Guilty as Sin

Owen felt the leather of the old winged chair press against his bare back. The dry, cracked leather bit against his flesh. He pushed himself harder into the uncomfortable piece of furniture. The dilapidated one bedroom apartment sat almost completely dark in the dusk of the day. The distinct smell of black mold emanated from underneath the threadbare carpet. Smoke stained walls, once white, added to the dirt and darkness that surrounded Owen. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels laid on the floor beside him.

In his left hand, he held a bottle of sleeping pills. Owen had truthfully told the doctor he had not been sleeping, but he did not intend to use the prescription for a good night’s sleep. He was going to take an eternal nap. Own placed the pill bottle in his lap and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket with his other hand.  He scrolled through his contacts and found Daisy’s phone number. She answered on the third ring.

“Owen?”

Owen pulled the pill bottle from between his legs and rolled it against his thigh as he spoke. “I just called to say I’m sorry. I knew I was playing with fire when I went to lunch with Fay. She was vulnerable and lonely. I should have said no that day, but the work hours had been so long, and I just wanted a break. No, that’s an excuse. I’m guilty. I’m guilty of betraying your trust, our vows. I deserve what’s coming to me.”

Daisy’s voice was tense. “Honey, I told you I forgive you. You’ve never been that sort of husband. I just wanted us to spend some time apart. I can forgive you, but the healing takes time. I still love you.”

Tears began to stream down Owen’s face. He could no longer hold back the sadness in his voice. “No, I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I don’t deserve you and the kids. When we were young, we had so many dreams, so many goals. Do you remember? Our kids were going to grow up with one family, just like we did. Now, we’re just another broken family. I blew it.”

Daisy’s voice rose in panic, “Owen, what are you doing?”

“The only thing I can to bring some sense of honor back. I just called to say goodbye.”

“How is giving up honorable?”

“I’m guilty as sin. There’s only one recourse for the kind of pain I’ve caused. No divorce, no custody battles, just a clean break from this world so you can move on.”

Daisy’s voice trembled, “No, no! Don’t you dare. Weren’t you listening? I ‘ve already forgiven you.”

Owen placed the bottle between his thighs again and twisted off the cap. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I don’t deserve the kids or any of it. I deserve to die in his hell hole I found to stay in.”

“Don’t you dare. I won’t forgive you if you harm yourself. It was a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, but what you’re about to do isn’t a mistake. It’s giving up. If you do this, you’re abandoning us, and that’s worse than anything you ever did with Fay.”

Owen held the cap between his fingers. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“If you do this you’re hurting me forever. Is that what you want to do to me? Do you want to hurt me now?”

Owen stopped playing with the lid. “No, but can’t you see? I deserve this.”

Daisy’s voice was firm, “No, you don’t. You need to listen to me. The only person you hurt was me. If you do this, you’ll hurt the kids too.  Don’t give into your shame. We can come back from this together.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’re just saying this because you think you have to stop me.”

Owen could hear Daisy’s frustrated sigh before she responded. “Don’t be so stupid. You know I love you, and I know you love me. Otherwise, why would you be calling, or think about killing yourself?”

Daisy’s words cut into Owen’s heart. Kill himself. He was no murderer, but then his shame reminded him he was no adulterer until he was. Daisy’s voice cut through his darkness.

“Honey, I want you to come home. I didn’t ask you to leave so you would do this. Just promise me, you won’t hurt yourself. Come home, and we’ll get some counseling. Just somebody to help us work this all out. Please, don’t hurt yourself.”

Owen sighed and put down the bottle cap. “I don’t deserve to come home.”

Daisy’s voice cracked, “Of course you don’t, but that is what forgiveness is all about. It isn’t deserved, it’s given. It’s part of love. I love you, and I forgive you. You made a mistake. You don’t want to make that same mistake again, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then come home. Don’t be a coward. If you love me, you’ll forget whatever you are planning and come home.”

