THE JOGGER

 

By Tom Ray

 

           

Sarah walked to the end of the driveway to pick up her morning newspaper. Her silk pajamas didn't reveal a lot of bare skin, but did cling to her in a way that showed off her curves. The jogger coming up the street was just short of the driveway when Sarah bent over to pick up the newspaper. Standing back up, she said a cheery "Good morning."

He looked surprised, but delighted. She could tell he'd gotten a good view of her cleavage.

"Doing something constructive this morning, I see."

"Just keeping the old heart and lungs pumping," he said as he continued on. He was tall and thin with dark hair cut short, a long, narrow face and bug eyes behind unfashionable, black-rimmed glasses. Still, he was in better shape than Sarah's husband Steve. When they became a couple, comments from friends about her being taller than Steve irritated her. This had gotten worse after fifteen years of marriage, as she maintained her athletic figure while Steve grew fat. The jogger was taller than Sarah, his long, lean legs exposed by his running shorts. 

The next morning she was out again in different pajamas, still silk but paisley instead of solid purple. As the jogger approached she said, "Wow, two days in a row. Do you do this every day?"

He slowed, and then stopped, still breathing hard. "Yeah. I've been doing it almost every morning about this time for the last eight years." 

"That's wild. We've lived here five years, but I've never seen you before, and now here we are, two days in a row."

"Yeah. Funny." He smiled as he said it.

"I'm Sarah Woodside, by the way." She extended her hand and they shook.

"Brian Voorhees. I'd better get going." He seemed reluctant to leave, but resumed his run.

The third morning she said, "You look so tired. Would you like to come in for a minute, for a coke, or some water or something?"

He had slowed to a walk as he approached her. "Yeah. Some water would go good right now."

Once he was in the kitchen she offered him a seat at the table and poured him a glass of bottled water over ice. She sat down with her coffee. "My husband is out of town, and it's lonely at breakfast."

Brian got the message, and soon they kissed, and then moved into the bedroom. He apologized for being sweaty, and for his breath smelling bad since he hadn't brushed his teeth yet. She assured him that was no problem. He was a decent lover, his lean jogger's body sexier than Steve's. 

Afterward she told him this episode was the result of a whim, and she didn't want to have a permanent relationship with Brian. It was hard, though, with Steve being out of town so much, and she said she would like to do this again with Brian sometimes. He agreed; he didn't want to divorce his wife, but he was really fond of Sarah, and she was so beautiful.  

They agreed they would have to exercise caution, never contacting each other by phone or email.  Fortunately, all the neighbors along this block were still asleep during Brian's early morning jogs. He always got up in the morning before his wife was awake, so she wouldn't notice how long he was gone.

 

# # #

 

It became a routine. If Steve was out of town Sarah came out to get the newspaper as Brian came up the street. That was the signal. When Steve was at home she would stay inside until Brian passed. 

If Sarah told him in advance that Steve was away, Brian left his house earlier and cut short his jogging route. They could spend more time after the sex, talking. 

She told Brian that Steve was a successful management consultant. Brian said his wife Janie was an attorney with a company headquartered there in Knoxville. Sarah was a free-lance interior designer operating out of her home, Brian the head of IT for a regional bank. Brian was feeling alienated from Janie; she'd grown cold, and went out of her way to criticize him and complain.

 

# # #

 

Sarah hadn’t figured out the next step yet, but she was sure something would turn up. Then she got a call from Morgan Hofstadter, a man whose home she had redecorated. Morgan and his wife Lucy had referred many of their rich friends to Sarah. 

"Well, Sarah, I finally retired."

"You're too young to retire, Morgan." He was pushing eighty.

"I wish that were true. Anyway, we've bought a little retirement place."

"I thought you already had a place in Florida."

"We're going to keep that, but we wanted something closer to home, in the mountains. We've bought a cabin near Asheville. And we want you to come and redecorate it. The previous owners weren't very sophisticated. We need your touch."

