The Woman of My Dreams

by Zakariah Johnson

 

My captor was a woman. She hadn’t spoken and I’d never caught a glimpse of her from under the duct tape I’d awakened to find swaddling my head like mummy wrap; but I could tell she was a she. Something about the lingering smells when she left the room, the subconscious after-effects of a feminine touch, even when she’d been shoving a straw roughly into my mouth and squeezing in just enough water to keep me alive. Something deep down murmured that she was a woman and I always listened to those deep down murmurs, even though they were what had landed me in this predicament to begin with.

I’d screamed myself hoarse the first day, but since nobody told me to shut it or came to gag me, I’d figured out soon enough not to bother. Wherever I was, nobody could hear. But excepting my mouth, I was definitely trussed up like a hog: duct taped and chained, naked, to a wooden chair with a hole cut in the middle through which to relieve myself into a bucket underneath (it smelled like plastic.) My legs were numb yet somehow still in agony from two days tied in the chair. I was sure I would throw a blood clot soon if she didn’t release me, or at least let me lie down. I shuddered to think, perhaps that was her plan.

So I had some free time and a few thoughts to dwell on. One of which was who she was, and how knowing might help me. I figured it had been about two days since I’d regained consciousness. Though she’d only fed me twice, I counted the other signs of time passing: how often my stomach growled, how often she gave me a drink, how many times I relieved myself and in what fashion, not to mention how often I dreamed. Dreaming had always been easy for me. It’s one of my main pastimes, one of my weapons, a skill and a special tool I use to figure out what’s really going on around me. So I’d had two days to dream. Two days meant it was Sunday night, assuming I’d only lost track of a couple hours between when she had ambushed me in my house and when I awoke. That meant it might be another whole day before anyone noticed I was missing. Which meant my jailer, whoever she was, would soon be reaching a decision point herself.

After two days of smelling her, listening to her feminine walk and reviewing my knowledge in the half-awake state that the lack of food and water made easy to attain, I’d narrowed the suspects down to three women, all linked to Joe: his secret crush, his stripper, and his wife. Assuming I wasn’t the victim of some random kook or unless she decided to tell me who she was, I knew I had to retreat into my subconscious to whittle down my list of suspects, and so I drifted off…

*****

“I had a dream you asked me to help find your son’s body.”

Joe said this to me as blandly as he might have said good morning. But he never said anything without a purpose. He gave me a smug smile with his mouth but kept his eyes focused on mine as a he took a drink from the cocktail in his hand.

As I often react to shocking breaches of etiquette or good taste, I was too stunned to respond. “What?” I said. “What are you talking about? My son?”

“It was the strangest thing,” he said, warming to his topic. “It was so real. I was out on Odiorne Point in the little inlet south of the playground. And you came running out of the ocean—running up to me, somehow dry and dressed like you are now. Tie and everything.”

My refusal to succumb to the casual attire of my colleagues was a source of mirth throughout the company. Several junior programmers stood by, chuckling appreciatively at Joe’s dig. Jeana didn’t laugh. Despite the noise from the Press Club’s regular Irish session players behind us, she’d heard every word. Her little blonde head had jerked up with attention as soon as Joe had uttered those first words and she’d stood there mutely listening, sensing the danger Joe seemed not to understand he was courting. These were words I wouldn’t forget, the way I could dismiss a simple insult. After all, he’d had a dream. And Jeana knew how I felt about dreams.

Recovering a bit, I went mentally through my options one by one as he drawled on. Punch him? I’d be fired. Knock the glass tumbler he was holding into his face, scarring him forever? I’d be arrested. Grab him with both hands around the neck until someone pulled us apart? I’d be jailed, even if I didn’t manage to kill him before someone broke us apart in the narrow space between the bar and the wall separating the booths on the other side. Smile? That seemed the way. Joe also knew my views on dreams. We’d told each other everything in the first six months we worked together, or maybe it was just me, lonely and open, who’d done all the telling, while he filed it all away for later use. Jeana had been the same way, getting friendly when we first started working together until she’d learned all my secrets and then moving on to simper after Joe, despite his well-known engagement.

“That’s a bad dream, Joe. You shouldn’t mention dreams like that—”

“Well, it’s nothing. I just had to tell you. It seemed so strange I’d be dreaming about you, and your son. He’s living mostly with his mother now, isn’t he?”

“Did you help?” I asked him.

“What?”

“Did you help, in the dream? Did you get involved? Help me find him? Maybe he was still alive?” I tried not to sound frantic, playing it cool.

