By Grant Grogan
A heart-shaped vise tightened in Heather’s chest as she walked the overgrown stone pathway. It was not so long ago that she was sneaking down this same path under a starlit sky, shoes in hand, with anticipation coursing through her like an electric current. A silly pop song that she hadn’t heard in years suddenly echoed in her mind, the soundtrack to that life she’d left behind. But things were different now. The owner of the house was dead. And though she felt guilty for it, Heather was glad.
This house belonged to Miriam Forte, and Mrs. Forte succumbed to cancer a few days ago. Heather went to her wake?not to pay her respects to Mrs. Forte (the old witch hated Heather, and the feeling was mutual) but to see Mrs. Forte’s son, Jameson. For nearly three years of high school, Jameson and Heather were a couple. They fit together so well that it was a foregone conclusion in many of their friends’ minds that they would get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. But Heather had the naïve idea that there was more to life than she could find in her hometown with her high school sweetheart.
She had no idea what to expect from Jameson when she showed up at his mother’s wake years later but was pleasantly surprised. He had smiled wanly and given her a hug. The occasion made it awkward for them to catch up, and it had been Jameson who suggested that they meet for lunch today.
She stepped onto the porch and wiped her palms on her white sundress, feeling the clammy coldness of her hands through the fabric. Heather took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
A loud crash from inside the house forced Heather to step back in surprise. In an unreasonable instant, she thought it was the ghost of Mrs. Forte, back from the dead to chase off that dreadful little car salesman’s daughter who tried to corrupt her son. Then the door opened.
He looked over her shoulder as if he couldn’t see her, and his breath smelled like a distillery.
As long as she’d known Jameson, he had been the picture of sophistication. He was the kid who wore a sweater vest and tie to high school, when everyone else wore jeans and t-shirts. Even at the funeral home the other night, he was immaculately polished and groomed.
This was not the same man. He was unshaven and looked like he had slept in his clothes. There was no tie around his unbuttoned collar, and his shirt had a whiskey-colored stain down the front. His designer trousers hung over bare feet and gave him the look of a kid playing dress-up in his father’s slacks.
“Jamey, is everything alright?”
He blinked his eyes hard and seemed to bring her into focus.
“Urm…well, yes. You’re here. What time is it?” He looked at his bare wrist then let his arm flop back down.
“It’s lunchtime. Remember we were going to get together?”
“Oh…yeah…just give me a second to get changed.”
He stumbled away, leaving her standing in the doorway. Heather stepped into the house and was assaulted by the stink of mothballs and Pine-Sol. Clothing and knick-knacks were heaped in piles on the floor. Pictures were taken down and stacked against the dated wallpaper. Jameson wasn’t wasting much time in cleaning the place out.
She went into the parlor and sat on the sofa. The coffee table was overturned, and an empty bottle of Scotch lay smashed on the floor. He must have been out cold on the couch when Heather startled him by knocking on the door.
When Jameson returned, he had not changed clothes at all. But he did have a new bottle of Scotch in his hand and two glasses. He plopped down in a chair across from her, poured the whisky, and pushed a glass towards Heather.
“Lunch is served.”
Heather laughed, but Jameson wasn’t joking. He turned up his glass and slammed it on the table, then turned it back right side up and refilled it.
“Jamey…are you sure…you’re OK?”
He didn’t answer, gulping the whisky down. He stared up at her with a look in his eyes that she had never seen before. He took in every inch of her body shamelessly, like a predator sizing up its prey.
“Thanks.” She shifted and tugged at the hem of her dress.
At the wake, Jameson had told her she looked spectacular. Heather had changed the subject.
She didn’t want to tell him the truth. The truth was that until recently, Heather had been solidly overweight. It was the price she’d paid for two kids, T.V., and junk food. But the secret to her weight loss wasn’t a fad diet or exercise routine. Heather’s secret was good, old-fashioned pain. Twice a day, she assaulted her body with the hardest workouts she could find. Crunching, squatting, and sprinting until she vomited her plain-toast-and-Gatorade breakfast in the bathroom. Heather did look spectacular, but every gorgeous curve was forged in the fires of pain.
Jameson turned his inspection of her body to her face.
“What are you doing here, Heather?”
His tone made her uncomfortable.
“Uh…we had a lunch date, remember?”
His eyes narrowed. “No, why are you here?”
