Lily went into her husband’s study to get a pen. She sat down at his desk. She loved to do that when he wasn’t home. The smell of him in the leather chair was exhilarating. Her hand touched the keyboard. The monitor lit up. He hadn’t logged off and his email account was open to a message. She couldn’t help but read:
My dear Sophie,
I thought of you all of last night. I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I wrote a little piece for you this morning. Hope it conveys how I feel. Can’t wait to see you soon, ma cherie. Je t’aime de tout mon coeur.
I yearn for your touch
Your sweet and soft caress
To your memories I clutch
Even when her body I possess
I hold her but feel your warmth
I look at her but see your face
She is south but you are north
In your very special place
My longing for you will not stop
It into desire for her I cannot morph
My tears for you dare not drop
For then she’ll surely wipe them off
If she does I cannot withstand
The wish that it was your hand.
Her heart was pounding by the time she finished reading this. The headache was back as well as the voices. They were louder now. The room felt dark. Yelling, she grabbed the keyboard and flung it into the monitor, cracking the screen. She grabbed the monitor, yanked it, cords and all and flung it against the wall. Several pictures came crashing down. She toppled the leather chair over. She reached over to the wires that were connected to the monitor and yanked them. She didn’t notice the spark. She didn’t notice it getting bigger. She was too busy destroying his study. She didn’t notice the smoke. She kept yelling. The voices….they were louder…
The piercing screech of the smoke alarm shocked her out of her destructive trance. The voices vanished. She noticed the smoke and for a minute wondered where it came from. She realized the monitor wires were smoldering. She pulled what was left out of the wall socket. The smoke alarm kept screeching. She was all of a sudden very focused. She ran to the powder room, grabbed a towel, ran back to the study and placed it over the smoldering wires. She then climbed on the desk and disabled the smoke detector. The silence was so peaceful. She got down, collapsed on the floor and started crying. Her whole body shook as the sobs escaped her and tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t stop but she knew she had to. She had work to do.
Composing herself, she stood up and walked over to the powder room and cleaned up. She then went upstairs and got her phone. She made a phone call.
“Hi Dawyne! Lily Strom here. Can you please drop whatever you are doing and come over to the house?… Now!…Thanks!” She hung up.
Lily Strom is the best interior decorator in town. There is no doubt about that. When Sophie Babineaux, a rather amazing and beautiful French sculptor moved into town from Paris and needed someone to decorate her home and studio, Lily was recommended. That is how they met. Lily’s husband Charles lived and studied in Paris in his 20’s and spoke fluent French. Lily introduced him to Sophie. Well, it looked like they had hit it off pretty well because now, he was apparently sleeping with her and writing her love poetry. The son of a bitch! They were both going to pay dearly for this.
The doorbell rang. She went to get the door. It was Dwayne, her contractor. She had called him. She let him in and showed him the studio. She fed him a story – two squirrels got into the study and in trying to get them out, she had caused some damage. She needed the place fixed before her husband got back Sunday night. He had two days. If he didn’t believe her, he didn’t show it. Dwayne had come to learn that with Mrs Strom, the fewer questions, the better.
Over the next few weeks, she behaved like all was normal and she had no idea of her husband’s affair. She was the ever loving wife. She however hired a private detective and he furnished her with all the evidence she needed. Her husband and Sophie Babineaux were definitely having an affair. The detective brought the pictures by one Friday afternoon to her downtown office. She paid him and after he left, she opened the envelope. The pictures were pretty graphic. As she starred at them, she slowly drifted off. Her heart started pounding and the headache returned. Then she heard it. This time it was just a voice. A quiet reassuring voice. It kept repeating the same word over and over. She felt her heart slow. The headache receded. She felt better. The voice was right. She knew what to do. Soon, they’ll both pay for this. Soon….
Lily walked into her home office. The sun was streaming through the big windows belying the fact that it was chilly outside. She walked to a safe set in the wall next to her desk and placed her left hand over the top right corner of the safe door. She punched in some numbers and opened the safe. In the safe was a box. She typed in the code and opened the lid. She picked out a smaller envelope and laid the pictures and report she had received from the private eye in the box. As she made to place the smaller envelope in the box, a picture fell out. She picked it up. A strange look came over her face as she looked at the picture. Her fists tightened and her heart started pounding. The images came fast and furious. She could still hear his scream as he tumbled off the cliff, the pure look of terror in his eyes. It was so easy – shoving him off Pike’s Peak as they hiked. Terrible accident. He deserved it. The bastard. Cheating on him with Amy Best, that slutty junior. As quickly as the images came, they went away. She put the picture back in the envelope, locked up the box, closed the safe and walked out of the office.
