Michael was watching television in his apartment when he heard a knock on the door. He muted the show, then put down the remote. Without bothering to look through the peephole first, Michael opened the door. He saw a man about his own age (thirty). The visitor was holding a clipboard, and was dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeved button down shirt that was not tucked in.
Michael said, “Can I help you?”
“Hello. My name is Frank and I’m the new superintendent of maintenance for the apartment complex.”
The man’s name was really Charlie, and he held no such position at the apartment complex.
“What happened to Shawn?”
“Uh, he got a promotion to another complex. He’s doing very well. But the reason I'm here is because there appears to be a slow leak in your master bathroom. The water is staining the ceiling of the unit downstairs.”
“Come on in. I didn't know anything was leaking or I would have called.”
Michael stepped back and Charlie entered. Charlie closed the door behind himself and locked the deadbolt. He also fastened the door chain. Michael was surprised to see him do that.
“Do you always lock the doors of the apartments you're working on?”
“What? Oh, that. I'm sorry. I used to live in a bad area, and I got into the habit of locking everything. Sorry. Would you prefer that I unlock it?”
“No. You don't have any plumbing tools with you, so you'll have to leave in a minute anyway.”
Charlie smiled. “That's right. I won't be doing the work myself. I just need to assess the situation. I'll send someone else to do the work. Uh, is anyone else here? I'd hate to walk in on anyone in the bathroom.”
“No, it's just me.”
Michael led the way down the hallway. He walked until Charlie saw that Michael was in a position where he couldn’t be seen through any window by anyone outside of the apartment.
“Sir, wait!” said Charlie.
Michael stopped and turned around. Charlie approached him.
“I need you to sign this sheet saying that you gave me permission to inspect the apartment.”
“Is that a new procedure?”
Charlie had gotten within arm’s reach, and with all his strength he punched Michael on the jaw. Michael was taken completely by surprise. He fell over backwards, landing with his back on the floor. Charlie moved in, punching him twice more in the head to make sure that Michael was unconscious. Charlie stood up and looked down at Michael. Charlie’s face showed no emotion.
Michael woke up in the master bedroom. He was zip-tied to a chair, and he was gagged. He looked around in panic. He saw Charlie sitting on the corner of the bed. Charlie was staring at Michael, and he was tapping his own leg with the side of a knife blade. Michael was visibly frightened.
“I'll bet you didn't expect this when you woke up today, did you?”
Michael slowly shook his head.
“There's a couple of ways we can do this. I can leave you gagged up, and just give you Yes or No questions, or I can take your gag off and we can talk man-to-man. If I take your gag off and you scream, then I'll have to cut your throat with this knife. I'd prefer not to have to do that, but I'll leave the choice up to you.”
They stared at each other for a moment. Michael’s eyes were drawn to the knife, which Charlie was still tapping on his own leg.
“Can I take the gag off?”
Michael slowly nodded his head, shifting his attention from the knife to Charlie’s eyes.
“And you're going to behave so that I don't have to kill you?”
Michael nodded his head again. Charlie removed the gag.
“My god, what do you want?”
Charlie held the knife up as a warning. “I'll ask the questions. Understood?”
Michael nodded his head.
“Very good.” Charlie pulled out a photo from his shirt pocket. He held it where Michael could clearly see it. “Do you recognize this woman?”
“Ye – yes. She was my girlfriend until two weeks ago.”
“I see.” Charlie put the photo back into his shirt pocket. “She also happens to be my wife.”
“What?! I – I didn't know she was married! She didn't tell me!”
Charlie held up the knife again for silence.
“I believe you. While I was in Afghanistan doing my duty to our our country, Carol was doing her duty to her pussy. I'm sure she didn't advertise the fact that she was married. I've seen her emails to you from her secret account. She didn't even give you her real name.”
“She said her name was Susan. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to – do anything with your wife. If I'd known she was married I would have left her alone.”
Charlie shrugged. “I'll bet you did it right here on this bed, too, didn't you?”
Michael opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again. Charlie nodded his head, laughed, then shook his head. He stood up and paced.
“How did you meet?”
“Uh, it was at a coffee shop. She smiled at me and we started talking. She said we should get dinner some time.”
“Well don't feel too special. You weren't the only one she was seeing.”
“I didn’t think I was. That’s why I broke up with her. She was only free a couple of nights a week, and I wanted more.” Michael paused to take a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “How many men was she seeing?”
“At least two other men, and one woman. That's not counting any one-time hookups she might have had.”
“I don't know what to say. I wouldn't mess with another man's wife if I knew she was married. I'm so sorry. I really am.”
Charlie sighed. “I believe you. I do.” He paused. “If I let you go and you call the police, you know they're only going to hold me for a little while?”
“I'm not going to the police. I'm not stupid. Plus, if I were in your shoes, I’d want to do the same thing you’re doing, although I’m not sure I could pull it off.”
Charlie cut the bonds holding Michael to the chair. Michael stood up and rubbed his arms where the zip ties had been. Charlie put his knife in a scabbard which had been hidden by his shirt. He covered the knife handle and scabbard with the bottom of his shirt again.
Michael said, “Thank you for letting me go.”
“Sure. I've been killing people overseas for the last two years. I'm sick of it. I don't want to kill anymore, but I will if I have to.”
“What about your wife?”
“I'm not going to kill her either. I'll think of something much more special than that.”
Charlie left the bedroom. Michael heard the sound of the locks on the front door being unlocked, then he heard the sound of the front door opening and closing.
Michael sat down on the bed. His hands were shaking. The television show he’d been watching no longer seemed so interesting.
At home the next morning, Carol was fixing some toast. She was dressed for work. Charlie entered, having come from the bedroom. He wore a t-shirt and jeans, but he was barefoot.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I'm going to work. I go there every day, remember?”
