Murder by Perfection(8)

By: Lauren Carr

He brushed his fingers across her shoulders and down to her bosom. “Oh, I vote for ‘what not’.”

She brought her lips to his. “We haven’t done ‘what not’ in ten days.”

“So I heard.” He grasped her hips. “What do you want to do about that?”

“What not.”

The next morning, Jessica woke when Murphy got up and dressed before the sun rose. She tried to will herself back to sleep until at least when he returned from his run.

Upon seeing Murphy take his running shoes out of the closet, Spencer scampered across the bed and launched herself in his direction to beg him to take her along.

“Don’t worry,” he said in a whisper, “you can come, too.”

After dressing, he stood to the foot of the bed and took in the beauty that was his wife. Once again, he thanked God for bringing Jessica Faraday crashing into his life.

“You’re staring at me again,” she murmured without opening her eyes.

He knelt next to the bed and brushed a dark lock of hair from her cheek. “I love looking at you. You’re like one of those paintings in an art gallery. The more I stare at you, the more intrigued I become.”

“Intrigued or aroused?”

“That too.” He kissed her cheek and rose to his feet. “I’m meeting a friend to go running at the park. I should be back by nine.”

Anxious to embark on the run, Spencer stood up on her hind legs and clawed at him. He picked her up.

“I’ll cook breakfast then.” Instead of climbing out of bed, she pulled the comforter over her head and burrowed deeper among the covers.

Great Falls Park was only a short jog along the Potomac River behind the Faraday-Thornton home. Murphy and Jessica had worn a path to the treacherous trail that ran dangerously close to a steep rocky drop-off along a rapid portion of the river. The path led to Great Falls Park, at which point the national park service provided barricades and railings to protect runners from tumbling into the falls.

 As soon as they reached the river, Murphy checked the time on his tracker to discover that he was running late. It was seven o’clock on the nose. Even at a run, he was going to be a few minutes late. Murphy and Spencer picked up their pace.

They reached the top of a hill leading down to the park entrance when Murphy heard a gunshot in the distance.

With a yelp, Spencer turned around and looked imploringly up at him.

Murphy recognized the sound. It was a gunshot from a semi-automatic handgun. He gathered up Spencer’s leash to keep her close and stepped up his pace to a sprint—practically dragging the dog behind him.

The edge of the park’s parking lot was in sight. There was one sedan in the lot since the park had opened only minutes earlier. As Murphy raced down the hillside, a figure dressed in a blue running suit entered the trail heading in his direction. Upon seeing him, the runner spun around and sprinted in the opposite direction.

“Wait! Stop!” Dropping Spencer’s leash, Murphy slid on his rump to the bottom of the hill and jumped to his feet to pursue the figure who turned onto another trail leading to the main road.

As he ran past the sedan, Murphy saw that the driver’s side window was shattered, and the front windshield was covered with blood. He heard the shooter fleeing down an alternate dirt path several feet away. Murphy raced after the assailant only to come to a halt when the trail broke into a fork. One branch headed toward the river while the other led deeper into the woods.

In silence, he strained to listen for any sound to tell him which way to go. Hearing none, he ran back to the parking lot where he found Spencer whining and pacing with her leash dragging behind her at the end of the path. Not wanting her to walk through the broken glass, Murphy picked her up and tucked her under his arm before stepping up to the car.

Ross Caldwell was slumped across the middle console into the passenger seat.

“Ross? Ross, are you okay?” Murphy said, even though he knew that his friend could not answer. The inside of the sedan was drenched in blood, bone, and human tissue.

“Ross?” a feminine filtered voice called out breathlessly from inside the SUV. “Are you still there? What was that noise?”