They're all bad. A story with the cliffhanger at the beginning.
Two Men & One Woman
November 9, 1980
Sean OʼHara loaded his automatic, then stuffed it behind his back under his belt. Killing his best friend wasn’t what he wanted to do, but it might come to that. Wally had called and invited him over for sandwiches, beer, and Monday night football. Just like old times. Sean wondered if Wally was setting him up. It was possible he had fooled everyone, and had been putting up an act all this time. Such a guy was Wally.
Every night Sean dreamt he was on the phone warning Jean that Wally was coming to murder her, but she would only laugh. He would raise his voice, and she would laugh louder, till he would be yelling and screaming amid hysterical laughter. Then, she would slap him. That slap, though in a dream, would always snap him awake. Then, his conscious would ask, "Why didn't you warn her?"
Yet, he didn’t blame himself for what had started it all.
November 1, 1980
A mist permeated the air. The kind that gave a slight taste of decaying leaves. A man in a gray trench coat sensed he was somehow invasive. Unconsciously, he raised the collars, then stuffed his hands deep into the pockets. His steps were slow as befitted a place where memories lingered, where time hesitated to move on. The squelch of his shoes as he walked through the mown grass seemed unnaturally loud. He wondered what he would find at the final spot shared by the woman and her child.
Ahead was a grave. Someone had taken away the flowers, for petals were stuck to the wet stone. Leaning against the stone was a hand size plastic giraffe. Probably placed by the father, he thought. It must be the one he was looking for. Under a tree, he stopped to take a picture then resumed walking. He read the words engraved into the granite.
My Wife and Son
May They Lie In Peace
Born May 23, 1954
Died October 15, 1980
Born July 17, 1979
Died October 15, 1980
He felt there was a deeper story than the one in the local newspaper: something buried deep, something twisted, something he could sell. He would pay a visit to the mayor of this small town, ask him to inform the sheriff that he would like to meet him. Showing respect always gave these things a smooth start.
Later that day, a pale blue Mercury pulled into a muddy lot. A lanky, long haired man not more than forty got out and strode to the Sheriffʼs office, a sturdy one story building. Shoes scrapped mud onto a welcome mat. A bell chimed as his hand opened the door. He smiled at a big, blond, crew cut man sitting at a scarred desk with a star on his uniform. “Sheriff OʼHara I presume. My name is Edgar Diame. I hope the mayor called.”
Sheriff Sean OʼHara leaned forward in his chair and meshed his hands atop his desk. “The mayor said youʼre here to write about the Holmes tragedy.”
Diame noticed no offer of a handshake. “Thatʼs right. Iʼm freelance, always looking for a story to sell to a newspaper or magazine. I think thereʼs an interesting one here, but Iʼd liked to know more of the details.”
The sheriff attempted a smile. He made it half way. “Mr. Diame, the local newspaper covered every detail except the grisly parts, and I donʼt care to fill you in on them.”
Diame rubbed his neck. “Well, Iʼm primarily interested about the family. You know, what other people think of them, what their theories are on the cause. The mayor told me you know Wally Holmes very well.”
OʼHara let out a tired breath. “Yes, we grew up on the same block, did everything together. Weʼre best friends. Though, after he got married, we didnʼt see each other as often. I also knew Jean, his wife, very well. Iʼm very sorry this tragedy happened to his family.”
“Yes, very sad. I heard from the mayor that Mr. Holmes has the house up for sale, thatʼs heʼs renting an apartment now.”
“Thatʼs right. Youʼre not interested in buying a house real cheap, are you?”
Ed paused. It was an odd question he hadnʼt expected. He nearly smiled, but the urged passed. “Not at the moment. What Iʼm interested in is taking a look at the place. Getting a feel of the family and the circumstances. Could you take me there?”
Sean moved a hand across the stubble on his chin. “Well, I wouldnʼt feel right letting you inside without asking for Wallyʼs okay.”
Ed felt a pulse of anger, for he knew Sean was just toying with him. “Itʼs a crime scene, isnʼt it? The mayor said I could take a look.”
