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For the Honesty

My friend Gluehead used to say, "Never ask a question unless you are certain the answer is going to be in your favor."

Erik Arneson comes back to the Gutter to show us that my friend Gluehead was a wise, wise man.

For the Honesty by Erik Arneson




Bruce Burton watched his wife’s eyes light up when she unwrapped the gold bracelet with a diamond butterfly charm. Her pleasure seemed genuine, but he couldn’t tell for sure.

“I love it,” Amber said.

“I’m glad.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“Early anniversary gift.”

She smiled. “That’s two months away.”

“Well, I’ve been a real jerk lately and I’m sorry. Besides, I couldn’t wait to see how it would look on you.”

“Thank you, baby.” Amber kissed him on the lips. It felt like she meant it.

*

Eating lunch at his office computer, Bruce eyed the dot making its way up Fifth Street. The dot stopped near the intersection of Fifth and Walnut, then moved off the road and into what the satellite image revealed to be a parking lot. Bruce didn’t know why Amber was there when she was supposed to be at work—although he had a suspicion.

Thirty seconds later, the dot started moving again, but much more slowly. Amber must’ve gotten out of her car and started walking. The dot stopped on Walnut, halfway between Fourth and Fifth.

With a few clicks, Bruce learned that she was at an apartment building. Twenty-five modern apartments with easy access to downtown, a heated indoor pool and a completely renovated gym, according to the complex’s website. He took a deep breath and closed the GPS tracking program. Now he had definitive proof. He would confront her tonight.

*

“Welcome home, honey. How was your day?” Amber’s voice was sweet, and she kissed him on the cheek as he walked into the kitchen. How could she pretend nothing was going on?

“OK, I suppose. You?”

“Oh, you know. Nothing special. Work, some grocery shopping, then I came home to make dinner.” She had the ingredients spread out on the granite-topped kitchen island they had installed last year.

“How about lunch?”

“Lunch?” She turned away from him, pulling a mixing bowl from the island’s open shelving. He moved closer.

“Yeah, lunch. You go somewhere for lunch today?”

“Um, no. No. Just ate at the office.”

“That so?”

She turned back toward him, her eyes squinted and her forehead wrinkled. “Yes, Bruce, that’s so.”

“You’re lying.”

Amber straightened her back and looked him in the eye. “What did you say?” Her voice grew louder, but he was sure he heard it crack. That meant she was lying, right?

“You’re lying.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You went to an apartment building on Walnut Street.”

She cocked her head to the side. “Are you following me?”

“That doesn’t matter. You were there. What were you doing there?”

“Oh, no, you don’t. Don’t change the subject. This matters. It matters a lot. How the hell do you know where I was today?”

“Fine. That bracelet I gave you? I put a GPS tracker inside the charm.” Amber’s face paled. Bruce thought she might be sick. He pressed his case. “So where were you? Who’d you go see in that apartment building?”

“Go to hell.” Her nostrils flared. He thought he saw tears forming but she blinked them away.

He grabbed her arm. “Who are you seeing?”

“No one, Bruce. Stop it. Just stop it.”

He let go of her arm and slapped her across the face. The sound seemed louder than usual. She grimaced but stood her ground. He leaned forward and whispered, so close to Amber that his lips brushed against her ear, “Who are you fucking?”

“I’ve never betrayed you,” she said, looking down.

He grabbed her by the hair and forced her to look at him. “Whore.” He shoved her to the ground. On her way down, Amber’s arm slid across the island, knocking some of the food and her purse to the floor.

“Leave me alone,” she said. “Go away and leave me alone.”

“This is my house. I wake up every day living in your lies. Now it’s time for the honesty.”

Bruce kicked her, the flat of his foot hitting the side of her right shoulder. She slammed into the floor, first her left shoulder and then her head. Bruce smiled. Amber’s arms and legs slipped on the ceramic tile floor as she tried to scramble away. Bruce laughed.

Amber grabbed her purse and thrust her hand inside. She leaned against the island and looked up at Bruce. She removed her hand from the purse, holding a small revolver that she pointed at his chest. With a pink grip, for God’s sake.

“Watch it,” Bruce said. “Gonna hurt yourself.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Give me that thing. You have no idea what you’re doing.”

“Leave. Me. Alone.”

The gun was still aimed at his chest, but Bruce felt no fear. He didn’t know where she’d bought the peashooter, but he knew she wouldn’t do any damage with it. Hell, he was certain it wasn’t even loaded.

“Stand up now and give me that gun,” he said.

Bruce took a step toward her. Amber told him to stop. He took another step. She told him he wouldn’t get another warning. He took another step, heard an explosion and felt someone shove a red-hot poker through his heart. He fell onto both knees and started to tip forward. He tried to lift his arms to break the fall but couldn’t. He landed on his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blurry pool of red spreading across the kitchen floor. He wondered if all that blood was his.

*

Amber slumped against the island. She shook and cried for what felt like hours, mourning the love she once held and had lost, mourning the wasted years of her life. When the tears stopped, a deep sense of relief washed over her. She pulled her phone out of her purse.

Before dialing 911, she looked at Bruce’s corpse. “You bastard,” she said. “I wasn’t at that apartment. I was across the street practicing at the gun range.”

Erik's short stories have been published in Needle, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, and the charity anthology Off the Record 2: At the Movies, in addition to being published at the websites Shotgun Honey and Near to the Knuckle. He blogs at http://erikarneson.com and tweets @erikarneson.