Location Tw0 – A Novel Excerpt

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Roland sat up in bed, not sure what had awakened him.  Had it been a noise or just a sense that something was wrong?  He tried chiding himself, but his heart continued to pound, and his dog whimpered in her sleep.  It was quiet enough in his bedroom to hear the whirring of his laptop on the desk across from his bed.  But the quiet didn’t reassure him; it actually made him more skittish.  Swearing to himself, Roland left the bed and went to his closet to retrieve the 9mm.

His mouth went dry when he discovered the empty box; it was missing.  The gun was missing – not his issued weapon.  That one was locked in its case beside his bed.  This was the unregistered gun he had confiscated from a crime scene years before.  He thought he might need it someday.  And now it was gone.

She had to be in the house somewhere.  The IP address of her last email had been one of his neighbors’.  That was what had sent him riding home on two wheels two days before with sirens blaring until he reached his own block.  He could feel his ear drums reverberating in time to the thudding of his heart.  The hair on his arms raised as a bead of sweat rolled from him armpit to his elbow.  She hadn’t appeared, however, so Roland had finally allowed himself to sleep.

“Tsk, tsk officer.  Doesn’t this gun belong in an evidence locker somewhere?”

He turned, and though he had seen her picture numerous times, she was unrecognizable.  The laughing brown eyes that had stared from snapshots were now icy steel.  Her hair was dark instead of the strawberry blond he was used to seeing.  And she was thinner, much thinner.  He watched her hands around the gun for some hint of shaking; shaking would indicate uncertainty.  Her hands were as steady as his had been trained to be.

“I thought it might come in handy one day,” he replied, unmoving.

“And so it has.  Did you bend the rules and beat the drug addict or rapist you confiscated this from?”

Roland nodded quietly.  “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Why not?” she asked, tilting her head slightly.  “He did do something wrong.  That means it was okay for you to do something wrong, correct?”

“Jane…”

“Shut up.  Nobody wants to hear you moralize.  Turn around.”

He didn’t move except to move his gaze from her hands to her face.

“Turn around, officer, and put your hands behind your head.”  She cocked the gun.  “Or don’t.”

Roland shakily turned and did as she asked, bile burning his tongue.

“Good boy.  Don’t worry. I know you were blinded by your own hurt, so I’ll be quicker.  And you don’t claim to believe in God, so I cannot hold you accountable for breaking the very morals you claim to believe.  Besides, you are not very smart.  You probably didn’t have a choice.”

Roland flinched at that last part.  He heard her footsteps, and then the end of the barrel pressed coldly against the base of his neck, where his brain stem felt as if it was pulsing.  “Please…..” He heard himself whisper.

“I’m not sorry,” she whispered back.

A loud, smoky explosion filled the room.  Then it was silent.

 

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Path: A Question

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Celia sat back in her chair, trying to give Natasha some space.  “So is that why you killed your father? Because he knew? Were you afraid he wouldn’t stay quiet?  Because you must know that no one would have ever caught you had you not decided to kill him.”

 

Natasha slowly twirled the butt of her cigarette into the ash tray and looked at the table.  Silence had never been unusual during their interviews, but this silence seemed strangely thick and tense.  Celia realized she was seeing one of the only glimpses of feeling anyone had likely ever observed in Natasha, and she wanted to lean forward, to watch closely.  However, Natasha was so obviously uncomfortable that Celia had to look away out of some strange sense of sympathy.

 

“I have thought about many things over the five years I have been here, and I have resolved every question about my life except that one.  You are correct.  I would have been undetected had it not been for my father’s murder.  Of course, psychologists said that I killed him because I needed the world to know what I had done.  That is not true.  I had no need for anyone to know.”

 

“So you have no idea why?”

 

“I was not afraid of him, afraid that he would disclose what I had done.  After all, he was just as culpable as I was, and just as Machiavellian.  Perhaps it was his own hypocrisy that killed him.  I do know this.” Tasha pushed the ash tray aside and sat very straight in her chair, her gaze boring into Celia.  “James Baldwin was wrong. The only thing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose is a woman who stands to lose everything and who is not afraid to take someone with her when she does.”

Evil House

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Dearest Daughter:

Come back to town with your new husband.  I have bought a house, and you both may have it for your home.

She had reread the letter over and over and couldn’t believe their good fortune.  A grand new home for her new life with her new husband.  As they pulled in behind the moving truck, the couple looked at each other with excitement.  It was grand and stately…a wonderful place for a family.  They held hands as they hurried inside.

The neighbors were happy to see someone moving into the house.  A house left empty for years was bad for the neighborhood – an invitation to vagrants.  Several of them made it their duty to warmly greet the young couple and welcome them.  There was excitement and happiness and boxes and furniture.  A flurry of activity covered the property that first day.

When the moving truck reappeared two days later, the neighbors were confused.  Did a young couple just starting out have that much to bring?  And the house was so quiet – no sign of the couple.  What was going on, they all wondered.  Finally, a neighbor saw them coming out of the house and ran across the street to greet them.

What she saw stopped her short.  The happy couple looked gaunt and drawn.  Their faces were pale, as if they were both ill.

“Oh my dears, what has happened? You are leaving already?” She reached out to touch the wife’s arm but drew her hand back when she saw that they were both trembling.

“Not another night,” the wife whispered.  “We’ll not spend another night in that place.”

The couple hurried past without another word, climbed into their car, and sped away from the house.

Path – The First Murder

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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.”

“Expelled? Why?”

“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.”