Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Saturday, January 2, 2016

one of my early noir stories

I wrote 'All For Her' back in 1998. At this point I had written Fast Lane, which I was trying to sell, and sold two short stories, A Long Time to Die to New Mystery Magazine and Next Time to Hardboiled Magazine.  As a writer, I was feeling my way around, and it was going to be another five years before I'd write Small Crimes, then another four years to see Small Crimes in print.

'All For Me' is one of my very early writing efforts, and the writing is rougher than my later works, but it also has an energy that I like. It's also heavily influenced by the infamous Charles Stuart murder case. 'All For Me' was originally published on the Judas crime story webzine.

All For Me

I looked at her, all peaceful, all quiet and serene. Sleeping on her stomach with her arm across my chest and her head nestled against my shoulder. So much in love with me.

It choked me up realizing I had to kill her.

She made a soft purring noise. I put my hand against the back of her head and gently caressed her hair, and her purring became more content, like a soft running engine. Her body wiggled closer to me. I could feel a moist heat coming from it.

She really didn't leave me any choice.

How many times has she told me she'd rather be dead than live without me? Too many times to remember. So you could look at it like I was going to be doing her a favor. Saving her from unbearable misery. Because if I didn't kill her I would leave her, and not just because I was sick of her short plump body, at least not entirely. Besides, Sue has over and over again told me she'd do anything to make me happy and there's not much in this world that would make me any happier than collecting from her eight hundred thousand dollar life insurance policy.

I reached over and kissed her big soft red lips. She stirred and opened her eyes, looking at me a little groggily. "Hi," she murmured.

"Just wanted to tell you how much you mean to me," I whispered into her ear, and then went to sleep.

The next morning I told her I was going to meet my cousin Steve after work for a few drinks.

"I was hoping you could start coming home earlier,” she said, her lips pushing into a tiny frown. “Maybe you could quit going out so much."

I took another bite of the scrambled eggs and sausage and chewed it slowly before turning back to her, grinning. "You're sounding like an old married woman." I winked at her. "Besides, you don't want to deprive me of having a little fun, do you?"

"You can't have fun with me?"

"Come on." I could feel my grin straining a bit. "Let's not start this again."

"I don't want you seeing him. I don't like him!"

I took another bite of scrambled eggs and took my time chewing it. "Look," I told her. "I don't like that attitude about my family, understand? And besides, if you want to worry about something, why don't you start worrying about all the weight you've been packing on. What is it, twenty pounds in the last two months?"

Sue stared at me, her face stuck in a queer smile. Her bottom lip started quivering, and well, it was sort of like watching a fuse after it had been lit. All at once, as if the spark had reached the explosives, she started bawling, shedding tears like a goddamn fountain.

"Aw come on, Sugar," I tried pleading. "I didn't mean anything by it. Only there's more of you to love, that's all."

None of my coaxing and apologizing helped. She just sat there, her mouth stretched grotesquely, wailing and moaning like there was no tomorrow. It made me feel a little funny, but I was late for work as it was so all I could do was shovel down the rest of my breakfast and promise her I wouldn't be out too late with my cousin.

As I'd already said, if I didn't kill her I would have to leave her. The act was beginning to wear thin, so to speak. Things I used to swallow down were now slipping out. I couldn't help myself, and the worst part was how much I was enjoying it.
Steve was sitting alone at a back table nursing a beer. From far away he looked like he could've been my twin. Up close, though, he wasn't as good looking thanks to acne scarring around his cheeks and a pale sickly complexion. I joined him.

"How you doing, Cuz," I asked.

"Not bad." He took a sip of his beer and shifted his eyes to me before staring back at some imaginary spot on the table. "What you got?"

"How does fifty grand sound?"

His eyes moved back to me. Half-closed, unblinking, and against the unnatural paleness of his skin, they could've been the eyes of a mannequin.

"Now Cuz, what you got that an insurance company will pay fifty grand for?" he asked, his lips twisting into a thin smile.

"My wife's neck."

He was sipping his beer when I said that and it almost came out before he was able to swallow it back down. A shadow fell over his eyes. "That's not funny, Cuz."

I signaled the waitress for a beer and waited ‘til she brought it and left before turning back to my cousin. "No," I conceded. "It's not funny. Well, maybe a little. It sure the hell is profitable, though."

"Tommy," Steve said, his voice low and edgy. "This isn't the type of insurance scam I want to run, okay? Now if you got some jewelry or stereo equipment, let me know where and when, okay?"

