This is the seventh installment of a short story which began HERE.
A torrid sun; a tropical paradise; a frustrated writer; a cheating wife; a mysterious sultry woman... the ingredients for a forbidden affair? Or the recipe for murder and the perfect crime?
XXI"Where are you taking me?" I demanded of the man in the back seat next to me. "Who are you?" His emotionless face turned to look at me but he said nothing. I looked to the other man behind the wheel. "I suppose you're going to kill me..." I swallowed hard and continued, "...Just like you killed my wife?"
Through the rear view mirror our eyes met as the driver spoke, "Mr. Earle, I assure you, we have killed no one. We are not going to kill you. On the contrary, we are here to keep you alive!"
"Great. Just great," I said. "I always pictured my guardian angel with wings and a halo. What do I get? The Men in Black!"
The second man elbowed me and said, "Forget about comedy, Mr. Earle. You'd better stick to writing mysteries."
The driver cleared his throat, "Mr. Earle, we know you have a lot of questions. We can answer some, but not all of them. You are a story teller, and for the moment, so am I. Please allow me to tell you a story. Listen and learn, Mr. Earle."
I relaxed and took in all that the man related to me. His fascinating narrative, while filling in some of the missing pieces of the puzzle that had been my life for the last thirty-six hours, also succeeded in producing more questions. From the steel-like demeanor of the two men I was certain that those new questions weren't going to be answered. I was being given only the information they felt I needed to know and nothing more.
XXIIThe key unlocked the door and the figure entered the suite. Forsaking the lights the intruder walked over to the desk and opened the lid to the laptop computer. All the necessary light required was produced as the machine whirred to life. Deft fingers played upon the keyboard until the screen filled with text. Her Cups Runneth Over appeared at the top of the body of text of the novel.
There was plenty of time. He would be occupied with his new friends for a while. A few words here and a sentence there were deleted. Then the fingers danced rapidly and inserted new text where the deleted material had been. Hands on hips the figure nodded in smug satisfaction. It had the makings of another best seller.
A disc was produced from a jacket pocket and inserted into the slot. After several minutes confirmation of the completed task appeared on the screen. One hand removed the disc and returned it to the jacket as the other shut down the device and closed the lid.
The figure crossed the room and stood by the dresser before kneeling before it. A hand reached under the dresser and pulled out an envelope and a blue bra.
No one witnessed the figure closing the door to the suite. Unseen the figure entered the stairwell.
XXIIIThe man's story came to an end as he turned into the entrance to the hotel driveway. I was too lost in thought trying to digest all he had told me that I hadn't realized the car had come to a stop. I only became aware that my ride was over when the man next to me reached across and my body and opened the back door.
Before sliding out I looked toward the driver and asked, "At least answer one question for me?" I paused until I saw a slight nod of his head. "How did the police come to the conclusion that my wife's death was a suicide? Think about it, how could a person hang herself on a that railing with her ... own underwear?" My voice cracked at the mention of the underwear. I knew that she hadn't been wearing any underwear last night, but so far no one, not the cops and certainly not these men had touched upon that fact.
The car began to roll slowly forward and the driver rolled down the window and replied, "Because, Mr. Earle, there was an eye witness." He applied the brakes and made eye contact with me and added, "That witness was described as an attractive woman dressed in a white blouse and a leather miniskirt."
I know it is a cliched expression, but my jaw felt as if it had fallen to within inches of the pavement on which I stood. I turned to respond as the car began to pull away but found myself straining to make out the driver's parting words, "Finish your novel, Mr. Earle, and don't forget to edit!"
I don't know how long I was standing there staring in the direction the car had disappeared. I don't know how much time had passed before realizing that I was being bathed in light from a source behind me. I turned to see a police car sitting by the curb.
Sgt. Baker stepped out of the cruiser and approached me carrying a bag. "Ah, Mr. Earle. I presume you were on your way to see us at the station?" He noted my uncertain nod and said, "We thought we would save you the trouble and bring you your wife's personal effects." He extended his arm and placed the bag into my outstretched arms. "All we have left to do to close this case is for you to sign the death certifcate and to make arrangements for the remains."
XXIVI didn't know why at the time, but I suggested that I accompany them to the station and take care of those matters forthwith. For some reason, the police seemed to want the whole affair closed as soon as possible. Then there were the 'Men in Black.' What had one of them said ... that they were trying to keep me alive? I was in danger, mortal danger?
From what the driver of that car had told me, I was able to connect a few of the dots. It had become painfully obvious to me that my wife's death was not suicide. I glanced at the bag next to me in the back seat of the cruiser. That bag, and of course her lifeless body in the morgue, were all that was left of our life together. Sure her promiscuous lifestyle was not conducive of a normal happy marriage, but she didn't deserve to be strangled to death, certainly not with another woman's underwear!
I must have been driven by some innate desire for morbid torture, why else would I have chosen that moment to gaze upon the contents of that bag? Why was I not surprised to find, not her white blouse and leather miniskirt, but a ... red dress?
I had begun to think that I had become anesthetized to sorrow. I had not shed a tear over her untimely death. I had become nothing but a hollow compassionless man. I thought back to those past horrible feelings and wishes that something would happen to her. I knew that I didn't really wish her bodily harm. Or did I?
It was as if I were impervious to grief as I signed the various documents that Sergeant Baker placed before me. The word 'suicide' didn't register as my eyes passed over what had had been typed under 'Cause of Death.'
I think that at that moment, I must have been on the brink of madness. I'm not sure what might have become of me after that visit to the police station, had not Officer Locke walked into the room at that very moment carrying that object.
My face turned pale as the object was carefully presented to me. I scarcely heard Baker's words, "As requested for the disposition of your wife's body, Mr. Earle, here are her ashes."
I jumped to my feet and slammed my fist on the desk and shouted angrily, "Whose request? I never ordered my wife to be cremated !"
To be continued .... HERE.