Heather was flabbergasted. “I heard about your mother, Jamey, and I?I wanted to see you again. I missed you, believe it or not. We used to be best friends.”
“Best friends?! Really? So do you give it up to all your friends or just the ‘best’ ones?”
Heather’s mouth dropped open, and her cheeks burned red, but it shouldn’t have surprised her. She had given him plenty of reason to hate her. In the summer right after graduation, Heather and Jameson had been invited to a party at Trey Merriman’s house. All of Heather’s friends were going, but Jameson refused. Heather and Trey had become friends recently, and Jameson was a little jealous. Heather insisted that they go to the party, and they ended up in a big fight. Heather stormed out and went to the party, anyway.
Trey was thrilled to see her, especially sans Jameson. He was charmingly extroverted, an almost polar opposite to Jameson, and it made Heather wonder why she was settling down so young. There was so much out there in the world, and all Jameson wanted to do was stay home and mope. In the end, Trey didn’t have to seduce her at all. It was Heather who led him up to his bedroom.
Of course, she felt horrible the next day, mostly because she knew what she had to do. She would never forget the look on Jameson’s face when she told him what happened. His usually cool, flippant demeanor was replaced by such an expression of hurt and anguish that she couldn’t bear to look at him when she told him it was over.
That was the last time she had seen him until the wake. She had gone prepared for the worst, but the way he accepted her made her think that he had grown past his pain. Maybe she was wrong.
She pushed herself up from the sofa.
“I’m sorry, this was a mistake.”
She started past his chair, but he grabbed her wrist.
“Let me go, Jameson.”
“Heather, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’ve had too much to drink. Just with all that’s been going on, and seeing you again…please forgive me.”
She looked down at him, and the coldness was gone, replaced by vulnerability. He looked like the Jameson she used to know. “Oh, Jamey. I hope you know that I’m sorry, too and not just about your mother.”
He nodded thoughtfully.
She tried to lighten the mood. “After we spoke the other night, I rented The Winter Garden.”
Jameson looked up and smiled. “What did you think?”
The Winter Garden was the movie that had cemented Jameson’s status as a high-profile film composer. Heather found the movie itself?something about a boy coming of age in World War II?to be boring beyond belief. It was only by chance that she looked up from the treadmill in time to see “Music by Jameson Forte” in the opening credits. Jameson won an Oscar for that score, and Heather could recite every word of his acceptance speech.
“It was great! I never really paid attention to movie music before, but you did a great job.”
Jameson smiled wryly. “Sure, if you’re looking for something to nod off to.”
They laughed together, and Heather felt relieved.
Jameson touched her wrist again, but gently this time. “Don’t go yet. I need to show you something, and maybe you’ll understand why I’m a little…on edge. I found something last night.”
He stood, picked up the bottle of Scotch, and weaved back into the house. She looked at the door and thought about leaving, going right back to life as usual. But seeing Jameson again made her realize what a detour her life had taken from the road she’d dreamed of following. She remembered the girl who dreamed of becoming a high-priced defense attorney to the stars. Instead, she traded Jameson for Trey Merriman, who knocked her up, proposed, and made her the stay-at-home wife of a car salesman.
Heather turned and padded down the hall.
The Music Room brought back memories immediately. She remembered hearing Jameson complain about the endless hours his mother made him spend in front of the piano. But at night, things were different. It was the farthest point in the house from Mrs. Forte’s bedroom, and Heather would sneak in to spend stolen time with Jameson after his mother was asleep. How nervous Jamey was then, jumping at every little sound as if his mother were coming around the corner, which only made it more exciting.
How cold the room looked now. The grand piano held court in one half of the room, but everywhere else was bare except for a tattered sofa. Jameson sat on the floor with his back against it, and in front of him, was a black lacquer chest. He was spreading its contents on the floor.
She gestured at the piano. “I guess all that hard work paid off. I bet your Mother was proud of you.”
Jameson scoffed. “Hollywood hogwash. That’s how my mother referred to my work. She thought I should be composing symphonies instead of soundtracks. The only time I think she was ever proud of me was the day I first played her favorite Chopin piece. Of course, she still found something about it to criticize me on!”
Heather laughed and felt sorry for him at the same time.
“What is all this, Jamey?”
She moved into the room and took a closer look at the mass of newspaper clippings, yellowed books, and faded magazines that occupied the floor. Jameson didn’t answer. Heather sat on the sofa behind him and looked over his shoulder.
