Dead Over Heels Chapter Eleven
I did the most reckless U-turn ever performed on a country road in Spalding County. I went as fast as I could bring myself to drive, and prayed heartily that this day above all days a county patrolman had set up a speed trap on this remote little road.
Of course that didn't happen.
I had to think, I told myself frantically, I couldn't just drive in there and make everything all right.
I slowed the car as I reached the cemetery. I swerved the Chevette across the road and into the ditch and didn't care if it stayed there till it rotted. It was off the road.
As though my furious parking method hadn't made any noise, I got out quietly and shut the door with great care. My car had entered the ditch a little above the southeast corner of the rectangular cemetery tract. The main gate was in the middle of the long east side, the two auxiliary gates were on the west, opening out onto a rutted dirt track that ran along outside the length of the fence to tie back into the county road forming the eastern boundary of the property.
From this corner, the trees obscured my view, but I could catch a glimpse of gleaming white up close to the north part of the cemetery where Jack had been buried;Martin's Mercedes.
I shivered all over. I forced my brain to work, to plan.
The main gate on the east was too exposed, visible from most places in the cemetery. So I crept along the fence, through the high weeds, and tried not to let the thought of snakes cross my mind. Since church and funeral going had been the designated occasions when I'd dressed that morning, my clothes and shoes were hardly helpful in ditch-slogging or cemetery crawling. The rayon of the beige skirt caught on everything I passed, the low heels of the pumps sank into the wet earth, and my loose hair was collecting a fine assortment of seeds and burrs.
I reached the track at the southwest corner and followed it, ducking low while trying to run, one of the most difficult things I'd ever attempted.
Every three yards or so I'd stop to look and listen;I heard nothing, saw nothing, cursed the trees and bushes I'd thought so beautiful this morning.
I got to the first rear gate.
It was fairly exposed, though if Martin and Paul were still close to Jack's grave, there were several tall plantings and grave markers between them and me. But I dropped to my stomach and crawled. I reached a good vantage point behind one of the few raised vaults in Lawrenceton, and peered from behind it.
My heart sank. Paul's car was indeed still parked parallel to the west fence;I could see only the back of the tent left over Jack's grave, but I could tell the hearse and the funeral home employees were gone.
I sidled up closer, hugging the granite of the vault. I confirmed what I already suspected-- there were no other cars. Paul and Martin, alone here.
Then I saw them. Martin's left side was toward me, his back against the thick trunk of a live oak, and he was looking several degrees whiter than he had when I'd left. His face was set in lines I'd seen only once before. This was how he must've looked in the war, I thought fleetingly.
Paul was standing with his right side to me, his back to his car, and he had a gun in his hand. He was talking to Martin;though I couldn't hear him, I could see his mouth moving, and I saw from the way Martin had his head cocked that he was listening.
No weapon. I had no weapon.
I couldn't run and tackle him;there wasn't enough cover between the vault and where he was standing.
Would he shoot me?
Maybe not;maybe. He was supposed to love me, after all. But what if he did shoot, and his shooting me didn't give Martin enough time to grab him? Neither of us would be saved.
I had to hurt Paul.
And by God, I wanted to.
But I hadn't anything except my hands, and I didn't think they'd do enough damage to stop him long enough.
What if the knife was still in his car? The thought burst on me like a beautiful firework.
After a moment I realized it was a stupid idea, but it was all I had. As I began my approach to his car, slightly to the rear of Paul's peripheral vision, I realized just how dumb it was. But I considered for a second: he'd had to leave it there during the investigation at the community center. He'd had to leave it in there this morning, when he'd been at the police station, presumably;and he'd had to leave it in there for the funeral, because he couldn't withdraw it during the service or later at the cemetery. So our whole salvation depended on whether or not Paul Allison had been too exhausted the night before to withdraw the knife and clean its hiding place.
He'd parked facing south on the little drive, so I had to creep up the passenger side, and pray the door was unlocked. I was afraid to look toward Paul and Martin, afraid that I would see Martin get shot, afraid that if my eyes met Martin's his face would change and Paul would turn to see me. I could hear Paul's voice ranting on and on and I made my way closer, but I shut out what he was saying.