Owen sighed and dropped his head. Daisy was right. Inside he could feel shame begin to darken his mind once more. Fighting against the oppression, he pushed his way out of the old chair before the darkness could press him further into it. The bottle and cap fell to the floor and the pills scattered. Owen took a step towards the wall and turned on the light. A dark shadow appeared to shoot across the room and was gone.

Daisy’s voice was anxious and trembling. “Are you there?”

“Yeah, honey. I’m here. You’re right, as usual. I’m no coward, and I want to fight for you and the kids. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I want to make this work. Let me get my stuff together, and I’ll be home soon.”

Daisy’s voice calmed, “I love you, honey.”

“I love you too.”


 

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Alone at Last

“Where are we?” asked Lucy as she stared at her phone’s screen.

Jeff quipped, “We’re parked near the edge of a cliff above the ocean,” and continued pressing virtual buttons on his phone’s GPS app.

Lucy sighed. Jeff could be so impulsive sometimes. All she had wanted to do was take a short drive next to the ocean and then find the quaint town of Cambria, but Jeff had other plans. He could not wait until they arrived at their inn to enjoy some intimate contact. When they drove up to the desolate plateau overlooking the Pacific he had other things on his mind than returning to Highway One.

Lucy had to admit, the opportunity to be alone and outside was too much for them to pass up. By the time the two of them had finally finished with one another, the sun was almost below the water. That is when Jeff realized he could not remember how they had arrived at their location.

Jeff lowered his smartphone, “Look; I assumed that the GPS would get us out of here. It never dawned on me that they wouldn’t have this place on a map.”

Lucy’s phone showed only a green blob. No matter how close or how far she zoomed in there were no details. The sun had dropped below the waterline, and the stars had begun to appear. She lowered her phone in defeat.

“I vote we just go for it,” said Jeff. “After all, it isn’t like I don’t have headlights. I know where the cliffs are, I’ll go in the opposite direction.”

Lucy crossed her arms, as much from cold as the annoyance. Her paper-thin white t-shirt could not stop the chilly evening breeze from cutting into her, and Lucy’s bare legs sticking out from her short shorts did nothing to improve her situation.  She stared at Jeff, trying her best to give him the most concerned expression she knew how to make. “Look, I say we spend the night and leave when we have daylight. There are trail snacks in the Jeep, and we can sleep in the vehicle tonight.”

Jeff grunted and then sighed. He lowered his head and shook it.  “I’m cold,” protested Lucy. “You can do what you want. I’m getting in the Jeep.”

Lucy was tired, sore, and did not care for Jeff’s machismo. He might think he was scoring points by pretending to rescue them, but in truth, he had gotten them into their predicament. She reached over the back of the seat and grabbed her jacket and his. Reclining in the passenger seat, she covered herself with the coats and closed her eyes. The world went peacefully dark as she gave into her exhaustion.

A low rumble of thunder woke Lucy. As the world began to flood her mind, she realized the sound was not the weather. She opened her eyes to a blinding light flooding into the front windshield. Lucy held up her hands to spare her eyes. She turned her head to the left to see Jeff in the same position as herself. He must have crawled into the Jeep and fallen asleep at some point after she did. His eyes were now wide open. A look of fear and anxiety filled his face. Above the thunder, she thought she could hear a voice, but the noise was too thunderous to tell what was being said.

All at once, the lights flooding the windshield ceased and the din of the helicopter faded away. The Jeep remained lit up through its glass. A tap on the driver’s and passenger’s glass occurred at the same time. Lucy and Jeff could see the tips of guns pointed towards them through the glass. The doors opened, and they both raised their hands and exited. A man in camouflage spun Lucy around and frisked her. Although, she was sure the extra groping had not been necessary. “Clear,” said the handsy man.

“Clear,” came a voice from the other side of the Jeep.

Lucy turned around and read “McClaskey” sewn into the stranger’s uniform. “Mr. McClaskey, what do you think you’re doing? We were only sleeping.”

