My Name Is Bennet Bennett
By: Patric Quinn

What do you do when you figure out a nasty puzzle and find out the nasty part is you?

My name is Bennet Bennett. With two t's on the last name. Of the four brothers and a couple of cousins in the flock that are an exclusive asset management partnership serving the extremely wealthy, I'm the farthest down the list of partners. That means I get the smallest slice when they cut the money melon. The Managing Partner, like a CEO or Chairman or President, gets the lion's bundle because he has the loudest roar. That's my oldest brother, Darryl. He calls the shots and okays the decisions, and also lives in another world with his giant slice of the melons. He also decides who can be granted a partnership, no matter how small. There are a few partners ahead of me who are not Bennetts. And whose slices of the melon are progressively tastier as their positions ride higher on the rungs of the partnership ladder.

I'm the partnership's investigator, that's the bottom rung. I was late coming into the firm and Darryl only agreed because, regardless of my experience, I was still a brother…my mother said. The others do the up–scale writing and figuring and talking and dealing. I'm the one who makes sure we don't get stung by some clever insider deal or personal Ponzi games or even a partner shaving customers' accounts a bit at a time. I'm pretty good at spotting twists and turns. How many ways are there to cheat? A lot, but even the most careful ways get to be transparent if watching for them is your business. It's usually love or money. Sometimes love and money.

My wasted, scandalous youth sharpened my perceptions in the cheating arena. It was the lion, my oldest brother, Darryl, who called on my dark talents, handed me this assignment and ordered complete confidentiality.

"Bennet, we've oddly been losing partners over the past year or so. Two are your brothers. Our brothers." He looked genuinely puzzled. A condition he didn't take too kindly to, no matter what the problem. "Partners don't leave my firm." The 'my firm' clarified my position on the ladder relative to his. And 'leaving' meant even if they died. How dare they without his permission. "Competitors in the street are whispering about the firm. Get me the answer and the gossip, spread word of our strength around so everyone knows." Then he waved me away and spun his chair to the desk wing and pressed the buzzer.

* * *

I wasn't too sorry to lose those particular partners, even my two brothers. I wasn't a real part of their families or even a guest at their high–tone clubs. Or invited on holidays for dinner at their houses or those clubs. And they didn't come to my house when I asked them, even though I could see them salivating after Janet when they found an 'excuse' to stop by in the summer. 'Just in the neighborhood'. My wife, Janet, was the attraction. 'Thought they'd say hello'. For the weekend, spent trying to get Janet into the hot–tub with them. Especially after dinner…and after dark.

The shore house was our only house. Unlike the higher ranking partners who had places in Southampton, ours was farther down at a well–to–do but no–name beach. We bought it on the oceanfront for Janet. It was shaped like a T with the open–to–the–weather wings along the top of the dune and the rest behind running back to the road. On the left wing deck was the seating and sunning and eating and playing ping–pong. At the far end of the right wing deck was my luxurious hot–tub. The light and airy inside was a great room separated into two by a divider of five large aquariums, each with a carefully chosen collection of colorful or exotic fish. The place was a bit too expensive for me, but a gift that made Janet very happy, and warm, and appreciative. I could take all of that from her that I could get and never get tired.

Janet would make anyone breathe heavy. And she knew it. I liked to see my partners getting reeled in by her little games. Leaving the extra few buttons open when she wore one of my oxford button–downs and leaned over them to refresh their drink, then straighten up and brush back her long, smooth black hair. She was tall and gave the lucky guy a long, wide glimpse of her curvy breasts. While he stared, she'd wink at me. Just a little game like when they'd rush to get in the hot–tub after dark and she'd start getting out while they got a look at a lot of her shiny wet back and a long slice of her hip. Her loosely tied robe teased them with some more glimpses. A secret little smile to me.

For all of Janet's playful sensuousness and my passion for her, I knew she was a little disappointed that I hadn't done as well as my brothers or the other partners ahead of me. The cost of my early years without college or connections, the wild life with a wild crowd. I had met Janet then. Now we didn't have the veneer that fit in their dining rooms.

