At 2:35 a.m., Morris Blackmon stared intently at the corrosion encrusting the gas line feeding the water heater in what had been his home. It was his former water heater, to be more accurate. He spun a hammer in his hand, then tapped it on his thigh while he stared at the pipe. After a few minutes, he bent down and began reading the instructions on the side of the tank, his lips moving just a little with each word. Finally, he turned the temperature knob to its lowest setting, and turned the gas cock knob to the “off” position.
He opened the panel to make sure the flames were out, then stood, took a deep breath, and brought the hammer down on the rusty gas pipe. Despite the green and white, coral-like corrosion, the pipe did not break completely, but gas immediately began hissing out, rippling like a heat wave as it streamed into the air. Morris’s eyes watered and he was feeling dizzy by the time he made it to the door that led back into the kitchen. He slammed the door shut behind him and promptly stuffed a towel, which he had prepared for this purpose, into the gap between door and floor.
In the kitchen, he gasped for air, surprised at how quickly the odor of gas was already beginning to leak through from the garage. Or, he thought, maybe it was just soaked into his clothes. He put the hammer back into the drawer where it lived and walked back into the living room, where he flopped down into what had been his favorite chair, an old school black faux leather recliner marbled with cracks in its upholstery.
Everything in the house had been “his,” even though most of it was crap that Christine had picked out at WalMart, Target and countless yard sales. Still, he was filled now with a strange sense of longing, a desire to stay here that he had not felt even in the two months since he had moved out, since Christine and he had separated.
It was, of course, too late now.
He wanted a cigarette. He had “quit” for the millionth time a week ago, but now he wanted a cigarette badly. He knew where he could get one, but wondered if his need for them was really that strong. They were upstairs, in the bedroom, on the nightstand. They were on the nightstand next to the bed, next to Christine. Next to Christine’s body, that is.
Morris exhaled, flapping his lips and rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. Goddamn that crazy bitch, any how, he thought. He was just glad they never had kids. Christ, what if this had happened one night with little Morris Jr. sleeping so innocently one room over. It would be hard to explain that Mommy died because she had asked Daddy to choke her during sex – again – and this time he had held on to the rope just a little too long.
It would be pretty hard to explain that to the cops, too.
“So, Mr. Blackmon,” they would say. “What you’re telling us is that you went over to your former residence at your ex-wife’s invitation …”
“She wasn’t my ex-wife yet,” he would point out.
“Very well, Mr. Blackmon, your estranged wife, then,” the cop would say in that testy little smartass way they have. “So you go over there at your estranged wife’s invitation, with the intent of … performing a sexual act with her? For old time’s sake?”
The imaginary officer nods, briefly covering his smirk with his hand.
“And then, the … encounter … just went a little too far, and you just happened to, accidentally, strangle the woman who had kicked you out of the house just two months prior, while performing this sex act. Well, I can certainly see how that could happen.
Oh, and I see here that you’re on probation. Well, I’m sure that’s just for parking tickets or something like that … oh, nope, it’s for assault and domestic violence. See, now, that last little part makes me think that the victim was the very same estranged wife who now lies choked to death upstairs. But, hey, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.”
Indeed, the police were not strangers at the Blackmon household. They had been fairly regular visitors in the two years and three months of Morris and Christine Blackmon’s pathetic excuse for a union.
Not that it was pathetic in the beginning. No, in the beginning it was beautiful. They had met in a bar, where so many other failed love stories begin, but they were so sure it would be different for them. After all, they developed respect for each other as throwers on rival darts teams. His friends called him “Bullseye,” and Christine’s called her “Sharpshooter.”
She had him on the ropes, but it was honestly close enough that he totally bought it when she let him win at the last round. Of course, he bought her a pitcher of Long Island Tea to “make it up to her,” so she definitely came out ahead. And then she gave him head in the car. How could they not fall in love?
On the other hand, she certainly seemed to take great relish in telling him the truth about that night six months later when they had their first real fight. It was a minor cut, but the first of thousands. That little memory brought him back to his current situation: how to ignite the big gas bubble in the basement.
In those panicky moments after he realized his sexcapade had ended in death, when he first conceived the “blow the house up with gas” plan, he contemplated leaving something metal in the microwave. Set the timer, open the basement door and head for the hills.
Looking back now, however, he had his doubts. The police would surely notice a metal object in the microwave.
He also wasn’t sure that would trigger an explosion. Seemed like he had seen some episode on “Mythbusters” about that, but he couldn’t remember if they busted the myth or confirmed it. Unfortunately for Morris, he only had one chance to make it work.
He had known an arsonist when he was inside at Autrey, but the guy had been more of a firebug than a pro. They had worked in the boot plant together, talking shit while cobbling footwear for their fellow prisoners. So this arsonist, his name was Bud, one time fell smack in love with one of the prison bitches and decided to mnake him some custom boots. It did not end well.
The bitch, named Diamond, was very much in demand, seeing as he was as pretty as they come inside, a regular transsexual super model. Bud was not the only prisoner wanting to polish Diamond, and he was certainly not the biggest. So he gave the bitch the boots, and sure enough, he got a blow job out of it, but Bud wanted more. He wanted exclusive rights, but the very next day Diamond went off with some big Aryan stud, probably wearing Bud’s boots while getting banged.
