WEDNESDAY: The Witnesses, Part One

BY RAYMOND HOLMES

This is the first of a two-part story. Come back tomorrow to read the conclusion. Copyright is held by the author.

ON TUESDAY morning after breakfast, Gregory made the decision to kill his wife. Exactly when or how, he wasn’t sure, but it would happen, there was no doubt about that. Early in their marriage he realized that he couldn’t stand her. The idea drifted in and out of his mind from time to time, but events that morning nudged him over the edge. He’d had enough of her nagging, criticism and denying him what he wanted. Who did she think she was? Everything about her repulsed him now.

The thought of committing murder didn’t bother him. Getting away with it was his main concern. Murder in the first degree carried the death penalty in their state. People who hadn’t seriously contemplated murder wouldn’t understand what was involved in committing the perfect crime. Where, when and how to do it, not leaving evidence and having an alibi were important aspects of a well-planned killing. A smile crossed Gregory’s face. When she was gone, he’d inherit everything and get the insurance money. He could spend more time with his mistress; little Gina with the button lips and big breasts who was always in the mood for lovemaking. She never made any demands of him and was fun to be with.

Planning Sarah’s murder took a long time. Things couldn’t be rushed. That entre was best “eaten cold” as the old Spanish proverb said. Acting in emotion or haste could lead to mistakes — fatal ones. Thinking well in advance, Gregory made an effort to subdue any visible resentment toward her and avoid arguments. To all outward appearances the marriage would be harmonious and he would be the ideal, devoted, loving husband free of any suspicion. At times avoiding conflict was difficult, but he always remained calm, keeping the ultimate objective in mind.

Killing her at home would be easy, but to avoid suspicion, believable evidence of an accident, or intrusion by persons unknown would have to be contrived. A tricky thing to do. There was also the issue of an alibi. Would Gina swear he was with her? Could he trust her?

No. There was too much at stake to trust anyone.

Disposing of his wife during an ocean cruise might be easy. She’d always talked about them touring the Mediterranean or the Baltic. Tossing her overboard during a midnight stroll on an isolated deck would be a simple matter. He started perusing travel brochures. Having second thoughts, he abandoned that idea. What if she screamed? Cruise ships accounted for all guests on embarking and disembarking so he’d have to declare her missing early on. There would be questions and without proof of death, she couldn’t be declared deceased until seven years had passed. That was too long to wait for the life insurance payout.

Gregory considered various weapons. A gun was ruled out — too noisy. He’d only shot a gun once before, and that was for skeet shooting. He’d have to purchase a firearm and would be registered as a gun owner thereby drawing immediate suspicion.

Knives were readily available, but made him uncomfortable. It wasn’t the blood and mess. There was too much probability for error. Death might not be swift and if the act wasn’t performed skillfully, there could be a struggle and she might cry out.

Poisoning her favourite wine was a possibility. She drank a glass every evening and he could arrange to be out with friends as an alibi while the lethal liquid did its work.

No. They might do an autopsy and discover the poison. He would be a suspect.

An article in a magazine said that blunt force trauma to the head could rapidly result in a person’s demise. It made sense. People were killed by head injuries all the time, weren’t they? He decided on that method — uncomplicated and relatively noise-free. A two foot length of steel pipe wielded using a gloved hand would do the job — an untraceable weapon, easily disposed of.

Gregory spent a lot of time thinking about when and where to kill her, and the issue was such a difficult one, he considered abandoning the plan. He studied her habits, carefully searching for possible opportunities and situations. She was a corporate lawyer and often worked late—almost to midnight on important cases.

His mouth curved in a smile at the irony. He was going to kill a lawyer, a representative of society’s legal code, and get away with it. Three hundred people per year were murdered in the city. There must be many unsolved cases.

The answer of where, came to him in the shower one morning. He could kill her in the underground parking level of the building she worked in and make it look like a robbery by some crazed hop-head sleaze ball. The parts of the plan fell into place like pieces of a puzzle.

***

Sarah Richmond was surprised when her husband offered to drive her to and from work on late days. “That’s so considerate Greg. I really appreciate it, honey. You know how I hate driving in the city.”

“No problem, dear. Glad to help. You work hard. It’s the least I can do.” The trips were dry runs: a way for him to inspect the location without raising suspicion.

Her underground parking spot under the office building was on level three. At 11:20 p.m. when he picked Sarah up, it was always deserted. She would have to walk past a dark alcove after exiting the elevator. He would wait there, kill her, escape up the nearby stairs leading to the street, walk to his car three blocks away and drive home. He’d be in bed when they found her, perhaps not until the next morning. Reporting her missing and acting distraught would be a good idea; the caring husband thing and all that — maybe shed some tears when they came to tell him she’d been murdered.

