Warner Keyes opened his eyes. Even that simple act was an ordeal.
Darkness greeted him. Darkness and fear. He tried to move, but he could not. He felt like he had been injected with massive doses of Novocain. The blackness surrounding him was total, no little pinprick of light seeped in from anywhere.
Cowards are fated to live in purgatory every day of their lives. Like now. Like hearing the voice, but choosing to ignore it. But he knew he wouldn't be able to ignore it long. It was there alright and he heard it well enough, although it was so faint he could have said he hadn't heard it and no one would know the difference.
Ah, but he would know. And she would too. Because it was a woman's voice. He knew the woman. Still, he willed himself to not answer her. Could he even talk? He didn't know. He did know he was not going to find out anytime soon.
Elizabeth Wannamaker. Her maiden name. Nobody called her Liz, or Beth, no; she was prim, uptight, horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing Elizabeth. Not the sort of woman who had a nickname. Librarian. Tweedy suits and white blouses with an old-fashioned cameo broach to clasp the blouse together under her throat. Hair tied into a granny knot behind her neck. Her voice, like the unappealing suits she wore, sounded tweedy. Like she was talking with four or five marbles in her mouth.
"Please help me."
He hated the woman that was his wife. God, how he hated that darned woman. When he opened his mouth to tell her to just hush, nothing came out. Nothing obstructed his ability to speak except . . . What? His will? Fear?
Fear, most likely. Fear has several rungs to it; Warner Keyes found that out early on in his life. If you climbed these rungs of fear thinking that if you could get to the top your fears would be all gone, you were a fool. Warner Keyes had climbed those rungs. When he got to the top, he found judgment waiting for him. To be judged is the most terrifying thing in the world as far as Warner is concerned and he never tried to climb out of his fear again, he just allowed it to go away when it wanted to. Of course, it always came back, again, when it wanted to.
Elizabeth Wannamaker Keyes, his cold and barren wife of too many years, with severe, prudish lips with no flesh, spoke again, "My God, HELP ME!"
But what could he do? Even if he wanted to and he did . . . not . . . want . . . to. He willed her to die. She was supposed to already be dead, darn it.
Darn it. Such a prude for a murderer, can’t even say the D word even to himself. Never mind the P word or, my god in Heaven, the F word.
He could kill his wife though.
At least he could try to kill her. Couldn't even manage to get that right.
Warner was in a funk. He had had an air of funk about him since yesterday evening. It was an awful feeling, he could actually taste it, it tasted like vomit. He was having trouble breathing and he thought he was dying instead of Elizabeth.
What did the little mousey woman expect him to do for her now? He sat up with great difficulty and laid his weary head on the top of the steering wheel. The blackness of the night terrified him. There wasn't one single solitary star to act as a symbol of hope for the besieged of the world. Warner certainly believed he was a member in good standing of the honorary group, "The Besieged of the World." It seemed that forever and a day he had to fight against raising hope, because such foolish hope inevitably sank away into the morass of self-pity and loss of courage.
He had always been plagued with more than he could possibly handle from his earliest memory. His childhood was spent daydreaming and trying to keep out of the way of that woman.
His mother. That woman was how he thought of her whenever he thought of her, and he thought of her often and ill will. She was a carbon copy of Elizabeth Wannamaker Keyes, or visa versa. Does that tell everyone what Warner was about? To seek out and marry a woman the facsimile of the one person he hated in the entire world? Sure it does. Warner was a masochist. Pure and simple.
Urine. He smelled urine. Not the P word, no. Urine. Warner still recalled the taste of soap whenever his oh, so prim-and-proper mother heard a word she deemed improper. There were other punishments far worse than eating soap, but it was the soap taste which had lingered all these years. Whenever he was tempted to utter those nasty words, the taste of Lifeboy Soap became so overpowering it almost gagged him.
Warner felt between his legs. Dry. So it was Elizabeth who had succumbed to nature's call. He smiled for the first time all night, knowing that she would be disgusted by the fact that she had tinkled on herself. Even more so, probably, than the fact that she had been manhandled and raped by the two skuzzy men he hired to do just that. They spent most of the night doing to Elizabeth what he paid them to do.
True to his cowardly nature he couldn't watch the horror Elizabeth endured, but he instructed the two obese ruffians to videotape it. He would watch it later. Oh, yes, yes, indeed he would.
For once in his life Warner had taken control of something, plotted it out, hired the necessary slobs to carry out the job, and it had been done exactly at he planned it. He should be overjoyed. He wasn't. He thought he would be, but he was not. He finally understood a sad, sad fact; happiness could never be Warner Keyes.