They met every Wednesday afternoon. Charles was supposed to be teaching a class at the School of Architecture but he had one of his associates do that. Instead, he met Sophie in the 6th Street parking structure. They always left both their cars there and hopped into an Escalade with tinted windows he left parked in a private slot in there all the time. Lily didn’t know he even had that car. Together, they drove to the little cottage in the woods in St Peter’s, just outside town. He had found it years ago on a bike ride. When things got serious with Sophie, he bought the place and had it renovated. Now it was their secret hideaway.
He touched her knee as he drove and mouthed “Je t’aime” to her. She mouthed back “Aussi”.
Sophie…petite, smart, funny, sweet as versus Lily. Ah well, he planned to ask for a divorce next week. He knew she will clean him out but he didn’t care anymore. All he wanted to do was be with Sophie forever. At 54, he felt really loved for the first time ever. To think that Lily had introduced them! Well, what was meant to be will be, he thought.
The dim room was lit by two candles and the late midday sun struggled to pierce through the blinds. The two bodies on the bed moved together like in a rhythmic dance, swelling and falling. Just before she burst into the wave of ecstasy, he encircled her neck with his hands and squeezed. The wave rose higher, carrying her with it. He squeezed tighter. Her scream was passionate and blissful. He let go. They lay together, still, hugging each other tight. She was shaking. She always shook afterwards. Charles whispered sweet nothings into her ear and she moaned softly. He kissed her again.
“Do you want a drink?”, he asked.
She nodded. He got out of bed and headed out of the bedroom to go downstairs to make drinks. He closed the door behind him. Sophie turned around in the bed, face down and arched her back, still tingling all over.
She didn’t see the closet door open. She didn’t see the black-clad shadowy figure in a black ski mask walk over to the bed. She heard a muffled “Hi!”. She flipped over to stare into a masked face with eyes that looked strangely familiar but full of a weird intensity. Just as she was about to scream, the intruder covered her mouth with a gloved hand.
“How does it feel to sleep with another woman’s husband?”, the intruder asked.
The fear in Sophie eyes were palpable. The voice. Sounded muffled but familiar. Where was Charles? She tried to scream but couldn’t. The intruder was holding her down and she could hardly move.
In a swift move, the intruder grabbed a pillow and placed it over Sophie’s face. The intruder’s body was on Sophie so she could also hardly move. In the darkness, she thought she heard, “Au revoir, bitch!” She could care less about what the intruder said as she struggled to breathe. The intruder held the pillow tighter on her face, keeping the rest of Sophie’s body down too. Soon, the struggling ceased. The intruder took the pillow off Sophie’s face and felt for Sophe’s pulse. Nothing. The intruder walked to the door and listened. There was still no sign of Charles. He was still probably looking for his horde of whiskey. That had been hidden. The intruder stepped out of the bedroom, made a left turn and headed towards the staircase that lead directly to the back door. Thank God for two sets of staircases. The intruder opened the back door and stepped outside into the sunset and raced towards the woods. The trees opened up to swallow the black-clad figure.
Charles finally found a bottle of cognac and glasses and decided to carry them up. He wondered what the housekeeper had done with all the whiskey.
“Cherie, I couldn’t find the drinks. Sorry!”, he stated.
There was no response.
He walked over to the bed, set the bottle and glasses down on the bedside table and poured some cognac into each glass. He turned to hand over a glass to Sophie. She wouldn’t move.
“Hey, are you sleeping?”, he asked.
He touched her. There was no response. He shook her. Nothing. He turned the bedside lamp on even as he starred into her lifeless eyes. He gasped. He felt for a pulse. Nothing. His heart was racing. He felt faint. He got up and rushed to get his phone from his jacket downstairs.
He dialed 911. He ran back up and started pushing rhythmically on her chest. Her lifeless eyes starred forlornly at him. He started praying.
If hell is real, Charles found himself in it in the weeks and months following Sophie’s death. He had just lost a woman he loved and kept wondering if their sexual practices had something to do with it. Lily seemed for some reason, really buoyant and oblivious to what he was going through. It wasn’t like he could share his pain with her.
