Back in April, I shared a story from the first round of the NYCMidnight Short Story Contest. I was thrilled I had made it through to the second round, yeah?
Then came the Round Two prompts. I was given thriller/road rage/neurosurgeon. In other words, I had to write a thriller that included road rage and a neurosurgeon. It had to be no longer than 2,000 words and I had 72 hours to write it.
Sure, I thought, I can work with that. *Narrator’s voice: ‘She could not, in fact, work with that.’*
Due to various life issues, I ended up with about 12 hours to write this thing. Still, I was able to cobble something together that, actually, wasn’t too horrible.
I had no expectations of making it through to the 3rd round (only the top 3 in each heat would advance) and I was right. I did NOT make it through and that’s okay. It was a fun exercise and I always really enjoy the NYCMidnight contests.
The feedback I got from the judges was lovely: “Great opening; from the outset, you capture readers attention and draw them in with a more unusual focus (smell, weight) around death. What I really do love about this stone cold murderess is the nonchalance by which she goes about her tasks; like a true sociopath, she methodically goes about this series of murders (and from what the last line indicates, many more which have preceded it) to get what she wants, at any cost. It’s a flawless portrayal and that takes a lot of fantastic work. Great job.”
So, without further ado, I present to you:
A SHORT DETOUR ON THE WAY TO WORK
Dead bodies have a certain awkwardness to them. Pick up a live body and then a dead one; there’s a difference. Death carries a heaviness that life doesn’t have. And, after a while, a smell. Definitely a smell.
That odor is currently wafting through my car. I glanced in my rearview mirror, all too aware of the smelly heaviness in my trunk. I hoped it would be easier getting her out of the trunk that it was getting her in. I giggled at the image of how ridiculous I must have looked, hefting Adele’s body, her head lolling against my shoulder, garish lipstick smudging on my shirt.
God damn it, Adele. Why’d you have to come snooping around my office? What all had Peter told you?
“I know the truth. I know who you really are.” Adele seemed to think that was justified her going through my files. As if I’d be stupid enough to keep anything incriminating at the hospital.
I raced down the highway, window open to try to clear the smell from the car. I’d have to clean out the trunk later, once I got rid of the body. I would have disposed of Adele last night instead of leaving her in the trunk, but my absence from Peter’s memorial service would have been too conspicuous. I needed to make sure people could say I was there.
My playlist shuffled to the next song and I bobbed my head as I sang along. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going…” Too right, Billy Ocean.
Another glance in my mirror and, oh, shit. Red and blue lights pulsed from behind me. Deep breath, Bethany. Just keep your cool and it’ll be fine.
“What’s the problem, officer?”
He leaned down, eyes roaming around the interior of the car. Thank God Adele was in the trunk. “License and registration.”
Shit. “Yes, sir.” My hand slid into my purse, past my billfold to the gun. I never took my eyes off his face as I gripped the gun, lightly touching the trigger. “Is there something wrong?” I held my documents out.
“You were speeding.”
“Oh, I’m sor—” Before I could even finish my apology, he grabbed my license.
“Your bumper. What happened there?”
“I was in an accident.”
“So I see. What happened?”
I resisted the urge to close my eyes against the sudden memory of the car striking Dr. Peter Walsh. The thud of metal impacting flesh, his body rolling over the hood of my dependable BMW. The screams of the other people on the sidewalk as they jumped out of the way. Out of MY way.
“I wasn’t paying attention when I was at Target. I hit a light pole.”
“Really? Doesn’t look like damage you’d get from a light pole.” He glanced down at my license. “Can you go ahead and get out of the car, Ms. Lane?”
“Doctor. Doctor Lane.”
“Okay. Please get out of the car, doctor.” The sun beat down on me as I climbed out. I could feel the heat radiating off the asphalt as I shifted my weight back and forth, trying not to look as anxious as I felt. If it was this hot outside, how hot must it be in that trunk. As if in answer, the wind puffed towards me, bringing with it the smell of Adele. Seriously, I would have thought BMW would have built better trunks.
He walked away. Before as I could so much as sigh with relief, he circled around the car, pausing for a terrifying moment by the trunk.
His head disappeared from view as he leaned over as if he was looking under the car. He moved to the front of the car, walking back and forth, looking at the bumper for what seemed like an eternity.
“Stay here.” His shoulder thumped into mine as he pushed past me on his way back to his cruiser.
For a moment, just a moment, I considered jumping back into the car and speeding away. But he had my license, he knew who I was, and I had no doubt that I wouldn’t be able to outrun him.
Instead, I stretched my arm through the open window and snagged my purse with the very tips of my fingers. First the purse, then the gun. I felt much more relaxed with the weight it in my hand.
“…Black BMW…front end damage…Says it was a pole, but….” Through the hot summer air, I could hear the officer’s voice.
The story had led the news for two nights running. Prominent neurosurgeon killed in road rage incident…. Driver of a dark sedan….Blah blah blah. I was surprised that anyone missed Peter that much.