“I don’t know,” he said, staring slightly. “I can’t remember the rest. Just you in a suit on the beach.”

“Yeah, strange the things we feel for our children,” I said. I need my job, I repeated to myself. I’d been out of work too long before I got it. I was making nice to Joe’s face, but I could tell Jeana was reading me right, hearing my thoughts. She knew I knew that the threat from a dream remained as long as the dreamer could act out his role in it. It’s what had driven my wife to leave, that unbearable knowledge that she lived with a man who could see her future, or could help her see it if she could overcome her fears. She’d always been a dreamer, too, before she left me for our son’s soccer coach…

“Are you okay?” Joe asked.

“Fine,” I said, refocusing. He’d avoided my question. He hadn’t helped. He was as worthless in his own dreams as he was in the office. Good at taking credit, good at politics, but never contributing anything anybody would miss should he disappear.

*****

I drank too much that night. I hadn’t meant to, but no one ever does. We’d been celebrating a difficult software release, one too often delayed, one everyone was relieved to be rid of. It was time to let loose, so Joe and I had okayed it with Mitzy, the skeletal brunette who runs everything at work, to treat the whole staff to a night out, even bringing the marketing and sales teams who’d contributed nothing. They were good at taking credit, too. Joe had always belonged in marketing; he was certainly never much of an engineer.

Between the booze and my apprehension I barely slept that night. The dream Joe had given me poisoned my sleep and my spirit. I awoke at four AM in a cold sweat and got up to check on the boy. At first I panicked when he wasn’t there; then I remembered he was at his mother’s house. Even so, I nearly hyperventilated in fear.

I didn’t sleep any more that night, a Thursday, but I got to work on time the next day. More than Joe could claim. His whole team rolled in about ten or later, but Mitzy never said a word. I was there at eight AM and so were all my people. I made sure of that. Mitzy came by to say good morning, but I knew she was really checking to see if I had come in late.

Joe and I had been friends. I guess he thought we still were. In any case, I was on the list to go to his bachelor party in two weeks. But this software release had nearly ended our relationship, and had shown me who he really was: a man who would win at any cost. I’d seen it in his management style, in his work with vendors, even with the other managers. He would do or say anything to win, and then he’d let you know he’d screwed you, almost bragging about it. I walked into his office one day to hear him giving a client a line about the cause of our delays. He signaled me to sit in the chair opposite his desk as he talked into the phone:

“It’s that code from your Indian contractor. None of it’s properly commented. It’s just mishmash. Our guys are having to go through it line by line, debugging it along the way without really knowing how it fits together.” Joe gave me a wink as he talked. “What’s that? Yeah, sure, ask him. Ask him if it’s commented. He’ll tell you or he’s lying. It’s just going to take us some time. Don’t worry. We’ll make the deadline. Ok. Talk to you soon. Bye.” He hung up.

“Since when do your guys need to have comments written into code they wrote the specs for?” I asked him, knowing the answer.

“Well, what was I going to say? That we’re a bunch of idiots he should have never contracted with?”

“That describes some of your programmers. Will you meet the deadline?”

“Are you kidding me?” he smiled. “We’ll burn that bridge after we cross it. Don’t worry, there’re no penalty clauses in the contract until we’re six months late. I checked. It’s mostly Beau’s part that’s lagging. And he’s got extra help now.”

And that was Joe Grafton in a nutshell. Make it work, shift the blame, move on, stay friends. At least he assumed you’d stay friends. I think it came from him growing up in a big family. He had two brothers and two sisters, relatives all over the county and upstate. There probably wasn’t a town in New England where anyone in the Grafton tribe would need to stay at a hotel instead of with a cousin. It’s that sense that “family forgives all” that was really at the heart of understanding him. He might be underhanded, he might double cross you, he might play a psych game to win every pick-up game on the office basketball court, but he knew you’d forgive him because everybody always had: that was family for you.

It was never like that for me. No siblings, no mom after a young age; a dad who didn’t forgive you or let you forget he hadn’t. No cousins within a thousand miles. No dogs. (I’d tried to give my son a dog after my wife left me and moved to Concord with Harris, the soccer coach, but the boy never took care of it properly and I finally gave it away. His mom got him one after he moved in with her, despite my protests.) For me, it doesn’t matter where you are; people are all the same. You shouldn’t count on forgiveness, but even more you shouldn’t do people wrong in the first place. What Joe didn’t understand was that I knew not to trust a man you’d seen cheat someone else.