Gregory only needed the right timing.

***

“I’ll be late on Friday, darling. The Brown verses Wright case goes to court next week,” Sarah announced on Wednesday.

“Are you the only one working late?”

“Yeah, the others hate to delay their weekends.”

That day, Friday, August 12, was perfect to execute the plan. Everyone would be gone for the summer weekend except her — workaholic Sarah. Everything he needed was ready, hidden in the garage.

“Okay dear, but you’ll have to drive yourself.”

“Oh? Why?”

“I’m going out for dinner with the guys. It’s a birthday party.”

Sarah didn’t ask whose birthday it was, or the location of the event. Typical. She had no interest in his friends or activities.

***

Gregory waited in the dark alcove on parking level three at 10:55 p.m. the evening of August 12. His hand cramped and perspired in the glove gripping the black iron pipe and the headband of the black baseball cap pulled down over his forehead was damp.

Events of the past four years of marriage flipped through his mind. Wooing Sarah had been easy, but he only married her for money. All women were attracted by his dark good looks and debonair manner, but few were wealthy. Sarah was the exception and she hadn’t even insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement. Stupid bitch.

The in-laws disliked him. “Nothing but a gold-digger,” he overheard his father-in-law say.

Gregory hated him. Losing his precious little girl would devastate the old man. Revenge would be sweet. Maybe the old bastard would die of shock and grief. He had a weak heart after all.

Sarah turned out to be a boring, career-obsessed micro-manager who resented his interests and spending. She pushed him to get a job. He wouldn’t work for pocket change. That was for suckers. With her gone, he could enjoy life.

“Til death do us part,” the marriage vows said. Sarah wouldn’t expect that to happen so soon, and that it would be her demise that parted them.

***

Minutes seemed to crawl by like turtles crossing a freeway. The parking level was quiet and empty except for her vehicle. The place had a cold, damp smell. He had unscrewed the light bulb near the elevator, darkening the area. He’d once read that most murders took place in the day and that night time killings in dark areas were a dime store novel cliché. Gregory smiled. Who cared as long as the end result was the same?

The pipe he gripped in his gloved hand had been in the garage for years. It was there when they took possession of the house. No one could trace it to him. They’d never find his discarded clothing and shoes. The plan was flawless — wasn’t it?

He sucked at his cheeks to moisten a parched mouth. Needles of doubt jabbed him. There were always unknown factors in schemes like his; things that couldn’t be anticipated or controlled. Gregory had analyzed the plan over and over countless times. A husband would always be a suspect, but if they couldn’t prove anything, he wouldn’t be convicted. What if someone saw him?

Eleven twenty. Each minute seemed longer than the previous one. Where was she? Finally the swishing sound of the elevator door opening; the click of heels on pavement came closer and closer.

This was it.

The clicking stopped. Why? He swallowed and licked his lips. His underarms were wet, muscles tensed. Insides tightened. It started again. Gregory raised the weapon above his head and stopped breathing. As she came adjacent to the alcove he made a small step forward. She sensed a presence, and turned.

He brought the bar down hard. Her skull split open with a sickening crunch and she collapsed to the ground. Two more heavy blows on the head for good measure. Her head was a pulp of white bone, grey oozing brain, blood-soaked blond hair, and pink flesh. Had she recognized him? Stupid to worry about that. Sarah was dead.

Gregory grabbed her purse, ripped the expensive necklace from around her neck, pulled off a diamond bracelet and yanked all the rings off her fingers except the wedding band. They slipped off easily — no need for the side cutters he’d brought along in his pocket. He looked down at her splayed corpse noting a diamond earring glistening against the gore of her head. The earrings would be left. He wiped the blood-stained pipe on her skirt and watched a rivulet of blood trickle down a crack in the curb and soak into the black, greasy dirt. He was rid of her for good.

He pushed the jewellry into his jacket pocket, put the bar and gloves in a black bag and looked around. The area was clear and quiet. He glanced down at her body one last time, and then walked to the stairs.

Don’t run, he reminded himself. People look suspicious when they run. The impulse was hard to resist, but he walked slowly up the stairs to the street, heart beating rapidly. He glanced back. Should he have checked her pulse just to make sure? What if he encountered someone? He didn’t. The street was deserted. He jerked the hat down on his head, pulled the car key from his jacket pocket and started walking.

***

The hands of the wall clock came together at 12:00 noon. Karen glanced at the brown paper bag containing her lunch and then pulled on a worn jacket. Eating would have to wait. She hurried down the stairs to the street and walked east. A 30-minute lunch period didn’t give much time to do anything. The manager was a tyrant and had a thing about punctuality, but this errand couldn’t be put off any longer. Things were tough. She was single, didn’t earn much and the cost of her mother’s funeral two months ago put her in debt. Today was payday and she had let it go too long.

