A fly knocked twice against the florescent tubes of a cheap desk lamp and then landed on a green blotter decorated with an abstract pattern of rings from the bottoms of countless coffee mugs.
The swatter came in quick from the east and the fly joined the collection of stains, dead center in a circle of brown. The sheriff flicked the flattened body with the edge of the swatter and the carcass flew its last flight down to the linoleum.
The sheriff turned back to Lyle, the subject at hand. He heaved out a sigh as he took a moment to remember where he was in the conversation, and the sight of Lyle’s hung low expression made a man want to sigh. “She learned from the best.”
The sheriff perched on the edge of his battleship grey desk looking down on Lyle’s widening bald spot tilted toward him. Poor guy didn’t know he was married to a killer.
“And you’ve got evidence you say?”
“Lock stock and barrel. Son, she’s the real deal. Notorious is the word.”
Lyle couldn’t shake the wrinkles off his forehead. It was all too much. Not her. Not Doll. Cut a man’s throat you say? Did it for money you say? Traveled the world on a frequent murderer’s card?
His stomach flipped once and the sheriff saw the color go from Lyle’s face. With one tip of his snakeskin boot the sheriff nudged the trash can a foot closer to Lyle’s chair just in case.
“You said she...learned...?”
“From her Daddy. He was one bad mamma jamma. One of them old school contract killer types. CIA trained but then they spit him out into the real world with a hell of a set of job skills. He went with what he knew. Paid like the devil too.”
Doll had always said her Father died the year before she met Lyle. He’d left her a sizable inheritance and control of his business importing goods for use in making computer chips.
What the fuck, importing? Was he born yesterday? Lyle punched himself in the knee for being so stupid.
His eyes traced over a stack of file folders on the sheriff’s desk. Information about his wife. The collected crimes of a famous hit man...woman. Hit lady. Shit.
“Is that all about her?”
The sheriff turned and looked at the pile on his desk. He smiled.
“Shit, no. That’s just backed up bullshit from this stupid town. No, the feds came in and took everything I had on her which was diddly shit. They had a file all stored up on one of them iPads. Color pictures. Maps. I saw it over the one guy’s shoulder. They must have had ten – fifteen years worth of stuff in that file. All lookin’ for her.”
“And I found her,” said Lyle. His wrinkled had smoothed in to a slack mask. A face novocain-numb from the shock.
“Do I get to see her?”
“That’s why I come here. To take you to her if you want to go.”
Lyle sat still and thought. He spotted the fly on the ground, two wings and a thorax half squeezed of its fly guts. A lump waiting to get caught beneath someone’s shoe.
“Guess I should,” he said.
Why would you question it? You meet a girl, you hit it off, she’s pretty but not out of your league, she finds the fact that you’re smart a plus, you date, she’s vague about her past but she tells you it’s because she is trying to let the past go and start over. Her Dad just died. You’re just the thing to help her begin a new life.
You get married. All is bliss. She’s got a great job. She travels a lot and sometimes takes you with her, when you’re duties at the University allow.
Even the most cynical husband in the world would never sit and muse, while holding her naked shoulders in the evening after making love: y’know maybe when she goes to work she is actually slitting people’s throats for money.
Who thinks that way? Not Lyle.
The case that did her in was local. Local-ish. A short train ride up from Princeton and she was in Manhattan; not an unusual trip in the least. This trip took her down to little Italy. It led her to a small restaurant. Her wig was set, her makeup thick, her shoes sensible. The only stilettos for Doll were in her hands.
She saw her target, ducked inside the front door as he was exiting, slit his throat with a swift, practiced swoop of the arm.
There is always the unknown, which kind of makes it known if you know there is going to be an unknown. Lyle couldn’t understand the first layer of this mess. Even as the sheriff retold it like it was a movie he’d seen over the weekend. One he was recommending Lyle simply had to go see.
The unknown in this case came in the form of an over-eager busboy who slammed his round black drink tray into Doll from behind. It wasn’t enough to hurt her but it stopped her retreat. She pumped an elbow back into the busboy’s gut. He whuffed out air.
She turned on him, shot out a hand and spread her fingers, catching the boy on the Adam’s apple with the crescent moon spot between her thumb and forefinger. He fell back sucking for air he was sure would never come but she knew would return in about thirty-seconds.
Why not knife him? Simple. You don’t do freebies. You do one for free and the next job starts talking discount.
The extra time left a red slick of blood on the off-white tile floor and Doll’s first step became an ice-rink slide. She thrust out a hand to steady herself, caught her balance on the inside window, just below the painted-on-glass depiction of Mount Vesuvius, and unwittingly left a fingerprint found by some junior CSI team member who outdid the busboy in the over-eagerness department.
Dots were connected. Aliases were exposed. An arrest was made.
“Shall we?” asked the sheriff.
Lyle stood, his legs questioning whether that was a good idea the same way legs do if they’ve been seated at a bar for two hours waiting patiently while one whiskey turned into five.
He stepped open his legs wide to give a broad base on which to balance. His left foot found the fly and further crushed the tiny lump.
The sheriff walked down the hall with more swagger than a New Jersey man has a right too. Passing through the bull pen Lyle shrank at the rise in volume and the buzz of FBI agents and US Marshals all come to claim their tiny piece of the arrest of Dolly Dagger.
“Gonna have to get her out the back way what with all this attention.”
“You mean the press? The news is here?”
“Yep. Or will be. ‘S okay though. We can just take her out direct from the cell block right up to the courthouse. Never has to see any of that scum.”
Jail. Courthouse. Scum. These were not words in Lyle’s vocabulary.
The men wore the telltale dark suits of a government worker, the women all wore tightly controlled hair. The flair for individuality was left to the criminals they tracked. The closest Lyle had ever been to an FBI agent was the occasional Jersey Shore vacationer sporting a Female Body Inspector t-shirt.
