Chapter 1: Mark
I couldn’t keep my eyes off Mrs. Callahan as she left the office. She was so poised. So sophisticated and classy. She had a certain air about her that made people feel weak in comparison. I wanted to be like her. She was my absolute favourite client. Her files were meticulous. Everything about her was meticulous.
I snapped out of my daydream as my next client walked in. It was Mrs. Holloway. I stifled a sigh. Mrs. Holloway was the polar opposite of Mrs. Callahan. She was disorganized and rude and I did not enjoy dealing with her in the slightest. I had a feeling the directors had palmed her off onto me because they felt the same way. Nonetheless, after discussing a few trivial matters we got straight down to business.
“Have you established any Income Protection insurance cover over the past year?” “In some cases, you can claim a tax deduction for the premiums paid”. I could see Mrs. Holloway’s eyes glaze over with boredom. “Uhhh, Income Protection? hmmm…I don’t really know. Can I just give you my folders and leave it with you? “You know I don’t know anything about this kind of stuff”. “Sure thing” I responded through gritted teeth. She handed over two large ring-binder folders, overflowing with receipts and invoices. I guessed I’d be finishing late again tonight.
I arrived home at 8:15. My boyfriend, Mark, was on the couch watching ‘Breaking Bad’, his latest series addiction. “Have you eaten yet?” I asked. “Yeah, sorry, I waited until 7 then decided to eat without you”. I went into the kitchen and retrieved the 2-day-old meatlover’s pizza from the fridge and microwaved it on high for 2 minutes. I could hear the oil sizzling while I poured myself a glass of ‘yellow tail’ shiraz then went back into the lounge room.
I snuggled in beside Mark on the fold out sofa bed and watched the rest of the episode, while I finished my pizza. Once it had finished, Mark announced that he was off to bed early and made no effort to converse with me. This wasn’t surprising. It was pretty much a repeat of every night this week. I think he was bored with our conversations. I had given up trying to make my work stories sound fun and interesting. I loved my job and I loved dealing with numbers; but it was really difficult relaying the exciting details of my day without sounding stale.
Once Mark had left, I rinsed off my pizza plate then headed out to the balcony. Leaving the glass door slightly ajar, I took a seat in my Scandinavian-inspired rocking chair and eagerly pulled out a pack of Bolivar Cuban cigars. Mmm mmm mmm…oh yeah, the smell was incredible. Just like they’d described on the packet; strong and robust. I’d imported them from the US last week. They were full strength and not recommended for new smokers. Perfect I thought. As a seasoned cigar smoker, I was sure they would give me the spin I needed. Creak. I heard a footstep in the hall and a light switched on in the bathroom. I quickly shoved the cigars into the back of my pants and waited until I heard the bedroom door click shut again. I didn’t want Mark to know about my habit. I wasn’t sure of how he would take it.
Chapter 2: The Cigars
The next morning was hectic. I forgot to set my alarm so I woke up half an hour late and to top it off, jumped into the car to discover my fuel tank was on empty. Ahh man, this was going to be a bad day, I could feel it. I pulled into the service station, filled up my tank then sprinted inside to pay.
“Damn girl, where are you off to in such a hurry?” the servo attendant asked me when I practically threw my money at him. “Sorry, I’m late for work” I exclaimed, as I retrieved my change. My hands were shaking from the anxiety. I really hated being late. “Well, if you don’t mind me saying, you look really cute in your little office getup”. “But maybe you should spend less time getting ready and more time trying to get to work on time”.
I looked up at him as he gave me a little wink. Man, this guy had balls. “The names Robbie”, he said, holding out his hand. I wasn’t really sure of how to respond to his advances so I just shook his hand, stared at him awkwardly then thanked him as I headed for the exit. How any man could find me ‘cute’ right now was beyond me. He was actually quite attractive in a rugged kind of way, but a servo attendant, not exactly my dream man. Besides, I had Mark, so I wasn’t really looking.
Somehow, I managed to make it to work only ten minutes later than normal. I said a quick ‘hello’ to a group of colleagues chatting around the new office juicer and hastily sculled down two lukewarm cups of coffee. I heard someone mention that it was the receptionist’s (Jenny’s) birthday today so I gave myself a virtual high-five when I realized it was cake day.
I put my head down for the morning, breaking only to sing happy birthday to Jenny and to scoff down a piece of gluten-free vanilla butter cake and soldiered through the mounds of paperwork that had accumulated on my desk over the past week. When 2pm rolled around, I realized I’d forgotten my lunch and snuck back to the smoko room to grab another piece of cake.
