Hush Money

By: T. E. Woods

Chapter 1


NOW

My hands are so sticky. The young woman stumbled forward a few hesitant steps. She stopped, examining her hands as though it were the first time she’d seen them. She pressed her fingers together, then pulled them apart. Together. Apart. Is it supposed to be like this? She smeared her hands against her black trousers, trying to clear whatever viscous substance coated them. Bits of fiber from her slacks added another layer of pollution to her skin. She ran her hands across her torso, hoping the stiff cotton of her white blouse would succeed where the smooth wool had failed. Her prize was a deep red smear across her stomach and chest.

This isn’t right, either. She lifted her hands to her nose and smelled a mixture of iron and earth. Have I spilled something?

The woman looked around her. I should know where I am. Her brain played a frustrating game, teasing her with memories linked to nothing. That porcelain rose is trimmed in real gold. I must never use chemicals to clean it. She struggled to recall how she knew that, only to be tormented with another phantom bit of knowledge. There’s a safe behind that wall. Who had used it to hide things eluded her.

I should have been at work an hour ago. That mental announcement came with such authority it was as though it were spoken outside her body. But aren’t I at work now? She struggled to focus. No answer came to her. Instead an icy jolt of pain slashed somewhere behind her eyes. She lifted her left hand to soothe the excruciating spot and felt the warm, sticky substance transfer to her forehead.

There’s another room straight ahead. His room. I’m never to be in there unless he is, too. Who he was she couldn’t say. Only the rule floated in her consciousness. She was never to enter without permission, and even then only if he accompanied her. I was just in there. He was there. She staggered down the carpeted corridor, dragging her left hand against the wall, as though she was in a maze and needed to keep hold of her anchor.

There he was. On the floor. Just like before. She looked away. Down to where his shoeless feet rested in a pool of something thick. Something the same crimson as the goo that spattered her own hands. Her eyes noticed something new. She bent over to pick it up. It was heavy. Cold.

I know what this is. She closed her eyes and demanded her brain provide the name of the object she held. The memory of loud explosions came to her, accompanied by the stink of smoke and the echoing clang of metal on metal. She opened her eyes and looked at the object again. This did it to him. This…thing. She dropped the object to the floor and forced herself to look at the man. His face was slack. Pale. She kicked the toe of her shoe against the sole of his foot.

He didn’t move.

I know him. He knows me. Still no name came to her. The man’s shirt was soaked with red. Did he spill something? Did he make this mess?

Her chest seized with a choking intake of breath. For a moment, all fog lifted and she was gifted one distilled truth.

This man is dead.

Terror grabbed her throat. A heartbeat later the hazy blanket descended on her brain again, leaving one parting comfort.

I’m glad.





Chapter 2


SIX WEEKS AGO

“It’s starting to smell pretty ripe out there, Your Honor.” Melanie White closed the door to the mayor’s inner office and peeled off her sodden raincoat. “Even this deluge can’t wash away the stink.”

Roger Millerman leaned back in his leather chair and focused on how her trousers tightened across her world-class ass as she leaned forward to shake the April rain out of her hair. If she was a step or two closer, he might get a good look down that pink blouse of hers, too. Damn, he thought. That woman could make a potato sack look hot as Freak Night in Vegas. Somebody ought to run a Sexiest City Council Members contest. Melanie would win in a shutout. He smiled at the thought of Melanie heading up yet another list of bests.

“They’re homeless, not stupid,” he said. “They have sense enough to come in out of the rain, and the front porch of the City-County Building is as good a refuge as any.”

“They’re bringing their dogs and their shopping carts full of trash with them.” Melanie didn’t wait for an invitation. She crossed the mayor’s office and sat in the brown tweed chair nearest his desk. “And from the reek of urine, they don’t bother running to Starbucks to relieve themselves, either. For God’s sake, Roger. This is where schools bring the kids for field trips. Where all the Cheeseheads from Packer Land want to visit when they come to the big city. Do you really think dozens of drunks and drug-addled losers lolling on the city’s doorstep is the kind of image you want to project?”