TALE OF THREE


By R. Marquez



The slight, dark-haired woman, pocketbook gripped in both hands, takes a step down from the front porch of her clapboard house. She pauses, her lips compressed, wheels around and walks back to the front door. Facing away from me, I spot her stretching her fingertips toward the door and tapping the knob three times.

She turns and walks down the steps to the stones leading to the sidewalk. She places her feet, one in front of the other, the ground a tightrope and she afraid to fall. With brow creased and eyes on the ground, she moves east, skipping each joint and crack on the cement.

I've watched her trek to work every morning for the past week. Keeping my distance, I've followed behind her and not once has she stepped on anything except smooth pavement.

Though I enjoy watching the girl go through her everyday routine, today I determine to meet her. I lie in wait. With ten feet separating us, I hurry toward her, my eyes cast downward. In seconds, we collide. I feel her hard body against mine before she leaps backward. She manages to keep her balance, both feet safe on the unmarred cement.

"I'm sorry," I gush, putting my hand on her shoulder.

Her dark eyes stare down at my paw, her body leaning away from me, a tree ready to topple.

"Are you O.K?" I ask and squeeze her thin shoulder, hiding a giggle.

Her eyes widen and she steps backward, managing somehow to avoid a sidewalk seam. The girl is agile, I give her that.

"Miss?"

"I'm-fine," she gasps. "Please don't touch me."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm sorry, I know you don't mean anything by it. I don't enjoy being touched."

I withdraw my hand, keeping the confusion on my face. "I didn't mean to distress you."

"These things happen in the city. You must expect them. You handle them and move on," she says, taking three deep breaths.

She must be quoting someone, perhaps a psychiatrist or counselor of old. I cover my mouth, stifling a laugh and pretend to study her. I smile my I-get-you smile, before walking away.

* * *

I wait and observe for another week. Her schedule never varies. She leaves her house at nine a.m. and walks down Crawford Street, stops at Knowles Avenue, and presses the crossing button three times. She scrutinizes the illuminated number on the sign and doesn't enter the crosswalk unless the red, glowing numbers show exactly eighteen. Anything above or below and she waits for the light to turn again. She knows the time it takes her to cross over to Knowles, rain or shine, crowded street or not. Her precision makes her even more adorable to me.

Once across, she turns left. She stops at the Lucky Donut Shop. She emerges with a small bag of donut holes. I spotted her at the bakery for the first time two weeks ago. She asked for three of the powdered sugar rounds. The old lady behind the counter told the girl that since only four remained, she would give her the fourth one, gratis. The girl did not thank her. My ears pricked upward watching her reflection in the round mirror hung high near the ceiling of the store. Her rigid face stared at the last sugary morsel dropped, uninvited, into the bag. On a hunch, I exited the shop and stood across the street, keeping my eyes on the entrance. Once outside, the girl opened the bag, reached in using a napkin, and removed one dough ball and dropped it into the trash bin next to the door.

I knew at that moment she was the perfect girl for me. Yet with a creature that precise, that exact, I couldn't hurry our first meeting. My actions must duplicate her measuredness, her deliberation or she would repulse me.

Every morning after purchasing her donuts, the girl makes another careful left and enters the two-story, stone Franklin Building. At 5:15 p.m., she exits and retraces her steps back to her house.

She does this every weekday. Otherwise, she never leaves her home. A boy with a shirt emblazoned with Merk's Market comes that Saturday. He rings the doorbell and leaves a box on her peeling porch and, not waiting, runs down the steps. The curtains tremble at the front window, and with the boy gone, she opens the door and drags in her box of food, the outside world obviously a threat to her. I later call Merk's Market. They explain they provide home delivery every other Saturday, the weekend their extra boy works. Would I be interested? Maybe, I'll let them know I say, hanging up.

Another week passes. On the first workday of the month, a dark-haired, young man visits, carrying firewood. He drops the log in a box on the front porch before knocking. After a while, the window coverings flutter and the door opens. She doesn't come outside and the man doesn't enter. They converse for a minute before she rattles the door close. The man, looking a little disgruntled, turns around and trots down the three steps and the three stepping stones to the sidewalk. He seems indifferent to the lines and cracks.

The man worries me. A suitor for my intended's affections? A boyfriend means she isn't meant for me. The man walks a block down and pauses at a bench. I trot to the next bus stop down the street. The bus halts, squealing in front of me, and I climb onboard. The dark-haired man sits mid-row on the vehicle and passing him, I keep my face turned away. I needn't worry. His eyes focus on a newspaper he holds in his hands. I slip into the empty seat behind him where the rest of the discarded paper lies. I pick up the classified section.

"Do you know what bus goes to the mall?" I ask, speaking into his ear.

He cocks his head and, without turning, answers, "Get off on Main, three stops from now. The eighty-four goes to the mall. One stops every fifteen minutes."

"Thanks. I took the wrong bus this morning and ended up here."

He says nothing, shaking the newspaper instead. I catch a glimpse of a headline — Police Make No Progress — before he folds the paper to a full page ad for a butcher shop.

"Anyone hiring in this part of town? I'm new here and I'm looking for work," I ask.

