Monday, March 12, 2012

Sisters

Sisters

It was not uncommon for Megan to drop by unannounced, but my apartment was a mess and her sister was dead on the couch. It was complicated, and about to get worse.
Samantha was a year older than Megan, with dark brown hair instead of blonde -- natural, not from a bottle. Megan liked imported beer and bloody steak. Samantha drank bottled water and sorted her trash into separate bins for recycling. The last place in the world Megan would expect to find her sister would have to be in my apartment.
The look on her face when the chain caught the door was priceless. Like the bewildered look of a toddler the first time his mother spats his bottom.
“What’s with the chain?”
My brain scrambled for an excuse she would buy. I stuttered something about needing to clean up the place, which was an understatement. She rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Open the door already. This is rude.”
She was wrong. It was survival. Megan dabbled in karate. I’m pretty sure she hadn’t earned a belt but I’d seen her break a man’s arm in a bar one time because he spilled his beer down her back. My fighting experience began and ended in the third grade when I got my eye blacked by Hector Gonzales because I called him a wetback.
Inspiration struck. I leaned into the security chain and whispered: “Beat it. I’ve got a chick in here.”
She laughed. “A chick?” She pushed the door again and made the chain snap tight. “Stop kidding around and open the door. I think something’s happened to Sam.”
My blood ran cold, like ice water, through my veins. I know that’s a platitude but it actually felt that way. First my chest went cold, then up the back of my neck like a chill. Had she been paying attention she would’ve seen the horror in my eyes.
“Samantha? What makes you think something’s wrong?” My voice cracked, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“She didn’t come home last night. Open the door, dork. You’re starting to piss me off.”
“Really Megan, I’ve got company. Samantha probably just got lucky last night. She’s probably home already.”
“Getting lucky for Sam means finding a good spot for another compost pile.” She tried to peep through the crack in the door. “I don’t see anybody in there.”
“She’s in the bedroom. Now can you go away?”
“If you don’t open this door I’m calling the cops.”
“No!” The word flew out on its own. It’d be just like Megan to call the cops as a joke. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? In they’d walk and there’d be Samantha on the couch staring up at them with her big brown eyes through a clear plastic bag.
“Ohhhhh,” she said, like she had just uncovered a secret. “A hooker? Really? If you’re that desperate all you had to do say so. You’re a dork but you don’t look half bad.”
“Thanks … I think … but I really wish you’d let me finish this.”
“Hourly rates suck, huh? Okay, I’ll go, but finish your business and call me. I’m really worried about Sam.”
“I’ll hurry. I promise.”
She couldn’t resist a parting shot: “I’m sure you will.”
At last she left. I closed the door and set the deadbolt. Samantha hadn’t gone anywhere, of course, and that had to change soon or Megan would be back. The problem was where to take her and how to get her out of the apartment building without my neighbors seeing. You don’t just throw a dead body over your shoulder and waltz down two flights of stairs then toss it into the trunk of a Chevy Impala. What I needed was a plan. I’d been flying by the seat of my pants since midnight and it hadn’t been working out so well.
I stood looking down at her on the couch. She lay on her back with one arm dangling so the knuckles rested against the beige carpet. The other arm rested on her chest with the thumb caught underneath the plastic bag at her throat. Her face was frozen in horror, like a snapshot, eyes wide and bloodshot. I didn’t remember them being bloodshot before. Perhaps, like me, she was exhausted and ready to put this sordid affair behind us. She wore a banana yellow blouse and orange tennis shorts. Her legs were toned and tan. Sam was hot. Hotter than her sister by half, but she never seemed to know what to do with it.
There was no blood and I was thankful for that.
Cadaver dogs can smell where a dead body has been. It almost didn’t seem fair. Move a body, dump it in an out of the way place, and here comes some dog pawing and barking at my sofa. I made a mental note to drive down to the public library and Google a way to clean the fabric. My mind was beginning to click. Internet searches leave a trail, and I was proud of myself for remembering it.
Maybe I should get a new couch. No, an entire living room suite would be better. Why draw attention to the couch? I could set fire to the apartment building. But I was getting ahead of myself.