“Yeah, the mayor so informed me. Well, if you insist, Mr. Diame. Weʼll go in the squad car.”
Wanting to make up for his flash of temper, Diame extended his hand across the desk. “Please, call me Ed.”
Sean paused then took the hand. He didn’t like the man. Snooping around. Making a living on other peopleʼs misfortune. “Nice to meet you, Ed. Call me Sean.” He stood up. “The carʼs right outside.”
They got into the car. The rain had stopped and a few shafts pierced the gray. The car swung onto the road, and headed toward where the light touched the ground.
Ed shifted in his seat. He sensed he wasn’t liked because he was from a big city. Though he hadn’t said he was from one, he guessed they could tell. He saw the ash tray was empty, but silver with ash. Somehow, it made him remember a picture of Indians offering white men a peace pipe. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Nope. Iʼm a smoker, too.” “Whatʼs your poison? Mineʼs Kool. Would you like one?”
“No thanks. Iʼm a Marlboro man.” Sean fingered a pack out of his shirt, jerked a cigarette up, and pulled it out with his lips.
Ed held out a flame for Sean, then lit his own. They both took a satisfying drag. “I heard you had some rough weather these past few days.”
“Thatʼs right. Rain, rain, and more rain. Last night was the worst this season.”
“The forecastʼs for sunny skies tomorrow.”
“Itʼs about time.”
There were a few minutes of silence as they enjoyed their smokes. Ed stubbed out his cigarette first. “The mayor told me you were the first to arrive at the scene.”
Sean nodded. “Thatʼs correct. We got the call from a neighbor who heard the shots. I was cruising on patrol, so I was the first to get there.”
Ed took out a small notebook from an inner pocket of his coat. “What did you think when you got the call?”
Sean thought...Wally is murdering Jean. “That it was next door to Wallyʼs home. Probably a coyote, but in this job you have to expect the worst. I sped there with the sirens howling.”
“Did you notice anything odd or out of place when you arrived?”
“The place was too quiet. I was hoping someone would be waiting outside to tell me it was a false alarm.”
“So, how did you react?”
He thought... Wally is waiting inside to kill me. “I took out my gun. Got behind my car and shouted for Wally and Jean to come out.”
Ed raised his pencil off the pad. “Did you suspect a serious domestic incident?”
Sean stubbed out his cigarette. “I donʼt remember. When answering a report of gunfire, rule number one be cautious.”
“Let me put that question another way; did you think Wallyʼs wife was trying to kill him?”
Sean made a face of disgust. “Of course not!”
“You knew they had marital problems?”
“I heard rumors, but I wasn’t the only one. In a small town like this we have gossip for dessert.”
Ed glanced at Sean, smiled a little, and asked, “How long have you known Wally?”
“I was five. He was six. His family moved into his grandparents home right across the street. We became friends right away. Later, his parents bought their own home a few houses away on the corner.”
They drove past farmland and entered a valley. Sean pointed, “Thereʼs the house. The brown one-story with the tree.” The squad car pulled into the driveway. Houses on either side were about fifty feet away. There was a no trespassing sign on the door. Sean pushed it aside, took out a key, and opened the door. “After you.”
Ed brushed past, took a few steps, and stopped. “Where did it happen?”
Sean extended an arm. “In the bedroom. Second door on the left.”
The living room was sparse: an old sofa, a table with a lamp, a TV. The bedroom had been cleaned, but Ed could see faint blood stains on the armchair and on the carpet around it. “Could you tell me the chain of events?”
Sean took a deep breath. “I opened the front door ajar and shouted out their names. Didnʼt get any response, so I kicked open the door and stepped in. I proceeded down the hall, looking into each room, and then, I saw what was in this room. Jean was sitting slumped in the chair.” He paused for he saw her sitting there in her Leviʼs and a white blouse crimson with blood. Her long black hair covered her face. His mouth felt dry. “Maybe, sheʼd been reading. There was a book on the table next to the chair.”
Ed was writing in his notebook. “What kind of book was it?”
“A book of poems. Jean liked to quote poetry sometimes.”
