by C.A. Fehmel
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
I wake disoriented. As consciousness smoothes the wrinkles of my sleep, I remember who I’m with. We’re naked and entangled. Like all fantasies come true, this is more awkward than I imagined. My chin is hooked over Keith’s left shoulder, which probably means my long hair is in his face. Our legs are sandwiched together. We must’ve slept this way for awhile, but now it’s uncomfortable. Some of my hair is caught in my eyelashes and keeps tickling my cheekbone. There’s this itch on the back of my thigh.
I don’t want to wake Keith. I wish every part of my skin had the same sensitivity as my fingertips, so my flesh can memorize the contours of his. Keith gets bored easily, so his girlfriends never last long. I’m not looking for long-term, which is why I think I’m perfect for him. Keith still disagrees. Pressing my chest closer to his, I’m ecstatic to learn he is a human blast furnace. I revel in the heat radiating off him.
Aaargh! My thigh still itches. I wiggle strategically, hoping his sheets will scratch it. No luck. He has money and though his sheets aren’t satin, they must have a thread count matching the national debt. Good thing we didn’t end up at my place. My sheets are flannel depicting blue penguins in a snowball fight. That itch again! If I move my hand slowly from where it’s draped over him…slowly.
Keith stretches full length and inhales. He’s awake. His stretch causes friction against my chest and belly and passion shudders through me. I unhook my chin from his shoulder and draw back. Keith grins from his pillow.
“Good morning.” Mr. Sandman leaves his tenor a bit scratchy.
I grin back. “Good morning.”
As writers, we’ve done an injustice to hazel eyes. While we glorify every shade of pale gray to twilight blue, Keith’s are a mellow brown with emerald undertones.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sleep over,” I say.
“It’s okay. I had you up all night.”
“I could say the same thing about you.”
His grin widens. “I confess that’s my favorite way to wake up.”
My eyebrows rise. “Another thing we have in common.”
A half hour later, I learn Keith is not only funny and talented, but chivalrous enough to let me use the shower first. I want to impress him and decide to make quick business under the spray. For a committed bachelor, his bathroom is pristine with only the usual scum and accumulated grit I assume comes with shower faucets. Soaping up, I chastise myself for inspecting his tile instead of enjoying the moment. This might be a limited time offer, but last night’s memories will make a lovely parting gift.
Keith fended me off saying writers shouldn’t date each other because it leads to complications. I date writers all the time and the only guy it conflicted with wrote in the same genre and entered the same contests. Keith writes horror and I write mysteries. He writes short fiction, I write long. He orders French wines I can’t pronounce and I order water–but that’s no reason to call the whole thing off.
While drying my hair, I laugh out loud. Half of last night’s dinner conversation was about writer couples, the Brownings who were happy, the Shelleys who were not. How Daniel Woodrell, the author of Winter’s Bone needs the instant gratification of reading his wife any paragraph the minute he has it on paper. His wife, Katie Estill, also an author, doesn’t show anyone a single word until the manuscript is completely finished, not her editor and not Daniel. I toss the towel onto the toilet lid.
I’m not a big horror fan, but Keith’s style fascinates me. Humor always lurks underneath, as if he’s winking at the reader, saying it’s all in jest. Unlike Keith’s favorite author, Poe who sets the tone “all creepy, all the time,” Keith prefers his settings mundane. His spotless bathroom reminds me of his latest. The soccer mom makes bag lunches, pouring the kids’ cereal in the country blue kitchen with the color-coordinated placemats. “Hurry up,” she tells her kids so she can drive them to school. Soccer mom can’t wait to get home and continue her torture experiments on hidden victims in a secret basement room. My regular characters, an idiotic sheriff and his brilliant, long-suffering deputy would never nail Keith’s psychopaths.
I squirt a generous amount of toothpaste on my finger and rub it around on my teeth. Normally, if I’m going to sleep over, I have at least a toothbrush and a change of clothes, but this was unexpected so I pull on my t-shirt from the night before.
“What’s done is done,” I whisper to my mirrored refection. “And I’m having a great time.”
I smile to myself and snicker. Keith is best known for Lady Killer, about a dark haired, blue-eyed lawyer. Women from his country club speculate why he’s still single. What the readers learn is the lawyer’s basement is full of the remains of his former paramours. The lawyer laments he’ll never have a wife and children because he can’t beat his compulsion. My only comment on this story was that it discouraged online dating.
Keith’s medicine cabinet reveals Old Spice is my only option in deodorant. Not my preferred choice, but considering I wore the same panties yesterday, I think anything that smells fresh is worth using. Afterward, I close the cabinet. I reach for the cap to the toothpaste and end up knocking it off the edge of the vanity. It careens off the towel on the toilet, bounces under the pedestal sink, landing behind the trashcan.
