Ralph saw Steve leaving the gym, waving toward the interior on his way out, not paying any attention to his surroundings. Bunz and Gunz was purchased by an investment group after Carl’s death, and while Steve was not charged with anything it was decided that keeping him on was not good for business. They gave him a nice severance and he went gladly on his way. Insulting, Ralph thought, that after everything Steve walks away clean with extra money in his pocket. He felt his temper rise and took a deep breath to calm himself. It wouldn’t do to lose focus now. Steve got into his ostentatious sports car, turned on the headlights, gunned the engine and sped out of the parking lot. Ralph wasn’t too worried about keeping up, he knew where Steve was headed.
Steve pulled up in front of a model home in a new housing development. He exited his vehicle, locking it and then boldly bounding up the front steps, using the code on the lockbox to let himself in. Ralph had taken a different route and arrived at the development ahead of Steve, parking a street over from the house. He had entered the unfinished house facing the model and was watching Steve’s progress from there. He watched the lights in the model come on, one by one, leading upstairs. As the light came on in the upstairs bedroom, Ralph sprinted across the street, following Steve inside.
Lillian opted to follow Steve when he left the gym since Ralph didn’t make an immediate move to do so. Steve drove just like you would expect a guy with a bright yellow Corvette to drive, making it exceedingly difficult to keep up without revealing herself. He whipped into the development well ahead of her and by the time she made the entrance he was nowhere to be found. She turned off her lights and proceeded to creep through the development, hoping she would find him before she ran into Ralph. She was certain he was here somewhere, or on his way. Lillian’s attention turned to movement, a figure darting across a side street. She focused and saw Steve’s parked car.
Lillian stopped where she was and picked up her phone. “Stalker…” she said to herself, seeing the text notifications filling up her screen. She dialed Matt.
“Lillian, look, I…” Matt started.
“Shut up, Matt. Just listen.” Lillian interrupted.
“I…” Matt continued.
“Matt, I don’t have time for this, listen, I think Ralph is about to do something to Steve. I followed him, well, Steve, I followed Steve, but Ralph, I think he’s in there and…” Lillian blurted.
“You did what?” Matt said, alarmed.
“I don’t have time to explain, please, just trust me. I am going in there and I don’t know what I’m going to find, and I could use your help.” Lillian said, her tone resolute.
“You can’t do this Lillian.” Matt said.
“I have to, and I’m going to. Are you going to help me or not?” Lillian asked.
“This is illegal, Lillian. You know that, right? If you go after this guy, it’s your ass. Don’t be stupid.” Matt insisted.
“He could literally be killing someone right now and you’re arguing with me. I am sending you a pin with my location. Come, or don’t.” Lillian said and ended the call.
Lillian sent the pin, ignoring the incoming call from Matt. She checked her weapon, took a deep breath, and exited the vehicle, leaving her phone behind.
Ralph entered the house, making no attempt at stealth. He retrieved his machete from the decorative basket in the console table and bounded up the stairs. He entered the upstairs bedroom and saw Steve kneeling over a body, Francine’s body. He was distracted, muttering her name, and shaking her.
“She won’t wake up.” Ralph said, from the doorway.
Steve whipped his head around and grimaced in confusion. He registered the machete in Ralph’s hand and his expression changed. Steve scrambled over Francine, trying to get distance between himself and Ralph. Steve managed to get to his feet and turned to face Ralph. They locked eyes just as Ralph completed the swing of the machete that separated Steve’s head from his body. Steve crumpled, boneless, coming to rest draped across Francine’s still inert form.
Francine would be collateral damage, like Carl, but she had been sleeping with Steve, so she made her bed, Ralph thought. Her marriage had been ruined by Steve’s story about the couch cushion. It was well known that she blamed Steve, hated him. She certainly had motive and anyone who had seen her lift at the gym knew she was strong enough to take a guy’s head off. A murder-suicide made sense.
It was easy enough to get her here. Francine ran to the gym most days, and today was no different. Ralph kept her well after class, making conversation, pretending to be interested in her devastatingly banal stories. He had her try a new drink recipe and when she started feeling a little lightheaded, he offered to drive her home. The gym was empty, and the cameras weren’t recording, he saw to that. He drove to the new development, to the house Francine wouldn’t shut up about. He unlocked the front door, left it open, then after ensuring that the streets were empty, hustled a now unconscious Francine inside over his shoulder. There was no need to wrap her. She would be out long enough, and he could overpower her if need be.
It was even easier to get Steve here. All Ralph had to do was send a few texts from Francine’s phone, promises to defile yet another couch.