Road rage, indeed. On the contrary, I had been perfectly calm when I ran that fucker over.
Just as I had been calm when I had caught Peter’s assistant, Adele, rifling through the files in my office. How she her voice had risen as she had asked about what had happened back in Minneapolis, the same questions that Peter had kept asking.
I had been perfectly calm when I strangled her. And I was still perfectly calm.
Gun held loosely by my side, I walked over to where the officer stood, back turned away from me, still talking into his radio. It was easy enough to fire one, two, three shots into the back of his head. He fell to the ground, radio squawking against the asphalt. Another shot into the radio, one into the dash cam. His body cam was still sitting on the passenger seat. Dumb ass.
I looked up and down the deserted road that wound by the small reservoir. This was as good enough of a place to dump the bodies as any. Few people came out this way and if they did, they weren’t likely to stop here. There weren’t even picnic tables or anything. Just a littered grassy slope leading down to the algae-plagued water.
It was hard to drag the officer at first, but once I got him going, he slid right down the hill and rolled into the water with a satisfying splash. He was the easy one.
I leapt backwards when I opened the trunk, as if I could dodge the cloud of rot that billowed up. I staggered over to the brush on the side of the road, gagging and dry heaving. When I could finally make my way back to the car, I held my breath.
As a doctor, I’m used to dead bodies, but it had been a long time since I had seen a anything more than a clean and newly dead body in the operating suite. I tried not to look at her mottled face. I had actually quite liked Adele, when she was minding her own business. There was no pleasure in killing her, but it had to be done.
I pulled the blanket I had wrapped her in up over her face and tugged on her ankles. Instead of the thud I had heard from her head just the night before, the sound of her hitting the pavement this time was more of a muffled, wet flomp. A low sound came from the body, like the belching of a deflating balloon, and a gas so thick I could almost see it rose into the air. The sweet smell of rot enveloped me and I gagged again. “Jesus, Adele. Mind your manners.” I pulled her as quickly down the slopes as I could and she joined Officer Friendly in the Stevens Reservoir.
The police cruiser was much easier to move, just driving it to the edge of the water, leaving it running in neutral and pushing with all my might. The water bubbled and gurgled, soon becoming as serene as it had ever been. I scuffed my feet around to obscure any drag marks or foot prints.
It was if I had never been there.
I raced towards the hospital, weaving my car in and out of traffic. Horns blared at me as I pushed through lights that were more red than yellow. The announcement at the hospital was supposed to be at five and it was already past that. The city was working against me, it felt like, and I ended up stuck at a red light.
From the other direction, traffic pulled over the curb to let a line of police cars go speeding by, lights and sirens blaring. I held my breath until they passed by without so much as a glance in my direction. There’s no way they would be coming after me.
As I tapped my hand on the steering wheel, a truck pulled up next to me and a red-faced man leaned over to scream at me. “What the hell are you doing? You almost hit me back there!” Laughing, I flipped him off and turned my music up louder.
I drove off towards my future, humming along with the song that was playing. ‘Daydream Believer.’
I always did like the Monkees.
My heels clattered against the tile floor, echoing in the empty hallway. I could hear a swell of voices as I slid to a stop in front of the large auditorium. I tried to calm my breath and my heart as I walked in, down the center aisle, and the voices drifted into silence. The sound of the closing door seemed impossibly loud. I could feel every eye on me as I climbed the stairs to where Dennis McCoy, the Medical Director, stood waiting by the podium, his face haggard.
“Thank you for finally joining us, Bethany. I do hope we’re not keeping you from anything important.” His voice was low, too soft to be picked up by the microphone, even as he smiled and shook my hand.
“No place I’d rather be, Dennis.” I let go of his hand and resisted the urge to wipe my hand against my pants. He turned back to the audience.
“Thank you all for being here today. I know many of you are still in shock over the loss of Doctor Walsh.” He paused as a few sniffles came from the audience. “However, as medical professionals, we all understand that life, and the hospital, must go on. The post of Head of Neurosurgery has been vacant for several months. It was a tight competition with many fine doctors from prestigious hospitals from across the country throwing their hats into the ring. However, it was decided to fill the position from our own ranks and now, with the unexpected death of Doctor Walsh, the choice is very clear.”
He stopped and even though I knew what was coming, my heart started to pound.
“I know you all are very busy, so I won’t keep you any longer. Everyone, please congratulate our new Chief of Neurosurgery, Doctor Bethany Lane.”
I beamed. I had done it. I had won.
Nothing could stop me now.
The news anchor gave his serious smile into the camera. “Tonight in breaking news, Doctor Bethany Lane has been arrested for the murders of renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Peter Walsh, his assistant Adele Carter, and Wilson Police Officer Benjamin Avery, who was shot after pulling Doctor Lane over by Stevens Reservoir, where his body and that of Adele Carter were retrieved. Doctor Lane, who was named as the Head of Neurosurgery at Wilson General earlier today, is also connected to a series of murders in Minneapolis under the name….”