By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: There was a blood trail that ended at the kitchen door.
Charlie’s heart beat so loud in his ears, he had trouble hearing his own breathing. Although moonlight streaked through the curtains into the bedroom, the shadows made him blink once, twice, three times. Was that…a body on the bed?
He stepped away from the open window and tugged at his gloves, one at a time, and circled the bed to the bedroom door on the opposite wall. The figure on the bed held his gaze, transfixed, as if nothing else in the room mattered. Not the thumb drive he’d planned to steal; not the man he’d planned to murder.
The thumb drive wouldn’t be a problem now, but what about the man? How could he murder someone who’d already been killed? Who would want to kill him?
Is the killer still in the house?
The thought came unbidden and made Charlie bend half over with fear. His breathing became shallow. How would he ever have convinced anyone he had the balls to kill another person?
Get it together, he reprimanded himself. He’s dead. Just grab the drive and get out of here.
He kept up the internal chatter, forcing himself to turn his back on his former boss and search the room. This part—the stealing part—he’d done plenty of times before, and Charlie knew the man on the bed well. He’d worked for him for twelve long years and had come to this same bedroom countless times.
Of course, the boss didn’t know about those visits, but his wife, Vivian, sure did.
Charlie stopped moving. Whoever came to kill the boss might have gotten to Viv too. Not that Charlie loved her or anything; he wasn’t a sentimental rom-com idiot. Viv was a good screw and that’s all. But…well, they had had a lot of fun together. It would be a shame if someone hurt that pretty face.
He opened the bedroom door. Nothing here anyway; he’d done a good enough sweep of the room and the closet to know that. Viv had told him about all the hiding places the boss used for his confidential stuff, and the thumb drive wasn’t in any of them.
“Viv?” he called into the hallway a quiet voice.
He inhaled a deep breath and poked his head into the hall. Light beamed up the back stairs. Charlie knew the kitchen was that way. He tilted his head in that direction, but he didn’t hear anything.
In fact, now that he thought about it, the house had that distinct essence of emptiness. Even thought it made his heart beat harder, Charlie gulped and stepped into the hall. He patted the weapon at his back and strode toward the stairs, shoving open bedroom doors as he went. Nothing; no one.
His heart began to return to a normal speed and rhythm as he went down the back stairs into the kitchen. When he reached the final step, his heart dropped into his feet and seemed to forget out how to beat at all. He coughed once or twice to bring it back up again.
The kitchen looked like the set of a horror film. The breakfast table sat at an angle on its side, and two chairs had toppled on top of it as if to protect it from an attack. Jars of spices, sugar, and oil had somehow belched their entire contents on the floor. Charlie took a few steps forward, and one foot skidded a little in the angry mixture. Dishes lay smashed to pieces. On the jagged edges he noticed the pattern of Viv’s prized Wedgwood, the one she said had been in the boss’s family for three generations.
Then he saw a blood trail that ended at the kitchen door.
“Viv?” he called in a louder voice this time, not caring whether the killer heard him. “Viv!”
Still rooted to the spot, he searched the room with his eyes. The disarray made the undisturbed things stand out even more. A pile of file folders on the butler’s bar. A bowl of fruit on the gray and white quartz counter closest to him. The keys hanging on their hooks by the kitchen door.
Viv’s keys were missing. Charlie put a hand to his face. He thought about all the times he’d shown up to spend a couple of hours with Viv only to find her nursing a sore wrist or how she’d wince occasionally when he squeezed her shoulders with passion. He’d apologized for being rough, for hurting her, but she’d shake her head.
“You’re not hurting me,” she’d say. “Trust me, I know what that’s like.”
A few times he’d come over only to be turned away. She’d open the door wearing sunglasses, claiming a migraine. The first time he believed her. When she did let him in, days or even a week later, he’d noticed the funny colors around one eye, sometimes both.
Without another thought, Charlie bounded to the kitchen door. He slipped twice in the mess on the floor and flailed, but he kept moving. He had to find Viv. He had to know she was okay and that the blood going to the door wasn’t hers.