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“Aunt Jess, why is my mom crying?”
“Just go back to the living room, RJ. Watch some tv or something.” Jess said, pushing the boy out of sight.
“Mary, don’t get so upset. He’s not going to be in trouble. Didn’t he just call to say that they’re finally releasing him after all these weeks?”
Just then the two women heard the garage door motor hum. Mary started bawling again. RJ slunk deeper into the couch. A car door slammed and the door to the laundry room opened cautiously.
“HOW COULD YOU!” Mary screamed, running up to Rick. “How could you?”
Rick put up no defense to the slap that shocked him with its violence. Eyes closed and head unmoving, he left his cheek exposed as he waited with uncertainty for her next move.
After what seemed like an eternity without noise, he first peeked out of his left eye before opening them both. He watched her run off in tears back to the kitchen with Jess. As he entered the kitchen, he saw Jess pull back from her embrace with the crying Mary and join RJ in the living room.
Mary turned to the cabinets and began to open them as if searching for something. She balked and then straightened up. Next she pulled a stack of plates out and dropped them to the ground. And another. Then she just reached her entire left arm in and swept the bowls out. And the salad plates. Another cabinet open, another set of dishes dashed against the tile. Rick pursed his lips as he tried not to cry.
Finally, he said, “Mary. Oh Mary.” Emotion overcame him and he looked away.
Unable to speak, he bent down and began to pick up the pieces.
“Not a hatchet–an actual ax.”
“Oh. I had heard he used a hatchet. Picturing Mark swinging an ax is even more difficult.”
“Yeah, well he loved Rebecca.”
“Really? You’re saying it’s okay to do what he did because he loved her? I’m not saying the killer should be walking around, but there is a little thing called rule of law. He should’ve had his day in court.”
“Please. You know as well as I do that the system is broken, especially in this case. They gave up.”
“Fine. Either way, I can’t believe it.”
“I know. Apparently when the police told him the trail went cold, Mark just quit his job, sold a bunch of stuff, and secretly tracked down that mother fucker. Search and destroy.”
“I meant that I can’t believe he turned himself in.”
“Really. Now he’s probably going to prison. He had essentially gotten away with murder. And then he turns himself in. It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t. Have you talked to Rick much?”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“Mark called me that morning to ask if I’d help him.”
“I guess he learned pretty quickly who his real friend was.”
“I just have the wife and kids, you know? I can’t get involved in something like unearthing a dead body.”
“You’re right. You are right.”
“Everyone’s saying Rick is something special for risking everything to help Mark though.”
“I’ve heard the same talk.”
“Well, what can you do?”
“Not much anyone can do at this point.”
“Not at this point.”
“Are you sure you want to do this,” Rick began, anxiously. “No one even knows he’s gone.”
Mark just stood there, his hand outstretched and holding a shovel.
“Okay,” Rick said, taking the shovel. “Okay. I said I’d help. So I’m helping,” he said, still talking himself into his decision.
Mark reached into the trunk for a second shovel. He slammed the trunk shut and the men began to walk into the woods.
“How far is it?” asked Rick, turning back to see the car fade from view.
“At least I have my comfortable boots on,” Rick said, trying to make the best of it. “Aw shit,” he said, stepping calf deep into an unexpected puddle.
Mark just rolled his eyes.
Shaking his leg, Rick hurriedly returned to Mark’s side, more worried about the setting sun than a wet boot. He looked around them and noticed the trees were thinning out. About to comment on this, he bumped into Mark who had stopped.
Unaffected, Mark said, “It’s here.”
“Here? Right here? How do you know?”
“Whelp, I guess it’s time to dig,” Rick said as his shovel slid into the earth.
“I guess it is.”
Sweating and feeling like they were making no progress, Rick said, “Jesus, Mark. How deep did you bury him? Are you sure we’re in the right spot?”
Just then Mark struck an object.
“Finally,” said Rick. Without Mark’s cool exterior, Rick would have been terrified to be this deep into the woods at night. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” he asked.
It took everything the two men had to lift the box from the hole, but they did.
As Mark pulled up on his handle, Rick asked, “Aren’t we going to fill in the hole?”
“Nope. They’re going to want to see where he was for themselves.”
Mark began, “Rick-”
“Thanks again for doing this. All the others refused. You’re the only one who understood.”
“You’re welcome. But really, it’s nothing. Everyone can see that you’re a different man since Rebecca was-” Rick stopped himself.
“Sorry. I won’t. But yes, you’re welcome.”
Rick struggled to square the box alongside the car as Mark called the police.
Jim pounded more slowly now. The endorphins were wearing off, and his hands finally began to hurt.
He couldn’t stop watching her–watching them–lay there, likely dead. His tears ran dry and his wail fell silent as he let his forehead come to rest on the bloody glass. He shut his eyes and hoped to wake up from a nightmare. Opening his eyes, he was surprised to see the pink cloud rapidly ascending to towards the ceiling and then towards the two vents that were specifically designed to be used if there was a mishap. Not entirely the same as waking from a nightmare (though a close second), he saw the light over the door turn green and heard the familiar click of the door unlocking. Not waiting for anyone or anything to stop him, he opened the door and rushed to where Tara lay.
He reached for her suit and in touching it, he collapsed in immobilizing pain. The chemical agent was out of the air, but not out of the suit, it seemed. He kind of wished he hadn’t destroyed his hands as he stared up at the ceiling, becoming the sixth victim of the mishap. What can only be described as the friendliest looking firemen imaginable suddenly appeared. To Jim, who laid there in agonizing pain, they looked like a cross between his childhood mother and Kurt Russell from Backdraft, shaky cheeks and all. Jim counted at least fifteen of them as he was lifted onto a gurney and rolled from the room.