They had elaborate homes and country clubs and the right private schools for their kids. The wives moved in the circles that counted, dressed beautifully, played golf and bridge. Some were attractive, but all were in another world from my house on the beach. It wasn't that they were snobbish. They just lived in a snob world and were entitled to all the nuts and bolts that came with walking in holding their husbands' arms. Janet, and for that matter, I weren't a ripple in their calm sea. I was at the bottom of the ladder even though that was a step up for her. The husbands could ogle Janet all they wanted, the wives had their hooks into their men and their men's world.

* * *

I had tightened my investigation for Darryl to the company because the world was too big and that had kept me busy for six months. Tracing the contacts, the trips, the deals, who did what and why, was like unknotting a plate of spaghetti with a spoon and my left hand. But a couple of unattached things happened that tied some of my findings together. Possibly. This was still a tangle. Road trips, causes of death…and the lion called me in. Darryl Bennett graced me with the news that I was moving up the ladder. A little. Too many deaths, work not getting done, better bonus, too. Didn't say how much.

Partners dying, moving up the ladder, causes of death, and another item that forced me to entertain an idea that I didn't want to think about. There were two causes of death for the five dead partners: four cardiac arrests and one renal failure, but nothing else in the mix. Coincidental? I didn't want to think about the trips with company drivers or personal cars by the dead guys to a single destination. And didn't want to think about all the other trips by live partners in company or personal cars to that same place. I didn't want to think about the destination. My house. Within the past year or more all the dead had passed through my town, my neighborhood. My house?

If I were investigating this as a crime, which it may be, the leading suspect would be…me.

Victims, were all at my house? Victims, all from the same company? Victims, all dead from only two causes? No sign in their medical records of having either of those illnesses. And the victims, all blocking my way to the top?

If I'm the killer, when did I do it and how? Dates of death and time of visit don't nearly match. They died days, weeks and even months after they visited. No signs of foul play. Some who came, like my brother, Darryl, are still alive. And I was out–of–town most of those dates, but all of the threads and roads converge here, at my house. Not a typical brothers' destination like Southampton, but an everyday Long Island beach.

The tangle of details was telling me something as I drove up to my house. I didn't want to listen. I could see my hot–tub steaming on the end of the wing. Even in cool weather it was delightful in the hot water. Janet was standing by it in her heavy robe and waved to me as I got out of the car. I waved back for her to wait. I had no idea what I would say about what I was thinking.

Feeling Janet come into my arms, even through her thick robe, was delightful enough, but it was the way that she did it that ignited my fireworks. Whatever I was concerned about was wafted away as I cuddled into her world. All those trips in company or personal cars that I had traced here broke up any wafting for today. After the sweet greeting I went to work.

* * *

"Janet, I need to talk about some stuff." My investigation and discoveries came out as if I were reporting to Darryl, the lion. She waited quietly, slipped out of my arms and stood close, facing me. "Do you know what all those trips were for, Janet?"

She gave a wry little smile and slight shrug. "To see me, Bennet. Wait! Listen to me. I like the way I look…and act…and play with men. And you know we're playing. We wink and share a kind of smile. But your brothers and partners don't know we're playing them. They think I mean it."

"So?"

"So, they come to use the hot–tub. That's their excuse. But they're alone. They want the hot–tub with me in it. Or just me and no hot–tub." She looked Bennet square in the eyes. "They don't get me in any way, Ben. When they're getting ready for the hot–tub, I'm already in it. Some of them are shameless and walk out to the tub in all their birthday glory. 'Oh, hop in', I tell them and, when they start, I grab my robe, give them a quick tease, and climb out. I tell them relax and enjoy, I'll be right back."

"And?"

"And I never come back before they have to go. They have their home lives to live and their home wives to live with. And everything at the usual time. All that money and position at risk."

"Why didn't you tell me? I could…"

"At first, I didn't want to start any family feuds. Maybe, it's just one brother. Then, it was another and another. I don't know even if they talked about me among themselves. Then, the way they talked about you gave me an idea."

"Talked about me?"

"Yes, Ben, when they'd 'drop in' for a summer visit. 'In the area, just thought we'd say hello' and hang out for the weekend. Yes, when you weren't there, down on the beach or something, they'd talk. They thought you were just a hanger–on, throw you a few bucks for an easy job because you're a brother, the prodigal brother." His jaw worked at the insult.