“Was it open?”
“Could I see the book later?”
“Sure.” He glanced at the crib. Wally was standing over the crib. His hands were pressing down on a pillow, tiny feet in fluffy socks were protruding from it.
“We think Wally was at the crib standing over their sleeping son, Isaac. Jean fired three shots. The first two at Wally the last one into her chest.”
Raising a hand for silence, Ed walked across the room to the crib. The barrier was half way down. There were two holes in the wall above it. “Which one drilled a groove on Wallyʼs skull?”
“The lower one. We donʼt know if it was the first shot or the second.”
“So, according to this account, Wally was bending over the crib looking at the baby when Jean fired the two shots, then she turned the gun on herself and pulled the trigger.”
Sean nodded. “The gun was found on her lap. She probably thought Wally was dead. You can see the stains on the wall from the head shot.”
“So, Wally collapsed on top of Isaac and accidentally suffocated him?”
“Jean saw that, and didn’t do anything to help her son?” Sean shook his head. “Thatʼs hard to believe.”
“A suicide isnʼt in a normal state of mind.”
Ed cocked his head, he was about to comment on that, then just shrugged. “You knew this family well, was there anything that makes you think she would do this?”
“At first, I was dumbfounded. Iʼve come to accept it. They werenʼt a happy couple.”
“Thank you, Sean. I know this must be difficult for you. Iʼm through here. Can I take a look at the other rooms?”
Sean nodded. He stood next to the front door as Ed went into each room. “Okay, Sean, Iʼm done. Letʼs go.”
As Sean held the door open, Ed took one last look. “It happened in the evening, right?”
“Yeah. Right after Wally came home from a bar. The bartender said he had a drink there. The time is right after he closed his office.”
They proceeded to the car, got in, then Sean backed it into the street. Ed lit a cigarette. Inhaled. Blew out a dense cloud. “Had Jean prepared dinner?”
“Yeah. Soup and sandwiches. Wallyʼs favorite.”
“Donʼt you think thatʼs a little odd?”
“Well, she could have avoided using the gun. She could have poisoned the food.”
“Wally didn’t touch the food. But, we thought of that. We tested for poison. There was none.”
“What were the results of the autopsy?”
“Jean had enough alcohol in her blood to be mildly drunk. Drugs were negative.”
“Another thing, why go to all the trouble of making a meal for someone you plan to kill?”
“Doesn’t put him on guard. You wouldn’t want to make a scene.”
“Yeah, right. Howʼs Wally? Has he recovered his memory?”
“Not yet, heʼs still doesn’t remember a thing that happened that night. Getʼs dizzy sometimes, but heʼs back at work.”
“Heʼs in real estate, right?”
“Yeah, he opened the business a year after he married Jean. There was financial pressure from that on the marriage. Wally was never good at bullshitting.”
Ed stubbed out his cigarette and closed his eyes. He felt he was missing something.
For three days Diame questioned everyone he could think of. A lot of them thought Jean might have been unfaithful. One neighbor was convinced Jean had been fooling around. She noticed that though Jean often left town, she rarely came back with a shopping bag. Though he tried, Diame never found the reason for those trips. Probably, the neighbor was right. A few thought Wally was somehow the culprit. He wrote the story including the various theories he heard from the citizens of the town. He left the reader to decide what really happened. He didn’t like it, but it was the best he could do.
October 15, 1980
Wally sat at the bar with both hands around his drink as if it were an anchor that kept him from sliding off the stool and sinking into the floor. He stared at the ice, looking for a way through the shards of glass his life had become. He might have had the heart to try if it weren’t for the stave his wife and best friend had impaled there. Two days ago, Jean had driven into the next town. He had suspected his wife of seeing another man. But not Sean, anyone but him. Yet, that was his best friend going into that hotel a few minutes later.