The headlines were unpleasant. Killer Composer Claims Another. Fear Grips Residents as Another Victim Found. Police have No Suspects in ‘Composer’ Murders.
The books were lurid true crime paperbacks with titles like Symphony of Satan, Homicide in the Key of C, and Maestro of Murder. There were also a handful of stark black-and-white photographs that appeared to be crime scene photographs.
“Jameson, what is all this?”
He reached into the chest and retrieved what appeared to be a leather-bound journal and placed it on his lap.
He grabbed the bottle and drank straight from it, then opened the journal.
“Jamey…did you read it?”
He nodded his head slowly.
She put a hand on his shoulder. “What did it say? What does all this,” she gestured at the newspaper clippings, “mean?”
Jameson tottered up and sat on the sofa across from her.
“Want to hear a story?”
Heather’s eyes widened. “I’m not really sure.”
It was the truth. Jameson grinned and told her anyway.
“At the University of Pittsburgh, back in the ’70s, a young co-ed went missing from a keg party one night. A few weeks later, this is how she turned up.”
Jameson handed her a black and white photograph. What she saw made her gasp, and she handed it right back. Jameson laughed.
“I’m guessing she’d seen better days.”
Heather looked at him in horror. “That poor girl.”
“A little time passed, and the police thought it might have been a jealous boyfriend, but had nothing solid. Then they found a young waitress, just out of high school.”
He picked up another picture and offered it to Heather, but she shook her head. Jameson shrugged and put it back.
“Medical report was similar to the first girl.” He rummaged around in some papers until he found an old photocopy and cleared his throat.
“Girl found naked with signs of severe torture. Many broken bones, lacerations, genital trauma-”
“Jamey!” It was more the clinical way he described it than the actual details that upset her.
“What? I never said it was a fairy tale.”
“I know, I know, but what’s the point?”
“The point is, along with the similar brand of killing, there was one other common link between the two victims.”
He picked up two photos, which Heather declined again.
“C’mon…these aren’t bad.” He grinned.
Heather accepted them grudgingly. One was a photo of the lower abdomen a woman. Just above the pubic hair was something that looked like a tattoo. The other one was a close-up, and she was able to discern what it was.
“Correct, my dear. He carved a musical staff and notes into the bodies of his victims.”
Heather shook her head in disgust.
“So, of course, the media got wind of it, and it wasn’t long before they had a genuine serial killer craze and a name for their guy. The Composer.”
Jameson took another drink.
“There was hysteria, with police under fire to catch the guy, but no dice. It got worse a few weeks later when they found a third girl the same way as these.”
“I don’t get it. Your mother didn’t seem like the type to care about this true crime stuff.”
Jameson smiled a tight-lipped smile. “So there was this guy named Emil Bruun who emigrated to the U.S. from Norway and ended up working in a factory outside of Pittsburgh about the time all of this happened.
“Bruun was a strange character. His dad was a drunk who also worked in a factory back in the old country. His mother was a near recluse who wanted Emil to become a composer like her idol, Edvard Grieg. Dad didn’t like that, and when Bruun showed an aptitude for the piano, his pops thought he was a sissy. He began ridiculing the boy and took to beating him and his mother with his work belt. Bruun ran away from home and started to make a living in petty crime.
“But the police caught him stealing, and he ended up in reform school. It was there that he met Anton Dierksen.”
Jameson looked up at her. “There is a lot of conjecture about what happened with Bruun from here on, but I’ve been up all night surfing the Internet and reading through some of this stuff, and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened next. This guy Dierksen was in for vandalizing a local church and was a devout Satanist. He converted Bruun, and after they escaped from the school, they decided to start their own cult. They got a couple of their groupies to join and started performing rituals designed to conjure the Devil or something.”
Jameson took another drink, and Heather thought that she might not mind one, either.
“During all of this fun, Bruun had a revelation. While hopped up on who knows what kind of drugs, a beautiful woman visited him in the dead of night. She revealed to him that she was, believe it or not, a succubus. You know, a demon?”
Heather looked perplexed.
“The succubus wanted his…seed…in order to create some kind of demon-child.”
Heather laughed loudly. “Are you kidding me?”
“You can’t make this stuff up! So anyway, Emil was happy to oblige her, but during the course of their tryst, the succubus started to take a liking to Emil. She let him in on a secret.”