“I thought you had to be there at 9:00? It's 6:45.”
“We've got a meeting. It's about a client.”
“The Sampson account. We're strategizing the best way to handle the marketing.”
“Why? Do you want to come to the meeting?”
“No, but we need to talk.”
“There's coffee in the pot if you want some. Can we talk after work? I'm kind of in a hurry.”
“No, we need to talk now.”
“Well, make it quick then. What do you need to talk about?”
“Something's been bothering me a lot lately. I need you to tell me the truth. It's very important that you tell me the truth. Do you understand?”
“You want me to tell you the truth? Of course I'll tell you the truth. I would never lie to you, sweetie.”
“No. I always tell you the truth.”
“Huh.” Charlie paused, looking Carol in the eye. “When I was gone, did you cheat on me? Be honest, now. Honesty is your best choice.”
“What? No, of course I didn't cheat. I'm a married woman. I would never cheat. Why would you think that?”
“Carol, I know you're a woman with strong desires. I know you must have been lonely.”
“Yes, I was lonely, but Charlie, I would never cheat on you.”
“If you did, I'd rather you tell me the truth now. It's very important.”
“Sweetie, I didn't cheat on you.” Carol smiled. “Really.”
“Trust me, silly. You get all worked up over nothing.”
Carol kissed Charlie, but he didn't return the kiss.
“Is that why you haven't wanted to make love for the last three nights?” asked Carol. “Because you thought I was cheating on you?”
Charlie didn't answer.
“You're such a goose. Baby, I would never cheat on you, and tonight when I get home I'm gonna show you just how much you mean to me. Okay?”
“Yeah?” replied Charlie in a voice completely devoid of emotion.
“Yes. I'm going to blow your mind. It'll be like our honeymoon on steroids.”
“It'll be a night you'll never forget.”
“Oh, I believe that.”
“My purse is in the bedroom. I'll be right back.”
Carol left the room and headed toward the bedroom. Charlie walked over to the window. The curtain was closed. He pulled it back to look out over the street. Carol returned, and Charlie turned to face her.
Carol said, “You know, before you left for Afghanistan you never would have doubted me.”
“I'm not the same man now. That man is gone.”
“Well don't you worry, baby, because I'm going to turn you back into the man you were. You just leave everything to me.”
Carol kissed Charlie on the cheek and left. Charlie made no attempt to kiss or hug Carol.
Carol went out to her car and got in. She pulled the visor down and checked her face in the visor’s mirror. She applied some lipstick.
Charlie looked out the window, watching his wife. His face betrayed no emotion.
Carol made a call from her cell phone. Charlie couldn’t hear her, but he could see her talking. She didn’t know that he was watching her.
Carol said, “Hey, sweetie. It's me...I'm all right, but Charlie is starting to get suspicious...” Carol laughed. “I know...Because I don't want to leave him...He's fun. Or he used to be. But I'll fix him. He just needs a little reminder of how amazing I can be in bed. I haven't really given him my full attention since he's been back. That's my fault, I guess. He was away for two years. I may have taken him for granted...Worry? About what? He's a sweet guy, but he's not all that bright...I'm on my way...Okay.”
Carol hung up her phone.
Charlie pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. He tapped the screen a couple of times. “All right, let’s see how well this tracking app works...The car is in front of the house, and I can see it on the map...Now the car is moving on the screen, and I can see the car pulling away. Very good…Now she’s at an intersection. A left turn will take her to her office. Uh oh, she turned right. Where are you going now, Carol? You’re going to Ralph’s now aren’t you?” For another minute he watched the car move across the map. It stopped moving, but it wasn’t at an intersection. “Yes, you are.”
Charlie put his smartphone in his pocket. He looked sad, but determined. On an end table next to him there was a photo of himself with Carol. He picked up the photo and looked at it.
“You should have come clean, Carol. You should have told me the truth and asked for forgiveness. Before this day is over, you will see that breaking your marriage vows has serious consequences.”
Charlie put down the picture and pensively looked out the window.
Charlie’s car was parked near a street corner. Sitting in the driver’s seat, looking up the cross street, he could see his wife's car parked next to the curb. Charlie took a sip of coffee. He looked at his watch, then up at the house where he suspected his wife to be.
The front door of the house opened. Carol, smiling, walked out of the house. Ralph had followed her to the door, but he stopped at the doorway. He appeared to be in his fifties, and he was wearing a bathrobe.
Charlie could see that Ralph was talking, but he couldn’t hear what was said.
“When will I see you again, my dear?” asked Ralph.
“Next week,” Carol replied. “I want to focus on Charlie for a while. It's going to take some work to get him to trust me again.”
“Why don't you bring him here with you?”
“You old degenerate, you'd like that, wouldn't you?”
“You know you would too.”
“I would love it.”
“You young degenerate.”
Ralph and Carol both laughed.
“I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get Charlie over here. He's too traditional.”
“Let's make a game of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your bet will be that you can bring him over here for a threesome, foursome or more in four months or less. If you win, I will pay you $5,000. If you lose, you pay me $500. That's 10-to-1 odds in your favor.”
Carol considered it for a moment. “All right. It's a bet. Challenge accepted.”
Charlie saw Carol look at her watch. She quickly kissed Ralph, then she hurriedly walked over to her car. She got into the car while Ralph closed the front door of his house, retreating inside. Carol checked her face in the visor’s mirror. She started the car and drove off.
Charlie took another sip of coffee, then he got out of his car.
Ralph was fixing himself a drink when heard a knock at the door. He finished pouring his drink, then carried the drink with him as he strolled to the door. When he opened the door, Charlie pushed his way in. Ralph’s drink was spilled in the process, which seemed to bother him more than someone barging into his house.
“Hey!” cried Ralph.
Charlie pulled out a knife and pushed the door closed without taking his eyes off of Ralph. Charlie locked the door.