Finally, I had used all the available cover, including Early Lawrence's angel. I had come to a point where I was blocked by graves or trees, and I had to cross the track that made a large figure eight within the cemetery, about at the cross-loop. I took off my shoes so they wouldn't crunch on the gravel, and tried to think light so my feet wouldn't make noise. I risked a glance;I had worked my way so close that I was nearly behind Paul now. Martin's eyes were focused on Paul. I didn't know if he'd seen me or not.
I had to chance it. I took a deep breath and stepped out into the open. I took one step across the gravel, then another, then I could regain the soft grass and walk quickly to the passenger side of the car.
I looked down at the door. I was so desperate that for a minute, my eyes refused to focus.
The door was unlocked.
Praise God, I thought: I gripped the handle. I had to look again now, and I fixed my gaze on Paul's back, trying not to see Martin over his shoulder. It helped that Paul was the taller of the two by a couple of inches. I did not want to see Martin's face, see the knowledge of my presence reflected in it. I willed Martin not to know I was here. And I pressed in the release button with my thumb. It sounded like an explosion to me, but I knew the sound was small. I stopped breathing, the car door barely open, waiting to see if Paul would turn my way.
He didn't. He kept on talking. I inhaled deliberately. I was light-headed with relief and oxygen deprivation.
Gently, gently, I pulled open the door. So slowly my thumb cramped, I eased it off the release knob. I unclenched my fingers from the handle. I wiggled them for a second or two, trying to restore circulation.
I crouched again, my sore knees protesting at a barely discernible level. The scabs had come off eons ago in the ditch;I could add blood to the list of items staining my skirt.
But I hadn't made that tiny stain on the blue cloth of the car seat. You'd only see it if you were thinking about blood.
Maybe he'd had it covered with the little notepad that was almost on top of it now;maybe he'd jostled the pad when he'd gotten out of the car.
I looked at the police radio longingly;but I had not the slightest idea how to operate it, and I was scared to death someone would radio Paul while I was crouched here beside the car. I looked over the front seat quickly. If the knife was here, it would have to be around this small area.
The quickest and easiest place to hide the knife would have been to slip it in the crack in the seat.
I slid my hand down into the crack, where I could see the tiny stain. I felt stickiness. I felt a hard shape.
The knife was still there.
My fingers examined it with caution;I didn't want to grab the blade. I gripped it and pulled it out. There was old, dark blood staining my fingers;the stickiness I'd felt. I stared at the knife, wishing I had time to be squeamish. There was dried blood on the little blade and on the hilt. Paul had driven it into Arthur as hard as he could.
It was just a little brown pocketknife, with handy attachments.
Unfortunately, the only one of use to me was the blade.
I stood. I had the knife gripped so the blade pointed upward;all the fictional crime I'd read told me that was the way to use it. I should try to come in under his ribs, I recalled.
I worked my way around the car and stood perhaps twelve feet behind Paul. I was curiously indecisive. Should I sneak up and stab him? Should I scream and run headlong over the grass? The nature of the ground, broken by headstones and footstones, pots of flowers, and a toddler's grave heartbreakingly decorated with a tiny baseball mitt, forbade the scream-and-run approach.
So I began to step quietly over the grass, not daring to look at Martin, focusing on the spot low in Paul's back where I would drive in the knife.
My bare feet made scarcely any sound, and Paul was still talking.
’’You've never valued her enough, you can't give her the devotion she needs,’’ he was telling Martin. ’’You go out of town all the time and leave her alone. A husband should stay with his wife. Leaving her with the hired help, you see now that couldn't work! And you let people hurt her. If you really loved Aurora, you wouldn't let these people hurt her!’’
I was absolutely determined to kill this man and save Martin's life, but now that I was close to him, I realized I should have run full-tilt after all. This creeping, this planning, was making my soul sick. I could feel sweat pop out on my forehead. My hands were shaking.
I was a yard behind Paul now, and I registered the fact that he'd taken off his suit coat after the funeral--one less layer to penetrate. This was so much harder than I'd ever imagined.