Bud did not take this well at all, and he spent the next week or two muttering to himself and pilfering various items and chemicals from the boot plant. He showed Morris the finished product, a compact flamethrower, basically, and confided his plan to torch his old flame when he had the chance. The chance came, and Bud confronted the former love of his life, and his/her love of the moment, while they were going at it in a storage room. He pointed the little torch at the couple, said something like “This is what you get, you cheating bitch,” and pulled the trigger.
The device blow up in his hand, burning over sixty percent of his body. Diamond and her man escaped unscathed. So, yeah, there was nothing from his friendship with Bud that could help Morris with his current situation.
Maybe he could knock over a lamp. Wouldn’t the broken socket spark? No, no, it wouldn’t, not long enough to ignite the gas. He would have to find some way to knock one over after the gas had already filled the house, and he had no idea how that would work. God, he needed a cigarette!
Then it occurred to him. Maybe he could leave a cigarette burning in Christine’s dead hand, make sure that started a fire, then leave the basement door open and run for it? The idea of going back into the room with his dead ex-wife, much less touching her body, made Morris’ stomach contents knock on his mouth’s back door, but he realized this was probably his best bet. OK, so be it, he decided.
Then Morris started pondering another problem: could he really avoid being placed here at the scene of the crime. He had left his car in the parking lot of the little park behind the house and then crept up, with nary a witness, over the fence and to the back door. That had been in case Amy had woken up to find him missing and taken it upon herself to go looking for him here.
Christ, Amy. Christine had been crazy, but at least she wasn’t monkey-brained stupid like Amy. Morris had never met a blonder brunette. When he had first met her at a friend’s party, she at one point insisted that chickens are reptiles “because they’re cold blooded.”
Fortunately for her, Amy had an ass that made it easy to forget the stunning emptiness on the top end of her body.
Thinking about the chicken comment made Morris chuckle. And, just at that moment, sitting in his rough-worn former black recliner, he was filled with the confidence that he was going to be all right, that he would succeed in covering his tracks. He just had to go upstairs and light a cigarette in his dead wife’s hand. Nothing to it.
And it was at that moment that the doorbell rang.
It was nearly three in the morning, and somebody was ringing the doorbell. And they were pretty insistent about it. Of course, Morris knew damn well who it was, and he also knew he had to answer it. It would be unwise to have a screaming woman at the front door, and while the screaming hadn’t started yet, it was coming, that he also knew.
Just in case, he went to the window, first. Sure enough, there stood Amy on the front stoop, smoking angrily and smoldering at the door, no idea she was being watched. Morris sighed, then sniffed, detecting just a hint of sulfur in the air, wondering for a second if it came from the basement or the front door. That was the moment he had an idea, the kind of idea that, at first, you shake off as clearly bad. But then it started to work on him, and for five or ten seconds before he opened the door, he let the idea ooze its way through his besotted mind until it somehow converted to good. Well, maybe not good, but doable.
Morris took a deep breath and opened the door. He had about three seconds to study Amy’s curious smirk before the sun ignited behind her head and blinded him. Just as he began to wonder what the sun was doing up at this time of night, a voice spoke with righteous belligerence from behind the glare. “Mr. Blackmon, could you tell us what you’re doing here?!” the voice brayed.
“Rusty?” Morris managed to croak.
Joshua “Rusty” Painter was Amy’s cousin, and suddenly Morris realized what was happening. Rusty worked as a cameraman for the local WGTI TV news station, but he had delusions of eventually being in front of the camera. He was also an asshole with a YouTube channel that nobody watched.
“Mr. Blackmon, why don’t you …” Rusty started before Amy realized she was the jilted lover here.
“Morris, what the fuck?!” she shouted.
Morris saw a light come on across the street, a warning of impending anger from the neighborhood, and since that could lead to police involvement he realized he had to move this show inside. He held up his hands in surrender.
“Amy, Amy, baby, calm down, it’s not what you think,” he said, realizing how very bad that was. Amy’s face tightened around a serious and explosive retort, and he seemed to feel some smug satisfaction from Rusty as he adjusted his camera for a better shot of the impending bloodbath. “I shit you not …” the woman scorned began.
Morris decided action was needed, so he quickly stepped up to his lady and put his finger on her mouth. “You really have to let me explain, baby,” he said. “Just come inside.”
For a second, he actually thought she might bite off his the offending digit. Then she seemed to grow calm, and that’s when he really grew afraid.
“That bitch in there?” she finally mumbled, her lips tickling his finger.
“Yeah, yeah, but she’s asleep, and we need to keep her that way, believe me, I’m so done with her,” Morris said, removing his finger and moving the entire hand and arm around Amy’s shoulders. She stayed stiff, but he felt her begin to relent and take a step toward the door.
“Amy, don’t do anything you don’t want to do,” Rusty said, just a hint of whine in his voice. The money shot was clearly getting ruined.
