"You going to get us some more beers?" he asked.
"No, I'm getting the book."
"It's right here," he picked up
off the nightstand and dropped it on the bed. "But I'm gonna need a break before I read you any more."
"That's not the book I'm looking for."
Megan strode naked to one of the bookcases, giving Kevin the chance to admire her bare back. He never thought shoulder blades were sexy before. She was changing his outlook on a lot of things.
She reached behind a row of hardcovers, pulled out a small diary and brought it back to the bed. "I want you to sign my autograph book."
He grinned. "Haven't I given you enough to remember me by?"
She opened the drawer of her nightstand, found a pen, and handed it to him with the diary. "This is my book of love."
?" his grin evaporated.
"These are all signatures of writers who first shared their dreams, and later their love, with me."
He opened the book. It was full of signatures and dates. Men and women. It was like thumbing through the bestseller lists for the last decade. What possessed these people to sign? Didn't they know what this diary was? Maybe they thought it was a harmless way to shut her up.
Whatever their reasons were, he wasn't making the same mistake. Not if there was a chance his wife could find out what his signature meant. If Janine left him, there would be no one to work while he wrote, no father-in-laws with shoe fortunes to borrow money from. And he certainly couldn't afford alimony and child support, not without getting a job.
"I can't sign it," he thrust the book back into her hands.
"You won't sign my book of love?" she was shocked.
"It wouldn't be right," he said.
"Why not?" Her voice cracked.
He tried to be gentle, to appeal to her sensitive, adoring side. "This is our private moment, just for the two of us. I don't want to share it with anyone else."
"But I do," she said. "I'm so happy, I want to run down the street shouting for everyone to hear."
"I want everyone to know that I touched you the way you touched me."
"Megan, you can't do that," he said, realizing the instant after he spoke that was the wrong approach. He knew what her weaknesses were. He should take advantage of them.
"I'm proud of what we have," she said, hurt turning to anger now.
"So am I, which is why I am going to honor it and cherish it by keeping it only for myself."
"That's selfish," she said, stunning him. "Sharing a great experience with others spreads the joy and makes the world a better place."
"I don't want you to spread the joy," he said firmly. "You can't spread this joy."
"I will, starting right now," she got to her feet.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to send an email to my entire buddy list," Megan said. "In a few minutes, the joy will be out there."
But she was already starting to go. Without even thinking, he picked up his book and whacked her across the head. It felt so good, he just kept doing it even after she hit the floor.
Spread the joy?
. What sort of insanity is that?
. You don't have a career.
. You don't have a reputation.
. You won't be plunged into a financial abyss from which there is no escape.
By the time he got a hold of himself, the only thing Megan was spreading was a pool of blood on the carpet. Kevin looked at the bloody book in his hand, and suddenly realized just what he had done. He felt her pulse.
She was dead all right.
He dropped the book on the floor and sat on the edge of the bed, shocked at how fast his life had turned to crap. What was he going to do now?
He stared straight ahead.
That's when his gaze fell on a row of books on a bottom shelf. They were books about writing. Mystery writing, to be exact.
So, she wanted to be a writer, too. Another dark side of her personality he didn't catch.
He stepped over to the bookcase and scanned the titles. One of them jumped right out at him:
A Writers Guide to Crime Scene Investigation.
He yanked it off the shelf and thumbed through it.
It's was a mother lode of good advice for the unprepared murderer. According to the guide, the biggest thing he had to worry about were fingerprints and anything they could pull his DNA from.
They'd used condoms, that was good. He'd have to get rid of those. And the beer bottles. It'd probably be a good idea to wash the sheets and make the bed, too.
The book was full of helpful suggestions. First, he gathered up all the sheets and his clothes and stuck them in the washing machine. Then he went into the kitchen, found a pair of rubber dish gloves, a bottle of Lysol, some paper towels and a garbage bag.
Kevin dumped all the beer bottles and condoms into the Hefty bag, then sprayed Lysol on every surface he touched or might have touched, including the copies of
, wiping them clean.
After that, he transferred the laundry to the dryer and vacuumed the entire house, removing the vacuum bag afterwards and putting it in the trash with everything else.
By then the laundry was done. Kevin emptied the lint tray into the garbage, got dressed and made the bed.
He'd never cleaned anything so thoroughly in his life. If Janine saw this, she'd put him to work in their house. Of course, she'd have to be dead, too, before he'd let that happen.
Now it was time to consider the murder weapon. That was a problem. Obviously, he couldn't leave the book. But if he took it, someone might notice it was gone, particularly if it was true that it was the only book she left by her bed. Her ex-boyfriend would certainly know it was missing.
There was a simple solution.
He dropped the book into the Hefty bag, cinched it closed and carried it to the front door, which he opened just a crack to see if anyone was on the street. There was no one around and nobody had their lights on, pretty much what he expected at 3 am.
Kevin hurried to his car, opened the trunk, and took a copy of
from the box inside. Then he stuffed the Hefty bag into the car, closed the trunk as gently and quietly as he could, and crept back into the house.
Still wearing the rubber gloves, he searched the place until her found Megan's stash of plastic, Brodart jacket protectors, carefully folding one around the
Kevin put the book back on her nightstand and was about to turn away, when a question occurred to him. Should he sign it?
If he didn't, there would be nothing tying him to her. He'd walk away totally clean. Then again, what if she told someone she was going to get it signed? What if someone saw her at the K-mart?
The more he thought about it, the safer, and smarter, it seemed to sign it. Besides, no killer would leave his autograph behind. That alone was almost like an alibi.
