The human body contains about ten pints of blood, and Adam Nicola’s body hadn’t been any exception. The problem for me was that his blood was all over my bedroom floor, soaking into my carpet, and I didn’t have much time to do anything about it.
I ran into the bathroom. My left eye was starting to swell, and my vision seemed to be melting. I sat down on the edge of the tub and held my face in trembling hands. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, trying to let my vision clear a bit.
In my bedroom, though, Adam Nicola kept bleeding on my carpet. I didn’t hear anyone outside the house yet, but I knew they were on their way.
I stood up and looked at myself again. My hair hung down like old party decorations, dabbed here and there with blood, and my bottom lip was filling up like a water balloon. My expensive black dinner dress was torn.
“What a fucking disaster,” I muttered.
I walked back into the bedroom. It already smelled like the dead man’s whiskey-diluted blood. I wasn’t surprised by that; he’d shown up at my door so drunk I was surprised he was walking.
I eased over to the window and peeked through the drawn shades. Adam’s car was embedded in the dogwood in my front yard. The neighbors stood on their porches, cell phones pressed to their ears, but no one approached the house.
I walked back to Adam and leaned over him. His graying hair was matted with blood, his eyes rolled back.
My entire body convulsed, and I moved away from him. I didn’t know where to go, though. Leave the room? Stay? Run outside?
That seemed like a good idea.
The neighbors gawked at me as I bolted out of the front door. One thin, middle-aged man with wire-rimmed glasses approached me like a timid professor.
“Are you alright?” he asked. For a year or so, I’d seen him go in and come out of his house, but I had no idea what his name was.
“No,” I said. “I think he’s dead.”
“Oh my god,” he said looking to the house.
Two teenaged girls eased over to us. One of them—I think her name was Jenny or Penny—said, “I called the police. They should get here any second.”
She’d barely said that when a patrol car turned down the road, stopped in front of us, and a big cop with a crewcut climbed out.
The neighbors pointed at me, and I told him, “There’s a man in my house. He’s drunk and he has a gun. I think…I think he’s dead.”
“Everybody get back to their homes, please,” the cop barked. He pulled me over to his car, and said, “Why do you think he’s dead?”
“He said he was going to kill me. He beat me up, but then he just…shot himself…” I choked up and started crying. The funny thing is, it wasn’t an act. I mean, I wasn’t really overwhelmed the dumb bastard had shot himself—he was better off dead, god knows, and the world was better off without him—but I stared crying anyway. Maybe it was just the stress of the moment.
The cop must have been new to his job because he was clearly affected by my tears. “You’re safe,” he tried to assure me. “You’re safe now.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”
“Where’s the gun?”
“I think it went under the bed. I’m not sure.”
The cop crept toward the house, took out his gun, and disappeared inside. A few minutes later, a few more cop cars showed up, as well as an ambulance and a fire truck. The whole goddamn world. I cried then, too.
They took me inside, sat me down at the kitchen table, gave me an ice pack for my face, and questioned me. The main cop was a hard-faced blonde woman in slacks and a man’s business shirt. Detective Steed. She was six feet tall and had cold blue eyes, and she did not give a shit about my tears.
“Adam Nicola. Fifty-two. This a boyfriend?”
“What does ‘not exactly’ mean?”
“We were seeing each other.”
“How long were you seeing each other?”
I shrugged. “A few months.”
“How many is a few?”
“Three or four, I guess. Since about February.”
“How long have you known he was married?”
That felt like a trick question, but I didn’t have time to think about it. “He told me right from the start that he was getting a divorce.”
“Uh huh.” Detective Steed looked down at her open notepad and tapped it with her pen. “He come over here often?”
“I don’t know. Every…week, I guess.”
She looked back up at me. She didn’t have much in the way of lips, but there was a tiny scar in the corner of her mouth. I pressed the icepack against my bottom lip.
“Every week since February sounds serious,” she said.
“It was mostly sex, okay? I like sex. So does he. Did he. So did he.”
“He ever get violent before today?”
“You know he was arrested in January for beating up his wife?”
“No, I didn’t know that. Not that he would have told me, I guess. But he was never violent with me before.”
“So what happened today?”
I shook my head. “He called me this afternoon and said his wife Gina had left him. He wanted to move in here, and I said it was a bad idea.”
She watched my eyes when she replied, “I thought he told you right from the start he wanted to divorce her.”
“Yeah, well, I figured that was just something he was telling himself. And me.”
“So then what?”
“I said that moving in here was a bad idea. I liked having sex with him, but I wasn’t in love with him or anything.”
I stopped, pressed the icepack to my mouth, and looked at her. She kept looking me in the eye and didn’t say anything.
I said, “I hung up on him. He showed up—”
“When was that? When did you hang up on him?”
“I don’t know. Three or so.”
“And according to the neighbors he slammed into your tree and ran in here about four. Any idea what he’d been doing?”
“Well, he smells like a bottle of Jack Daniels.”
“What were you doing when he got here?”
“What’d he say when he got here?”
