Cell phones equaled the bane of Julien’s existence, except when they saved a life. His client, a woman targeted by her monstrous ex, hadn’t answered all afternoon.
With his attention divided between a staff meeting and the difficult client who ignored logic, his frustration skyrocketed. He’d fired off several texts before calling her house. The repetitive drone of her dial tone sent his paranoia level to DEFCON 1.
A homebody, her adventurous streak ranged the scale between knitting and collecting scarves. She should have been home.
He understood the type of man she’d married, weak-minded, controlling, and abusive, puppeteer to her marionette. From the first and only meeting where she sought his help, fear had radiated from her pores, exhaled in every breath until cloaking her damaged spirit.
Purple, blue, and maroon hues splashed the western sky, the color of the bruises she failed to conceal when slouched in the office chair. Soon, darkness would bleach all color from the sky, the same way death bleached color from soulless bodies. He drove faster, the wheels drumming on the asphalt, chasing headlights forever out of reach, just like her reasoning for going back to the house of horrors.
The setting sun reminded him that her husband would return from work soon and carry his rage home in search of a target. Similarities with memories from childhood provoked a shiver despite the meager light converted to heat via the windshield. Childhood flashbacks served no useful purpose.
Ignorance and nonchalance had twined to frame a bull’s eye on her forehead. He’d advised her to leave home two days prior, yet fear prevailed, dominating courage and hope. They could handle legalities later, but not if she lacked a pulse. The frightened woman insisted on returning to the dirtball in hopes of—something better.
The late morning call had demonstrated her new vein of determination, a declaration she was ready to pack it in and start a new life. Failure to arrive at his office either meant the scales of indecision favored the familiar—or she’d arrived at her decision too late.
As a private investigator, he’d seen the scenario rehearsed and unfold many times. For reasons unknown, human nature’s broken record played out on the Mobius strip, fate having trapped him in the loop.
The steady slap and scrape of windshield wipers whisked the few drops of rain from his windshield, evidence of heaven mourning its angels. He stomped the accelerator.
His Mazda ate up the miles as he tried to focus on the facts. The closer he got to her house, the more his mind screamed with recriminations…Too late. You should’ve come earlier.
Stones skittered into the grass bordering her driveway as the car slid to a stop in front of the bungalow. The one with the front door ajar.
Oh God, I’m too late. Not again. With little recollection of exiting the car or racing through the doorway, he knew in his gut what awaited. He’d promised her help, and failed. It didn’t matter that she’d ignored his advice.
In the middle of the living room floor, she lay face down, naked, remnants of pain still etched in her expression. Blood pooled under her abdomen in an ever-widening arc. Spatters of red adorned the surrounding wall cabinets, TV, and sofa. Her hair, burnt copper in the fading light and streaming through the bay window, didn’t cover wide staring eyes.
His heart pounded and sweat beaded his forehead. With shaking fingers, he bent and touched her neck to find a pulse, weak, fast, and thready. She’ll never make it, his subconscious roared as he snatched up his cell to dial nine one one.
The universe absorbed his bellowed pain, now perceived as colder than her body.
The warmth of her soul flowed out to stain the carpet in wild abandon. Air redolent of copper and the residue of gunpowder propelled the sour wad of acid to the back of his throat. The yapping of her ankle biter at his feet didn’t register until he saw its footprints surrounding the woman’s thin frame, written in her blood.
There were no second chances to avoid catastrophe. His excuses wouldn’t comfort her now.