By Michael Hawkins
Randall James loved watching her. He seized every opportunity to do so. He started with her long copper legs, glistening in the afternoon sunlight. He slowly shifted his eyes past her washboard stomach to her breasts, pressed tightly against her swimsuit. After fixating on her torso for several moments, he turned his gaze toward her elegant neck, prominent chin, and full luscious lips. Sunglasses masked his persistent stares. She wore them as well, hiding the aqua blue eyes he so loved. He took in the whole of her, a living, breathing goddess.
Many men preached against coveting another man's wife. They had never laid eyes on Melissa Barron.
"Are you staring at me, Randy? I can feel your eyes all over my body."
She was a compulsive tease, but he knew full well that it was all just innocent flirting. It drove him mad.
"What?" Randy mumbled, pretending to have dozed off.
She flashed him a mischievous smile. "Nothing. Sorry I woke you." She rose from the lounge chair and stretched her arms. "I'm going to see what David's up to. Get you anything?"
"No I'm fine. Thanks." She would never give him what he really wanted. There was no sense in unveiling the truth.
He fixated on her hips as she swaggered across the pool deck toward the French doors that led into the house. An old pick-up line popped into his mind. He spoke it aloud, under his breath.
"I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave."
Randy was sweating profusely, not so much from the heat as from Melissa's scantily clad frame. He could feel his heart pounding against his ribs. He dove into the deep end of the pool, hoping the water would shock him back into composure. After swimming two laps, he began to feel like himself again.
Randy had forgotten how titillating it was to be in Melissa Barron's presence. She was a drug from which he could never come down. No other woman had ever affected him the way Melissa did. He had dated off and on for the past fifteen years, mostly to satisfy his libido. Finding love was not his motivation for dating. He had already found that in Melissa, and no other woman would ever compare to her. Randy truly believed that had David Barron not gotten in the way years ago, she would be with him today.
He leaned against the edge of the pool, closed his eyes, and dreamed of Melissa, walking down the pool stairs, undressing as she approached him. Finally reaching him and wrapping her arms around his waist. Pulling herself closer and closer untilÖ
"Randy?" It was her voice, coming from above him. He looked up and smiled at her. He had slipped into his fantasy world again. A world where he and Melissa were bonded in passion. A world where she lived only for him. A world without David Barron.
"Randy, you're going to turn into a prune in there. Come inside and cool off. I'll make you a margarita."
"If you insist." Randy hoisted himself out of the pool and followed her inside. Still watching her every move through shaded eyes.
David Barron emerged from his study as they sipped margaritas in the kitchen. He had already changed out of his swim trunks, wore khaki shorts and a bright yellow golf shirt. He stared curiously at Randy, as if looking for something in his face. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and joined them at the kitchen table. He took a long sip from his Amstel, set it down, and folded his arms. "You know Randy, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were following us."
Randy felt a chill. He
met David and Melissa at
"What can I say?" Randy replied, sipping his drink. "Small world, isnít it?"
David studied Randy's face a moment longer. He grinned and raised his Amstel. "I'm glad you're here. Welcome to Mydland. Here's to Randy's new job, and the good times to come."
"Hear, hear," Melissa and Randy said together, and they clinked their glasses in a toast.
"I'm glad you're here too, Randy," Melissa said. "I'm going to change and get ready for dinner." She bent down and kissed David on the lips. Randy's stomach turned. He caught one last glimpse of her as she left the kitchen. The fifteen years since college had not aged her a bit. She was magnificent.
"I'd better be going, too," Randy said. "I'm still living out of boxes in my apartment. Tell Melissa I'll see her soon, and thanks for the drink." He rose and started for the door. David followed to see him out.
"We'll have to get together again soon," David said.
"Absolutely." Randy walked down the front porch steps, then turned back to David. "Say, why donít we go to one of those golf courses you've been raving about next weekend? I've been working on my game, you know."
"Yeah, you mentioned that a few times. Sure, I'm game. How's Saturday?"
