Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Final Scene

Candice here, Katie and I collaborated on this post. It switches between Ralph's POV and Azalea's POV. Please review! :)

Who the hell does the record keeping in this place? Ben and I have been through stacks and stacks of papers. Still no gun records.
I pick up another folder and start shuffling through the papers. Now that we have a solid lead I’m feeling pretty anxious to get to the homicidal creep. Not just because I’m more than ready to clear out of here and get to a Starbucks. At the end of the day it’s all about arresting violent murders so that they aren’t strolling about violently murdering people. The killer may not be a psychopath but he is still dangerous and still armed.
But where the hell are the records?

***

I’m a bit OCD about washing my dishes. I have to scrub them until they’re shiny enough to use as mirrors before loading them into the dishwasher. Maybe that’s my competitive streak at work—me versus the dishwasher. Woman versus machine.
Whatever the reason, it takes awhile; especially after we have big, messy dinners like tonight’s stir fry chicken. “Awhile” doesn’t even begin to describe that cleanup.
As I’m rinsing the sticky saucepan, I hear footsteps echoing from the dining room. Glancing at the clock—8:23—I wonder if Jezebel decided to come back early with the kids. For some unearthly reason, Warwick asked her to take them out (yes, out, into the open, with an insane serial killer wandering through the streets) for dessert. Apparently my stir fry wasn’t enough to fill them up, and the ice cream we have here is freezer burned.
I rotate my head just far enough to catch a glimpse of my husband sauntering into the kitchen. Surprise, surprise: he’s actually decided to take his eyes off the football game for a few minutes. Though maybe he’s just coming in to grab a bag of chips.
“Azalea?” he asks gruffly, and I roll my eyes as I stare at the suds surging through my fingers.
“There’re Doritos in the cupboard,” I sigh.
“Actually, I was thinking that we should talk,” he says, and something in his voice sends a shiver down my spine. “About that divorce you keep thinking about.”
Oh, boy. Here it goes.
He’s right about it being constantly on my mind, pestering me to take action. Now that the time has actually come to take that first step, though, my heart is leaping away from me, threatening to leave me breathless over my almost-clean dishes.
But I can’t let hyperventilation get the better of me, and I certainly can’t go wedging myself between the sofa cushions and never resurface, although I desperately wish I could.
I shut off the water and slowly turn to face him. Instead, I find myself facing the barrel of a gun.

***

“Detective Sir-etty! I found them!”
I’m so pleased I don’t even correct Ben’s horrific mispronunciation of my last name.
“Excellent! Who owns a .45 automatic?”
Ben scans through the papers. My foot develops a nervous twitch while I wait for him to find the information. I hate waiting. I’m always the jumpy one during a stakeout. Come on, Ben, murderer running loose, possibly closing in on his next victim. Remember?
“Oh, God.” Ben drops the papers.
“What?” I ask him. Maybe more than one person owns a .45 automatic. I had suspected that might happen. It’ll mean interrogations, lock-up, and more work than if there was only one person. Not that big a deal though. We’ll still have our killer.
“The killer… it’s the mayor!” Ben is aghast.
“The mayor owns a .45 automatic?”
Ben nodded, muttering, “the mayor, the mayor…”
“He is the only person in this town who owns a .45 automatic?”
Ben nods again, still muttering to himself. He is going to need to get a grip.
“Pull yourself together, Ben, we have an arrest to make,” I say as I stand up and grab my gun.