Then came the visit by the cops, the interrogation at the station downtown and the arrest. He was charged with killing Sophie. His lawyer came by the next day to brief him on the case. The autopsy showed death by asphyxiation and Sophie’s death was deemed a homicide. He became the one and only suspect. They searched the cottage and got DNA evidence. They searched Sophie’s home and studio and found pictures of them making love. There was a video of him choking her during love making. They also found her journal. In the last five entries, she wrote about her guilt about the affair and how she wanted to end it. She wrote about how she was scarred about telling him because of his temper. They seized his computers from his home and office and found emails between the two of them.
No matter how much Charles denied killing her, the evidence, circumstantial as it may be, was quite damning. He kept wondering when she took all those pictures and made the video. He knew for sure, Sophie wasn’t planing on leaving her. They were planing a trip to France to see her family. And he didn’t even think she had a journal!
At the bond hearing, the DA argued that he was a flight risk. The judge bought it and he was stuck back in his cell. The nightmare continued. All through this, Lily never called or came by. His brother in San Francisco came to visit though. His life as he knew it was gone forever. All he had worked hard to build – the top architectural firm in the state with national and international recognition – was destroyed. He had heard that his main competitor, Alan Dean, had basically cannibalized his whole firm. Somehow, Lily didn’t seem to care. Could he blame her? As he sat alone in his cell wondering how it all came to this, the tears came down. Then he asked himself over and over, who could have killed Sophie and why.
The trial was front page news. The handsome architect and the French sculptor. Murder in the heat of passion. The jilted rich wife. It was as juicy as it comes. In the end, Charles was found guilty of manslaughter and given a 10-year sentence! Lily was never in court.
He was sent to the maximum security prison upstate. His life as he knew it was over.
Lily sat and looked out into the distance. She was on the balcony of the beach house. You could hear the waves crashing on the rocks. She had just read that Charles had been found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail. She decided to drink some champagne to his health. The smile she wore on her face was broad and the bikini she had on skimpy. She loved Jamaica, especially the men and the one lying beside her was a prime specimen. She glanced over to look at his lean chocolate body, licked her lips and smiled again. She picked up a card she had been writing, stuck it in an envelope and sealed it. Ah well, to each his own, she thought.
Alan Dean had been the premier architect in town till Charles Strom showed up. With Charles’ European training and extra degrees in art and engineering, he was soon getting all the big contracts. It didn’t help that his work was really good. Dean hated Charles with a passion. Things came to a head when designs were sought for the new sports complex. The city was going to construct a massive complex that would house all the teams – football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey! The deal would be worth millions. He had to get it but Charles stood in his way. Dean’s firm was struggling and getting that deal would save him. After much thinking, he decided to play hard ball and started to dig for dirt on Charles. Soon, he found out about the affair with the French sculptor and their hideaway. He got tiny surveillance cameras installed in the bedroom. The video was captured onto a drive in the basement of his firm’s offices, the Dean Building. He and his chief of security were the only ones with access. Dean’s plan was to use the video to blackmail Charles into dropping out. Everyone knew Charles was scared of his wife.
Well, then he killed the French Sculptor! Dean couldn’t have planned it any better. He was going to get the deal for the sports complexes. In the excitement, both he and his security chief totally forgot the surveillance cameras and the video. In the next months, he literally cannibalized all of Charles’ staff. What he really wanted were Charles’ plans for the sports complex. His spy at the Strom offices had told him they were impressive. Another spy at the county office told him that the city planners had seen parts of Charles’ plans and loved them. He learnt that the plans were on Charles’ Mac. Well, the cops had that. And there was no model yet. How was he ever going to get them? As he sat there thinking about it, he suddenly remembered the surveillance tapes. For some unknown reason, de decided to go down and see them. He headed to the basement.
Alan Dean sat in the dimly lit room in the basement of the Dean Building not believing what he was watching. Strom really did not kill that French woman. In spite of his hate for him, he felt a pang of pity. Watching Strom and Sophie together, he saw two people who were in love and it somehow tugged at his heart. He himself had a mistress who meant the world to him and all of a sudden he could relate. Alan Dean sat in that room staring at the screen wondering what he was going to do…
Charles lay in his cell reading a message on a card he had received in the mail that morning. There was no name or address on the envelope or card. It had been mailed locally. He read the poem again:
Do you still yearn for her touch?