"I'd love to do it. How big is the cabin?"

"It has four bedrooms, and a huge den, and a deck that gives a tremendous view of the valley."

"Sounds lovely. When can I come and see it?"

They compared calendars. She agreed on a day when Steve would be home at night.

"You can spend the day with us and stay the night if you'd like."

"That works for me," she said. She anticipated that invitation, knowing how much Morgan and Lucy liked company.

 

# # #

 

As Brian was coming out of the bathroom Sarah said, "See that thing on the bureau?"

"That?" He pointed to an abstract sculpture about two feet tall, a gray column decorated with filigree.

"Yeah. Pick it up."

Picking up the piece, he said, "Jesus. This is heavy."

"Solid cast iron. Avondale Foundry gave that to Steve. The president's wife is an artist and designed it, and they cast it especially for him. See on the base?"

"'To Steve Woodside, in Appreciation for His Service to the Avondale Foundry.'" He examined it from base to top, turning it over in his hands.

"Yeah. The company was in trouble, and he came in and did a review of their processes. The management gave him a lot of grief after his initial report, but he convinced them to stick with his recommendations. After a couple of years they saw that he'd saved them a lot of money and improved their response to customers. Basically saved the company. They invited us to a big dinner and presented him that."

Brian said, "Something to be proud of," but she could tell he was jealous.

"He's good at what he does. He can solve certain kinds of problems, but he doesn't always take care of things at home."

"Tell me about it," he said, and his jealousy seemed to have past.

"Anyway," she said. "I've got to get going. I'm meeting with clients in Asheville. I'm spending the night there. I couldn't see you tomorrow, anyway. Steve will be back tonight."

"Oh. OK. See you the next time you come out on the driveway."

 

# # #   

 

She had a good day at the Hofstadter's "cabin." She arrived there shortly before noon, had lunch with Morgan and Lucy, then set about taking pictures of the house, taking measurements, and making sketches. 

Morgan grilled steaks for dinner. Both of the Hofstadters drank cocktails during the afternoon, and wine at dinner. Sarah drank part of a glass of wine with her steak, leaving the remainder of the bottle for Morgan and Lucy, who finished it along with another bottle. They stayed up after dinner talking with Sarah, happy to have somebody to entertain. Even so, by nine o'clock they were struggling to stay awake, and both retired to bed.

Sarah waited in her room. If she got back to Knoxville too early the neighbors might still be up. At midnight she stood at Morgan and Lucy's bedroom door, making certain from their loud snores that they slept. In a few minutes she was on Interstate 40 headed west. 

When she pulled in next to Steve's car in the garage her watch showed three o'clock. She put on a cheap plastic raincoat she'd bought a few days before, and surgical gloves.

Steve was passed out on the bed, fully clothed and drunk, as usual. Grasping the sculpture from Avondale Foundry, Sarah bashed his head with it four times. After checking to make sure he had no pulse, she unlocked the front door. That would account for a murderer getting in without a key. Taking off the blood-spattered raincoat and gloves in the garage, she put them in the garbage bag she'd brought in the car. 

In the open country along the highway back to Asheville she threw the garbage bag out the car window. She'd gassed up the car in Asheville the previous day, before going to the Hofstadter's house. That gave her enough fuel to make the trip to Knoxville and back. There'd be no surveillance footage of her stopping at a filling station along I-40 that night.

 

# # #

 

When Lucy woke her up at ten in the morning Sarah said, "Oomph. I shouldn't have had that wine last night. I don't drink much, and just one glass puts me to sleep real good." 

"I'm sorry to wake you, but I was afraid you might need to get back home today. You're welcome to sleep in if you want to."

"No, that's fine, Lucy, I do have to get back."

It was early afternoon by the time she turned into her street. A crowd milled around in front of the house and a TV news van, two police cars, and an unmarked van she guessed was also from the police were parked on the street. One of the police cars blocked her driveway, and she had to park down the block. She got out of the car and ran to her house. Police tape stretched across the front of her property. 