Mid-bite, my heart started racing and I started to panic as I had a sudden realization. Oh no, I’d left my cigars out on the balcony last night. If I didn’t get to them before Mark finished work this afternoon, he was sure to see them.
Before I could muster up another thought, I raced back to my office, grabbed my keys and headed towards the exit. “I’m out for lunch” I called to my workmates.
Chapter 3: My Twisted Mistake
When I arrived home, I noticed that Mark’s car was parked in the garage. That’s odd I thought to myself. He doesn’t usually come home for lunch. But then again, neither did I. I was a little worried that something had happened to him but was equally concerned that he had already seen the cigars.
I wandered through the garden and down the path and unlocked the front door. I could hear voices coming from one of the back rooms and giggles, from what sounded like a young woman.
My heart started racing as I walked briskly down the hallway towards the bedroom door. I could feel my face burning up. What was happening? Surely, Mark wasn’t…I couldn’t finish my thought.
My head was spinning. I took a deep breath and reached for the door handle. When I opened the door, it seemed like everything went by in a blur. I could see two half-naked bodies moving frantically in my daze and realized that Mark was certainly with another woman – JENNY! our receptionist.
“Jess, I’m so sorry…” I could hear Mark apologizing over and over. “We met at your Christmas party last year and…”. I was in such a state that I could barely move. My knees were weak and I felt as though they were about to give way. “Last year?” I managed to blurt out. I could feel the anger rising and my voice started to get louder. “Last year? Are you serious?” I started to get my bearings. “Jess, we’re really sorry, but, we’re…in love!” Jenny said.
“Why are you still here?” I screamed at her. “Get out of my house!”. I fell to the floor and curled up in a ball, tears streaming down my face. Jenny finally gathered enough common sense to leave. I pulled out the remainder of the birthday cake that I’d saved in my purse and hurled it at the back of her head as she walked past. “Happy birthday” I called out to her as she left.
Mark put his arm around my shoulders and tried to help me back to my feet. I pushed him away. “Jess, I’m sorry. I’m not sure of what to say. You could sense that something was up, right?” he asked in an antagonizing, calm manner. I wanted to punch him in the face. Right in the middle of his pretty, blue- eyed, baby face.
“Why did you do it?” I managed to squeak at him. “Why didn’t you just break it off?” “Why did you have to go behind my back? – with…Jenny!?” “Of all people, why Jenny? She’s such a bloody…dumbass!” “What is wrong with you?” I demanded, in a slightly judgmental tone.
Boy did this set Mark off. “What is wrong with me? He asked, with an angry gleam in his eye. “Jess, you can’t be serious! look at yourself!” he exclaimed. “Your so…” “Your just so….” By this point, he was absolutely fuming. “So…what?” I insisted. He hesitated for a moment, trying to find the right words. “Your just so…bloody boring!” he shouted, breathing a massive sigh of relief. It was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“It feels so good to finally tell you! And it’s not just that…”. He kept talking; however, at this point, I had had enough. I wanted to cover my ears. I didn’t want to listen to his reasoning anymore. My whole body was trembling and I couldn’t muster up any form of response. But Mark kept going. “…you’ve really let yourself go lately. You’re so unattractive right now, I can barely look at you!” he added.
All of a sudden my hands turned icy cold and my lips started to twitch. I could vaguely hear Mark continue to insult me; however, it was like my hearing had been turned down and I could no longer make out what he was saying.
A feeling of pure hatred was building up inside me. This was a feeling that I had never experienced before. It was uncontrollable and it could not see reason. All I could think about was the pistol that Mark kept under his bedside table for protection. I wanted to use it. I wanted to kill Mark.
I stood up and headed towards Marks bedside. By this time, he was pacing around the bedroom proclaiming his love for Jenny. I could barely hear him through my own thoughts. I sat down on the bed and retrieved the pistol. The silencer was still intact. Good.
I felt a wave of power wash over me. I aimed the pistol at Mark while he continued to pace. He noticed the sudden movement in his peripheral vision and realized what I was doing. “Whoa” he said, raising his hands in the air. “Jess, what are you doing?” he asked as he started to pace towards me.
“Stay where you are or I will shoot you” I said calmly “and shut up”.