After walking four blocks, she pushed through the revolving door of the tall grey office building on Tenth Avenue, took the elevator up to the sixth floor where the finance company office was located and walked to the desk.

“I’m here to make a payment on my loan.”

“Your name and account number?” said the stone-faced man.

She pulled out a piece of paper from her purse. “Karen Simpson, account number 305607.”

He frowned. “This account’s seriously overdue. You’ve missed three payments.”

“I’m sorry. Things have been tight lately.”

“It’s your responsibility to make payments on time.”

“I can make one today, and one each week for the next two weeks. I’ll be caught up then — right?”

“Okay, but if this happens again, the account will be sent to a collection agency. They’ll garnishee your wages.”

Karen gulped. She’d have no money for rent and food if that happened. Her boss would be furious about having to comply with a garnishee order and might fire her.

Hurrying back to the office, she stopped for a red light. A glint from the gutter caught her attention. Bending down, she retrieved the object and brushed it off. Light reflected off the stones of an exquisite ring. Were those gemstones real? What looked like a large, beautifully cut central diamond was flanked with smaller side stones. The arrangement was complemented with surrounding dark green gems. Emeralds, perhaps? The intricate setting was designed with yellow gold and a white metal. Karen looked around. Passerby’s ignored her. She slipped the ring into her pocket. Her wristwatch said 12:40.

She crossed with the green light, walked the short distance along the street to her building, ran up the stairs to the office and moved quickly to her desk. The wall clock indicated twelve fifty. She was 20 minutes late and saw the manager glance in her direction through the window in his office. He rose from his chair. Karen tried to look busy.

“Come into my office Karen,” he said, motioning with his hand. He had that look on his face. Another lecture about punctuality was coming.

“Close the door.” He motioned to a chair and Karen sat down.

“You’re late again.”

“I’m so sorry, sir. I had to run an urgent errand during lunch.”

“You’ve been warned three times previously about lateness, the last in writing. This behaviour can’t be tolerated.”

“I’ll work later today to make up the time.”

“That’s not the point. Your conduct has been unacceptable and you’ve made no attempt to remedy it. You leave me no option, but to dismiss you effective immediately.

“But I —”

“You’ll be paid for the balance of the week which is generous considering you are being dismissed with cause. Collect any personal items from your desk and leave now.”

“Please — let me —”

He raised his hand. “The decision has been made. Your employment is terminated.”

***

Karen’s feet transported her out of the building and to the local park in a stupor. She flopped on a bench, opened her lunch bag and took small bites from a warm processed cheese sandwich. What would she do? Could she find another job in time to pay upcoming rent, bills and the loan? That boss would give her a bad reference. Would anyone hire her? One hand reached into a pocket for tissues, and a finger touched the ring.

She took it out. The inside of the band bore the markings, “18K” and “S.R.” At least the mounting was real gold. The gems flashed and sparkled in the early afternoon sun. The large central stone’s facets gleamed and blazed with white and bluish fire.

The right thing to do would be to turn it in. Perhaps the person who lost it could be found. There might be a reward. If the stones were real, whoever owned this ring was well-to-do. Unlike her, they had lots of money. She had little, and might soon have nothing. The loss of a bauble wouldn’t end their world, but could make hers better. How much would a ring like this cost? It could be sold or pawned to tide her over until she found a new job. It was something to think about. She put the ring in a side pocket of her purse.

***

Worry kept her awake that night. The tiny flat might have to be exchanged for a furnished, rented room and the few possessions she owned, given up. Soon her meagre savings would be exhausted. What then? Fitful sleep finally came.

Then the nightmare started.

A well-dressed woman walked in a shadowy area, heels tapping on the pavement. A dark figure moved out from a recess in the wall and struck her on the head. She fell down and he struck her again and again. Blood was everywhere; the woman’s head an unrecognizable stew of gore.

Karen jerked awake frightened, shaking, and confused; skin clammy and night clothes soaked with sweat. Her eyes scanned the dark bedroom, but there were only the jagged edges of still shadows, no intruder. She’d heard once that dreams reflected events in a person’s life. What did those horrible images in her brain represent? Was she the woman in the dream and the assailant her former boss? Was his assault on her livelihood the symbolism?

No more sleep that night.

She sat by the window all the next morning, thinking. Exhaustion from lack of sleep made it hard to focus. Looking at the ring raised her spirits. Light danced off the stones like warming rays of hope. It was beautiful. Pawning it could provide some much-needed cash.

