Find the rules at Rachel Ritchie’s blog here.
Kitten or Mouse
Julie pressed back against the wall of the Fish and Tackle shop as if to melt into the paint and woodgrain. He had found her. No other reason for his appearance in this crack in the world atop the U.S./Canada border. Three years. Why now? Stroking her windpipe, the relentless thumbs and her struggle to break their pressure flashed before her like a bad movie. He breezed past in his signature Mercedes, still the same one, looking neither left nor right, a silver streak in the sun.
Weak-kneed, she gulped lungs full of fishy autumn air. Her paralysis abated; a headache blossomed.
“Are you all right, Miss?” A chubby teen reached out in support of her elbow.
Oblivious to his approach, Julie screamed. Hands clenched to her chin, she nodded but tracked the car’s disappearance over the boy’s shoulder. Up the hill, she slogged on leaden legs to the parking lot. No shopping today. The teen squinted and shook his head.
A miracle, he lived. So, Markus had evaded both jailers and creditors. To save his neck, he’d wanted to sell their real estate business, but she vanished after the choking incident. Not possible without her signature—unless, he had finagled her autograph. Of course, he had, or he’d be dead. Teeth clattering like loose Chicklets, she backed the car in behind the little green house on the dead-end street.
Inside, she locked the doors and snapped the blinds shut. Nerves jangling like unraveled electric wires, she turned on the black and white portable television, the sound turned off. Front door to hallway, to the kitchen, and back she paced. Why was he here?
The landline rattled a rotary grumble. Other than old Widow Schumacher across the road, no one phoned her. She picked up. “Hello, Anna?” Tense, her voice cracked. “Anna… is everything alright? Anna…” Julie slammed the phone into its cradle, a sob choking her. Wait a minute… She peeked between the curtains in the front room. Eyes closed, Anna relaxed on her verandah, face toward the milky fall sun.
Julie massaged her knotted forehead. Could be a wrong number. Right? Marcus showing up is a coincidence? What’s he want? He wouldn’t recognize me after the work I’ve had done. My voice… Shoot—my voice hasn’t changed.
The walls closed in like sentries—bad ones—pushy, determined, smothering. How did he get this number? He doesn’t know my name. Get a grip, Julie. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Br-r-r-ring. Julie jumped back though the whirr originated in the kitchen. She tiptoed to the curtains. The widow’s chin had dropped to her chest.
Neck and shoulders clenched, her tension grew in drowning waves. The black phone droned on like a loud purr, like his voice purring, purring like a cat, watching the mouse sweat and then bam! He always won—later if not sooner.
The first time had been over her signature and a password. He said she’d never leave him. He wouldn’t allow it. The next time she knew he’d finish the job because his mouse had fled. What did he want now? Three years ago she had an escape plan and a nest egg. This time she had no time to plan, but her nest egg safe, grew.
The phone stopped; the silence eerie like a yawning vacuum. Julie stood at the edge staring into the abyss, ready to jump.
“Stop.” Julie covered her ears. She found herself peering through the curtains again, the widow gone.
Silence slammed into her like a brick wall. Time to get out of the house. She grabbed her purse.
What if it isn’t him? She picked up the receiver.
“Hello, kitten.” His practiced smile burned into her ear. “I like the red hair. Some people have been anxious to pin your disappearance on me—but without proof…” He raised his voice, the smile erased. “I want my briefcase back…”
Julie laid the receiver on the small table, grabbed a scarf, and tiptoed out of her house. The car in neutral, she coasted down the incline to the street. This mouse isn’t your plaything anymore. She high-tailed it with no clear plan in mind, other than crossing the border into Maine. If he knows about the hair, he knows what I look like. How did he find me?
First things first. Lie low in Maine for two or three days.
* * *
She stayed away an extra day. Hair mahogany and lips watermelon pink, she parked a block away from home and strode up the street to Anna’s in sandals instead of heels. Hidden behind bold sunglasses, she scanned her house. It wore a look of abandonment and melancholy. She knocked. No Anna.
Nothing stirred not even the fallen leaves. Across the street, she picked up four daily papers left in her absence and checked the mailbox. Heart on the verge of imploding, Julie tried the back door. The phone rested on the table as before. She hung it up to stop the awful beep. The newspapers dumped in the trash, she retrieved the latest one. Flashes of blue without sound earned a switch-off. How long before he knocks on my door?
Lightheaded, her heart continued the Watusi. Water on the boil for tea, Julie dropped into a kitchen chair and unfolded the paper. A three-car pile-up exiting the Canadian side took the lives of one man and sent three others to hospital. The kettle whistled. She examined the wrecks in full-color. A shiver passed over her. Something familiar… “Shut up!” She slammed off the offensive shriek.
The deceased, a Canadian, remains unidentified until next of kin… Anyone with information…
1983 silver Mercedes Benz 300 SD…
R.I.P. Better you than me.
Free. Free. Free at last. No peering over my shoulder.
By the way, Markus, your briefcase is safe.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
© 2017 Tess and How the Cookie Crumbles