"Sounds good to me," Randy replied. "I'll call you later this week."
Randy James's heart was aflutter as he drove home. He had been working on his golf game, among other things. Next Saturday would be treat. He had been looking forward to it for over a year.
David Barron arrived at Randy's apartment at ten A.M., punctual as usual. He rapped on the door and Randy opened it quickly, greeting him with a salesman's smile. "Hey, David. Welcome!"
David walked into the apartment. It was a new complex and the apartment barely looked lived in. It had cathedral ceilings, a large living area, and an open kitchen. Randy's furniture consisted of a small oak breakfast table, a loveseat, and a worn coffee table. A small television resting on an end table and stereo components on crates comprised a makeshift entertainment center.
"I swear, Randy. You still donít have any more furniture than you did in college."
"Donít need much for just little old me. Let's get going. Tee time's in thirty minutes."
They started out the door. Randy turned to David. "Say, could I borrow your cell? My battery's dead and I havenít gotten my home phone hooked up yet."
David took it off his belt and handed it to him. Randy dialed a number and sauntered into his bedroom, as if the call was private. When he was out of David's sight, he slipped the battery off the back of the phone and replaced it with a defective one. He tossed David's battery into his bedroom and went back into the living area.
"Your phone's not working. Think the battery needs charging."
"That's strange. It was working fine last night. Sorry. I can charge it in the car." He fiddled with the phone, confirmed that it wasn't working.
"Let's go," Randy said. "We'll miss our tee time."
Melissa hung up the phone in frustration. Randy had called ten minutes ago to tell David he had a stomach bug and would have to cancel their golf game. David had already left, and she couldnít reach him on his cell phone. She gave up after the fifth try.
The rain started as they
teed up on the ninth hole. David
was up by ten strokes, so when he suggested that they skip the back nine
and call it a day, Randy happily agreed.
For the first half of the trip back to Randy's apartment, neither
of them spoke. They approached
a two lane bridge over
"You know, I've been looking at some lakefront property right around here," Randy said.
"Oh yeah. Where?"
"Turn right up here before the bridge and I'll show you."
David turned the Ford
Expedition onto a narrow road he had never even noticed before.
A few moments later, they came to a one-lane bridge.
They were surrounded by heavily wooded, undeveloped land.
"Here it is. On the right."
"Wow. This is really out in the sticks", David said, stopping the car. "You sure you want a place this far from civilization?"
"Why not? It's peaceful, scenic, and not as expensive as most lakefront lots."
"Whatever turns you on," David replied. The rain started coming down harder. "You ready to head back home?"
"Let's sit here a minute. I just love the scenery."
David sat back impatiently, not nearly as impressed with the landscape as Randy was. "OK, just a few minutes. I really should be getting home."
"You know, Melissa really is a great woman," Randy said.
David glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. He had always sensed that Randy had feelings for his wife. Randy acted as though he was on stage when she was around. And the looks he gave her. Melissa may find them flattering, but David found them unsettling. "I know," he said. "That's why I married her."
"No, I'm serious. I've dated dozens of women over the years. Some of them were really great, but none even compared to Melissa. She is truly one of a kind."
David was becoming uneasy with the conversation. "You'll find the perfect woman one day," he replied. "She'll be as special to you as Melissa is to me."
"I donít think so," Randy said, reaching into his pocket. "How about I just take Melissa?"
David was momentarily speechless, frozen by Randy's comment. He obviously wasnít kidding. Suddenly, Randy reached across the center console, wrapped his left arm around the back of David's head, and pulled his face down to the damp cloth in his right hand. David started swinging, caught Randy in the temple. He flailed for several moments, unable to free himself from Randy's grasp. Finally, David buckled at the waist and went limp.
