We were on the patio by the pool, under a blazing hot sun. Marie sipped a melon daiquiri from a sweating glass, taking a break from reciting the same complaints for the millionth time. Her pretty, heart-shaped face didn’t look old enough to drink, but that was the result of good living and a lot of money. She was almost thirty; she’d been married for ten years and, if you believed her, hated her husband for almost as long. I believed.
“Pete, you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said.” Some people might have whined, but Marie was accusing. With her self-assurance and confidence she couldn’t be passive if she tried. She certainly would never whine. I wondered what she was like before marrying Albert Dixon and his money; was she born with this haughtiness or did she learn it? She never talked about her past, only how unhappy she was in the present.
“Well, it’s your ass in the grinder if he finds out about us,” Marie said before taking another pull on her daiquiri straw.
“Who’s going to tell him?” I asked. My eyes strayed beyond Marie to where Christopher, the houseman, was peeling an opaque, textured plastic film off of the big glass door that led from the patio to the house’s entertainment room. I’d never seen such a thing until a few weeks ago. When I asked about it, Marie said she bought it online a couple of years before, that it was designed for better privacy with glass doors or windows, but that it was really so her husband would stop stumbling into the otherwise crystal-clear door when drunk. It apparently happened several times, the big inebriated man thinking the closed door was open and walking into it. She didn’t care what happened to Al, but they used the room for parties, and the potential liability scared her.
Marie twisted in her chaise to see what I was looking at. As she did, Christopher started cleaning the window with a spray-bottle and rag. “Don’t worry about Chris. He knows where his bread’s buttered.”
“I wasn’t worried.”
“You should be.” Marie picked up a tube of suntan lotion and began spreading the creamy goo first on her arms and then across her chest. “Not about Chris, but when Al’s drunk, he’ll fly off the handle about any little thing and he’s jealous as hell. These last couple months with you have been wonderful, but it’s only a matter of time before he catches us. Want to hear what happened to the last guy?” She flashed a smirk like a mean little kid, handed me the tube and turned over, exposing her back, bare except for the tiny strip of white stretchy material keeping the bikini top in place.
I didn’t bother responding, just rubbed lotion between my hands then began massaging it into her skin, burned golden by the sun, feeling its silkiness and the smoothly taut muscles beneath. Finally, I said, “I think you want to be caught, having me in the house like this all the time.”
Marie’s head whipped around, anger in her eyes. “Maybe I do. Al’s got me trapped with that damned pre-nup. He knows I don’t love him, and he doesn’t care, but if I divorce him, I’m out on my butt without a dime.”
“And a pretty little butt it is, sweetheart.” I patted her rear.
“I’m serious, Pete. If he divorces me, I’d at least get alimony, but that’s chump-change. Maybe it’d be worth it, but most of the time, I’d rather put up with him than even think of living like some broke-ass. What I really want is to see him dead.” She turned back over, to better pin me with her glare. “Then I’d have plenty, even if I did have to split the money with his sister.”
“What’s she like?”
Marie waved a hand. “I told you before, I don’t know the bitch. Al invited her to the wedding, but she never showed – just sent us a card and a god-damned Cuisinart. I guess they talk sometimes, but they never really got along and we never see each other. I don’t know why he keeps her in his will.”
I shrugged. “Family’s important.”
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter, anyway. Even with the drinking, Al’s healthy as a horse. He’ll probably outlive us all, unless one of his drunken little accidents finally does the trick.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking about, baby: accidents.”
Marie scoffed, looking at me like I was the biggest idiot she ever met. “An accident? You’re out of your mind. The cops know every trick in the book. Believe me, I’ve watched enough Investigation Discovery to realize that. Get this into that handsome head: it’s impossible to fake something and get away with it.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “Impossible to fake.” I looked past Marie, letting a smile play across my face. Christopher was examining the sliding glass door. He nodded in satisfaction, then picked up his bottle and rag and went inside. The plastic film he removed before cleaning the door was conspicuously absent.
