A short story of betrayal and revenge.
|Over and Down
I woke up a bit dizzy, aroused by the sound of a thunderous muffler. I lay shaking and trapped, unable to move, my arms pinned to my sides as I coughed in thick darkness. I felt a sensation of wetness on the left side of my head and an awful aching, so I assumed I might be bleeding. My finger tips were scratching against what felt like a carpet. Terrified, I continued to try and squirm my way out of the fibrous tomb.
I couldn't recall how I got into this predicament and in my efforts to evaluate the circumstances, I figured that I was probably in the back of a truck bed, being bounced around on what must have been a bumpy dirt road. There were many of them around the California coastline where I lived, so I had no way to know where I was.
After about twenty minutes of fighting to free myself, now fully covered in my own steamy sweat, I became worried that I may dehydrate if I kept it up, so I calmed myself with a few deep breaths. I was resting on my right side, trying to pull my head back to see what was around me. There was a little cool air filtering in which was great due to my need for fresh air. Now knowing there was no way to escape on my own, I desperately tried to figure the whole thing out. Who could have done this to me and why?
The last thing I remember was telling my husband Jim goodnight, while giving him his customary peck on the lips. "DeeDee, before you go to bed would you turn the outside light off? I don't want any visitors banging on the door, disturbing me while I'm watching this kick boxing final."
I recalled turning off the light before I shuffled into our bedroom wearing my fuzzy pink slippers and the old ratty robe that I just couldn't throw out. It had survived through the most important years of my life ... raising two boys, who were now away at Fall summer camp in the Sierras. The suitcase was still on the bed, ready for the weekend vacation Jim and I would be taking to the Napa valley the next day.
I always went to bed earlier than Jim, that night owl. It was fine with me since we were in our 12th year together and I liked to read a bit before nodding off, so I pulled the suitcase onto Jim's side of the bed, grabbed my newly purchased romance thriller "Ice Flesh", and turned on the bedside lamp to read.
That was all I could remember; I must have fallen asleep while reading, which is typical for me.
Suddenly, the truck made a sharp turn rolling me over a full revolution before coming to a skidding halt. I could hear two doors opening and male voices speaking. "Oh my god" it was Jim's voice ... "I can't wait to get my hands on that insurance money Rick, and don't worry, you'll get the other thousand dollars as soon as it's available." "Insurance money", I thought. I remember Jim asking me to sign a paper a few weeks ago ... said it was a big surprise when I asked him about it. Of course I trusted him. I never had a reason not to.
My heart was racing so rapidly I thought I might explode from internal bleeding as I was lifted out of the truck. I suddenly felt the need to sneeze but was unable to do so without letting out a tiny squeak.
"Jim, did you hear something?"
"Ya, sounded like a shore bird might have been nabbed by an owl or something."
"Alright Rick we've gotta toss her as far out as we can, the currents are swift here, but she has to hit the water, so on the count of three" ...
I dared not say anything not really knowing my condition as I heard the two say "one ... two ... three".
I felt a falling sensation, which seemed to last for thirty seconds, but was more like three, followed by the splash of the carpet hitting what I believed was the ocean. I started sinking slowly as salty water poured in at the openings in the carpets ends. A good size wave tossed me onto what I thought were shore rocks as I frantically fought for my last breath, yet somehow, miraculously, one of the bindings on the carpet must have become wedged in somehow, preventing me from returning to the water allowing air to flow back into the space I was in. I gasped, coughed and started to cry.
It felt like my legs weren't bound as tightly, so I began to fight for survival by pressing my knees apart in frenzied rhythmic pulses. I felt the carpet loosening when another huge wave came in, tearing the upper binding completely off and sending me into the icy sea water. Within seconds I was freed from the carpet. There was a small amount of light from a fog covered half moon, allowing me to see the rocks that I had just rolled off of and I knew that if another huge wave came in I could be killed. So many other people had been killed on the beach over the years. I started to see the ocean rise about 300 feet out as it reflected the moonlight. I probably only had only one chance, to use the carpet as a sort of makeshift surf board. I grabbed its edge and turned it toward the rocks with my back facing the sea. The wave lifted the rug with me behind it onto the rocks as I shivered uncontrollably attempting to find a foothold. For the time being I was safe with only a few scratches from the ordeal.