A policeman stopped her as she lifted the tape and stooped to walk under it. "Ma'am, you're not allowed in here. This is a crime scene."

"What are you talking about? This is my house." She tried to walk past him, but he grabbed her arm.

"What's your name, ma'am?"

"Sarah Woodside."

"Just a minute." He spoke into the microphone strapped to his shoulder, and a voice answered him. 

In a minute a man in civilian clothes came out of the house. "Ms. Woodside? I'm Lieutenant Simmons. Please come and sit with me." He guided her to an unmarked sedan she hadn't noticed before. They sat in the front seat.

"I hate to tell you this ma'am. Your husband has been killed. Don't go into the house just now. He's been moved to the morgue, but your house would be very upsetting if you saw it."

She screamed, cried, said Simmons must be mistaken, and finally quieted down. "Are you sure it's my husband?"

"The license in his wallet says Stephen Woodside. You'll have to identify the body later, but it is in all probability your husband. He was supposed to fly out of town today with an associate, but when he didn't come to the airport or answer his phone, the associate came here to check on him."

"I don't understand how this happened."

"If I may ask, where were you last night?"

He went on asking her questions in a tactful way, but she could tell he was trying to see if she had an alibi. She gave him contact information for the Hofstadters. He asked about things like who might have wanted to kill Steve. The questioning took less time than she’d expected. He must have felt she had recovered well enough to go into the house, because he asked her to see if anything was missing. After looking around the bedroom and living room she said nothing was. The sculpture she’d bludgeoned Steve with was lying on the bedroom floor. 

As Simmons led her outside she tried to look dazed without overdoing it. Becky Winstead, a nosey little woman who lived two doors down, volunteered to take Sarah home for a while. That struck Sarah as especially gracious, since Steve and Becky had quarreled in the past when Becky walked her dog Coco. Steve accused her of not cleaning up after Coco. 

 

# # #

 

After a few hours Sarah left Becky's house and checked into a motel. The next day she went to identify the body. It made her queasy to see what she'd done to Steve's head, but that helped her look upset. Afterward Lieutenant Simmons asked her to come to his office.

She and Simmons sat facing each other across his desk, his partner Sergeant Lane standing near him. After some initial small talk Simmons said, "Do you know Brian Voorhees?"

"No. He may be one of Steve's clients."

"No. He's a neighbor of yours."

"Oh. I don’t think he lives on our block.”

"No. He lives a few blocks away. His wife saw the news about Mr. Woodside's murder on TV last night and called us this morning."

Sarah concentrated on looking puzzled.

He paused, watching her before continuing. "She said your husband had been having an affair with her."

She stared at him, trying to look shocked. "I don't think that's possible. What did you say her name was?"

"Janie Voorhees. Her husband is named Brian."

"She must be imagining things. I think I would have known about that."

"Sometimes our spouses surprise us, deceive us. The thing is, she suspects her husband killed Steve. She assumes he found out about their affair and killed Steve in a fit of rage. She takes a sleeping pill at night, and says her husband could easily have slipped out of the house, killed Steve, and returned without her knowing it."

"I can't believe this." She stumbled on her words, trying to maintain the illusion of being stunned.

"I don't think we told you this before, but the murder weapon was a piece of metal sculpture found in your bedroom. It was bloody, and the wounds on your husband were consistent with an object like that. Brian Voorhees' fingerprints were all over that sculpture."

She gasped.

"We questioned Voorhees and fingerprinted him. We told him his prints were on the murder weapon and asked how they could have been there. He claims that he's been having an affair with you and handled the sculpture during a visit with you when your husband wasn't there."

"That's ridiculous, it's crazy. I don't even know any Brian Voorhees. And I don't believe my husband had an affair with his wife."

Sergeant Lane said, "We're sorry to upset you, but our forensics team got into your husband's laptop. He and Janie Voorhees emailed each other a lot, starting almost a year ago. It's very explicit. There is no question they were having an affair."

