Punish the Deed: Chapter 1
The shrill of the alarm clock pierced Conrad Fleming’s sleep. He slapped the snooze button and rolled over. He reached for his wife, longing for the touch of her skin, the warmth of an embrace. But there was no one there.
He sat upright, confused. He listened but heard not a sound. Worse, he didn’t smell coffee brewing. If Shari were here, the aroma would fill the house. Where was she?
She often worked late – very late. But she always came home. Maybe Monica was right. Maybe Shari was having an affair with the school district superintendent. He’d laughed at Monica yesterday when she told him that rumor. He wasn’t laughing now.
He called the direct line into Shari’s office. It rang four times and clicked to voice mail. He hung up without leaving a message. He clicked the speed-dial button for her cell. It, too, went unanswered.
He paced the bedroom then slipped into the master bathroom seeking signs that she’d been there and had left already – arriving and leaving while he slept. The shower was dry, as were the sink and all the towels.Where was she?
He walked into the kitchen, poured water into the coffee maker and flipped the switch. He watched his feet move back and forth on the kitchen tiles as he waited. He pulled out the carafe, interrupting the flow of the brew. He started to pour but stopped mid-tilt. Dingy hot water. Nothing more. He hadn’t put in any ground coffee.
He turned off the pot and went down the hall to the home office, grabbing the school district directory as he walked through the door. He punched in the numbers for the home phone of Superintendent Robert Irving.
A woman answered. ‘Mrs Irving?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she rasped.
‘Is your husband there?’
‘Do you know what time it is?’
‘Is your husband there?’ he repeated.
‘It’s not even five thirty yet.’
‘I know. It’s important. Is your husband there?’
‘Yes. Who is this?’
‘Are you sure he’s there?’
‘Yes, I’m sure,’ she snapped. ‘He’s right here next to me. Who is this?’
Conrad blinked, speechless. He was so sure Irving wouldn’t be at home either.
A male voice came on the line. ‘Who is this and what do you want?’
Conrad hung up, burning with shame. More than twenty-five years of marriage and now my first thought is to distrust Shari? He scratched infidelity off his list of reasons for his wife’s absence.
His thoughts turned dark and fear churned the acid in his empty stomach, creating a burn in his throat. He called both hospitals to check on overnight admissions. No Shari. No Jane Does. Again he hit speed dial for her cell phone. Still no answer. The sound of her voice on the recorded greeting plunged into his heart like a dagger of ice, evoking images of Shari in a dark alley, bloodied with a knife protruding from her chest. He shook his head hard to chase the vision away.
He went back into the kitchen and properly prepared the coffee. He dressed while the coffee brewed. When it was ready, he bolted down a cup so fast he scalded his mouth.
Maybe she had an overnight business trip and he’d forgotten. Or maybe, he rebuked himself, I just wasn’t listening when she told me. If she was away on work-related travel, the superintendent might know.He picked up the phone and called his number again. Robert Irving answered, ‘What?’
‘I was wondering . . .’ Conrad began.
‘Who is this?’ Irving interrupted.
Conrad hung up, grabbed his keys and headed out to his car to drive downtown to the police station.