Once I saw into Joe’s character I tried to pull back. But it was too late. I’d told him enough about me; what I think, who I am; that he had plenty of weapons to start using against me every time we had a disagreement, whether in a meeting with Mitzy or over assigning the real blame for the latest much-too-overdue software project over which I was sure we’d lost the client.

I’d told Mitzy as much: “We’ll never get another contract from them.”

“How do you know? Their CEO seemed very pleased with our product.”

“That’s only because he doesn’t know enough to know better. His engineers will tell him soon enough.”

“Did you approve a bad product?” There she went, turning it on me, like it was my fault as quality control officer whenever I had to delay releasing the garbage Joe’s team cobbled together.

“No. It was good. But it was late, and the excuses for it being late not only weren’t genuine, it’s easy to check and find out they weren’t.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” And again! Blaming me. I saw her and Joe go out for lunch later that day. I never knew why. I wasn’t invited, even though Joe and I were technically peers. Not that I cared. Joe Grafton was quite simply a snake, and that was how he started visiting my dreams: forked tongued and slithering.

And dream about him I did, as a snake in my garden or a rat under the sink, but mostly just him walking down the rough pebbled beach at Odiorne Point. And sometimes he walked with my son beside him. The dreams came more frequently, my sleep suffered and my work did as well. But I was thankful for the dream. Such dreams are warnings, and I had learned never to ignore one or be ungrateful for any vision. Joe had to go.

*****

I snapped awake and heard the footsteps before the door opened. A cold draft of air followed her into the room, giving me goose bumps along my chained, naked body. Then came her smell. I had been right.

“I know you’re a woman,” I said. “How can you do this to me? You know you’re going to be caught.”

That was all I got to say before the straw from the squeeze bottle was thrust into my mouth and I had to swallow fast to avoid choking on the water I’d been craving for hours. After that she fed me cold chowder, spooning it into my mouth until the spoon scraped the bottom of the can.

“I’m still hungry,” I told her. She hit me hard with an open hand across the temple. She was right-handed. I saw stars for a moment, both from the blow and the low blood sugar I was suffering from after two days on a starvation diet. It sounded like she was sniffling as she went out. She left and I was alone in the room again with the lights out. But something was different. It wasn’t much, but where she had hit me the duct tape had crept up just enough to let me see the shadowy edge of my own knees in the dark when I looked straight down. It was a start, something to work with in my fatigue as I fell into a dream…

*****

Jeana is the first woman on my list of potential captors. She’d known about my row with Joe. She’d been standing there in the bar, listening in on conversations like she always seemed to do, now that I thought about it. If I’d listened to the murmurs before, I’d have done her, too, as a precaution. But after she spotted me following her, I’d had to back off. I’d been sure she was seeing Joe and followed her after work, thinking she’d meet him in a bar. Instead she drove over to the Walmart in Newington. She wouldn’t have seen me at all, but the checkout clerks were so slow I’d walked past her three times already when she said my name. She played it cool, asking what I was doing. I ended up having to buy some crappy slacks I threw away later just to throw her off. Now, I had to wonder if it had worked.

I should mention that Joe is dead. We can’t be sure of much in this world, but you can bank on that. Though you’d have a hard time proving it. I’d dreamed on killing him for weeks, setting the problem in my mind just before bed and working out the details in my sleep. Whenever I saw myself in chains (like now), I started on a new plan. I wasn’t about to go on the Internet to find anything out—they’d trace that back to me for sure. I had to use older research methods. And I did.

There’s a lot of water around Portsmouth, New Hampshire but only an idiot puts a body in water. It actually preserves the body more than the open air. I had known that from long ago, but recalled it in my dreams. I also remembered about burials: that they are always discovered unless you cover them in concrete, but then you can never sell the house. As it was, I laid Joe to rest in quite a few places, though not until extracting all his teeth with pliers and soaking them in hydrochloric acid until they entirely dissolved. (I got the HCl by paying cash for a kid’s chemistry set at Toys R Us. Imagine.) So much for dental records. His fingerprints all went away when I cut off the first digit of each finger and burned them in my fireplace until they were crushable cinders. I couldn’t get rid of a whole body that way, but I could get rid of an identity if that’s what it took to protect my son. Joe’s dream will never come true: I will never ask him to help me find anything. Nor will the dream of anyone who dreams about Joe come true, unless they dream about where he’s buried. But nobody even knows for sure he’s dead, so who could ask for a dream about that?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

*****

The second woman on the short list is the stripper. Unlike Jeana, I’d always meant to do her when I did Joe, but she got lucky. After the incident at the office party in the bar, I went along like normal. Joe apologized the next day and I said I forgave him, as he expected. We both knew nothing was really forgiven though. Some things can’t be forgiven if you want to keep your self-respect. Joe might have thought he’d gotten THAT from me when I accepted his apology, but he would learn better.

