Sunday, June 28, 2009
Short Story Sunday - Part V
It so happens that one of my short stories shares its title with a hit Michael Jackson song, making it a most appropriate selection for this week's installment of Short Story Sunday.
BY ROY L. PICKERING JR. Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.
A.J. stepped out of the biting cold and into the brownstone where he resided with his wife Nicki. He inspected the flowers he bought on his way home from work to make sure they had all survived the trip. As he climbed the stairs towards his second floor apartment, A.J. crossed his heart in hopes that the landlord had gotten around to fixing the radiator in his bedroom. The temperature had fallen so low that the body warmth and three comforters he and Nicki had been relying on might not be enough tonight.
Hopefully Nicki would not be in the middle of a painting. It wasn't often that his boss let him out a couple of hours early. The old man must have gotten some really good news, for he was rarely so generous. If Nicki wasn't glued to her easel, A.J. hoped to catch a movie. There were a couple of pictures out that he wanted to see, but had no intention of waiting on those inevitable weekend lines. Not in this weather.
A.J. fiddled with his keys until he finally got the right one into the lock on his front door. He had never been adept at handling things with gloves on. A.J. couldn't even make a decent snowball without using his bare hands. Nicki accused him of being a spaz on account of this the night of their very first date. That was the moment which convinced him that he was in love with her.
As he stepped into the living room, A.J. simultaneously became aware of two things. The first was that his apartment now had no heat at all. But the sounds coming from his bedroom immediately replaced his annoyance with curiosity. It couldn't be what it sounded like. A.J. pushed open the bedroom door and was hit with verification. The woman he cherished making passionate love with another man.
A.J's response was consummated in slightly more time than it took the bouquet which had fallen from his hand to hit the floor. Despite being fixated on the sight before him, he noticed the pair of scissors on the bureau. Without being conscious of willing his body to any particular actions, A.J. picked it up, walked forward, and plunged it repeatedly into the naked flesh on his bed. The man took the brunt of the attack from behind, never seeing the person responsible for taking his life. But Nicki was able to get a clear look at the deranged mask her husband's face had become, before he drove the blades into her eyes.
What had he done? A foolish question. Insanity is what had certainly overcome him, and though it was apparently temporary, the results definitely were not. His biggest fault was his jealous nature. How many times had Nicki said that to him? But how could he not be envious? His love for her was so enormous that the slightest hint of betrayal was too much to bear. He had received considerably more than a slight hint today. How could she throw it all away? Their love had been perfect, the only pure thing he knew of.
None of it made sense. This had to be a nightmare. When would he awaken? When would he find out that Nicki had been as true to him as he to her? Surely she was sitting at her easel, or perhaps outside enjoying the gentle snowfall. Not lying in a pool of blood, that of her own mixed with an anonymous stranger's, done in by the hands that wanted only to hold her.
A.J. walked back into the living room. He was exhausted. Murder took a lot out of a person. He knew now that it was no dream. It was too cold. That was his first clue. The sheet of paper on the sofa was his second.
A piece of tape was stuck to the top. Apparently the paper had been held to the wall, but fallen off. A.J. flipped it over to the side where a message was scribbled.
A.J., MY SISTER AND HER BOYFRIEND ASKED IF THEY COULD BORROW THE APARTMENT FOR A FEW HOURS. THEY SHOULD BE GONE BY THE TIME YOU GET HOME, BUT IN CASE NOT, DON'T GO BARGING INTO THE BEDROOM. IF THIS NOTE IS STILL UP, THEY MUST HAVE GONE INTO OVERTIME. I'LL BE AT THE COFFEE SHOP ON THE CORNER. NOT TOO BAD A DEAL, CONSIDERING THAT THE APARTMENT IS FREEZING ANYWAY. MICKEY SAID HE WOULD COME BY TO FIX THE RADIATORS BETWEEN 5:30 and 6:00. GUESS THAT MEANS WE'LL SEE HIM AROUND EIGHT. I TOLD YOU WE SHOULD HAVE TIPPED HIM THE OTHER TIMES. SEE YA WHEN I SEE YA. LOVE YOU. - NICKI -
A.J. had not killed his wife after all. He had killed Nicki's twin sister, Sheri, and her latest boyfriend.