I started laughing. "What's your problem, Cuz? Don't tell me it's your high sense of morality ’cause I heard about you whacking Murphy. And I know you didn't get any fifty grand for it."

"But your wife?"

"Why the hell not?"

He began playing with his beer glass, rolling it between his palms. "Sue's a good kid. I like her," he said, almost embarrassed.

"Yeah well, she thinks you're scum of the earth," I told him. "Told me so just this morning. And you know what a big mouth she's got. If she ever found out about Murphy, Jesus, I just don't know. Wouldn't surprise me if your mom ended up being told about it, and god knows who else."

My cousin sat staring at me, his face frozen hard, his eyes like pale green marbles. It seemed a long time before he nodded. I told him how we were going to murder my wife.

"The cops are going to suspect you," he said. "Especially when they get wind of the insurance policy."

"Hey, let them. I'm going to be a victim too, you know."

"You got a girlfriend?"

"What difference does that make?"

"Big difference. Tommy, this is no kid's game. You got a girlfriend and this thing goes down the cops aren't going to give up on you. You got one?"

I shook my head. "There's a blond babe at work who wants it bad but I haven't given it to her yet. You should see her, Cuz. Twenty-two, gorgeous, works out all the goddamn time. A waist like this -" I demonstrated with my hands, spreading them less than a foot apart. "Could hurt a guy. But I'll wait an appropriate mourning period before finding out just how much. Okay?"

He didn't say anything. He just sat there staring at me. Heartless bastard. A man's planning to kill his wife and all he could do was sit there and stare.

I nodded at him. "Tomorrow night, eight o'clock. Just like we talked about."

"You're sure, Cuz?"

"Hell yes."
When I got home Sue was unforgiving. Her eyes were red and puffy, as if she'd spent the whole day crying. When I tried talking to her, she ignored me and went straight to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Later, when I joined her in bed, she turned her back to me and moved as far over as she could. It hurt me. Sort of made me feel sick inside. Lying there I realized how it was our last night together and I started feeling even sicker. I guess I also started feeling a little anxious, too anxious to sleep.

I began massaging her, and well, Sue could never stay mad at me. Before too long we were making up. It didn't help, though. Afterwards, I was more anxious than when we started.
I woke Sue up a few more times and each time we'd go at it. It would tire me out but nothing else. It didn't help with the edginess. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't keep from thinking. During one of our tumbles Sue murmured how I couldn't keep my hands off her. I had to bite my lip to keep from bawling like a baby.

I was out of bed before the alarm went off. Sue was still sound asleep by the time I slipped out of the house. I guess I was feeling too anxious to trust myself with her.

At work it was more of the same. I couldn't sit still. I couldn't keep from thinking about it… from thinking about what was going to happen. I tried but I couldn't.

Sometime during the afternoon I had flowers delivered. I included a note describing how I loved her more than life itself. It couldn't hurt to make her last few hours happy, and well, to also leave evidence for the cops about how blissfully married we were.

As I said the day dragged on. It was torture. By the time I left work my stomach felt like hell. Like a glass of milk would've been too much for it. Driving home the pain got so bad I had to pull over to keep from blacking out. I just sat there, doubled over, shaking like a goddamn junkie.

By the time I got home I must've looked like a wreak. When Sue saw me her round, soft face broke into a worried frown. She put her palm against my forehead, her frown deepening. "You feel warm, Dear," she said. "Why don't you go lie down."

I forced a smile. "Maybe later. Right now I'm taking you out to dinner."

She started shaking her head. "I want you to lie down now and ..."

I put my finger against her mouth and quieted her. "No way, Sugar." I said. "I'm going to make it up to you for acting like such a jerk before. Nothing you say is going to change my mind. Now move your cute ass into the car."

She looked like she wanted to argue but I guess she saw it was useless. Her face softened and she nodded. I followed her outside.

As I drove, Sue sat quietly, withdrawn, maybe even a little anxious herself. I told her I had reservations at her favorite yuppie rip-off joint in Manhattan. All she did was nod. She looked uncomfortable. "This is a nice idea," she said after a while. "I've got  something to tell you."

"Good news, I hope?" I said without looking at her. She answered me with a weak nod I caught from the corner of my eye.

I turned off from Flatbush Avenue and headed towards the projects before turning down a blind alley.

"Where are you going?" Sue asked, puzzled.

"I need to meet Steve. It will just take a minute," I said staring straight ahead, not trusting myself to 
look at her.

