Thunderstruck is about the only word I can use to describe how I felt seeing him across that crowded bar. I knew it was him the moment I saw him. Larger than life, he sat there with some vapid blonde, half his age sitting on his lap and nuzzling his neck. He did always like them young. He laughed and drank like he didn’t have a care in the world. And maybe he didn’t. At least, not at that moment.
I took my drink and moved to a small table out on the patio where I was well concealed but could still watch him. A breeze blew in off of the ocean, taking some of the edge off of a hot and humid evening. I watched him stand, taker the blonde’s hand and lead her to the dance floor at the foot of the stage where the bland played a cover of Lyin’ Eyes by the Eagles. How fitting. They danced close and she giggled as he put his hands all over her ass. The son of a bitch didn’t even dance with me like that on our wedding day!
“I can tell you’re not from around here,” came a slightly slurred voice behind me.
A guy wearing white shorts with a dark blue polo shirt, shoes and no socks took the seat across from me at my table. I stared at him for a moment, his brazenness unbelievable.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m waiting for somebody.”
He waved off my comment and smiled. “I’ll wait until he gets back,” he said. “A pretty lady like you shouldn’t be left in a shark tank like this all by her lonesome.”
“Thank you for your concern,” I replied. “But I’m fine. Really.”
“Scott Cooper,” he said like he hadn’t even heard me. “Dr. Scott Cooper.”
I rolled my eyes, my agitation growing. I looked across to see that my husband and his bimbo had returned to their seats where they kissed and cuddled closely. The crowd was getting thicker, the music louder and the crowd a little rowdier. A headache, low and throbbing was forming behind my eyes.
“Look, Scott,” I said. “I’m really not in the mood here. Can you please stop bothering me?”
He chuckled and spoke a little louder to be heard over the music. “Everybody’s in the mood,” he said. “It’s a beautiful night out and I’d like to buy a drink for a beautiful lady.”
The thin cord that was holding my patience together finally snapped.
“Look buddy,” I leaned over the table and spoke loudly enough to be heard but not so loud that I’d draw attention to myself. “Not interested. Now fuck off!”
He looked at me, a broad grin stretching across his face. “Oh I get it,” he said. “You’re a dyke. That’s cool. I know somebody who likes to party. You interested in a threesome?”
As tempting as it was to smack him and throw my drink in his face, I resisted the urge. Without waiting for a response, I stood up and left the bar. I needed time to think, to process and figure out how I would confront my husband. The man who, for the last year and a half, I thought was dead.
I sat in my rental car in the parking lot watching the door to the bar; the shock was rapidly being replaced by a white-hot rage. The windows were down but it didn’t matter. I was sweaty, sticky and nasty. I wanted nothing more than a cold shower and a cold drink but knew that if I left, I would miss my opportunity. What I planned to do with that opportunity once I had it was something else entirely. I had no idea what I was going to do.
A year and a half ago, my husband had gone sailing for the afternoon. It was something he enjoyed doing from time to time. He said it helped clear his head when the stress of work or life got to be too much. It was just him and the ocean, he said. The Coast Guard had found his boat floating adrift three days later. A search for his body turned up nothing and he was presumed lost as sea.
For more than a year, I grieved his loss and was inconsolable. I’d shut out friends and family, hermiting myself away with little else but bleak thoughts and cherished memories. Eventually, the dark clouds had receded enough that my friend Shelly was able to get through to me. She sat with me, held me when I sobbed like a child and told me that things would be okay, that I would learn to live and be whole again.
It was Shelly who talked me into coming down to Cozumel for a vacation. It was a place that Carl and I had always talked about going to but one of those things that we kept putting off and would get around to eventually. She thought that maybe by being here, enjoying myself and actually living a little again, I might finally be able to find some peace and closure.
But instead of peace and closure, I found the man who was supposed to be dead very much alive and well.
Nearly three hours later, Carl came stumbling out of the bar with the bimbo latched onto his arm. My head was throbbing so hard it felt like it was ready to split open and the muscles in my neck and shoulders ached with the tension. I watched them stagger over to his car and get in. Another twenty minutes passed as they groped each other like drunken, horny teenagers. I still had no idea how I was going to confront him but I felt my anger building.
Finally, the car started, the headlights came on and they pulled out of the parking lot. I waited a few moments before starting my car, pulling out and following them down the highway. They weren’t very difficult to tail since they were one of the only cars on the road. I let myself fall behind a little more, not wanting to make it too obvious that I was following them. Though in their state, I doubt they would have noticed.