I was out of the water, but the Fall wind was freezing cold, my soggy old robe offered little comfort to me as I shook, teeth chattering while I tried to get my bearings. I was under a ledge that prevented me from going any further, but there was a piece of driftwood that jutted out about two feet above me beyond my reach. If I could get to that somehow, I might have enough strength to pull myself up. I had no choice at that point but to remove my robe and bra which I was able to tie into a sling. I could hardly move, My hands were shaking so badly as I tied both ends of my bra to the sleeves of my old blue robe. I was now standing in only my panties and one water soaked slipper, the other having been lost in the struggle with the tide.
I had little body fat to keep my still summer tanned body warm. My nipples felt like they were being spanked with a whip as I attempted to throw my sling over the top of the four inch diameter log. Success came after three attempts. I was able to pull myself up and climb onto the ledge but I'd accidentally kicked my robe off of the log with my foot in the struggle.
I could see car headlights about 500 feet up an embankment so I began climbing. I found a trail. As I climbed, the area began to look familiar. It was highway 101 near a spot we used to take the kids on beach trips. I never was what you would call a prude, but I didn't want to be hitchhiking in the nude, so I looked around and found a white plastic grocery bag that I tore the bottom out of, using it as a rather clever tank top which I pulled over my head and down over my breasts.
When I made my way to the road, three cars drove passed me even though it was pretty obvious I was a mess. Finally, the fourth car picked me up. It was an old man driving a gold Caddy. I could hardly speak from exhaustion while sharing my story, which the old man listened to with dismay. He offered to drop me off at my grandparent's country home, 17 miles inland from the beach, and gifted me a spare blanket that he kept in the car when needed.
My story was one that spilled out with sobbing and gasps for air as I told my grandparents what had happened, yet I only stated that I was kidnapped by unknown strangers. Grandpa noticed the pretty nasty three inch gash on my head and said the pressure from the carpet and the cold sea water must have prevented me from bleeding out. "Looks like you might need a few stitches Dee."
After finding some clothes I'd left there a few years ago, we all drove to the hospital. I pretended to call the Sheriff's office from the ER and told them my story in a nutshell version with no one really listening at the other end. I didn't want to involve the authorities at that point, but left grandpa with the impression that I would be going to the department to fill out a full report as soon as I could. I also made a phony call to my own house, pretending to leave a message for Jim, asking him to call grandma Edna as soon as possible, "I've been injured and am in the ER at St. Mary's."
After 15 stitches were fitted to my wound and a scan taken, the doctor said the damage was severe enough to keep an eye on, yet not enough to keep me overnight, so we drove back to grandma's house. I'd had a concussion from the blow to my head and it was aching badly.
I slept solidly till mid afternoon after taking a pain pill the ER had given me. My head, still seriously throbbing as I fought for a plan to avenge myself from the previous night's events. Whatever I did, it would have to be before the boys returned from camp in four days. After spending the rest of the day with grandma, I told them both I needed to go to bed early. That was around 10PM, so after our hugs I made my way to my room, thinking about my next move.
The little apartment that they'd added onto the house was where I always stayed when visiting. It had its own entry, so I could come and go as I pleased. I waited till about 1AM before sneaking back into grandpa's living room closet to see if he left the Buick keys on the wall where he normally left them and he had, so I snatched them up and left out the apartment front door. He was always so proud of not being able to hear the sedan running, even when standing just a few feet away from it.
Jim was always asleep by 2:30AM so an hour's drive would put me at the house close to that time. I pulled into a used car lot, parking the Buick about a block away from our home. I then followed a secluded, dry creek bed, using grandpa's key chain flashlight to reach the back side of the property so I wouldn't be seen.
