By Andy Betz and Dounia Saunders
“Four years and you still cannot make up your mind!”
Her proposal was sincere. The beach house would make a perfect place for us. Everything she said to me was so right.
And, at the same time, so wrong.
Her face was unwavering. The evening breeze moved her hair, but not her resolve. I took one more look at her blue eyes. At that moment, she knew it was the last time I would ever look at her eyes again.
The water around my feet was the double-edged sword I called a friend. It washed away my problems. It also washed away my life; albeit slower in the second than in the first.
The setting sun cast my shadow, but not my face, back to her. I would regret my decision in the morning, as I always do.
I heard her say my name, one more time.
I could not answer her cry.
Linda returned to the beach house to get ready for work. I would pack as soon as she left. No goodbyes. No pleas. No turning back.
By 9pm, I started my beetle and was ready to go. I removed from the glove compartment my map of the US. It was the same map that led me here when I was 20. Closing my eyes, I placed my finger randomly on its prognosticating surface.
Oklahoma was my new destiny.
Half a tank of gas, a reliable compass, and a bit of luck and I am on my way. They have never failed me prior to today.
I hope they will never fail me again.
I always keep this picture of my car (when it was restored) in the glove compartment. It is the standard I measure the eventual decline it will endure. My car has been my freedom, my counselor, and my baby. Tonight, it is my home.
I ran out of gas on a road some local told me was a shortcut. Now, I sit in the back seat, covered in a blanket, freezing. Across the street is a diner that does not open until 5am when, presumably, the breakfast crowd comes rolling in. This town, if you can call it that, has one electric light, one diner, and one gas station that has seen better days. The advertised price is $1.13 per gallon, I am not holding my breath for a new tank of gas anytime soon. I am reserving that elation for a decent cup of coffee and some eggs.
Unless the diner is as antiquated as the pumps seem to be.
Two days since I left Linda with a diamond ring in her hand. I was a fool in that I should have seen that day coming. I gave her all of the right signs for her to take the next step. I practically “owned” her beach house during the years I lived there. She asked for so little in return. Even so little was too much for me.
Perhaps, maybe, I don’t know. In a few years I might just return. Unannounced. Just to see if Linda held a candle for me. Maybe at that time, my head will be clear. Maybe I will actually know what I want in life. But, until then, I sit here and shiver.
That is until that diner opens. Or the sun comes up. Whatever comes first.
Maggie told me the good news and the bad news over my plate of eggs and toast.
“The good news is that if you work at the diner today, I will give you a ride home with me tonight. You can get a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, buy a few gas cans, fill them up, fill that car of yours up, and leave when and where you want.”
“Why would I do that? I have money. I’ll just wait until the gas station opens and be on my way.” I was a bit terse about my situation. Not with the eggs or the toast, just my situation.
Maggie smiled. With no other customer in sight, she took her time explaining the rest of the news. “Sugar, that gas station will never open up.”
“How do you know that?”
Maggie must have been waiting weeks to say this. “I own it. I own the station and the pumps, but I don’t have the cash or the business to sell gasoline. So I made a choice and ran with the diner. Sooner or later someone will come around and that is how I make a living.”
“Then, can I borrow your phone? Mine has no bars this far out.”
I must have sounded desperate. Maggie must have thought so also. She almost began to chuckle. “Don’t have no phone because, as you see, I don’t have the foot traffic to afford one. I get by with a few regulars, but I have to watch expenses.”
“Then why don’t I just pay you to take me into town? I’ll cover your till today if you do.” Maggie thought about the deal. I even pulled $300 out of my purse to show my offer was real. $300 was more than what she would bring in today, by the looks of things. Maggie thought about it and then looked at the dishes in the back that needed washed and the tables that needed cleaned. Her mind screamed for her to take the cash. But, her aching legs argued successfully to take the day off from hard labor and press her advantage over me.
By 9am, I finished washing all of the old dishes. By noon, I had scraped the tables, tops and bottoms cleaned. By 2pm, the counter and the floors were spotless.
It wasn’t until 3pm that I heard Maggie’s first customer come in. I was in the front, ready to take his order. Maggie was in the back, ready to take out the old trash.
This customer raised his pistol and shot me in the shoulder. A single gunshot dropped me. I grabbed my arm, but I couldn’t scream. My eyes stared at his eyes as he watched me in pain. He kept the pistol pointed at me, not taking another shot, not scanning for other people. He just stood there and watched me slowly bleed.
My heart stopped cold. I couldn’t breathe. I just froze. That’s when I passed out. When I awoke, I was still on the floor. Maggie was tending to my wound trying to force me to drink from a bottle of whiskey. She didn’t seem alarmed. She didn’t even seem distressed. She kept at the wound until she removed the bullet with a pair of makeshift forceps she must have had in the old medical kit I saw this morning in the kitchen.
