Hello again dear Readers!
Claudia’s lover, Dominic, has died in flagrante delicto leaving her in an impossible dilemma. What will she do next?
To find out, keep reading and… enjoy!
LOVE HIM TO DEATH
The bottle of wine sat, half-finished, on the side table next to the sofa so Claudia emptied it down the sink and rinsed away all traces. She put the bottle into her bag; she’d get rid of it later. Her brain clicked into automatic cleaning mode and she wiped the kitchen bench then washed, dried and put away the glasses. The bedroom door was wide open, so she pulled it half-closed. Claudia returned to the living room, plumped the sofa cushions and surveyed the scene. She nodded, feeling calmer.
Claudia had two choices.
One: she could call the police. But they would want statements. His death might be deemed suspicious which meant the coroner would call her to court to give evidence. His wife and Wilson would find out. Strike choice Number One.
That left her with Number Two: leave him here. But how long was his friend away? A month? Or longer? Dominic’s wife would report him missing. A search would take place but nobody would find him because they didn’t know about the apartment. Would the smell of his decomposing body alert the neighbors? How long would that take? It didn’t bear thinking about.
What if she rang the ambulance anonymously and left before they arrived? But the paramedics would call the police and, even if she spent the next two hours scrubbing every surface, the cops were sure to find enough DNA to prove somebody else had been in the apartment. And what if a neighbor saw her arrive or glimpsed her leaving? It would only be a matter of time before the police knocked at her door. Claudia shuddered, picturing a pimply faced, uniformed constable requesting she accompany him to the police station to answer questions, the look of bewilderment on Wilson’s face followed by shock then hardening into suspicion. No! Wilson would never forgive her. He’d be ruthless. She’d lose everything.
What if she called the police herself and explained the situation to them? Mightn’t they understand? They were human… chances were they’d seen it all before. They might accept her statement and let her go. Maybe they’d agree to inform his wife without mentioning the circumstances in which he was found. Claudia gave a bitter laugh. In your dreams, girl.
Why hadn’t Dominic gone home when she suggested it? Why did he have to be so darn greedy for sex? If he’d listened to her, Dominic would be at home right now with his bitch of a wife and she’d be at home with Wilson. Then Dominic would still be alive and she wouldn’t be going out of her mind with a dead body in the next room. Claudia pounded her fist against the armrest. Damn him to hell! Damn! Damn! Damn!
Stop it! She had to think straight or she was lost. Had anyone ever seen them together? Claudia didn’t think so. Whenever they were out in public, they always met at an obscure bar or café where nobody knew them. Kate was the only person she’d ever told. And Dominic swore he’d never mentioned her name to his friend with the Aston Martin. Claudia exhaled a long, slow breath. Maybe it would work out after all and—
A scuffling noise at the door.
Claudia froze as a key turned in the lock. The door opened. Something dragged across the floor. A suitcase? The door slammed shut. She struggled to her feet. Where could she hide? Frantic, Claudia’s eyes scanned the room. There were no curtains on the windows, only blinds. She ducked behind the sofa just in time.
Purposeful, masculine steps strode down the tiled hallway towards the kitchen.
Her bag! It was still on the sofa! What if the man noticed it? She held her breath. Water ran in the kitchen. Claudia peeped above the back of the sofa. No sign of the man. She grabbed the handle of her bag and yanked it towards her, her heart thumping against her chest.
A cupboard door opened and closed. Footsteps again. They walked towards the bedroom.
“Shit!” the man exploded. She glimpsed him as he darted towards the kitchen. He was tall and slim and blonde; a handsome, elegant man… like James Bond… a man who drives an Aston Martin BD5.
What if he found Claudia hiding behind the sofa? How could she explain what happened to Dominic? He might detain her against her will and call the police. Then she’d be up shit creek without a paddle. Why hadn’t she left earlier when she had the chance?
