Small Cuts (15) Oliver

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Back to Oliver:

Elaine’s hesitation spoke volumes. Still, I had to know. “Lainey, say something.”

She nodded, took a deep breath and… at the very same moment both our phones started to ring. “Don’t answer it,” I said, as she pulled hers from her purse. “If it’s important they’ll leave a message.”

She frowned at the screen and I knew what she thinking. She wanted to answer it, if only to delay a few minutes more. And a delay could only mean one thing: my feelings weren’t returned. The phone stopped ringing and she tucked it back into her bag. I waited. She stared at the ground.

Rubbing my hands over my face, I said, “Just tell me, Elaine. I need you to say it. And we’ll move on. We can pretend I never said a thing…”

The phones which had gone silent both began ringing again. This time Elaine answered. With a muttered curse, I pulled mine out of my pocket and looked at it. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but it was local. Whoever it was had left a voice mail the first time. “Hello,” I said, my frustration bordering on anger.

The caller confirmed my name, told me his, said he was with the Philadelphia Police Department. “Police?” I repeated, my nerves jangling the way they do when you’ve been caught at something. “Is there a problem?”

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”

I was about to ask what kind of accident, when Elaine made a noise —something between a gasp and a shriek. When I glanced over, she looked like she was about to collapse. I reached out a hand to steady her, but she was shaking so badly, I pulled her close. The officer had continued speaking, and I had only caught words and phrases as I tried to comfort Elaine. “…very serious condition …unconscious … lost a lot of blood …Jefferson Hospital ER…”

Accident. Serious. Unconscious. Blood. Hospital. Hospital…

“Sir? Sir?”

I shook my head to clear it. “Yes, I’m sorry. What? Who?”

“Your wife, sir. Genevieve _____.” He paused. “Can you drive? Or can you call a friend to bring you down to the hospital?”

Genevieve. I felt like the temperature dropped by about forty degrees. I said, “I’m in the city. I’ll get a cab. Jefferson, you said?” He said yes. I said, “I’ll be right there.” I disconnected and held a weeping Elaine by her shoulders. “Elaine. I have to go. Gen’s been in a serious accident.” She gave a little cry and covered her mouth. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“James.” She choked through her tears. “James.”

“What about James? Elaine, I need you to pull yourself together.” That sounded harsh, but I didn’t have time to waste. I tried to be gentle, when I added, “Come on, now, honey, I have to go.“

“He’s been in a crash… here in the city. He’s here in the city. Oliver.” She kept repeating herself over and over. “In the city. In the city.” I gave her a little shake to get her attention.

“Was that him on the phone?” Had he he followed her? Or maybe me after I drove past the house? And he knew. He knew what was going on. My mind whirled. We could deal with it. Make an excuse. Elaine and I getting together alone wasn’t all that unusual. But if he’d seen me at the house… I didn’t have time for this. I repeated my question, “Was that James you were talking to?” She shook her head no. “Ok, who was it then?”

“The police.”

An icy finger of dread crept up my spine. “Ok. What did they say? Where is he? Where is James? Was he hurt? Did he have to go the hospital?” I asked.

“He… he… he,” she sobbed. “He’s gone.They couldn’t save him.”

In that moment, I could not define how I felt. My best friend was dead. My wife severely injured. On the same day. At the same time. What were the chances? And I despised myself for the sickening thought that suddenly now Elaine was free. Who thinks something like that at a time like this? Was I a monster? Go to Genevieve. Right. I could self flagellate later. I had to figure out what the hell to do right now. I couldn’t leave Elaine like this, but I had to go to Gen. “Come with me. Gen is at Jefferson.” I put an arm around her shoulder and began moving toward the main entrance. She stiffened and I thought she was going to resist. “Please, Elaine. Just stay with me.”

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Jefferson?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s where they took James, too.”

Roll the Bones – A Short Story

I had a ridiculous week and don’t have Small Cuts – Genevieve’s part ready yet, so in the meantime…. A repost of a short story from last year. I’ve been asked to contribute some of my fiction to a Pennsylvania authors’ anthology (exciting!) and this is one that I selected:

Roll the Bones

Gina wasn’t a gambler. She was a meticulous planner. Thus she was nearly sick with anxiety as she emerged from the airport shuttle in front of the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This was the last place on earth she would have chosen for this meeting. Actually, that she’d agreed to this meeting at all was unthinkable. Nevertheless, here she was. She told herself that it only made sense, since Las Vegas was halfway for both of them and the airfare and hotel room were more than reasonable.

Taking a deep calming breath, she lifted her rolling suitcase from the shuttle to the sidewalk. She had overpacked for a mere weekend getaway, but she wanted to be prepared for every possible scenario. Her heart skipped a beat when she imagined the inevitable outcome of any of those scenarios —it gave her such a thrill.

After collecting her key card at the reception desk, Gina took the elevator to the forty-second floor. Her hands were shaking as she swiped the key. He said he would leave word. She wasn’t sure what that meant. As nervous as she was, she was also excited. She wanted this badly. Very badly. It had been way too long…

The room faced east, away from the setting sun. It was cool and quiet —the only noise coming from the air conditioning unit beneath the window. She took a moment to marvel at the view, with the lights coming on all over the City of Sin —how appropriate. She turned and for the first time noticed the bouquet of red roses on the dresser. A small white envelope was attached. She opened the note and read, “Meet me in the casino at nine. I’ll be rolling the bones.”

Rolling the bones. A dice game. Gina knew she should’ve done more research on gambling. That would have been the logical thing to do. But nothing about this trip, this rendevouz, was logical. When she got to the casino she would have to ask about the dice games or else she’d be wandering aimlessly all night.