"I think I'm dying!!!"
Oh my, my, Warner thought, even the anticipation of the soon-to-be-death of Elizabeth is foiled because of his protracted, imaginary a walk along the graveyard of expired dreams.
"Please help me."
"Shut up you hateful old woman, just hush your hole."
Silence. Blessed silence. No, it wasn't blessed. The silence was worse than her words. Much worse. Warner recoiled within. Elizabeth was acting submissive. Was submissive, and that should have been a huge turn-on for him, but Warner had been a henpecked and beaten-down man for way too long to really believe that he had the upper hand.
Although his wife of thirty-odd years lay, in the cramped confines of the Buick's trunk, after being beaten and subjected to every sexual perversion the two manatees (Elizabeth hated overweight people, that's why he settled on the two slobs) could come up with and he had a feeling they were ingenuous when it came to that, the more base element of human nature.
"I can't breathe."
He refused to answer her, and the funk which slid off his soul was as palpable as underarm odor. Her words had the same effect as if someone had dashed acid into his eyes. Love. The woman probably didn't know how to spell it, much less experience it. Warner leaned to the side, lifted his left buttock from the seat and passed wind. There's your answer, you chill queen, why don't you DIE?
Warner did not know what to do. In his plan, which was brilliant up to now, Elizabeth was supposed to be quite dead by the time the two buffoons finished with her and stuck her into the trunk of his Buick, then put the keys he had given them back in the ignition. But she wasn't dead, was she? He was sweating like a politician caught telling the truth and his thoughts were awash in leftover second-guessing, emotional soup.
"You are supposed to already be dead!"
His verbal outburst shattered the calm of the night. It also shattered whatever composure he might have deluded himself into believing he had. "Elizabeth, you are supposed to be dead! Die, oh, please die."
He expected her to . . . He didn't know what he expected from her. He heard a sharp intake of breath and for the longest time the only sound he could hear was his own labored, heavy breathing. Finally, when she spoke it was like hearing her for the very first time. Her voice, something was different, something was very wrong.
"Mr. Keyes, is that you?"
This time he knew it was he that was urinating because of the warm wetness gathering between his legs. His tongue became swollen, filling his mouth, making it impossible to speak, even had he wanted to, and he certainly did not. His body seized up like a world-class charley-horse which covered him from the soles of his feet to the hairs on top of his head. The passageway of his throat refused him breath and his eyes felt ready to leave their sockets. Warner Keyes was in a complete, physical lock-down.
But his brain was working feverishly. Trying to comprehend. Trying to compute. Trying to . . . It was like his brain was flooded with searchlight, looking into every nook and corner but the object of the search remained hidden and unnamed. A gushing of bile surged through his nose, tasting of fear absolute.
Although Warner has lived his whole life as though he were deep inside a self-imposed dungeon, allowing those he came in contact with to do with him as they would, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he had broken at least one of the chains that kept him locked to his wall of virtual, masochistic, blood-letting. With sheer determination he had not know he possessed, Warner had broken at least one of those shackles which bound him to his wall of shame. Elizabeth. The killing of Elizabeth was to be his first step toward self-fulfillment at the ripe age fifty-one. And all because of . . . No, he must not even think the name, the name of the one that indirectly gave him the courage to break that first link that would set him free to . . . No, no, don't go there. Ever. He mustn't even think that.
"Mr. Keyes? Is that you? They told me what you did, Mr. Keyes. MR. KEYES! Is that you? They said you paid them to beat and rape your wife and they said it was because of me, Mr. Keyes. Mr. Keyes, why would you do that? But your wife paid them enough money to leave her alone and come for me. Oh, Mr. Keyes, it was just awful. Please let me out of here, it is so dark and I am hurt real bad, I think I am dying. Please help me, Mr. Keyes, because . . ."
But Warner could no longer hear Vickie. And it was Vickie locked in the trunk of his Buick and not Elizabeth. Sweet Vickie, his secretary and secret love of his life. Vickie, who he secretly loved more than life itself. So much so that he concocted this elaborate plan to do away with his wife and take Vickie . . . There is where his plan dissolved like so many of his plans during his miserable existence. Vickie was unaware of his love for her, but he hoped to make her understand and . . .
"I'm bleeding bad and I'm having trouble staying awake, I think I'm dying, Mr. Keyes help me, please . . ."
He turned on the radio, put the volume up as loud as it would go and as he drove off the cliff a preacher from Del Rio, Texas was screaming about hell fire and damnation.