Read Missing, part 1 here.
I sat in my car in the parking lot, seething, as I kept an eye on the apartment door. I had gotten the girl’s address off the label on a Mother Jones magazine Jeremy had left at my house. After being stopped by a train on my way here, I had arrived later than planned. Hopefully she hadn’t left yet.
My son would thank me for this one day. He was about to make a huge mistake and derail his whole life. All because of this little tramp.
I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, willing her to come out. The noise of the overpass that ran by the building was a boon, but it was beginning to get on my nerves. Thankfully, the door opened and a skinny brunette appeared.
Curious. Jeremy usually went for blondes.
I popped the trunk then slid my left arm into the sling and got out of the car. It was a small lot, so she had to be parked nearby. Sure enough, she approached a silver Corolla with a missing hubcap in the next row. I stepped out from behind the raised trunk lid and called to her.
“Excuse me, Miss. Could you help me?”
She glanced at me warily. I was a middle-aged woman dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt, one arm in a sling. No threat.
“What do you need?” she asked, coming towards me.
She had the ordinary sort of face that could be transformed into something pretty with a skillful application of make-up. Right now, she looked tired and washed out. She looked every bit of her twenty-eight years.
“I need to get this box out of the trunk, and I can’t do it one-handed. Once it’s out, I can carry it with one arm. It’s not heavy. It’s just awkward.”
She smiled, and I noticed that she had pretty blue eyes. With the beginning of crow’s feet. My son was barely old enough to drink, and he was dating a girl with crow’s feet.
She leaned in to grab the box and I glanced discreetly around. No one appeared to be watching. I pulled the .22 from the sling and shot her twice in the back of the head. She tumbled forward, and all I had to do was grab her legs and shove them into the trunk, then slam the lid.
I took another quick look around. There was a man across the street with his back turned to me. He was using a leaf blower to clear grass clippings from his driveway. Between the noise of the blower and the traffic on the freeway, I didn’t think anyone could have heard the shot.
I got in the car and pulled down the vanity mirror. The Internet had been somewhat unhelpful on the issue of whether or not there would be blowback. I had come prepared with wet wipes, but I didn’t see any blood on my face or neck. I had lucked out. Later I would burn everything I was wearing, just in case.
My heart was racing and I felt a little dizzy. Ripping off the sling and tossing it onto the passenger floor mat, I forced myself to take three slow, deep breaths. I didn’t want to linger, but it wouldn’t do to get in an accident, either. I started the car and pulled out of the lot, keeping a careful eye on the speedometer as I drove out of town.
A client at the bank had a hunting property about two hours away. He was recovering from surgery right now, and I knew from a casual chat that the place didn’t get much use anyway. It was a family property and he couldn’t bear to sell it, even though he was the last in his line. It was an ideal place to bury a body.
I had started at the bank as a teller and had worked my way up through the ranks in record time, despite being a single mother. In my current position, I worked with VIP customers. Sometimes I wondered where I would be right now if I had been born into one of those privileged families. As a teenager I had dreamed of being a lawyer, and one day a judge. But as a foster child who got pregnant too young, it wasn’t meant to be. I had to grit my teeth as I watched wealthy clients hand their children the world, and the spoiled rotten brats took it for granted. I wanted the same opportunities for my son.
Jeremy had always been a quiet kid who loved nothing better than to sit and stare out the window. I had to constantly keep after him to practice the piano, do his homework, and complete the reading lists I gave him. We didn’t have a TV in the house, and I didn’t allow him to play computer games. We did crosswords and logic puzzles for fun.
All the houses in the best school zone were too expensive for me, but I had managed to wrangle a below market rental from a bank customer who had a small carriage house on his property. In exchange, I managed his personal finances. Sometimes he treated me like a secretary, but it was worth it. The schools in that zone sent more kids to Ivy League colleges than the rest of the city combined.
I had started Jeremy on SAT prep at age fourteen. I carefully arranged appropriate volunteer opportunities and rounded out his resume with debate, track, Model UN, Mathletics and student government. He was an ideal college applicant.
The proudest day of my life was when he received the acceptance letter from Harvard. It was the first step to achieving his dream of being a Supreme Court Justice one day. But he had decided to throw it all away. For this girl.
Well, I had taken care of that.
Pulling onto the hunting property, I drove to the location I had scouted the previous day. I had left a shovel to mark the spot, but there hadn’t been time yesterday to start digging.
The first layer of soil was loose and easy to turn, but the next layer was mostly clay. Despite my regular Tae-Bo classes, I was soon dripping sweat. I stripped off my shirt and hung it over a branch. Who would see out here? My hands were burning and I knew I would end up with blisters. I’d have to come up with a story to explain them, if anyone noticed.
Why hadn’t I chosen a lake to dump the body into?
Because bodies float to the surface, I reminded myself. I didn’t want this girl to ever be found.
As I jabbed the shovel into the ground and stomped to drive it deeper, I thought of all the years of eating peanut butter sandwich sack lunches at my desk so I could afford the private tutors, leadership summer camps and organic nootropics supplements. I started to dig faster.
I thought about that little vandalism incident, a minor youthful indiscretion, that went away when I arranged a low interest mortgage for the principal. Despite his awful credit and recent bankruptcy. It had taken some fancy footwork to keep that hidden.
I thought of the exorbitant loan I’d taken out to pay for Harvard. I wouldn’t be able to retire until I was eighty, and that child wasn’t even grateful.