Those memories were too painful for him to linger on, so his mind flipped a switch. Like an athlete before the big event, he visualized the things he would do. He would kill his piece of shit wife with a bullet to her heart. It wasn’t his anymore and no one else would have it. Then, he would smother Isaac with a pillow. He couldn’t let anything that might be a result of Jeanʼs treachery breathe. It was no fault of the baby. He was just an unlucky bastard. Rising and swallowing the last of his drink, Wally went to the pay phone. He dialed the Sheriffʼs office. It rang just once.
“Sheriff OʼHara here.”
“Hello, you fucker. How was it fucking Jean?”
Seanʼs heart pounded the star on his chest. He didn’t know what to say. In his worst nightmare he had seen this happening, and there had been silence on his part, just like now.
“I hope it was great for both of you, cause itʼs going to be the last time.”
“Wally donʼt be foolish.”
“Donʼt be foolish? Thatʼs what I’ve been all these years. You donʼt expect me to become smart now, do you?” He slammed the phone down.
On the other end, Sean slowly put the receiver down. He looked at the clock. His deputy would be coming back soon. He went into the back room where his dispatch operator worked. “Gloria, Danny should be coming back soon. Could you tell him to take care of the desk? I feel cooped up. Iʼm going out on patrol.”
“Okey dokey, boss.” Smiling, Gloria waved good-bye.
22 minutes later.
A car door slammed in the driveway. Jean put the book of poems down on the table. Once more, she rehearsed the words to say she was leaving. She no longer felt anything, but irritation at best for Wally. His dreams for success were tiresome to hear. He would be all excited and running for a week or two, then like a chicken without a head flop down. She was tired of picking up the pieces. Tomorrow, she would pack a suitcase and take Isaac with her to the city. There, she would call her father to contact a lawyer. Rising from the armchair, she went to the crib. She whispered to the sleeping baby, Isaac, “Iʼm so sorry, sweetie pie.” Perhaps, if she had the courage, she would tell him after dinner.
Wally opened the door and slammed it shut. She could see rage in his eyes. He strode to her, grabbed her shoulder, and spun her around. Pinning one arm behind her back, he pressed a pistol against her side. Shaking, he struggled with the words, “Iʼll shoot if you scream bitch!”
Jean gasped. With that last word, she knew now that heʼd found out about Sean. Her only hope was to calm him down. “Wally, I was going to tell you, but I was afraid. Please, please forgive me.”
They entered the bedroom. Wally shoved her forward, releasing her, yet he kept the gun pointed at her. “Sit down in the chair...Why Jean?... Why? I loved you so much.”
From the chair, Jean saw tears welling in his eyes. Her chest heaved from huge gulps of air. “Iʼm sorry. Iʼm sorry.” She watched the gun stop an inch from her left breast. She heard the words, “I know.”
Extreme pain seemed to create the smoke and sound that filled the periphery of her senses. The pain faded as fast as the smoke, replaced by a numbness in body and a clearness in mind that left her feeling as if she were floating above her body. She saw a familiar hand place a gray gun in her own. Khaki pants and a blue shirt filled her vision then shrunk into the center as if they were being sucked into a cartoon black hole. At the same time, she heard muffled breathing and squeaky steps recede while farther still she heard the cries of an infant. It seemed a great time elapsed, but it was no more than mere seconds that her mind fought for control of flesh, muscles, and bones. Slowly, she opened her eyes. Her fingers gripped the gun. With what seemed like glacial speed her arm rose until the gun pointed at the dark form bending over the crib, smothering her baby. She fired. It turned to face her. She fired again. The figure fell over onto the crib. Her arm dropped and darkness reigned.
Sean was driving at the speed limit. Though he knew Wally was planning something, he didn’t know what to do. He needed time. What could he say when he came face to face with him? He hoped Wally would see there was no point in seeking revenge. The CB radio ended his brooding. “Sheriff? We got a report of gunfire at 2946 Fullerton.”
Sean grabbed the mike. “Ten four. Iʼm on my way.” He switched on the siren and floored the pedal.