I went to Joe’s bachelor party as planned. I was a little older than most of the guys there, but no one seemed to mind. The girls were all about the dollar bills anyway, not looking at our faces any more than we looked at theirs. The party started at a dance club, but soon moved on to Joe’s older brother’s house. Several of the girls from the club showed up soon after we switched venues, and most seemed on close terms with the brother, a rangy looking guy with spiky blond hair that stood up in front, making him always look like he’d just done a line of meth (which he probably had, given the looks of his place).

At one point, Joe had a small but well-built blonde sitting naked on his lap whispering in his ear. He caught me looking at him and just smiled before he put his right index finger in front of his lips to signal, “Shh…” Again he winked; like always, expecting to be forgiven.

Later, the same blonde disappeared into a side bedroom with the brother, though I assumed for other reasons than what I later learned. It was a Saturday night the week before Joe’s wedding and I suppose I could have gone off with one of the girls, too, after paying of course, but that’s never been my scene. But you’d think a party like that would help guys to bond. No chance. Monday morning it was business as usual, with the programmers on Joe’s team not even acknowledging me in the break room. You’d think we hadn’t done anything. Fine. I let that go, too. But I knew something they didn’t: I had been right about losing that client and the axe was gonna fall. Turns out Joe knew, too, but if he ever let on to his team he didn’t tell them in front of me. You’d think a guy who invited somebody to a party would let the same guy know when he was about to lose his job, but not Joe.

His team lost three guys. Only one of them had been at the party, and Joe got him moved into a marketing job, so he made out okay. Marketing departments are like company sponges that soak up the spillage. The other two guys hadn’t been at the party. One was a huge guy who always wore a trench coat to work, even at his desk, and never bathed. Nobody would be sad to see him go, other than to worry he might go postal. The other guy was Beau. Beau hadn’t been at the bachelor party or probably even heard about it because he was one of those guys who always goes on about Jesus in a way that gives people the creeps:

“Good morning, Beau.”

“Praise God, yes it is!”

That sort of thing. Completely nuts. Beau kept a picture of himself and his wife on his desk, both of them dressed in judo gis with—get this—honest to god crosses embroidered into the lapels. He taught judo to so-called “at risk” youths at some community center in Manchester, driving all the way up there a couple times a week to do “the Lord’s work.” I never found out what denomination he was, but I was right when I figured any tree like that, too stiff to bend in the wind, was going to snap. And snap he did, like you’d never dream.

Joe had to give the news to Beau that he’d been fired. Unknown to Joe (until later) he chose to do it right in the middle of a family crisis Mr. “Praise-Jesus” had been too private to tell us about: his wife leaving him and taking the kids with her. I guess the alimony payment wasn’t his only concern (you can massage those if you have to.) It turned out Mr. Trench Coat wasn’t the one we needed to worry about. The HR director came running out of the room where she, Joe, and Beau were exchanging bad news and screamed, “Help! He’s killing him!”

Most people who work with computers aren’t used to actually reacting physically—they send a tweet or put up angry blog posts when they’re agitated—but the big smelly trench coat guy (who hadn’t gotten his own bad news yet) sprinted across the common area of low-walled cubicles and into the meeting room before most of the rest of us knew what was happening. Everyone except Jeana, that is. She was right on his heels and probably kept him from hurting Beau too much. Turns out Beau had Joe on the floor in some kind of judo death grip and only a guy as big as Stinky would have been able to pull him off. He picked up Beau and slammed him against the wall, knocking the air and the fight out of him at once. Beau slid to the floor in a heap, where he remained, crying, until the cops came for him. Meanwhile, Jeana half-carried Joe out of the room, his arm around her shoulder. (That’s when I started following her, figuring something was up between them, but you knew that.)

Joe didn’t press charges, so Beau was out of jail within hours. I’m not sure why Joe didn’t have him locked up, but I’m guessing he was taking the opportunity to play the big man for everybody. It worked for him, too, since he got promoted soon after. (They made him my boss! Who ever heard of Quality Assurance reporting to Engineering? It’s like the fox guarding the henhouse!) But Beau’s attack gave me the opportunity I needed by providing a ready-made suspect in case Joe disappeared.