Jameson paused and swirled the Scotch around in the bottom of the bottle.
“Turns out that sweet demon whore told Emil the secret to eternal life.”
“What?” It was the best response she could manage.
“Music was the key. Music, apparently, is a special language that we mortals have only begun to decode. The succubus said there was a special song called The Canticum Sathanae. It translates to The Song of Satan. Supposedly, if you murder someone in cold blood and then play the Canticum immediately after, Satan will reward you. I’m not sure exactly how it’s supposed to work, but apparently Satan will temporarily grant you the person’s soul.”
He looked at Heather, but she had no comment.
“Their life force restores you to peak condition and then some. It cures any illness, makes you young and healthy and beautiful, and even grants you special powers. I’m talking about fun stuff like super strength and speed, the ability to control people’s minds. The downside is that it’s only temporary, so to keep it going, you have to repeat the process. But, theoretically, if you keep killing people and playing the Canticum, you could live forever.”
Heather hoped futilely that this was all an elaborate joke that Jameson had concocted, but she couldn’t figure out what the punchline would be.
“I know; those must have been some damn good drugs he was on!”
Heather laughed but didn’t find any comfort in it.
“That is insane. So he started killing girls to try to take their souls?”
“Not exactly. The succubus only steered him in the right direction; she didn’t give him the exact musical notes for the Canticum. But she told him how to find them. She said, and I quote, that he could ‘hear the Melody of Heresy in the tortured screams of the dying’. Nice girl, huh?”
“So at his suburban home, where everyone thought he was a nice, quiet young man, he started his work. He made a machine that would help him find the Melody he was after.”
He handed Heather another photograph. This one was of a device that looked like a medieval torture rack. It was in the shape of an X, with straps at the four corners.
“He would take a girl, strip her, and strap her to this machine, which was designed to move randomly in time with the music, taking with it the limb of the girl attached to it.” Jameson delivered the play-by-play with disturbing glee. “In a sick way, it made them dance. It also tore tendons and bones, causing excruciating pain.”
“That is…” Heather couldn’t find the words.
“This and other sadistic delights that Bruun engaged in prolonged the deaths of the girls. He actually believed that he could hear music as these girls screamed for their lives. But it was fleeting; he couldn’t get the whole song out of one girl, which is why he needed the other girls to keep unlocking the code. After the sixth girl, he finished it. All that was left was to kill her and play the Canticum and bingo! Eternal life.”
His zestful description disturbed Heather even more, but she couldn’t resist asking a question.
“So what happened?”
“He picked the wrong girl. A hippie college student named Abigail Cogswell. During his sessions with her, something happened. Just to clarify, it’s pretty obvious that with all of this, Emil went above the call of duty. He wasn’t just in it for the immortality, he enjoyed his sick little games. And, oddly enough, it turned out Abigail enjoyed it, too.”
“I know; Bruun was amazed, too. It seemed like he’d finally met his match. I guess you could say they were soulmates in a twisted way. But Bruun had come too far to stop now, and it seemed fitting that his first sacrifice to Satan would be his beloved. He was going to slit her throat, play his tune, and live forever thereafter. But while Abigail may have been a willing partner in his games, she wasn’t ready to die for him. She used her feminine wiles to seduce him into a final diversion, during which, she stole his knife and killed him instead.”
That seemed like a good stopping point to Heather. She hadn’t known exactly what to expect when she’d come to the house, but this was definitely unexpected. Jameson was different; he had never been so cold before. She had no idea where he was going with the ugly story, and she no longer cared.
“Wow…this is crazy, but I just realized, I’ve got to get go?”
“Don’t you want to know where this is leading?”
He was staring intently at her. She looked at the floor.
“I guess so.”
He searched through newspaper clippings and handed one to Heather.
“Take a look. That’s Abigail Cogswell.”
The paper was yellowed with age, but she could make out the picture of the girl being helped out of the hospital after her ordeal. It only took a few seconds to realize that she knew the girl in the picture.
“Oh my God Jamey, that’s…”
She couldn’t finish, so he finished for her.
“It’s my mother.”
The contempt in his voice was palpable.
She didn’t know what to say, and Jameson just looked at her with a disturbing little smirk. It was as though she was seeing Mrs. Forte, Abigail Cogswell, for the first time. The hobbled old shrew she knew had been through something unspeakable, and she didn’t know whether to feel sympathy or disgust.
