Path – First Murder
“There’s a diner I like to go to for coffee very early in the morning,” Natasha began, crushing her half-smoked cigarette onto the table. “It is very quiet there, and almost always empty. I am not entirely sure how the owners stay in business. But they are a shy old couple, and they do not follow Hollywood or gossip or any other type of privacy invasion, so they never knew who I was. It was my private haven, and I went to great lengths to keep it that way.”
“I can understand that,” Celia said, nodding. “I’m sure there was almost no place you could go and not be recognized and hounded.”
“Exactly,” Natasha pointed her unlit cigarette at Celia. “This was very important to me.” She waited for Celia to light it and then took a long drag before continuing. “That is why I could not let anyone change things.”
“And your first victim, he changed things,” Celia finished Natasha’s thought.
“It was more than that, really. Tom Hayles, had he been a complete stranger, would have been easy enough to tolerate. I always dressed inconspicuously, and I never had my hair done or makeup on, so to most people I would not have seemed to be myself. But Tom was a person from the past.”
Celia leaned forward slightly and rested her chin on her upturned palm. “You already knew him?”
“Oh yes,” Natasha waved the smoke around as she gestured. “He attended the private high school that my father insisted I attend. He was two years older, but still I knew him. And he knew me.”
Natasha’s tone and slightly narrowed eyes betrayed her detached manner. “And what did he think he knew?”
Smiling, Natasha flicked ash onto the floor. “He thought I would worship him as the other girls did. And he thought I was naïve. He asked me to a school dance, and I said yes. Of course, he was expelled before the dance actually took place.”
“Before the dance, my father allowed me to meet him for a movie. He had a car, but Father believed I was too young to ride with him. Tom had some cigarettes and a bottle of vodka and suggested we go driving instead. I had hoped until then that he might have an interest in me, but when he suggested the drive and the alcohol, I knew. I knew what he was.”
“So he got you intoxicated, and then he…took advantage?”
“He underestimated me. I had been sneaking a bit of Father’s vodka for years. I was never intoxicated. And he would probably say I humiliated him, the spoiled bastard. In return he threatened to tell everyone that we had fucked.” Natasha sighed. “It was fortunate for me that drugs were discovered in his locker on Monday.” She smiled at Celia.
“Yes, very lucky,” Celia smiled back. “Where did you get-“
“Of course, no one ever really knew where the drugs came from. You know how impulsive teenagers can be. He was expelled, and he slinked off like a kicked dog.”
“Until you saw him in the diner.”
“He did not notice me, so I began to watch him. He wore a suit that looked more expensive than it was. I noticed that he spoke to a wife on one phone and a mistress on another. He was the same as he had been. Of course, after several mornings he attempted to say hello. A man like this cannot help himself. Still too stupid to remember me, but I knew that my sanctuary wasn’t a sanctuary as long as he was there. And one morning he would not be stupid.”
Celia watched as Natasha smoked in silence for a few minutes. She had met with her enough times now to understand the undercurrent of anger in her eyes. Natasha was still cool, of course, but the slight hardening around the corners and the way her fingers gripped the cigarette made it clear that she was still angry remembering Tom. Natasha would take her time telling the story, however, always the consummate actress. Celia had learned to wait through the silence rather than probing.
“I followed him several times. He was always on his phone, telling his mistress what he would like to do to her, telling his wife he could not be home for dinner. The parking garage where he kept his car was older, with no cameras and very little activity. It was easy to approach him and ask him for a light. He never saw the gun.”
“Yes, the gun,” Celia noted. “They were never able to trace it.”
“No. I can thank my father for that. He knew many things from living in Russia during the Cold War.”
“And you only used it once.”
“Of course. To use the same gun again would connect people. Only an idiot would use the gun more than once,” Natasha shrugged. “I left the garage and went home. The clothing was washed and taken to one of those charity drop-bins. I did what many have done with the gun, I tossed it into the river.”