By Brian M. Van Hise
It was a good thing I had taken out the tent set from the back trunk the week before. Usually I procrastinate those kinds of things. Linda and I had spent two nights in the mountains, our first time using the tent that I had bought on impulse three years earlier. We left for the mountains eager to get some R&R (Linda works as a county commissioner, which tends to be a stressful job for her), but came down the mountain full of mosquito bites and unsettled arguments. The whole trip probably added more stress actually.
The dead woman’s body fit comfortably in the trunk, in between the tire jack and plastic bag of empty water bottles I had meant to take down to the recycling center. I gave the poor girl one last glance before slamming the trunk shut and carrying on with the night’s mission.
I found Drainer’s house with relative ease, even with one headlight busted and the rain coming down harder than ever. Linda’s SUV was parked about a block away, probably her only major effort to try to conceal her devious actions. I parked in front of his neighbor’s house, next to the sidewalk she would have to take to reach her car. I turned off the ignition and rolled up the window, sitting in darkness, watching the light from his front porch scatter and bend through the rain.
I had a moment to reflect a bit, to better understand what it was that was unfolding now. I didn’t think for one moment about the dead girl in the trunk. Rather, simply found myself peering up to that porch light and thinking what lay beyond, behind the walls of that house. Which room were they in now? Top floor or bottom? Did they even find a bedroom for their tryst or would the living room sofa or kitchen counter suffice? Each time I blinked, I saw his face…that ugly airbrushed, studio pic Jack Drainer used for all of his real estate ads.
I didn’t know what to think. Should I prepare what to say when confronting her? Should I let anger take over or calm, collectiveness? I wish I had a copy of Psychology Today in the car. Maybe an answer would be there.
Was the affair Linda’s way of reaching a better balance in her life? Had she read an article somewhere that suggested sleeping with your real estate agent was a better way to achieve balance?
I was in mid-thought when I saw the front door open and Linda stammer out. I say stammer because she was livid. Stomping her feet and not caring about getting herself wet, she turned around to whoever was still inside and, though I couldn’t make out the words, there was no denying their meaning. She was pissed at something.
I moved my head slightly from left to right, gazing through the rain trying to catch more of what was happening.
Then Linda started walking down the driveway and when she reached the sidewalk, she turned my way.
I sat up straight and watched as she came closer. Behind her, the door closed and that front porch light clicked off.
I watched as my wife unknowingly approached me, shuffling about in the storm, testing the durability of her heels. She made no effort to shield the rain.
Then she saw my car, at least, I could tell she had a moment of recognition. Certainly the broken headlight and whatever damage there was to the fender made her take pause, but once her eyes moved about and she saw me, sitting there behind the wheel, she had her affirmation.
I swallowed, then leaned over and unlocked the door. I pushed it open for her and said: “Get in” before she was close enough to hear me.
Linda lowered her head and looked at me through the passenger. She didn’t say anything at first. She knew I knew of course. And there was nothing for her to say.
“Get in,” I repeated.
She climbed in and closed the door. Soon we were on the road.
“We’ll pick up your car tomorrow,” I said. “I can take you on my way in.”
I looked over at her.
Her eyes were pointed forward. She looked quite still on the outside. I could only imagine how fast her heart must have been beating then, how, just under the surface of her skin, her systems were in overload.
Finally, she spoke.
“What happened to the headlight?”
She kept looking forward.
“Yes. It’s broken. Don’t you know?”
“I…hit a deer.”
Then she turned to look at me.
“You heard me. I hit a deer.”
“Here? In the city?”
“Yes. Just 20 minutes ago.”
She faced forward again. “You hit a deer?” she said again under her breath.
Just then I could hear a muffled thump come from behind me. And then twice: thump-thump!
Linda looked to the back seat. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“That sound. A thumping sound.”
“There it is again. What is that?” She began to claw around in the back seat, leaning her body over. She picked up the squeegee and poked around in the darkness behind the seats.
“Goddamn deer probably knocked something loose on the undercarriage. I’ll check it out tomorrow.”
“I don’t think it’s the undercarriage.”
And then a LOUD thump-thump-thump-THUMP!
Linda sat up straight and looked at me. I stopped the car and swallowed hard.
Maybe that deer wasn’t dead after all.
To be continued…