A LONG NIGHT: The rain had finally stopped. All the lights were off in the house and Martha was upstairs crying. I sat in the dark for a few more minutes and waited for the last drops of rain to quit rattling the gutters and let the silence of the night take over, but the clatter in my head just wouldn't shut up. I swirled the plastic cup in my hand one more time and lifted it to my lips, tilting back the last of the Jack before tossing the red plastic across the room. It was Jenny's favorite cup and I shouldn't be using it to clear my mind.

I sat slumped down, my head at a sharp angle and the small of my back nearly against the seat of the leather recliner I had indulged myself with the Christmas before last. The rain had stopped, and there was a lot more to do before the sun peeked over the roofs and chimneys of suburbia.

My lips were welded shut, but I groaned inwardly as I pushed myself unsteadily to my feet and trudged back upstairs. Even in the utter blackness I knew my way, and even in my half-drunken stupor I avoided the kids' toys and displaced knick-knacks that littered the floor of the hall at the top of the stairs. Martha was still crying in the bedroom, and the lights were still off. How could she stand it in there, crying in the dark with that thing?

I didn't want to surprise her (again) and I made enough noise in my boots to wake the dead. The crying was muffled before I flipped the lights on and surveyed the harsh reality I had wrought. Martha was huddled in the near corner between the nightstand and the wall, and she didn't even look up at me when I stepped into the room. She had wrapped herself in the ragged blue terry-cloth robe she loved and looked like such a tiny thing, trying to disappear from the world. She was silent.

I moved my gaze over the rest of the room, the walls, the bed, there wasn't a lot of blood. My rational mind fought to push my panic aside. The sheets would have to go. The walls could be scrubbed with bleach -- I'd seen that work on CSI. The carpets too, I guess. Jim was still lying where he'd fell, half-hidden on the far side of the bed. I assumed he was dead, and when I walked over to get a closer look it was obvious that I was right. The back of his skull was a bloody mess, smashed, and with the obvious imprint of my flashlight embedded in the bone and flesh.

There wasn't a lot of blood. He must have been dead before he hit the ground, and it was just as well. He was my friend. At that thought the animal within me surged to break free, but its time was past and it was well-sated with alcohol; strangely, that particular poison gave me an acute clarity, and the thoughts poured like rain through the gutters of my mind.

The shower curtain came down easily enough. I didn't like the floral pattern that Martha had chosen at Wal-Mart, and I tore it down with relish. That's what happens when you cheat on me, say goodbye to your florals. If my jaw could have moved I would have laughed, but the muscles wouldn't budge and I just grunted. Maybe I wasn't as clear-headed as I thought. I dropped the plastic over Jim and wrestled it around him as best I could. He was a lot heavier than I had expected. Tape.

There was some duct tape downstairs in the kitchen. I turned to look at Martha again but she was still sitting motionless, sobbing silently. You'd better not let me hear you crying for this bastard. Don't worry, everything will be fine by morning. The plastic was secure enough to let me drag Jim downstairs by his ankles. Gotta keep the blood from getting all over the house.

Through the door, down the hall, down the stairs, into the kitchen. There was blood in the curtain, but I hadn't left a trail behind me. The tool drawer coughed up a half-roll of red tape and I pulled the end up and stuck it to the plastic near Jim's ankles. Round and round she goes. Tear. A few times around the waist. Tear. Fold the plastic over his head, tape around the forehead and neck (gotta keep the plastic tight if you don't want blood in the car). Tear. Good enough.

Jim wasn't being cooperative, and it was a struggle to get him into the back of the station wagon. I tried to be as quiet as possible, and it was so late that I'm sure no one heard me. Once he was in I sat down in the front seat and turned the engine over. Mike had come early to take over for me, and he'd be there until Tony showed up around six. All I'd have to do is tell him that I dropped my wallet over by one of the far pits and he'd let me through, no problem. Drop Jim off next to one of the gravel piles and push enough onto him so that he wouldn't be found for a few days, and I was home free.

I put the car in drive and pulled slowly out into the street. The bedroom light was off again upstairs, and I got the feeling that Martha wasn't busy scrubbing the blood off the walls. She just wasn't thinking clearly tonight; there must be a lot on her mind. It's ok, there should be plenty of time to sort it all out before morning.



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