“You’re sleeping inside restricted federal lands.”  McClaskey lowered his weapon. Another man brought McClaskey Lucy’s wallet from out of the vehicle. She watched as he pulled out a smartphone and took a photo of her driver’s license. “Would you like to tell me what you were doing here?”

Lucy crossed her arms, “That’s none of your business.”

“Ma’am, this is my business. That’s why I’m here. Now, let’s try again. Why were you here today?”

Lucy tightened her lips and creased her brow. She did not have to talk, but she did not want to push things too far. More than anything, Lucy wanted to find their hotel, and then crawl into bed and go to sleep. Finally, she relaxed and said, “If you must know, we are on our way up to Cambria. We stopped to have a picnic. Time got away from us, and we decided to wait until morning to try to find out way back.”

McClaskey smiled. “A picnic. Is that what it’s called these days?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Lucy, may I call you Lucy?”

She nodded.

“Lucy, you tripped our motion trackers. We’ve had a drone over you since you first parked your car watching everything you did. We’re just trying to figure out what your intentions are.”

Lucy could feel her face flush. “Well, if you watched us you know what our intentions are.”

“Yes, ma’am. We just needed to be sure what we saw is what you had intended.”

“Why else would we do that?”

McClaskey smirked, “Trust me, you two aren’t the first, but next time wait for the hotel.”

“Gladly.”

“Okay, as soon as your boyfriend is freed up you can follow me out. I’ll take you back to Highway One. Just for the record, a half mile south on PCH is a small dirt road that ends in an overlook of the ocean. Only military people use it on the weekends. In case you decide to ever come up here for another picnic.”

Lucy rolled her eyes and let herself back in the vehicle. Jeff joined her back inside. He started up the Jeep and fell in line behind McClaskey’s vehicle.

Jeff glanced over at Lucy, “I guess we got lucky with this one. It was worth it though.”

Lucy looked over at Jeff, and he had a sly smile broadly spread across his face. She sighed and said, “Don’t talk to me.”


 

Alone in the Woods

Billy stood behind an old oak tree relieving himself in the forest. The cool, dry air of the passing cold front had been a welcomed change from the hot, humid day. The campfire was just within Billy’s view. He watched Lauran sit there by the fire. She had bleached blond hair that hung in tight wet curls with droplets of water that fell from their tips. Lauran had gotten caught in the storm that Billy had avoided by hovering in his tent.

After the storm passed over, Billy was able to recover his campfire. Lauran appeared out of the woods thirty minutes later. Her hollow gray eyes penetrated Billy’s heart with sadness when he looked into them.

Billy muttered to himself about lousy timing and attempted to hurry up his business with the tree. He was not sure where Lauran had been, but he knew she needed help and could not stay alone out in the woods. His small two-man tent might feel a bit too personal, but he would have to convince her he would keep her safe. The campsite was only a half a mile from the road. He would take her to authorities in the morning so she could get checked out and call a loved one.

Billy finished and walked back to his campsite. “I’m sorry, ” he said. “I was not expecting company and had a few beers before you arrived.”

“Oh,” responded Lauran. “are you upset about something?”

“What? No, it’s not like that.” Billy pulled up a log he intended to burn later and sat across from Lauran at the fire. “Why would you think that?”

Lauran shrugged, “I don’t know. Jerry used to drink when he was mad. Unfortunately, he’d just get angrier.”

Billy pointed at Lauran with a stick he had just picked up. “Who’s Jerry? ”

“He was my boyfriend.”

“Does he always take you hiking dressed like that?”

“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”

“Most people don’t wear a sundress to hike in.” Jerry tossed the stick back on to the muddy ground.

