As a trial lawyer, Craig could face any situation and make it work. But facing his controlling wife and her lover (while they drank wine in his bed) turned out to need more than just a good plan.

Craig needed to believe in his actions, every action, no matter how small.  Or large.


Copyright © 2012 by Dean Wesley Smith
Published by WMG Publishing
Cover Design copyright © 2012 WMG Publishing
Cover art copyright © Maksim Shmeljov/Dreamstime

 

 

 

Available for $3.99 in all electronic formats on Smashwords, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, Kobo, and many others. Also available in trade paperback for $4.99 from Amazon and CreateSpace. For more information, click on the “list of stories” tab above.  Signed copies coming soon here and on www.deanwesleysmith.com

Published by WMG Publishing 

Act One

I sat in my brand-new green Lexus on the hot pavement of Bryant Street and stared at the front door of my home across the lush and expensive green lawn, always perfectly kept, of course.

Before any rough day in court, as a major trial lawyer, I always sat in my car and made sure I was completely in character. The worst thing I could do in a courtroom was to have sudden doubts, or fall out of my belief system.

I thought of it as going on stage. I had to be completely in my character, completely submerged in the part I needed to play.

And that’s what I had to do now. I had to stay in the part, in character. I couldn’t let a stray thought break my concentration.

I again stared at the house. Right now the state-of-the-art sprinkler system was giving the lawn “just a taste” to keep it fresh looking even in the August heat. Most of the watering was done at night.

That stupid piece of green lawn had been taken out and replaced four times because Salina, my wife, wanted it to look better. Four different times it had been carefully rolled into place, carefully cut, carefully everything. And “carefully” meant expensive.

The brick planters along the front of the house always had to be perfect as well, present the perfect picture to the world of a happy, perfect home in our little subdivision. The perfect flowers had to be planted carefully in each planter for each of Portland, Oregon’s seasons. Those flowers got replaced every two months, even if some of the old ones were still blooming.

And even worse, I had spent more money than I could ever imagine on slug poison because Salina had read an article about how slugs were bad in this part of the country.

Our lawn and planters, plus parts of the garage and the basement, were pure death to any poor slug that happened to wander into the yard. And who knew what all that poison was doing to other animals unlucky enough to venture across the line into Salina’s perfect point-four acres in the suburbs.

Salina had loved her home, her yard, her plants, her furniture, her clothes, her dishes, her kitchen, everything she touched. She had tried to make everything perfect.

Even me.

But I was the one thing she could never make perfect, or convince to spend enough of my own money on myself to become what she considered perfect.

I was the one flaw in her perfectly ordered and maintained life.

She could spend my money on everything else, but I had drawn the line with changing myself.

And that had become our biggest problem. I just didn’t care enough to be perfect. I kind of liked myself the way I was. I stood six-two, worked out so I had no excess weight at thirty-three, unlike most of my friends and co-workers in the law firm. And I had a smile that many said lit up a room.

But Salina said my nose was crooked and it needed to be fixed. It was crooked, slightly, because of skiing accident up on Mount Hood when I was twenty-four, a year after I married Salina. But I liked it. I thought it gave my face character.

Salina saw it as an imperfection.

And she was big into Yoga, but no chance in hell I was going to do that. I ran in the gym down near the office and played golf in the summer and skied in the winter. No way I was going to sit and try to get my damned leg over my head.

Salina was into fine wines and had me spend a fortune for a wine cellar dug under the house. That cellar had been one of our biggest fights. Of course, she won.

The wine cellar was tighter than most bank vaults and controlled with its own environmental system. Expensive didn’t begin to describe that room.

I hated most wines. I liked a good micro-brew and had a fridge in the perfectly clean garage that kept my beer.

And she had wanted me to learn to like the cultural stuff around Portland, but all I had wanted to attend was a University of Oregon Ducks football game.

So after years of marriage, I had become an abomination to Salina. She wouldn’t allow me to touch her and she seldom talked to me unless she wanted something from me or wanted to criticize something I was doing, eating, or watching.

So today, as planned, I would end it.

If the plan worked as set out, Salina’s little perfect world would come crashing down around her head.

I was in perfect form, ready to go on stage and play my part. It felt good to do this preparation time again.

I glanced up the street at the deep-blue convertible Cadillac parked like it belonged to the house three doors away. But Jimmy, my private detective and best friend, told me it belonged to Percy Samuels.