Randy pushed David back against the driver's seat. He turned the wheel slightly, aiming the Expedition toward the one lane bridge. He got out of the car and walked a few yards along the side of the road. The rain became even more intense. The sky was crying for David Barron's misfortune. After several paces, Randy saw what he was looking for. The rock was about the size of two bricks. He carried it back to the Expedition, looking around as he went. Aside from the pouring rain, the world was still. No sign of anyone. He put the Expedition in drive, held the rock over the accelerator and took a deep breath. Finally, the only obstacle between Melissa and him would be removed. He dropped the rock and quickly backed away from the car. It jerked forward, heading for the bridge at about thirty miles per hour, by Randy's estimation. The Expedition rolled onto the bridge, wavering slightly back and forth. Suddenly, it lurched to the left and broke the rotted wooden railing easily, tipping over the side of the bridge and nose-diving into the water with an immense splash. Randy stood at the foot of the bridge and watched the Expedition fill with water and slowly submerge. He watched David Barron lowered into his grave.
Melissa Barron was growing more nervous by the minute. David said he would be home no later than four in the afternoon. It was nearly seven, and he had not called to say he would be late. He always called. It was one of the many things she loved about him. After thirteen years of marriage, she had never once thought he took her for granted.
Randy's call that morning made David's whereabouts even more of a mystery. She half expected David to come back home after learning that their game was cancelled. She did not get worried immediately, figured he had stopped by the driving range since he was all decked out to play anyhow. By mid afternoon, concern started creeping up on her. She called Randy's house twice to see if he knew where David might have gone. No answer either time. He was probably sleeping all day, maybe even at the doctor. He had sounded awful when he called, and was obviously in a hurry to get off the phone with her.
Melissa doubled over slightly as a pang of discomfort shot through her stomach. Cramps always struck when she was anxious or nervous. She looked up at the clock, saw that it was now just past seven. David had left the house over nine hours ago. Melissa felt completely hopeless, incapable of calming down or finding a way to pass the time. She decided to try Randy once more. He was the last person she knew of that may have seen her husband. She picked up the cordless in the kitchen and dialed Randy's cell phone.
After three rings, Melissa nearly gave up. She expected the voicemail to pick up again. To her surprise, Randy answered and uttered a muffled "hello." He sounded like he was talking into a pillow.
"Randy, its Melissa. How are you feeling?" She couldnít bring herself to bypass the pleasantries altogether.
"A little better. I've been in bed all day."
"Aw, I'm sorry. Listen, I've been trying to reach you. Did David come by this morning?"
"Yeah. Not long after I called. He was disappointed that I couldnít play. It's probably for the best though. It's been like cats and dogs. Why, what's up?"
"I havenít heard from him all day. He still hasnít come home."
"That's weird. Did you try him on his cell?"
"Several times. I keep getting one of those 'temporarily out of service' messages. I'm really getting worried, Randy. Did he say he was going anywhere after he left?"
"No, just said we'd try to play next weekend. I have no clue where he might be."
"What if something happened to him? This isnít like him at all." Melissa shivered. "What should I do?"
Randy's voice cleared, ever so slightly. "Melissa, I donít want to get you any more worked up than you already are, but I think you should call the police."
Randall James glowed with triumph as he hung up the phone. At the first hint of concern for David, she had turned to him. In time, she would learn to lean on him even more, for comfort and companionship. He would stand by her through the unimaginable grief as she mourned her departed husband. He would nurture her back to strength with compassion and words of encouragement. She would once again stand on her feet a proud and confident woman. She would have him to thank.
His victory was bittersweet. Randy
hated hurting Melissa, knew losing David would crush her spirit for quite
some time. This was the only
thing that had kept him from taking action sooner.
One Saturday night, less than a year before David and Melissa left Cincy, Randy was dropping David off after a night on the town. He had been planning the maneuver for weeks, had selected the exact spot where the accident would take place. Randy drove fifteen miles over the speed limit, bore down on the sharp curve on Highway 16 just two miles from David's home. He headed straight for the old oak, ignoring the sharp bend in the road. David screamed. Randy chickened out at the last moment. He had no concern for David's life, but he could not go through with it. Melissa would know he killed her husband, and accident or no, it was bound to get in the way.
