I had just crawled into my sweats when I heard
it again-- the sound of men’s voices. I ran toward the bedroom, and shut the
door, drowning out the music, suddenly wishing I had Drew’s recorder to tape
I leaned close to hear the call. “So it’s you
again. Have you made up your mind?” I recognized the voice as the same one I
had heard before, even with the tinny echo of the phone on its cradle.
The second man said, “I’ll do it.”
“For the price we agreed on?”
“No, it’ll have to be twenty grand. It’s too
great to risk for any less.”
“I’ll have to think about the amount. It’s
hard to come by so much cash on short notice.”
“Well, don’t think too long, because I’ve been
thinking of going to California. My parents are out there. My dad owns a
garage where I can work if I can’t get something going here.”
“Okay, call me tomorrow at the same time, and
I’ll let you know if I can come up with the money. All right?”
“Hey, wait a minute. I want to know, you
really are serious about knocking off your wife?”
“I am, or I wouldn’t be having this
conversation now, would I?”
With a sense of shock, I recognized the voice
of the first man. Bryce. He had just put out a contract on Zoe. Oh, God
help me, I prayed, what am I going to do now?
I was frantic, wishing Drew would get home. I
noted the time of their conversation, to be sure to be listening, and
hopefully recording, at the same time tomorrow.
The price was $20,000, if Bryce could get his
hands on that much. Zoe had that much in her savings account. Please,
God, don’t let him pay off the killer with her money.
I was desperate to get Zoe out of that house.
I threw a parka over hastily donned sweats and tugged on my hiking boots and
gloves, then picked up my car keys and flew out the door.
God, please let Zoe believe this.
I shook my head. It was so preposterous that I was having trouble believing
it myself. I parked my car in the street and went to the door. I knocked and
then tried the handle. I didn’t want to ring the bell in case Bryce might be
home, and I wasn’t too keen on meeting him right now. His car was not in its
usual spot in the driveway, but might’ve been parked behind the closed
The front door was unlocked, so I went in and
crept quietly from room to room, looking for Zoe. I found her in her second
floor office. She was sitting at her computer, deep in concentration. I
knocked softly on the doorframe, and she turned and opened her eyes in
“Makkie, what are you doing here?”
“Shh....” I whispered. “Is Bryce home?”
She looked at me with oddly glazed eyes and
said slowly, “He’s not home from work yet.” After beat, she asked, “What did
you do to your face?”
“I had a sledding accident.”
“Oh... that’s right. Mom told me about that,
but I never imagined you’d look so bad. Does it hurt?” He speech was
sluggish, somehow off.
I shook my head. “I’m okay, but I need to talk
She sat quietly, watching me with a look of
suspicion, before tilting her head in puzzlement. I didn’t bring up the fact
that she was the one who had purposely rammed her car into a phone pole,
trying to kill herself. No, that wouldn’t do at all. We have enough trouble
communicating, without complicating matters further.
As I watched, I was surprised to see that she
didn’t become obtuse or impatient. Maybe she really had changed, since
Christmas, when she had given her heart to the Lord, but that seemed overly
optimistic. She was sitting quietly, hands folded in her lap, waiting for me
to begin, giving me time. Help me, Lord, I prayed.
It was now or never. “So how are you getting
She shrugged. “Fine.”
“You must be making it up and down stairs all
right on your crutches, huh?”
“Yes, I am,” she said quietly. She wasn’t
making this any easier.
I had to get to the point, since Bryce might
arrive any minute.
“Listen, I’ll get to the point. What time does
Bryce usually get home?”
“About six,” looking at her watch, she added,
“about a half hour from now. Why?”
“Zoe, I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Then just start at the beginning, why don’t
you?” She gave me a crooked little smile.
I said, “You know this is important, or I’d
never bother you.”
“I do. Now--from the beginning. What’s going
I plunged in. “Zoe, not long ago, I was
sleeping and woke to hear men’s voices. It was so odd. They were audible on
the phone by my bed, with the phone still on the cradle. But I could hear
what they said--some kind of crossed connections or something, according to
Drew. One guy told the other not to get involved in any illegal activities,
that he was already on parole, and if he got caught they’d lock him up and
throw away the key.” I paused to gauge her reaction. She seemed unusually
subdued for some reason.
“Go on,” she finally said. This was good.
Really. And rare, too.
“Then the next night, Drew was with me, and he
heard the voices too, during the storm, just before the phone lines went
down. I felt better then. At least I knew I wasn’t crazy. He had heard it,
“And then today, I heard two men talking
again. Zoe, the first guy asked the second guy, whose name is Lud something,
if he had decided whether he wanted the job or not. The job of killing the
first guy’s wife. He said yes, he wanted the job, but he wouldn’t do it for
any less than twenty grand. The other guy said that was a lot of money, and
he needed time to see if he could come up with it. They’re going to talk
again at the same time tomorrow.
“Zoe, Bryce was guy number one. I recognized
After a long pause, she admitted, “I’m not
surprised. Not really. He had me see a psychiatrist, who presrc
tranquilizers for me. You can see I’m not myself. I know he lied about his
affair with the other woman...”
“Her name is Chris Battersby,” I volunteered
before I could stop myself.
She frowned. “You know her name? How do you
know her name?”