I bit down on my lip, took the last step. My left hand went up to grip his shoulder as my right hand drew back, then plunged in the knife.
Paul made a horrible sound, and his shirt became reddened in a widening circle. I let go of the knife and jumped back to be out of his way when he fell, and he said, ’’Walk around where I can see you or I'll shoot him this second.’’
I wanted to throw up.
I'd done it. I'd stabbed a man I knew. And there he stood, not falling, not defeated. I did as he said, though my legs were trembling so much I didn't think I'd make it.
The knife, so much heavier at the handle than the blade, slid out of the wound and fell to the ground. I made a horrible noise, but not as horrible as the sound of that knife meeting the dirt.
For the first time I met Martin's eyes. His face was unreadable. He might have been made of stone.
Paul's face was more open. He'd been pouring himself out to Martin, and he hadn't closed the emotional doors yet. He was anguished when he saw his attacker was me.
’’Oh, Aurora, how could you do this?’’ he said wonderingly.
I was so shaken, I found myself on the verge of apologizing.
’’You have to spare Martin,’’ I said to him, willing him to be swallowed up in my intensity.
’’Look over there, Aurora,’’ Paul said gently. ’’See the bed of flowers I've got for you?’’
The ’’bed of flowers’’ was the funeral arrangements spread neatly on the freshly turned dirt.
’’I'll kill him and we'll share the bed of flowers. You deserve something that beautiful, that fragile. You're so beautiful and fragile yourself.’’
I shook my head hopelessly, not knowing what to say. Paul was crazy, but not so crazy he couldn't function in his job. I didn't think I could deceive him, since a large part of his work lay in detecting deception.
’’Paul, I am willing to go with you if you'll let Martin go,’’ I said. The seepage of blood had slowed, but not stopped. I felt as if a dog had ripped me up and left pieces of me all over the clipped green grass. I felt the tears beginning to flow. I might not be able to save my husband or myself. I had one more chance.
I held out my arms to Paul Allison and I stepped a little closer. ’’Paul, listen, you're--I'm so sorry,’’ and I began to cry in earnest, but I didn't cover my face, didn't let my arms drop.
’’You have to stay where you are, honey,’’ said Paul. His voice was faltering. ’’Please don't cry.’’
’’No,’’ I said, and kept on moving slowly, inch by inch, until I wrapped my arms around Paul, holding his to his sides. I laid my head against his chest;how strange it felt to be holding someone built differently from Martin;taller, thinner, less muscled. I could feel Paul's heart beating beneath my cheek. I had sunk a knife into this man's body. His blood was staining my left arm and hand.
And I felt his extended forearm fall to his side, the arm holding the gun. I heard the thud as the gun fell to the grass. I felt both his arms circling me, pulling me closer to him for the first and last time.
He buried his face in my hair.
’’Sweet,’’ he said, and then Martin clipped him in the head with the gun butt.
We had a hard time getting ourselves believed, even after Lynn told the other cops that Paul, his heart overflowing under the emotional pressure of the funeral, had confided in her that day, following Jack's interment, that he was ’’deeply involved’’ with me. He also told her some of the same points he'd raised against Martin;that Martin was an absentee husband, that Martin permitted slander against my name.
To say the least, Lynn was highly skeptical and dubious about all Paul's fantasies. And she knew me well enough to know that's just what they were.
But she wasn't happy to testify against a fellow officer. No one on the police force was delighted to be told that one of their number had murdered another officer, one female civilian, and attacked a male officer and a male civilian.
And Paul popped back into a more rational frame of mind to deny everything except that he had a real crush on me, not exactly an unknown situation. He said that Martin and I had attacked him unprovoked, that I'd misunderstood certain things he'd told me, and that Martin had then pulled Paul's gun from Paul's holster and hit him with it.
That was not exactly a sturdy defense, no matter how much the police wanted to believe one of their own. And there were stains matching Arthur's blood between the seat cushions of Paul's car. And there was a matching stain left on the handle, a stain not washed off by Paul's own blood. Then Jenny Tankersley, that tough flier, came forward to tell Lynn that she'd seen Paul practicing sharp banking moves in one of the small planes she rented, and that she'd noticed something odd;he was opening the passenger door of the little plane while he was flying, then banking to let the door slam shut.