“Hello, Ralph. Do you know who I am?”
“I suspect you're either a robber or you're somebody's husband.”
Charlie quickly glanced at his surroundings.
“Go sit in that chair.” Charlie gestured to a chair in the living room.
Ralph calmly walked over and sat down. He casually finished his drink.
“I'm somebody's husband. So how many married woman are you seeing?”
“A few. I find it to be much more convenient when women have someone else to go home to. It's easier financially and emotionally.
“And what happens when two of them show up at the same time?”
“That's not a problem, it's an opportunity. All of my lovers know about the others. Maybe not at first, but when they're ready. There is no need for secrets in our circle.”
Charlie pulled up a chair, but he kept the knife in plain view. He looked at the windows. The curtains were closed, which saved Charlie the trouble of closing them.
Charlie despised Ralph, but studied him, while Ralph sized Charlie up.
“I'm trying to think of a reason not to kill you,” said Charlie, “but I can't think of a single one.”
“You're Charlie, aren't you? Carol's husband. I understand you recently returned from Afghanistan.”
“That's right. I just got back to find out that my wife's been cheating on me. Based on the emails in the account she kept hidden from me, she's been seeing you for several years now.”
“About three years. Your wife is a wonderful woman.”
“Is she now? To my way of thinking, wonderful women don't cheat on their husbands.”
“That's because you look at the world with the naive, simplistic view of a boy. Sexuality is not our curse, Charlie. It's our blessing, our glory. We can take the impulses with which nature has gifted us, and we can turn them into an art form. It's the ultimate act of sharing and expression. Bodies mingle, and our individual natures are partly forgotten as we bring our lovers to ecstasy. It is the greatest celebration of life.”
“Really? And what about honor, Ralph? Where does that fit in your worldview?”
“Honor is a quaint notion shared by gullible people. I have no greater duty in this life than to enjoy myself.”
“That's where you're wrong. Honor keeps us fighting side-by-side when we're in danger, and it keeps us from robbing and stealing from each other at all times. Without honor, there is no civilization.”
“I don't need honor to keep me from stealing from people. It's not in my best interests to steal. But if I saw that it was in my best interests to steal, then I probably would.”
“Don't you own your own business?”
“I do. I have over 3,000 employees, and we do over a billion dollars worth of business every month.”
“And don't you use contracts?”
“Of course we do.”
“Of course you do. And without honor what's to stop people from cheating on those contracts, and robbing you?”
“I don't need to rely on their honor. I have the courts and an elaborate system of justice to rely on. If people were honorable we wouldn't need contracts to begin with.”
“And what if the courts and the police had no honor, and they were for sale to the highest bidder?”
“Then I would have to make sure I was the highest bidder.”
“I see. Well, my marriage was a contract. Carol and I agreed that we would remain faithful to each other, until death do us part. I honored that contract, and I expected my wife to honor it. But she violated it. And you helped her. You knew she was married, and you didn't care. There's no elaborate system of justice to right those wrongs, so I'm here to do that myself.”
“Carol was true to you at first. But I educated her. I taught her to throw away her antiquated morals and embrace a life of pleasure. Now she's much happier than she'd ever been before. Her life is no longer a struggle between desire and honor, it's a celebration of passion.
“Let me educate you, Charlie. I can have a half dozen beautiful, voluptuous women here in less than an hour. They will do anything you want, to you or to each other. Give me a chance to show you what I'm talking about before you do anything rash.”
“That's not going to happen.”
Ralph stood up, and Charlie did likewise.
“Then I'm going to have to insist that you leave my house at once. Get out of my house right now and I won't press charges. Otherwise I'll see to it that you spend the rest of your days in prison.”
“That's not going to happen either. I'll be out of the country by midnight.”
Charlie grabbed Ralph by the throat and stabbed him once in each lung. Charlie then lowered Ralph's body to the floor. As Charlie pulled a folded plastic dropcloth from his jacket pocket, he noticed that Ralph didn’t seem to be enjoying the moment. Charlie quickly unfolded the sheet of plastic and spread it on the floor. As he did this, Ralph’s bathrobe absorbed the blood that left his body. Charlie put the body on the plastic, careful not to let any blood get on the floor. He folded the excess plastic over Ralph’s body and tucked it under the corpse. He pulled a small roll of duct tape from his pocket and began taping the plastic closed.
By the time Charlie had finished sealing the plastic, Ralph was dead. Charlie quickly searched the rest of the house. No one else was there.
Charlie returned to Ralph’s body and lifted it onto his shoulder. He carried it upstairs to what appeared to be Ralph’s bedroom, and he laid the body on the bed. Charlie opened the closet door using the bottom of his t-shirt as a makeshift glove. The closet was full of clothes. Charlie slid the clothes to one side, then put Ralph’s body in the farthest part of the closet. Charlie pushed the clothes back into place, hiding the body. With any luck, it wouldn’t be found until the next day.
When he returned downstairs, Charlie used the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe any fingerprints he might have left on the front door. He kept the t-shirt between his hand and the knob as he opened the door, and when he closed it behind himself as well.
He went back to his car and he slowly pulled away. Six blocks later, Charlie made a phone call.
“Ms. Colby?...This is Mr. Hansen. I just want to confirm our 10:30 appointment at a farmhouse I'm looking to sell...Yes...I'll see you there.”
Charlie hung up the phone and put it in his pocket. He had no qualms about killing Ralph. As far as Charlie was concerned, Ralph was just a piece of garbage. He didn’t enjoy it, but he felt no more guilt about killing Ralph than he would have felt about killing a rat that had gotten into his house. But he wasn’t really looking forward to his next meeting. The possibility that he might have to kill an unarmed woman was an eventuality he dreaded.