“I met her when she was having lunch with
Bryce at Peking Express a few days ago. I was with Emily Keating, and I
asked her to please watch them, to see if it could possibly be just a
business luncheon engagement. It obviously was not. So I went to the buffet
and pretended to happen across them, and he tried to turn away, but I began
asking about you, and he ended up having to introduce us.”
With no emotion, she asked, “What’s she like?”
I frowned. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“She’s tall and thin, a lot like you in build,
with loads of brilliant red curly hair. She’s cold, though, Zoe. She hasn’t
an ounce of warmth in her entire soul-- I could tell from her dead eyes.”
“Then,” she said softly, “they deserve each
“Zoe, what are we going to do?”
“Bryce called this afternoon to ask if he
could borrow twenty thousand from my account, and I said yes. Now I’ll
conveniently say I can’t do it. How’s that?”
I smiled. “Brilliant.”
“It won’t be convenient for me to loan him the
money to pay for my murder.”
Then she added, “What time did you say the two
men would be talking again?”
“That doesn’t give us much time. We need to
come up with a plan.”
Just then, I heard the front door slam and
Bryce’s bounding tread on the stairs.
“Hon, you home?” he called.
Zoe hurriedly pushed her chair away from her
desk and motioned me beneath it, then pulled her chair forward, her bare
toes poking my side as I curled into a tight ball. My heart was in my
throat. Help, Lord, I need chocolate.
Bryce appeared at the door, and I could see
his shoes from where I crouched. He sounded falsely cheerful when he said,
“So how’s my sweetheart today?”
“Oh, a little tired.”
“Have you been taking your pills like a good
“Yup,” she said, before adding, “that’s
probably why I’m so sleepy.”
“Well, you know what Doctor Sanders said.”
“I know, I know,” she said sadly.
“Well, now, what’s this?”
It hit me just then. I had left my handbag on
the desktop. I could hear him fumbling with it, as she said casually, “Oh,
it’s Makkie’s. She forgot it. Girl would forget her head if it wasn’t
She was adlibbing easily now, with no tension
in her voice, “I’ll get it back to her later.”
“She was here?”
“Sure. She said she wanted to find out how I
was managing on my crutches.” Well, it wasn’t a complete lie.
He said, a little too casually, “So what else
did she say?”
She said slowly, matter-of-factly, “Not much.
Mom and Snooky are fine.” After a beat, she added, “I guess they had some
kind of carbon monoxide scare at the nursing home, kind of threw everyone
into a frenzy. And you should’ve seen Makkie. She was in a sledding
accident, and her face is a mess. Otherwise, not much is going on.”
I couldn’t believe she could be so calm. It
had to be the tranquilizers.
I could feel Bryce sizing up the situation. I
was glad I had parked my car across the street. Maybe it had gone
He asked, “So can I get your pills for you?”
“Not right now. I’ll have to get up to use the
bathroom in a minute anyway.”
“Okay. Well, just call if you need anything.
I’ve got lesson plans to work on, so I’ll be in my office.”
Zoe flipped on the television really loud,
while Bryce was still standing there, and he went out and closed the door.
That was a stroke of genius. How else could she have gotten him to close the
I’d noticed his office one door down, toward
the staircase. I’d have to pass it to get out of the house.
Zoe pushed back her chair, and motioned me out
of my hiding place. I whispered, “Zoe, what are we going to do?”
She seemed suddenly more alert. “I don’t know
yet, but we’ll figure out something.”
I watched as she sat, thinking. Then she
asked, “Did they say how it would be done?”
“What, the killing?” I asked, shocked that she
could be so analytical about her own death.
“Of course, silly. What else?”
“No, they haven’t gotten that specific yet.”
“Okay, well, I’ll send Bryce down to the
kitchen to get me something-- a clean glass. He does this kind of thing for
me now that I’m handicapped,” she said with a cynical giggle. “And while
he’s in the kitchen, you scurry out the front door, but be quiet about
closing it, okay?”
“Are you sure? I hate to leave you alone with
“Don’t worry about a thing. Now hide behind
the closet door, while I turn down the television and call Bryce.”
She muted the television sound and called out,
“Bryce? Could you come here, please?”
I heard footsteps before he opened the door.
“Yes, my love. Is there something I can get you?”
“I was going to take my pills, but I seem to
have misplaced my glass. Would you mind getting me a clean one from the
kitchen?” I could see the glass from where I stood, and had to hope he
wouldn’t notice it.
“Of course. I’ll be right back.” He was being
awfully cooperative, almost gushy. Made me want to gag. She shooed me out
the door as soon as we could hear his footsteps receding down the wide
marble staircase. I grabbed my purse and ran as quietly as I could, softly
closing the front door behind me. I had just made it off the porch, when I
heard his footsteps approach the door from the inside.
I had only enough time to slide into the
shrubbery to the side of the porch when he opened the door and looked
around. He stood there a while, and I held my breath, unmoving while a twig
atched my cheek. Shortly, I swiped away a drop of blood as my cheek began
to itch. I thought, oh, no, I took my purse. He’ll see that it’s gone.
Well, there was nothing I could do about it now.
Finally, he went inside and closed the door,
while I waited several more minutes before crawling out of my hiding place
and heading toward my car at a leisurely pace. Glancing up, as I started my
car, I saw him smiling mirthlessly from an upstairs window. My heart was
hammering in my chest so hard I thought it would fly out, as I quickly drove