“Now it’s your turn to listen to me” I commanded, tears rolling down my cheeks. “I don’t know what you’ve seen in the movies, but to make a relationship fun and interesting, you have to experience things together”. “I am always trying to promote conversation with you, trying to get you to travel, to go to parties, to dance and meet new people with me but you always turn me down”. “You’re the most critical person I’ve ever met! You don’t like anybody. All you do is sit on your high horse and judge everybody that you meet without knowing anything about them! – Me included!”.
“I may have let myself go lately, but at least I know I’m still a good person”. “You may be attractive to other women, but looks can only get you so far in life Mark”. “The way you are on the inside always shines through eventually”. I aimed the gun at his ugly blue-eyed, baby face. His eyes were full of fear. I didn’t care. I no longer felt anything for him. No love. No empathy. Nothing. I pulled the trigger and watched as he fell to the floor.
Chapter 4: Mrs. Callahan
Silence filled the air. I took a deep breath and was overwhelmed as a huge wave of emotion came flooding back. My hands were no longer ice cold and a feeling of warmth washed over my entire body. Then, as if I had been hit by a train, the reality of the situation struck me.
Oh my god, what have I done? Mark was lying on the floor at the foot of the bed and he wasn’t breathing. In fact, he was never going to breathe again because…I had murdered him. I sat on the bed and put my head in my hands. It was spinning.
I wasn’t sure of what to do next but I knew I had to act fast. I checked my watch. 2:55pm. If I left now, I could still make it back to work in time without raising any suspicion. I left Mark where he was, locked the door and headed back to my car.
I arrived back to work at 3:05pm. 5 minutes late. I really hated being late. Ed, our temporary receptionist occupied Jenny’s usual spot. My hands were trembling as I headed towards my office. Luckily, my office was down the end of the hall, in the most secluded part of the building. It took all my might but somehow I managed to walk the entire length of the hall without collapsing.
When I got to my desk, I buckled in a hump into my chair and just stared at my computer screen. I could see an email that had been sent to ‘all staff’. ‘Jenny is out sick and won’t be in for the rest of the day’ it read. Sick I thought to myself. Right.
At that moment, my phone started ringing. It was the receptionist, Ed. I picked up the receiver. “Hello?” I answered in a strange tone. “Hi Jess, Mrs. Callahan’s here to pick up her files” “I’ll send her through now” he said. “But…” Ed hung up before I had a chance to make up an excuse. I could barely speak. How was I going to face Mrs. Callahan?
I heard a knock on my door. My anxiety levels were rising. The guilt was consuming me and I felt sick to my stomach. “Jess?” Mrs. Callahan called out, peeping her head through the door. I opened my mouth to respond to her but nothing came out. “Jess, are you ok?” she asked, letting herself in. “I…I’m fine” was all I managed to blurt out. “You certainly don’t look fine; your forehead is sweating excessively!” she pointed out.
I couldn’t respond. The guilt was becoming too intense. It was taking over my entire body and controlling my every move. I needed to talk to someone. I needed help. I wasn’t really a murderer at heart, was I? I mean, I had just murdered my own boyfriend, but…my mind was going AWOL. It was scattered and my neurons were no longer linking up properly. Nothing made any sense anymore.
“I did something really really really bad” I blurted out. My hands were shaking again and I was running on adrenaline as the words started to slip from my mouth. “Something unforgivable” I added. “And I don’t know what to do”. I put my head on my desk. If there was ever a rock-bottom, I had hit it. I was breaking down in front of one of my clients – my favourite client. I was about to lose everything – my job, my freedom, my family and my friends. My entire life.
“What is it Jess? You know you can talk to me about anything” Mrs. Callahan assured me. I looked up at her. She was so well-groomed. Her hair was slicked back into a high ponytail. Not one hair was out of place. She was so refined. There was no way she would understand, but I couldn’t keep it inside any longer. I needed to confess my sin.
“I…I…found my boyfriend in bed with Jenny, our receptionist!” I cried. My voice was trembling. “And then, I…shot him!” I exclaimed. Tears were rolling down my cheeks but I felt relief. Now I would have to face the consequences. Life in prison.
Chapter 5: The Suicide
Mrs. Callahan maintained a pretty decent poker face. I had no idea what she was thinking. She didn’t say a word. “Mrs. Callahan, I’m so sorry to burden you. I had no idea that I would ever be capable of doing something like this. I lost control of the situation” I tried to explain.