Buttons beeped on a telephone. It was now or never. She had to risk it. Rising from her hiding place behind the sofa, Claudia swung her bag over her shoulder and tiptoed towards the front door, her legs feeling like cooked spaghetti that might give way at any minute and send her tumbling to ground. She stopped when she reached the entrance. The man was on the telephone, his voice demanding and authoritative. Claudia heard snatches of the telephone conversation: “Yes… in the bedroom… dead… worked… I don’t know… soon… wait…”
The front door opened noiselessly. She slid through and closed it behind her, the lock barely clicking. The elevator dinged, stopping on the floor below. Claudia pressed the button and waited, stealing sideways glances at the apartment door, praying the owner wouldn’t emerge. Hurry up, she begged. The elevator arrived and the door rolled open.
It was empty. Claudia exhaled and stepped inside watching the numbered lights descend until the elevator reached the bottom. She peered from the open door, her finger poised above the Close Door button. The coast was clear. She scurried towards the stairwell. Inside, there was another door. Claudia opened it tentatively: a large room with a cement floor. Four washing machines and four dryers lined the far wall. Untidy rows of garbage bins flanked either side of the fire exit door. Claudia navigated her way through the bins, pushed open the door and sneaked outside, finding herself in a tiny alleyway at the back of the apartment building. She looked left then right. Head down, she clutched her handbag to her chest and hurried along the street, only slowing when she turned the corner and the apartment building was out of sight.
She’d made it! Nobody had seen her leave. Dominic was dead but his body would not lie, rotting and stinking, in that lonely king-sized bed. His friend – the tall, blonde man – would have to break the news to Dominic’s wife. Even if he called the police, the trail would never lead to Claudia because nobody knew she existed.
Claudia took a deep, slow breath and gazed at the sky. Delicate wisps of white fluff swam in a sea of bright, clear blue. Tears of relief welled behind her eyelids and blurred her vision. The horizon resembled a Monet painting. She wiped her eyes with her hand. Wilson loved art. When Claudia got home, she’d suggest they visit the Art Gallery—or, better still, what about the Louvre? It would be autumn in Paris now.
Claudia sailed down the street, peering at the displays in the shop windows, mentally planning her wardrobe for the upcoming trip while she waited for an empty cab. What if she rang Wilson now and suggested the trip to Paris? He’d be charmed, she was sure. He was always saying how much he loved her impetuosity.
Claudia checked her bag for her cell-phone. Where was the damn thing? She always kept it in the side pocket. Had it fallen to the bottom? She rummaged around: keys… wallet… lipstick… tissues… sunglasses… but no ‘phone.
Her cell-phone must still be at the apartment! Claudia had pulled it out when she’d contemplated calling the ambulance earlier. She groaned, remembering how she’d chucked it at the sofa in frustration. It must have fallen behind a cushion. What if the man found it and rang her home number?And what if Wilson answered? She’d have to go back. But if she pressed the buzzer, people might see her. A garbage truck rumbled past, heading towards the apartment block. Recalling the bins littering the doorway, Claudia followed the truck. It turned down the alley and stopped in front of the building’s fire exit door. A man wearing overalls climbed from the passenger seat and pressed the intercom button at the side of the door. The door clicked and the man propped it open. She waited until he wheeled out two garbage bins to the back of the truck before sneaking back inside.
Claudia debated taking the elevator but decided against it and trudged up three flights of stairs, her elation of a few hours ago now a distant memory. Her mind was awash. What would she say when he answered the door? She’d have to confess everything and hope the man was a good enough friend to Dominic so he would keep their guilty secret.
She gave two soft knocks on the door. Claudia’s heart raced as she waited for his footsteps to approach.
But there was no sound at all. She planted her ear against the door.
Claudia’s fingers fastened around a key-ring in her handbag. Dominic gave it to her in case he was ever late. “I had a copy made,” he’d said as he dropped it into her palm and closed her fingers around it. “Now you won’t have to wait outside if I’m held up.” So far, she’d never had to use it.