Salina and Percy.

Such a perfect-sounding couple.

Percy owned what seemed like a swank health spa in the Pearl District downtown, but Jimmy told me he was completely broke. Percy lived in a sloppy apartment littered with Coors beer cans and was within one month of having that fancy blue car repossessed.

On top of that, the IRS had liens on his business and were about to strike, a source told me.

That source, of course, was Jimmy.

Everything I knew about Salina and Percy came though Jimmy.

Jimmy and I had been friends since college and he knew how to dig out information in both legal and illegal ways. We skied together in the winter and played golf together every Saturday.

And now, with everything, we spent almost all our time together.

He only stood five-four, but was the most powerful small man I had ever met. I might be ten inches taller and weigh more, but not a chance in the world would I ever want to take him on in a fight.

Jimmy often found me information for a client I couldn’t legally use, but that illegal information usually pointed to something I could use.

Way back when I asked him to look into what Salina was doing, all he did was laugh. Then he said, “I was wondering when the sex was going to turn bad and you were going to grow a pair in dealing with her.”

So Jimmy did his best and found all sorts of information that would allow me to kick Salina down the road and not pay her a cent.

Salina and Percy had been lovers now for six months. Usually in the afternoons when they knew I was going to be in court.

I had to admit, that was smart.

Of course, that backfired on them, all their careful planning.

And Salina had been stashing some cash away, which I had managed to make vanish out of her accounts.

Jimmy managed to get all our joint accounts locked down tight and all her credit cards cancelled.

Salina was as broke as her lover Percy.

I looked out over the perfect green lawn saturated in snail bait. It was time for me to play this game, walk on this stage, and go into that house once again. I already had a wonderful condominium downtown, only blocks from my office. And I liked it, had furnished it the way I wanted a place furnished, including the biggest screen one of the rooms could handle.

Percy and Salina were in their perfect world. They just didn’t know it.

I almost felt sorry for him. Her, I never would have a moment’s regret.

My cell phone in my pocket was on and open, connected to my best friend. “You there, Jimmy?”

“Waiting just around the corner as usual, Craig,” Jimmy’s deep voice came back strong. “Just leave the line open and I’ll make sure I get everything. I’ll come running if there is an ounce of trouble.”

“Thanks, buddy,” I said.

Jimmy played his part in our little play perfectly. You couldn’t ask for a better friend.

Leaving the connection open in my pocket so that Jimmy could hear, I moved from the car and out into the sun.

For Portland, the day was warm, promising to top out in the mid-nineties.

Taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, just as I did when going into court, I moved up my front walk, my leather dress shoes making faint clicking sounds on the concrete that sounded like it echoed up and down the street.

I wasn’t actually sure they made any sound, but I sure hoped they did, at least a little. In this play, I wanted them to make the noise.

Then, moving as silently as I could, I went through the front door and stood just inside. It felt like I was sweating slightly in the sudden coolness of the air. I wasn’t sure if I actually was or if I just wanted to believe I was.

I had done it. I was inside.

I stayed very still to try to discover what I could hear.

Of course, there was nothing. I had done so much build-up to this, like planning a major court case, my nerves were almost out of control.

It made me feel alive, which I loved.

“You okay, Craig?” Jimmy’s voice came faintly from my phone in my pocket.

I whispered. “Inside the house. Give me a minute.”

The play continued.

I started down the hallway toward our master bedroom, working hard to make as little noise as possible.

No one there.

The huge room was in perfect condition, the bed made, the blinds open, the summer light filling the pink and orange space that was Salina’s idea of a perfect master bedroom.

I felt dizzy, so I made myself take a couple deep breaths until the swirling passed. I couldn’t let the images of anything but today come into my mind. I had to stay firmly in character or this would not work yet again.

After a moment, I went back to the game of searching for my wife and her lover, making sure I stayed right on the script Jimmy and I had worked out.

That was critical.

Of course I found nothing.

The house was empty.

I carefully opened a cabinet and took one of my old coffee mugs out and placed it on the counter, just where it wasn’t supposed to be.

I stared at it for a moment, almost stunned, but again working to keep myself in character, acting as if what I had just done was perfectly normal.

Salina would have never allowed that to happen. It was something out of place, something not perfect, so if I left the mug there, she would have cleaned it up.

And then I would have heard about it for an hour.

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” she would repeat over and over.

I tended to agree with that now for her.

