Marcus saw him.
Just barely, out of the corner of his eye, earlier that day, and across town at that, but he saw him.
The man had been sitting a few tables behind him at Café Rose while Marcus was meeting with a client over lunch. He probably would have gone completely unnoticed too if Marcus hadn’t gotten up to use the restroom.
At first, he couldn’t be sure if the guy just had one of those faces, but now as Marcus crouched in his living room on one knee with the window blinds parted between his fingertips, he was sure. There was no doubt about it.
This was the same guy.
Why else would the man remain seated on the bench as three buses drove by if not for the fact that he was waiting for something else.
Waiting, and watching.
It had been almost forty five minutes since Marcus became aware of the man sitting at his perch. It had been exactly thirty minutes since Marcus took up his kneeling position on the living room floor and joined the man in his waiting game.
What the man wanted remained a mystery, but as Marcus let the blinds slide shut, he resolved to find out.
Marcus took the stairs to his bedroom two at a time. Stepping into the walk-in closet, he pulled open the top drawer of his dresser, and withdrew a shoebox. It felt heavy in his hands, and he delicately placed it on top of the dresser. He took the lid off and stood there for a moment, studying the contents of the box. Slowly, he reached in, as if the box were full of snakes, and pulled from it the handgun his grandfather had given him before passing away. It had been years since he had held the weapon. Twisting the gun in his hand, he watched his reflection dance on the barrel of the revolver.
It’s just in case. He rationalized. You can never be too safe.
The distorted image of himself in the gun simply stared back.
Marcus felt ridiculous lifting his arm so absurdly close to his face in the low light of the alleyway to make out the time on his watch. It had been over four hours since he had begun stalking his prey. The man on the bus bench had shown amazing patience in his job of waiting and watching. Marcus had turned out all the lights in the house, pretending to go to bed for the night, before slipping out into the backyard. A couple of hopped fences and a close run-in with the neighbor’s dog led him back around to flank the stranger still seated on the bus bench.
From his vantage point in a bush, he watched the man, who occasionally shifted and spoke into a small recording device, though Marcus was too far away to make out what he might be saying. At last, the man rose from his seat and began walking down the street, away from the house. Marcus watched the man slip behind the wheel of an old BMW before Marcus made his way to his own vehicle. It was an exhilarating game of cat-and-mouse to Marcus. Doing his best to recall what he had seen in all the spy movies, Marcus did what he assumed all men in this position would do…he followed from a safe distance in his Chrysler mini-van while humming the tune to Mission Impossible.
The cross town game of follow the leader brought Marcus here, to a small alley way formed by houses built too close to one another. Now it was his turn to wait, as he patiently watched the house the man had entered. A debate raged within Marcus about what he should do next. He still had the element of surprise on his side, and thought it best not to directly confront the man. Especially considering that he didn’t have a clue who the man really was or what he wanted.
Marcus had resolved in his mind to break into the man’s house the next day during work hours when the front door of the house swung open. A warm halo of light fell into the street, and a woman stepped onto the porch. Something seemed familiar about the woman, but from behind and in the dark, Marcus couldn’t quite place her.
That is, until she turned around.
Dark be damned, Marcus recognized that face.
Erica? What is she doing here?
Marcus’ shock gave way to rage watching his wife get in her car and drive away. His muscles were a ball of tension, ready to lash out at anything and everything, as he stalked out to the middle of the street to watch the red taillights of his wife’s car fade into the distance.
Twelve years. That’s what he had given her. The best twelve years of his life and this is how she repaid him?
By sleeping with another man?
Not only that, but that man has had the audacity to sit outside my home, watching me, laughing to himself at what a pitiful husband I must be that I can’t even satisfy my wife. I might not have been the best husband possible, but hadn’t I always been good enough? What could this scumbag possibly offer that I couldn’t?
He shivered as the anger coursing through his body caused the hairs on his arm to stand on end. Marcus pulled his grandfather’s gun from his pocket and stepped towards the man’s house.
I need answers.