About ten miles from the bar, he turned into a driveway and disappeared from view. I drove by slowly, trying to catch a glimpse. They had already parked and were getting out of the car as I passed. Finding a wide shoulder on the road, I pulled to a stop and parked the rental. Taking a deep breath, my nerves and my anger warring within me, I got out of the car, locked it and headed back toward his house. I still had no idea what I was going to say or do but I decided to just wing it.
The gravel crunched beneath my shoes as I walked down the darkened driveway. I passed by the car, ticking as it cooled and made my way around to the back of the house. A long path led from the back of the house down to a dock where a small motor boat was moored. Though not what I’d call palatial, the house Carl was living in was certainly several steps up from the modest place we’d lived in together. It looked like he wasn’t doing too badly for himself down here. That only served to fuel my anger even more. We lived frugally, scrimping and saving every penny to pay the mortgage and our bills, trying to put enough back to eventually retire on. And here he was, living it up.
“Asshole,” I said quietly.
The lights on the bottom floor of the house were dark but I could see candlelight flickering in one of the upstairs windows. It was presumably, the bedroom. I stepped up onto the back porch and on a whim, tried the handle on the French doors. It was unlocked. The butterflies were like a whirlwind in my stomach and every sense I had told me not to do it. Ignoring everything, I stepped into the house, leaving the door open behind me.
I took a moment to let my eyes adjust to the dark. Music floated down from upstairs. John Coltrane. Of course it was. It was his favorite and he used to play Coltrane or any number of jazz musicians non-stop, day and night. I heard them laughing upstairs. I stood there listening as their giggles turned into the sound of passionate sex. Using their noise as cover, I took the opportunity to poke around his house. I walked through the kitchen, looked through the mail on the table by the door. It looked like a few bills and assorted odds and ends, all addressed to one Miles Coltrane. I shook my head and dropped it back down on the table.
He’d faked his death and started an entirely new life down here. Unbelievable.
Things upstairs seemed to be getting louder and more frantic so I moved to what appeared to be a small office. Stepping inside, I flipped on the light and headed for the desk. Second drawer on the right. Bingo. Like his music, some things never changed. I slipped it into my pocket, went and shut the light off and leaned back in the chair, listening to the pair upstairs.
“She’s faking it, Carl,” I said. “I used to be married to you and there is no way you can actually make somebody scream like that.”
Eventually, the screaming and the moaning tapered off. I sat in the darkness for more than an hour. Thankfully, it was cooler in here than it had been in the car. Footsteps descended the stairs and went out the front door. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.
Swiveling back and forth in the chair, I heard him come down the stairs and go into the kitchen. I listened to the bottles clinking followed by the sound of one being opened. Listening to his footsteps approaching the office, I had expected to feel nervous or scared but I felt nothing more than a sense of calm and righteous anger burning in my stomach. I’d just removed the pistol I’d taken out of his desk and pointed it at the doorway as he came into the room and flipped on the light wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. His eyes widened but I couldn’t tell if it was from seeing me sitting there or the gun I was pointing at him.
“I hope you at least gave her cab fare, Carl.”
“W-what?” He stammered. “Ho-how?”
“Call it dumb luck,” I replied coolly. “”After mourning you for more than a year, I decided to start living again and take that trip we never got around to taking together. What a surprise it was to find out that you’d started our vacation without me.”
He held his hand up to me. “Okay, I know this looks bad,” he said. “But I can explain everything.”
“Oh really?” I replied. “This, I have to hear. Come. Sit.”
I pointed with my free hand to the chair in front of his desk. He hesitated for a moment but staring at the barrel of the gun in my hand, Carl finally complied. He sat across from me, his hands held up like I was sticking him up or something.
“So?” I said. “Explain.”
He licked his lips. “Look, Sarah,” he started. “We were in real financial trouble and I thought this might be a way to solve our problems.”
“Seriously? Faking your death, leaving me alone and miserable was a way to solve our problems?”
He shrugged. “You got a hundred grand out of the deal,” he said. “And I got to start over. Do things right. I wanted to call you. Tell you. Get you down here with me. I love you and I missed you.”
I felt my eyes widen in disbelief. “Yeah, really looks like you were giving me a lot of thought, asshole.”
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said. “I just got caught up in this new life. But not a day went by that I didn’t think about you.”
The anger inside of me boiled over. I was so enraged, the gun in my hand shook.
“Where are the keys to that boat out on the dock?” I asked quietly.
“The boat on the dock out back,” I repeated. “Where are the keys? We’re going some place we can talk privately.”
