by Caroline Taylor
When I walked through the door, Roger West was parked on the red brocade divan in my living room. He didn’t look much older than the last time I’d seen him. The gray flannel suit and striped rep tie suggested he hadn’t suffered much money-wise, either. He had a gun in his hand.
"Is— is that for me?" The finger I pointed at the weapon was as wobbly as my legs. I moved quickly to the chair opposite the man I’d killed thirty years ago.
I opened the ivory box, pulled a cigarette out, and eventually managed to get it lit. "I suppose you want to know if I did it." I leaned back, crossing my legs to reveal a bit of thigh that—by now, and only when encased in stockings—might (barely) suffice to entice.
He laid the gun on the coffee table and pulled out a pack of Camels. "Where’s hubby?"
"Gone fishing." I leaned across the table to give Roger a light.
I aimed a long stream of smoke in the direction of the framed watercolor on the wall behind Roger—a portrait of the three of us in happier times. He must have noticed it and had deliberately chosen to sit with his back to it. "Welllll. I don’t really know. Sometimes when the fish are biting, he’s gone all day. Other times …"
Roger released the safety. "Nice try, Stella. You forget I grew up with Fred, and fishing ain’t his style."
I fought to keep my shoulders from slumping. "I’m being honest. He is fishing—for clients, in case you’re wondering—and I have no idea where that is or when he’ll be home."
Roger got up to lock the front door, putting the night chain on to give himself enough advance warning if Fred did happen to make an appearance, which would only compound the irony.
"What do you want?" I said, as he resumed his seat on the edge of the sofa.
"My life. You took it. Or, perhaps it wasn’t you. Maybe Fred’s the one."
I raised an eyebrow. "Why would I kill my lover?"
Roger’s lip curled. "Depends on who your lover was, sweetheart. I thought it was me, but you married Fred, so you tell me."
I recrossed my legs, in the process, letting my skirt slide up another two inches. "You—I mean—I thought you were dead. Fred helped me through the grieving. It was only natural that, as time passed, we—"
That got a snort of derision. "How noble of him. And you. Especially when it was really about the money. You were figuring, why split it three ways?" Roger put his cigarette in the crystal ashtray. "I know you had something to do with it, Stella, so spit it out. I don’t have all day." He lifted a starched white French cuff to peek at an expensive watch.
I took a last drag on my cigarette and leaned forward to stub it out, lingering long enough to give Roger a view of the charms that had once seduced him. "I don’t suppose giving you your share—with interest, of course—would make you happy?"
Roger frowned. "From the looks of this place, you can sure afford it."
I put my hand on his arm. "So it’s a deal then? Let me get my—"
"Not yet, doll." He shoved me against the back of my chair. "Prove that Fred did it, and maybe you and me can work something out." His gaze slithered from my mouth downward to my lap, and then he backed away, resuming his seat.
I slipped my foot partly out of my shoe, letting the heel dangle as I swung my leg back and forth. "I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I told you I had nothing to do with it."
"I don’t believe you."
"Well, then we’re at an impasse, aren’t we."
He picked the gun up and leveled it at my chest. "And you’re a dead woman."
I think even my heart stopped. It was probably only half a second, but it seemed like a helluva lot longer before I could breathe. Roger’s hand was shaking, and beads of sweat dotted his brow. He lowered the gun, resting it on one leg.
"Look, Roger. I know what’s going to happen here. You’re on a vendetta. You think I killed you thirty years ago. I can’t prove I didn’t, so you’ll either have to take my word for it or …" I turned my palm up and shrugged as my voice trailed off.
"You poisoned my food. That’s not what a man would do. Fred would have shot me or thrown me over the balcony."
"We all got sick, you know." At this, I gave a nervous cough. "Well, I guess you didn’t know it, since you were … since we thought you were dead. But we were all poisoned. Only, for some reason, it— you—"
"Yeah. Yeah. I read the police reports. A bunch of baloney."
The minute Roger rolled his eyes, I snatched the shoe from my foot, leaned forward, and slammed the stiletto heel through the soft flesh between the thumb and index finger of his hand, pinning it to the table. At the same time, I grabbed the gun.
He howled in pain. "Pull it out, damn you!"
"Shut up!" I yelled. "The neighbors will call the police." I yanked the heel out of his hand, liberating a swell of blood. Reaching behind me, I snatched the lace antimacassar off the back of my chair and tossed it to Roger. "Don’t bleed all over things."
I stood there, pondering the wisdom of dealing with Roger the way he’d just said a man would. But men never think of the consequences. How could I explain a (twice) dead man in my living room? "Let’s go for a walk," I jerked the gun in the direction of the door.
Cradling the hand wrapped in the bloodstained cloth, a far meeker man than the one I’d encountered earlier preceded me out the door and down the street. He kept muttering a bunch of words that began with the letter D, including dame, double-cross, dirty, and damn—although not strictly in that order.
Our progress was slow, but I was in no hurry. When we reached the park, I chose a seat on the bench under the spreading oak tree, and we sat there like lovers admiring the sunset. I kept the gun shoved against my companion’s ribs and used the time until darkness fell to tell him who was to blame for his first demise. Then I killed him again.
I wiped the gun with the cloth that had been stanching Roger’s blood and wrapped his fingers around the weapon. Later, I burned the antimacassar and the clothes I’d been wearing and threw the gun and shoes into a lake south of town near a neighborhood notoriously riddled with gun violence. The police might wonder how the victim got that puncture wound in his hand, but it wouldn’t help them find the killer.
Poor Roger. He thought I’d been lying about Fred. But hubby had gone fishing—five years ago, to be exact—or would it be more accurate to say, by now, that the fish had gone Fredding?