Marcus made Paul and Minnie walk ahead of him through the series of rooms that led to the front entryway. As they they began to climb the stairs, Paul strained to discern any hint of movement from above. There was nothing except for the sound of rain falling outside—the storm had returned with a vengeance. When they reached the landing, thunder boomed overhead. The crystalline chandelier flickered but did not go out.
“Maybe we should get some candles,” Minnie suggested.
Marcus interrupted. “Fuck that. Where's your wife?”
Paul indicated with a nod. “The room at the far end.”
He led the way down the hall, aware of Minnie’s breath at his neck and Marcus’s gun at his back. He would have only one instant in which to act. Paul tried to prepare himself. There would be no second chance. Taking a deep breath, he turned the handle and eased open the double doors.
The bedroom lights were off. A faint glow from the outdoor security lights shone through the high arched windows, making crisscross patterns on the hardwood floor. The master bedroom encompassed a vast amount of square footage and the furniture was equally outsized. Various shapes hulked in the dimness, including a king-sized bed.
“Honey?” Paul whispered. “It’s okay. Don’t be scared.”
“Get the lights, Paul,” Marcus growled.
Paul did as he was told. The lights were controlled with a dimmer switch. He made sure the setting was on low. “Christine,” he murmured. “We have guests.”
As the lights came on, a blonde woman could be seen lying face down on the bed. She was not sleeping. Her body lay askew on top of the covers, as if she had fallen there and had been too exhausted to get up again. The pale satin coverlet beneath her was soaked with blood. Marcus realized what was happening an instant too late.
“No fucking way—” he yelled.
Paul was right behind him with the .22. The little Beretta jumped in his hand like a small animal as he fired. Marcus staggered but did not fall. Somewhere behind him, Minnie screamed. As Marcus struggled to bring his own weapon into firing position, Paul pumped two more rounds into him—aiming directly for the big man’s gut. Marcus howled, the sound a terrifying combination of pain and rage. Paul fired again. With a final agonized groan, big man collapsed onto his back, an ugly black hole near his right temple.
Paul stood over his enemy, panting. When he looked at his gun hand, he saw it was steady. He felt detached from the hand, as if the Beretta had fired of its own accord. He was dimly aware that Minnie was still in the doorway. She seemed paralyzed with fear. Paul did not have time to console her now.
There was much to do before he called the police.
He gave the body a nudge with his shoe. No response. Kneeling down, Paul eased the Ruger out of the big man’s hand, putting the smaller Beretta in its place. With some difficulty, he pressed Marcus’ outsized fingers around the grip and trigger. The Ruger he placed on the bedside table, next to a box of tissues and an antique clock.
Next Paul surveyed the room. He was going to have to mess things up a bit. He wanted it to look like there had been a struggle. With Minnie’s frightened gaze on him, Paul moved to the dresser that he had shared with Christine. The matching table lamps at either end were exquisite and had cost a small fortune. Hefting one of the lamps above his head, Paul dashed it to the floor at Marcus’ feet, where it exploded into crystallized fragments. He grabbed the other lamp and hurled it against an antique armoire, shattering both the lamp and the mirrored door of the wardrobe on impact.
“See what you made me do!” Paul screamed at his wife’s corpse. He was in a frenzy now, hair matted against his scalp with sweat. With true fury, he attacked Christine’s vast collection of perfume bottles. He swept them onto the floor where they glittered like gems and stamped on the ones that refused to break, filling the room with a flowery mixture of scents that was almost nauseating.
“Paul! That’s enough!”
Paul looked up to see Minnie standing in the middle of the room. She had picked up the Beretta and was pointing it at him.
“Minnie, what are you doing?” Paul gasped. He took a few cautious steps in her direction. “Just give me the gun, okay? I won’t hurt you.”
Minnie cast a frightened look at the dead woman on the bed. “What happened to your wife, Paul?”
He struggled to explain. “Nine years of committed togetherness was too fucking much, okay? You have no idea. Christine kept me around just to torture me. Her father made me sign a prenup so I wouldn’t get a penny in a divorce. They were a like tag-team—I couldn’t win. That sucks, right?”
“She sounds like a bitch,” Minnie agreed, but the gun did not waver.
“Anyway, I had an affair. Found a woman who could appreciate me, you know?” He gave Minnie a hopeful look. He’d saved her ass earlier tonight. She had tried to seduce him in his own kitchen, for Christ's sake. But now she was watching him stone-faced. “When Christine found out, she was furious.” Paul glanced at the corpse, as if expecting his wife to rise from the dead and start yelling at him. “Told me I was no good. Then she accused me of embezzling from her father’s stores.”
“Hey, all I did was take what was coming to me. I worked my butt off in those stores and her father only paid me a couple bucks above minimum wage.” Paul gritted his teeth. “I promised Christine that I would make it good. But she refused to give me a chance. She couldn’t wait to tell her father.”
“So you killed her.”
“We argued. Things got out of hand.” Paul shrugged. “I shot her.”
Minnie shifted her position slightly, as if her feet hurt. Paul wondered if she was getting tired. If he could distract her, she might let down her guard—then he could go for the gun. Paul kept talking, fast. He really was a great salesman, even if his lousy father-in-law had been too cheap to admit it.
“After Christine was dead, I drove out to the corporate office in Palm Springs. I wanted to check the books, make sure she hadn’t taken them with her. I was on my way home again when I came across you and your boyfriend on the highway.” Paul glanced down at Marcus, sprawled in a puddle of his own blood, and thought how much easier people were to deal with once they were dead.
Minnie looked confused. “But how were you going to explain your wife’s murder to the police?”
“That was the easy part. I left the alarm system off and a window open in the study. I wanted it to look like an intruder killed her.” He beamed at Marcus’ corpse. “And there he is!”
Minnie nodded as understanding dawned.
“So here’s the story, and it’s pretty simple.” Paul was unable to keep the satisfaction out of his voice. “Marcus killed Christine. Then I killed Marcus. Case closed.” When he saw the expression on Minnie’s face he hastened to add, “I guess he was your boyfriend and I’m sorry. But it was self-defense, right?”
“Sure, Paul. But now we’ve got some business to take care of.”