Ralph took a deep breath in, and let it out in a long, slow, whoosh. Just a few more steps and this would all be over with. He could move on to another town and try to start over again. This wasn’t one of his better plans, Ralph thought. It was sloppy because he let himself get too emotional about it, like he did with Brad. But, he thought, he didn’t get caught then either.
Ralph bent over and set about rearranging Francine and Steve into positions that made more sense before administering the ‘self-inflicted’ gunshot to Francine’s head. He cocked his head right and left, as though evaluating the position of a picture on the wall. He stepped back for perspective.
“Stop right there.” Said Lillian, calm but firm.
Ralph stopped in his tracks, standing perfectly still. “Detective Charter. What a surprise” he said.
“Hands up” Lillian demanded.
“Why are you here?” Ralph asked, making no move to comply.
“I said, put your hands up.” Lillian repeated.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to be here, Detective.” Ralph said.
“Are you trying to make me shoot you?” Lillian asked.
“You’re going to shoot me in the back? How’s that going to look?” Ralph asked, patronizing.
“Are you shitting me? You just decapitated a guy, I’m pretty sure no one is going to care where I shoot you.” Lillian replied. “I knew you were a piece of shit, but I didn’t think you were stupid too.”
Ralph flinched slightly. Lillian saw it. Good, she thought. Get mad.
“Ok, ok. You win.” Ralph said, his tone light, amused. He slowly raised his hands, back still turned to Lillian. Then in one sudden motion, he spun to face her and lunged.
Lillian fired, shooting Ralph in the shoulder, causing him to lurch slightly away, but he kept coming, closing the short distance between them in an instant. His mass and momentum caused Lillian to fall backward, landing hard and losing her gun, Ralph’s weight settling on top of her.
Lillian pumped her legs, trying to scoot out from underneath Ralph. She managed to get her upper torso above his head and proceeded to drive her elbows over and over into the back of his head and neck. Ralph bit down hard on Lillian’s belly but she kept striking him, punching him in the ears now. She had shimmied far enough out that now he only had her by the legs, and she was within reaching distance of her gun. She pulled the leg on his wounded side as hard as she could, managed to extricate it and kick him in the face. He clung even tighter to her other leg. She twisted her body away from him and reached again for her gun. Her fingers scrabbled but finally connected and she swung the barrel back toward him, only to be met with a gun pointed at her face.
“I came prepared.” Ralph smiled defiantly with bloody teeth. Lillian fired into them. Ralph’s gun went off before he collapsed, the noise deafening, pain tearing through the side of Lillian’s head. She worked to free her trapped leg, disgusted by the sensation of Ralph’s warm blood soaking through her jeans. In the distance, she heard a keening. She saw movement and instinctively raised her gun. It was Francine. Lillian sighed with relief and lowered her weapon, sitting still as Francine wailed, grateful momentarily for her deafness.
Matt’s face appeared before her. He was talking but Lillian couldn’t hear him clearly. It looked like he was asking if she was ok. Do I look ok? She thought, wondering what she ever saw in this guy. Lillian touched her face, checking for holes. It was very wet, but intact. She ran her hand up to her ear and winced. That was going to leave a mark. Lillian laughed quietly to herself.
Matt was trying to help her off the floor. She waved him off. “Help Francine” she said. The ringing in her ears was starting to subside. She rolled over onto all fours, then grabbed the stair railing to haul herself up, leaving bloody smears in her wake. Once upright, she was face to face with Francine’s tear-streaked face, a mask of horror, looking from Lillian to the smears and back again. “You’re welcome.” Lillian said, shouldering past Francine as she started to cry again.
Matt was behind Francine, standing at the entrance of the bedroom, waiting for Lillian with outstretched arms. “You’re hurt” he said.
“Really?” Lillian replied, with sarcasm.
“Stop it.” Matt said, dropping his arms. “Can you stop for one second? What happened here?” Matt asked.
“Well, that guy that I told you was a murderer went ahead and murdered someone else. He’s the guy on the floor out there with no face if you want to take it from here.” Lillian said.
“You could have been killed.” Matt said, grabbing her upper arm.
Lillian slowly looked down at his hand, then back at Matt, with exaggerated reproach. “Matt, someone might see.”
Matt’s eyes shone with unshed tears, pulling his hand back.
“Matt, thank you for coming. I do appreciate it. I’ll get a full report done once I get whatever is left of my ear sewn back on, but we are done here.” Lillian said.
She turned and headed down the stairs without a backward glance and with no regrets.