"This story was conceived and written long before Mr. and Mrs. Crowe welcomed their first child into the world, so any resemblance of the names of any of the characters herein to the names of any real person or persons is just extraordinarily coincidental. ---MM" |
A Different VoiceChapter 1
It doesn't make any difference what you do. You can't control anything. You can try to arrange things the way you think they ought to be, but life goes ahead and happens just the way it wants to. I convinced Bud to stay home with his family, instead of chasing after the "bad guys" he talks about….and trouble came to the front door.
She knocked on our door one Sunday afternoon. Becky woke up from her nap just about the same time, and since I was closer, I went in to change her and bring her out, and Bud answered the door. Sometimes I wonder if anything would have been different if I'd answered the door instead. Maybe not.
After I got her cleaned up, Becky wanted her daddy. Bad. That's the normal state of affairs at our house. It took me a while to get used to it. I expected to be the most important person in my child's life, but I'm not. Bud is. She's never really happy unless she's with him. Sometimes I feel a little left out.
Anyway, I brought her to Bud, who was standing in the doorway. He hadn't asked who-ever-it-was inside, and that was odd. He moved aside just enough to let me stand in the doorway with him. He looked like he was smelling something nasty. And he was wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. I could see the red stains on it, and of course, the first thing I thought was blood, but that wasn't what it was.
The woman standing on the porch had dark blonde hair, she wasn't especially pretty. A little plain. There were faint lines on her face, like she'd had surgery……but too many of them to be that. Her lipstick was smudged. I felt like I'd seen her before, but I couldn't quite decide where. She seemed surprised to see Becky and me.
"You have company," she said.
"No." When Bud first came to my door, he was wearing just this same flat, expressionless face. Chilly. "This is my wife. And this, Lynn, is….what the hell is your real name, anyway, Rhonda? I never can remember."
Rhonda turned red. "I didn't know you were married."
Becky waved her arms, chirping, trying to get her father's attention. He gave her his fingers to chew on.
"What difference would it make? You were married when we…..knew each other."
I held out my free hand. "Hello, I'm Lynn. I think I've seen you before---"
"We met at the hospital, a couple of years ago, when Wendell was hurt. I'm Roxanne."
I dimly remembered her. I still had the nagging feeling that I'd seen her somewhere else.
"What do you want?" Bud said.
"I didn't know you had a family……I came to ask you……I was hoping you'd be able to help me…."
"Another man you can't handle on your own?"
Roxanne looked down at her shoes. "That's not a very nice thing to say."
"That's what it usually is, isn't it?" Bud said. "So what do you think I can do?"
"I don't know……it was just……..I'm in trouble and I thought of you."
I'd never seen a smile like this one on my husband's face. He's not a cold man, he feels everything……but this was icy.
"Sure you did. But there's a problem with that. I still eat doughnuts---" The smile disappeared. "---and I'm probably just as dumb as I ever was; but I'm not a cop anymore. I don't think I could get away with killing someone for you now."
I thought at first I hadn't heard him right.
The woman didn't bat an eye. "I didn't---"
"You could always try a professional. Although I think most of 'em want cash for their work. Might not be able to find one that would hit somebody just for sex."
Another chilly smile. It pained me to see that on his face. Not my Bud.
"They're probably smarter than me," he went on. "It might be hard to find someone stupid enough again. But then I guess that's why you're here."
Rhonda or Roxanne or whoever she was glared at him. "I didn't ask you to kill him."
"No," he said. And that's when I saw what was really there, that the coldness was to hide it……. "'Cause to ask me to kill your husband, you woulda had to tell me you were married. And that mighta scared me off."
Becky began to throw her arms and legs out, and arch her back and squawk. She wanted her daddy right now. It was hard not to drop her when she did that.
"Bud," I said.
He looked away from the woman and took Becky. She immediately began to crow and gurgle. He held her up against his shoulder and patted her. She aimed one of her hands at his face.