“Does he always do that?” I asked, jutting my chin towards the house.
“Do what?” Marie turned to look and saw instantly what I meant. “Oh, the privacy film?” She looked to me. “Sure, he gives the window a few hours to dry before putting it back on so no moisture gets trapped. Why?”
“Give the man the rest of the day off, and I’ll tell you after a little more thought.”
Marie frowned. “I can give Christopher the day; I don’t really need him anyway. But why can’t you tell me what you’re thinking now?”
“Because, baby.” I leaned forward, tilted her chin up and lowered my lips to hers. Her mouth opened beneath mine and I felt a little shiver go through her as my tongue darted inside her mouth, then back out as I pulled away. “I’ve got other things on my mind right now.”
Her face flushed and her voice was husky as she said, “Let’s go inside.”
Later, we lay in bed. I was flat on my back, watching the tendril of smoke from Marie’s cigarette crawl towards the ceiling. I hated the smell of the thing, and I hated tasting it in her mouth, but it was a small price for all the benefits I was enjoying now and those still in the future.
“It’s just wild enough to work, Pete.” Her weight shifted and I felt the softness of her breast against my shoulder. “People have been hurt, or even killed, like that. Mostly little kids, I think, but I read about a woman in India who died in some bank running into an electronic door that wasn’t working right. She went clear through it.”
“Uh huh,” I said. “And Al’s already got a history with your door, right?”
“He gave himself a bloody nose last time. He’s lucky. He might have crashed right through it if he was moving any faster. Christopher cleans it so well, you can’t even see it at night. That’s why I got the—“
She cut herself off, sitting up straight and gripping my shoulder tightly. “The film. Christopher took it off to clean the glass. That’s why you had me give him the rest of the day off, so he’d forget to put it back on.”
I grinned up at her, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to.
“And tonight’s Al’s poker game with all his stupid little buddies. He won’t be home until one or two in the morning and he’ll probably be smashed.”
“You said he always has a nightcap when he comes home?” There was an extensive bar in the entertainment room. Standing at it or sitting on one of its high stools, the room was designed so you had a perfect view of the pool through the sliding glass door.
“Uh huh,” Marie said. “He can’t sleep without one last drink, the god-damned lush.” Her brow wrinkled; fine lines appeared around her eyes and mouth, making her look closer to her age. “But why would he go out to the pool? He can swim, but he hardly ever does, and never at night.”
“Easy.” I shifted to a sitting position, my back against the padded headboard. “We wait ‘til he’s at the bar, drinking his schnapps or whatever, then you scream and throw yourself straight into the deep end. He’ll hear you and go smashing through the door to save you from drowning. He would save you, right?”
“He’d try.” Marie sneered. “He likes to take care of his property and that’s all I am to him.” She took hold of my shoulder again, gripping so tightly it hurt. There was a mixture of excitement and worry dancing in her eyes now. “What if it doesn’t work, though? What if he remembers the door or accidentally touches it first or something?”
“So we muff it, that’s all. He yanks you out of the pool and he’s your big, strong hero-man for a day or two. We’ll just have to wait, figure out something else, and try again.”
Marie stubbed the cigarette out in the nightstand ashtray, a thoughtful look on her face. After a full minute, she said quietly, “It’ll work.” She turned to me, wearing a grin of sly anticipation. “It’ll work, Pete. He’ll be drunk and he’ll either be flying high from winning at poker or he’ll be looking for a way to redeem himself if he loses. You know, boost his self-esteem. Either way, he’ll hear me scream, see me splashing around out there, and go crashing right through the glass trying to play Mister Hero. He probably won’t even think about the door, not with it freshly cleaned and the film gone. And if he thinks of it at all, he’ll just think the door’s already open.
“You’ll need to be there, though, Pete.” She took my hand, lacing her long, delicate fingers through mine as she pinned my eyes with hers. “Just stay in the shadows by the cabanas and once he’s through the door, you’ll have to pull me out, all right? You know I’m not a strong swimmer, and the deep end makes me nervous.”
