This story is by Alexa Schmitz and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Where the hell does he keep the key?” I thought out loud as I rummaged through Brian’s desk drawer. I was careful to close the door quietly behind me when I entered his office, after dodging a wary “Good morning, Mrs. Tomlinson” from the scruffy doorman, and a tense “Nice to see you, ma’am” from Brian’s secretary when I passed her cubicle, cluttered with photos of her grade-school-aged grandchildren. Disheveled looking kids, honestly. She told me all their names at last year’s company Christmas party, but I wasn’t paying attention.
Not a single key in the desk drawer. Damn. Rage and panic took over as I slammed it shut, causing a plethora of knick knacks to topple over on Brian’s desk with a loud thud. “Shit,” I murmured. “Does the bastard really need all this junk on his desk?” My nervous hands rushed to return things to their proper order; a heinous “B” shaped paperweight gifted to him by his too-proud mother, a name plate that read B. TOMLINSON: ATTORNEY AT LAW, a heavy duty stapler, and a messy stack of take-out menus from restaurants throughout Boston.
I stopped packing Brian’s lunch weeks ago.
The last of the fallen items I replaced was a black-and-white print of our wedding photo that I fixed in a gorgeous gold-plated frame. Perhaps Brian was right when he accepted the gift with a sheepish smile, suggesting that the frame was a bit large to sit on his desk in his brand new corner office when he was newly appointed head attorney of the firm. I shot him a piercing look from across our kitchen table that night, and the framed photo has dutifully rested on his desk ever since.
It’s true. There was a time when I was happy with Brian. But he’s become too curious, too intrusive, too bold with his questioning of me. My finger traced the edges of the golden frame, glistening in the sun that shone through the ninth-floor window behind me. Memories of our honeymoon to Bora Bora blurred my vision; the two of us sipping prosecco beneath a tropical sunset. However, my nostalgia quickly reverted to animosity as I remembered my purpose. I quickly checked the time on my phone, and slid it back in my pocket. 1:09. “I have less than one hour to find this key,” I said with a huff, forcing myself to come to terms with the situation. Less than an hour until Brian returned from his lunch break.
In the beginning, life with Brian was nothing like my first marriage. Brian was my blessing in disguise after I had unexpectedly become a widow at age 28, having bared no children, and left with a mountain of debt. Images of Seth, my first husband, flooded my mind as I thumbed through Brian’s filing cabinet, hoping to find the key taped to a client’s folder, perhaps. Visualizing Seth’s lifeless body in that pool of red is something I have tried to avoid since the incident, but the picture haunts me daily.
When absurd accusations started molding me as a suspect rather than a victim in the whole Seth ordeal, I obviously sought out legal assistance. Enter Brian – my knight in shining armour. I no longer had to lie about the cause of bruises on my arms, bags under my eyes, and why neighbors woke at night due to screams coming from our house. People always want to blame the wife. They were wrong. Seth died because of his own heartless doings.
But no, Brian never laid a hand on me. I only wished that now, he would keep his questions to himself. Why can’t he just be happy with how things are? Focus on our future? Dwelling on the past never does any good. I ran my own hands in between client files, hopefully feeling for a key. No luck. I moved from the filing cabinet to the mahogany bookcase in the front corner of the office, to the left of the door.
Collections of books lined the shelves. Brian was an avid reader. Staring down the spines of law journals, LSAT prep materials, and decade-old case studies, I silently gave thanks for Brian’s dedication to his work. It created freedom for me many a night. While Brian would curl up in his leather recliner in our living room with his nose between pages, I would escape into the city of Boston. No one can blame a grown woman for needing some alone time, can they?
I decided to start at the bottom shelf of the bookcase and work my way up. “Have to make this quick,” I reasoned with myself. From left to right, I began pulling out each book from the shelf; flipping through its pages, holding it upside down by its spine and shaking its contents, praying that a tiny silver key would slip out and onto the floor. I reached for a bulky legal terminology hardcover. As I pulled it off the shelf, an envelope fell to the floor. Kneeling down, I read the return address. “O’Neill Investigations: Private Investigator”. My stomach dropped. I felt my cheeks becoming warmer. Has Brian’s curiosity really gotten this severe?
A vibration coming from my right jeans pocket almost made me jump. Coming out of my trance, I stood upright and pulled my phone from my pocket. It was only junk email hitting my inbox, but I took notice that the time was already 1:34. There was no time to consider the envelope any further – I had to pick up the pace. I shoved the envelope in between two books and moved on.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. I peered behind the bookcase to find about three inches between the back of the mahogany furniture and the gray wall of the office. Sliding my left hand between the wall and bookcase, I started to feel around.
Bingo. “The idiot really taped the key to the back of his bookcase? I could’ve done better than that,” I sneered, relishing in my own triumph. “Well played, babe.” I rolled my eyes with a chuckle.
In the midst of my mental celebration, I heard the knob of the office door turn. I froze, my left hand still wedged between the wall and the bookcase. I am typically talented when it comes to the art of bullshit, but what excuse could I possibly use if Brian caught me like this?
The door opened. But instead of my husband walking in, a tall woman with an unkept blonde bob came wobbling into the room. She had lines in her face; a weathered look. A “mature” look, if being polite. It was Brian’s secretary. What was her name again? My mouth opened, but no sound emerged.
“Mrs. Tomlinson, I’m so sorry to bother you,” she interrupted my silence, “but there is someone here to speak with you.” She looked confused, as if curious as to why someone was visiting my husband’s office to speak with me. I had shown up unannounced, as usual. In fact, I too was confused.
“Sure, send them in,” I directed, nonchalantly sliding my hand out from its hiding place and slipping the key into my left pocket in one swift motion. The secretary exited the office, moving noticeably faster than she did on her way in.
Peering around the bookcase, I heard muffled voices and the scuffing of leather shoes on the tile floor making their way toward me. Two police officers entered, followed by Brian.
“Hi, honey,” Brian said sarcastically, practically looking through me. His eyes shifted to the police officers. “Search her.”
The two men, each double my size, started patting me down with their monstrous hands. “Excuse me!” I shrieked, contemplating whether or not to cooperate. “What’s all this? Brian, I was just around the corner at the salon and thought I’d come by to meet you for lunch-”
“Is this what you’re looking for?” the one officer asked Brian as he pulled the silver key out of my pocket. I felt my cheeks turn a crimson red with fear and panic. This was all happening so fast, and I couldn’t stop it.
“That’s it,” Brian confirmed. “That’s the key to my safe.”
“And that’s where you found the weapon, I assume?” the officer replied.
“Mrs. Tomlinson,” the officer began, “you are under arrest for the murder of Mr. Seth Taggart. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”
My head was spinning. I opened my mouth to say something to Brian, but my throat was dry and tongue was heavy. I felt as if I was falling; completely free falling, flailing my arms and trying to grab hold of reality, but my reality no longer existed.
“Honey,” Brian looked right into my eyes this time. “The next time you kill your husband, don’t hide the weapon in your next man’s safe.”