Praise God, Keith didn’t suggest we shower together. Because I am the personification of pear-shaped, I know how unattractive toothpaste cap retrieval position will be. Despite what my sister (size 4) and Freddie Mercury say, men finding women with a fat bottom alluring is an urban myth. I hunker down and wedge myself between the pedestal and the wall. Shifting the trashcan with my left hand, I grope for the cap with my right. Doing so, I find white tile and grout covered with blood. I recognize the spatter pattern from researching my novels. Research also teachers multiple explanations exist for spatter. Keith may have cut himself and winged his bloody gauze into the trash. I gave him a full body massage the night before, and his skin was covered with scratches and scars. He’s an athlete; a man of action. There were old football injuries and a skiing encounter involving a pine tree.
I retrieve the toothpaste cap and untwist myself to stand upright. I push the trashcan back with my bare foot. “That’s not a clue, Sheriff, that’s hair dye,” I say aloud mimicking my deputy’s usual refrain.
“Are you talking to yourself?” Keith calls through the door.
“Guilty.” I rinse the cap and top the tube. Fingers of steam reach out as if to pull me back when I open the door.
“I’m going to start doing that so my dialog is as good as yours.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your dialog,” I say. “Besides half your characters are gagged or decapitated.”
“Here, I don’t want you to towel off with the one I used on my hair.” I hand him the towel.
He tosses it into the hamper. “Thanks. I’ll be right out.”
I stroll down the hall, enjoying the feel of sun-warmed hardwood on the soles of my feet. The ceramic tile in the kitchen is chilly. I’m glad to note the kitchen is not country blue and no placemats are in sight. Opening the fridge, eggs, milk and cheese make themselves readily available. Though not much of a cook, I can do breakfast. This is proof a higher entity blesses those enjoying romantic interludes. A skillet leans in the drainer near the sink. Putting the food on the counter, I set the skillet on the stove and go in search of an egg turner.
In the first drawer, there are only knives. All sorts, some serrated and others double bladed, laid in what appears to be a custom made woodblock to keep them sharp. I close the drawer and reach for the next one. There is a sense I should remember something, a dentist appointment or an oil change. The neighboring drawer has that familiar utensil jingle, but the close cousins, spoon and fork are absent. More knives, more shapes. There is a massive box cutter and some curved blades that leer at me. I swallow. I concentrate on the sound of the flushing toilet and the water turned on in the shower.
The handle of the third drawer is the same innocent looking button knob as the other two. I hope for anything unsharpened: a slotted spoon, a gravy ladle, a turkey baster. Only one type of utensil is in the third drawer, in a variety of sizes in a specially crafted container – cleavers. I remember the bloodstain now.
Slamming the drawer shut with a jarring clatter, I head to the living room at a dead run. I reach for my purse. Rummage for my car keys. The keys are there, but my phone is missing. Keith can bring me my jeans and shoes when he dumps me tomorrow. He can tell our mutual friends I’m a paranoid basket case.
I turn the bolt on the front door and twist the handle. My eyes notice what my arm learns. The door doesn’t budge. There is another deadbolt. This one needs a key to be unlocked from the inside. I hear the shower still running. My fingers trace the second lock. Why hadn’t I noticed? Because I was happy, thinking about writer couples and making mental notes of books he suggested I read.
Running to the kitchen, the back door has the same round deadbolt face. The keyhole purses accusing lips. I tug anyway. The lock holds firm. Sunlight glares on the wire mesh embedded in the nearby window like the panes at the police department, so no one can escape. I run my hand over the sill, but there isn’t any hardware to open it.
I race back to the living room grabbing things from the kitchen, including a padded chair with metal legs. Even if it’s unbreakable glass in the picture window in his living room, a passing jogger might spy a hysterical woman bashing at it with furniture.
The shower continues running. I swivel back to give the swing greater strength. I thrust forward, but the chair snags. Blood roars in my ears like the ocean in a seashell. My head snaps around. Keith is holding the leg of the chair. He is completely dry.
His calm chills me. He shrugs. “I write what I know.”
He tears the chair from my hands, causing me to bobble the knife I also took from the kitchen. By the time he tosses the chair toward the dining room and faces me again, I have the knife in a firm grasp. I plunge the blade deep and at an angle just below his left pectoral muscle, like the former Navy Seal showed me for my last novel. Keith’s eyes bulge.
His warm blood courses over my chilly fingers as I say, “I’m the research type myself.”
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