There was no one but Charlie in the remote farmhouse. At exactly 10:30 he heard a knock at the door.
Lucy smiled as she opened the door and stepped into the house. She saw the person she thought was Mr. Hansen staring out a window.
“Hi! I’m Lucy Colby, the realtor.” She closed the door.
When he heard the latch of the closing door, Charlie turned to face her. The realtor approached him with a smile.
“I’m so glad to – “ She extended her hand, then she recognized him. She had never met him before, but she had seen pictures of him many times at Carol’s house while Charlie was overseas.
“Hello, Lucy. Is something wrong?”
“What are you doing here?”
“So you know who I am?”
“You're Carol's husband, aren't you?”
“That's right. I'm here to talk to you about your affair with my wife.”
“Where is Mr. Hansen?”
“With his family, in Florida. They'll be back next week, so we've got plenty of time to get to know each other.”
Lucy hesitated for a second, then ran toward front door. She was wearing pumps so she couldn’t go very fast. Charlie quickly caught her.
“No! Let me –”
Charlie grabbed her from behind and he covered her mouth. She struggled for a few seconds, but stopped when she saw that he was too strong for her.
Charlie kept his hand over her mouth, but he removed his hand from around her waist. He pulled out his knife with his free hand and showed the knife to Lucy.
“Would you like to die right now?”
Lucy was terrified. She shook her head, but Charlie's grip on her mouth limited her movement.
“Are you sure?”
Lucy nodded her head.
“The only chance you have to live past this day is to do exactly as I tell you. Do you understand?”
Lucy nodded her head.
“Good girl. Now I'm going to take my hand off of your mouth, and you're going to behave.”
Lucy nodded her head again. Charlie slowly removed his hand from her mouth and wrapped his arm firmly around her neck without choking her, with his hand gripping her shoulder.
“Tell me, Lucy, what are you going to do?”
“Exactly what you tell me.”
“Smart girl. Now where is your cell phone?”
“In my purse.”
Her purse was hanging from her shoulder. Charlie put his knife in his belt and he pulled Lucy's phone from her purse. He saw that there was no call in progress.
“Come with me.”
Still holding her around the neck, Charlie moved Lucy into the kitchen.
“I see on the calendar on your phone that you were going to meet Carol for lunch today. And you've got two appointments for this afternoon. Do you have any appointments for today that aren't on here?”
Charlie set the phone on the counter. He reached into her purse and removed her car keys. He put the keys into his own pocket.
“I'm going to let go of you now, and you're going to lie on your back on the floor. Do you understand?”
Charlie slowly let go of Lucy, but he took her purse from her and put it on the counter. Lucy got down on the floor. She stretched out on her back, with her arms at her sides.
“What I like about the kitchen is that it's easier to clean blood from the linoleum. Plus, we aren't visible from the front windows if anyone should come around.”
Lucy began to cry, and her knees started shaking.
“Please don't hurt me. I'll do anything you say.”
“I'm going to dial Carol's number. You're going to cancel your lunch with her. If you say anything out of line, you'll be dead within two seconds, and you won't be able to help her because you won't be able to get enough words out before my knife enters your heart.”
“You need to stop crying.”
Lucy sniffed, then wiped her eyes on her shoulders. She cleared her throat.
Charlie dialed the number, then got down on one knee and handed the phone to Lucy. He pulled his knife back out. He rested his knife hand on one of his knees. Lucy saw the knife. The sound of a phone ringing could be heard before Charlie handed Lucy the phone.
“Hi, Carol...I'm good, but I'm going to have to cancel our lunch meeting. Something came up...I can't really talk about it now, but I'll tell you later. Okay?...It's just allergies. They affect my voice sometimes...I have to go now. I'll talk to you later...Yes, everything is all right...Okay. Goodbye.”
Lucy handed the phone back to Charlie.
“Very good. I was hoping you'd give me a reason not to kill you, and so far you're doing well. I've only killed two women before, but they were wearing bombs. This wouldn't be the same.”
“I'll do anything you want. Whatever you say.”
“I found your office number. Ann is the office assistant, isn't she?”
“You're going to ask Ann to cancel the rest of your appointments for today. Tell her you've already canceled your lunch appointment.”
Charlie tapped the phone's screen a couple of times, then handed the phone to Lucy.
“Ann? This is Lucy. I'm not feeling well. I canceled my lunch appointment, but I need you to call my other appointments for today and cancel them...I'm not sure about tomorrow yet. It's probably just the stomach flu. I might be fine by tomorrow….Anytime next week should be fine...Yes, me too. Goodbye.”
Lucy handed the phone back to Charlie, and he made sure the call was ended. He turned the phone over and took off the back. He removed the battery and put it in his pocket. He stood up and tossed the phone and the phone's back into Lucy's purse.
“Roll over and face the floor.”
Charlie pulled some zip ties from his pocket. Lucy was lying face down on the floor. Charlie zip-tied her hands together behind her back. Then he zip-tied her ankles, then pulled her ankles up and zip-tied the zip ties on her ankles to the zip ties on her wrists. Lucy started crying again.
“My car is already around back. I'm going to move your car behind the house so no one will know there's someone here. Then I'm going to come back in here and we'll continue our discussion. I want you to stay exactly where you are right now. Don't move even one inch.”
“Yes sir. I understand.”
Charlie looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. He was used to Carol always trying to get her way, and he was pleased with Lucy's obedience. He unlocked the back door so he could enter that way after moving the car, then went back to the living room and exited the front door.
When Charlie got back to the kitchen, Lucy was in the same position as when he left her, but she was no longer crying.
“Now, where were we?”
“I didn’t move.”
“I see that. You did well. A part of me wants to finish you off right now for having had an affair with my wife; but after we established who was in charge you've done everything I've told you to do. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to cut the ties binding your feet behind your back, and I'm going to free your wrists. I'm going to leave the ties on your ankles for now because we're in a room full of knives, and I don't want you getting any ideas. Now, what are you going to do when I free your hands?”