There was a long silence, and without looking at her I knew how her face was transforming itself. 

"I'm not going to wait here for him," she said at last. "If you don't want to eat dinner with me now, I'll find a cab and go myself."

Something in me snapped. It had to have. I turned to her and lost all control. I started saying things that were so ugly and cruel that even now I cringe thinking about it. Sue sat horrified, her face turning pale white. Her bottom lip started quivering and then the tears leaked out and that just egged me on even more. I kept at it even after I saw my cousin emerge from the shadows.

Steve moved quickly. He got in the back seat, put a gun to Sue's head and pulled the trigger. Twice.

I was hit across the face by a wet sticky spray and realized it was her blood. As she fell forward I saw the hole in the back of her head. The way she ended up against the dashboard…I just wasn't prepared for it. The way her mouth was left twisted open with thick strands of saliva hanging from it, and her face soaked wet with tears and blood. And her eyes, oh god, her eyes...

How in the world could I've been?

My cousin got out the car, came around front to Sue's side, and took the jewelry from her body. I guess I must've panicked. It was only natural after watching what just happened. Hell anyone else would've done the same. All I needed were a few minutes to get myself together, but when my cousin lifted his head to face me his eyes glazed over and then closed halfway.

"What are you waiting for?" I guess I was screaming. I raised my arm because we agreed for him to shoot me in a fleshy area below the bone where he couldn't do much damage. "What the hell are you waiting for?"

He lowered the gun, and the sonofabitch shot me in the stomach.

I stared at him and then at my stomach and watched as a large red circle grew outward. "You killed me," I moaned. "You dirty sonofabitch, you killed me."

"You're panicking, Cuz," he said quietly.

All I could do was stare at him. His face seemed to fade in and out. Blurring into a white ball and then disappearing into darkness. "I'm dying," I cried. I was holding my stomach with both hands. I could feel the wetness growing.

"It'd be a shame if you did, Cuz." he said. "Especially how I wouldn't get a dime from any of this. But if you live maybe you'll keep your mouth shut. Maybe you won't panic when the cops come—"

I stopped hearing him. I leaned forward against the horn. After a while I couldn't hear it either. And then there was nothing but darkness.
The darkness broke. I realized I was on a stretcher. One of the guys carrying it was crying. He saw that my eyes were open.

"Your wife," he tried to explain. "I'm so sorry."

"What about my stomach? Am I going to need a colostomy bag?"

I had to close my eyes again. Everything was spinning around so fast. And then it all just went black again.
I was later told I was out for three days. Well, sort of out. I know I slipped back into consciousness a few times. Once I felt something moving inside me and then heard a guy yelling, "For Chrissakes, get him under!" Another time I saw Sue's parents standing over me, their faces cold, expressionless. Then I fell back into the darkness
When I finally came out of it I felt like death. Like I had the type of hangover maybe a couple of gallons of cheap vodka and a few swallows of chewing tobacco might produce. My stomach felt sore and stiff, like it had been worked over with a two by four. I could barely open my eyes.

I heard someone calling my name. I couldn't lift my head. A few seconds later a thin man with small black eyes leaned over me.

"Tom Williams, can you talk now?" he asked, studying me like I was an insect.

I opened my mouth. It felt like I had a dozen sweat socks stuffed in my throat. "W-water," I murmured, and then I started gagging.

He moved away. Almost right after that I heard an argument coming from the room, then a nurse bringing me water. She washed me off with a sponge and took my blood pressure. After she left I laid on my back staring at the ceiling.
The next day they had me propped up in bed. I could see my stomach was wrapped with a thick bandage. Even though they had me doped up on some heavy stuff I felt like hell. The day dragged on. A few times I started to think of Sue. I could see her face white, blood-streaked, eyes staring at nothing. Mercifully, the stuff they had me on kept my mind drifting. Still, images of her kept coming back.

Later that afternoon, the doctor came in and introduced himself and told me what was going on. For a while they thought they were going to lose me. I had cleared the hurdle, though. I wasn't going to need a colostomy bag. I had a tough road ahead but every indication pointed to a full recovery. Nothing was mentioned about Sue.

When he was done he looked around uncomfortably. "We'd like to keep visitors away for the next few days. There's a police detective who needs to speak to you. Do you feel up to talking with him?" he asked.

I looked past the doctor and nodded. The same man who had been staring over me the day before was brought in. He introduced himself as Detective Lou Marzon.