Despite being a novice at such activities, A.J. found himself acting quickly and decisively. A moment ago his wife had cheated on him and was dead on account of it. Nothing mattered beyond those two facts. But they were no longer true, so now the consequences of his actions mattered very much. Somehow, A.J. had to get out of the mess he had created. There was plenty of time for guilt later on. Now, there was only time to fix things.
He would make it look like a botched robbery, or that someone who had it in for either Sheri or her boyfriend had followed them and done this. It could be done, it had to be. A.J. took off his blood drenched clothing and put them into a garbage bag along with a few "stolen" valuables. Tomorrow was trash day. The evidence would be taken away by the city. A.J. took a quick shower. He could do this if he remained calm. What else was there? He couldn't have left fingerprints because he had never taken off his gloves. Turns out there was something he could do well with them on. A.J. inspected his body for any wounds he may somehow have suffered, mixing his own blood with that of his victims. There were none to be found. He would tell his wife that he had noticed her through the window of the diner on his way home. This was plausible. Nicki had been asleep when he dressed and left for work, as she always was. The different set of clothing he had on would not arouse her curiosity. She would have no reason to suspect that he had already been to the apartment.
A.J. stepped cautiously into the hallway. The coast was clear. He needed to make it appear that someone had forced the door open, crossed his fingers in hope that it would open in one solid kick and the noise would not alert any neighbors. The door cooperated. His luck was holding out. Garbage bag in hand, he sprinted down the stairs. If he passed by anybody on the way out, he was screwed. But he didn't.
This would be his first test and the most crucial. Nicki had always been able to see into his heart. Somehow, he would have to wipe all memory of the last hour from his mind. Who was he kidding? How could what he had just done not show?
"What are you doing here? You have painter's block?"
"Didn't you get my note?", Nicki asked in return.
"I haven't been home yet. I saw you through the window while I was walking by."
"Good eyes. Sheri needed to borrow the place for awhile. Her and her new man."
"Your sister really needs to get a place of her own."
"Or start dating guys who don't still live with their parents."
He was pulling it off. Things were going to work out okay. His plan to make it appear that he was innocent of all wrong doing was transpiring without a hitch. He would suggest that they go to a movie. By the time he and Nicki arrived home to the gaggle of policemen which would undoubtedly be waiting, his reaction would be as close to genuine shock as could be. Once the initial hubbub was over, he would comfort Nicki over the loss of her sister. They would grow closer than ever.
As perverse as it seemed, A.J. was proud of himself. More proud than guilty. He had made an honest mistake. His reaction, as unfortunate as it had been, was instinctual and based on love. When he believed his wife was being unfaithful, he became a different person. The real A.J. was a charming, happy-go-lucky guy who never lacked for friends. He wasn't the monster who had briefly wreaked havoc in the bedroom of apartment 2G. As long as A.J. knew this in his heart, he would be able to sleep at night. His conscience was not exactly clean, but A.J. had never been much of a neat freak anyway.
He regretted the hurt that Nicki would feel. A.J. was sorry that he had taken two lives, one of whom he genuinely cared for, though Sheri did tend to annoy him. In the end however, two facts outshone all others. Nicki was alive and well. And A.J. would not be separated from her for the rest of his days by iron bars.
"I almost forgot. These are for you."
A.J. handed the bouquet to his beautiful wife. If petals could talk. But fortunately for A.J., they could not. Nicki smiled and A.J. soaked in the radiance of her beauty. He felt so happy, so alive, so ... Free. That's the word he was looking for. Instead of everything coming to an end, A.J. felt as if his life was beginning anew.
"Read the card."
A.J. prided himself on his note writing ability. He had once fancied himself a writer, but turned out not to have the patience to pen an entire novel or even a decent short story. But when confined to fifty words or less, he could give Shakespeare a run for his money. A.J. was quite pleased with the romantic ditty he had composed. Nicki inspired the best in him.
"What card, A.J.? I don't see anything."
A wail of police sirens shattered the silence. A.J. turned to watch shiny blue vehicles race to the scene of the crime. The cops would find two mutilated corpses in the bedroom of apartment 2G, and not a shred of evidence to guide them.
Except of course, for the killer's calling card.