By James Q. Christopher

The abuse seemed to be worsening. He stayed drunk most of the time, and the beatings escalated when he drank. Abby was loyal to Bernie for eight years. She could overlook his lack of affection but not the beatings. She previously considered leaving Bernie; however, she knew he would pursue her. If he caught her, the beatings would be even worse. She knew that her death at his hands was very possible. He had this rage that he couldn't or wouldn't control. Abby made her decision on this day. Bernie would have to die.

Just prior to retiring to his upstairs bedroom, Bernie lashed out with a viscous punch to Abby's side. She was barely able to walk when Bernie finished the last of the vodka and waddled up the stairs. Abby decided he could just sleep alone. She would stay downstairs, out of harm's way. Abby listened as the walls rattled with his loud, guttural moans and snoring. This was the result of decades of his puffing no-filter cigarettes.

The first rays of daybreak visited the kitchen where Abby sat motionless.

Soon Bernie would be awake. He would still be drunk and prone to unleash his fury. She was certain that he would vent his wrath before he left for work. Abby rationalized that now was the time to act.

Abby crept up the steep stairs. She worked on loosening the top stair tread. This was her third attempt. She felt it break free. She carefully pushed it aside leaving a dark hole where the step had previously been.

Soon, she would hear Bernie lumbering around the bedroom, gagging and spitting -- his normal morning ritual. Then, he would yell her name.

Right on cue, he bellowed, "Abby! Abby, you bitch! Where are you?" He was so predictable. She heard his footsteps as he proceeded down the hallway to the stairs. Abby heard him pause at the top of the stairs. Her heart almost stopped. Had he seen the trap she set for him? She held her breath.

" little...Agggghhhhhhhhh!!" he screamed, arms clawing wildly at the dimly lit air of the stairwell in a futile attempt to regain his balance and grasp onto a stronghold. His obese body lurched, twisted, then bounded heavily down the long flight of stairs. He landed on the floor of the foyer with a loud thud. The last sound Bernie made was a raspy gurgle — the result of bloody mucus escaping from his lungs. Then silence.

Bernie's blank eyes stared at Abby, but they could not see. Bernie was dead. Abby was pleased. She walked closer to Bernie's body and bent down to get a better view of his face. She noticed a glob of blood on the corner of his mouth. She watched it as it trickled down his cheek and formed a perfect crimson circle on the dirty wooden floor. It was done.

Remembering his cruelty, she was suddenly consumed by a feral urge to mutilate his body in a savage and beastly fashion, but quickly suppressed that thought. It was not in her best interest to risk offending the rescuers who would most certainly respond when Bernie failed to report for work. She would play the role of the faithful dog sitting by her master, as he lay dead on the floor.

Abby walked over to her bowl. She lapped at the water. These first moments without fear released her spirit. She felt a rush of adrenalin. Life would better now. Abby was smart and proud. Bernie should have noticed.

Mr. Christopher is a retired detective. He was in law enforcement for 38 years and along the way investigated or supervised investigations of approximately 700 murders. When he retired in 2004 from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, he was Director of Counterterrorism Operations. This is his first published story.

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