Mrs. Callahan stood up and walked slowly towards the door. “Please say something” I begged. She continued towards the door in silence. However, once she reached it, she did not leave. She stood there for a long moment. It appeared as though she was deliberating something. Then she closed the door firmly and headed back to my desk, where she took a seat.
She placed her hand over mine and looked me in the eye. “Jess, if you knew how many times I’ve wanted to kill my husband over the years, you’d be very surprised” she told me sympathetically.
“I’m not defending the circumstances, but what’s done is done. You can’t bring Mark back” she reasoned. “You’ve done a terrible, terrible thing; however, in saying that I know that you’re a good person and I can’t sit by and watch you ruin your life over this”. “You’ve helped me and my business run smoothly over the past few years and now, I would like to help you fix this”.
I was somewhat shocked by Mrs. Callahan’s response. It took me a good few minutes to comprehend what had happened. She was so cool about the whole situation that it made me feel more relaxed. She always managed to maintain this composure that made me feel calm.
“Mrs. Callahan, with all due respect, I don’t think it’s possible to fix this…situation. Marks body is lying limp in my bedroom as we speak. It’s only a matter of time before people will start to get suspicious”. “His friends and family…and what about his boss? He didn’t show up to work this afternoon. They will definitely start to think somethings up. And…Jenny?”.Ugh. The thought of Jenny made me sick.
“I have an idea” she said. “But first, I need you to be 100% committed to this. I’m putting myself at risk by helping you. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison? Or, do you want to put this whole incident behind you?” she asked. “You’ll have to learn to live with the guilt. But it’s a small price to pay for freedom” she justified.
I thought about it for a moment. Mrs. Callahan was right. She was so rational and logical. There wasn’t really anything to consider. I didn’t want to ruin my life.
“I’m in”. I said with certainty. “Just tell me what to do”.
“Ok, we need to act fast. We’re going to make this look like a suicide. I’m assuming you shot him in the head?” “Do you know the password to his email account?” she asked. “Uh, yeah…” I answered curiously. Strange question.
“Ok, we’re going to log in to Mark’s email account on my mobile phone then we’re going to send an email to your work account – a suicide email”. “Something along the lines of ‘Jess, I love you so much. I can’t live without you blah blah blah’”. “Then, you’re going to leave the office in a hurry, find Mark’s body in your bedroom and call the police” she explained.
It sounded simple. Whether or not everything would fall into place was another story. But I was willing to try.
A few minutes later, we’d sent the email and I stood up to leave. I was still running on adrenaline.
“Hey Jess, before you go, there is one more thing” Mrs. Callahan mentioned. She looked up at me with a little twinkle in her eyes. “How long have you and Mark been together?” she asked. “Umm…I guess it’s been around 4 years now” I replied. “Just wondering, does Mark have any life insurance cover in place?” she questioned.
Oh my god. There was a lot more riding on this then I realized. “Actually, yes, he does” I confirmed. “We set up a policy a few years ago when we first bought the house”. “It must be worth around $900,000”.
Mrs. Callahan smiled. “Perfect” she said. “In that case, I would like half of it – $450,000 each” she requested. “I believe that’s fair, don’t you?”.
Chapter 6: Robbie
Everything worked out according to plan. The police didn’t treat Marks death as suspicious at all. They were all very sympathetic and helpful.
I’d made it look like I was the complete victim. That he had slept with another woman, begged me not to leave him then killed himself when he realized I would not reconsider.
They also called Jenny in for questioning. She was absolutely distraught. I actually felt sorry for her. Maybe her and Mark did belong together and that we were just a misfit. I thought to myself. Anyway, it was no use thinking about that now. He wasn’t coming back.
I spent the next month watching ‘Breaking Bad’ in my pyjamas. I used up all my holiday pay and sick leave, but I didn’t really care. I had a pretty decent lump sum coming in from my life insurance claim.
$450,000. What was I going to do with all that money? I figured I’d pay off my house and open up my own business. Maybe a hostel. Or a bar. There were so many possibilities.
On July 6th, I decided to return to work. On my way, I stopped in at the servo to fuel up.
“I haven’t seen you around here for a while!” the servo attendant commented. I looked up. It was Robbie, the guy that had hit on me last time.
“Oh, hey Robbie. Yeah, I know, I’ve been…sick”. I responded, handing over some cash. “Looks like you’ve lost a bit of weight” he noticed. “Have I?” I asked. I hadn’t really noticed, it wasn’t intentional. He handed over my change.
