WEDNESDAY: Burn

BY JASON LAWSON

Copyright is held by the author.

IT WAS the perfect crime. They all were. He lit a cigarette, dragged hard on it, and peered through the window. They’re all like weeds, waiting to be plucked, one by one. It’s so simple.

He stared some more. She’d been there for a little while now. Home from her job at the hospital. From behind the shrubbery he’d seen her take off her jacket, eat a dish of warmed up leftover soup, and light a fire in the fireplace.

Fire. His cracked lips formed an evil smile. His eyes narrowed. Just watching the flames aroused him. He sucked hard on the cigarette, crushed it out, then put the butt in his jacket pocket. No DNA or fingerprints.

One step. Two steps. Slow and careful, he crept towards the back door, knowing from all his observing that it was unlocked. Stupid, trusting bitches. He slipped his hand inside his jacket and patted the pistol that was tucked carefully inside his belt. Reassurance. Like every other time he’d done it, down to the cigarette before the attack, he was a creature of habit.

The last hurdle. Opening the door without alerting her. He slipped on his gloves, then looked through the square pane of glass. She was sitting on the sofa, her feet up on a stool, nursing a glass of wine and staring into the fire. He’d been admiring her hourglass figure, her shoulder length blond hair, now it was time to reap the reward. I wonder if she’ll beg or cry first. The others had been an even split. Some burst into tears right off, others would maintain their composure and beg for their lives.

He grabbed the knob and turned it ever so slowly. It was only a few steps from the entrance to the fireplace, and he planned on getting there silently. The door opened. As he stepped through it, he was greeted with the scent of seafood chowder mixed with hardwood smoke. The latter made his heart race even faster. Was the fire more exciting than the rape? Even he didn’t know the answer.

Stealthily, the door was closed behind him, the gun pulled from the belt. With quick catlike steps he approached her, and greeted her by jamming the gun against the temple of her head, moving it sideways and disturbing her lush, blond hair. “Don’t fucking move.”

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said very cooly, “ now how can I help you?” she paused for a moment, “sir.”

“What?” The statement threw him off, he took a couple of steps back. “Expecting me? Is this a joke?”

“Not at all.”

He kept his pistol on her and took another step backwards. “What the fuck is going on here?” Before she could answer, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. Then darkness.

He opened his eyes. Groggily, he reached for the back of his skull. It felt like it was splitting in two. A large, bloody lump greeted his fingers. He moaned and tried to move. His legs were unresponsive. Noticing that he was stretched out in front of the fireplace, it would be an almost cozy situation to be in, if not for the fact he was in the house of the woman he’d been planning to rape and kill. Fear suddenly gripped him. Again he tried to move, but could not.

“There’s no point,” a voice came from behind him.

He turned his head around as much as he could. She was still on the sofa, drinking a glass of wine and staring at him intently. Her blue eyes shone in the firelight.

“You were so easily stopped.” she said with a chuckle. “I thought it would be difficult to get you into position, but you backed right under the shelf where the vase was waiting. Some serial killer.”

“I’m no killer,” he started, realizing the seriousness of the situation.

“Sure you are.”

He heard the rustling of a newspaper.

“Seven homes in the last three months. Seven dead women. I was impressed. It took three fires before the police determined that it was arson,and that you were murdering and robbing them.” She paused.

He could feel her eyes burning into him.

“And raping them too I suspect.”

“You got it all wrong. That wasn’t me.” he said, panic rising within him, “This was my first time. I just wanted some cash, that’s it. I wasn’t going to kill you or nothing.” He heard her giggle, the paper rustled some more.

“You’ve been watching me and my place for over a week. Very particular. Smoking but leaving no butts behind. Standing where you wouldn’t leave any footprints. Not your first time.”

“Whatever. When the cops get here, it’s my word against yours.” he said as he stared into the fire, becoming bitter now that he was defeated. Behind him he could hear more wine being poured.

“Oh I’m not calling the police. If I was going to, I would’ve the moment I saw you watching me and my place. You’re not going to jail, you’re going to help me.”

He heard the clicking of the gun hammer.

“Tell me something. Why does a handsome man like yourself need to rape?”

“I don’t rape anyone.”

“Seriously. You’ve still got your hair, you can’t be more than what, 40? Not too bad of shape. Why must certain men feel compelled to dominate women?”

“Go to hell.”

“Do you get off on our fear?” she asked as she pressed the barrel of the gun against his temple, “Are you aroused now?”

“Please, just call the cops,” he begged.

“My stepfather liked to terrorize me,” she said. “He abused me for years. When he died I thought the nightmare was over. I went to nursing school, got a degree and a good job. I thought it was all behind me.”