’’I knew it was someone after you,’’ Angel said one day, the day Paul finally confessed to Jack's murder.
’’You did?’’ I said. ’’Sure.’’
’’You thought it was me, but I knew it was you. You just weren't looking at it straight.’’
’’You seem much more a candidate for obsessive love than I,’’ I said stiffly.
’’It's not your fault,’’ she said, shading her eyes against the sun. We were lying in our swimming suits on the sundeck, cold drinks at hand. I was trying desperately to feel as lighthearted as the day and the frivolous occupation should have made me. There was not a cloud in the sky. I glistened with oil as though I were going to be fried. I hadn't tried to get a tan in years, avoided the sun as I would the plague. And yet here I was, trying to lighten up my life.
Angel was lying on her back, and I stole a glimpse at her stomach. It was definitely convex.
’’That's not my fault,’’ she said.
I closed my eyes and felt myself flushing.
’’You gotta work that through, Roe. Or you'll go crazy. There are pregnant women everywhere.’’
I nodded. I hoped she was watching.
’’You know when the baby comes, Shelby and I gotta find somewhere else to live.’’
’’I figured,’’ I said quietly. I turned over on my stomach and buried my face in my arms.
’’In fact, before. Because my mom told me after it comes, I'll be too busy to move.’’
’’So, have you looked at houses?’’
’’No. I want you to go with me.’’
I pushed up on my elbows to look at her.
’’Shelby found us this place. I want to find the next one,’’ she explained, as if every couple operated this way. ’’But I've never bought a house, I don't know what to ask or look for, and you do. Will you come with me?’’
’’Sure.’’ I was glad I had on dark glasses.
Actually, I could call my mother and she could be on the lookout. They'd need at least three bedrooms;maybe they'd have another baby ... or Angel's mom might come to help take care of this one ... and they'd want a yard for the child to play in. I projected Shelby's income and I ran through the neighborhoods in Lawrenceton that would suit it.
’’Would you want a pool?’’ I asked.
I saw Angel's mouth curve in her slow rare smile. ’’Sure,’’ she said. ’’Gotta get our exercise somehow.’’
A shadow fell across Angel's legs.
’’Martin!’’ I said in amazement. ’’You're back early.’’
’’I told them they didn't really need me at that meeting. They could have asked me everything they needed to know on the phone,’’ he said, setting his leather briefcase down on the deck and loosening the knot of his tie, an act I never failed to find se*y.
Lately I'd been finding precious little se*y, and I hadn't been able to go back to the cemetery. I had a feeling I'd never sit there in peace again.
Angel said suddenly, ’’I'm done to a crisp, and the doctor told me not to get too hot!’’ She gathered up her towel and lotion and strode off to her apartment without further ado. I heard her tromp up the stairs, and just a few seconds later, tromp down again. ’’Gotta go to the store!’’ she yelled.
Surely that was a little peculiar?
I opened my eyes. Martin had taken off his starched white shirt, his shoes and socks, and was slipping down his pants.
’’Good Lord!’’ I exclaimed.
’’No, just me,’’ he said.
’’Did you give Angel some signal?’’
’’Yes, this.’’ And Martin pointed at the chaise where Angel had been baking, pointed to the garage, and made a pantomime of hands on the steering wheel.
’’Because I want to have se* with you on our sundeck right here and now and I don't want Angel to watch,’’ Martin said.
’’Because you haven't seemed to want to do that lately, and I thought maybe an exotic locale would--stimulate your interest,’’ Martin continued, stimulating my interest right then and there, in front of God and the big blue sky.
’’Martin! Don't do that!’’
’’Well... I don't know ...’’
’’Then why don't I do it a little longer?’’
’’Ahhh ... okay.’’
’’Then maybe I could just move this chaise over by yours ...’’ ’’Oh. Umhmm. And then?’’ ’’I was thinking you could show me how you put that oil all over...’’ ’’And then?’’ ’’Roe, I may be too old for a `then'!’’ ’’Oh, not you,’’ I said confidently. And I was right.