Like that night years ago, Randy had planned ahead. The concept came to him over a year ago. Just get David alone, when Melissa had no idea they were together. Two days after he moved to Mydland, he found the place. Shorelock drive. No road sign, no homes, no witnesses. A perfect place to do the deed and drop the body in a watery grave. Today was the perfect day to see it through. The torrential rain had been a nice surprise. It added to the camouflage, and erased any second thoughts he may have had. No one would ever suspect him, especially not Melissa.
It wouldnít be long until David was found. The water was at most twenty feet deep where he had gone under. This was of no concern to Randy. The sooner he was found the better. He wanted Melissa to start healing as quickly as possible. After that, he expected her undivided attention.
Melissa was out of her mind by eight in the evening. She had called David's cell phone at least two dozen times. She called all of his friends in town, but no one had seen nor heard from him. She stopped short of calling his parents. If he had not turned up by morning, she would then proceed to worry them sick.
The police offered no peace of mind. They had a nauseating air of sarcasm about the situation. They asked if he was a drinker, or gambler. She assured them that he was not. Still they insisted that he was probably out on the town and didnít bother to check in. They said they got dozens, sometimes hundreds, of calls every week just like hers. To them she was just another lonely housewife crying wolf in the dark. While she would have found their apathy understandable under different circumstances, tonight it was downright insulting.
She had finally gotten them to agree to let her bring a picture or him down to the station. They promised to fax it out to their patrolmen and have them keep an eye out, even though a full-blown search would not begin until he had been missing for twenty-four hours. Melissa had realized with horror that David was nearly halfway there.
She finally settled on a picture of David sitting in his office chair with his Gibson Les Paul in his lap. It was one of her favorites, but she would gladly part with it in exchange for his safe return. She wrestled it out of its antique frame, tucked it into her purse, and headed out the front door.
Just as she reached her car, the phone rang inside.
After executing David Barron's untimely demise and walking over five miles in pouring rain, Randall James was physically drained. But mentally, he was wired tight. Well past midnight, he was still nowhere near sleep. He paced his apartment, thought of questions that may arise from Melissa, the police, other friends of David's, and recited his responses aloud. His story was simple. David came by at ten A.M. Randy told him he was under the weather and had tried to call him to cancel. Sorry, maybe next weekend, they had agreed. David left, didnít say where he was going. End of story. What happened to David next is a complete mystery.
Randy thought about how he would publicly grieve for his friend. He would plead with the police, frantically call all of David's acquaintances, and personally fan the flames until his friend was found. Then he would ask to speak at the funeral, would tell the dozens of witnesses how David Barron was a shrewd businessman, loving husband, and great friend. He would tell them he had always looked up to David, always tried to live in his image.
This was true, of course. So true, in fact, that Randy had no choice but to kill him.
The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle. It provided a comforting backdrop of white noise for Randy's mental oration. He paced into the kitchenette and poured the last of a fifth of bourbon into a tumbler. He raised the glass in a toast to himself, celebrating a long awaited victory.
"Welcome to Mydland, Randy."
He heard a knock at the door. His heart jumped into his throat. He put the glass of Jim Beam down and took a few quick breaths. Whoever it was, after the day's events, it was probably not a welcome visitor. Randy quietly slid open the kitchen drawer and pulled out a butcher's knife. He crept toward the front door in his sock feet, gripping the blade firmly by his side. He looked through the peephole and was shocked to see Melissa Barron standing outside in the rain.
Randy was overwhelmed with anxiety, but at the same time wished he did not have to face her so soon. He needed more time to prepare himself, to sharpen his furious, distraught demeanor. His head screamed to ignore her, let her knock until she gave up and went away, but his heart would not allow it. He yearned to begin filling the void she now had in her life. He ran back to the kitchen, tossed the knife in the sink, and hurried back to the door to let his beloved inside.