"That's only one…"

"Ben, I heard many of them many times in many ways saying the same thing. Even the non–brother partners knew you were nowhere. Going nowhere. You were pure expense to the partnership." Janet waved her hands wide to indicate the house and its wings. "This is it, Ben. This is as far as we go with your…partners."

"But the partners between me and Darryl are dead now. I'm moving up. We've just added two new guys below me. Any new guys will be below me."

Janet peered at him and tilted her head. "Really? Are you sure? How about Darryl's son. He's divorced, but… Maybe both of them. And Alan's daughter? They're old enough." He had no answer for that. Darryl, for sure, would pull off whatever he wanted. "How long have we been married, Ben? Four years, right?" Ben nodded. "I wouldn't lie to you. I love you and think a lot more of you than your partners do. You're sharp and smart and a lot better person than they think you are. So, what is there to do about it?"

"So what is there? Everything leads here, to our house…and the partners are all dying…after being here. I didn't do anything to them, hurt them. Janet, I don't do murder." Janet let her robe slide open to the cool breeze from the ocean.

"Listen carefully, Bennet. Don't jump to any conclusions. I'm talking about real life, real ambition, real frustration. The truth, in a way, is that I killed them. I know, that's hard for you to believe. I can see it in your face. But they were natural accidents."

"Accidents? For god sakes what kind of accidents will explain all this?"

"Come with me, Bennet." Janet took his hand and led him inside to the den. She stopped by the large rectangular aquariums set in a row as a room–separator. Different breeds of exotic fish were collected in them as if the fish were chosen by color and size and shape and how they swam. "Here were my accidents, Bennet." She pointed at the last aquarium in the row.

"Those banded eels? I hate those things. So mean looking."

"They're not banded eels. There's no such thing as banded eels. These were Hydrophiinae. That means they love water and can't live on land. They're snakes, Bennet. Not eels. Louie and Lily. They only surface to breathe. They are very aggressive and highly venomous."

"Where the hell did you get anything like those? Your 'accidents'?"

"Marguerita, my friend in San Diego helped me. They don't live in the Atlantic Ocean, they come from the South Pacific. Along the shores South America. The Indian Ocean, too, but that's it."

"And how do you do it? And how aren't your 'accidents' murder?"

"When one of your brothers arrives, I tell him to jump in the hot–tub, I'll be right with him. The two snakes are already in the warm water. And when they attack it's hard to notice. They have very short fangs and inject less poison, but deadly poison. The one who gets bitten mostly doesn't sense the snake's light touch. And doesn't know and doesn't try to treat anything or worry about it. A painless accident." Bennet stared at her and back to the snakes' murky aquarium and back to her. "An accident they eventually die from. At home or work. From cardiac arrest or whatever."

"Janet, that's murder. Ingenious or not, it's murder. Discovered or not, it's murder."

"Bennet, you know where I came from. You know where I am. Where we are. And you know there are other worlds like those your brothers live in. And worlds beyond your brothers' towns and homes and clubs. Worlds like Darryl's world. I want to live in those shiny worlds, Bennet, to get there in a shiny, fast private jet."

"But this is…so complex, so scientific. Even the behavior of the snakes. Where did you learn all this. Yeah, I can see you doing it. The tempting, the teasing, the slipping the snakes into the hot–tub. But the science, the South Pacific Ocean, the behavior of the snakes, where they come from, short fangs and undetected attacks, their deadliness?" Janet gazed at his puzzled expression, Bennet still trying to put it all together. "You'll get caught, Janet. The weapons. The snakes?"

"They're gone. When you jumped out of the tub yesterday?"

"Oh, yeah. Filthy things. What about it?"

"They were in the tub with you. I got rid of them today."

"They'll find them, Janet. Some trace of them."

"Down the garbage disposal? Not likely."

"The garbage disposal? Oh! Ugh! Those things were nearly four feet long."

"I washed my hands, Ben. I'm clean on this."

"Where would you learn all…?" Janet gazed at him and gave a little shrug. "From Darryl."

"Darryl?"

"Yes, Darryl. He's a very determined, passionate guy. He knows the world he wants and knows how to get it. And how to get rid of what he no longer wants." Bennet Bennett stared at her speechless. Janet smiled at him, small and a little sad. "And you've already met Louie and Lily."

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