I started tailing Joe more seriously after that. At least I did once I’d cleared up the latest custody mess with my wife. She even had Harris the Coach at the hearing, who made a big show of hugging my boy—MY boy! Never mind; someday my son would know what I’d done for him. I followed Joe mostly at night, but sometimes on the weekends. I knew I couldn’t wait too long or Beau’s attack wouldn’t be in play anymore. Then after the second week I got lucky: Joe met with the stripper.

I was following him at a distance in the second car I’d bought for the purpose (I always kept it in the garage at home, never driving it to work), when Joe left early from the Press Room, his usual Thursday watering hole, and headed north on Highway 16. He got off at Exit 8 in Dover and drove the same route we’d driven after leaving the dance club for his bachelor party. Sure enough, he pulled up in front of his brother’s place. Joe went in for about an hour, then left, his clothing not fitting exactly the way it had before. I was getting ready to tail him (I’d parked down the block) when the brother came pulling up just in time to see Joe driving away. He parked his truck in the driveway, then got out and looked in the direction Joe’s car had gone for a good long time before running inside the house and slamming the door behind him. I sat there waiting to see what would happen, but after half an hour I gave it up and tried to figure out where Joe had gone. I never found him that day, but I did notice he started leaving an hour early on Thursdays after that. And instead of going to the Press Club; well, the way Mitzy had it in for me, I could never leave work early, but it wasn’t hard to figure out where Joe’s car would be parked.

*****

I cut off my dreaming as soon as the door banged open. Through the crack under the duct tape I saw my own knees and, yes, a pair of small women’s boots crossing the floor attached to a pair of slim, jeans-clad legs. Her smell was the same as earlier. Was there a chance she was working alone? If so, how did she carry me here?

“So you’re the stripper, huh?” I took a chance on my latest guess. “Your husband doesn’t mind your bump and grind routine but he gets upset at an affair with his brother?”

She stopped moving right in front of me, but didn’t answer. Looking down through the slit, I saw the water bottle in her hand, which was clad in large, men’s work gloves. My throat was burning with thirst at this point and I must have let my head follow the bottle as she moved it back and forth. I heard one quick grunt, then the bottle disappeared and I heard the sound of duct tape being pulled off a roll. As quickly as that, I was in the dark again, but not before I’d seen a confirmation of sorts on my leg: a foot-long blonde hair, of the type that belonged to each of the women I’d suspected, lay on my knee like a signed confession.

*****

The Thursday I’d decided to snatch Joe, he changed his routine. That’s what saved the stripper. I’d planned to grab him, empty out his checking accounts by as much as his ATM card would allow and then make them both disappear together (leaving his car within blocks of his brother’s house, of course). But that day he actually did go to the Press Club. The courts had changed my custody arrangements permanently by then, so my son was staying with my ex-wife, even though he knows he’s supposed to stay with me during the week. But since the arrangement left me free on Thursdays I’d delayed fighting it.

The problem was, since he was about to disappear, I couldn’t follow him into the bar and risk being seen with him. It also didn’t seem safe to be on the street since Jeana and some of the others often came here after work, too. I considered calling Joe’s cell phone to lure him out, but dismissed the idea as likely to leave a trail. Instead, I figured I’d meet him at his next stop: his brother’s house.

I went ahead and drove up to Dover again, then waited on a side street where I had a view of the main avenue approaching the side street where the stripper and brother lived. From there I could be sure to see Joe without being seen. Trouble was he never came. It was nearly eight o’clock when I gave it up as a loss. The brother was home by then and the picture window showed me a scene of domestic tranquility worthy of Norman Rockwell, if he’d made a habit of painting the home life of strippers. I turned the engine over and drove back to Portsmouth to find Joe.

It turned out he was at home. I found his car parked in front of the house he’d bought with his wife a couple months before their wedding. It was in the gentrified part of old town and needed paint but not much else. The kind of place DINKs buy when they turn thirty and decide to get married and immediately have babies. I sat behind the wheel of my secret car in the dark wondering what to do when the slam of a screen door brought me to attention. Yet another short blonde woman, looking similar to Jeana and the stripper, walked down the stairs. Joe definitely had a “type” he went for. Then I recognized her as Joe’s wife, whom I’d followed a bit as well before I learned about his affair. She walked down their front steps with two miniature dachshunds on leather leashes. At the bottom of the steps she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up over her shoulder-length blonde hair. Then she did what I’d always seen her do: looked furtively up the steps before pulling out a pack of cigarettes, lighting one and continuing down the block with the doglettes.