Tires squealed as Sean turned the last corner. He slammed on the brakes and the car jolted to a stop. Bolting out of the car, he crouched behind the fender. “Wally, Jean come out!” There was no reply. Sean pulled out his revolver and ran to the front window. Taking a quick look, he saw nothing. He rushed to the door and opened it ajar. He looked again, then kicked it open. Shouting out there names, he stepped into the house and proceeded into the hallway. From the doorway of the bedroom, he saw Jean in a blood soaked shirt slumped in a chair. To the left, Wally was sprawled over a crib. A pillow was under him. Holstering his gun, he stepped forward. That was when he noticed tiny hands and feet under the pillow. He placed a hand under Wallyʼs shoulder and lifted it, then grabbed the pillow, and dropped it onto the floor. He placed the face of his wristwatch over the infantʼs mouth, but no vapor clouded it. He did the same with Wally and got the same result.
Rushing over to Jean, he felt in vain for a pulse. He foresaw what would happen. An investigation would uncover his affair with Jean. It would be the end of his career. All his life he had wanted to be in law enforcement. Then, he saw a way out; make it look like a suicide as, perhaps, Wally had intended. He moved Wally so that his body covered the babyʼs face. He looked around the room for any clues that would raise questions. There were splotches of blood on the pillow. He went to the dresser. Pulling open the drawers, he found what he was looking for, a clean pillow case.
He took off the dirty one and put it under his shirt. Then, he picked the pillow off the floor and put it into the clean case before placing it at the head of the bed. He took one last look, then picked up the phone on the bedside table to call Gloria for an ambulance.
Later, he got the call that Wally was alive.
Spring, 1980 Half a year earlier.
They couldn’t wait to get to the bed. As soon as the door closed behind them, Sean spun her to the wall and pressed himself against her. He kissed her and she sucked his tongue into her mouth. Jean felt desire between her legs as Sean raised her skirt. She raised her left leg as her panties were lowered then released, to fall down her right leg. She forced her fingers under Seanʼs belt and tugged down then gasped as his hard heat pressed against her belly. A hand went under her knee and raised her thigh.
Sean groaned out her name as her hand grasped his rod then slid it into her. Gritting his teeth, he tried to last as long as he could. Yet, too soon, it lost the struggle, and jerked spasmodically inside her.
Jean felt his release and moaned with pleasure; she knew he was hot for her and this was just the beginning. Later, as she snuggled against his chest, she said, “Sean, we should have done this in high school.”
He laughed. “I told you a hundred times.”
It was their first anniversary. Jean went into the kitchen to make breakfast for her sleeping husband. On the table she saw an envelope addressed: To my dearest wife from your adoring husband. Smiling, she opened it. She let out a squeal. It was a handwritten poem.
When you smile, I need no wings to fly.
If I have your hand, I need no guiding light
When youʼre in my arms, I need not even air.
Yet, I need you to look into me
To see my love is always there.
And, I need you to hear me
When I ask you to be mine.
But, sometimes all I need
Is just you to be near.
It was signed: By Wally Holmes for his wife Jean.
“Do you like it?”
Jean whirled around. In the doorway stood her husband. “Itʼs wonderful! Thank you.”
Wally smiled and spread his arms. “Happy anniversary.”
Stepping into his arms, she laid her head on his chest. “Thank you for remembering.”
“Hey, itʼs the first one. I hope youʼll forgive me if I ever forget.”
“Donʼt count on it, buster.”
Wally laughed. He pushed her off his chest to look into her eyes. “I have another surprise for you. This oneʼs even better.”
“What is it?”
“Wait here. Iʼll be right back.”
Jean was worried; was this another of his hare-brained ideas?
Wally returned with his hands behind his back. “Close your eyes, Jean.” Instead, she rolled them. “Come on, I wonʼt show you until you close them.” Finally, she did. “Okay, you can open them now.”
In front of her face was a typewritten piece of paper. “What is it, Wally?”
“Weʼre owners of a real estate agency! A small one of course, but itʼs ours.”
“Wally, why didn’t you discuss it with me?”
His lips curled down in disappointment. “It seemed like such a good deal. I wanted it to surprise you. I thought you would be happy.”
“Iʼm certainly surprised. But, Iʼm not exactly thrilled. Donʼt you think I have something to say about our finances?”