He started to pick up the book with his gloves when he realized that would be a big mistake. His fingerprints, and hers, should be all over the book. So Kevin picked up the book with bare hands, took her pen, and signed it.
To Megan, a true book lover.
Kevin pocketed the pen, to dispose of later with the rest of the trash, put on his gloves again, then crouched down beside Megan's corpse and slapped her hands on the book a few times.
He returned the book to the nightstand. There was no easy way to take his fingerprints off her diary, so he took it with him to destroy later.
Kevin put the handy
Writers Guide to Crime Scene Investigation
back in its place and left the house, pleased and a little bit proud of himself at having committed such a flawless murder. There might even be a book in the experience some day.
Rather than check into a hotel for the rest of the night, he drove on to the next town on his signing schedule, ditching most of the trash in scattered bins on his way out of the city. When he was a good hundred or so miles south of Spokane, he pulled off the highway and drove down a dirt road for a while, well out of sight of anyone, before stopping.
Kevin got out, dug a little hole, and burned the book and the diary, spreading the ashes in the wind like the remains of a cremated friend.
* * * * * *
"Attention K-Mart shoppers. It's picnic season, and to celebrate, buy a family bag of your favorite snack chips and get one free! Then you can sample our onion dip and meet best-selling author Kevin Dangler, who's signing his new book
Welcome him to Walla Walla and get his book for 30% off!"
A gangly man, shirtless under denim overalls, abruptly steered his shopping cart to Kevin's table, where the voice of a new generation sat behind a stack of books and a bucket of chips, forcing himself to read the first chapter of
The Nine Lives of Purrlock Holmes,
currently number three on New York Times paperback bestseller list.
"Are you Kevin Dangler?" the man asked, snagging a complimentary potato chip and raking it through the complimentary bowl of onion spread.
No, I'm the Kevin Dangler imposter who goes from one K-Mart to another enjoying the vicarious thrill of not selling any books.
"Yes, I am," Kevin said.
"But your last two books really sucked," the man shoved the chip in his mouth and grabbed another greasy handful of them out of the bucket. "Welcome to Walla Walla."
The man pushed his cart away, munching chips and leaving a wake of crumbs. Kevin stared after him, seriously considering whether to commit his second murder in two days. Maybe it's true what they say, it does get easier after the first time.
"If it makes you feel better, I can have his car towed," someone said.
Kevin turned to see a pot-bellied man in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki slacks, holding a paper bag..
"You can do that?" Kevin asked.
"It's the least of my super-powers," the man set the bag down on the table, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a leather wallet, which he flipped open to reveal an ID card and a badge. "You'd be surprised what a homicide detective can do."
Kevin stared at the ID. Detective Bud Flanek. From Spokane. He felt all the blood drain from his face and wondered if the cop could see it.
"You're a long way from home," Kevin said, trying hard to keep his voice even and calm.
This could be a coincidence. They happen. There wouldn't be a word for it if they didn't.
"It's about a four hour drive," Flanek replied, shoving his badge back in his pocket. "You could make it in less time, but I like to stop in Lewiston for a burger on the way."
"What brings you to K-mart?"
"You, Mr. Dangler. I missed you when you were in town and I'm a big fan."
"Really?" Kevin's heart was pounding so loud, he was certain Flanek could hear it. He took a paperback off the stack and opened it up to the title page. "Well, let me hurry up and sign a book for you. I know you've got a long trip back home."
"You know what I like best about your books? You really get inside the killers head. Gives me some insight, let me tell you," Flanek said. "I've often thought about calling you up for advice."
"That's very flattering," Kevin motioned to the book with the tip of his pen. "How would you like me to sign your book?"
"As a matter of fact, I'm working on a unusually difficult case right now," Flanek continued. "This librarian was murdered in her own home, hit over the head with a blunt instrument. We don't have any idea why."
Kevin looked up from the book. Flanek was smiling jovially, just a friendly fan who couldn't stop talking. But Kevin knew a cat-and-mouse game when he saw one. The key was to keep his cool. They had nothing on him, he saw to that.
"Surely the killer must have left fingerprints, a hair, something you can go on."
Flanek shook his head. "That's what's so strange. It was like she was killed by a ghost. Whoever did it wiped the place clean."
Kevin almost sighed with relief, before catching himself and turning it into a cough instead. "What about witnesses?"
"We aren't that lucky," Flanek absently scratched his belly. "Tell me, what would you do if you were writing this as a story? How would you catch the guy?"
What does he expect me to do, confess?
"In fiction, the killer always makes a mistake," Kevin replied. "The subtle, behavioral ones are the best, much more satisfying and dramatic than a forensic clue."
Flanek smiled, nodding his head in agreement. "That's why I like your books so much, especially your first one."
Everybody's a book critic, Kevin thought.
"Did I mention this librarian collected books?" Flanek said. "Signed first editions."
"It's a good hobby," Kevin said. "Keeps guys like me in business."
"Funny thing is, out of hundreds of books, she only had one that wasn't a first edition."
The detective reached into his paper bag and pulled out a hardcover copy of
wrapped in a nice, plastic cover. He opened it to Kevin's signature.
"This one," Flanek said.
Kevin stared at the book in disbelief, stunned by his own stupidity.
"It's a fifth printing," Flanek said, "just like the rest of the books in your trunk."
It wasn't enough to convict him, but Kevin knew the rest would fall into place now. Security camera videos from the K-Mart would probably put Kevin and Megan together, maybe even show him following her out of the parking lot. That was just a start. If Flanek could spot the difference between a first and fifth edition, he had the ability to build a strong, circumstantial case against him.