He shifts his shoulders, and lowers the paper. "You might try the Franklin building. My sister works there."

Not a suitor, instead a concerned relative.

"Any job openings at her business?" I ask, keeping the classifieds between me and the brother.

"Not unless you suffer from some kind of disability. Other businesses occupy the building, though."

"Thanks for the info. Ah — sorry about your sister."

"Don't be. She has it under control."

I sit silent, rocking with the motion of the bus. It's coming. One, two, three...

"She suffers from OCD — do you know what that is?" he asks, still leaning back, the better to talk to me. Family members love to talk, to tell of the injured bird in their nest.

OCD. Could she be any more perfect? "No," I say.

"Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She developed it young."

"Too bad. You keep an eye on her, huh?"

"Yeah, I visit her once a month. Bring her firewood, some treats from my wife, that sort of thing. Wendy's pretty independent. She just needs to follow her routine."

Wendy. What a lovely name.

"I hope other folks help her out."

"She can't stand that. Says people mess up her day. I visit every month, whether she likes it or not. My folks would want me to help her. We're the only two left." He shrugs. "I take the early bus going to work, catch her before she leaves the house."

The poor put-upon family, how they inflate the little they do. The brother cranes his neck forward, looking for his stop. I need to exit before he can eyeball me.

"Hey, that shop we passed has a help-wanted sign. See ya," I say, yanking the cord strung over the bus windows.

"O.K. Best of luck."

I am lucky that day. The brother is a non-issue. And soon, he won't need to worry over his poor, peculiar, bothersome sister. The families seldom make a fuss, relieved that their sick, injured chick has been put out of its misery. Isn't that nature's way, after all?

* * *

Wendy, Wendy, Wendy. I knew from the moment I'd found her in that bakery that she would be the one. They aren't hard to spot. A subtle deviation in behavior draws me to them, a fearful face, a moment of confusion, or the throwing away of a donut hole...

Wendy and I share something in common. She would be my number three in this town. Previously, I'd limited myself to two per city. After all, one was random, two a coincidence, and three a pattern — never establish a pattern. After two, I split before some clever dick puts it together. All the moving around, the setup, it consumes much of my time. With the economy slashing away at city budgets, my extraordinary caution is wasted. Clever dicks with time to find patterns don't exist anymore. The few harried ones left run around trying to solve hit and runs and catch husbands who take shotguns to the wifey and kids, that sort of thing.

Besides, the hunting is too easy, too predictable. Time to change it up a bit. How appropriate that lovely Wendy will complete my first trio. I can't imagine anyone appreciating that more than she.

* * *

I mentioned that I'm cautious. I take my time and follow certain criteria. My methodology isn't completely foolproof; still, it is darn close. After leaving town, I love to check the town's news on the Internet. The newspapers dissect the girl's lifestyle and lecture the public on safety. I find it hilarious. Sometimes the cops go after someone in the girl's life, someone with the misfortune of a motive and no alibi. A couple of times, I'm tickled to read that the poor schmo ends up in prison for my perfidy.

* * *

I walk into the donut shop and take a deep breath. The air smells of yummy things. Wendy bends over the glass case, selecting her donut holes. I stand behind her and hum. I'm an excellent hummer. The girl likes the classics. I'd been outside her home many times at night and she's plays this particular piece over and over. The tenseness in her body tells me she is listening. Still, she doesn't turn around. My Wendy allows no variations in routine. I admire a girl who keeps the faith. I don't stop humming.

Done with her purchase, she turns and looks up at me. My vision's periphery catches her staring. I pretend not to notice and continue to inspect the pastry lying in the trays behind the counter.

"Do I know you?" she asks.

I gaze down at her, my brows lifting. "I don't believe so."

"Yes, you ran into me."

I knew she would remember. This type never forgets anything. I examine her face, puzzled. "When?"

"A week ago."

I smile at her, my warm-trust-me smile. "Your memory is better than mine. I hope I didn't brush past you."

"No, you were very polite."

"Well, I'm very glad." I glance away from her and back over the counter. "Do you come here often?"

"Yes."

"Do you recommend anything in particular?"

"The powdered sugar holes are my favorites."

"I'll try them. Have a nice day."

She nods and leaves the shop. What I do isn't rocket science. Three such encounters, spaced out, defuse most women's defenses, making even my careful Wendy fair game. Small things work the best, a touch, carrying a favorite book, or humming a much-played melody. Thus you become familiar to them — and the familiar is safe, now isn't it?

* * *

The sky breaks loose, as the weatherman predicted, at five p.m. — A few minutes later, Wendy exits the Franklin building and begins her walk homeward under the downpour.

I wait across the road at Crawford Street holding my large umbrella. Wendy walks, her eyes on the ground, the rain soaking her. Yet despite the cold wetness, she doesn't hurry. I appreciate that. She crosses Crawford and I cross, walking in the opposite direction.

"No umbrella?" I ask, stopping and blocking her way.

She looks up, confused. Her eyes recognize me. "I couldn't find it this morning."

Of course she couldn't. She kept it on the weathered porch, with her firewood and kindling.