The last thing he saw as they wheeled him away from the danger was the glove-wearing rescuers cutting Tara and the others out of their protective suits.
“I’ve had more fun in my life,” she said, attempting to rise from the prone position in her XB-2134 chem-warfare suit. She understood why it had to be so heavy, but at the moment, she couldn’t believe they never trained for this. She was on her back and knew she couldn’t sit up. That meant she needed to roll over. The trouble was that the arms of the suit were so heavy that the designers built into the suit a feature which took some of the weight off of the wearer’s shoulders. The feature prevented the arms from lowering past 45 degrees. In effect, they were sticking out, both to the side and front. Through her helmet’s face shield, she could only see a slight cloud of pink smoke thickening and the ceiling. “No more effing around, Tara, you have to get out of here,” she told herself.
Up until she found herself on her back, she had been working on a new chemical weapon and been payed very well to do so. Rocking back and forth, back and forth, she finally made it to her stomach. She was on her stomach, arms extended over her head. “I’m not sure this is any better,” she thought. For the first time since she was knocked off her feet she felt a pang of fear. And now on her stomach she couldn’t see anything but the floor. It was smooth cement. She had never really looked at the floor before. It reminded her of the skating rink where she used to play roller hockey with her brothers.
Deciding that perhaps her side was a better position to start from, she rocked and rocked some more, gaining more and more momentum. She did it. She made it to her right side and was able to use her extended right arm to keep her from rolling back on her stomach. It was then that she noticed no one had said anything over the suits comm system since she woke up. Scanning the room from her new vantage point, she saw her four co-workers struggling to stand back up just as she was. There was no noise beside her own breathing. And the pink cloud was not only thick now, but starting to attack the suit.
“Jim! Jim, do you read me?” she shouted, hoping that anyone listening could hear her distress. She realized what part of the room she was looking at, and quickly decided to at least turn towards the containing door, with its one small window. She had to rotate clockwise about her right shoulder or else she’d end up back on her stomach. Feeling as foolish as she imagined she looked, she began to make progress. But not faster than the pink cloud. As she began to make out the hinge to the door, the chemical came nearer and nearer to eating a hole in her suit.
“Help! Anybody!” she screamed, totally aware of what was coming. She kicked her feet harder and harder.
Outside the door, Jim’s hands bled. It wasn’t until they smashed against the program director’s teeth over and over again that he even became aware of the blood. But now that he heard the squishy sound of pummeled flesh smacking against an immovable object, he realized the deep red substance that obscured the window he watched her through was his own blood. He frantically tried to wipe the blood away with his fingers. Making little progress, he saw Tara and the others speed up their movements the way ants walk faster on a frying pan over a flame. Then, just like the ants, everyone stopped moving at the exact same time. Everyone except Jim.
Her elbow as the hinge, her hand lowered the phone to the bed after she finished her morning dose of Dieter. She pushed the sheets off her body, bumping him, and climbed out of the bed.
Pulling her underwear followed by her pants over her hips, she remembered feeling the electricity of his fingers as he took them off only hours ago.
Fully dressed, she closed the door to his house and began her walk. Thinking about the night, she recalled her surprise at his home’s level of décor. At the bar, he was nicely dressed, but so were most of her other conquests. She discovered early on that not many men had the stamina to match the presentation of their home to the presentation of their body. But he did. She liked that.
She recalled that the wine he served her was remarkably smooth. “Then again at 2:00 am, (or was it 3?) what wine wasn’t?” she laughed to herself. They drank it in his wine cellar before he led her upstairs. She remembered thinking that she didn’t need the comfort of a bed. Loving how he was so in control, she willingly followed.
Already 9:00 am on a Sunday, she was sure everyone driving by could guess how she spent her night. After all, her hair was disheveled, she was in heels, and her clothing was not exactly the type women wear for a coffee run. Let them wonder, she thought. They would never guess everything. They would never know her feelings for him. They would never suspect that afterwards she turned his head–always heavier than expected–so the draining blood wouldn’t soil her half of the thousand count sheets as she slept it off.
Waking up, he kept his eyes closed. He was uncomfortable for sure. Besides feeling like he was sleeping on uneven ground, he felt a disabling heat surround him. It was a stifling heat. He thought back to the last thing that he could remember. He knew he was not alone. He knew they had traveled to this place, their destination. But where were they? And where was she? And why was it so hot?
Sweating, he could feel his pants clinging to his legs as if he had just climbed fully clothed from a hot spring. A curiosity overtook his movements and he reached out with his hand blindly feeling for anything. He felt something hot. That’s all he knew for certain. Suddenly he felt, not cool air itself, but the memory of cool air–the memory that cooler temperatures existed somewhere not too far from where he was.
Time taking effect, he began to remember where they were. It was a campground. They had setup their tent, and she wanted to take a rest. He couldn’t believe his luck, and so they both crawled in the tent, sun blazing. He remembered that before dozing off into a restful slumber he reassured himself that she couldn’t get into too much trouble within the confines of a tent, especially not a four-season, dual-door, dual-vestibule beaut like his. Still, she did have a sleeping bag, a water bottle that emptied at a rate equivalent to a sippy cup, and Pingu, her pink penguin.
Finally, he heard her whispering. It was unintelligible, so he made the decision to open his eyes and see she was up to. Looking towards her whispers, he was immediately struck by a fear brought on by the inexplicable. Her hair was soaked. Her shorts just below her waistline were soaked. In a moment, realizing she had not ‘rested’ but stayed up playing for who knows how long in a hot tent with no vents open, her sweaty hair made sense. But why were her pants wet? She was a potty trained three and a half year old. Then he finally heard a full sentence as she guiltily turned, pouring water into her hand.
“Okay Pingu, we’re almost done with your shower.”