Almost three o’clock in the morning and his eyes are still open. The ceiling fan churns the silver light that slashes through the dark room, the moon fat and leaking through the blinds across the bed. He wishes he could wipe his nose with the back of his hand as burning eyes lock onto the face of his wife – angelic, serene, beautiful – and completely unaware.
Eleven years married, happy for the most part, until earlier that evening.
It was just after a late supper, they lay sated and lazy in the padded leather of their reclining sofa and stared vacantly at some mindless reality show blaring from the television in front of them. The buzz of the cellular phone in his pocket startled them from a shared satisfaction. She untangled herself to allow him room, he withdrew the vibrating device, and Private stared back at him. He pressed ignore and slipped it back into his pocket, resumed his position, and let the television continue to erode his mind. Screeching whores and aggressive douchebags filled the screen as they were again consumed.
He sighed and they unwrapped again, this time he would be sure to leave it out of his pocket so they didn’t have to keep moving like this.
Another idiotic telemarketer. Another rude bill collector. Nobody special, so he sent it to voicemail again. If it was important, they would surely leave a message.
He placed the phone onto the end table and wrapped his arm around her again, content to be here in this moment, with her. The phone gave a final buzz indicating that the caller had indeed left a message. He ignored the annoyance and focused his time and attention on his wife.
After the show finished they tiptoed to the bedroom to make love, and she was soon snoring lightly on his shoulder. He smiled and went back downstairs, cut himself a piece of the very rich red velvet cake she had made for his birthday, and washed it down with a tall glass of milk. A late night snack to finish a very good day. He scratched at the beard betraying flecks of grey and couldn’t believe he was already thirty-seven. His foot touched the bottom step and the tiny buzz from the living room caught his attention.
The screen showed he had seventeen missed calls, Private littered his recent call history, and he now had four voicemails. He pressed the button and his heart dropped.
He walked into the study as he frantically dialed the number he knew by heart. She explained that she hadn’t been around much lately because she had been getting sick. She had been unable to hold anything down for the past few days, and initially thought it was just the flu. When she had been in the drugstore looking for medicine to alleviate the nausea, a thought had grabbed her and convinced her to pick up a pregnancy test.
His voice caught in his throat, the weight of the tension hanging in the air threatened to crush him.
The room around him thick and pulsing, blood screamed in his ears and he missed what she had said next. She was sobbing uncontrollably now, and he wanted to interrupt and ask her to say it again, but her voice flowed from the receiver in a loud rush. Something about being tired all the time, sore muscles and joints, night sweats, and the ongoing inability to eat or hold anything down. The crying hushed for a moment to ask if he was still there, and he nodded but couldn’t form the words to speak. He tried to clear his throat, dry and coiled tight around his reply, as he heard the door click quietly behind him. He couldn’t move.
The call returned to obnoxious wails and blubbering and blame, followed by a heartfelt and pitiful farewell, and ended in the deafening sound of a gunshot.
The report escaped the cell phone and echoed from walls that had closed in on him as it fell to the soft carpet.
Angelo walked from the holding cell and outside into the cold, she had actually come through this time. She said repeatedly that she would never do it, but a mother can’t let her only son sit in jail, so she kept paying for his mistakes.
It was her fault anyway. This was a simple one, an easy little mistake anyone could have made.
The alarm had sounded as he stepped through the sliding doors at the front of the building, designer perfume stuffed deep into his pants, the perfect gift for her birthday dinner that evening. He reached into his depths and found the strength to run just as a meaty hand clamped his shoulder and pulled him back into the store.
A few minutes later, the chubby face wrapped in the thin wire frame of glasses and smeared with acne scars breathed the foul stink of condescension into his nostrils from only inches away. Shouldn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t, not on his watch. Or something. He just sat through the lecture waiting to be released, but it looked like this department store security guard, this police academy washout, wasn’t finished yet.
After an hour of interrogation and accusation, Angelo realized his only option. He had to explain how he had done this so smoothly. Tubby claimed he had been watching him like a hawk since he had entered the store, but missed the quick slip of the product into the baggy pants, and didn’t even know what item had triggered the alarm. At least until the suspect had been strip searched in the tiny office that reeked of body odor and ball sweat. He snapped a picture with the polaroid camera and taped it to the wall alongside six other criminal masterminds caught shoplifting at this particular establishment. He could see from the pictures that he was the oldest, he definitely wasn’t a baby like the other ones, surely forty was a little late to be busted shoplifting by the likes of this guy.
He waited for the lecture to finish and expected to be released, a slap on the wrist and a ban from the store. Same as always.
Instead, jowls danced when they informed him that the owners of the store would likely sue in civil court, and that the police would arrive shortly.
“You mean the real police?” Was his only reply.
He was fingerprinted and placed in a cell with drunks and druggies, wife-beaters and chomos – all because of his mom and her fucking birthday. When he finally got his call she didn’t answer, there was no money to pay collect. The system he had worked out was to speak as quickly as possible, so she would know without having to pay for the call.
“This is a collect call from the Adams County…heymaitsmepleasecomegetmesorryhappybirthdaybye. Will you accept the charges?”
Took her long enough, and she didn’t even talk to him or let him smoke in her car on the way home. When they got back he said he would be back a little later. He had to go pick up some smokes, and he would have a present for her too.
He left the convenience store slapping the fresh cigarettes against his palm and turned into the dark alleyway. He walked several blocks and smoked, letting the early winter cold nip at his skin while he tried to think. The houses grew bigger and the streets became quiet, the wealthier side of town already surrounded him. The street dark and silent, he turned to go back home, maybe tell Mom that he would get her a present tomorrow when the shops were open again. The blue glow through the window of a home across the street caught his eye, and he knew exactly where he would get the money to pay for it.