Lauran looked down, picked up a stick and drew an arrow on the ground as she spoke. “Well, I needed to get away from him in a hurry. Jerry doesn’t mean to be angry. He’s had a hard life. Jerry grew up without a father, and his mother’s boyfriends would beat him. She kicked Billy out on his seventeenth birthday. He’s a hard worker, but it’s tough to hold a job when you never even finished high school. I guess all his hardship made him a hard man.”

Billy sat quietly and listened. He was concerned Jerry might be nearby. “Is he looking for you?”

Lauran shook her head. “Not anymore. I was finally able to escape.”

“Then why are you in the woods?”

Lauran shrugged, “I’m just trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go now.”

Billy nodded his head. He noticed her playing with a silver heart-shaped locket. Lauran looked up from her twiddling fingers and said, “Jerry gave me this locket. He worked two months to save up the money. What makes a man love someone so deeply and hold on to so much hate?”

Billy picked up a nearby twig, looked up at Lauran and shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe he couldn’t let go of his pain. You know, forgive his mom or those boyfriends.”

“But he became just like those men.”

Billy nodded, “That’s how hate usually works. It grows inside until it twists you into the very people you despised. I hope Jerry can get some help before he hurts somebody.”

Lauran let go of the locket, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “He already hurt me, but I’ve forgiven him. Besides, I won’t have to worry about him anymore.”

Billy asked, “Does he live nearby?”

Lauran shook her head, “Oh no, he’s at least fifty miles away.”

“How did you end up here then?”

“Jerry brought me up here.” Lauran was about to continue to story, and Billy held up his hand.

“Excuse me. I’m afraid I need to get rid of some more beer.”

Lauran gave a slight smile and looked away. Billy got up and felt a bit awkward as he rushed to the tree. His bladder was not in a joking or social mood. As he finished watering the tree he looked around its trunk to look at his beautiful but sad new friend. To his surprise, she had disappeared.  Billy quickly zipped up and rushed back to the campfire.

He looked down and noticed three equally spaced arrows leading out of his campsite. Billy picked up his flashlight and began to walk where the arrows were pointing, but stopped. What if this is a trap?  Billy considered the fact that Jerry could still be with her, but why would they lead him away from his campsite? He was just as vulnerable by the campfire.

Billy grabbed his taclight and hunting knife and left the camp. There were no footprints on the trail. Billy backtracked and walked the perimeter of his temporary shelter, but the only tracks he could find were his own. Intent on solving this mystery he prepared to follow the arrows once more. Billy checked his right pocket to confirm his cellphone was there. Pulling it out he found the signal a solid four bars, just as it had been earlier in the evening.

The trek through the woods was treacherous even with the flashlight. Ruts, roots, and mud made for slippery walking. Fifty yards from his tent something caught his heel and Billy went sprawling into the mud. He picked the taclight off the ground and wiped the dirt away from it. Looking back, Billy instinctively jerked his leg away from the pale human hand sticking stiffly out of the mud. He backpedaled on his hands and feet ten more feet before stopping to catch his breath. Billy reached in and pulled out his phone. He called authorities for help.

Rangers and the state police arrived thirty minutes later. They found Billy leaning up against a tree. He was muddy and pale, but he did not leave the body. A ranger took a shovel and began to expose the corpse slowly. As the mud started to clear strands of bleach blond hair began to stick up in small places out of the mud. Billy watched as the ranger reached down and pulled up a silver heart-shaped locket.

A nearby state policewoman grabbed Billy as his knees buckled.

“Are you going to make it?” she asked.

Billy forced himself to stand up. “Yeah,” he said in a shaky voice. “I think the guy inside that locket killed her. His name is Jerry.”

The ranger walked over, “How do you know?”

Billy pointed towards the body, “That’s what she told me.”

The ranger looked over his shoulder at the corpse and back at Billy. “I doubt it. She’s been dead at least a couple of weeks.”

The policewoman gently took Billy by the shoulder. “Why don’t we get you out of here. I think you’ve been through enough.”

Billy wiggled free of the officer’s grip. “Just promise me you’ll follow-up on that locket.”