***

Karen had passed the store with the three ball fixture suspended over the entrance many times, but had never been inside a pawnshop. The windows were filled with felt-lined trays of jewelry and watches. Musical instruments dangled from the ceiling. Why did people abandon cherished possessions? Was it to satisfy some craving or pay a debt? Each object was part of a life lived; a prop from an unknown story. Although the ring wasn’t her own prized possession, Karen realized she was no different from those others, whatever the reason.

A bell tinkled as she opened the door and went in. The place had a musty aroma and was filled with the castoffs of human existence: television sets, guitars with amplifiers, sports equipment, tools, and even a fancy leather saddle with high, shiny size ten riding boots. Seeing the slightly worn boots saddened her. There was something pathetic and personal about pawned footwear.

“Yes, ma’am. Can I help you?” said the proprietor behind the expansive glass counter. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to the elbows. A faded, non-descript tattoo decorated one forearm. Alert, inquiring eyes looked out from a puffy face; the head hyphenated with bushy eyebrows and topped with a full head of steel-grey hair.

Karen opened her purse, removed the ring and passed it over to him.

He inspected it; face flattening as he looked up at her. “You want to sell this, or pledge it for a loan?”

“I’m interested in pawning it.”

“This is a very unusual and attractive piece. Where’d you get it?”

“Uh, my mother left it to me. It means a lot.”

He glanced back down at the ring, then up again at Karen. Why was he looking at her like that?

She laced her fingers, pressing the sticky palms together. The pawnbroker’s head nodded and brow furrowed. He pulled down magnifying loupes over his eyeglasses and examined the ring; orienting it at several different angles to catch the light from the overhead fluorescent fixtures. Next, he pulled out a small testing device with probes connected to it. He turned a switch on the device and touched the large central stone with the probes. The needle on the tester swung across the face of the dial.

“The stones appear to be real — at least the large central one,” he said.

Karen smiled. That was good news. The ring might fetch more money.

“You’re sure you received this from your mother?”

“Yes. It’s an heirloom, quite old.”

“Hmm . . . Old you say? The cut of the stones and design of the mount looks fairly modern. How much did you want to borrow against it?”

Karen wrinkled her face. “Would $200 be possible?”

He nodded. “Oh yes. No problem at all.” Karen exhaled.

He laid the ring on the glass countertop and lifted the magnifiers. “Excuse me. I have to do something. I’ll be right back.” The tone of his voice made Karen uncomfortable.

The pawnbroker pushed open the door leading to the back of his shop and it swung closed behind him, oscillating back and forth in short, diminishing arcs a few times before becoming still. Karen fidgeted. Her throat tightened, and breathing became faster. She lifted onto the balls of her feet to look through the door’s small window. She could see the man speaking on the telephone and hear his muffled voice.

Karen snatched up the ring, rushed out of the store, across the sidewalk, and between parked cars at the curb. She didn’t see the black car bearing down on her. The screech of tires preceded a hollow thud as Karen’s body lifted into the air and fell to the asphalt, head striking the curb. Pedestrians stopped and turned. A woman screamed. A few seconds later, a police car with two officers pulled up in front of the pawn shop.

***

A cop lifted the cover off Karen’s body. “You’re sure that’s her, Mr. Goldthorpe?” he said to the pawnbroker.

Goldthorpe grimaced. “Yes, she was the one who came into the store. I recognize the clothes.”

“You called us because you were suspicious of her?”

“She wanted to pawn a valuable ring. I remembered that a notice to be on the alert for a stolen one just like it had been issued on August 16th.”

“Her name is Karen Simpson. Mean anything to you?”

“No. Never seen her before today.”

“Where is the ring she brought in to you?”

“She left the store with it when I was on the telephone with your dispatcher. I heard the screeching of tires and saw the people milling around. Then you pulled up so I came out.”

“We didn’t find a ring when we checked her for identification.”

“Well, it’s not in the shop. I don’t know what happened to it.”

A crowd watched two men put Karen’s dead body onto a gurney, lift it into the ambulance and then drive away. A boy stared at the red puddle in the gutter. One officer talked to the distraught driver and took notes.

“It wasn’t my fault. She ran right out in front of me. I couldn’t stop. You have to believe me,” he cried.

“I saw it too,” another man said. “The woman ran right onto the road like someone was chasing her. The driver couldn’t avoid hitting her.

Other bystanders verified that and the cop took down their names and addresses.

Find out what happens tomorrow.

One comment

  1. Connie Lynn Cook

    Raymond, this is excellent and you had me at the first line. Your story has just enough background to provide the reader with motive, and I like the pace of the plot moving along. Can’t wait until tomorrow to read the rest. Really well done!

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