I stared at the mug for a moment longer, savoring the victory.

Then I walked through the house again, looking in all four bedrooms, in my study, in her private room. Then I went down the narrow flight of stairs and into the wine cellar, making sure that I covered everything.

I had come to love the wine cellar and actually stood for a short time with one hand on the wine racks and just smiled at all the wine I had bought Salina that now she would never drink.

Then, as if I did the action every day, I took some slug bait from a trap in a back corner and spread it into the small wall heater. Then I turned on the wall heater.

It started to crackle. Perfect.

It worked.

I had managed to do at least that much this year.

I caught myself and made myself stay in perfect character for the play.

I continued my search.

No one.

The house had a feel of emptiness to it, and now that I was looking around again, I could see faint signs of dust in certain places.

The cleaning services were clearly not doing a good job.

I moved into the kitchen area and looked out over the living room. A very empty place, even though it was full of very expensive furniture.

I talked in the direction of my shirt pocket. “Jimmy, no one home.”

“Be right there, buddy,” he said and hung up.

I stood there on the edge of the living room staring around at the empty house with all the perfect furniture that had never felt like a home to me.

The play needed to continue.

Every detail needed to be perfect if this was to work. So I headed down the hall to make the motion of checking for her car. I had to stay on stage. That’s what kept me grounded.

It was the only thing that mattered.

As I expected, her car was still parked there.

I went back to the dark granite kitchen counter as Jimmy came through the front door and moved over beside me.

He had a very worried look on his face.

I gave him a thumbs up and pointed to the mug.

“So where are they?” I asked him, indicating the empty room, continuing the script we had set up.

“Damn,” Jimmy said. “I was so hoping that this year you would remember.”

“Remember what?” I asked.

Jimmy started into his part of his script.

“Three years ago Salina and Percy figured out that you were going to kick her down the road. So they tried to poison you with slug bait.”

I shook my head. I needed to pretend I had no memory of any of that. “What happened?”

“You managed to fight them off and get outside and call me and I managed to get you to a hospital. You were in a coma for almost four months.”

I said nothing since I had no lines in this play and Jimmy went on talking, telling me a fantastic story that I knew wasn’t possible.

Yet part of me wanted to believe it was possible, because it was such a nice story. A lot better than the truth I wanted to believe.

And a ton better than the real truth.

“When Salina and Percy realized you were going to live and they were going to be arrested, they made a run for Mexico. They didn’t make it. She’s still in jail in California for some crime they did down there and will be for another ten years before coming back up here to face charges for trying to kill you.”

Jimmy could really tell a wild story and he had this one very well practiced after the years of telling it to me.

Again I said nothing, staying in the part of a person who couldn’t remember anything that happened.

“When you woke up,” Jimmy said, “you had only half your stomach left and no memory of anything. You were convinced instead that you and Salina were divorced and that she’s completely gone. You just won’t seem to believe anything else.”

I would have never thought it would have been possible for Salina to try to kill me. I would have never thought the perfect woman in the perfect house with the perfect life had that sort of thing in her. Yet, in the real world, she got rid of everything that wasn’t perfect or fixed it, so getting rid of me would have seemed logical to her.

It sure made for a great story for Jimmy to feed me to keep me on stage and solidly in this play.

Jimmy just went on telling me the story that he told me every year at this point. “You’ve kept this house perfect, just as Salina would have wanted it, even though you never come here except today. Every year, on this day, you come back here to tell her you are kicking her out. And I come with you to help.”

I honestly loved this play. It was so real.

And Jimmy made his part of the story very convincing.

“And it happens like this every year?” I asked.

“Every damn year,” Jimmy said, answering my question.

He was standing beside me, looking very worried.

“I think I’m going to be all right. The memories of the last few years seem to be coming back.”

“Seriously?” Jimmy asked, his square face set in frown lines.

“Yup, I think I remember now,” I said. “At least most of it. Still some foggy places.”

Jimmy’s large brown eyes just looked even more worried.

“So what do you remember?” Jimmy asked. “Everything. Run me through it.”

And so the second act of our little play started.

 

Act Two

“I don’t remember Salina serving me the slug bait,” I said.

Again, this was just like being in a courtroom defending a client. My beliefs needed to be distant from my actions. I could never allow any belief but the belief I needed that day in court to come to the surface.

And that’s the way I was playing this.

“I do remember a doctor telling me that the kind of coma I had gone into can cause some brain damage, especially to memory.”