“Whatever you tell me to do.”
“That's the right answer.”
Charlie squatted down and cut the zip tie holding her wrists and ankles to each other, then cut the zip ties around her wrists. Her ankles were still zip-tied together.
“Now turn over and sit up.”
Lucy did as she was instructed. Charlie pulled over a wooden kitchen chair and sat in it. Lucy, still sitting on the floor, pulled her knees up and hugged them.
“In the Old Testament the penalty for adultery was to be stoned to death. In some places they still do that.”
“Tell me what to do, and I'll do it. I'll do anything you want. Just please don't kill me.”
“Tell me where you met Carol.”
“We met at a party.”
“You know about Ralph?”
“You see this little bit of blood at the bottom of the blade? That's Ralph's.”
“Oh god.” Tears started rolling down Lucy's face, and she tried to choke back a sob.
“I would like to have found a reason not to kill that worthless piece of shit, but there just wasn’t any. When he thought he could tell me what to do, that was the last straw.”
Lucy wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry I had an affair with your wife.”
“Sure, you're sorry now that her husband has got you alone in a remote farmhouse and you think he's going to kill you. But you weren't sorry yesterday. You weren't sorry this morning when you woke up.”
“I should have known better. When I was in college I was in love with a boy. I thought we would get married after college, and have children, but I found he was cheating on me. I was devastated. It hurt so much I wanted to die. Then a friend of mine invited me to a party at Ralph's. Ralph taught me that the secret to not getting hurt so much was to have multiple lovers. That way if you lost one you’d still have the others. So I protected myself from ever having my heart broken again.” She wiped the tears that were falling from her eyes. “I shouldn't have ever been with a married person because I should have known the pain it could cause, but I didn't think about what might happen if it became known. I always expected it would stay a secret. I'm sorry I hurt you.”
“Is this the first time you've been caught?”
“And how many married people have you had affairs with?”
“I'm not sure. One woman besides Carol, and a few men. Maybe four men. At Ralph's parties some different people would show up at each one, and there were a lot of people I was with just one time, or a few times, and I don't know if they were married or not.”
“And did Carol have a lot of hookups at these parties?”
“Yes. Everyone did. But she couldn't go to the parties very much when you were in town, except for some daytime parties. After you left for Afghanistan she was at almost every one.”
“And how often did you and Carol meet outside of the parties?”
“Once or twice a week.”
“Did she tell you about her other affairs, outside of the parties?”
“Yes. She told me everything.”
“And how many other affairs do you know of?”
“Only a few. Between work and the parties and our relationship, there wasn't time for a lot more.”
“The emails I found said pretty much the same thing.”
“You found her secret email account?”
“Yes. That's how I learned about you and Ralph and the others.”
“It must have been horrible for you when you found out.”
“Earlier you used the word ‘devastated’. That's exactly how I felt: devastated. Like someone had dropped a bomb on my life, and all that were left were smoking ruins. A faithful wife was the cornerstone on which I'd built my plans for the future, with a home, and someday some happy, healthy children. That was my dream, and it was all blasted away a few days ago. While I was risking my life for my country, and even before then, Carol was running around and having her little fun. If I had found out in the afternoon instead of the morning I probably would have killed her when she got home. But I had some time to think, and to plan. Carol didn't violate our marriage vows alone. She had help. People who knew she was married and didn't care. Our society doesn't place a high value on marriage anymore, so if I wanted justice I knew I’d have to exact it myself.”
“I don't know how I can make it up to you. I have some money saved up if you want that. It's over $10,000. You can have it all.”
“I don't want your money.”
“I don't have anything else to offer you except for my body. Is there something I can do for you so that you'll forgive me? I'll do anything you want if you'll just forgive me.”
Charlie slowly shook his head.
“Taking your body would make me as pathetic as you and your crowd. When the opportunity for pleasure comes along, you move towards it just like plankton move toward light. You have no sense of honor, or duty. You might as well not even have a brain.” Charlie was silent for a moment. “But I'm not going to kill you. The past can't be changed, and you've done everything I've asked, and I believe you've been honest with me.”
“Everything I've said has been the truth.”
“I'm not going to kill you, but I can't let you go just yet. You might get bold later and call Carol, or you might call the police about Ralph, so I'm going to have to keep you here for a while.”
In the basement of the farmhouse, Lucy's upper arms were duct-taped separately to the back of a wooden chair. She was able to move her forearms from side to side and up and down, but neither hand could reach the duct tape on the opposite arm. Her ankles and legs were also duct-taped to the chair. On a chair next to her, but within reach, were four plastic cups of water and a plate of fruit. Lucy's chair was zip-tied to the banister rails of the basement’s staircase.
Charlie said, “Today is Friday. The Hansens will be back on Monday. There's enough food and water for you to survive on until then. If you have to pee or shit, you'll just have to relieve yourself right there where you’re sitting. You can consider that as part of your punishment.”
“Thank you for not killing me.”
“Thanks for behaving. I wasn't looking forward to killing you. However, I've got some friends who owe me a favor, and they're not as nice as I am. They'd love to take you for a trip to their cabin in the mountains and keep you there for a few years, so if you get any heroic ideas, I suggest you forget them.”
“I'll stay here until someone comes. I'm just so grateful to be alive. Thank you again for sparing me.”
Charlie nodded in acknowledgment. He walked up the staircase, and Lucy heard the backdoor open and close. She prepared herself for a long wait.
In a restaurant that also had a full bar, Charlie was seated at the bar. He had a beer in front of him, and a plate full of French fries. In his hand he held the last of the hamburger he’d ordered for lunch. He finished off his hamburger, then washed it down with some beer.