“Don’t worry, we’re going to follow every lead.” the officer responded.

Billy nodded, and the two of them started the half a mile trek to the road.


 

Death and Betrayal

Anger and hatred had infected George’s mind. He sat there seething, and spoke to the empty room, “How dare he! Who does he think he is? What kind of man steals his best friend’s wife? I can’t believe he’s in my house now!” George looked down at his cell phone. The webcam he had hidden in his bedroom fed the live stream to his five-inch screen. George’s stomach felt hollow and churned inside. His right thumb subconsciously flipped the safety on and off on his forty caliber pistol.  George watched the pair finish dressing and leave the bedroom. George looked his watch.  Lewis would be home within the hour.

George turned his attention to the pile of love notes that sat on the table in front of him. Janice thought she could get away with the affair because they had gone back to basics. Instead of exchanging texts they exchange short love letters. George smiled at her cunning. I have to give it to them, he thought, nobody uses love notes these days. The smile left George’s face as he read Janice’s intimate details of the things she planned to do to Lewis’ body. The gun trembled in his hand. George stood up and started walking around.

Above the mantle sat three photos of he and Lewis on their getaways to the beach. George began to wonder how long Lewis had cheated with his Janice. He walked down the hall and into Lewis’ bedroom. George furiously opened dresser drawers. The bottom drawer was filled with women’s lingerie. A bottle of Janice’s perfume sat on the side. George pulled the drawer out and flung it across the room. The drawer landed with a thud into the drywall and then fell to the floor. He then turned and tore the bedding off the mattress.

George searched Lewis’ nightstands. He found a nine-millimeter pistol inside the piece of furniture on the left. He pulled out the magazine and emptied the round in the chamber. George spoke to the empty room, “There’s no reason to give him a fighting chance.”

George went back to the living room, slid his gun into his waistband, sat down, and waited. A few minutes later the knob on Lewis’ front door began to move. “Hello?” said Lewis as he poked his head through the door. “Oh, George, you frightened me. How did you get in?”

George forced a smile, “My key. You know, we have keys to each other’s place to keep an eye on things.”

Lewis laughed, “Of course. I’m sorry, I’m a little distracted. You would not believe how crazy work was today. What brings you by?”

George noticed Lewis’ eyes glance over to the stack of love notes. George stood up and walked over towards Lewis. “I wanted to show you something I found on the internet. It’s pretty interesting.” George handed Lewis his phone and replayed the stream from the webcam.

Lewis began to quickly back up and raise his arms in front of him. “Now, George. Try and understand. We didn’t mean for it to happen.”

George’s fist tightened at his sides. “How long?”

Lewis backed up until his body pressed against the wall. “What?”

“How long have you been sleeping with my wife?”

Lewis was quiet, and George wondered what story Lewis was trying to make up. He finally answered. “Around a year. We started seeing each other when your job took you on the road six days a week, and I lost Sheila to cancer. Janice was trying to comfort me, and I guess we were both lonely. I should have never talked to her when I was vulnerable.”

George stood there a moment. Lewis had a point. He was gone a lot, and then there was Sheila’s death. Lewis and Sheila were talking marriage when she got the news. The cancer was exceptionally aggressive, and Sheila was dead within six weeks. George couldn’t kill Lewis, but he was not sure what to do next.

“Do you love her?” asked George. He could feel his heart breaking as the words escaped his lips.

“I don’t know. I mean, I thought so, but now, I don’t know. I mean, you’re like my brother. I love you like a brother. I can’t decide. Why? Are you going to let her go?”

George looked down at the floor and spoke in a raspy voice. “I’m letting her go alright, and she’s going to pay. I’ll make sure I get every penny the law allows, and I’m going to drag out the divorce as long as possible.”

“But why?” asked Lewis. “I just told you what happened. How can you blame her?”