After showering and dressing in the simple but elegant dress she had bought especially for their first meeting, she applied perfume in strategic places, wound her glorious hair into a twist, added her diamond drop earrings and a swipe of burgundy lipstick. Then, with just a little liquid courage enabled by raiding the mini bar, she returned to the ground floor in the elevator.

When the doors opened, it was onto a carnival scene —the lights and sounds of slot machines and roulette wheels. Statuesque cocktail waitresses in impossibly high heels circulated with drinks for the gamblers. Gina spotted one with an empty tray and stopped her to ask about games played with dice. The waitress smiled benignly, amused at her apparent naivety, but directed her to the craps tables on the far side of the vast expanse.

As Gina wound her way through the throng of tipsy revelers, her eyes scanned the faces for one familiar. Familiar to her at least from viewing it in cyberspace. Eventually, she spotted her goal. The craps tables were equally populated with men and women taking their turns at throwing the bones. She knew this much about dice —that they were originally made of bone and possibly were used in some religious or mystical capacity in predicting the future. Seven or eleven. Seven or eleven. A winner, here. A loser, there. Roll again.

She felt him before she heard him. “Gina,” he murmured against her ear. Her spine tingled and she turned slowly to face him. She had to look up. Grey-blue eyes stared back at her. She knew him right away. Just what she’d been hoping for, dreaming of, all these months. He was dressed all in black —black suit, black shirt — no tie, black shoes. Black hair curling over his collar. She smiled and he relaxed. “You look beautiful. Just like your picture.” He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. Charming.

“The roses were beautiful,” she said. “Thank you for them.”

“Shall we go see them?” he asked, still nuzzling her fingers.

“I thought you were playing,” she said, gesturing to the tables.

“I’m not that kind of gambler,” he said with a grin. He ran his thumb over her full lower lip. “Besides, the tables aren’t the only place to roll the bones.”

She swallowed hard. This was going faster than she had anticipated. But no matter. She was ready. She gave him a confident smile. “All right. Follow me.”

He took her hand and let her lead him to the elevators. When the doors closed on them and they were alone, he took her in his arms and said, “You are just as I imagined.”

She braced her hands on his chest and replied, “As are you.”

When the doors opened onto the forty-second floor, he released her and gestured for her to lead the way. She opened her small black clutch and removed the key card from it. Then swiping the lock open, she allowed him to enter before her. Keeping her eyes on his back, she followed him into the darkened room. The door swung shut behind her as she drew a second item from her bag. When he whirled around to face her, the hand holding the gun wavered just a little. The blade of the knife he held glinted in the moonlight shining through the uncovered window. His laugh was low and genuinely mirthful. She gave small chuckle herself.

“What are the odds?” he asked, lowering the knife. “Of two killers finding each other online?”

She kept the gun trained on him as he took one step back. “Apparently they are higher than you would think.”

Small Cuts (9) James

To find links to all parts of the story, please visit the Small Cuts page. Here is James again:

I hated these golf outings. Not that I hated golf —I actually thought it was kind of Zen to follow the ball over the terrain of the course— but I hated having to make small talk and show the appropriate balance of humble gratitude and ambitious hunger to the partners who sponsored the excursion. I had asked Elaine to join me. All the spouses were invited. She had declined and I didn’t press her. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to waste 5 hours of her day listening to the false bonhomie of young lawyers eager to impress their bosses. I couldn’t remember the last time Elaine and I had golfed together. Had it been two years, maybe three? Was this one more thing she had gone along with just to please me when our relationship was new?

Sleep eluded me. I listened to the sounds of Elaine not being able to sleep either. She tossed and turned, sighed heavily, rearranged her pillow, got up for water and then a second time for the bathroom. At some point, I must have drifted off because a rumble of thunder startled me awake. I’d been dreaming, but the vision dissipated immediately when I opened my eyes. Nevertheless, it left me with an overwhelming sense of dread. When the storm abated, dark finally gave way to grey scale, and I abandoned further hope of slumber and threw off the covers. After a shower and shave, I quietly relocated to the kitchen for coffee. Elaine never stirred.

After three strong cups of coffee for fortification, I loaded my clubs into the car and went back upstairs to let her know I was leaving. I touched her bare shoulder and she opened an eye.

“Hey. What are you up to today?” I asked her.

She rubbed her eyes, looking as tired and drawn as I felt. “I don’t know. Get in a workout, maybe. I feel fat after that dinner last night.”

“Yeah. Let’s keep it light tonight. Salads or something,” I replied.

She murmured something under her breath and burrowed under the covers again. I asked, “You want me to pick something up on the way home?”

“Sure, whatever.”

“Ok. I…” I paused. “I’ll see you tonight.” I kissed her cheek and backed out of the room.

I didn’t know how to fix this. I didn’t know what ‘this’ was exactly. I never took Oliver’s flirting with Elaine seriously until recently. Until I saw how she had begun to bask in his attention. Maybe that was my fault. If Elaine wasn’t getting what she needed from me, she would look for it elsewhere. The trouble was, I wasn’t getting what I needed either, but I didn’t know how to tell her that without sounding like I was casting the blame. I didn’t want to lose Elaine. I wanted the Elaine I had married, though. The woman who shared all my interests had been replaced by a woman I barely knew.

As I backed out of the garage, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. Had I misled Elaine? Had she married a different man from the one who stared back at me now? Or had she known and hoped somehow that I would change? That was surely a recipe for disaster. I paused at the end of the driveway to let a car pass and wondered if there was any way for Elaine to be happy with me. The road ahead was neither smooth nor straight.

Illustration my own.