I made myself touch the hand at her throat. There was a hint of warmth. It was the first time I had ever touched a dead body. The thought that she might still be alive almost threw me into a panic, but I looked again at her face and reassured myself that it was not possible.
First I tried to pick her up like a man carrying a sleeping child to bed -- one arm behind the neck, the other at the bend of her knees. She slipped through my arms like water. Next I tried to pull her up by the arms and heave her across my shoulder like John Wayne, but I wasn’t as strong as The Duke and had to drop her back to the couch. The back of her head hit the soft arm with a thud but her expression didn’t change. I had meant to carry her to the bed and wrap her in my sheet, but it would have gained me nothing but one more piece of furniture to replace.
The situation required calm planning.
I wondered how long it would be before rigor mortis stiffened her, but that had its drawbacks, too. For one thing, it would make her harder to get into the trunk of my car, and for the other it meant risking the return of Megan before the job was done.
An idea struck me from nowhere. Within minutes I turned into the parking lot of the hardware store. The big box store was huge and foreign to me, more daunting because I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for. Twice I declined help form friendly associates in red vests.
Time was not on my side. I wandered the aisles with only a general idea in mind. What I needed was some sort of black plastic bag large enough to stuff the body into and close with either a zipper or some sort of drawstring. I needed rope to lower the body to the ground from my balcony after dark. The neighbors directly below me were old and went to bed early, so they wouldn’t see the bundle dangling outside their back window.
I turned down an aisle with bags of cement mix and concrete blocks and nails. Fine if I wanted to weigh Samantha down and sink her to the bottom of a lake, but useless for getting her out of my apartment unnoticed. Then I saw a roll of black plastic sheeting. The bag said it was eight feet wide and one hundred feet long. I didn’t need anywhere near one hundred feet but that seemed to be the shortest roll they had, so I took it.
Finding the rope was easy, and there was a wide assortment. I wasn’t sure how far it was from my balcony to the ground but knew it wasn’t anywhere near a hundred feet, so I grabbed up a plastic-wrapped bundle of half inch polypropylene rope rated at just under four hundred pounds. Samantha couldn’t weigh much over a hundred, so it was more than strong enough. I still needed a way to seal the plastic.
Duck tape.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered my dad saying you could fix anything with duck tape. It was a funny name for tape, I thought, but figured all I  had to do was find the aisle with other types of tape. That proved easy enough.
Duct, not duck.
Part of me wanted to telephone my old man and tell him he had been wrong about the tape, too. It had nothing to do with ducks. I paid two dollars more to get black instead of gray so it would match the plastic.
The young girl at the checkout scanned my purchases without the slightest hint of suspicion, easing my fears that I would be suddenly thrown to the ground and subdued for buying products so obviously tailored to moving a dead body.
I paid with cash.
As I walked between the RFID scanners at the exit I stiffened at the prospect of an alarm going off because some computer in the back caught what the checkout girl had missed. Somehow I reached my car without bells and whistles.
Megan was back. I saw her the moment I topped the stairs and rounded the corner.
“There you are,” she said, walking toward me. “She’s still not home and she won’t answer her phone.”
The thought occurred to me to toss my bags down the stairs behind me, but she was too close now and would notice.
“Where you been? I thought you had a hooker in your room.”
“Shopping,” I said, “and she’s not a hooker.”
She hooked the plastic bag with her finger and leaned forward to look inside.
“Mind your own business,” I blurted. She stopped abruptly and cut her eyes toward mine. They were the color of the sky on a clear summer day. Mixed in was something foreign. Something that didn’t belong. Hurt.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just that …”
“You killed her.”
“What?” How could she know? Hot sickness washed over my body.
“You killed the hooker.”
“The hooker? No, I didn’t kill the … I mean … she’s not …”
“You’re stuttering. Your face is beet red. What’d she do? Laugh at your pecker?”
“No, why would she … I mean, I told you she’s not a hooker.”
“So why’d you kill her?”
I was boiling in a soup of panic. Megan had taken one look at my purchase and knew I had a body to dispose of.