Her sweet and gentle caress?
To what memories do you clutch?
Whose body do you possess?
Do you still feel her warmth?
And see her face?
Now she is definitely south
In a not so special place
Can your pain into desire morph
Do your tears dare drop?
I’ll not wipe them off
You do not have to withstand
The thought that it’s my hand.
It was a play on a sonnet he had written for Sophie a while back. Someone had gotten access to her email and read the poem. Who was it?
Greg Maurice was a very good defense attorney. He couldn’t keep Charles out of jail and that ate at him. There was something about the case that just didn’t add up but he couldn’t put his finger on it. His phone rang breaking his contemplation. It was James M Pearl III, another attorney in town who he couldn’t stand. Mr Pearl III carried himself with a pseudo-aristocratic air that irked the down-to-earth Mr Maurice. After the pretended niceties, Mr Pearl III told him the call was about his client Charles Strom. They agreed to meet at noon in Mr Maurice’s office.
The little girl hid in the closet. She could hear screaming in her parents bedroom. There was another man in the bedroom with mum when she and dad got home. Now dad was screaming and the little girl was scared and hiding in the closet. Suddenly there was a loud boom and she heard her mum scream. Next came more booms. Then her dad started calling out for her, in his loud booming voice. She curled herself in the closet praying he wouldn’t find her. In the distance, she heard sirens. A final boom broke the cacophony of the sirens for an instant and then they got louder. She opened the door gently and stepped out. She headed towards her parents’ bedroom. She hadn’t gone but a few feet when she saw the blood. She started screaming.
Lily sat up bold upright, screaming, her brow covered by sweat. She still had that nightmare and always woke up screaming. It was one of the reasons she insisted on keeping separate bedrooms. Some memories never went away and became nightmares. She sank her head in her hands and started sobbing.
James M Pearl III was very punctual to the meeting with Greg Maurice. Mr Pearl III informed him that one of his clients had information that would exonerate Charles. Greg Maurice sat up. He asked if the client had been to the cops. Mr Pearl III said that his client wanted some concessions from Charles before he did that. They kept talking.
The only visitors Charles had ever had since he went upstate were his brother, who had visited once and his attorney, when he brought the divorce papers from Lily for him to sign. He was surprised when he was told there were two men waiting to see him. It was his attorney, Greg Maurice and a white-haired gentlemen. Greg introduced him as Mr Pearl. They talked for a while. They talked until the guards told them it was time to leave. As Charles shuffled away into his cell, his back looked straighter and his head looked like it was held higher.
The meeting was held at the DA’s office in the Courthouse. Present was the DA, the chief detective on the Sophie Babineaux murder case, Detective Craig, Greg Maurice, James M Pearl III and Alan Dean. Mr Dean had brought copies of the surveillance tapes from Charles’ cottage.
In one clip, they saw a gentleman planting what looked like tiny cameras around the master bedroom, where Sophie died. In another clip, he come back to remove the cameras.
“That is local private detective, Pat Wheeler. He works on a lot of divorce cases”, Detective Craig offered.
In the next clip was Lily Strom. She stood in the middle of the bedroom for about a minute and then she went into the closet and closed the door. She was in the closet for a full 5 min or so before she came out. Then she walked out.
In the next clip, one saw Sophie alive, lying on the bed even as Charles walks out. Then Sophie turns face down and the intruder steps out of the closet. A gasp could be heard around the room.
“We tried to contact Mr Wheeler. He has vanished. We searched his office and lifted a strange finger print. It matched a finger print we found at Ms Babineaux’s studio and in the cottage. We still have to match it. It does not match Mr Strom’s”, the detective explained.
“At this point, I think Mr Strom deserves another trial”, Mr Maurice pointed out.
“Have we questioned Mrs Strom?”, the DA asked.
“We plan to do it shortly”, the detective answered. “We wanted to ran DNA tests on samples from the cottage first.”
“Is she a suspect?”, the DA asked.
“At this point both she and Mr Wheeler are suspects”, replied the detective.
“OK, I’ll present the new findings to the judge”, the DA stated.
The meeting broke up.