Resisting the urge to kick it in, Marcus held his shaking hand inches from the door before letting his knuckles rap gently against the wood. A look of fear, surprise, and recognition shot across the man’s face that opened the door. Marcus invited himself into the house by launching a foot into the man’s groin. The man, middle-aged and slightly balding, writhed on the ground, struggling for air, while clutching his stomach.
“So, you’re the one doing my wife?” Marcus said, leveling the gun at the man’s head. He was surprised at how steady he was able to hold the weapon despite the adrenaline he felt rippling through his body.
“You’ve got it all wrong. She hired me…”Marcus didn’t let the man finish. Instead he leveled a kick into the man’s lower back eliciting a howl of pain.
Sure, kicking a man while he’s down isn’t exactly the honorable thing to do, but all’s fair in love and war.
“Please… call her, you’ll see.” The man said awkwardly crab walking across the room in an attempt to distance himself from the maniac with a gun.
“That’s a good idea, actually.” Marcus said pulling his phone out of the breast pocket of his jacket. “I think I’d love to hear her reaction when she finds out I found her little boy toy, if I can even call you that, I mean Jesus, just look at you. I can’t believe she’d choose a piece of crap like you to have an affair with.”
Marcus held the phone to his ear and pressed the call button. There was a moment of silence, and then the ring tone began. Behind him, he heard something vibrating in the couch. Dropping the phone from his ear, he slid a hand between the couch cushions, knowing what he would find. His fingers grazed the edge of a small plastic box. Pinching it between his fingers he extracted the offending device and stared at the purple sequined phone vibrating in his hand.
The words ‘Marcus’ flashed across the tiny caller id window on the front of the phone. With a flick of the wrist, he opened the clamshell phone and ended the incoming call.
The evidence that his wife had been sitting here on this very couch, likely making out, if not worse, with that pathetic excuse of a man caused his mind to overload. Marcus was intent on making this man pay, making him hurt.
He only managed to turn halfway when a fist from the side caught him square in the jaw. White hot pain shot through him. HHHHe staggered a few steps until finding the wall for support with an outstretched hand. Everything in the room waved and contorted as his brain struggled to interpret the broken messages being delivered through Marcus’ damaged face.
Marcus barely raised his hands in time before the full weight of the man came crashing down on him. The force of the tackle sent the two men pin-balling against the wall. The wall gave way beneath Marcus and the two men buried themselves deep into the drywall before awkwardly toppling to the ground. The combination of weight and inertia were on the side of the other man when they fell, and again the room dimmed, this time from Marcus’ head bouncing off the floor as he crashed to the ground on his back. As the splitting pain emanating from the base of his skull expanded, Marcus could have sworn the sound of his head against the wooden floor was awfully similar to that of a gunshot.
Marcus lay dazed on the floor. He placed a hand over his eyes, but the throbbing in his head did not subside. His mind abruptly pierced through the haze of pain long enough to remember the other man in the room who had put him in this world of hurt. Sitting up, the full horror of the situation dawned on him. He looked over at the man lying face down in a pool of blood much too large to be from anything but a mortal wound. Kicking his feet against the wooden floor, Marcus propelled his body backwards to get as far from the body as possible before being stopped by the wall.
Marcus used the wall for support and levered himself to his feet.
What have I done? I’ve killed a man, in cold blood.
Well, not exactly cold blood. The man did attack me first. I was just defending myself, and it wasn’t even my fault.
Actually I did kick him first, and I had the gun.
But I never meant to shoot him. That was an accident. If the fool hadn’t thrown himself on me he would still be alive.
Fragments of drywall cracked beneath Marcus’ feet as he crossed the room, making sure to take the absolute furthest path around the body possible. Marcus had never seen a corpse before. Not in real life at least. Somehow, television just hadn’t prepared him for the river of blood running down the man’s neck, or the dull lifeless eyes that stared back at him accusingly.