George looked up and glared at Lewis. “I understand your grief doesn’t disappear, but I stopped going out on the road two months after your whole affair started. If she was just lonely, she could have cut things off then. Not only that, she moved some of her things over here, that isn’t a lonely woman.”

Lewis started to say something, but then rushed pass George to the bedroom. George walked over and leaned against the counter. He felt his world spinning out of control. His best friend had made a mistake, but Janice had taken advantage of the situation. Did she ever really love me? He wondered. The sound of Lewis woke George from his thoughts.

Lewis emerged from the hallway into the living room. His nine-millimeter was extended with both of his hands holding it. He aimed it squarely at George. “Why did you have to ruin things, George? Why couldn’t you let us be happy? I can’t let you torture Janice with a long drawn out divorce.”

“So you think murdering me will solve your problems? Were we ever really friends?”

Lewis nodded, “We were, until Janice. I can’t lose her too. I’m sorry.” With a pull of the trigger, the gun clicked once, twice, three times. Lewis looked down at his pistol confused.

“Doesn’t it feel a little light?” asked George

Lewis pulled back the chamber to find it empty and flipped the gun over to find the magazine missing. He reached into his pocket. “How many rounds are you planning to shoot me with?” asked George.

Lewis clumsily pulled a spare magazine from his pocket and slid it into the butt of the pistol grip. Lewis’ head raised up to aim the gun when George’s weapon discharged and the sound reverberated around the living room. Lewis’ lifeless body hit the wood flooring with a thud. George shook his head, and then spoke to Lewis’ corpse, “Self-defense.” George pulled out his phone and dialed 911.


Don’t forget it’s livestream Friday. Join me on my Twitch channel at 4 pm EDT today. I’ll discuss how this week’s stories come about and answer any questions.

Newly Discovered Inspiration

Thin, that’s how Greg would describe it. He felt stretched thin. It seemed like everything in his life had been pulling him in different directions. There were the endless deadlines that his job as an independent author had piled on his shoulders. These were self-imposed milestones for his books, marketing, and publishing. He stared at his computer screen but was unable to form any words. The Spring sunshine streamed through his office window and beckoned him outside. With a sigh of surrender, Greg left his office for the warm sunlight.

He took a walk to the park twenty minutes away. The air was dry with a slight hint of Winter still hiding in the Spring breeze. Greg began his stroll along the concrete walking path inside the park. A couple of families were taking advantage of the pleasant weather to get their young children outside. Laughter and squeals of delight wafted along the wind. Greg took in the pink, white, red, and purple flowers.  Green buds were filling the once gray sticks that made up the trees surrounding the park.

Greg smiled and thought, this isn’t helping me find my story, but it’s helping me be less productive. Greg approached a fork in the path and decided to venture into the new forest pathway to see what additions had been made to the park. He rounded the first right turn and sitting there was a young woman at a picnic bench. She looked up at Greg, and he could see a tear flowing partway down her cheek. She smiled and said hello.

“Hi, are you doing okay?” Greg asked

“I’m alright,” sniffed the young woman.

Her pale blue eyes that seemed to glow and they pulled Greg in. Her thick blond hair fell just below her shoulders. Although her dress appeared dated, it fit her perfectly.

He stuck out his hand, “I’m Greg, may I sit down.”

The woman reached up and shook Greg’s hand. Her cold skin felt nice next to Greg’s warm palm. “I’m Lydia. Yes, please have a seat.”

Greg sat down next to her. He was not sure if it was the flowers or her perfume, but the fragrance had enchanted him. Greg cleared his throat and said, “I don’t normally just sit down to speak with women I don’t know, but you seem upset.”

Lydia reached over and touched Greg’s hand. Her fingers were cool to the touch, and her hand seemed to send electricity up his arm. Her glowing blue eyes stared into his, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for anyone to find me.”

Greg pulled back his hand, “Oh, please don’t be sorry. I walked up on you. I can leave.”