***

I cannot recall ever being more surprised than I am at this very moment.
Even when I found Eloise dead in the salon, I was wary of the deserted darkness that met me when I opened the door. I was horrified, of course, but at least I had understood what had happened. Now? Now I wouldn’t be able to tell you who or where I am, let alone why my hands are wet and wrinkly and a man is pointing a gun at me.
A man. My husband. Dear God, why couldn’t he just go get a Mercedes like normal men do when they have midlife crises? Instead he has to sleep with a twenty-something-year-old country bumpkin and get rid of his wife the old-fashioned way. And if he’s prepared to murder me, his spouse of over fifteen years, then who else would he--did he--oust? Eloise, Pastor John, Eli...
I cringe and begin sliding toward the floor, my legs too wobbly to hold me up any longer. I hear a metallic click and assume from all the crime novels I’ve read that it belongs to something novelists call the safety. I never thought I’d put that information to use in a life-and-death situation, but then, life’s full of surprises. Until it’s over.
“You’re the serial killer,” I mumble in a daze, more to myself than anyone else. “Murderer. Psychopath. Fr--”
“Really, Azalea,” Warwick grumps impatiently, almost as if we’re arguing about something as tame as state treasury elections. “‘Psychopath’ is hardly the word I would use.”
I stare at him in disbelief. “And just what word would you use?”
“Entrepreneur,” he states matter-of-factly.
Correction: he’s an egotistical psychopath.

***

Ben and I blast through the streets and screech around corners. I haven’t turned on the siren. Tiny town like this, everyone would hear it. Can’t have Mayor Murder hear us coming. His killing patterns aren’t that of a psychopath, but anyone who goes about murdering people can hardly be called stable or mentally sound. No telling what he might do.
Ben is looking stiff but he has stopped hyperventilating. This is good. Poor guy, he’s probably never seen this much action before.
I jerk the steering wheel roughly to turn left. I use any and all excuses to drive like a maniac. Good adrenaline. That’s one thing I really love about my line of work. I wonder what that says about my inner psyche? Probably nothing good. Lucky the streets are deserted.

***

“You see, Azalea, this has all been about you. From the very beginning.”
“I don’t understand.” I try to ignore that my hands are trembling with the force of a thousand jackhammers. And don’t even get the writer in me started on the buzzing in my head--a hive of frenzied bumblebees, an electric razor searing over my scalp, an airplane spinning through turbulence in the Bermuda Triangle...
“I know you know about Jezebel and me,” Warwick says casually. “You want to divorce me. I can’t let that happen.”
“What are you going to do?” I ask shakily. My mind is bursting with hordes of other questions (one of them being, “Why are you speaking like a robot? Did someone replace your brain--not to mention your heart--with a machine?”), but soon his creepily monotone voice is providing me with an unwanted answer.
“Not what I am going to do; what I have been doing. As I already told you, it has all been about you. All the deaths that came before. They were all for you, Azalea. For the purpose of killing you, that is.”
“I...I still don’t understand,” I manage, though I’m afraid I’m lying to buy time on this precious, if fundamentally flawed and inherently evil, earth.
“I couldn’t let you divorce me, Azalea,” he explains with a sigh. “It would ruin me. In the court case, you would get the house, the kids, the cars, the money. I might even have to pay you money. And of course I would never be reelected. If you divorced me for an affair, it would be political suicide. I would lose everything. Maybe even Jezebel.” He grins at me, his calm facade gone, and I’m stuck with a sudden terrible truth. After Warwick kills me, and it is clear he fully intends to, he will have my kids. Oh, God. This lunatic will have my kids.
“They’ll find you,” I whisper, my eyes watering. “They’ll put you in prison for life.”
“The cops think this is the work of some crazy outsider,” he chuckles maniacally, “and their opinion isn’t going to change as long as I’m in charge of Wildewood. I realized that to kill you, you couldn’t be the only one to die. It had to look like the work of a madman with no motive but his own insanity.
“You would ruin me, Azalea,” Warwick growls at me, “but I’m going to fix that. If you’re dead, I keep the money, my reputation, Jezebel, everything. Hell, my popularity will probably go up out of sympathy.”
He’s panting heavily and takes a breath to calm himself. “This is the end, Azalea.”

