This story is by Joslyn Chase and was a runner-up in our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Any day where she can send readers to the edge of their seats, prickling with suspense and chewing their fingernails to the nub, is a good day for Joslyn. Pick up her latest thriller, Steadman’s Blind, an explosive read that will keep you turning pages to the end. What Leads A Man To Murder, her collection of short suspense, is available for free at joslynchase.com.
I’ve wanted to do this for so long.
Gordon stood in front of the open hall closet, running his hand across the row of hanging coats, feeling their different textures beneath his fingertips. Scratchy wool, smooth poplin, the slippery impervious surface of a rain slicker. So many coats. Why did one woman need so many?
He removed his own charcoal-gray dress coat—his only dress coat—and shrugged into it, replacing the sturdy wooden hanger. From upstairs, he heard the click of the bathroom door, the ventilation fan firing up like a helicopter engine.
She was awake.
Gordon stared at the pile of scarves on the upper shelf of the closet. The faint smell of mothballs floated out at him, reminiscent of those sickly-smelling tablets he sometimes saw in the bottom of urinals. He wrinkled his nose.
The time was right, he recognized that. Before, there had always been something going on, getting in the way—deliveries, neighborhood commotion, Mabel’s friends popping in unannounced. Now, thanks to Covid-19 and social distancing, he had a blessed respite from all that.
It was time to act.
He selected the scarlet cashmere, pleased with the aptness of his choice. Red was a power color. He’d be using the scarf to reassert power in a situation where he’d lost control. Red was the color of blood, of passion, desire. All appropriate to his situation. And red was her favorite.
He savored the irony in that.
Upstairs, the fan switched off. Gordon stuffed the cashmere scarf into his coat pocket, picked up his messenger bag, and let himself out the front door, pulling it quietly closed behind him. He didn’t want to see Mabel’s disheveled hair, her smeary bedroom eyes or the pillow creases in her sallow cheeks. He didn’t want to speak to her before he left for work.
Plenty of time for that when he got home.
Gordon was one of the lucky ones. Only a handful of the agency’s employees were allowed to come in to the office. Most worked from home now, deprived of the daily escape from their cloying family lives. Gordon didn’t believe any man was truly happy in the shackled, society-mandated condition of marriage.
He hung his coat on the rack beside his desk. Once upon a time, he’d subscribed to the idea of wedded bliss, but life with Mabel had pulled back the curtain on that myth. Before they’d even reached their first anniversary, she’d scoured most of the rose-colored tint from Gordon’s expectations.
Reaching into his pocket, he stroked the velvety cashmere of the scarf. It had a calming effect on him. He was still getting used to the hush of the office. No clients, no Muzak, no background murmuring of a business in swing. Movement caught his eye and he looked across the top of the cubicles, seeing the back of the vice president of marketing as he disappeared into his inner sanctum.
No one else was in sight.
Gordon pulled the scarf from his coat pocket and sat with it in his lap while he did his work, feeling its warmth and gentle weight, occasionally running a finger along the fine weave of the fabric. It thrilled him to think about what he’d be doing with the scarf later that night.
Opportunity had presented itself, and Gordon was not going to let it pass unheeded. Even the dreaded weekly visits from his sister, Della, had ceased and there would never be a better time. The enforced isolation brought by the Corona virus would give him the privacy he needed to carry out the act, and an uninterrupted interval in which to dispose of the body. With the luxury of time and social seclusion, he could free himself from Mabel with the reasonable assurance of continuing that freedom, unhindered by force of law.
It was practically a license to kill.
Gordon finished a report, printed a hard copy, and filed it in the proper folder, letting the credenza drawer slide shut. The metallic click echoed in the empty space like a gunshot, but no one complained. Gordon liked the decisive, defiant sound of it. He reopened the drawer and gave it a shove. Bam!
He’d considered using a gun, but the cashmere scarf was a far more elegant solution. As the day passed, Gordon thought constantly about his plan. He’d glimpsed the credit card bill from Veronica’s Secret and knew Mabel would have “a surprise” for him when he got home. She was nothing if not predictable in her futile attempts to put the bloom back on the rose.
She’d be cooking what she deemed a romantic dinner, wine chilling on the sideboard. She’d have something to chat on about, a topic she’d read up on or google-searched, designed to catch his interest and impress him with her cleverness. She’d be utterly thrilled when he stepped close and put his hands on her.
Gordon wondered at what point she’d stop being thrilled.
The days were getting longer now, blue-gray light stretching into the hour it took for Gordon’s drive home, and beyond. He parked the car in the driveway, made sure the locks chirped when he clicked the button, and walked up the stone path to the front door, kicking at a few stray lumps of bark mulch. Mabel’s daffodils were fading, their golden days over, petals drooping on spent stems.
Gordon stopped on the porch. Once more, he put a hand in his pocket, touching the scarlet cashmere like a talisman, smiling to himself to tamp down a small wave of uncertainty. There would be no better time.
The rich aroma of beef stroganoff, Mabel’s specialty, greeted him as he opened the door. He came straight into the kitchen.
“How was your day?” Mabel asked, offering her cheek.
He ignored the offer and grunted, unwilling to tip her off with any uncharacteristic behavior. Putting his bag down on a chair, he looked around the kitchen. The slender neck of his favorite Cabernet protruded from the ice bucket next to a crystal plate displaying a frosted cake adorned with curls of chocolate.
“I have a surprise for you,” Mabel said, the girlish lilt in her voice irritating him.
“I can see that.”
“Oh, but there’s more, sweetheart.” She turned from the stove and raised her eyebrow in a provocative leer. “Just wait and see.”
He was done waiting. Gordon stepped behind her, noting the glossy flow of her honey-blonde hair, remembering how it had once seemed that all his problems would melt away if only he could stroke that hair and call it his. A cruel illusion that would end now, once and for all.
Pulling the scarf from his pocket, he wrapped it quickly around her neck, pulling the ends tight. Mabel’s startled cry choked off, bubbling like the pot of creamy stroganoff on the stove. She dropped the spoon, spattering hot droplets of sour cream sauce across Gordon’s hands and the scarlet cashmere scarf.
Her fingers clawed at his, nails gouging his flesh, leaving red half-moon marks on his skin. The strawberry scent of her shampoo clogged Gordon’s nostrils, turning his stomach as the gagging sounds she made faded and rasped away into silence.
Gordon held tight to the scarf, knotted in both fists, cashmere biting into the raw flesh of his hands. His breath came in rapid gulps and as he relaxed his grip, his wife’s body slumped down and away, sagging to the floor with a resounding thump.
Gordon knelt to unwind the scarf from her neck, his hands shaking. He’d done it. He was free.
Before he had even a moment to savor the solitude, he heard a sound from the back room that sent his heart racing.
“I know you told me to wait, Mabel.” The voice grew louder as it approached the kitchen. “But are you sure you wouldn’t like some help?”
Della. Gordon watched the shock register in his sister’s face as she entered the room and took in the sight of him crouched over Mabel’s body, the red scarf in his hands trailing away like a river of blood.