“Your poor mother.”
Jameson laughed maliciously, and Heather was taken aback.
“That’s a good one,” he laughed, to Heather’s dismay.
“I just can’t imagine that she actually…liked being tortured. What if she was faking it just to stay alive?”
Jameson stopped laughing abruptly.
“She wasn’t faking. Apparently, my dear mother had some dark skeletons in her closet. I said she was a hippie, but instead of peace and love, it was more like sex and drugs.”
“What?” Heather couldn’t withhold her disbelief. It was the exact opposite of her picture of the woman.
“Yep. If you could snort it, shoot it, or smoke it, she did it. And, apparently, my mother was the life of the orgy.”
“My God. I can’t believe it.”
“Sad but true.”
“And you know that from reading her diary?”
“Yes, and from this.” He pulled a small leather book out of the chest and handed it to her. The pages were scribbled on haphazardly. It was in a foreign language and interspersed with wild sketches and strange calculations.
“It’s his diary.”
“Whose?” Heather asked, but she knew the answer. “But how do you know what it says? Can you read all that?”
Jameson produced a three-ring binder. In it was a sheaf of yellowed typing paper. The heading was stomach churning.
The Diary of our Dark Saviour James Broman, Prophet, Wizard, and King. Translated by His Beloved Abigail.
She closed the binder. “Who?who is James?”
“Emil didn’t want to use his real name here, so he changed it. He was known as James Broman to everyone, including my mother. Not long after escaping Bruun, she taught herself Norwegian and transcribed his diary. It was only much later that investigators traced Bruun back to Norway and discovered his real name.”
“Jamey…I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to say.”
His grin flashed again, and he stood up, stretching.
“But that’s not the worst part. Apparently, during the little interlude my lovely mother spent with this lunatic, she conceived a child.”
Realization dawned on Heather, and she felt as if she’d been struck.
“There is no way. No way, Jamey.”
Jameson seemed to relish her discomfort.
“There is a way. She got knocked up, kept it to herself, and ran away to start a new life down here. Her parents died in an accident not long after the Bruun incident and left my mother with a nice inheritance. She changed her name to Forte, moved in to this house, and just a little bit later, I was born.”
Heather’s heart was in her throat. “It can’t be true.”
“It is true.”
“But, you said that your mother was, well, promiscuous right?”
Jameson said nothing.
“So, how can you be sure that—”
“That Emil Bruun is my father? My mother knew. My name is Jameson. Get it? James’s son? Jameson? My mother knew who my father was.”
He was getting agitated, and Heather did not want to push. She suddenly very much regretted visiting him, but she had another question she couldn’t help but ask.
“If she couldn’t tell you any of this when she was alive, why did she leave it for you to find now?”
Jameson shrugged nonchalantly. “She was an odd bird. I guess she thought of this as my inheritance.”
“Inheritance? What is?”
Jameson yawned, and she suddenly noticed how exhausted he looked. “Who knows what she was thinking? Obviously, she wasn’t in her right mind.”
Heather nodded and shifted on the couch.
“Mother was crippled, ya’ know; she could hardly walk or use her left hand. I realize now it was from what she endured at the hands of Bruun. But I was healthy, her son, and one day I would claim my birthright.”
“Jamey?” She was scared and moved to the edge of the couch.
He reached into the trunk slowly, and, with much care, pulled out a large black leather-bound book. It could have passed for a worn, old family Bible under other circumstances. He sat down next to her and caressed the cover.
“The Canticum Sathanae.”
Heather’s heart beat like a jackhammer in her chest. “Jamey, no…”
He smiled and opened it, showing the carefully drawn music contained within. It would have been beautiful if she did not know what it was.
“Jamey, you’ve got to?you’ve got to burn it or something. This is just…wrong.”
He didn’t acknowledge her.
“I’ve been looking at it for most of the night, and it is amazing. It’s incredibly complex, innovative in its use of dissonance and counterpoint. The dexterity and prowess of the pianist who could perform this would have to be extraordinary.”
“You act like you’re proud of that! Jamey, women died horribly for this thing. You have to destroy it or give it to the police or?”
He was looking at her with amusement, and she stopped.
“What are you thinking, Jamey?”
He laughed and stood up, setting the book on a table to Heather’s relief. It was a fleeting feeling.