Jimmy nodded, staying on his part of the script and I could feel all this becoming solid and very real.

I smiled at my friend. “I remember you and I were planning on coming here later in the week to catch Salina and Percy doing the bed-sheet mambo and kick them out. But it never happened. Right?”

Jimmy nodded and said nothing.

I looked around the perfectly decorated big house.

And just like I was supposed to do in this part of the story, I did not mention to my best friend that Salina and Percy were behind the shelves in the wine cellar. That was the script. So I went along with the game he and I were playing to bring me back to the world.

We had tried this same game for the last couple years. Same game every year. Same script. We were getting better at it.

This very well might be the year.

“I have no memory of Salina being in jail however. Didn’t she and Percy just vanish?”

“They did.” Jimmy shrugged. “I’ve thought that they were better off gone from the start.”

“But I do like the story of her being in jail,” I said and Jimmy smiled.

If I really had memory issues.

As I did every year at this point in our little play, I asked the question once more. “Any idea where they are?”

Jimmy shook his head.

I looked around. “So why do I keep this place?”

Jimmy shrugged and said his lines perfectly. “Maybe it’s because you think Salina and Percy might return if you keep it.”

“That’s just flat silly,” I said, smiling at my friend and getting a smile in return.

I knew for a fact that they had never left.

“So you are making progress,” Jimmy said.

“Real progress,” I said.

I picked up the mug and put it back in the cabinet.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Jimmy just nodded and smiled.

Salina and Percy were drinking wine naked the day I walked in on them, four days before I drank the slug poison to cover for me killing them, making people believe they had tried to kill me instead. She loved her wine cellar so much. She and her lover are now happy together down there.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

The wine cellar is a little smaller than it was originally designed, but I doubt anyone will notice.

“That’s a hell of a story you tell me every year,” I said to Jimmy, pretending I now remembered how much of a story it really was.

“I’ll do anything to help,” he said.

“Oh, you do help,” I said.

And thus started the third act of our little play as we walked out into the afternoon sunshine.

 

Act Three

Salina and Percy were sitting there, in my car, Percy behind the steering wheel.

Right on schedule, as they always were. Salina did not believe in being late for anything.

I was now in perfect courtroom mode. I was deep in the belief of the case, knew what I had to believe and had tossed out all other beliefs. The ability to do that, stay completely submerged into the play in the courtroom, was why I had won so many cases.

After a moment Salina and Percy got out and started up the walk toward the front door, neither saying a word to the other.

Clearly the sex was going bad between them and poor old Percy was starting to understand what kind of woman he had gotten hooked up with.

Jimmy and I stepped to one side and let them pass, then followed them back into the house.

We had done the same thing every year, but this year I hoped things would be different.

I made myself stop and not think that way. I needed to stay solidly on the script.

“So how come we just don’t sell this place?” Percy asked. “We could sure use the money.”

I was stunned. They had gone through most of my money and insurance in just three years. That was a lot of money.

I pushed that thought down as well and got back into my belief system.

Salina turned to him and gave him that nasty look she used to give me. “And have someone discover the bodies in the wine cellar?”

“That would be nice,” I said.

Jimmy laughed.

Of course Salina and Percy didn’t hear me. They just headed for the wine cellar.

Percy pulled the door open and said, “Wow, that’s a smell.”

Jimmy glanced at me and smiled. He knew at that moment that I had managed to get the slug bait on the heater and turn it on.

“It’s in your head,” Salina said, pushing past him and going down the stairs. “The bodies can’t smell, you fool. We wrapped them up too tightly in layers of plastic and they are behind a very solid wall, remember?”

“How could I ever forget,” Percy said, following her.

They went down the narrow stairs to check on where they had buried me and Jimmy behind the wine racks after killing us three years ago today.

I turned to my best friend. “I seemed to have left the door to the wine cellar open in my check of the house.”

“Better close it,” he said. “You know there are expensive bottles of wine down there you wouldn’t want stolen.”

So as if I was still playing the game of looking for Salina and her lover, I moved to the wine cellar door, pushed it closed, and locked it.

Everything in its place.

Then I turned off the lights and went to the breaker box and flipped the breaker switch, leaving the breaker for the heater down there on.

Jimmy just cheered beside me.

“Holy crap, we did it!” he shouted, jumping up and down in his excitement.

Actually, I was pretty stunned as well.

I could feel myself smiling and smiling.