Raymond was behind the bar, polishing glasses. Customers were seated at a couple of the tables, but no one else was at the bar.
“That hamburger hit the spot,” said Charlie. “I've had a busy morning, and I didn't eat any breakfast.”
“We've got a great cook. He used to be a chef. He was on that Iron Chef show one time, but he got mad when he lost, and he grabbed the Japanese guy's sword and chased the judges around the table, screaming, and threatened to turn them into a secret ingredient. I don't think they ever showed that one on TV. Anyway, he got arrested and lost his job, and this was the best he could do.”
“I guess his loss was your gain.”
“Something like that.” Raymond set down one glass and picked up another one. “Once in a while we get a customer who wants to send their food back, but we just throw it away and order them a fresh plate, and add a special request to fix the problem. Once a waitress made the mistake of sending the food back and telling Luigi what the customer had said, but I won't let anyone here do that again, not after I had to stop Luigi from shoving a plate full of food up the customer's ass.”
“Sounds like your guy has a temper.”
“Yeah. But I guess we all do to some degree, don't we?”
“I know I do.”
Raymond put down the last glass, then set his dishrag on the counter. He leaned back against a shelf. “You in the military?”
“I just got out of the army,” Charlie replied. “I came back from Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago, and I've been taking some time off.”
“You've earned it.”
“Sure feels like it.” Charlie pulled out a photo of his wife, laid it on the bar and slid the photo to Raymond. “Have you seen this woman before?”
“Oh yeah. She used to come in here. She gave me her number once without me even asking.”
“Did you call her?”
“I did. She was pretty hot, and I was single at the time.”
“Was she good?”
“I wouldn't know. We never did anything. It was clear she wanted to, but I don't trust women who want it that bad. I've had enough of that. I wanted a connection. You know, something real. I liked her though. We emailed a lot for a couple of months, and we went on one date, but nothing happened.”
Raymond pushed the picture back to Charlie. “Why do you ask?”
“I'm her husband.”
“Ouch. Tough break. I'm sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah. We'll be divorcing soon.”
“Did she tell you about me?”
“No. She had a secret email account, and I found it. I read your emails, and I didn't think you did anything with her, but I wanted to hear it from you myself.”
“Yeah, nothing happened. It wasn't easy, though. She's pretty hot, if you don't mind my saying.”
“No offense taken. Her sex appeal is just a fact, and one she's clearly well aware of.”
Charlie took the picture, looked at it, then put it back in his pocket. He stood up, removed some cash from his wallet, and placed the money on the counter. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks.” Raymond picked up the plate and scraped the remaining fries into a trash can.
“Did you ever find it?” asked Charlie. “That connection you were looking for?”
“And how did you know it?”
Raymond looked at Charlie and shrugged. Raymond picked up the money, rang up the purchase, and put the change in the tip jar. He looked at Charlie again. “I don't know exactly. My girl is kind, and she's smart, and she's a giver. But mostly it's just a feeling that I can't explain.”
“I hope it works out for you.”
“Yeah, me too. Thanks. And I'm sorry about your marriage not working out.”
“Me too. I've got another errand to run, then my wife and I are going to have a little talk. But it won't be fun. For either of us.”
“Good luck with that. Four words that send a shiver down my spine are ‘We have to talk’. I hate to hear 'em, and I never like to say 'em.”
Charlie nodded. He walked toward the exit and left. Raymond picked up a rag and cleaned the counter where Charlie's plate had been.
Charlie rang the doorbell of a townhouse in a modest neighborhood. Hank answered the door. Hank was a couple of years younger than Charlie, but significantly bigger.
“Hank Strakowski?” asked Charlie.
“What do you want?”
“If you're the Hank Strakowski who's the bouncer at the Getting Lucky strip club, I've got a business proposition for you. But only if you're interested in making some serious money. Are you interested in making money, Mr. Strakowski?”
“How much money are we talking about?”
“Do you think we could talk inside?”
Hank hesitated for a moment. “Yeah, sure.”
Hank moved aside to let Charlie in, and Charlie entered the townhouse. Hank closed the door behind Charlie, then turned to face him. Charlie looked around the living room, then faced Hank.
Hank said, “So how much money are we talking about?”
“This is a pretty delicate matter. Is there anyone else here?”
“Just you and me.”
“Good. I’m talking about a lot of money. More than you’re making now in a year, probably. Exactly how much depends on a couple of things. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you ever have to hit anyone when you're working at the strip club?”
“Yeah. From time to time. It's my favorite part of the job.”
“How would you feel about roughing someone up outside of your job?”
“That depends on the money.”
“And what if I wanted to hire you to make someone disappear? Do you think you could handle that?”
Hank looked warily at Charlie. “Are you a cop? If you're a cop you have to tell me, or else it's entrapment.”
“I'm not a cop, and I don't work for the cops. The owner of the club suggested you might be able to help me.”
“Yeah? What's the owner's name?”
“Stan Subatini.” Charlie had done his research. “Stan and I go way back. So if the money was right, do you think you could make someone disappear?”
“How much money are we talking about?”
“That's a lot of money.”
“It is to you and me. Here's the person I want to disappear.”
Charlie pulled the photo of his wife out of his pocket, then handed the photo to Hank. Hank’s face betrayed his surprise.
“Do you know her?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah. She's a piece of tail I hit occasionally.”
“Did you know she was married?”
“She mentioned it once. Some clueless sap in the army.”
“So you know her. Does that mean you don't want the job?”
“Show me the money.”
“So you'd just as soon kill her as screw her?”
Hank handed the photo back to Charlie, who took it.
“I can get pussy anywhere,” said Hank. “Money is a lot harder to come by. So how come you want her dead?”
“I'm her clueless husband.”
“And you're going to pay me to kill your wife?”