Morris glared at him. Amy waved him off and walked inside with the injured pride of a princess who had stepped out of the royal carriage into a pile of horse manure. Morris hurried in behind her, but wasn’t quite fast enough to keep Rusty from following. Oh, well, Morris thought, that might be all for the best.
The plan, such as it was, was to quickly move the unwanted guests back to the kitchen. Not surprisingly, Amy was not feeling cooperative, and as soon as the door closed she announced loudly “So, where is that bitch?!” Rusty, who had let the camera drop to his side, quickly hoisted it back up to his eye, sensing that the show was back on. Morris did not oblige him.
“She’s upstairs passed out, the drunk cunt,” he said, taking Amy’s arm and guiding her toward the kitchen. “Just come in here and I’ll explain, OK?”
Morris led his reluctant guests into the other room where Rusty immediately stopped and started sniffing the air. “Holy shit, is that gas?”
Turning only halfway around, Morris gave the answer he had planned on just five minutes before. “Yeah, yeah, the stove’s been acting funny, I had to turn it off. Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t worry about it? It smells pretty strong, dude,” Rusty said, still standing in the kitchen doorway.
Amy spun around.
“Screw the gas. Morris, start explaining,” she said, arms crossed, eyebrows scrunched together.
“What about this towel?” Rusty suddenly said, and Morris almost smiled.
“Jesus, Rusty, what, what the fuck, what towel?” Amy stuttered. Morris turned to face the other man. “There’s a draft,” he said simply.
“From the basement?” Rusty said.
“Yeah, that’s right, from the basement,” Morris said, barely preventing a sneer.
Amy plopped down at the kitchen table and began shifting through her purse, finally coming up with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Morris quickly laid a gentle hand over the lighter as she raised the cigarette to her well lacquered red lips. “Come on, baby, hold off on that, you know I quit,” he said softly.
“Yeah, and there’s all that gas we aren’t supposed to worry about,” Rusty stage whispered.
Amy’s face hardened a second before easing into resignation as she put the cancer stick down. After all, his quitting was her idea. They had started together, but she weakened first. He smiled at the little pink lighter and Marlboro menthol on the table, happy to see it there, and then moved on. “So, this is what’s up,” he began.
What followed was one of Morris’ longer and better lies, despite the fact that he made most of it up on the fly. Christine had called despondent and drunk, he said, because her oven was broken and needed to be fixed, as did the rest of her life, it seemed. There had been talk of suicide, pills already taken, stuff like that. All this had taken place when Amy was supposedly asleep, so Morris had simply left quietly, not wanting to disturb her, to try to save his ex-wife’s life.
“Well, I wasn’t asleep, you know,” Amy interrupted. “I wasn’t asleep because I already suspected you were seeing her, and Rusty and I were just setting a trap to catch your sorry cheating ass! Like I buy this bullshit!”
“It’s no bullshit baby, I swear, I know it sounds like it but it really, really isn’t!” Morris stammered out, just totally winging it.
“Oh, right, so you’re telling me you haven’t been coming over here before now,” Amy said. “And, you better be real careful how you answer that.” The last line was delivered with a cautioning wag of Amy’s finger, and Morris felt a strong urge to break that finger. There’s nothing worse than a stupid person who starts to think they’re doing something smart.
On the other hand, in this case she was completely correct. He had been to raid the old henhouse many times before tonight.
Meanwhile, Rusty was lingering over the basement door, sniffing, his camera hanging limply at his side. “You know, I swear the smell is stronger over here,” he said.
“Well, maybe you should check that out in a bit, but why don’t you do me a favor and get ready to film, because I’m going to prove what I’m saying is true,” Morris said. “I’m going to wake up Christine and tell her to tell you nothing happened.”
This was a lie, of course, but Rusty excitedly began checking his camera and moving into position. Perfect, Morris thought. He couldn’t be exactly certain of what would happen next, but all the pieces were in place and it was time for him to exit stage fucking right.
“Now, you two just wait here and give me a few minutes to rouse her,” he said, rising from his chair. “And Amy, honey, why don’t you go ahead and smoke a ciggy while you wait?”
He headed for the door as Amy picked up the lighter and cigarette. Rusty had let the camera drop to his side again and was turning back toward the basement door. “This is it,” he thought. “I just have to get out the door.”
He was at the passage into the dining room when he saw shadows moving ahead of him. The shadows stepped into the light and became Christine, looking seriously disheveled and rubbing her bruised neck, but most certainly alive.
“Morris, baby, what the fuck did you do to me, you crazy fucker?” she whined, and then looked past him, her face hardening into solid bitchiness. “And what the fuck is she doing here.”
The shock of seeing the supposed dead come back to life passed surprisingly quickly for Morris, and he spun around, scrambling in his head for a way to stop what he had begun. He opened his mouth at the exact same moment that Rusty kicked aside the towel and swung the basement door wide open, and at precisely the second that Amy, smugly eying her competition, flicked her lighter into life. As the sulfur smelling cloud that had been caged in the basement rushed into the room, racing toward the flare in Amy’s hand, he had just enough time to say “Sh…”. The “it” was cut off by fire and sound and an end to all the things that used to belong to Morris Blackmon.