She looked so beautiful floating there, with her red dress billowing around her, that I almost regretted killing her. But once I knew her for what she truly was, there was no going back. And, as a cop, I really had no other choice anyway.
Where had it all gone wrong? It’s hard to say; she was dreadfully adept at hiding her true nature. But where it had gone wrong between us on That Day is easier to pinpoint. It was at lunch, at the outdoor table of one of those burger places that also sells frozen custard. All it took was one little look and one word out of place for both of our worlds to come crashing down.
I’d asked about her day. An innocuous enough question on a good day. But That Day wasn’t a good one. She’d scrunched her delicate nose and her gorgeous blue-black eyes went flat. “Don’t ask,” she’d replied in her velvety voice.
“That bad, huh?”
“Worse. I swear some people deserve to be expunged,” she added almost flippantly with a glance at her watch.
My heart skipped a beat and my lungs felt deflated. That word. We had kept that out of the press as a way to determine whether someone claiming to be the serial killer we were hunting was the real deal.
Oblivious to my shattering heart, she gathered up her things, gave me a light kiss and said, “Gotta run. I’m late getting back to the courthouse. I’ll see you at the party tonight, okay?”
I nodded. I swear that the look she gave me as she stood up was almost…challenging, mocking. She knew exactly what she had done and the effect it had on me. I went back to the precinct and put in my time in a sort of daze. I knew what I had to do; I just couldn’t convince myself to do it. I resolved to spend one last night with the woman I had planned to marry, and take the necessary steps the following day. But God, destiny – whatever you want to call it – had other plans.
I got ready for the party – some fancy soiree for “everyone who’s anyone, darling” – with a sadness that almost hurt. It was being held and someone or other’s mansion on the edge of town and I drove there thinking about all the clues I should’ve noticed before.
She met me in the driveway wearing a red dress that made me want to ignore what had happened at lunch and hang the consequences.
“Hello, darling,” she said, kissing me a bit too long. Again, there was knowing look, almost a challenge, in her eyes.
I offered my arm. “Shall we?”
Surprise and a flicker of hesitance registered on her face, but she slipped her arm around mine and accompanied me inside. The party was full of dull, self-important people who thought being loud and flashy could make up for their total uselessness. We stayed an hour, at which point I slid my hand up around her arm and whispered in her ear, “Why don’t we get out of here? I don’t want to waste tonight with these people.”
She was mid-conversation with some couple talking about their recent vacation in the Hamptons. “Hmm, I rather like it here,” she replied. “I’d hate to leave without fully enjoying the evening.” She then suggested we tour the estate’s magnificent gardens. It was obviously a very bad idea, but I couldn’t deny her.
Once she had sniffed every fragrant flower on the grounds, we found ourselves by the pool. She glanced at it with an expression I couldn’t immediately interpret, then turned to me.
That was it; just one little, heartbreaking word.
I was shaking. “Haven’t you ever looked at someone who obviously has nothing to offer but lowering the quality of humanity and just wanted to take them out of the equation?” I gestured toward the brightly lit mansion across the lawn. “It’s like…culling to better the population. You said it yourself earlier.” I wanted to touch her, to lay my hands on her to somehow keep her from leaving us in this new reality she’d spoken into being. But she was about six feet away and gave no indication of letting me any closer. I reached out a hand, but let it fall. “Tell me you understand.”
She had wrapped her palms around her arms – a nervous gesture, I thought, since it was eighty-some degrees that night. Tears fell unchecked. She must’ve guessed what would come next. “I didn’t want to believe it,” she said. “But your expression this afternoon…and now… You need help.” She wouldn’t beg; it wasn’t her style.
“How did you know? I was so careful.”
“I was a cop once, too, remember?” Before she’d been shot in the knee, before she’d become a lawyer. Before she met me. I hadn’t forgotten, but part of me had hoped, somehow, that she had.
“I can’t lose everything.”
“I know.” Her voice was clogged with tears, just like all the others. “But it has to stop.”
I hesitated. Was she giving me an out? Yes. Perhaps. But for how long? Would I have to worry every time we had an argument? I shook my head. “I’m sorry.” I couldn’t put my life in anyone’s hands, even hers.
She dropped her hands to her side, gathered her skirt and darted toward the pool. Of course! She knew she couldn’t outrun me with that old injury, but she also knew I couldn’t swim.
I caught up with her right at the pool’s edge and grabbed her just as she dove forward. Her momentum plunged us both into the warm water. We struggled as we surfaced – she against me and I against my own panic. I was able to get a grip on the edge of the pool to keep myself above water. I wound my other hand in her hair and bashed her head against the brick edging. Blood spurted then streamed down her face. One more blow for good measure and it was over.
I climbed out of the pool and regarded her body floating now just out of my reach. I yelled for help and moments later a few vacuous party-goers rushed in, swallowing my story about her losing her footing and hitting her head; how I’d tried to save her but couldn’t swim. Someone called for an ambulance while someone else got her out of the water.
That’s when I saw her phone lying in the grass, where she must have thrown it down before darting toward the illusory safety of the pool. The displayed glowed. I picked it up and discovered the line was open. “Who is this?” I whispered.
“Oh, Silas, what have you done?” I dropped the phone. It was my partner. She’d called my partner and let him hear my confession.
I gave her one last smile.
copyright 2014 J.I. O’Neal
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