“No, not really. I just wanted to hear what you'd say.”
Hank paused, then laughed. “Don't tell me you're the jealous husband coming here to –”
Charlie chopped Hank in the throat with the side of his hand, stopping Hank in mid-sentence. Charlie then kicked the side of Hank's knee, causing Hank to fall to the floor. Charlie followed that by kicking Hank in the head, knocking him out.
“– seek revenge?” said Charlie, finishing Hank’s sentence. “That's right, Hank. That's exactly what I am.”
Charlie rolled Hank face down on the floor. He pulled Hank's arms behind his back and zip-tied Hank's wrists together, then zip-tied his ankles. Next he zip-tied Hank's ankles and wrists together behind Hank’s back. Charlie closed all of the curtains. He pulled out his knife, sat on the edge of a chair, and checked his watch. He sat back in the seat to wait for Hank to wake up.
Hank opened his eyes and blinked a few times. Realizing he was tied up, he struggled to free himself. He had spent a lot of time working on his muscles, but they weren’t strong enough to break the zip ties. He looked around and spotted Charlie sitting back in a chair, tapping a knife on his knee.
“When I get out of this, I'm going to break every bone in your body!”
“That doesn't give me much incentive to let you live, now does it?”
Hank struggled again, but still couldn’t get out.
“At this point Hank, I don't think there's anything you can say that will make me think you deserve to live.”
“You're not going to get away with this!”
“Why not? You thought you could get away with killing my wife. Why is it so hard to believe that I can get away with killing you?”
Hank struggled once more with his bonds, but he was still held tight. “Help! Hel-”
Charlie stood up quickly and kicked Hank in the head a couple of times, silencing him. Charlie looked down at Hank, shook his head, then stomped on Hank's neck, breaking it.
Charlie looked between the curtains of the front window to see if there was anyone who might have heard Hank screaming. There were some parked cars visible, but he saw no one nearby. He let the curtain fall back into place.
Charlie looked around the townhouse. On the bottom floor there was only a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. There were two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. One of them had been converted into a weight room. There was no good place to hide the body downstairs, so Charlie had to drag Hank up the stairs to the bedroom. If a closet was good enough for Ralph’s body, it was good enough for Hank’s.
The bedroom was messy, with clothes scattered on the floor, and the bed unmade. The closet was open. Charlie pulled the mess of clothes from the floor of the closet. He put Hank's body into the closet, then covered Hank's body with the clothes he'd taken out of the closet. Hank's shoes still weren't covered, so Charlie took a few items off of the hangars and dropped the clothes onto Hank's feet. Charlie stepped back and looked at his work, then closed the closet door partway. It wasn’t likely that anyone would dig through those clothes until the body started to stink, and by then Charlie would have been in another country for a day or two.
Charlie took out his cell phone and made a call.
“Hey Carol, it's me. What time will you be home tonight?...No, that's not acceptable to me. You've spent enough time at work. I want you home by 5:30 or you can find yourself another husband.”
Charlie hung up the phone without waiting for a response. He looked around the room again, then left.
At home, Charlie looked out the living room window. He saw Carol pull up in her car and get out of it. Charlie walked toward the door.
He heard the sound of keys as Carol unlocked the door. She opened it and entered the apartment. She closed the door and looked at Charlie. She angrily walked past him without saying a word. She set her purse down on a chair and she turned to face her husband.
“Look,” she said, “I know I may have been a little distant, but that doesn't give you the right to give me an ultimatum to be home by 5:30 or find another husband. If there's a problem we can fix it Charlie, but that's not the way to do it.”
“Tell me, Carol, do you think we have a problem?”
“Well obviously you think we do or we wouldn't be having this conversation.”
“Let's see – how about a wife that cheats on her husband, and goes to sex parties and takes men and women for lovers – does that sound like it would be a problem? For the husband, anyway. The wife might not think it's a problem.”
“Charlie, I told you this morning that I would never cheat on you. I don't know where you got the idea from that I would cheat on you, but I've been true to you since before we were married.”
“Really? Why don't we start with Ralph? You remember Ralph, don't you? He's the guy you spent an hour with after you left home this morning.”
“You followed me? How dare you!”
“Isn't that rich?” said Charlie, slowly walking towards his wife. “You cheat on me, but you're outraged because I followed you. You arrogant bitch.”
Charlie grabbed Carol by the throat. Carol grabbed his arm with both hands but her strength was no match for his. He held her neck, but he didn’t choke her. Charlie pulled out his knife and held it up for her to see.
“I should kill you like I killed your friend Ralph.”
“After you left him this morning Ralph and I had a little chat. He was an ass, though, so I slaughtered him. Whether I slaughter you or not remains to be seen. You seem to think I'm stupid. Let's see what you think when I'm done with you tonight.”
Still holding her by her neck, Charlie forced Carol down the hall to their bedroom. He shoved Carol onto the bed, then moved next to her, holding up the knife. Carol stared fearfully at Charlie, whose face clearly showed that he'd kill her if she gave him a reason to.
“Would you like to scream now? Hank tried screaming, and got a broken neck for it.”
Looking from the knife to Charlie's face, Carol shook her head.
“Charlie, I don't know what you think you know, but –”
“I found your other email account, the one you used for your lovers. I read all of the emails, the ones you sent and the ones you received. Ralph and Hank are dead because they're arrogant assholes. Michael and Lucy are still alive because they confessed and were sorry. If you tell me one more lie, I swear I'll gut you alive. I can't believe I married such a lying sack of shit. Tell me one more lie, just one, and I'll make the world a better place by taking you out of it.”
Carol started crying. “I – I –”
“You're so used to lying that when you're forced to tell the truth you don't know what to say. You want to lie so badly right now, don't you?”
Carol sobbed and nodded her head.