***

Ben and I are at the house. The one with the murderer. We walk towards the door with purpose, guns drawn. The front door isn’t closed all the way. Did we miss him? Has he skipped town? That would be a major letdown and a hell of a lot more trouble.
We are at the door now, pressed to the wall on either side. There are voices. Good. Hopefully this means he is still here.
Ben’s eyes widen and he nearly drops his gun as we hear what the scum inside is saying to his wife. I shoot him a sharp look and communicate to him with hand gestures to keep quiet and follow me.
This is going to be tricky.

***

A gunshot knocks my eardrums out of my head. Strangely enough, it doesn’t come from Warwick’s gun.
My eyes shoot toward the door, where two men stand with moonlight warming their backs. One I recognize, probably from the police force judging by his uniform, but the other is completely foreign to me. Despite his scruffy appearance and the dark circles under his eyes, he looks like nothing less than a guardian angel from my hunched position on the floor.
My ears are ringing either from the gunshot or from my own personal Niagara Falls of adrenaline, or possibly a combination of both, so I don’t hear whatever words come out of my angel’s mouth. I just know that the sooner I get away from all of the firearms in the room, the better.

***

Damn.
Just barely got down the entryway quick enough to shoot the gun from his hand before he pulled the trigger. One second late and it would have been to late for the woman the gun was pointed at. That is how close it was. Damn.
I don’t look at the woman yet, I don’t take my eyes off the man turning to face me, not until he is wearing my handcuffs and sitting in the back of my car. He was about to do in his own wife. Guess that explains his motive. The other deaths were going to cover up her murder.
“Hands up and up against the wall,” I say coldly.
The scum jumps at me. I don’t even bother to try to comprehend the angry gibberish he starts yapping at me. Instead I punch him in the gut before he can reach me, then slam him against the fridge and click on handcuffs.
“Get him to the back of the car, Ben, get him to the station, lock him up, and if he shuts up for a few minutes, read him his rights” I look at the wide-eyed woman on the floor, “and radio in for an ambulance, she needs to be treated for shock.”
I wait until the perp has been hustled out of the house screaming profanities and I hear Ben pull out of the driveway before turning to the woman.
I walk over and squat next to her, “How are you feeling, ma’am?”

***

“How are you feeling, ma’am?” the angel asks soothingly.
Well, as soothing as a gruff and scruffy detective can possibly be. This is not how it happens in the movies.
It takes me a moment to find my voice, but when I do, it’s unusually high-pitched and breathy. I must sound like a blond beauty pageant contestant. “I-I’m o-o-okay. I-I’m fine.”
The man smiles. A gruff and scruffy smile, but a smile all the same. “Good. You’re safe now. You’re going to be alright.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, then reiterate in a stronger, more assured tone, “thank you. Thank you.” Somehow, just saying the words pulls me back into reality.
“All part of the job ma’am. By the way,” he holds out his hand towards me to shake, “I’m Detective Ralph Sûreté.”
“Azalea,” I return, choosing not to mention my last name, which will definitely be changed back to my maiden name ASAP.
I extend my own hand and cringe at the tremors that run through it, but he doesn’t seem to mind as he gently but firmly grips my hand. I guess he’s used to having people fall apart on him like this.
That’s about when it hits me. It’s over. The murderer is caught and, miracle of miracles, I’m not dead. It really is going to be alright.
I hear a car pulling into the driveway--the kids must be home. How the heck am I going to explain all of this to them? And what am I going to do with Jezebel? Oh, who cares! They’re here and safe and so am I and it’s all going to be alright. I’m suddenly struck with a desire to hug them nearly tight enough to squeeze the living daylights out of them, only that’s a hyperbole, because for these next few weeks, I’ll be treating them as if they’re as fragile as thin sheets of glass.
I start to push myself up from the tile but find that I’m far too weak to stand on my own. Ralph thoughtfully helps me to my feet, and I give him a grateful smile as he walks me to the door.
Thank God it’s over.

4 comments:

  1. Candice and Katie -- that is an excellent bit of writing there. It finishes off the story well. I certainly didn't see it coming!

    ReplyDelete