“Hey, are you doing anything Saturday night?” he asked. I barely knew what I was doing right now, let alone Saturday night. I thought to myself. “No plans” I said. “You want to get dinner?” he asked. “I know this real nice fish place by the harbour”.
I contemplated the idea in my head for a moment. “Umm. I don’t think so Robbie. Sorry, I’ve just come out of a pretty sticky relationship” I explained.
“Come on, it’ll be fun. Give me a chance. looks like you need a good meal!” he insisted. “No, no. I’m sorry, I can’t” I stammered. I turned to leave. “Ok, no problem, it was worth a try, I’ll see you next time then!” he called out.
I headed for the exit. As I walked towards my car, I started to feel angry with myself. Why did I turn Robbie down? Why was I judging him when I knew nothing about him? I could hear my own words ringing in my ears from the day I’d killed Mark. I didn’t want to be like Mark. I didn’t want to be so judgemental and closed off to new experiences.
I turned around and marched back into the servo. “Did you reconsider?” Robbie smirked as I walked through the automatic doors. “Yes, I did!” I said. I walked up to the counter, grabbed a piece of paper and wrote my number on it. “I’ll see you at the harbour, Saturday night at 7” I confirmed, handing him my digits. I gave him a little wink as I left. “See you then” he called out, smiling from ear to ear.
Chapter 7: The Date
“You look beautiful” Robbie said from across the table. He was staring at me intently and I could feel my cheeks blushing. “You don’t look too bad yourself” I replied, staring into his deep, brown eyes. In fact, he looked gorgeous. His golden brown hair cascaded down his cheeks and framed his face perfectly. I would have to limit my drinks tonight. I wanted to refrain myself from taking things too far on the first date.
“Jess, I should probably tell you from the start. I haven’t done this whole dating thing for a while” he told me. I smiled. I was starting to feel more relaxed now. “Don’t worry” I said. “Neither have I”. He smiled back, warmly.
We spent the next few hours talking about anything and everything – our childhoods, our families, our goals for the future. The more I got to know him, the more I liked him. He was so charming and perceptive, but not in an arrogant kind of way. He was modest and understanding and very sweet.
“To be honest, I’m just starting to get back on my feet” he said. “I’ve had a pretty bad run” he explained. “I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for me or anything, but I feel like I should explain my situation. My girlfriend died in a car accident a few years ago” he said. “And I’m still trying to get my life back on track”.
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea” I replied, empathetically.
“That’s only the half of it” he explained. “We owned a business together – a hotel. I’d poured my whole life into that business. And because I was making pretty decent money from a rental property, we’d decided to put it in her name. You know, for tax purposes” he added.
“Problem was, she hadn’t finalized the divorce with her ex and still had him listed in her Will as the sole beneficiary of her estate. He got everything!” he explained. “I tried to contest it, but lost the case. I lost the hotel and the love of my life, all at once”.
“That’s awful” I empathised. I was trying to hold back tears that were welling in my eyes. He was really tugging at my heartstrings. How could something so terrible happen to such a nice person?
“That’s why I got the job at the servo. Just to pay the bills. But I wasn’t happy. I don’t want to sound like a coward, but I’d go home every night and contemplate ending it” he said. “Like, what was the point of living anymore, you know?”. I nodded, sympathetically.
“But” he smiled. “My luck turned around” he said. “My mum won the lotto! Can you believe it? I mean what are the odds?” he asked. “She gave me close to half a million dollars!” he added.
“I mean, it doesn’t change what’s happened, but it’s given me a new lease on life, you know. Like a fresh start”. “I know moneys not supposed to buy happiness, but I feel a whole lot better about things now!” he added.
“That’s really incredible” I exclaimed. Little did Robbie know, I could understand exactly where he was coming from. “You’re so lucky to have such a caring Mum” I told him. “I mean, the money can’t change the past, but it can sure change your future”.
“Yep, my Mum’s a life-saver. She’s always pulled through when I needed her most. She’s just got something about her, you know. Always takes matters into her own hands”. “She started a business when she was 18, you know – in finance” he added. “You might know it, being an Accountant and all – Callahan’s Financial Services?”.
I choked on my food. “You ok?” he laughed. I put my hand over my mouth in shock.
“Is your Mum, Edith Callahan?” I asked, astonished. “Yeah, that’s her, how did you know?” he asked. “Umm, I’m her Accountant” I said.
By Paula Price from Australia