A warm welcome to Copper from across the big pond on his debut...
First was fourteen-year-old Kevin Shears:
"Cynthia Germain and me broke up weeks ago."
Sarah's first crush, her first kiss, and the line about the break-up with Cynthia Germain? The first lie lobbed her way from a suitor. Within seconds they were tangled in a blur of clumsy kisses under the bleachers when they should have been in study hall.
A week later, Kevin would take Cynthia to the homecoming dance.
Parking a few blocks away seemed like a sensible move at the time. In theory she would escape detection as she dipped through the shadows towards the house on foot. But oh, that satanic humidity. Even at the darkest hour of night she feels tugged to the earth, damn near sedated by this cloud of mugginess.
But she soldiers on, creeping past the bushes of a neighbor's home and raising nary an eyebrow of suspicion – she's good at this. Almost there now, nothing stopping her save for the dodgeball game next door. Damn kids, shouldn't they be in bed or at school or something at this hour. She'll have to wait in the shrubbery, head tucked to her chest, body impossibly still. She checks her purse – everything there. Soon it will be time to strike.
Then it was Trevor's turn:
"C'mon, honey! It'll be fun – something for us to watch alone. I won't let anyone else see the tape, I swear."
This drunken college frat boy with a camcorder and an over-active libido could be very persuasive. So Sarah slipped into the Wonder Woman garb and believed him. The first surprise was that those Amazonian bracelets made her wrist chafe. The second surprise sent her down like a five-year-old tumbling from her tricycle.
All is quiet now, so she dashes to a side window, opens her purse to find the wire cutters. She is stunned that it is so easy. She clips and claws her way inside in seconds. Greeted by the cool of a hardwood floor, she stays squatted for a while, collects her thoughts. This is not like the movies at all, she concludes. This is too easy, too comfortable. How do burglars ever get caught? she wonders. How does anybody choose a career unrelated to burglary?
Tommy chimed in with this one:
"Honey, you have to trust me. There's no other woman in my life. Honest."
Well, strictly speaking this was true. But she didn't think to wonder what really happened on those boy's nights out. And what about the leather chaps in his closet? And the questions he wouldn't answer about his past? She just tried to wish these worries away. Because this one had to be different. He was but he wasn't.
She slinks into the kitchen with the strides of a stalking puma, opens the refrigerator, enjoys a shower in the rush of cool. After a look around, she grabs a container of lemonade. She glares at it, eyes narrowing, lips curling into a sinister grin. After a sip she decides it could use another ingredient.
After Tommy there would be more:
"No, I don't have any kids."
"Um… those shoes are my sister's – she visits from time to time."
"No, I wasn't looking at the waitress's ass!"
"I'm self-employed right now."
"I'll call you."
"She's just a friend!"
"I love you too."
And then there would be Daryl:
"There is nothing I want more in the world than to be with you and only you."
Married Daryl. Yes, he had come clean about the wife – after much heated interrogation. And yes, he had that mustache and that antebellum charm and he could make her laugh like nobody else with those stories about his days as a marine. But still…
By the time she got to Daryl, Sarah had had enough. Enough with lies, enough with liars, enough with waiting for men to stop being men and start being honest and forthright and true. She was known to be temperamental, a feisty little firecracker when crossed the wrong way. She had given Kevin a kick to the crotch when she learned about Cynthia, had set Trevor's porn collection ablaze when the truth came crawling out, but this is miles beyond feisty. This is breaking and entering. And if all goes according to scheme, it will be murder too.
She yanks the ziplock of strychnine from her purse, opens the lemonade container and empties the powder into it. With the aid of a nearby spoon she blends the powder into the innocuous sea of bright yellow. One more gaze at her handiwork and back in the refrigerator it goes, poised behind a can of beer and a half-finished piece of pizza, just waiting. With the flight attendant wifey crossing the Atlantic for the weekend and the kids safely away in summer camp, the extra-strength lemonade will wind up in nobody's belly but Daryl's.
And then comes a clack up the driveway, high heels – this is not Daryl. Sarah freezes.
More clacking, and a clumsy set of keys seeking the keyhole. She has to flee, has to find a way out. The window she slipped in through? Too risky – too easy to be spotted by this person coming in the front door.
