L. Julia © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Gillen shaved his face with care, knowing it would be the last face his friend would ever see.
Therese snaked her arms around his shoulders and smiled at him in the mirror. She had an ugly smile, as usual. Her smile matched her soul.
“You look wonderful,” she murmured into his ear. The warm metal of her wedding band pressed against his collarbone as she pulled him in close.
He forced his lips into a grin. “So do you.”
“I always look wonderful,” she said. “But I’m not the one changing our lives tonight.”
His fingers twitched as he envisioned how they’d look wrapped around her throat. She had pale skin, the kind that would turn bright pink from a throttling. Twenty seconds and her cheeks would be the same shade of crimson as her lipstick. Thirty seconds and he’d never have to hear her poisoned voice again.
Before his dark musings could consume him, Gillen took a deep breath and visualized a flickering candle flame. Focusing on the fire helped to clear his head, making space for the benign thoughts he needed instead. He rehearsed one of his many lists of empty topics as practice for the night ahead. What do I need to pick up at the grocery store? Eggs, bread, milk. Emptying his mind helped to calm him down; it also helped him to survive. If he kept himself focused on eggs and milk, nobody who peered into his head would know what was actually inside.
He flicked off his razor and set it on the countertop. He’d done a good job cleaning himself up, but he’d never had much hair to take off. In his youth, he’d appreciated the simplicity his smooth cheeks gave to his morning routine, but he resented it now because it denied him the cover of a beard. Once his picture hit the news, a baby face like his would stick out. A beard wouldn’t transform him completely, but it would go a long way toward giving him the anonymity he would need to escape.
Therese slid out of the bathroom and reclined on their sprawling bed. To call it ‘theirs’ was a bit of a misnomer, since they hadn’t slept in the same room in years, but he didn’t care to interrupt the charade. As long as she left him alone at night and didn’t look on his computer, she could claim all the furniture she wanted. Losing a few chairs and couches bothered him a lot less than the inevitable line of questioning that would come if she saw the sort of things he looked at “after hours.” He didn’t give a damn what she thought of him or his browsing history, but he also didn’t want to listen to her baseless assumptions about his sexual preferences. Those videos were just that: videos. They didn’t know him any better than she did.
Therese’s dark hair brushed the tops of her shoulders as she made circles on the comforter with her hand. “Do you want to go over things one more time?”
He checked the mirror to make sure she couldn’t see the hatred on his face. His reflection beamed back at him, all sunshine and red hair. “I’ve got it under control, Therese.”
“I’m not sure you do.”
His fingers tensed again. He clenched his fists below the counter and glanced at her. “All right, how about you tell me what I’m supposed to do?”
A better woman would have taken umbrage with his remark, but Therese had been happy to tell him what to do for years. He’d swear she got off on it, except she never cared if he was there when she got off. In fairness to her, he felt the same way.
“It’s about time you ask for my help,” she said. “If you’d been smart enough, you would have let me make all the decisions from the get-go.”
As Therese ran through her limited understanding of Gillen’s job—get in, kill Eduardo, get out—Gillen closed his eyes and worked his way through his actual plan in his mind. While Therese had the basics down, she didn’t know the key detail that guided every step he took.
Eduardo could read his mind.
For all Therese knew, killing Eduardo would be as simple as buying a new pair of shoes. Eduardo’s ability to read Gillen’s thoughts made the task much more difficult. Years of experience had taught Gillen that trying to keep a clear head made even the simplest task mind-bogglingly difficult. In spite of Therese’s cavalier attitude, killing someone was no simple task. That was another thing he knew from experience.
Gillen tuned back in to Therese’s lecture just as she was wrapping up. “—and by that point, your sister and I will have finished dinner, and we’ll share a cab back and I’ll get out first. Once I’m home, I’ll text her, saying something about how you were there when I arrived, and then she’ll get to her house and have a good cry over her husband’s body and you and I will have both safely returned home.” The red marks from Theresa’s earlier eyebrow wax flared up as she scrunched up her nose. “You think you can handle that?”
“Getting home at an appropriate hour? Yes, I think I can handle that.” He had no intention of coming home, but she didn’t need to know that. If she knew that, she’d probably kill him. Therese had never been the kind of woman to do her own dirty work before—not when cleaning ladies existed—but a betrayal like that would be enough motivation. He almost wanted to tell her, just so he could see the look on her face, but he had nothing to gain from gloating before Eduardo was dead.
Therese glanced at his waistband. “Do you have the gun?”
“Is that why you’re looking at my pants, or are you interested in what’s underneath?”
She curled her lip and he resisted the urge to smile at her. If she was going to treat him like a moron, she shouldn’t have been surprised by his moronic response.
“Yes, I have the gun.” He patted the empty space at the small of his back. With his shirt bunched up under his belt, it resembled a weapon at a glance. Therese would figure out he was lying if she decided to look closely, but Therese never looked below the surface of anything.
“Do you have the wine?” she said.
He gestured to the green bottle on the nightstand. Not only did the midrange merlot serve as a good excuse for a visit, but it also gave him the advantage of dealing with Eduardo while he was drunk. Gillen was no expert on mind readers, but he couldn’t imagine they functioned better under the influence.
Red lights reflected off the side of the wine bottle, drawing Gillen’s attention to the clock. The bright lines flashed in a pattern forming 6:15. If he didn’t get going, he was going to be late to his own crime.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “Try not to tip your hand during your dinner with Narcy.” He cast Therese a sharp look out of the side of one eye as he snatched the bottle from the table. “You think you can handle that?”
“Don’t be smarmy,” she replied. “It doesn’t suit you.”
You don’t know what suits me, he wanted to shoot back, but then he realized he’d let his inner monologue take control again and that kind of mistake could get him killed.
He strode past her and into the hall. The scattered shadows of trees waited in front of the windows, obscuring what little of the Chicago skyline they could see from their Lakeview home. Therese had always wanted to cut down the trees to improve their view, but Gillen had no interest in destroying the one thing that made their sterile mansion feel like a home.
His autumn coat waited for him on the rack in the foyer, acting as a dark sentinel in front of the door. With the first signs of snow spreading over the sky, a winter coat would have served him better, but that kind of bulk would only weigh him down once he was on the run.
Therese’s sharp heels clicked against the tile floor. “Aren’t you going to say goodbye to me?” she said behind him.
He closed his eyes and practiced his times tables. Three times two is six, three times three is nine, three times four is twelve. He’d been hoping to escape without ever seeing Therese’s face again, but he couldn’t risk upsetting her when he was so close to his goal.
“Goodbye, honey.” He turned around and opened his arms. Therese’s red lips formed a wicked crescent as she slid her hands around his waist and leaned against his chest. The sickening sweetness of her floral perfume wound through his nostrils, strangling him from within. Poison, the makers called it. Therese found the scent mysterious, but Gillen hated it with a passion. He couldn’t argue with the name, though. It might not have been as venomous as its wearer, but it still smelled like seven different kinds of death.
She leaned in and adjusted his collar. “Just think. Once all this is over, we’re finally going to be rich.” Her hollow voice bounced off the walls of their six-bedroom house, creating a false harmony with the clinking of their crystal chandeliers. “It’s everything we’ve been waiting for.”
He faked his brightest smile, knowing it would be the last of him she would ever see.