I searched beneath the back door rug for the spare key we kept on hand in case we were locked out. It was still there, so I very quietly unlocked the sliding glass door that opened into the kitchen and turned on the gas stove, which no longer lit automatically. I knew that when the volume of gas was high enough, Jim would either suffocate, or the pilot light flame of the gas water heater would make the whole house turn into a cinder box. I accidentally bumped into the dishwasher door which was slightly open and heard a groan. Peering into the dimly lit living room, I could see that Rick was sleeping on the couch and another man in the recliner. "How splendidly fucking wonderful", I thought ... "two birds with one stone!" I waited silently until Rick started lightly snoring before I made my escape. Locking the door behind me, I replaced the key, which I'd smudged with dirty leaves to remove any prints. Rick was usually an ass to me, as he was to all women, so I had no feelings of guilt about frying his worthless hide.
When I arrived back at grandma's it was close to 4AM. Like a cat burglar, I slipped the Buick keys back onto the ring; pretty sure that when grandpa awoke, he would drive the Buick down to the Grub Cafe around 6:30AM. It was an every Saturday event ... to have coffee and bullshit with his old retired workmates from Maloon's Dairy. That would place his fingerprints on the car keys last, while erasing mine. Sure enough, he didn't disappoint. Now there was nothing to prove that I had ever left their apartment. Zero evidence ...
Grandpa arrived back at 8:52AM and banged on my door. "Dee, there's been a horrible accident at your place."
I put on one of grandma's spare robes and opened the door. "What happened?" My face full of surprise, as if I had no clue.
"There was a gas leak at your place and a horrible explosion. Apparently two terribly charred bodies were found in the rubble, they think one was Jim's, the other has yet to be identified."
"Oh my god, (I said with a total look of shock), not Jim." I put my hands over my eyes and cried convincingly. Two years in high school drama class were serving me well at that point. I even choked up a couple of visible tears.
I knew that we had a good insurance policy on the house, so I could replace it, but Jim only had a $10,000.00 term life policy on him, which was not much. I went back to the house after the authorities had finished the investigation which was ruled as "home owner carelessness."
Very little was left except for some things in the boy's room which still had one wall standing at the front of the house. I noticed that Ricks truck was parked on the curb so I thought I'd go have a look at it. It was unlocked. Behind the passenger seat was a good sized bowling trophy with a little blood on it. I was sure that was what Jim used to club me with so I took it.
The funeral was almost a week later. Jim always wanted to be cremated, a wish that I was glad to help him with since he'd tried to waste me. When they placed his ash filled urn in the cold grey vault we had purchased, I dabbed at my eyes with a white kerchief as my boys hugged my waist, crying. They would never have to know what a scum he was. "We'll miss daddy boys, but if there's one thing in life you'll learn from this it's that God works in mysterious ways. It's the first time I ever remember your father forgetting to light the oven."
Two weeks later, I received a check in the mail from Tritan Insurance Inc, our life insurance company. Expecting a measly 10K from Jim's death benefits I read:
To Deedra Tolliver:
We are submitting this check after verifying your husband's death, offering it, along with our deepest condolences. If you remember, you both recently submitted a revision to your policies increasing your coverage substantially which should be of comfort to you in your time of loss and rebuilding.
John Dryden, (Senior Branch Manager)
I unfolded the check attached at the bottom of the letter which read:
Pay to the order of: Deedra L. Tolliver Five hundred thousand dollars and sixty seven cents. $500,000.67
My jaw dropped, Apparently, Jim wasn't allowed to raise my insurance benefit without raising his own, a company policy that I found out about later.
"Right now, I am in the process of publishing my story "Over and Down", which I've been offered a tidy $1.5 million for. I'm dedicating the book to my late husband, Jim Daniel Tolliver, an excellent parent, lover and friend, but a HORRIBLE HUSBAND, as you now all now know. Our last family photo with him sits on the table at the entry to my office, along with that bowling trophy. The Boys, now seven years older, drop by my office on occasion. Jim turned out to be a better father than I could have ever imagined, paying for their college educations! Well actually ... I paid for them, now didn't I?