“Why did you come here, Heather?”
Heather looked up in surprise. “What? I told you.”
“No you didn’t. Why are you here?”
“Jamey, I have to go?”
“Answer me!” The unbridled anger was something she had never heard in his voice before, and she flinched as if he struck her.
“Jamey, my God! I told you, I still care about you.”
Jameson broke into a guffaw that resounded through the empty house.
Heather stood up to leave. “I’m glad you think that’s funny. Goodbye, Jameson.”
She strode towards the door, but he moved to block her path. She tried to change course, and so did he. “I do think that’s funny, Heather, and you’re not going anywhere.”
“Save it. You don’t give a damn about me, and you never did.” She opened her mouth to interject, but he cut her off.
“Do you know what you did to me, Heather? Do you?”
She shook her head and backed away. He followed.
“Do you know that I was ready to throw my whole life down the toilet for you? Do you know that before you cheated on me and broke up with me, I was enrolled at community college, and I was about to turn down my scholarship to the Institute?”
Heather shook her head.
“That’s right; all my talent, my career, I was going to throw it all away for you. I was planning on finishing my degree wherever you went. Instead of having my career, being rich and famous, I was content to be a poor, unknown music teacher just so I could be with you!”
“Jamey, I didn’t know.” Her voice was a whisper.
“Damn right, you didn’t know!” He shouted in her face, and Heather stumbled back. She fell against the wall, and he cornered her.
“You didn’t know what I felt for you. You were just what my mother said you were, a small town slut that would only drag me down.”
“That’s not true!” Her voice cracked, she yelled so loud.
“I didn’t want to hold you back. I loved you, Jamey. I just wasn’t ready.”
“But you were ready for Trey Merriman weren’t you? You were more than ready to spread your legs for him!”
Heather couldn’t stop herself. She slapped Jameson hard across the face, sending him back a few steps. Her eyes were burning with tears. She turned towards the door, but he was on her, slamming her against the wall. He grabbed her under the chin and leaned his leering face in close.
He spat each word. Heather wrenched her chin away, but he had her locked in place, his glare boring through her. With a disgusted grunt, he shoved her away, sending her toppling onto the couch. Heather popped back up, wild-eyed, looking for an angle to make her escape, but he had her blocked.
“Since you don’t have the guts to tell me the truth, Heather, I’ll tell you why you came here today.”
“Jameson, you need to let me go. This isn’t right.”
“I think we both know what you were looking for.”
She glared at him.
“How are things at home, Heather? With that wonderful hubby of yours?” He took a step closer. “My guess is that things at the ol’ Merriman house aren’t quite ringing your bells anymore, are they? Getting tired of the same ol’ Saturday Evening Fluid Swap?”
Heather felt a heat burning in her cheeks.
“Or maybe it was Trey who decided to swap fluids with someone else, huh?”
Heather balled her fists. Jameson laughed.
“So that’s it! Who’d he bone, the secretary? The babysitter? C’mon, you can tell your ol’ pal Jamey!”
Her arms were high-tension wires.
“So you come to the wake of my dead mother, after I haven’t seen or heard from you since you dumped me, and you’re dressed like you just got off your shift at the strip club. You show up here today in glorified lingerie, and you’re all over me. What did you think was going to happen?”
She was rigid as a board with anger and fear and starting to shake. He took a step closer.
“I’ll answer for you then. Your life sucks. You married that redneck loser right out of high school and got knocked up. Spent your life raising ungrateful, snot-nosed kids, and now what?”
He was too close to her now.
“You thought,” he mocked her voice, “‘Hey! I’ll go see the guy who I cheated on and betrayed. I’ll dress up like a half-dollar whore, and maybe I can dupe him into falling for me again. Then he’ll whisk me away to Hollywood to live happily ever after.’”
Jameson was cutting close to the bone, and the tension broke within her. “Shut up! Shut up!”
She swung at him with a wild slap that he caught midway. She clawed at his eyes with the other hand, but he grabbed her by the wrist. She tried to knee him in the crotch, but he dodged back, and he used her momentum to slam her against the wall so hard, Heather saw flashes of light dance before her eyes. Jameson leaned in and bared his teeth like an animal.
“I guess the truth hurts, huh?”
He laughed and pressed against her, sniffing at her neck like a hungry wolf.