Before Greg could stand up, Lydia grabbed his arm. Her cold hand sent goosebumps up his bicep and down his spine. The sensation thrilled him. Greg hoped she would never let go. Lydia said, “No, please stay. I would love to chat awhile. I’ve been alone for a long time.”

“Me too,” said Greg. “Work has been killing me. It seems like the harder I work the more money I lose.”

Lydia let her hand linger and then slid it slowly away from Greg’s arm as she spoke. “Oh? What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a writer. Well, I’m a new writer. Lately, it just seems like I’m spending money on everyone else to publish my book instead of people paying me to read the story I spent months on. It’s got me pretty discouraged.”

Lydia took his hand. The electricity returned and the self-pity that was weighing him down seemed to lighten a little. “Don’t be discouraged. We have to have hope. It’s the only thing that has kept me here for so long.”

Greg’s eyebrow lifted slightly. “I’m sorry, but you don’t look old enough to have been anywhere for very long.”

Lydia smiled, and the world seemed to glow around them. “You’re very kind.”

Greg continued, “Well, all the stress has given me writer’s block. It just seems like everyone wants my time or money and now I don’t have anything left to create my stories.”

Lydia dropped her eyes down towards the picnic bench. “I understand. That’s how Julio felt. He was always working on the farm. From dawn until dusk you could always find him in the field. He told me he needed to support us, but he worried me. Julio would be out plowing a field in the heat of late spring behind a team of horses.”

Greg sat in silence for a moment and tried to make sense of what Lydia was sharing. What does she mean by plowing with a team of horses? Greg asked, “What happened?”

Lydia looked up at Greg. Her eyes glistened, and tears began to flow. He was not sure, but her eyes almost seemed to glow brighter. “Julio collapsed in the field late in May. He was dead by the time I reached him.”

“Where did that happen?”

“Here,” said Lydia. “Right here.”

Greg was worried Lydia was mentally ill. “Do you mean here in the park?”

Lydia shook her head. “No. This land was a field before it was a park. It was our farm a long time ago. Julio died right here. So, I keep coming back, hoping he will return to me someday.”

Greg felt a chill cut through his entire body. He wondered if Lydia was dangerous, and how he could get away to notify authorities and get her some help. Greg tried to calm her down. “Perhaps he is in heaven. Maybe he’s waiting for you.”

Lydia’s renewed touch on his hand sent a wave of panic and energy through his body. “You’re sweet,” said Lydia, “but Julio promised me he would never leave this earth without me. So, I’m hoping and waiting.”

Greg nodded, unsure what to say or do. Footsteps to his left caused him to turn away to see who was coming up the pathway. A young couple walked back and nodded their heads hello to Greg. Greg nodded in return and turned to Lydia, but she had vanished. Greg stood and searched the nearby area, but Lydia was gone. He began walking back home. As he walked, he prayed Lydia would find peace because she had helped him find his inspiration once more.


 

Deadly Beauty

Talia walked into the cocktail party wearing a red sequined dress. Large seawater pearls wrapped around and caressed her smooth olive neck. Her raven black hair shone against the light from the crystal chandeliers of the embassy. Every eye turned, and she froze. Her eyes scanned the audience before her. Older ladies bejeweled with large blue sapphires and diamonds smiled her way. Young women smirked and went back to their gossip. Men of every age could not take their eyes off of her. Talia swallowed hard but continued her search.

To her left stood a man with piercing black eyes. His thin beard formed a dark shadow across his narrow jaw. The man’s wavy black hair was combed back without a part in it. His mouth broke into a broad smile revealing his perfect teeth. Talia smiled and sashayed across the room to the man she had thought about the entire day. Everyone else faded from Talia’s view. The handsome tuxedo-clad man grabbed two champagnes from a waiter walking between them. Talia smirked at his movie-like swagger.

“Talia, you’re a vision.”

Talia smiled, “Frank Coleman, I was almost afraid I wouldn’t find you.”

