Do you mind if I come in? - Editor
by Sylvia Hiven
The shape on the other side of the stained glass door was all too familiar to Bill. He knew that dark-blue uniform anywhere, and he didn't need to squint at the glint of gold to know it was a badge. Even the damn knocking sounded authoritative.
You can do this. Just act natural.
Bill glanced into the mirror, certain that the truth was etched into his features. But an oddly calm face stared back at him. Sure, it was thin and wrinkled--and perhaps paler than most--but it was decorated with friendly blue eyes, and there was no sign of distress. No, sir.
See, you are a natural. And nobody knows.
He plastered on a slightly disheveled, Sunday morning look, and opened the door.
“Morning, Bill.” Jake Kitchener's familiar face looked back at him across the threshold.
Bill had hoped for someone he didn't know. Perhaps one of those young new officers, or the tall black guy he never really cared to get to know. But Jake Kitchener lived just a few blocks away. Last summer during the community barbeque, Bill and Jake had spent hours tending the grill. And when you've barbequed with a fellow, you may as well have fought in Vietnam by his side. He knows you.
“Morning,” Bill replied. “You're up early for a Sunday, Jake.”
Jake shifted his weight. “I am here on official business, actually,” he said. "Do you mind if I come in?”
“Not at all.” Bill stepped aside and Jake entered. “Is everything alright?”
Officer Kitchener—that is what he had become; Bill could tell from the stiffness in the man's neck that he was not Jake anymore—didn't answer. Instead, he glanced into the kitchen. His eyebrows crinkled slightly at the dirty dishes in the sink.
“Is Norma home?”
“No, she's at a church thing.” The dishes forced Bill to elaborate further. “She threw together some muffins and ran out the door. She didn't even have time to clean up.”
Bill pushed out the obvious question. The one he had to ask. “So, what are you here for, exactly?”
“Do you know the Buchanan girl? Tall, skinny--around seventeen?”
“The one that dyed her hair black last year? She has those tattoos all over?”
Was that too much information? Was he supposed to know about her tattoos--how two dragons curled around her arms onto her back and met in an embrace between her shoulder blades?
Apparently, it wasn't too much. Kitchener nodded. “Yeah, that's the one.”
“Christa, right? She used to play softball with our granddaughter. Did she do something?”
“She's missing.” Kitchener's eyes caressed the room, sliding over each surface in a way that was too casual to be common curiosity. “Some kids saw her around this neighborhood last night. She was high. Meth, I guess, like all the other kids from that side of town. Her folks seem to think that someone may have... taken her.”
“Taken her?” Nice. That had just the right amount of shock mixed with outrage. Quite natural. “You mean, someone from the neighborhood?”
“Not necessarily. Maybe someone drove by her on the street and picked her up. Anyone could have coaxed her to come along. Especially with the rain last night.”
Bill remembered. Christa's clothes had been completely soaked. And that was before the gunshot. Before the blood.
His eyes darted to the laundry room door. It was closed, hiding the heap of her ruined clothes, but there was a sizable crack between the door and the floorboards. For a moment, his eyes played a trick on him, and he saw trails of dirty, bloody rainwater snaking across the floor and kissing the front of Officer Kitchener's boots.
He blinked it away.
“You didn't see anything, did you, Bill? Any strange cars parked along the street?”
“No, I didn't. I was busy last night, working in the garage.”
That wasn't even a lie. He had been working. Chopping, sawing and bundling body parts—body parts he had known so intimately--in black plastic bags. And crying. God, how he had cried.
The memories came flooding back. So did the nausea. Red and black swirls bloomed before Bill's eyes, covering Officer Kitchener in a haze. Bill leaned casually on the kitchen door frame, doing his best to not let his facial expression change. Still acting natural.
Apparently, it worked.
“Well, thanks anyway,” Officer Kitchener said, moving towards the door. “If you see her, or remember anything, you'll let me know?”
“Will you ask Norma, too? Just in case she saw something.”
“I sure will.” Bill opened the door, and managed to fire off a concerned, but still friendly, smile. “I have your number.”
“Thanks.” Officer Kitchener smiled back, and walked outside into the sun-drenched Sunday morning.
As soon as the door closed, Bill collapsed on the floor. Weeping in relief, his gaze pleaded at the closet door.
“He believed me. He's gone. Now stop aiming that thing at me.”
The closet door opened.
Wispy black hair, and tattoos all over. Oh, you've seen Christa alright.
Her body nearly disappeared in his unbuttoned dress shirt—the one she had pulled down from the drying rack last night after discarding her clothes. She looked so small. So innocent.
But what didn't look innocent, and what chased away his moment of relief, was the gun in her hand.
The gun that gleamed with pearly raindrops when he opened the door last night. The gun that irately fired into Norma's belly when she was too slow, showing where the liquor cabinet was. The gun that poked Bill's back as he carried his dead wife into the garage.
The gun that overnight had taught him how to be a natural.