Marcus leaned a shoulder against the wall as the blunting effect of the adrenaline began to wear off, giving way to a sharper pain that felt like a white hot poker being jammed into the back of his head. Feeling his stomach clench in a knot, Marcus sprinted from the house. He ran down the street faster than he had thought possible. His wheezing lungs burned from the contact with the cool night air. Marcus collapsed on his knees a few blocks away and heaved the undigested food and bile that refused to remain part of him any longer. The spastic retching sent fresh waves of pain to overwhelm his brain. Sobbing softly, he wiped the spittle from his lips with the back of his trembling hand.
Rising to his feet, Marcus brushed the dirt and vomit from his pants. He turned back from whence he had run before slinking away into the night.
It was late, and Erica had almost made it home before realizing she didn’t have her cell phone. Cursing herself for being so forgetful, she turned the car around and returned to James’ house. The normally quiet residential street was a bustle of activity with red and blue lights piercing the night sky. A spectacle of people stood amassed outside the police barrier watching officers and paramedics swarming around the house in question.
As she put the car in park, Erica wondered what could have possibly taken place at this time of night in such a quiet area of the city to necessitate what seemed to be the entire police force. The night air was crisp as she joined the group of onlookers.
“What happened?” she said to the slightly overweight lady sporting a robe and pink fuzzy slippers beside her.
“They won’t tell us anything,” the lady said jerking a thumb in the direction of the police. “But Ron, from a couple of houses down, says he heard a gunshot not too long ago. Something must be going on in there. I bet it was a murder.” The woman seemed far too excited by the way the word murder slid from her tongue, Erica thought. Elbowing in closer, she realized what house she was looking at.
“Am I seeing this right? Is that Mr. Reynolds house?” Erica said turning back to the old woman.
“Sure is. He was a Private Investigator, ya know. Dealing with all sorts of criminals, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if one of them killed him.”
Erica felt an odd combination of relief and guilt at the news. Relief in the sense that only an hour ago she was in that house, and if what the old lady was saying about a criminal seeking revenge were true, then she was certainly glad to have been gone before anything terrible happened.
Marcus suddenly popped into her mind.
If getting shot wouldn’t have been bad enough, she could only imagine what Marcus would have thought when he found out she was at some strange man’s house in the middle of the night all the way across town. She let out a long breath and thanked God for ducking both bullets, the literal and metaphorical one.
The guilt that gnawed at her was from the fact that people like herself, the ones suspecting their significant others of infidelity, were responsible for putting Mr. Reynolds in situations where a crazy ex husband or wife might come seeking revenge.
Erica sat in the mill of people watching the paramedics pull a body from inside the house on a stretcher covered by a white sheet when she surprisingly noticed an Officer standing next to her.
”Ma’am, please come with me.” He said taking her by the elbow.
“Wait, what’s this about?” she said attempting to resist the man’s pull.
“We have a few questions we’d like to ask you,” The officer said pausing momentarily to look her in the eyes, “in private.”
Erica followed the officer obediently more out of curiosity than fear. The man led her through the front door of the house before depositing her in the hallway overlooking the living room. It had been almost two hours since she was last in that room, but in that time, everything had changed. Pillow cushions lay haphazardly strewn across the room beneath a large hole in the dry wall. It took a moment before her eyes fell to the large puddle of blood gathered in the center of the room. The color, and life, blanched from Erica’s face, and a chill crept through at the sight.
“What happened here?” she said testing out the words carefully, afraid they would betray the confusion she felt overwhelming her.
“Actually, we’re hoping you could tell us something about that.”
Erica spun to see the man who had spoken.
“I’m Detective Williams, and I’m just gonna cut through the shit. We have a guy out there, one of the neighbors, who claims he saw you here with Mr. Reynolds around the time the gunshot was reported. Care to comment?”
“Yes. Uh, that’s correct, I guess. I hired Mr. Reynolds to do a job for me. We had a meeting tonight, but I left before any gunshots or…fighting,” she said letting her eyes scan the living room once more.
“Is that so? And what kind of job did you hire Mr. Reynolds for?”
“I… I, uh… I thought my husband…I thought he might be having an affair.” Erica felt herself blushing even as she said the words.
“Was he? Was he having an affair? Did Mr. Reynolds find anything?”
“I don’t know what that has to do with this.” Erica said gesturing with an arm towards the room.