Frank smiled, “I wouldn’t miss this evening for the world. Do you think I could forget our afternoon on the beach? I’m just happy security accepted the note I gave you.”

Talia took a glass of champagne from Frank’s hand. “It’s a lovely evening. Does this place have a balcony?”

Frank took Talia’s hand and walked her past the throng of people. Talia tried to ignore the stares, but Frank seemed to be enjoying every moment of them. The smirk on his face did not disappear until they walked up a flight of steps and out two French doors. The view of the gardens was breathtaking under the full moon.

Talia and Frank turned and looked into each other’s eyes. Before she knew what was happening, Talia found herself kissing Frank. Electricity seemed to fill her body. He was good, really good. They released, and Talia caught her breath. “Frank, I’m sorry, I’m not normally this forward.”

Frank stroked her cheek with his finger, “I don’t mind.”

Talia turned back towards the stunning view to refocus her mind. “It’s beautiful here. How long have you been in Spain?”

Frank shrugged, “A couple of weeks.”

“Oh, you must have arrived near the time of the explosion.”

Frank gave a slow nod. “Yes, that was horrible. I arrived the day before. If I hadn’t caught an early flight, I hate to think what would have happened.”

“Some people think it was an assassination attempt on some politician. I can’t remember his name.”

Frank turned towards Talia and leaned against the rail with his elbow. “If it was, it was a poor attempt. Ten people were killed, but enough talk about death. I want to talk about your beauty. You look stunning in that red dress here in the moonlight. I believe the gardens are even jealous of your beauty.”

Talia turned towards Frank. Her eyes glistened in the moonlight. She stared straight into Frank’s eyes as she took a long slow sip of her champagne. Talia suddenly winced and spat her drink back into the glass. “Excuse me. There is something wrong with the champagne.”

Frank took a sip of his and then finished it off in one swallow. He reached over and took Talia’s glass. “Allow me, my dear.” With a lustful look in his eye, he swallowed her glass of champagne. His mouth puckered, he shook his head, and then said, “Wow, that was bitter. Where did they find those grapes?”

Talia smiled, lifted her palm in front of her mouth and spit out a broken capsule into her hand. “Oh Frank, did you think we didn’t know you were here? We know your pedigree, your aliases, and we even have you on facial recognition. MI6 has a long reach. The day before the bombing an alert was sent out that you were spotted in Spain. The Spanish wanted to arrest you after the bombing attack, but I wanted to question you first. The British have some interest in you and certain knife attacks in our country.  So, tell me, did ISIS hire you, or are you a true believer.”

Terror filled Frank’s eyes. He grabbed Talia by the shoulders, and she knocked his hands away in one swift motion of her hands. “What did you put in there?” asked Frank.

“Oh Frank, you’re just like all the other men. Always in a hurry, where’s the foreplay? Now tell me, are you a true believer?”

“I don’t follow anyone. It was a job, that’s all. Now tell me what you did.”

“Oh, you’re going to be dead very soon, but I might be able to stop it if you tell me who you were working for.”

Beads of sweat began to form on Frank’s forehead, “I can’t, they’ll kill me.”

“You’re dying anyway.”

“This is nothing compared to what they will do to me.”

Talia stared into Frank’s eyes. He was desperate but honest. She shrugged and reached into the top of her low cut dress. A vial of green liquid appeared between her fingers. Talia shook her head, “Suit yourself.” With a flip of her hand, the vial’s contents disappeared into Talia’s mouth. Frank tried to speak, but his tongue had swollen, and he could no longer form any words.

“Help!” yelled Talia, and she rushed from the balcony. “I think Frank’s having an allergic reaction to his drink. Please, someone help!”

A crowd of men and women rushed upstairs towards the opened French doors of the balcony. Talia slowly glided down the steps. The main floor was mostly empty, and she walked calmly towards the front door. Two men dressed in tuxedos opened both entry doors for her. She winked at them, and they both nodded as she exited the party.


 

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