"I know you're not feeling very good, Mr. Williams, but I need to ask some questions to help catch the guy who did this. Do you remember what happened?"

I nodded. I had a tough time talking. My voice sounded weak and hollow as I told him how I had tried taking a shortcut to a bank machine and a junkie jumped into the back of the car and made me drive to that alley.

"Can you describe him?"

I shook my head and made up some crap about it all happening so fast. I vaguely described someone who could've been any one of the hundreds of junkies living off the streets of Brooklyn. He tried prodding me for more details, but I kept shaking my head and muttering how it all happened so fast. Finally he put down his notebook and studied me.

"Can I call you Tom?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Tell me, Tom," he said. "Why haven't you asked about your wife?"

I looked away. "Because I already know she's dead. The ambulance attendant told me."

"Yeah, he told us you didn't seem that concerned. All you cared about was whether you were going to need a colostomy bag."

I met his small black fish eyes. "I was in shock. Ever been shot in the stomach? What the hell point are you trying to make?"

"None. Just trying to clear up loose ends. When you're up to it we'll bring over some photos for you to look at. Maybe something might click."

"Thanks, Detective." I lifted my hand and he reluctantly took it. He had a soft, moist grip.

"This is so damn tragic," he sighed. "A five month pregnant wife shot dead in front of her husband. What's this world coming to?"

All I could do was stare at him. And the sonofabitch was staring right back, measuring the reaction he got.

"What are you talking about?" I croaked in a hoarse whisper.

"You didn't know your wife was pregnant?"

I put my hands to my eyes and started weeping. I had my eyes shut tight, but I could hear my doctor ushering Marzon out of the room. The detective tried protesting but soon his voice faded to nothing. I knew I was alone then, but I couldn’t stop weeping, at least not right away. I couldn’t understand why Sue didn't tell me she was pregnant. Maybe it had something to do with me joking about the only way I'd like to see a kid of mine was on the end of a coat hanger. I was only joking. She should've known better. It showed how little she trusted me, and right then that knowledge hurt as much as my stomach did.
Marzon came back the next day with a stack of mugshots. I picked out about half a dozen but told him I wasn't sure of any of them. He didn't seem to mind. As he was leaving he asked about my cousin Steve, about how often I saw him.

Fortunately, I was still doped up, so he didn't get any telling reaction out of me. Without a second of hesitation I told him Steve and I were always playing together as kids. That I still saw him every once in a while. And in fact, I had a few beers with him the night before I was shot. Marzon let it drop.
Three days later my family was allowed to visit. My mom and dad and four of my brothers and sisters were first. Sue's parents also came that day. They didn't say much, though. Steve showed up a couple of days later with a group of my other cousins. I avoided shaking hands with him. He stood off to the side, staring sullenly at the floor. His face looked paler than usual, his lips pressed into a tight, bloodless grin.

Two weeks later Steve came by for another visit. By then I had gotten to where I could move around. When he came in, he looked past me.

"Come on, Cuz," he said. "I think you could use some fresh air."

I let him help me to my feet. I had to use a cane. It took a while to get down the hallway and to the elevator. As soon as the elevator door closed, he went nuts.

"Why the hell didn't you tell me she was pregnant?” he seethed. “Why the hell didn't you?"

I just shrugged. “I just thought she was getting fat,” I said.

Of course, I was lying. A blind man could've seen that Sue was pregnant. And then there how she’d gotten so moody and weepy, like her hormones were off-kilter. I must’ve known. I had to have.

"You sonofabitch. You dirty, stinking sonofabitch. I wish I had blown your head off instead of hers."

“Calm down, Cuz. So what if Sue was pregnant? It doesn’t change anything.”

"It doesn’t, huh?” He stood staring at me, his mouth moving like he was chewing gum, like he could barely control himself. “You had to tell her you're going to meet me for drinks?” he finally let out, his voice a harsh whisper. “Well, bright boy, she told her mom who then told the cops. Same with the flowers you sent. You're married to her four years and never send flowers until the day you plan on killing her. And that note you sent with them? Jesus Christ, you got any brains in your head? You want to guess how I know about this? You want to guess who's been telling me?"

His eyes glazed over. His lips sort of snarled up like what you'd see on a feral animal, and he pushed me hard in the chest. I toppled backwards and had to grab onto an armrest to keep from falling over. I pulled myself back up and held my breath while a sharp, cutting pain ripped through my stomach. When it passed, I forced a grin at him.