The back door? Maybe, but what about the lemonade? She can't just leave that and let anybody – like the lady now opening the front door – drink it. Or can she?
It's too late, the choice has been made for her. The door is swung open, the footsteps muffled now by carpet. She's inside. Nothing to do now but take cover.
Sarah scampers into the pantry, swinging the door shut quietly – or so she tries. It creaks. The footsteps halt as if panicked, alerted. Then they start again, into the kitchen. Sarah spies her through the keyhole of the pantry door. She's sweeter, less hostile than the harpy-in-training Daryl had described, but then who knows what rage lurks behind that painted on stewardess smile that she seemingly sports even when alone. She opens the refrigerator door, reaches for the lemonade. Bad move.
Now she needs a cup, and ice too. Sarah screams on the inside, ready to spring from the pantry, ready to stop this madness. But good luck explaining all this to the police.
Then the phone rings in the living room so the glass goes down before she can pour herself a death by poisoning. And Sarah can breath again. The harpy-in-training slumps out of the kitchen, answers the phone with an exhausted growl: "Yeah?"
Sarah could flee now, she could scramble to the back door, fumble with the lock and run free. But what about the lemonade?
"Yeah, I remember what you told me, that's the problem –"
This won't be easy. First she has to open the pantry door – another squeak, this one not noticed in the midst of more heated words on the phone:
"… and what, like my needs don't mean a goddamn thing? Like my world could just explode and it's my problem, huh?"
Then a few steps to the counter where the glass of lemonade sits. But she is no ninja. Her glides are more like stomps on the sticky linoleum. But they get lost in the rattle of a soliloquy:
"High maintenance! Because I need to feel loved and needed and wanted every once in a while? Because I need to be reminded of why I fell in love you? Because I need to feel like I mean something more to you than a… than a…"
Sarah becomes a statue, unable to take another step in this silence. Come on, lady! she thinks. A concubine! A whore! A domestic servant! Anything!
"But the thing of it is…"
Sarah halts again as the harpy-in-training is unable think of what the thing of it is. But soon enough she is onto something else:
"What I need from you is devotion. I need for you to be for me what you are to you poker buddies and your softball teammates and your…"
Another pause. Sarah scoops away the glass, reaches for the refrigerator door and grabs the container.
"Yes, I think so…"
And down the drain goes every drop of the toxic lemonade – but with an oceanic splash.
"And I also think –" She stops cold. "Can I call you right back?" She hangs up cautiously, quietly.
Sarah slinks back into the pantry, pulls the door shut – another squeak. Another suspicion-raising bump in the night.
Footsteps again, coming to the kitchen, slowly. One at a time. The harpy-in-training fumbles with something in her purse, then draws it: a gun.
"Hello?" she calls. She doesn't want an answer. She wants to convince herself that she didn't really hear anything, then she'll go upstairs take a Valium and a nap. She'll laugh about it later with the hubby over a drink and a rerun of Lost. By then Sarah will have scurried off into the night. No need to panic, Sarah tells herself. She almost believes it.
Her gun is extended now and she circles around like somebody who's seen too many damn cop movies. But Sarah is patient. With the gun still extended she moves to the living room, then down the hallway.
Sarah spies the living room window, the one she came in through. Now! she tells herself.
What's your plan B? Surrender to an angry, armed harpy-in-training? Then – assuming you survive – wait for the cops and explain yourself out of lengthy prison term? The window is right there! She's a stewardess, for God's sake. She can't be a very good shot.
Sarah sprints for the window, but stumbles. The harpy-in-training turns, aims, mistakes the sprint for an attack, takes two shots. Sarah leaps for the window – She's a stewardess, for God's sake. She can't be a very good shot.
But these are not the frantic, random shots of a stewardess, his wife. These are the shots - one through the abdomen, one through the chest – of a federal marshal, his other mistress.
And so it ends with another lie. How nice.
Copper Smith is a writer of crime fiction who resides in Minneapolis and plays the mandolin. His blog can be read at: http://uppercutavenue.blogspot.com/2009/11/my-name-is-copper-smith-and-i-write.html