by Larry Brooks
(a USA Today Bestseller)
She sat very still in her husband’s favorite chair, sipping an exquisite Pinot Noir as she watched him die. That there could be pleasure in the taking of a life was something she hadn’t considered. For all her meticulous planning and diabolical patience, the notion of experiencing some dark shiver of satisfaction had never entered her mind. But here on the threshold of commitment, fully invested and completely immersed in the moment, she understood it instinctively. Whether it was death or power or simply the sweet venom of revenge made no difference, really. Perhaps it was just the intoxicating whiff of impending freedom. For her these things had become a sum in excess of their parts, melting and melding, changing everything.
At first it felt comfortable, like slipping into an expensive designer gown before a full mirror, the moment encasing you and making you understand your feminine power. It didn’t take her long to realize, however, that this, like so many fantasies spun into flesh, wasn’t the enduring entertainment it had started out to be.
The idea was born four months earlier while scanning a travel magazine at her hair salon. It was a pictorial on the island of Capri in Italy, a place she’d always wanted to see, a place her husband said they’d never go. He’d been there in another life, and he took some ridiculous masculine pride in never covering the same ground twice. She could go herself, he informed her quite seriously, when he was dead and buried. He’d said it with that mean little smile of his, and in that instant the dark idea breathed. From that point on, every thought, every agenda, had related to this moment.
Her husband’s face seemed younger here on the precipice of eternity. He was sixty, and from the weary way he talked about the world he was quite ready to die. He would accomplish that goal wearing his favorite pajamas, decorated with little faceless golfers swinging tiny clubs. Were it not for the deep and gentle rising and falling of his chest he might otherwise be gone. She glanced at her watch — she had been sitting here for thirty minutes and his lingering was making her late. This was the first night of the rest of her life and she had things to do.
It had been so easy. Wednesdays were golf days. On this particular Wednesday he’d come home much too drunk to drive after gimlets and ribeyes at the club with his peers, a fraternity of CEOs and the prematurely retired who, as a matter of arrogant pride, allowed their friends to drive drunk. She’d met him at the door with a warm smile and a crystal tumbler filled with his favorite Scotch. The rich flavor would sufficiently mask a substance he could not discern and she could not pronounce. They’d settled in the library, which smelled of his cigars, and as he sipped the potion she’d told him how she had been searching her heart. She wanted him to know that despite the changing of his estate documents, a gesture upon which he had insisted despite her gracious reservations, she would after all give the bulk of his money to his two children should, God forbid, anything ever happen to him. She’d withhold only enough for a nice little house overlooking the Sound and a comfortable and exceedingly quiet lifestyle. Perhaps a new Mercedes every three years or so, an addendum she added with a wink. Two, three million at most. Without him, she had said softly, her life would be forever quiet. She would live on memories. He’d mumbled something about it being his damn money and he’d damn well leave it wherever he damn well pleased. This made her smile, not because of any sentiment in his words, but because the thickness of his tongue told her the potent narcotic was kicking in. By the time she’d asserted her commitment to an on-going relationship with his alcoholic son and the thrice-divorced daughter who was but a few years her junior, he was nearly asleep. She’d helped him into bed, changed him into his favorite pajamas and tenderly given him his nightly insulin shot. Except this evening’s syringe contained a clear and very hard to come-by fluid which would slow his metabolism gradually until his heart stopped altogether, leaving absolutely no trace for even the most thorough of pathologists. He would go gentle into this good night. She’d waited ten minutes, poured herself her first glass of wine, then shot two more syringes full of his regular dose of insulin into his ample abdomen tissue, which would convince that same pathologist that her husband, a veteran diabetic, had died of insulin shock exacerbated by the presence of abundant alcohol in his system.
A little clean-up and some convincing acting and she’d get away with murder and a forty-four million dollar portfolio of stocks and real estate.
She squinted, making sure her eyes and the wine weren’t betraying her perception. Her husband’s chest had stopped moving. She watched for another frozen minute, taking care not to blink, conscious of the total absence of sound.
She went to his side, leaned close, studied his face. His lips were parted, slightly wider than they were minutes ago. She touched his neck with her fingertips, feeling no pulse. She lifted his eyelid like they did on the cop shows, not knowing what to look for. The pupil was dilated, eerily dry. When she let go it closed only partially, leaving the impression of him winking up at her.