“You’ve been watching too many Lifetime movies,” I said, trying and failing to produce a laugh. “I … my dad called and asked me to pick this stuff up for him. I don’t know what it’s for.”
“Yeah, right. Your dad doesn’t even like you.”
“Yes he does,” I said, but I was not so sure she was wrong. Thankfully she didn’t belabor the point.”
“Go ahead and dispose of your hooker,” she said, brushing past me to the stairs. “Jail give me the hives.”
Samantha hadn’t moved. Of course she hadn’t. She was dead. Strange that I half expected to find her standing in my living room with the plastic bag over her  head, staring at me. I placed the roll of plastic sheeting on the floor at the end of the couch and unrolled it to the other end. It was thicker than the plastic bag I’d used to suffocate her. Good, maybe it wouldn’t tear. I stood on the plastic and grabbed the dangling arm and matching leg and pulled her to the floor. Her limbs were starting to stiffen but not so much that I couldn’t lay her out straight, arms at her side, coffin style.
Even dead she was beautiful. A thought occurred to me. It was a sick thought, and it made me shudder. Using scissors, I cut the plastic to a length slightly longer than the sofa and rolled her up like a rug. Then I remembered the rope and unrolled her and tied the rope around her torso underneath the arms. I pushed the knot around behind her back and stretched the rope up past her  head and off the plastic, then rolled her up again.
I used the entire roll of duct tape -- all fifty-five yards -- around and around the bundle from head to toe until she looked like a black mummy. There was nothing left to do but wait for nightfall.
I went to bed and tried to sleep. For the first hour I wondered if I would ever sleep again, then I drifted off into a dream and spent the next five hours being chased by a dead woman with a clear plastic bag over her head. It was Megan, not Samantha.
I jerked awake. It was dark in my bedroom. The time had come.
First I went outside and checked behind the apartment complex just to make sure there were no outside parties. There was just enough chill in the air to make it uncomfortable without a sleeve. The apartment below me was dark and that was good. I hurried back upstairs and deadbolted my door again.
She was easy enough to drag across the floor. The plastic reduced the friction and would foil the cadaver dogs should it come to that. The rope gave me leverage. Rigor mortis made her rigid. I lifted her over the balcony rail and twisted around my right hand. Gloves would’ve come in handy, but it was my first time handling rope and I had not anticipated the burn as it slide across my palm, inch by inch, until it went slack. I tossed the loose end of the rope to the ground and hurried out.
All sorts of scenes played out in my head as I strode down the sidewalk and rounded the side of the building. It was hard not to run, but it might draw attention. Headlights cut across the end of the building. Had the beams of light been blades they would’ve sliced me at the waist. Someone had turned into the parking lot on the east end. I turned the corner and pressed my back up against the brick wall. It was dark except for a security light at the far end. The light overhead had a busted bulb -- another detail I had not overlooked.
A creek ran parallel to the building about twenty feet out. Thick vines and scrub trees grew along its entire length, all the way to the street at both ends. Some of my neighbors had raised a petition to force the city to clear it, but the city didn’t seem to  mind that snakes sometimes slithered out of the creek to sun themselves on the concrete patios of my ground-floor neighbors.
I coiled the rope and cut it short, then tossed the coil to the ground, making a mental note to get it on my way back. I grabbed the end of the rope still attached to the body and began to pull toward the creek. It slid easily across the grass.
“You really did it!”
I spun around and saw Megan’s outline against the backdrop of the distant security light.
“It’s not what it looks like,” I said, but it was exactly that, assuming it looked like I was dragging a dead body toward the creek.
“You can’t just dump her in the creek,” she said. “Is there even any water in it?”
“What? I … It’s not …”
“You don’t even have a shovel.”
“Get out of here! I don’t want you mixed up in this.”
“Mixed up? You’re the one mixed up.”
I gave the body another tug toward the creek. “Go home.”
“Throw me your keys.”
“What?” I stopped pulling and stared at  her.
“Your car. Throw me the keys.”
“You want my car?”
“Shut up and throw me your keys.”
I fumbled my pocket for my keys and tossed them to her. Anything to get rid of her.
“Pull that to the corner,” she said, then hurried away.