He felt the gun barrel leave his temple. Again he tried to move his legs but could not. He couldn’t even feel them.

“Isn’t an epidural amazing? You’re totally paralyzed from the waist down. I brought home the stuff to do it after the second time I saw you out there. Now where was I? Oh yes, I thought I had it made until I met Arthur. He seemed nice enough. We fell in love, moved in together. Now he gets drunk and beats me. And rapes me when I don’t comply. I was totally hopeless until I saw you watching me.”

“I never saw no man.”

“That’s right. He only comes home late, after the pub closes. You were always gone by then. What’s your name?”

“Please call the police. I’ll plead guilty. Whatever you want.”

“What I want is to know your name.”

The gun pressed against his head again. “Garnett.”

“Garnett. I’m Joan. How nice to meet you. Thank you for getting me out of this predicament.”

His mind raced, it was sinking in that she was going to kill him. He had to get out.

“Shouldn’t he be home soon? Arthur?”

“Arthur is a bit under the weather I’m afraid. He’s been drinking all day and never left his room. Passed out dead drunk.”

“Lady please. Call the cops, leave him if he’s no good. I don’t want to die.”

“It’s Joan. Did you listen to any of the seven women you burned to death?”

He didn’t answer, becoming fully aware of how grave the situation was.

“I’ve got a big insurance policy on Arthur. And a lot of jewelry that’s insured as well. Once it’s declared lost in the fire, I’ll sell it and collect on it twice. Isn’t that wonderful?”

She rolled him on his side and pulled the intravenous from his back. “I can’t have this hanging around. Any trace of hospital gear might raise suspicion.”

As she lowered him onto his back, he tried to grab her by the arm. She slipped easily from his grasp. “Oh don’t be like that. It’s over. I even have your type of fire ready to go.”

“What do you mean?”

“No accelerant. You tried so hard to make them look like accidents. A clever little fire bug you are, Garnett.” She began piling newspaper and kindling beside him, stacking it all meticulously up against the wall. Then she made a trail of paper from the stack to the fireplace.

“I’m gonna scream. I will.”

“Go ahead. You picked this house because of its location. End of the street, no dwelling across from it. You can scream all you like, no one will hear you.” She smiled, and put the front page of the daily against the edge of the fireplace, where it began to smoke. “Read the headline.”

He stared at the paper. “Arsonist strikes and kills his seventh victim.”

“Aren’t you so very proud of yourself Garnett?”

“Go to hell.”

“I may. If I do, I’ll see you there, as you’ll be there shortly.”

The newspaper burst into flame. He tried to pull himself away from the fireplace.

“Thanks again Garnett. Now I must be going.”

Her steps faded out as the room began to fill with smoke. He cried out several times, then tried to pull himself across the carpet. It took forever to move an inch or two. He stopped, and tried to catch his breath in the thickening smoke. A stench reached his nose, the smell of burning flesh. He rolled up on his side and looked back towards his legs. The pants were now blazing, but the drugs in his system made it impossible to feel any pain. He screamed, tried to roll over. His coat started to burn. That he could feel. He bellowed, then tried to inhale, but was met with thick, black, choking smoke. His movements soon stopped.

***

Smoke rose from the basement, all that remained of the old house. Several investigators sifted among the rubble and ashes, trying to sort it all out. A detective in a smart suit, now covered to the knees in dust, climbed out of the cellar and approached another who was taking photographs of the scene.

“So what do ya think, Carson?” the detective with the camera asked.

“Might be our guy. The lady of the house, Joan Gray said her husband was home in bed. The other body had a gun next to it. We’ll need dental records to identify ’em both, but it could be him.”

“Strange. A guy. The rest were women. Maybe that’s why he screwed up.”

“I’m thinkin’ this is way too neat, Deek. Too tidy.”

“Oh come on. Everyone has on off day.” Deek put his camera in the case. “He probably got too cocky.”

“Maybe, but I got a have a talk with that Joan lady. She seems icy. Not too upset at all.”

Deek made a face. “Suit yourself.”

“I will.”

Carson walked across the driveway towards the blonde lady who was staring intently at the smoke that was rising from the crater in the yard. As he got close, she turned and smiled at him.

“Joan, I gotta ask you a few questions.”

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said very cooly. “Now how can I help you?” She paused for a moment. “Sir.”

3 comments

  1. Dave Moores

    What a darn good story. Sorry to be dense though, but having read it over several times I’m not seeing how she initially disabled the guy.
    Great well-written fun otherwise.

  2. Bev Bachmann

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story, but, like Dave, I’m not clear on how Garnett received the blow to the back of his head. Nevertheless; I found the story full of interesting characters, crackling dialogue, a suspenseful plot, and a satisfying ending. It was fun reading all the way through!

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