Detective Craig drove back to the cottage. It bothered him that they had missed the cameras that Alan Dean had had installed. He wondered what else his team had missed. He parked his car and walked up to the door. He took a key from his jacket and unlocked the door. He walked upstairs into the master bedroom. He walked around, looking for something. He knew not what but hoped the room would give him a clue. He walked to the closet and opened the door. It was dim in there. He turned on the light and kept looking around and then it caught his eye. He bent down and looked down at it. It looked like a strand of hair. He got up, took out his phone and made a call.
A few days later, Detective Craig got a call. He listened closely and asked “Are you definite?”
Then he said, “Good job!”. He hung up.
He dialed a number on his phone. He reached the DA. He said, “It was a match”
There was silence at the other end. Finally the DA said, “Thank you.”
The next morning, Charles Strom appeared before a judge in the city. The case against him was dropped and all charges dismissed. His record was wiped clean. Due to new and more compelling evidence, he was a free man.
His attorney, Greg Maurice brought him a suit and he had changed into that before the hearing. He left the courthouse with Greg still not believing what was going on. The one man who hated him most in town had just saved his life. He owed Alan Dean a lot. Greg drove Charles to the Dean Building. Charles had a meeting with Alan Dean. Before showing the video to the cops, Alan Dean had gotten Charles to make a promise. That Charles would come work with him on the sports complex project. Charles knew he had lost everything and had all to gain from agreeing to the deal. He did. Alan had kept his end of the bargain. Now it was time for him to keep up his end.
Alan Dean received them in his office. He came round and actually gave Charles a hug. He muttered a sorry and shook his hand. Charles muttered a thank you. Then Alan said, “Come, let me show you your office.”
As they walked towards his new office, he couldn’t help but think of Sophie. A sadness came over him.
DNA technology is a wonderful thing. Using that, the cops had been able to match the hair sample from the closet in the bedroom in the cottage to a sample taken off Sophie’s body and Pat Wheeler (the private detective’s) office. The DNA didn’t match Charles, Sophie, the housekeeper or the private detective’s. Whose was it? Detective Craig had a hunch. That is why he was standing in front of the Strom residence ringing the bell. There was no answer. He got into the car and left. He drove to the court house where he obtained a search warrant for the Strom residence. After a few phone calls, he learnt that Mrs Strom was out of town and was not expected back for another week. That night, he, a team of cops and his forensics people descended on the Strom home. He also brought along a home security expert who was able to disable the home security system.
Charles kept wondering if Lily could have killed Sophie. She was in the cottage. The masked intruder almost walked like her. Could she have? He sent a message:
“Lily! I was exonerated. New evidence points to another suspect. I apologize for everything. Charles.”
Lily landed back in town two days later. She was flustered and angry. What evidence? She had covered up her tracks pretty well. Even that private detective was gone. So what could they have found. Or was Charles bluffing? He should be in jail.
The taxi dropped her off and she let herself into her home. She brought her suitcases in and locked the door behind her. Then she walked into the kitchen and sitting there at the island was Charles. She let out a gasp.
“What the heck are you doing here?”, she asked.
“Last time I looked, this was still my house too”, he answered. The he asked, “Why did you have to kill her, Lily? Why”
“Leave now or I’ll call the cops”, she threatened.
“Why don’t you do that” , he suggested.
She turned and walked off returning shortly with a Glock 19 that she pointed at him.
“Are you going to kill me like you killed Sophie and the private detective. Or that young man you shoved off Pikes Peak?”, Charles asked.
Lily’s left eye started twitching. “What do you know about George?”, she almost yelled out.
“He deserved to die. Just like Sophie. Just like my mum. Just like you. All cheaters deserve to die”, she yelled.
Charles couldn’t believe the transformation. She looked like in a trance. Her yes had attained a glassy, far-away look.
“Drop that gun, Mrs Strom”, ordered Detective Craig who had materialized out of nowhere. Lily spun around. She was starring now at Detective Craig and another cop. Both had guns. She spun around and in the place where Charles stood were 2 more cops with guns. The voices had started up again. The headache…the voices…her heart was pounding.. she heard it now loud and clear….that voice…it’s message was clear. It said “Kill! Kill! Kill!”… then she heard it…her dad’s voice calling, “Lily, Lily! Where are you?”
She put the muzzle of her gun to her head and yelling, “I’m here dad”, pulled the trigger. Boom!