For all their profiles and power point presentations on the litany of assassinations she was alleged to have committed, Lyle felt they didn’t know her at all. Not like he did.
The row of cells was quiet. Two floors down and the broken radio blather of the feds couldn’t be heard. It was cool. Concrete floors and walls, iron bars.
The sheriff pursed his lips at Lyle. He knew the young man must be thinking a million things at once. The sheriff raised his arm in the general direction of the row of six cells. Five empty and then her. From that point, Lyle would have to walk alone.
His blazer rustled and his loafers slapped the concrete. No matter how quiet he tried to be, some echo shouted out of him. The change in his pocket hammered with each step, his car keys ground metal on metal sounds, the thinning hair on his head howled in the wind he made as he crept closer to the final cell.
Doll was waiting for him, sitting up on her cot.
“Doll?” His eyes were unexpectedly wet. She rose and came to comfort him the way a good wife would.
“Honey...” She stroked his hair through the bars.
“I just can’t believe...”
“I’m not going to lie to you. There’s no point to that.”
“So it’s...you’re really...?”
Doll nodded. She dared a quick glance down the hall. Seeing Lyle was alone she dropped to a whisper.
“Lyle honey, there’s money. A lot of it. I want you to have it.”
Lyle’s confusion doubled. Doll unfolded his right hand. “Give me a pen.”
Instead he gave her a blank look. She dared not say it out loud again but insisted with her eyes and an impatient waving of her fingers like she was asking for a check in a noisy restaurant. Lyle reached into his blazer pocket and removed a ball point pen.
Sweet Lyle. Sweet, lovable, nerdy Lyle. Her calculous professor hero. Always with a pen at the ready or the answer, down to the penny, for what made out an eighteen percent tip.
She started writing out bank accounts. Long sixteen digit numbers she knew by heart. “It’s the least I can do after what I’ve put you through, honey.” His brain spun. Money? What’s that? How do I use it? “It’s over two million Lyle. It’s all yours.”
She folded his hand back into a fist now inked with cribbed answers to a very important quiz.
They stood and talked for fifteen more minutes. She was calm, reassuring. He was mostly silent and when he did speak it was in half sentences, unfinished thoughts.
When the sheriff put a hand on his shoulder Lyle was startled, unaware that the man had approached and impressed he managed to keep those boots quiet on the reverberant floor.
“It’s time girly. Feds want you in a tighter lockup. Time to move on up to the big leagues.”
Doll smiled, her most killer weapon. “But, I kinda like it here. It’s homey.”
“Ain’t it though? You ought to see it when it’s full up with drunks.” The sheriff laughed a bit. Anyone who commits a crime and gets away with it for that long, he had a silent respect for. Still thinks she ought to get the chair, but he’ll tip his hat on her way to it. “Naw, it’s my duty to remand you to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Turn around if you don’t mind.”
He lifted the handcuffs off his belt. The grin still on her face, she turned and held her hands behind her back. The sheriff reached through the bars and gently ratcheted the cuffs down on her wrists.
Lyle’s chest sagged heavy.
The cell door swung open and Lyle felt her move the air as she stepped past him, maybe for the last time. Doll winked as she slid by.
“Best say your goodbyes now,” said the sheriff.
“We already did,” said Doll. She kissed her left palm, the same hand of his that she wrote on, and blew it to him. He let it sail wide over his head, too dumbfounded to catch it. Doll was happy about it. It’d be just like Lyle to reach for that kiss and open up his hand for the sheriff to see all those pretty blue numbers written there.
They walked down the rows of empty cells, Lyle thinking how they had most likely cleared out any other petty criminals staying there to make way for the one and only Dolly Dagger. For the first time he felt a small swell of pride for his wife.
It was quickly cut short when he saw movement.
Doll shrugged her shoulders, dropping down the pen from her sleeve where she had shoved it. Her thumb popped the cap like the pin on a hand grenade and her cuffed hands went up with the point of the pen doing a Woody Woodpecker on the sheriff’s thick neck three times.
With the wisdom of experience Doll stepped back two paces, avoiding the spray of blood. Lyle was directly in its path. It reminded him of when his brother used to trick him as a child; holding a kink in the hose until Lyle would be fool enough to look down into it only to have the hose unkinked and a cascade of spray hit him in the face.
Only this time the spray was warm.
One hand of Doll’s held tight to the sheriff’s gun hand, keeping him from reaching his only defense. The sheriff was already weak and going down. She kept her hand on his all the way to the floor. Quickly she was on him and releasing the keys from his belt, undoing her handcuffs and standing with his service revolver in hand.
She turned to Lyle.
“Daddy would say to kill you. No witness. That was a big rule of his.”
Lyle was speechless. Doll hadn’t raised the gun.
“I’m not going to,” she said. She took a step to turn, headed for the back exit. Lyle had no doubt she could make it out unseen. She turned back to him. “I hope you understand there won’t be any money left in those accounts.”
He held up his hand, opened his palm. The numbers were a sweaty swirl of blue like a Van Gogh night sky.
Doll smiled. He smiled back. She turned and ran.
Lyle held the smile after she was gone. A smell he did not recognize crept up from the floor. Fresh blood by the pint was pouring out of the sheriff.
The small glint of pride was back.
That’s my wife, Lyle thought.
Eric Beetner is the co-author (along with JB Kohl) of the crime novel One Too Many Blows To The Head as well as short stories featured in Thuglit, Needle magazine, Crimefactory, A Twist of Noir, Pulp Pusher and the print anthologies Murder In The Wind and the upcoming Harbinger *33. More stories and info at ericbeetner.blogspot.com