I glance down at my watch and back at her, letting pity cross my face. "Do you live far?"

"No."

"I can spare a few minutes. I'll walk you home."

She stares at me, processing my words. "I'm O.K."

I peer up at the sky and back at her, giving her my I'm-a-little-impatient half-smile. "Hey, we're in the middle of the street. Let's get to the corner."

I shield her from the rain, being careful not to brush against her. We stop at the curb.

"I'm fine," she says, rain dripping down her cheeks. She shivers.

"You don't appear fine to me. You're soaked. My mother told me never to desert a woman in distress." I don't remember my mother but I'm sure that nonsense is something a mother might spout. "Take the umbrella." I thrust it toward her, letting the rain pelt me.

Her cold, white hand grasps the handle, her eyes never leaving my face. I pull my lapels upward and hunch my shoulders into my collar. No longer looking at her, I take a step away. Wait for it, wait for it...

"No," she says, tilting the umbrella toward me. "We'll share it."

"Thanks, I promise you I'm harmless," I say with a conviction that's worked many times before.

She nods and hands our rain shield back to me. I cover us both being careful not to hurry her. Even with the rain, Wendy avoids all the cracks in the cement. You are so the right one.

* * *

Once on her dilapidated porch, the rest is easy. I'm big and she is small. I wrap my forearm around her face, covering her mouth. Anyone watching would think us an amorous pair. I had already extracted her key from her pocket during our walk. I push us through the door. I keep my kit under my coat and in a minute, I truss and gag her. Now our relationship begins in earnest.

* * *

I take my time. I always do. Some might enjoy the planning, some the entrapment; my favorite part is savoring the prize. It's Friday night, work over for the week, no grocery delivery available, and her brother's visit not scheduled for another few days. No need to hurry.

Wendy doesn't fight me. Maybe she's in shock. I don't care. I prefer them docile. Once in a while, a girl fights back, a lamb trying to escape its fate. Those times, I make them work harder to please me.

Wendy proves to be a dream. And I repay her for that. I do everything three times. Though she says not a word, I'm sure she appreciates my consideration.

* * *

Wendy, my sweet, passive, almost downright catatonic, angel tempts me to linger. I can't set up somewhere else and start the process over again for a while. I wish I could prolong my moments with her.

Sunday morning comes too soon. I need twenty-four hours to vacate the town before someone finds her. Not showing up for work on Monday might motivate a coworker to check on her, or the brother may show up a day or two early. I need to be long gone before the workweek begins.

No crying, no squirming, no attempts to talk to me, I love her compliance. I leave her face down on the bed while I wander around her home. She waits for me, in the same position, each time I return. She will be rewarded for such behavior. The end will be quick. I will revive her two, no, three times. Wendy would want that.

* * *

I do my usual cleanup. I know what to take, what to wipe down. They will find nothing with their brushes, powder, and tweezers. It isn't just the preparation I'm careful with. I plan to remove all traces of me between my multiple adieus to sweet Wendy. I've already performed one. She should be coming back to consciousness soon. The good-byes are the sweetest part. Still I can't over stay. No matter, other Wendy's await my pursuit and attention.

Ordinarily, I rush back but not with this meek creature. I check the refrigerator, light switch, and prepare the trash bag for everything that must go with me. I even take the sponge. The devil is in the details. I survey the room one more time to ensure I've forgotten nothing. I am satisfied with my work until something hits me hard on the back of my head. I fall.

* * *

I roll over and she is standing, naked, bruised, and bloody, a shiny axe in her hands and the cord still dangling from her neck. My own blood drips down the back of my scalp. I trusted you too much, sweet Wendy.

Her eyes wander around the room, flat and unfocused. Occasional mishaps occur. I can still salvage this. "Wendy, drop the axe," I tell her.

She doesn't answer. Instead she sways, holding the hatchet. I notice her arms are surprisingly sinewy for such a small woman. Now I remember the kindling on the porch and curse myself.

"Wendy," I say in a sharper tone.

That draws her attention. She looks down at me, her dark eyes impossible to read. "Wendy, put it down. Go back to the bedroom."

She doesn't listen. Using both arms, she raises the axe over her head. I am too weak from the first blow to save myself. Still I lift a useless arm in defense. The air parts as the hatchet swings downward.

My arm lies next to me, blood squirting from my shoulder. She lifts the tool high over her head, one more time. I resign myself that escape is not possible, yet I haven't given up on survival. If she sees me weak, she'll stop, I know she'll stop. I say, "Please, I'm hurt. Call someone."

Wendy stares at me, her eyes clear now. She realizes I've surrendered and she drops her arms. She turns away and takes a few steps. She halts and wheels back toward me, her lips compressed and with an expression in her eyes I recognize. She hefts the axe one last time. Though her injured throat prevents her from making a sound, she mouths something. Dazed and fading, I read her lips and, in that last instant, I understand she must do this. I close my eyes and whisper for the both of us, "Three."


R. Marquez has a BA in English, has been writing full time for the past year, and has completed the second draft of her first mystery novel. You may visit the author's website at www.rmarquez.com.


Copyright 2011 R. Marquez. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.