Now the hardest part, trying to pretend she still didn't believe Steve had been having an affair with Brian's wife. She became agitated, then feigned hysteria, and gradually calmed down. Sergeant Lane got her a glass of water, which she sipped as both men looked on with discomfort.

Simmons said, "You are absolutely sure there is no way that Brian Voorhees would have been in your bedroom, or handled that metal sculpture?"

"I'm sure of it. This must be a mistake."

"From your husband's email we know Janie Voorhees is telling the truth about their affair. It looks like Brian Voorhees is our man."

She cried some more. Lieutenant Simmons continued talking, trying to comfort her. After "calming down" she left. 

 

# # #

 

Lieutenant Simmons recommended a service that cleaned crime scenes, and they did a good job. She was back home in a month, thinking it would look suspicious to go back right away. 

It all worked out. No messy divorce, no dividing the assets, just probating the will, and collecting the life insurance. 

Poor Brian foolishly pled not guilty, rather than some kind of insanity defense. Nobody bought his explanation for his fingerprints being on the murder weapon. An affair between a nerd like him and a woman like Sarah strained credulity.

Brian's obliviousness to Janie's affair with Steve amazed her. Sarah had figured out something was going on months before she hacked into Steve's emails. The emails gave her the information she needed about Janie. From there it was easy to find out about Brian. His jogging route was a stroke of luck, but if he hadn't come by her house every day Sarah would have found some other way to trap him.

 

# # #

 

A few weeks after Brian's conviction Becky Winstead rang Sarah's doorbell. After Sarah invited her in Becky said, "I just wanted you to know, I'm behind you a hundred percent."

"Thanks, Becky. I can never thank you enough for letting me stay at your house after Steve was killed. It gave me a chance to get myself together. I don't know what I would have done without you."

"I was glad to do it. I always felt you had such a burden to bear, being married to that man."

That was an odd thing for Becky to say, and Sarah knew she had to be careful in answering. "Steve could be a challenge, but he never did anything to deserve being murdered."

"Oh, no, I didn't mean to say he did. But I know he had a mean streak, the way he talked to me about Coco. And he must have been terrible to you, to drive you into the arms of that ugly Brian Voorhees."

Sarah tried hard to disguise her shock at Becky's reference to Brian. "What? I don't understand."

"I wake up at all kinds of odd hours. Sometimes I wake up at five or six in the morning and can't get back to sleep. In those early morning hours I used to see Brian out jogging. I saw him stop at your house once and kiss you in the driveway before you both went inside. To kiss such an ugly, skinny, sweaty man must have been terrible for you. I can understand you being lonely, though, married to that monster Steve."

"Becky, I don't know what to say...."

"Oh, I've scared you. Don't worry. Like I said, I'm behind you a hundred percent. I'm sure you didn't want Brian to kill Steve."

"If you believe I had an affair with Brian, why didn't you say something to the police?"

"We girls have to stick together. You shouldn't have had to put up with Steve or Brian either one. You deserve a break. Besides, Brian did it and deserved to be punished. Why should I muddy the waters by bringing up his stopping at your house?"

Getting up from her chair, Sarah joined Becky on the sofa and hugged her. "Becky, you're so sweet. Thank you so much."

They talked on for a while before Becky left.

A problem might arise if Brian lived to complete his prison sentence. She would address that when the time came, just like she'd addressed Steve and Janie's affair. Her immediate issue was Becky, and she was sure she'd find a way to take care of that.

 



Tom Ray devotes his time to writing adult fiction. His stories have been published in numerous journals and in the print anthology Unbroken Circle: Stories of Cultural Diversity in the South. He is a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee. After two years of active duty in the U. S. Army, including a tour in Vietnam, he entered U. S. government service as a civilian. He retired after working thirty-five years in the Washington, D.C., area, and currently lives in Knoxville.


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