“Sure, I know,” I told her. She owned more bathing suits than any woman I ever met, but I never once saw her in the water.
“If it does work, you’ll have to be a witness. We’ll tell the police that you were having a drink with Al at the bar, and you heard me scream, and Al rushed right out through the door before you could stop him.” She paused. “And Pete?” She was studying me now, looking at me as if she could see inside me, like she was searching for something.
“You know if this only sort of works what you’ll have to do, right? Are you sure you have the stomach for it? I mean, if he breaks the door, but he isn’t…”
She didn’t have to finish. If Albert Dixon didn’t cut his own throat smashing the glass door to pieces, would I be capable of picking up one of those jagged shards and doing it for him? I didn’t answer, not with words, and I don’t know what she saw on my face or in my eyes, but I knew what I was thinking and somehow, she did, too. Her gaze jerked away, and her fingers untangled from mine.
I gave her hand a squeeze, surprised at how cold it felt when it was so warm a moment earlier. “Relax. It’ll work out,” I told her. She nodded and forced herself to smile, but still pulled her hand free.
It worked perfectly, everything exactly as I planned.
At one-thirty-one the next morning, Albert Dixon came home from his poker game and went right into the entertainment room for a final drink before bed. From the darkness around the cabanas, I clearly saw him pour himself a big drink from a little bottle and swig half of it down in the first gulp. He was just lifting the glass to finish it off when Marie’s scream ripped the night apart. It was followed instantly by a splash. Al’s head whipped around, the glass, forgotten, dropped from his fingers, and he charged towards the pool.
First, the sliding door shattered with a sharp crack, like splintering bone, and then there were almost-melodic sounds as thousands of razor-edged shards tinkled to the concrete of the patio. Al Dixon’s form, already bloodied from dozens of cuts, went sprawling face-forward into a heap of deadly debris. The spurting blood, bright against the gray-white concrete, quickly pooled around his head, shining dully in the light spilling from the house. I was glad that his face was turned away.
Keeping to the shadows, I moved towards the nearest edge of the pool. It was maybe twenty seconds since Marie threw herself into the deepest part, but she was already struggling to keep her head above water and as I watched, she was quickly losing the battle. She screamed, she spluttered, she called out for me. All I could think was that my guess was right. She wasn’t a weak swimmer; she couldn’t swim at all.
Marie went down one last time. I stood watching for a few minutes more, but the night was already reclaiming its calm. The Dixons’ property was a couple acres and surrounded by both hedges and white-washed fences, so I wasn’t worried about nosy neighbors. I was just glad that it was finally over and taking a moment to regain my own equilibrium.
Finally, I let myself out of the back gate, walked through a short stretch of woods to where I left my car, parked on the side of a little-used dirt road. Driving back to my hotel, I thought over the last several hours. My only regret was for Christopher, who would probably feel personally responsible when he found the scene in the morning. After all, his not replacing the door’s privacy film was the direct cause of this tragedy, of the death of a man killed while rushing to save his poor, drowning wife.
In my hotel room, I packed my things. It would be good to finally go home, to see Allison again. It was only about nine weeks, but it was the longest we’d been apart since we were married the year before. Even with Marie to distract me, I missed my wife more than I would have thought possible. I needed to see her, to hold her in my arms, to feel her love again. This was all her idea, but she would be eager to have me back, too. Especially now – she would need someone to provide comfort in this time of grief. Even if they didn’t like each other, Albert Dixon was still her brother and no matter the time or distance, family is important.
Brandon Barrows is the author of several novels, including THE LAST REQUEST published fall 2023 from Bloodhound Books. He has published over one-hundred published stories, mostly crime, mystery, and westerns. He is a three-time Mustang Award finalist and a 2022 Derringer Award nominee. Find more at http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com and on Twitter @Brandon Barrows