“Wait let me finish. The owner needed the cash right away, so he gave me a great price.”
“What you think is a great way to invest our money might not be what I think. Besides, I told you I wanted to leave this place, go somewhere with more culture, some excitement.”
“We can still do that. After a few years, weʼll be able to pay off the loan with our sales, and then, we can go wherever we want.”
“A few years can easily turn into ten. I donʼt want to wait that long.”
Wally pressed his fingers into his temples. “You make it sound as if I’ve already failed. Why canʼt you have more confidence in me? I want to make you proud of me. Is that so bad?” He gave the table such a powerful kick that it started tilting over. Reflexively, he grabbed at an edge, His hand struck the top of an empty glass, shattering it as the table crashed onto the floor. Deeply cut, his hand bled profusely. He yelled in anger and pain, “God dammit!”
“Wally! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, Iʼm all right. But, the kitchenʼs a mess.”
“Donʼt worry about that. Your bleeding badly. Let me take you to the hospital.”
“No! Hear what I have to say. I promise you the business will work out fine. Weʼll be able to do whatever you want.”
Hoping to calm him down, she kissed him on the cheek. “You can tell me on the way, but first, let me put a tourniquet on that.”
The kiss had the desired effect. Wally hung his head down. Saying, “Iʼm sorry”, he held out his hand to let her bind it.
Months later, Jean had a guilty suspicion most of that morning had been planned.
Wally rode his new bike to Seanʼs house. He dashed up the steps of the porch to the door. Through the screen, he shouted “Sean, itʼs Wally.”
“Hold on, Wally. Iʼll be there in a minute.”
Wally ran down the steps to his new bicycle. Striding it, he growled as he twisted the rubber grips of the handlebars. Sean burst through the front door swinging his T-shirt over his head and laughing. He jumped off the porch, and rushed to his own hand-me-down bike while putting on his shirt. Lifting the bike off the ground, he rolled it ahead and hopped on. That was the signal for Wally to push off, and pump his legs as fast as he could. They were racing to the house where a family was moving in.
Wally had a head start. Sean, though a year younger, was bigger and stronger. Determined to show the new bike wasn’t going to change anything, he put all the strength in his legs into pumping the pedals. He pulled even to Wally. With their bikes swaying from their exertions, he asked, “What kind of family do you think moved in?”
“I bet they have kids. See that man unloading that bike?”
“Yeah. First one past the moving van wins!”
Wally pumped harder. He had never beaten Sean in a race. Now, he had a new bike: faster, lighter, the coolest.
Sean pulled ahead. He shouted and raised his arms as he crossed the finish line.
Wally cursed, “You bastard!”
Sean laughed; Wally was always the fun one to beat, for he was such a bad loser.
From the porch a thirteen year old girl was watching the two boys as they sped past, one blond and broad shouldered, the other dark haired and thin. She smiled as she ran her hand through her long black hair. As the two boys slowed and made a U-turn, she stepped out onto the yard. Turning her back to the boys, she knelt down on the lawn. She listened while fingering a clod of dirt, gauging the distance of the approaching boys. When they stopped in front of the house, she couldn’t stop the grin spreading across her face.
The thin one planted his feet on the pavement and swung the front tire toward the girl.
“Hello. Iʼm Wally. Welcome to the neighborhood.” He would forever remember how she rose while turning and patting her hands on the side of her shorts, the way she smiled while tilting her head so slightly.
“Hi, Wally. My nameʼs Jean.” She turned and watched the broad shouldered one wipe sweat off his crew cut hair.
Sean wondered for the first time what it felt like to kiss a girl. “Hi, Jean. Iʼm Sean”
Sean was riding his tricycle when he noticed a boy about his age on the sidewalk across the street. Pedaling till he was directly across, he yelled, “Hey, you! Whatʼs your name?” The boy turn to face him. He had silver dollars over his eyes. Thoughts of soda pop and candy bars widened his own. “My nameʼs Sean. Do you want to be my friend?”
Without removing the coins from in front of his eyes, Wally shook his head up and down.