"You're not thinking straight, Cuz," I said. "The cops have nothing, you understand? Nothing. And thanks to that near fatal wound you gave me, which I haven't totally forgiven you for, they got less than nothing. But if you start beating me up here, hey, we're both finished."

He stood breathing hard, his hands clenched at his side. "Show some fucking brains," he forced out, his voice trembling. Neither of us said anything after that.

Later, I couldn't keep from thinking about him. About how unglued he got. Of course I knew the cops suspected me, but I also knew it didn't matter. That bullet I took to the stomach gave me more public sympathy than I'd ever imagine. For them to risk charging me they'd have to have something solid. And they had nothing. Still, I couldn't keep from thinking about the way Steve had panicked. Even after I'd gotten released from the hospital I couldn't get it out of my mind. It kept nagging at me, worrying me.

I took a walk to a corner drugstore and called Steve at home. He called me back ten minutes later from a pay phone. His voice sounded odd.

"I just spoke to our friend, Detective Marzon," he said. "He told me you spent five grand on a diamond necklace for your girlfriend."

"What's your point?"

"And that you were screwing her for months before what happened to Sue."

"You mean before you killed her, Cuz."

"You crazy bastard. You crazy stupid bastard. You really don't have any brains, do you?"

"Look, Cuz," I said. "I think we better talk in private. Meet me at Vincent's in an hour."

He paused. "Better make it two hours." He hung up with a faint click.

I walked back home and found an eight inch carving knife in the kitchen. I held it up and studied it. My Cuz really didn't leave me much of a choice, but I have to admit I was sort of looking forward to it. He was panicking and he had to be taken care of. That was only part of it, though. I still hadn't forgiven him about shooting me in the stomach. That still was only part of it. He had murdered my wife and my unborn child, which I later found out would've been my son. I couldn't get that out of my mind.

I sat around, waiting, and parked three blocks from Vincent's Bar, walking the rest of the way. There was an alley across from the bar's parking lot. I hid behind a dumpster. In the dark no one would be able to see me.

My Cuz ended up being quite a bit late. After he pulled into the lot, I stood up and called to him, signaling him towards me. As he walked over, he told me it was too late.

"What are you talking about, Cuz?" I asked. I had the knife hidden in my jacket.

"It's too late for what you're planning. I already made a deal with the cops. I spilled my guts to Marzon over the phone two minutes ago.” He had his cell phone out, and I saw his fingers typing out something. “I just texted Marzon, told him where we are. He’ll be here in minutes."

All I could do was stare at him. A soft buzzing started in my ears. "You shouldn't have done that, Cuz."

"I had to with the way you’re acting. They would've got both of us, Tommy. I had to make a deal while I still could. I’m here to try talking some sense into you. If you’re smart, you could save the family a lot of pain. It would be best for everyone."

"Very considerate of you, Cuz. Let me guess, in your story you didn't know what was going to happen to Sue, is that right?"

"Look, Tommy. I'm sorry about all this. You know I always liked you. But try and think what's best for the family. Your mom and dad."

I held out my hand to him. "You're right, Steve. I'm sorry about all this, too."

He actually took my hand. In one motion, I pulled him towards me and swung the knife into his gut. 

The blade stuck halfway into him. He sagged to the ground. His face looked green, his eyes surprised and scared.

As he sat on the amongst the broken glass and trash, I kicked away at the knife. He moaned a little and then there was nothing. I kept kicking at him until the knife was completely in him. What he said before about spilling his guts was now entirely accurate.

I kicked him a few more times, but it had gotten kind of useless. His eyes were dull and vacant. He was long gone.

If Steve was leveling with me, the cops would be there soon. I had to leave. I knew killing him wouldn't help me any with the cops, but it had to be done. For Sue's sake. For the sake of my murdered son.
Once I got in my car, I scribbled a quick suicide note, then drove to the Manhattan bridge and got out of the car. What I was going to do was stop a car and throw the driver over the bridge. I thought with my car left behind with the note and a dead body floating in the East River, it would give me enough time to get to Canada. But standing on the bridge and looking at the water, only one thing seemed right. And so I did it.

I had hoped the impact would've killed me right off, but it didn't. Only broke my neck. And it took so long to die. As I sunk to the bottom, paralyzed, it felt like my lungs were going to burst, and then my head. It was unbearable. And as I waited, all I could think of was Sue. It was like she was right there with me, staring at me with her cold, dead eyes. And as much as I tried, I couldn't get her to see the truth. How I did it all for her.