb his senses. Then he unlocked the side door on the cabinet and drew out a third object from its secret place. His hands shook a little cradling the cool blue steel, but these quavers were born less of infirmity or even fear than genuine, if bittersweet, relief. He could stop pretending now. He could stop smiling on the outside while despair tore him in two below the skin.
It was over.
Breathing shallowly, he settled at the worktable. Swallowed back the aftertaste of scotch and defeat. Grasped the ready .38 in his left hand. Felt one last, fleeting jolt of pain as he drew the weapon upward, as he positioned it carefully at the spot where a pulse throbbed beneath his temple. Then James closed his eyes, slipped his index finger around the trigger. Caressed it for a moment. And, gently, squeezed.
JANET W. BUTLER couldn't decide whether to be a musician or a writer—so she's elected to do both. After earning her degree in Music from Roosevelt University, she married a percussionist, sang in a madrigal group, discovered the world of opera choruses…and scribbled stories, something she's been obsessive about since the age of ten. Presently she belongs to the IPFW Choral Union, in which, at times, she sings soprano notes only dogs can hear. J
Two of her biggest thrills so far have been winning RWA’s Golden Heart in 1998 for her traditional romance, Rainman's Bride — and both serving as vocal coach and singing the role of Mother Abbess in a local production of The Sound of Music in the spring of 2001. When she has the occasional profound thought, she blogs at www.catholicwriterchick.blogspot.com.
Originally from Chicago, she's a transplant to northeast Indiana, where she lives with her husband, Patrick, daughter, Jessica, and Cassandra “Trouble” Butler, SRC (Spoiled Rotten Cat).