"Hey, sweetheart," he said and kissed her forehead. And then she was content. She laid her head on his shoulder and blew bubbles and drooled on his shirt.
Her eyes narrowed. "Don't blame that on me. It was your idea."
"Yeah," he said. "It doesn't matter now."
Her car was parked in front, on the street. The passenger door opened, and closed, and a child ran up the sidewalk. A little boy, maybe six years old, cute, with dark blonde hair just about the color of his mother's.
"I told you to wait in the car," she said to him.
He ignored her, and started climbing on the porch railing. Roxanne turned back to Bud. "I'm sorry you're still so angry. I was trying to take care of myself, trying to keep from getting hurt. It wasn't anything personal."
If I'd been Roxanne, I would have been frightened, then, at what was in his face. The chill was gone. The woman didn't seem to notice anything.
The boy fell off the railing into the bed of delphiniums next to the steps.
"I don't think we have anything else to say to each other," Bud said. "Do we?"
Roxanne didn't do more than glance at the boy. I walked down the steps and watched him rubbing the dirt and flowers off his forehead.
The boy looked at me, but didn't say anything.
"I think you might want to hear what I have to say," Roxanne said. "He's going to follow me here. If he catches me, I might tell him you're the one he wants. Then where would you be?"
I knelt down on the ground, so I could look the boy in the eye. "Did you get hurt?"
He shook his head.
"What's your name?"
"How'd you find me?" Bud asked.
She shrugged. "Asked around. I got some friends in the department."
"Do your friends call you Chuck?" I asked.
"Yeah, you like cops, don'tcha? What's the matter, wouldn't any of them take care of this for you?"
Charles twisted around to see the seat of his pants. "Nah. My name's Charles."
"I thought maybe you'd do me a favor for old time's sake. I never thought you'd be the type to hold a grudge."
"My name's Lynn." I couldn't take my eyes off Charles. He stopped brushing himself off, and smiled at me. It was hard to catch my breath for a minute. I knew that smile.
"You don't know me. Get back in your car and take off. Find some other chump."
Bud hadn't looked at the boy more than to see that he hadn't hurt himself when he fell. He might not have seen what I saw anyway. The hooded eyelids, the cleft in the chin, that beautifully formed upper lip……his smile. I thought about the picture of Bud with his sister as a child. This little boy wasn't identical, he had a little of his mother in him……but mostly he looked like the man who had to be his father. The man who looked at the boy's mother with cold hostility until she looked away from him to help the boy brush himself off. And then something different showed up on his face.
"Honestly, look what you've done, Charles, you're all dirty now. Behave, can't you?" She tried to wipe the mud off the knees of his pants with her handkerchief.
I know men, no matter what Bud says. I know what they want, I know what they think about. And I know my husband. In some ways he's like all men, and then there are some things that are just Bud. For instance, when he feels something, it shows on his face. Obvious. At least it is to me.
He looked at her differently while she was scolding her son. He looked at all of her and not just her face. I watched him, I knew what he was thinking. He was remembering what she looked like without her clothes, maybe what she felt like, how she kissed. Remembering whatever they'd been to each other……….
Then he dropped his gaze and turned away, held his daughter close and went back inside the house without saying anything else.
He hadn't looked at Charles again. He didn't know. And now I'd have to decide whether to tell him.
"Go back to the car, Charles. I'll be there in a minute," the woman said, straightening up. She glanced at the empty porch, and then back at me.
"Where are you staying?" I asked. I wanted to slap the smug little smile off her face, but of course I couldn't.
"I can answer one of your questions now," she said. "Yes, of course, he's Wendell's. The resemblance is striking, isn't it? I think we have other things to discuss though, too. I'm staying in the little motel on the south side of town, number 14. I'm not staying longer than a couple of days, so don't wait too long."
I watched her walk down the sidewalk from my house, and I was pretty sure she didn't know what I was thinking, otherwise she wouldn't have turned her back on me.
If she ruins this for me, if she takes my miracles away from me, my life…….I'll kill her. I swear to God I will.