“Oh, I’m just wondering if you were happy with Mr. Reynolds’ findings, if there were any.”
“No, if you must know, he didn’t find anything. I believe he said my husband was an ‘exceedingly boring, and yet faithful, man.’ Happy?” she said folding her arms across her chest.
“Me? Nah. I’m never happy. How about you? Did it make you happy to hear your husband was being faithful?” Detective Williams said brushing past her as he stepped into the living room.
“Of course it made me happy. Wouldn’t you be happy to hear that?”
“Depends on what you had to gain from your husband cheating, I suppose. Or what you had to lose.”
“Detective, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but I assure you that I am very happy to hear my husband wasn’t cheating on me.”
Erica stood locked in silence with Detective William’s; she felt his stare cutting through her. After an unbearably long pause, William’s turned and knelt beside the blood.
“Mrs. White, do you own a gun?” Detective Williams said bluntly.
The question took Erica by such great surprise that she struggled for a moment to find the word, “No.”
“Does your husband?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“What are you asking, Detective? You can’t possibly think that I had anything to do with this?”
“Oh, and why is that?” he said turning from the pool of blood to look up at her from his knees.
“B..b..because it’s ridiculous, that’s why. Why would I come back to the scene of the crime if I was the one that killed him? That makes no sense.”
“You’d be surprised how dumb most criminals are. Or maybe, how dumb they think we are. “
“Now you’re calling me names, Detective? I don’t have to take this.” Erica said turning to the door.
“Mrs. White, before you go, maybe you could answer one more question.”
Still turned to the door, Erica said, “What?” The word flew from her mouth like a barbed arrow.
“Why is your phone here?”
“That’s what I was trying to tell you before you started calling me names. I came back here tonight because I forgot my phone after my meeting with Mr. Reynolds.”
“No. I mean, why is your phone, here?”
Erica turned to the Detective still kneeling beside the puddle of blood. She followed the direction of outstretched finger towards the center of the pool. The light shimmered off the side of the purple sequins attached to the cover of her phone that sat amongst the blood like a tiny ship out to sea.
How did that get there? Erica replayed the question in her mind, but the answer eluded her. She was vaguely aware that this is the moment where she should be speaking, explaining this all as a misunderstanding, but her words failed her. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out but a shallow breath she wished had been full of words.
“While you’re thinking about that, Mrs. White, perhaps you’d also like to rethink your answer about that gun. Cause I’ll be the nice guy and cut out any of the guesswork. That right there,” he said pointing to the corner of the room nearest Erica, “that revolver is registered to your husband.”
Erica stared down at the gun in disbelief. Her misshapen reflection in the barrel of the gun only stared back at her.
“I want my lawyer.”
“Yeah, I thought you might say that.” Detective Williams said hoisting himself to his feet with a grunt. “Mrs. White, I’m afraid you leave me no choice but to place you under arrest for the murder of James Reynolds.”
“Sir, would it be alright if we came inside?”
Marcus eyed the two police officers standing on his porch. He struggled to act nonchalant, but the pounding of his heart nearly drowned out the officer’s words. “Of course, yeah, come in. Forgive my manners,” he said swinging the door open. “Can I ask what this is about?”
“It’s about your wife,” the shorter of the two men said turning to face Marcus. “She’s been placed under arrest for the murder of James Reynolds.”
“What? Who is that?” He said pretending not to know the answer to his own question.
The more important question, the one the police didn’t even know they should be asking, was why his wife was being arrested for killing the man Marcus murdered less than five hours ago.
As he did his best to stand relaxed in the hallway with the two police officers, Marcus resolved to keep that little piece of information to himself. The officers’ recounted the incident of the previous night, and Marcus negated the smile threatening to break the husbandly concern plastered across his face.
‘Til death do us part, honey. Just not the death either of us expected.
Anthony Vicino writes speculative fiction with a special interest in science fiction and fantasy. His debut novel, The Birth of God, is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2013. To read more of Anthony’s work, visit his blog, weaklyshortstories.wordpress.com, where he posts a new short story every week.