His eyes shifted nervously. He was searching for a way out, some form of leverage to gain the advantage on me. I steadied my hand and pointed the gun at his face.
“Don’t fuck with me, Carl,” I said, my voice without emotion. “We’re taking a little trip and we’re going to have a nice, long talk.”
“If we’re just going to talk, you can lose the gun, right?”
“Keys, Carl,” I said. “Now.”
The lights of Cozumel had faded behind us and the vast, empty darkness of the ocean lay in front. I sat on the bench seat at the back of the boat behind Carl. He drove the boat, continually looking over his shoulder at me.
“Okay,” I shouted to be heard. “Stop. This is good.”
Carl stopped the boat and turned off the engine. We rolled up and down with the waves and just floated. The stars overhead were like chips of diamond on black velvet. The sparkled more brilliantly than I’d ever seen them before. Carl cleared his throat and took a step toward me. I thrust the gun out in front of me.
“Uh uh,” I said. “Just keep standing near the wheel.”
“What are you doing, Sarah?” he asked. “We both got something out of the deal. Why is this such a problem?”
“I thought you were dead, you son of a bitch,” I shouted. “I gave up more than a year of my life mourning you!”
“I’m sorry, babe,” he said. “I honestly just wasn’t happy. I hadn’t been for a while. I thought this would be a clean break for the both of us.”
I looked at him, dumbstruck. I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out for a long moment. I tried to formulate my thoughts as I listened to the sound of the waves slapping against the side of the boat, felt the gentle rocking of the tide.
“You weren’t happy,” I said, my voice flat. “This is the first I’ve heard of your unhappiness. I thought things were just fine between us.”
He shrugged. “I just didn’t want to say anything,” he said. “You know how you get.”
I shook my head. “Know how I get?”
“You can be unstable sometimes, Sarah,” he said. “Rather than go through all of the drama of a divorce, I figured this way was better. We both got something out of the deal rather than wasting all of our money on lawyers.”
Despite my best efforts to restrain them, warm tears slid down my cheeks.
“I can’t believe you, Carl,” I whispered. “I can’t fucking believe you.”
He held his hand out to me. “Give me the gun,” he said. “Let’s just get back to shore and go about our lives.”
“Go about our lives?”
He nodded. “You’re doing fine back home,” he said. “And I’m doing fine down here. Let’s just get back to our new lives and pretend this never happened. That you never found me.”
“Sarah,” he said, his tone impatient. “You can’t pretend that the last year of our marriage was a happy year. You felt it just as much as I did. So what’s wrong with the both of us profiting off of the dissolution of our marriage and living newer, happier lives.”
As I listened to him, a sudden thought occurred to me.
“You took out a life insurance policy on yourself,” I said. “Didn’t you?”
He hesitated and I pointed the gun at him again. “Didn’t you?”
Slowly he nodded.
“Why? What’s it to you?”
“How fucking much, Carl?”
He looked around but there was no help or escape in sight. “Three million.”
It hit me like a runaway train. Three million dollars. No wonder he was able to live so lavishly.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” He asked. “You want to get paid. I can make that happen, Sarah. Let’s get back to my house and I’ll give you some cash. I have a couple hundred thousand in the safe.”
“What’s the combination?”
“I’ll tell you that when you get me back safely.”
A cold wind swept over the ocean and buffeted us as we stood there.
“You are in no position to bargain, Carl,” I said. “What. Is. The. Combination?”
“You don’t get it,” he said. “Until I’m back safely.”
As I stood there, eyes locked on his, I realized something. Everything Carl did was predictable. From his taste in music to where he kept his gun in the desk. He never changed his routine. Like computer passwords and lock combinations. What an idiot.
“You realize you’re legally dead in the States, right?” I asked.
“That was kind of the point,” he said. “So what does that mean to you?”
I squeezed the trigger again and again until all of the bullets had been spent. Carl’s body, punctured by half a dozen ragged bullet wounds hung slumped over the railing of the boat. It took some doing but I was able to push him over and into the water. I dug up the spent shell casings and pitched them overboard as well. There was some blood on the gunwale but I figured I’d be able to wash it off fairly quickly.
Firing up the engine, I looked at Carl’s body floating face-down in the water. With the amount of blood seeping out of him, the predators would devour him in no time flat. And if any parts happened to wash up on shore that were identifiable, they’d ultimately trace back to a dead man.
I gunned the engine and headed back to shore, ready to begin my new life. Ready to really live again.
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 36C(E): Just One Look. As always, thank you so much for your continued support. I have no clue what sort of madness to expect but it should be interesting. Thank you, guys. You keeping me in this game means the world to me!