The two people who had killed Jimmy and me were now locked with our bodies in the wine cellar in the dark.

And they were breathing very poison air.

A moment later I could hear Percy banging on the door shouting to be let out. His voice did not sound like he was much in control.

Behind him I heard Salina coughing. Then she said, “Idiot! Why did you pull the door closed behind you?”

“I didn’t,” Percy said, his voice a couple octaves higher than normal.

Salina coughed a few more times, then said, “Break it down, you fool.”

The door pounded hard, but I remembered that when we had that wine cellar built, Salina wanted the best material and the best locks since we were going to have a lot of expensive wine down there.

She had said that many, many times to me during construction and in the arguments leading up to construction.

So the door held and then after a moment there was a loud crashing sound as two bodies tumbled back down the stairs.

And then it was silent.

“I’ll be,” Jimmy said, laughing. “We did it! We actually did it!”

I could feel this immense sense of satisfaction. Three years of practicing the scripts to make sure I felt connected to the real world. Three years of returning here to this house I hated on the day she had killed me and my best friend. We had caught her making love to Percy, but we didn’t expect the gun she had bought and had in the drawer beside her.

And I didn’t know about her trips to the gun range to learn how to use the thing.

Three years waiting for revenge.

And now it was here.

Outside I could hear the faint sounds of a siren headed this way.

“She got off a 911 call,” Jimmy said, suddenly looking worried again.

“They won’t be alive by the time the police find them,” I said, smiling at my best friend.

“I hope you are right,” he said.

“I am,” I said. “Head back to your waiting spot for a minute, would you? We need to start the play over just one more time. I want to make sure they find our bodies as well.”

He looked puzzled, but just nodded and then vanished.

A moment later his voice came over my phone inside my suit coat. “I’m here if you need me.”

I said in the general direction of my pocket, “Listen and enjoy.”

I put myself back in the courtroom, back in the belief that I was alive and could actually move physical objects without thinking about it.

I believed it more than I had ever believed in a case.

I was here to look for Salina and Percy in bed together.

I looked around the home I hated, then moved over to the front door and opened it and left it standing open for Jimmy to come in. Just in case I had trouble when I found Salina and Percy in bed together.

Staying solidly in my belief of where and when I was at, I went back through the house, looking for Salina and her boyfriend. Making sure that with every thought, every belief, I would find them alive and making love.

Of course, I didn’t find them.

As I finished my search of the back bedrooms, I heard a call from the front door. “Police! Anyone here?”

I had heard no sounds at all from the wine cellar in almost five minutes. So on the way toward the front I clicked back on the breaker lights for the wine cellar.

Then focusing as hard as I could to stay in the act of our little play and not get caught for murdering my wife and her lover and putting their bodies behind the wine racks, I went forward to greet the police.

I had to play this one perfectly. Just like a summary statement in front of a jury.

I had done it a thousand times. Once more, with flourish this time.

“Hello,” I said and two young cops both turned to me.

Wow, they were making patrol officers young these days. Both looked like they were right out of college, if that. One even had a face of pimples.

I pointed at the door just off the kitchen. “My wife and her boyfriend are dead down there in the wine cellar.”

They both just looked at me, clearly stunned and trying to process what I had just said. Then the one with the bad skin said, “Did you do it?”

What a stupid question for a policeman to ask, but I was glad he did. He played right into my plan perfectly.

“Of course I did,” I said. “I killed them. But there are two bodies behind one of the wine racks that she killed. Make sure you take care of those as well.”

Then, while they stood there stunned, I walked for the last time out the front door of the house Salina built and I had come to hate.

“Hey, wait a minute!” one cop said behind me and turned to follow.

But I was gone.

“Where did he go?” the one cop asked.

Quickly they went in different directions around the house, looking for me while calling in for backup.

But they would never find me, at least this part of me. I hoped they found my body down there behind the wine rack.

But this part of me was back in my reality. I was off stage, out of the belief that I had needed to touch the few things I had needed to touch. I knew and believed now that I was only a ghost.

And beside me, Jimmy was laughing.

“Well played,” he said. “Who knew you could act like that.”

“I’m a trial lawyer, remember,” I said. “I can believe anything if I really need to.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said.  “Who would have thought as a ghost I would need a lawyer.”

Laughing, we turned and walked down Bryant Street.

I had no idea where we were going, but anywhere was better than staying in that home with that woman.