“I can't believe I wanted to have children with you. You have no honor. You lie to get what you want, and you screw anything that moves. You don't deserve a life as a human being. You should have been a bug or a rodent.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“If you scream, I'll kill you. If you try to run, I'll kill you. If you lie to me, I'll kill you.”
“I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't think you would find out.”
“Because you thought you were the smart one and I was stupid.”
“How about now? Do you think I'm stupid now?”
“How many were there? How many people did you screw behind my back?”
“I don't know. I didn't count them.”
“But too many to remember.”
“I – yes.”
“More than twenty?”
“More than fifty?”
“More than a hundred?”
“Probably, yes. There were a lot of people at a lot of parties. It was just for fun. It didn't mean anything.”
“We were going to have a family! I risked my life for this country, and I thought you were waiting for me. I thought you were a great woman, and that you were going to be the mother of my children. But it turns out that you're just a worm. You aren't worthy to be the mother of my children.”
“I didn't mean to hurt you. I really didn't.”
“But you did hurt me! You ended the life that I thought I had! The dream of a loving wife and happy kids! You've destroyed that. I thought you were a good woman, but you're not. How will I ever know if any woman I see can be trusted? You may not have meant to hurt me, but you could hardly have hurt me more. I can't tell you how badly I want to hurt you now.”
“I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.”
“You're sorry you got caught. I'm sure of that.”
“I'm sorry I hurt you. I never meant to hurt you.”
“Maybe. I don't know, but maybe. But I don't have time for any more talk. I have a flight to catch. Do you want to live, or would you like me to put you out of your misery?”
“I want to live.”
Charlie put the knife back into its scabbard, took a bottle from the nightstand and opened the bottle. He poured several pills into his hand. He handed the pills to Carol.
“What are these?” she asked.
“Sleeping pills. I can't have you waking up until I'm safely out of this country.”
Carol took the pills, then reached for a glass of water on the nightstand. She drank the water, then put the glass back down.
“How long before they start to work?”
“I don't know, but I don't have time to wait.”
Charlie backhanded Carol in the face, knocking her unconscious. She moved a little, and he hit her again. He nudged her, but she was out cold. He slowly pulled the knife out once more.
“Now for your punishment,” he said, moving the knife toward her face.
Outside of a hotel on the Venezuelan coast, Charlie was sitting on a chaise lounge near a swimming pool. The chaise was in a row of similar chairs, none of which were occupied. Carmen walked up to where Charlie was sitting. Carmen was a prostitute who found her customers among the Europeans who vacationed or did business in Venezuela.
“Estás esperando a alguien?” she asked.
“I don't speak Spanish,” Charlie replied.
“Ah. No much Americans en Venezuela.”
Carmen gestured to the seat next to Charlie. “I sit here, okay?”
“Whatever.” Charlie shrugged and closed his eyes.
Carmen sat down. “I Carmen. You hab name?”
Charlie shook his head without opening his eyes.
“You marry? You wife here?”
Charlie replied without opening his eyes. “I was married, but not anymore. I served her her divorce notice yesterday, but she probably won't read it until later today.”
Carmen took a bottle of suntan lotion from her bag. She began rubbing suntan oil on her body, occasionally making sounds to get Charlie's attention, but he didn't open his eyes. She held the bottle of lotion to him and pointed to her back.
“Please? You help?”
Charlie opened his eyes. He saw what she wanted, then he closed his eyes again. “No thanks.”
Carmen put the cap back on the bottle and looked at Charlie to consider her next move. She began rubbing his shoulder. “You tired, baby? I help you.”
Charlie gently grabbed her arm and stopped her. “I'm not looking for company. Try someone else. I've had a long week and I just want to sit here and rest. Understand?”
Carmen began rubbing Charlie's leg with her free hand. “I help you, baby. No more tired.”
Charlie stopped her. “Don't make me mad. I want to be alone. Go now.”
“Okay. I go.”
Carmen didn't show any anger. For all she knew Charlie might be a customer that night or the next day. She picked up her bag and left. Charlie leaned back in the lounge chair and closed his eyes.
Carol woke up, groggy. She looked at the clock. It was 4:13. She looked at the window. The curtains of the room were closed, but there was daylight behind them. It had to be after noon. She saw the bottle of pills on the nightstand, and slowly remembered what had happened to her. She reached for the phone and called her mother.
“Mom, Charlie attacked me. He made me take sleeping pills...I - I was cheating on him and he found out...No, I –
She touched her face, which was sore. She felt the gauze. She became frightened.
“He did something to my face! He hurt my face! Mom, come over. Come over now! I need you!”
Carol dropped the phone and she stumbled out of bed as fast as she could, but she was still weak. She tripped, then she got up and continued toward the bathroom.
The light in the bathroom was already on. On the counter by the sink she saw a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, an empty box that had had gauze in it, and the remainder of a roll of bandage tape.
She looked at her face in the mirror, and saw the pieces of gauze taped to her face.
“Oh my god! Oh my god!”
Carol slowly removed the gauze from her forehead, and she saw the word “SLUT” carved into her skin.
Carol leaned over the sink and started crying. After a minute she straightened up and looked back at the mirror. She removed the bandage from her right cheek, and the word “SLUT” was also carved there. She sobbed some more as she removed the bandage on her left cheek, revealing the same word.
The phone call was still active. Carol’s mother heard her daughter’s cries. She called 9-1-1, then drove as quickly as she could to Carol’s home. She arrived just after the ambulance, and rode with Carol to the hospital.
The wounds were deep. Even after several surgeries over the next three months, Carol had to learn the expert application of cosmetics to hide the scars.
It was a traumatic experience, but she had many friends to comfort her, including Lucy, who the police located after Carol had told them her story at the hospital.
The police never caught her husband, and she never heard from him again.
Copyright 2016, 2018 Mark James Wooding