“You were really ready for it, weren’t you? Wore the expensive perfume, got your hair all done up, put the tiny little dress on. Why, I bet you’re not even wearing any underwear, are you?”
“Go to hell, Jameson.” She tried to bring her knee into his groin, but he had her pinned now and laughed it off.
“Let me go and go to hell!”
He laughed harder.
“I hate you, Jameson!”
His face twisted into pure rage so fast it scared her.
“I hate you, too! I hate you, Heather! But I’m going to do something about it. Since you’re so eager to give it up, I’ll make your wish come true. Then I’m going to see if my father’s masterpiece really works.”
“You won’t do it.”
“You don’t think so? Since you betrayed me, I figured out a few things, Heather. I figured out that being the nice sweet guy gets you nothing but left behind. You have to grab this world by the throat and make it give you what you want, and that’s exactly what I will do.”
Heather spat in his face with all her might.
Jameson grinned. Before she could stop him, he stepped back, reached down and pulled up her dress.
“I was right!” He threw back his head and howled with laughter.
Heather kicked him as hard as she could in the crotch, and this time she connected. Jameson’s laugh ended in a gurgle of pain, and Heather pushed him away with both hands, sending him stumbling. She sprang toward the door. Jameson missed a grab at her ankle, and Heather raced into the hallway with her heart thundering in her ears.
Jameson growled angrily as he launched himself after her, intent on stopping her before she could get to the front door.
But Heather had never intended to escape. Jameson realized that too late, when he caught the flash of metal in the corner of his eye. Heather sprung from the kitchen with the knife in her hand, and Jameson barely raised his arms before she thrust it deep into the side of his neck. He tried to scream, but only a moan emerged, followed by another when Heather’s second stab hit his upper chest. On the third thrust of the knife, Jameson fell to the ground. And something happened.
The pain that Heather had become so intimate with started to go away. With every fall of the knife, she released a shard of that pain she’d been hoarding within her. The pain she’d invited in when she compromised her childhood dreams. The pain she became more acquainted with when she got pregnant with a child she didn’t want and married a man she didn’t love. The pain that had only escalated as they drifted apart, and Heather was left alone with the kids. The pain that got worse when the kids went to school and left her at home with nothing but her own emptiness. Even worse, the pain that came when she gained weight and lost the scarce attention that Trey paid her.
She thought the worst of all was on that day when Trey came back from a business trip, and she found it in his suitcase. That nauseating little lacey pink thong in his dirty laundry that still smelled like the whore he got it from.
But the pain got worse when she convinced herself that if she could only lose the weight, Trey would love her again. But when she starved herself, tortured herself to look like what she thought he wanted, Trey still didn’t care.
As she slammed the knife into Jameson again, she realized that the worst thing was how easily Jameson had seen through her. How sad she was, how desperate, to believe she could run back into his arms, and he would sweep her away.
When she was done, there was nothing but a shapeless red husk where Jameson Forte used to be. Heather’s arms dripped with blood, and her white sundress was splattered red. Jameson’s blood was warm, and, somehow, she found it comforting. It was over now, and for the first time in a long time, she felt a startling clarity. Heather knew what she had to do.
She could call the police, but there would be lots of questions to answer. She had seen enough cop shows to know what they would ask. If it was self-defense, why did you mangle his body? Did you have some grudge against your former boyfriend? What were you even doing there?
Heather didn’t want that, so she knew what to do. She knew that she was going to clean up the mess she had made. She knew that she was going to put Jameson’s body into the trunk of his car. She could only hope that no one would go digging too hard into his disappearance. From what he’d said, it didn’t seem like he had strong ties with anyone.
Her daddy had an enormous amount of acreage in the country that he used to hunt on but didn’t much anymore. There was a spot there where Heather and Jameson had stolen away to once or twice, near a tranquil pond. She thought she could get his car down the old trail, and she would drive his expensive car right into the stagnant pond. It would be fitting to lay Jameson to rest there.
Heather got up off the floor and walked back into the music room. Once Jameson was disposed of, she would take the next step. It might take a long time, even years, but she knew she could do it. She had the discipline to fight back into shape, and she could do this.
She walked over to the piano and sat down, gazing in childlike wonder at the alternating keys. She lightly brushed her hands across the keys and left bloody swirls on the ivory. If she had to take lessons, she would, whatever was required. But when she was ready, Heather would have a nice surprise for her husband.
She had a song she wanted to play for him.