She smelled urine and realized it was over.
Something in her stomach growled, an anxiety she hadn’t expected. She looked away, drew a deep breath and tried to focus on the why of it all, which justified everything. Change. Outside, through the glass wall that opened to a massive deck overlooking Lake Washington, she saw pinpoints of light dancing on the water. The summer rain had cleared the lake of its abundance of pleasure boats, which on warmer nights cruised the perimeter long after dark in search of romance and, for those with a pair of good binoculars, a view into the bedrooms of the privileged. Their own yacht, a 55-foot Navigator he’d bought and named after her, was a dark silhouette against the silver reflection of the water. She could hear the rain tapping the cedar planks with a clarity she hadn’t noticed sitting in the chair, waiting for him to die. Hadn’t noticed, in fact, in six rainy years in that house.
She bent down and kissed him softly on the lips. Before turning away to begin her life anew, she closed the winking eyelid and gently straightened the collar on his pajamas.
Detective Tim Rubin stood at the rear of the well-heeled crowd and watched the rain dance off the bronze casket like the hood of a freshly waxed car and swore that someday he’d move from this puddle of a city that measured its summers by consecutive days without rainfall. He studied the mourners, barely hearing the minister’s words, like watching television with the sound on mute. A lyric from his favorite and long-since archived hometown rock band suddenly came to him, and he found himself humming along.
… strange how laughter looks like crying with no sound, raindrops taste like tears without the pain…
He wasn’t welcome here. The widow had made that abundantly clear the previous day during the third of their lengthy interviews. She now stood at the side of the open grave, which was surrounded by fresh flowers that hid the black pit from view. He was certain she was looking at him through the veil of a much too elaborate hat. She held a handkerchief to her mouth with a black-gloved hand. Very convincing. Very Town and Country. And hard to look away from. A distinguished older man, one of the pall-bearers who was undoubtedly one of the deceased’s Board-mates from Boeing, stood beside her holding a large golf umbrella, his chin trembling slightly.
The lady was good, Rubin had to give her that. She’d covered every base, was in command of every nuance. Her only mistake, the thing that kept Rubin from buying it all, was that her story was just too damn tight. Twenty-two years of listening to stories like this, told under the mirror diversions of grief and fear, had sharpened his nose for the contrived. He’d watched her godless eyes, the too-efficient movement of her hands, the Judas pantomime. And he just knew. She was good enough to fool his Lieutenant, who had a weakness for women who smelled like downtown and habitually touched your arm while they talked to you. Which was why Rubin had been told to back off this one, had been assured there was nothing here. This was old Boeing money, entrenched Seattle society, and nothing short of a bloody glove behind the servant’s quarters would do. He was on a witch hunt, or so it was believed, because the deceased had been wealthy and everybody knew that Rubin, who would never find his name in that chapter of the social registry, had it in for the rich and their wives. But Rubin’s attitude wasn’t connected to the golf course he would never play. It was the result of too many years of watching the old boy network bend the system at someone else’s expense. Because he was no fool, he would indeed back off as he was told.
But he would watch. The bitch did it, and she knew that he knew.
The pastor uttered his final words, tossing a handful of what was by now mud onto the casket. It landed with a plop and stuck for a moment before sliding slowly down the side. Rubin lingered at the crowd’s perimeter as it began to disperse, positioned for eye contact, wanting her to remember the iron resolve she would see there. As she walked past she glanced over at him, and he saw what no one else could see.
She was smiling. Ever so slightly. A smile meant for him, to test his restraint.
But restraint was the least of Tim Rubin’s challenges. This woman reminded him of his soon-to-be-ex-wife and the lawsuit she had filed, that I-got-you-by-the-balls-and-I’m-fucking-my-lawyer smile. The look-at-me clothes. Which is why it was so easy to hate the grieving widow with the smirk that told him everything. He knew her far better than she could imagine. And he would be there when she slipped. No matter how long it took.
And it would take a long, long time.
With his Lieutenant’s blessing and deepest sympathies, the widow left for Italy the day after the funeral.
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