She sat on his couch with her legs tucked under a blanket, trembling uncontrollably. Her hands were wrapped around a cup of coffee that had gone cold. Randy consoled her, masked his tears of joy as tears of pain. Melissa poured her heart out to him, told him she feared the worst and that she may never see David again. Randy said a few comforting words, but did not want her to get her hopes up too high. After all, he knew full well that her fears were true, and he did not want her anguish to be accentuated by a false hope that David may still be alive. Suddenly, Melissa uttered words that made Randy's heart race against his chest.
"Randy, I know I should be at home, but I just can't bear to be alone tonight. Would it be okay if I crashed here on your couch?"
Randy swallowed a lump in his throat. Melissa did not even know of David's demise, and already she was turning to him. "Donít be ridiculous. Sleep in my room and I'll stay out here."
"No, no, I'll be fine out here. I'm so exhausted, I could sleep anywhere."
"Melissa, I insist. I'm not going to have you sleeping on a loveseat after all youíve been through today. You march in that room right now."
Too weary to argue, Melissa got up from the couch, set the cold coffee of the kitchen counter and headed for Randy's bedroom door. When she reached the doorway, she turned back toward him. "It's fine if you sleep in here too, you know. I donít mind."
It was ecstasy beyond his wildest imagination. The same night her husband was reported missing, she was in Randy's bed! No doubt she was there solely for the comfort of his companionship, but what a great foundation for building their new bond. He figured it would take months, maybe years to get Melissa Barron into his bed. It had only taken a few hours.
She slept fitfully beside him, tossing and turning. She flipped over and faced his back, and he could smell her warm breath against his shoulder. Suddenly, Melissa reached her hand out and placed it on his thigh. She ran her fingers up his side to his shoulder and pulled herself closer, pressing her body against his. Was she asleep, dreaming of David and projecting the dream on him? Randy didnít know, and frankly could care less. He pretended to be asleep, breathed out in short gasps. He could feel himself getting excited. Melissa pulled tighter still, running her hand against his cheek. Randy drew in his breath deeper. Then he felt the damp cloth cover his nose and mouth. The world went black before he even had time to react.
He could hear faint breathing, whispering in another room. He opened his eyes and it was as though he was staring into the sun. He felt like the bed was spinning, and he couldnít move his hands or feet. Suddenly, a rush of ammonia filled his brain and he jolted back into reality. His eyes began to adjust to the morning light, and he saw that his hands and feet were hog-tied. He looked up and saw Melissa Barron holding a bottle of ammonia and staring down at him with a look of pure satisfaction.
"You killed him, you bastard!" She dumped the ammonia over his face.
He screamed as it burned is nose and eyes. "What are you talking about? Have you lost your mind?"
"It was you! I thought you were our friend. All these years, we trusted you, and you take away the one thing that means the world to me!"
"Melissa, please calm down! I donít know where you got this idea, but we donít even know where David is! We donít even know if he's dead or alive."
A deep voice boomed from behind the bedroom door. "You sure donít, do you?" The door opened, and David Barron walked into the room.
Randy stared at him in disbelief. He always wondered what it would be like to see a ghost. Now he knew. David Barron, the man who was polished even when he wasnít trying to be, looked like walking death. His shirt was covered in mud and hung on him in tatters. His shoes squeaked as he walked. His face was covered in dirt, as if he had just stepped out of a coalmine. "What the hell?"
David gave Randy that look again, the one where he seems to be trying to read into his face. "You're not very thorough, Randy. Never have been. I managed to get to a phone and call Melissa just as she was leaving to take my picture to the police. We came up with this little plan to give you a little dose of your own medicine. Tastes like shit, doesnít it?" Luckily, the cops were nice enough to let us have a little fun with you before they lock you away for the rest of your miserable life. They're in the other room. Want me to get them for you?"
Randy looked back and forth at David and Melissa, still not believing what was happening. He had watched David die! Just last night, his dreams were coming true faster than he ever thought possible. Tears ran down his face and he began to sob like a baby.
David looked at him curiously, pitied and hated him all at once.
"Good night, Randy," he said, and brought his fist across