Claudia knocked again, feeling bolder. After two minutes, she inserted her key into the lock and opened the front door. She sniffed. Aftershave… glorious and expensive. What if he was showering and hadn’t heard her knock? She stopped and listened. The apartment was empty. He must have left straight after his telephone call. But where had the man gone?
Claudia tiptoed towards the bedroom. She had to see Dominic one more time. The door was ajar. She raised her hand to push it open. Wait a minute. Could she really bear to see him lying there when she was responsible for his death? She shook her head. No. She’d said her good-byes. Dominic was gone but she still inhabited the real world and now she had to save her marriage. Claudia closed the door.
There was no time to waste. She had to find her cell-phone and get out. Her eyes searched the sofa. There was no sign of her phone. She thrust her hand down the back of the sofa then lifted the seat cushions and swore. Her cell-phone had disappeared into thin air!
The kitchen? She ran to the doorway. The benches were bare. She gripped the side of a chair to stop her hands shaking. If it wasn’t in her bag, it must be in the apartment somewhere for God’s sake! Where else could it be?
The faint wail of a siren broke the silence of the empty apartment. Claudia’s blood froze as the siren grew louder. It was coming closer! Brakes squealed as two vehicles rounded the corner. The siren gave a final wail and petered out.
Claudia lifted the blind and peeped from the window. A police car and ambulance parked in front of the building and two uniformed police officers climbed out of the car. The woman officer was thickset with short, blonde hair. She approached the ambulance and spoke briefly with the driver before nodding at her colleague and donning her cap. The officers walked towards the entrance door of the apartment building.
Claudia’s heart pounded. They’d find her alone in the apartment then arrest her when they found Dominic’s body. She had to get out… now.
For the second time, she crept towards the front door and let herself out. The elevator dinged. They’d gotten in and would reach the fourth floor in a matter of seconds. Claudia dashed towards the stairwell, pulled open the heavy door and flattened herself against the wall.
Another ding. The elevator door opened. Muffled voices—she couldn’t make out their conversation—then a knock at the door. A few seconds passed. A loud thump. Wood splintering. They must have broken their way inside. Claudia pulled off her shoes, stuffed them into her bag and ran down the stairs, gripping the handrail for leverage and jumping the last few steps of every flight. When she reached the street level, she stopped. What if she ran into the ambulance officers?
But as long as the paramedics entered from the front, she couldn’t be seen. Claudia slipped through the basement door and sagged against the outside wall, her legs still shaky. For the second time that day she’d had a narrow escape.
But Claudia still felt uneasy. What about her missing cell-phone? Had the police found it in the apartment or did the blonde man take it? What if he tried to blackmail her and demand a massive amount of money? What if he went to the police—or worse—to Wilson and told him everything? Claudia moaned and sank to the ground, burying her head in her hands.
A soft breeze rustled the trees above her. Three yellow leaves fell to the ground and tumbled away with the wind. Claudia’s thoughts returned to autumn in Paris. She raised her head and smiled. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought. She’d searched high and low and hadn’t found her cell-phone in the apartment which meant the blonde man took it with him. That left her two courses of action.
One, she could erase her ‘phone data. Claudia remembered reading somewhere about deleting stored information remotely using a connected laptop. Once she’d wiped the information, the man would be unable to use the ‘phone to track her down or contact Wilson.
But there was another way. The apartment owner was an attractive man—tall, slim, debonair—just her type. What if she approached him and made him an offer? Claudia had yet to meet a man who’d refused her. It would be poetic justice if he took Dominic’s place in her bed.
She hailed a passing cab and climbed in. Her driver was a woman this time, grim-faced and officious, resisting all attempts to engage in conversation. When the cab pulled up outside the stately nineteenth century mansion Claudia shared with Wilson, she threw the money onto the front seat and slammed the door. Then she smoothed her hair, took a deep breath and headed towards the portico, her shoes crunching on the white gravel driveway…
End of Part Two