BARTHOLOMEW BRUNO by Kevin Litwin

Bartholomew Bruno has never been quite right. To this day, evil thoughts spread through his mind like dandelions on a lawn.

“I look at life in dark colors. Earth browns, dust gray, shadow black, blood reds,” he has muttered to himself on more than one occasion.

Lately, Bartholomew’s life has turned the darkest it has ever been, culminating yesterday.

“Uh oh. This is it,” he thought, awakening in a panic and staring at his pillow drenched with sweat. “Wish I could sleep forever. I’m at peace when I’m asleep, but then the next day arrives. It always arrives.”

The somewhat homely and introverted Bartholomew realized he was an outcast from an early age but could always handle it until now.

“I recall my mental problems starting to escalate on my 15th birthday,” he once told a female psychiatrist who his mother scheduled for his 30th birthday, as a gift to her son.

“What happened on your 15th birthday?” the psychiatrist asked.

“My father abandoned Beatriz and me that very day. He left the house after dinner, and we never heard from him again. I really needed my father at that age. His guidance, his male wisdom. I needed him, but he took off. I never got over it.”

“Why did he leave?”

“He hated Beatriz,” Bartholomew said. He started calling his mother Beatriz ever since his father, Bernard, departed that fateful May evening 25 years ago.

“Why do you think your father hated your mother?”

“Beatriz nagged my father a lot. I remember they had a big argument at the dinner table the night he left. He stormed out – we never even got to light the candles on my birthday cake. Beatriz just flung the whole cake to the floor and stomped on it.”

Bartholomew recalled that past familial scene while trudging to the bathroom yesterday morning for a shave and shower in preparation for the work day. He mumbled at his mirror image while holding a straight-edge razor in his hand.

“I know I’m a lunatic, so let’s do this.”

He felt overwhelmed because yesterday was his 40th birthday, a daunting age for many people and a major reason for an escalating rise in his psychosis of late. Turning 40, the lifelong bachelor realized he still lived with his overbearing mother in a tiny, one-bedroom house, with both he and Beatriz sharing the same bedroom. Bartholomew slept in a queen-size bed while his mother slept next to him in a twin-size model.

“I feel entombed in this house, but she needs me – doesn’t she?” he whispered while shaving. “And I need her. A boy’s best friend is his mother. Where have I heard that before?”

*****

Yesterday, the work day progressed in routine fashion for Bartholomew, but the hours afterward did not. At 6:15 p.m., in cold blood, he murdered a defenseless woman.

Health enthusiast Cassandra Cannon first met Bartholomew three days earlier at Poet Park, a vast habitat of hills, hiking trails and canyons. Bartholomew cherished the park because it’s less than a mile from where he works and is isolated, like himself.

“Oh…hello. Geez, I’m surprised to see anyone out here. I mean, I almost never see anybody when I walk here in the evenings,” he said to Cassandra on their initial encounter along a rugged trail.

“Yeah, I usually hike in the early afternoon, but I went later today since it’s been so hot,” Cassandra said.

The two chatted a bit. Bartholomew could be a friendly chap with a trace of charm when he focused his mind upon such efforts.

“I’m sorry. My name is Bartholomew. Bartholomew Bruno,” he said, minutes into small talk about the park and hiking.

“Hello, Bartholomew. I’m Cassandra. Cassandra Cannon.”

“Nice to meet you, Cassandra. You like this park?”

“Very much. I come here maybe two or three times a week to hike – I like the tough terrain. How ’bout you?”

“I’m here probably twice a week to get my thoughts together, but I’ve never tried hiking – I’m just a slow walker. I’d like to try hiking sometime, but I don’t know much about it.”

A few more minutes of conversation resulted in occasional smiles by both, and Cassandra suggested they meet in a few days – on a Friday evening, for a hike.

“I’ll show you the basics of hiking,” she said. “Just wear a pair of good hiking boots and bring a small backpack. It’ll be fun.”

“Sure, that sounds great. And Friday happens to be my birthday.”

“Really? In that case, I’ll pack a couple of cupcakes to celebrate.”

They parted ways, and Bartholomew took advantage of the remaining daylight to search for a deserted section of the park where most people would not tread. He found a spot, and when the two reunited yesterday evening and began hiking, Bartholomew and the 34-year-old woman eventually arrived at the remote area.

“I brought a couple bottles of water so we can stay hydrated. They say you should stay hydrated on a strenuous hike,” he said, pulling one bottle from his backpack and handing it to her.

“Thank you. Actually, I brought a couple bottles, too, but we’ll just save ’em for the end of our hike,” she said, twisting off the sealed cap and taking a hefty drink, unaware that Bartholomew had laced the water with arsenic. Earlier that day in his work lab, he used an ultra-thin syringe to penetrate the thin plastic below the bottle caps to poison the waters, leaving only an imperceptible hole in each that nobody would ever notice.

Cassandra began feeling queasy and disoriented, at which point Bartholomew shoved her face-first to the ground. He rifled through her backpack to extract a small container with two cupcakes, jammed it into his own backpack, and picked up the weakened woman to carry her toward a nearby ravine.

“Time to die,” Bartholomew said, tossing Cassandra into the abyss like a bag of trash. He watched her head slam onto a jagged rock, snapping her neck like a chicken wishbone.

“The arsenic worked. Of course it did…I’m a chemist,” he whispered after the deed. “Goodbye, Cassandra Cannon. You never sang me Happy Birthday, but that’s okay. I will eat your cupcakes.”

*****

Bartholomew departed the park at 8:10 p.m. and drove home, wondering why he took such pleasure in murdering his victim.

“Cassandra Cannon,” he whispered. “Poet Park.”

He thought about his life and turning 40, recollecting the image of his father fleeing the house.

“Thanks a lot, old man,” he muttered. “You left us to fend for ourselves. What an evil devil, Bernard Bruno.”

Bartholomew’s eyes widened.

“Bernard Bruno,” he muttered again.

He arrived home minutes later.

“Is that you, boy?” Beatriz yelled as he entered the back door of the small, darkened house.

“Yes. Where are you?”

“I’m in the bathtub. Bring me something to drink, wouldja? I’m gonna relax and soak in here for awhile, then we’ll have a little party to celebrate your 40th. I bought a cake. How’s it feel to be an old man?”

Bartholomew bristled and walked into the tiny kitchen, noticing a birthday sheet cake on the table – adorned with 25 unlit candles.

“Why only 25 candles?” he bellowed.

“Are you gonna bring me something to drink or what?” Beatriz yelled.

“You’re in the tub?” he said, staring at the candles.

“Yes, yes. Come into the bathroom. You’ve seen me naked hundreds of times. You like seeing me naked, don’t you, Bartholomew?”

The birthday boy glared with disgust at the candles. “What do you want to drink, Beatriz?”

“Anything. Just bring me something!”

“Is water okay?”

“Yes, water is fine. Just bring it, dammit. I’m thirsty!”

“Then water it shall be, Beatriz Bruno,” Bartholomew said, his heart beating loud and fast. “I’m bringing you a nice, refreshing bottle right now.”