“Not much. He was crying. He started slapping me around. He’d never hit me before, but he beat the shit out of me today. I ran into the bedroom, and he came after me. He had a gun. I thought he was going to kill me, but instead he just pressed the gun against his head and shot himself.”
Detective Steed nodded and wrote down what I said.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I told her.
“Just one second,” she said. “We’re almost done. I just wanted to ask…I notice he ripped your dress.”
“Nice dress. Looks expensive.”
I shrugged. “It was on sale…”
“You said earlier that you weren’t going anywhere.”
“No. Well, I mean, I might go to dinner. I was thinking of going to dinner.”
“You dressed up at four in the afternoon just in case you might go to dinner later?”
I pressed the icepack to my mouth. I wished I could shove the whole thing down my throat.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You dressed up at four o’clock in the afternoon just in case you might go to dinner later on,” she said.
I nodded. “Yes.”
She stared at me.
I shrugged. “All dressed up and no place to go, I guess.”
Detective Steed clicked her pen a couple of times and dropped it into the pocket of her shirt. She said, “You can go use the bathroom now. The boys are almost done.”
I went to the hall bathroom and peed. Through the small window above the sink I could see the crowd around the house beginning to disperse. The ambulance and fire trucks were gone. Adam’s body was gone. Most of the cops were leaving. I flushed the toilet, washed my hands, and went to find Detective Steed. She was standing on the doorstep.
“Are you done?” I asked.
“Am I going to need to…I don’t know, come down to the station or anything?”
Detective Steed looked at my scarred but standing tree, and then she turned to me and flipped open her notebook.
“Well, it seems pretty clear cut what happened. Gina Nicola says her husband Adam left about twelve this afternoon after she told him she wanted a divorce. We have people at a bar who say he was there getting drunk an hour or so before he showed up here. His cell phone shows he called you at three twenty-three. On his way here, he knocked over a mailbox and clipped a couple of side mirrors. Witnesses all say he plowed his car into your tree, staggered out with a gun, walked up to your house and kicked the door in. A few minutes later a shot rang out. From the look of the scene, it all happened like you said.”
“Well, I’m just glad—”
“Here’s the thing though,” she interrupted. “That dress.” She nodded at my sleeveless black dinner dress. “I’m confused about why you were laying around in a five hundred dollar dinner dress at four in the afternoon.”
I shook my head. “I just put it on,” I said flatly. “I was thinking about going out. Maybe I didn’t make that clear. I didn’t have any definite plans, but I was thinking about it.”
“Yeah,” she said. She slid her notebook in her pocket. “Well, that’ll be all for now. I’ll call you if I need anything.”
“Thank you,” I said.
She gave me a curt nod and walked to her car.
I went back inside the house and sat down on the sofa.
The sun went down and the stars came out. Cars eased up and down the street, and parents flipped on the yard lights for their kids. A man walking a dog paused at my yard, and while his mutt pissed in my grass the man inspected the damage to my tree. He left, and I sat on the sofa in the dark.
I was still sitting there when the back door slid open and Gina’s footsteps crept through my kitchen. She found me in the dark.
“Are you okay?”she said.
“I can’t believe you actually did it.”
“I told you I would. You said it’s what you wanted.”
“It was,” she said. “It is. I just can’t believe it. He’s dead.”
“He’s better off. And so are you, and so am I, and so is everyone else.”
“Did he know about us?” she asked.
“He didn’t say anything about it.”
I looked up at her for the first time, standing there in the moonlight in an expensive dinner dress. She sat down next to me on the sofa, and her long brown hair swept across her bare shoulder.
“I told him I wanted a divorce this afternoon, just like we planned. Then he left, and the police say he went to a bar.”
“He called me from there,” I told her. “It’s almost funny if you think about it. Our whole plan—you break it off with him and then I break it off with them and then we tip him off that he can find us together at the restaurant—all that planning to set up a self defense killing…all of it was for nothing. He called me drunk. I was getting ready to go to the restaurant when he showed up here, rammed his car into my tree and started waving a gun around. When he shot himself, I wasn’t even touching it.”
“I got ready to go the restaurant like we’d planned,” she told me. “Then I saw my little gun was missing. I just went cold inside. I knew he’d taken it. I almost called you.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t. The cops would have wondered about that.”
“But it’s over now.”
She nodded. “And I still get the insurance money,” she said. She placed a hand on my knee. “We get the insurance money.”
I nestled back against the cushions.
She leaned forward and kissed me. “It’s so crazy. To plan…you know, to plan something like that, and then to have it turn out this way.”
I said, “I wouldn’t have planned to kill him if I knew we could get him to kill himself.”
“Do you feel bad?”
I shrugged. I thought about the light going off in Adam’s eyes when the gunshot exploded into his head. Even as his eyeballs bulged out, his pupils had imploded.
She touched my bruised cheek. “Are you okay?”
I took her hand. “They’re just bruises.”
She smiled. “They heal.”
I touched her pale, delicate, beautiful face. “You should know,” I said.