I hurried to the creek with my cargo and began tearing at the vines to make a passage.
“I told you to pull that to the corner.” It was Megan again and she had that edge in her voice that meant she was irritated. “Get out of there and follow me.”
“What are you doing?”
“Helping you stay out of jail. Now stop being stupid and drag her up here before we both get caught.”
I don’t know why I obeyed her but I did. Years of habit, I suppose. Halfway across the yard I saw the tail end of my car on the grass at the corner of the building. The trunk lid was up and the lights were off.
“Are you crazy? Everybody can see that!”
“People don’t notice the obvious,” she said.
She helped me load her sister into the trunk of my Impala.
“Don’t make a habit of this,” she said. “Now let’s get moving.”
“No, not you. Stay here. I don’t want you involved.”
“Look around, genius. I’m already involved.”
Truth is I didn’t want her knowing where I dumped the body. She might get curious after Samantha was missing for a few more days and go take a peek.
“The less you know the better. Please. This is my mess to clean up.”
“Suit yourself. Just don’t get stopped for speeding. You’d better stop and pick up a shovel and bury her someplace in the woods.”
“I will,” I said, “now please go.”
She started toward the corner the stopped and looked back. “Remind me never to joke about your pecker.”
I drove out of the city and half the night toward Kentucky. Just after midnight I stopped at a Wal-Mart and bought a shovel and a pear tree. The tree was so they wouldn’t be suspicious of a man buying a shovel in the middle of the night. Sometime before dawn I dug a hole beside a dirt road and laid Samantha to rest, then tossed the shovel and the pear tree off a bridge. By the time I got home I couldn’t have found the grave if someone had held a gun to my head.
Megan woke me up beating on my door. It was half past noon according to the clock on my nightstand.
“What’s wrong with you? I’ve been driving all night.”
“That was night before last,” she said. “This is Friday.”
Friday? I couldn’t believe I had slept for a day and a half.
“You left some rope out back. I disposed of it for you.”
“Heard from your sister?” I knew she hadn’t but she would be suspicious if I didn’t ask.
“Not a peep.”
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. As I turned toward the living room I noticed Samantha’s lime green purse on the floor beside the armchair. Megan had given it to her for her birthday.
“She’ll turn up. Probably joined some PETA protest or something.” There was distraction in my voice.
“Yeah, it’d be just like Sam to be sitting naked in a cage with people gawking at her.”
“There’s beer in the fridge,” I said, putting myself between her and the purse.
In all the years I’d known her, Megan had never turned down alcohol. She disappeared into the kitchen.
“Want one?”
“Too early for me,” I said, and pushed the purse under the chair with my foot.
Megan returned from the kitchen and plopped down on the couch and took a swig. Dark circles around her eyes made her face look gaunt. I hadn’t noticed it before but now it was obvious. Something distracted her. She looked around herself and sniffed the air.
“Your hooker wore the same perfume as Sam,” she said.
“That’s why I picked her up,” I said, grasping at straws.
She laughed. “I can just see you driving around the city sniffing whores until you found one who smelled like my sister.”
Samantha had been right. Megan was using again. It seemed obvious now. I wondered what made a person do that to themselves. She had been through so much. When Samantha told me she was going to the cops I snapped. Jail had almost killed her last time and I couldn’t let it happen again. Now it was too late to take it back. The weight of what I had done pushed me down into the armchair.
“She had a thing for you, you know.”
“Who?”
“Sam.”
“Me? I don’t think so.”
“I read it in her diary.”
“You read her diary?”
Megan got up and came over to the chair and sat on the arm. She put her arm around my leaned down and kissed me on the forehead.
“She was going to turn me in again. I read that, too. For my own good.” She laughed but there was no humor in it.
Tears filled my eyes. “You need to get clean.”
“I will.”
“Promise?”
“If you’ll help me.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Shhhh.” She rested her head against mine. “Don’t.”

________________________________

Author: Carl Purdon
Dew Review of his debut novel, The Night Train, on March 12th

Author of The Night Train, available on Amazon at  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00785YND0
Husband, father, and grandfather currently living in Pontotoc, Mississippi.
Website/blog: http://carlpurdon.com
Twitter: @CarlPurdon
 
 

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