“Sugar. You got lucky. I got the bullet and you are going to be alright. I used to be a medic in the army, back in the day. Your’s was the easiest bullet removal I ever did. Here, want to see it?” She grabbed the bullet with her forceps and told me it was a 22 magnum. Had it been a 38 or a 9mm, I would most likely be dead.
I took her for her word, swallowed the whiskey, and hoped for the best before I passed out again.
“Good to see you back in the land of the living. You gave me a bad scare there.”
It was Linda. I was in her room again. In her bed again.
I tried to sit up but couldn’t. Not from my shoulder, but from my fever.
“You’ve had a fever now for four days, three of them unconscious.”
I don’t remember anything since Maggie dressed my wound. I should thank her when I get the chance. I tried to thank Linda in the meantime.
“No time for thanks. At least, not until you get better.”
And get better I did.
It took another week to break the fever from an infection from the bullet, or was it the forceps? Within a month, I had received enough rehab from Linda to make me want to leave her again.
But, this time, I didn’t.
We went for walks on the beach, saying little, but knowing so much more. Sometimes it is not what you say, but when you say it that makes all of the difference. By the 6th week together, I heard Linda not ask me (again) to marry her.
This time I made sure she heard my reply of “Yes!”
Weddings are one of those singular times when the outcome of the event is assured, but the process often goes awry. Since we spent so much time together, we decided a beach wedding was appropriate. I wore a white one piece with a matching veil. Linda wore a black bikini leaving little to the imagination. The guests came ready to swim, with a few disregarding even that minimum attire requirement.
The minister waxed eloquently and I knew I finally made the right decision, for the first time, in my life. Linda and I laid it on thick with the “kissing of the bride” moment. I countered with a grope of her rear. She countered with a pinch of mine.
We mingled afterwards, as all couples do, thanking the guests and meeting their friends of their friends. A quick dip in the ocean and it was off to our honeymoon, in the beach house. My life came full circle as Linda, in a surprise move, carried me across the threshold. I wanted to begin as equals, but found, at least for today, the submissive role more my style. I found no argument from my betrothed.
It was another two hours before I began thinking of anything else.
“Linda, how did you find me when I got shot?” This was as good of a time as ever to ask.
“After you passed out, your Maggie went through your purse to find your driver’s license. She called the police for help. Then she gave them your address and my, I mean our phone number popped up. The police gave Maggie the number and she called me. I was in my car in 10 minutes and came immediately.”
Only for the second time in my life did I find it hard to breathe or move. I must have given Linda a shock to see me this way. She gave me a shock looking at her looking at me.
“How did you know?” My Linda, right to the point.
“Maggie told me she did not have a phone. She could not have called you. You had to have known all along. Why did you try to have me killed?”
Linda sat up with the sheets pulled up high. The only body language I got was from her face. I was looking for a tell of sorts. Something that would verify if she was lying to me. I would settle for anything.
“I couldn’t let you go. You were all I had and you got cold feet and just walked away. That hurt me. That hurt me so much that I had to find a way to get you to come back. I also had to find a way to hurt you in the process.”
“Was Maggie in on this?”
“No, Maggie was the right person in the right place at the right time.” Now Linda was crying. “The man I hired followed you from a distance and got lucky when you turned off the paved road. He promised me the wound would be light. Something to sting. I didn’t know it would get infected. However, once it did, it was all I needed to nurse you back to health and back to me.”
I wanted to bolt right at that moment. Just leave, buck naked, back into my beetle, back into the world I almost made it into.
But then, right at my weakest, Linda reached out for my hand as she always did. I felt her warmth. I saw her smile behind her teary newlywed eyes. How could I be so callous as to leave on our wedding day? Linda deserved so much more than that. I deserved so much more than that.
“So, Mrs. Senny Davenport”, the police are always so formal during an investigation, “do you have any idea as to who did shoot your wife while you got out of bed to make dinner?”
I had already mailed the 9mm back to Maggie before I called the police. She should get it in about a week or two. I had plenty of time before Linda arrived to guess the details of why I was shot and how I was to get my revenge. Maggie (a former abused wife) is so good at helping another abused wife when she needs it the most. Include her 50% cut of Linda’s two million dollar insurance policy and I say it was worth the price paid.
Now, I think I will stretch my grieving widow act for a month (it worked on the police) before I think about falling in love all over again. Maggie has some delicious plans for a few unsuspecting victims as far south as San Diego, perhaps even Mexico.
Just this time, no getting shot.
Bio: Dounia Saunders is recently married, recently graduated, and recently employed. Hopefully, “Senny” will be the first of many future publications.
Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of 40 years. He lives in 1974, and has been married for 29 years. His works are found everywhere a search engine operates. Andy has written many great things that have been posted to The Yard: Crime Blog. He has written “Et tu”, “The Less You Have, The More It Hurts To Lose It“, “How My New Life Began“, “I Knew Her as Tigist“, and “Water“, which was written by Jaysa Brown, in collaboration with Andy.