He crept silently along the wall and found the door at the back of the attached garage unlocked. Fucking rich people, always so trusting. At least they didn’t have a dog. The door into the home was silent as it opened, the house was dark as he moved inside and began to look around. He could hear the squeak of bedsprings and muffled moan of sex from upstairs, and felt the twitch downstairs, interested and envious at the same time. With a final groan and a giggle, the noises stopped and the house was quiet again for several minutes before he heard a door open. He ducked into a room and waited, he still hadn’t found anything so he couldn’t leave quite yet.
The fridge opened and shut, the clank of silverware against a plate, the slurp of a drink, then footsteps. Heading his way. Fast. His eyes had adjusted in the darkness to see he was in some sort of office, and he ducked behind the desk just as the door opened and stabbed the room with a shaft of yellow light from the hallway.
He peeked around the corner of the dark, polished wood and a man about his age entered the room, with a cell phone pressed to his ear and a worried look on his face. He could hear the voice of a female from the speaker, and she sounded upset. The man had turned to look out the window as his head was wrapped in the sobs that spilled from his phone. Angelo reached into his jacket pocket and felt the cool steel and shiny plastic of the throwaway. If he was discovered, he could flash it and this old bastard would shit his pants. He would have to get his wallet first then.
He stood quickly and backed around the man. The noise quieted from the phone and he could hear the gulp and crack of words stuck in the man’s throat, then the man was nodding to the phone as she began to talk again. He felt the bump of the door against his shoulder and it closed softly. Shit.
He pulled the revolver from his pocket and pointed it at the back of the man, who tensed, but did not turn. The woman living in the phone was hysterical. Crying and cursing and apologizing and begging. Then the unmistakeable sound of a gunshot escaped the call and pierced the silence, Angelo reacted.
He padded forward and the butt of his gun crunched into the base of the greying brown hair that covered the man’s skull, dropping him face first into the carpet underneath the window.
He woke in his bedroom, head throbbing and the bed shaking to muffled cries from his wife.
He blinked rapidly to bring the dark room into focus. His wrists had been tied to the headboard, and a man was sweaty and gasping on top of the struggling woman who had turned her head into a pillow that swallowed her screams.
He struggled against the restraints, he flailed and kicked and pulled to break the headboard and save her from this torment. A foot found ribs and he could hear the crunch through baggy clothes, before the man tumbled from her and onto the floor. The intruder leapt to his feet and cracked him across the eye with the butt of a revolver. Then again. He leaned in close and the stink of cigarettes whispered into his ear to relax, it would all be over soon.
The man climbed on top of his wife, crying silently and helpless as he pressed the barrel into her chin and buried his face into her bosom. Her eyes dug into him. He could only watch as she was raped, his head throbbing and his arms now completely numb, the bastard increased the power and pace of his thrusts until a loud crack shook the room.
His ears were ringing as he tried to process what had happened.
The man looked frightened then, the waves of a surprising orgasm still rippled through his body as he pushed off the woman, and began swatting at the bits of chalky skull and rubbery brain stuck to his shirt. He looked like he was going to vomit as he stumbled to pull up his pants, and his mouth moved behind a shaky revolver now aimed at the homeowner.
Old, tired eyes flooded with tears and his heart hurt, the blood trickled from an exit wound at the back of her skull into a growing pool spreading through the comforter. One eye was halfway closed, the other wide and accusing, he could feel a piece of himself die with the beautiful corpse beside him. He screamed and thrashed and kicked and wailed, everything sounded like he was underwater. Like he had a terrible head cold. Sound slowly limped back in and he could hear the voice over the ringing.
“I told you it would all be over soon.” The nose of the revolver dipped and a searing pain in his abdomen accompanied the crack of the revolver this time.
He watched him take the wallet out of his pants and stuff the bills into his pocket. Her purse was upended, and he fished a few more bills and some coins from the carpet fibers before wiping down the gun and dropping it to the floor. Then he walked from the room.
His eyes burn with hatred and shame, the moon has climbed a little in the window and the room is a little brighter through the blinds. He stares at the woman who has spent over a decade by his side. The love of his life. Anger boils in his veins and the empty house echoes his cries and curses. Her beautiful face cracked porcelain in the moonlight, a death mask watches him die slowly from the gunshot wound to his stomach. Almost an hour crawls by, and he keeps apologizing. His voice weak and hoarse, he tells her it will be okay. He is sorry for everything. Maybe she can forgive him in another life.
She would never know now, but her husband had been cheating for over a year with the girl who had called several times a few hours earlier. She had believed she was pregnant, but the test came back negative. A trip to the free clinic downtown completed a test that explained her symptoms. The Virus had taken hold and had only recently begun to announce its presence in her body, but she had likely had it for several months.
This meant her lover also had it, along with his unsuspecting wife.
As he comes to the end, his eyelids grow heavy and he continues to apologize, but he smiles knowing that the evil bastard who had taken his wife, before he painted the headboard with her brains, would be in for a nasty little surprise in about six months.
The Virus would happily take his life as he had taken theirs. Painful and slow he will die alone.
BIO: Kevin Berg lives at the base of the beautiful Rocky Mountains with his amazing wife and two kickass daughters. He has published a debut – Indifference – as well as finding a home for some of his shorts here, at the very entertaining Pulp Metal Magazine. Find him on Goodreads and Facebook, let him know what you think.