This story is by Melanie Daniels and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jake gripped the arms of his chair, grounding himself in reality. He had lost all sense of time. Four concrete walls were creeping in tighter. The slender frowning detective sitting across from him seemed unaware of the pressing matter.
Jake strummed his fingers against the arm of his chair, an attempt to distract himself from the anxiety burning in his chest. In the one-way mirror, he watched himself from across the room as he wiped sweat from his brow.
Just earlier, a hot shower had poured onto his face. He dissolved into the memory as he recalled reaching out of the stream of water for his phone buzzing on the back of the toilet. He saw an anonymous video message appear.
Curious, Jake pressed play. A woman’s dainty hand came into focus. She gripped the stem of a full wine glass, swirling it with her hand’s only three fingers and thumb. The red contents spilled over the edges, dripping down the glass meeting her long, freshly painted nails. Her face stayed hidden.
When the message almost finished, an off-tune humming came from the mysterious lady. It was a familiar song, and just on the tip of Jake’s tongue when he heard a distant brooding knock come from his front door. The same knock that had brought him to the interrogation room.
Detective Kalvin leaned over the table, demanding Jake’s full attention.
“Answer the question, Jake.”
“I’m sorry. What was the question again?” Jake asked nervously.
“Do you know who this woman is?” Detective Kalvin tapped the photo that faced Jake.
He studied the photo of the young female. Her golden hair tied back and a smirk that made her eyes squint, “Only faintly familiar.”
“What about her, Elise Finn?” Detective Kalvin questioned, pulling another photo from a file folder harbored in a satchel beside him. It was of a woman with full lips and a pinched nose.
“She’s the mother of three who owns the ice cream parlor?” Jake raised his eyebrows, waiting for the confirmation. The detective nodded.
“And does Marissa Townsen ring a bell?” The detective inquired, drawing his mouth into a thin line while pointing at the first photograph. “She works at Rodney’s dinner. There have been reports of you going there frequently.”
“That’s where I know her.” Jake shook his finger in a moment of realization, “Astrid and I love Rodney’s.”
“Can you recall the last time you’ve seen these ladies?” Detective Kalvin pushed the photos closer.
“That Marissa one.” Jake searched his memories. “Not since the start of the month.”
Jake thought back to when he finished the last mouthful of dark roast coffee. He was admiring how Astrid’s curls were brown in low light, but bronze in the morning sun that pushed its way through the blinds, casting a glow in the cozy diner. An instrumental of the song, The Heart Would Rather, came from the jukebox across the room.
“One bill or two?” The waitress jutted her hip out, swinging her ponytail with every word she spoke.
Astrid sunk into the booth, light vanishing from her hair as she backed into the shadow.
“That’ll be.” Jake looked to her chest where her name tag clung, “One bill, Marissa.” He pulled his attention back upwards.
“Sure thing, brown eyes.” She clicked her pen, pointing it towards him before turning on her heel. Jake turned his attention back to his wife. If looks alone could kill.
“How about an Elise Finn?” The detective pried pulling Jake out if his memories.
“It was a few weeks ago. Astrid wanted moon-mist ice cream.” Jake answered, returning to the cold quiet of the ice cream parlor.
“I have a new flavor for you to try. I know Astrid’s stuck in her ways…” she nodded towards Astrid who browsed the crafts at the front of the shop, “But you may like it, it’s called blood orange.”
“Can I sample it first?” Jake asked tapping his fingers on the counter along with the song that played from Elise’s radio, The Heart Would Rather.
“Oh, you know I don’t mind.” She passed him a heaping spoonful.
Jake took a small bite and winced.
“This tastes nothing like blood orange.” He spat into a napkin. “More like just blood. Here, you tell me this taste like blood orange.”
Jake held the remaining spoonful over the display. Elise mimicked licking over what remained. “Mm-mm blood.”
Jake froze as he felt Astrid’s eyes burning into the back of him. From the look Elise Finn had across her face, it scared him to turn around and face his wife.
“Elise Finn is missing.” The detective was watching Jake’s fidgeting. “So is Marissa Townsen.”
“They’re missing?” Jake contorted his eyebrows confused as he came back to the moment. Sweat replenishing on his brow, the walls were now breathing down his neck.
“They’re not the only two. There’s a handful of missing women cases in the last couple of months.” Kalvin replied pulling out the entire folder and slamming it on the table between them.
“Look, detective, this is terrible. I wish I could be more help. But those two girls, I’ve only seen here and there.” Jake shook his head with disbelief.
“The most recent victim is why we brought you here for questioning.” Detective Kalvin reached over the table to open the file.
Jake jumped from his seat, the chair tumbling to its side, his throat constricted and his knees trembled. Trying to stabilize himself he grabbed the edge of the table resisting the urge to faint. He couldn’t take his eyes off the open file, or the smiling face that was his wife.
“Astrid? What do you mean missing?” Jake gasped for air.
“You tell me.” Detective Kalvin crossed his arms.
“I saw her this morning, getting ready for work…” Jake paced what little space he had left in the room.
“Jake. She hasn’t been to work all week.” Kalvin said flatly.
“What?” Jake stopped on the spot.
“Then where has she been going?”
“We’re hoping you have the answer to that,” Detective Kalvin replied, taking a big inhale before adding, “and also to why you had emptied and closed your bank accounts last night.”
“What do you mean I had emptied and closed my accounts?” The vomit now was climbing its way to light. A small heave escaped as he clasped his hands over his mouth.
“Maybe you have something to run from?” The detective wondered, the shock smacking Jake in the face. “The neighbors have reported yelling from your house and yard for the last few weeks.”
Jake shook his head between his hands. “We’re married, we fight. She gets these jealous spells. Heck, we’ve even fought about those two women you showed me today.”
After a long spell of silence, the detective slowly added, “We had a warrant to investigate your property. That’s why we had you waiting here so long… We’ve also been confirming DNA.”
“My DNA is all over that place. That’s my home.” Jake shouted with frustration.
“No. The DNA of the missing women.” The detective looked down at the photographs. “We found preserve jars…” The detective hesitated.
Jake tilted his head, baffled.
“We found a trapdoor in your garden shed, leading us to a crawl space.” The detective continued, “There were multiple preserve jars there… containing body parts.”
Jake fell to his knees, the color escaping his face.
“The DNA matched the missing women. Eyes to Marissa Townsen. A tongue to Elise Finn, and the ring finger.” The detective paused, turning pale. “Her wedding band was still on Jake.” The detective squeezed his eyes tight.
“No.” Jake choked on his words. “No, no! This can’t be.” Tears stinging his eyes.
“The soil in the crawl space appeared disrupted, so we started to dig. Jake, we found the bodies, all of them but one.” The detective swallowed hard shaking his head.
“I’m being set up!” He sobbed into his hands. “I’ve never even gone down into the crawlspace. I’m too claustrophobic to even go in. Astrid was the only one of us ever to go down there.”
“Where is your wife buried, Jake? Where is the rest of her body?” The detective stood up, slamming his balled up fist onto the table.
Jake buried his face into his hands openly sobbing.
Detective Kalvin walked around to Jake’s side of the table, grabbing one of his wrists at a time, “Jake Norbed. You are under arrest for the murders of, Astrid Norbed, Marissa Townsen, Elise…”
Jake’s ears rang as the detective’s voice grew more distant, as the walls finished closing in all the way when it finally clicked. The song from the message was one that Astrid always had stuck in her head, The Heart Would Rather. “Astrid did it! She’s alive. She sent me a message this morning. She set me up.” Jake cried as the walls swallowed him alive.