I’d been cautious, even meticulous, up to that point, but as they say “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” If I was ever gonna live free of the threat of Joe’s dream, he was gonna have to die, and now was the time. I grabbed the pillowcase with the padlock in it that I always carry under the driver’s seat, crossed the street and swept up the stairs in a motion like one smooth golf swing, pulled open the unlocked door and entered. Joe had his back to me, watching TV on the couch in the living room.

“Forget something, hon?” he crooned without turning his head. I swung the pillow case twice to build up speed then extended my arm and hit him full strength with the padlock just behind his right ear. He crumpled over at once, out cold. I’d lucked out twice: catching him unaware and subduing him without blood. There’d be a bump on his head, but not a spot of red had dripped onto the couch.

I turned off the television, grabbed his wallet and keys off the small desk on the other side of the room, and then pushed the button on my own keys to open my car’s trunk. The street had been dark so I took a chance and walked quickly down the steps back to my own car, tossing Joe’s unconscious form into the trunk before slamming it shut. Driving away, I thought I caught sight of the wife and little mutts coming back, but I’d learned that whenever she was sneaking cigarettes she kept walking for awhile to get rid of the scent.

*****

I woke up suddenly when it hit me: cigarettes. I could smell those, too. Faintly to be sure, but there had definitely been a hint of their smell on her gloved fingers when my captor applied more duct tape to my face. Could Joe’s wife have captured me? It had been weeks since Joe had vanished. The police had questioned everyone at work, but they’d never even come to my house. I had been certain I wasn’t a suspect, but certainty was hard to maintain at the moment.

It was Sunday night. Or was it Monday morning already? Either way, I wouldn’t have to wait long to learn who’d grabbed me. Maybe nobody would miss me over the weekend, but my employer had to call the cops when I didn’t show up. (But would they? I’d gotten notice soon after Joe’s promotion—I had been given a month to train him to do my job, too, then I was out. Even after he disappeared, Mitzy hadn’t asked me to stay.)

The cigarette smell was the key. Had I been talking to Joe’s widow, calling her a stripper? Or was it Jeana? She smoked when she drank, and she’d known about the dream, hadn’t she? Another blonde in Joe’s life of blondes. I’m normally perceptive about things like smell. For instance I remember after my wife left, the smell of her lingering on the pillow and sheets for months afterward until I finally changed them.

*****

I drifted into sleep again. In the dream I was in the water looking towards the rocky beach on Odiorne Point where I saw Joe. I called to him, but he didn’t hear me. He just kept walking, with my son beside him, and my wife following hand-in-hand with Harris. No one heard me calling for help.

The door opened and I jerked awake, realizing I’d been yelling. A hand grabbed the side of my head and ripped away a strip of duct tape, then another, and another until I could see her there before me.

“You.”

“Me.”

And suddenly the latest dream made sense. And I understood why my assailant had been able to get into my house to lie in wait for me without breaking the door or opening a window: she’d had a key.

“But why? And when did you start smoking again?”

“Smok—Why?!? Because you’re insane! Because Harris and I have been following you for months as you stake out strangers’ houses and follow strippers around. Did you decide to stalk women who look just like me or was that just coincidence? What are you, another Boston strangler? Don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter. You’re not going to harm our son, no—MY son—anymore.”

“What?” Again, I was falling into that stunned silence that had kept me from confronting Joe at the moment he first insulted and threatened me. “This is about our son? But, you’ve already sued for full custody. The restraining order—”

“Restraining orders aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. You’ve taught me that. But this way the boy doesn’t have to know what a sick puppy you are. You can just… go away.”

“But everything I’ve done—I did for him! I’ve protected him in ways you can’t imagine! In ways you CAN’T DREAM OF!”

“I’m sorry,” she said as Harris the Coach, her live-in boyfriend, appeared in the doorway behind her carrying a hang-up bag of the kind you carry suits in on airplanes. I realized it was one of mine. My ex-wife pulled a small-caliber handgun from her pocket; then checked the cylinder and popped it back into place with a soft click the sounded like thunder. “I’m sorry, but I won’t spend the rest of my life having nightmares about you.”

She didn’t ask, but if she had, I could have told her that some dreams never die.

 

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