I thought of the smarmy smile on that judge’s face when he told me exactly what I would need to do to secure an exclusive and prestigious internship for Jeremy. I wanted to deck the old letch and walk away, but the opportunity was too important to pass up. The letter from that judge might be what had gotten Jeremy accepted into Harvard.
Before I knew it, my hole was nearly four feet deep. I climbed out with some effort and trudged over to the car.
Now for the grisly part. At the parking lot, I had been running on adrenaline. I hadn’t given much thought to the reality of handling a dead human being. But I couldn’t afford to be squeamish now. It was too late for second thoughts.
I opened the trunk. The girl was twisted into an unnatural position around the empty box. I grabbed her ankles and tugged. Her jeans rode up, and I saw that the skin underneath was bare. Jeremy had told me that she had a gorgeous lotus tattoo on one of her ankles. It must have been the temporary kind. What else had she faked for his benefit? With a tug on her arms, she tumbled to the ground.
I took a moment to sip some water and inspect the inside of the trunk. It was hard to tell if there was any blood on the black liner. I would have to clean it, just in case, then get the car fully detailed.
Well, she wasn’t going to bury herself. Enough stalling.
I grabbed her ankles and pulled her, foot by foot, to the hole, then rolled her into it. She landed face first. I felt bad about that, but I wasn’t going to climb in and reposition her. At least this way I wouldn’t have to look at her face while I covered her with dirt.
I picked up the shovel and got to work. She gradually disappeared from sight, and I felt my son’s future settle back into place.
Jeremy had just graduated college this past spring. He had majored in Government, but had insisted on a secondary concentration in Romance Languages. I should have known that was trouble, but I had pictured him in a conference room in Switzerland, negotiating a contract in perfect French. He’d always had a facility for languages. Even in preschool, he’d chattered away in Creole with the Haitian aide or Spanish with the guy who worked in the kitchen. He was fluent in at least six languages now.
He told me he’d been having doubts about law school even before he met the girl, but I didn’t believe him. He said he’d been thinking about traveling the world for awhile, working as an interpreter or translator. He’d gone into the little dive bar to sit and nurse a beer while he tried to figure out how to break it to me that he was turning down Harvard Law.
They had a piano in the back, and he started to play some ragtime, which he always did when he wanted to blow off steam. The girl had been passing by, and the music drew her in. That’s how they met.
Glad those piano lessons and my insistence he practice an hour every day had paid off, I thought, flinging an extra large shovelful of dirt into the hole.
They had talked all afternoon and into the night. She was a waitress, but she’d been trying to find a job with a non-profit. She wanted to work with kids. She wanted to make a difference in the world. I felt bile rise in my throat as I thought of the way his eyes had shone as he repeated that drivel.
Their plans would intertwine perfectly, he said dreamily. They were going to find jobs with an NGO in some developing nation. It was a perfect fit for both of them. Kismet.
I threw the last shovelful of dirt onto the mound and tamped it down, a little more forcefully than necessary. Now that this girl was out of the picture, I could steer Jeremy back towards law school. He could always do some pro bono work if he wanted to “help people.”
Back at the car, I collapsed into the driver’s seat. I was shaky with fatigue. Tearing open the wrapper of a protein bar, I devoured it, then washed it down with a bottle of Kombucha. I still needed to dispose of the gun, but that could wait until tomorrow.
I needed to get home so I could shower and start dinner. Chicken Korma was Jeremy’s favorite dish, and he was going to need comfort food after his girlfriend went missing. I had left a big bowl of chicken in the refrigerator, marinating in yogurt and spices. I always used extra turmeric since it’s so good for brain function.
While getting ready to turn onto the highway, I realized my shirt was still back there hanging on a branch. I imagined driving down the highway in only my black bra, waving to truckers as they passed, and smiled. The fatigue and stress were starting to get to me.
After retrieving the shirt, I managed the drive home without incident, though I didn’t remember any of it. I wrapped the sling around the gun and tucked it out of sight under the passenger seat, then stumbled into the house.
The warm shower revived me. I scrubbed every inch of my body and shampooed my hair twice. By the time I had dressed and gone into the kitchen to begin chopping onions for the sauce, I must have caught my second wind. I felt downright giddy.
Things had gone so smoothly today, maybe I should try it again on Irv. He was never going to retire and let me move into his job gracefully. I started to giggle and couldn’t stop. I felt drunk.
I heard the front door open.
“Mom?” Jeremy called.
“In here,” I answered, wiping the tears from my eyes and struggling to compose myself.
When I turned around, all my mirth died. Jeremy was holding the hand of a bleached blonde who looked at least ten years older than him. She was wearing a short floral print dress, and I could see the elaborate lotus tattoo on her left ankle. My knees nearly gave out.
“Mom, this is Lisa,” he said, beaming.
“I’m so happy to finally meet you!” she gushed, as she moved in for a hug. I was too stunned to back away. “Jeremy has told me so much about you!”
“It’s lovely to meet you, too,” I said automatically. My voice sounded faint. I cleared my throat. “Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes. Why don’t you two go wait in the living room? You don’t want to smell like Korma all night.”
They laughed. Jeremy kissed me on the cheek, relief evident on his face. He had mistaken my shock for acceptance. He led Lisa to the next room, and I heard her exclaim over the wall of photographs of my son.
I stirred the Korma with a shaky hand and some sauce sloshed over the side of the pan and landed on my other wrist. In a daze, I turned on the tap to run water over the burn. I stood staring out the window at a Juniper tree, cold water streaming over my wrist. I couldn’t seem to move.
Who had I killed?