Forbidden fruit tastes sweeter.
Not when it's rotten from the inside.
Lizard Tongue by Rosa Lee Delgado
Martina didn’t want to go. Everyone crowding around, asking stupid questions. But what would people think if she stayed away?
She was almost too late, thanks to her brother Manny who called just as she was leaving. He wanted to tell her about a woman he met who kept darting her tongue in and out like a lizard. When he looked at her, he said, all he could think about was this cop with a forked tongue in an old Cheech and Chong movie.
Manny was making her laugh like he always did, but she was running late, so she said she’d call back later.
By the time she found the place and went inside, they were already telling the guy if he had anything to say, he should say it now. She thought he’d say he was sorry, or maybe nothing, but no, he wanted to tell his side of the story again.
He said he’d been hired to paint the inside of a house overlooking the bay, a big split-level. At first, nothing seemed unusual, but then the wife, Martina, began following him around while he was working, wearing a little wrap-around robe, talking to him like they were old friends, bringing him sandwiches, things like that. After a couple of days, she started telling him about her personal life, like how her husband Victor was a mean bastard who was too busy making money to pay attention to her, and how she missed having a man who would treat her right.
When he finished the job and was about to leave, Martina asked him to come back later that night. He should park his truck up the street so the neighbors wouldn’t notice, then come in through the lower-level patio door, which would be unlocked. She said they wouldn’t have to worry about Victor because he was out of town.
She was too good-looking to resist, he said, so he came back, and then again the night after that. What happened was different from anything he’d ever experienced before, and it wasn’t just the sex either, he said. It was like they were made for each other. By the end of the second night, he’d fallen for her, hard. When she said Victor would be gone for only one more night and it might be their last chance to see each other for a while, he’d promised he’d be back.
When he came through the patio door the next night, he said, there was this man, who turned out to be Victor, lying in a pool of blood with a bullet hole in the back of his head. At first he froze, but then started running through the house, looking for Martina. When he couldn’t find her, he ran to his pickup and took off. This was his second mistake, he said. His first one was taking the bait to begin with.
He said it wasn’t two hours before the police showed up at his place with a search warrant. When they found Victor’s gun under a tarp in the back of his pickup, they zeroed in on him. Nothing complicated, they said, just a burglary that went wrong. The husband heard something and came downstairs with his .38, only to have it taken away and used on him. Finding the murder weapon in the pickup was all they needed, even if it didn’t have any fingerprints on it.
His third mistake, he said, was the one that really finished him. When they first questioned him, he denied being there that night. But when they found Victor’s blood on the bottom of his shoes, he had to admit he’d lied. After that, nobody believed a word he said, except maybe his mother.
What puzzled him for the longest time was how Victor’s gun turned up in the back of his pickup. Now he understands, he said. You see, Victor must have been downstairs that night, and while he was, Martina shot him with his own gun when his back was turned. Afterwards, she went upstairs with the gun and waited. As soon as she heard the lower patio door slide open, she slipped out the front door and ran to a neighbor’s house crying for help.
But here’s the clever part, he said. Before she banged on the neighbor’s door, she ran to his pickup and planted the gun, which she’d already wiped clean. In other words, he’s been framed, and the real killer is right here, watching.
That’s when the man who was in there with him said we’ve heard enough, and pulled the curtain closed. After a few minutes, someone came in and told Martina and the others that it was over.
Martina had heard the story before, and wondered why he bothered to keep telling it. Like he said, nobody believed him.
She remained seated for a while, thinking about the painter. She’d enjoyed having him around, letting him try to please her. Once he’d even called her a raven-haired beauty, which she’d liked. He didn’t know how to look out for himself, that was obvious, but he wasn’t a bad guy.
You want a bad guy, she thought, take Victor. After using her for fifteen years, he tells her he wants out. So he can breathe, he said. What bullshit. He had a girlfriend, that’s all, probably someone younger.
She would have told him to go ahead and file, but she knew Victor was very good at hiding money. He’d make it look like they were almost broke, and then she’d be lucky to get anything.
She also knew something Victor didn’t know. Everything goes to her if he drops dead while they’re still married. That’s the way it works, if you don’t have a will or any children. Pretty careless of Victor, she thought, not to think of this.