Thy Neighbor's Wife

Thy Neighbor's Wife

A Story by Jim Parson
"

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.

"

            “You’re Lindsey’s mother, aren’t you?”

            Surprised, Jill turned to face the unfamiliar voice and was stunned to find him standing there.  A deep chill coursed through her veins.  What was he doing here?  She couldn’t hide her look of shock and perhaps embarrassment as well, although she did her best not to show it.  He must be talking to her…there wasn’t anyone else in the garage.  Should she answer or should she run?

            “Why, y-yes,” she stammered.  “I’m Jill Stephens, Lindsey’s mom.  And you’re Michael Whitaker,” the words blurted out perhaps a little more forcefully than she intended, causing her blush to deepen.

            He shifted from one foot to the other.  “Yes,” he said.

            Feeling the need to offer an explanation but choosing her words with care, she said, “We’re a pretty tight neighborhood.  When someone new moves in, particularly someone with your… ummm… celebrity, word does tend to travel.”

            “Yes,” he said, his eyes downcast and his shoulders, slumped.  “People do talk.”

            The silence grew uncomfortable against the background of voices floating into the garage from the barbeque in the backyard.  Jill was somewhat comforted knowing twenty people were only a scream away, but it didn’t completely calm her butterflies.  She looked around for an escape route.

            “I thought we would get away from all that when we moved here from L.A.,” he said.  “I was hoping we would finally put it behind us, for Jake’s sake.  It seems we haven’t.”

            Jill struggled to think of a response.  “Yes, I’m sure it’s been hard for him.”  Following another pregnant pause, she blurted, almost as an afterthought, “And for you.”

            Whitaker smiled at her, catching her off guard.  “I’ll let you get back to the party.  I just wanted to thank you for not putting a stop to Lindsey playing with Jake.  After the… well, you know… most parents made excuses for their kids not to come around anymore.”

            Jill stared blankly at him for a moment.  WHAT?  Lindsey is friends with his son?   Think, Jill, think!

            “Of course,” she replied, for a lack of anything else to say.  She would be explaining to Lindsey in no uncertain terms why she was never to go to Jake’s house again.  She forced herself to look at him.  His eyes were fixed on her.

Say something!

“How is your son holding up?”

            Whitaker debated the question for a moment before answering, “All things considered, I guess he’s dealing with it as well as any eight year-old could.  There were some rough times, but things are getting better.  I think the worst part was what he dealt with at school.  Kids can be so cruel.”

            “Yes,” agreed Jill.  He has a pleasant enough voice.  Well, why wouldn’t he?  Ted Bundy did, too.

            “My wife was always talking about moving to Ventura and getting out of the city.  For some reason, she really liked it here,” Whitaker continued.  “She had a couple of clients here, so she spent quite a bit of time out this way with her work.  She was always saying it would be a good place to set up shop.  She was a graphic designer.

“So when Jake started having trouble with some of the kids at school, I thought a fresh start where no one knew us might be better for him.  Ventura seemed as good a place as any.  Seems there’ll never be a fresh start for us, though.”

            There was such sadness in his voice, Jill almost felt sorry for him.  She’d seen pictures of him on the television, but had yet to take a good look at him, mostly averting her eyes to hide her discomfort with being so near a murderer.  She gave him a quick once over.  He really was quite an attractive man, tall and well built, with a narrow waist and broad shoulders.  In his short-sleeved shirt, she could see the sinews of muscle in his forearms.  His hands were large and rough, the hands of a man who worked for a living.  His dark hair fell down across his forehead, only serving to accentuate his green eyes.  His nose was straight and his jaw, firm, with full lips and very white teeth.  It was a good face, an interesting face, not the face of a murderer.

            Jill broke from her reverie and wondered how long she’d been studying him.  He was watching her, a quizzical look on his face, apparently waiting for a response.  What was he just saying?  Oh, yeah.

“Yes, I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for you,” she said, repeating herself.  She stared at him, at a loss for what to say next.

            She decided on small talk.  “So, how did you know I was Lindsey’s mom?”

            He responded, “When we got here, I asked Steve Overland and he pointed you out for me.”

            “I didn’t realize you knew the Overlands.  Are you friends with Steve and Margie?” she asked.  She was anxious to know how he came to be here but didn’t want to push too hard.

            “Well, it isn’t quite like that.  Jake and I were walking our dog last weekend and the Overlands were in their front yard, so I stopped to introduce us.  The guy next door, I forget his name… the guy wearing the St. Bonaventure tee shirt.  He came over while we were there to ask what they should bring to the party.  I think they were kind of embarrassed into inviting us.”

            Jill walked to the back of the garage and peered out the window above Steve’s workbench.  The bench was covered with Steve’s fishing gear and she shoved his tackle box and filleting knives out of the way.  She had a good view of the backyard.  She surveyed the crowd and spotted the green St. Bonnie’s tee next to the oak tree.

            “That’s Jerry.  His son, Tanner, is a year younger than Lindsey.”

She suddenly remembered why she’d come into the garage in the first place.  She turned from the window, walked over to the cooler and pulled a Diet Pepsi from the ice.  At five feet, six inches, she was taller than average and it was mostly legs, which were long and lean.  Her brown hair fell from her shoulders and hung down over her thin face as she bent over the cooler.

She looked back at him over her shoulder, pushing her long hair behind her ear, and caught him sizing her up.  Good Lord, he’s staring at my a*s!  As an attractive woman, she was used to the ogling of other men.  Under the heat of his blatant stare, however, she felt overtly self-conscious, but was surprised to find she felt warmed by his appraisal as well.  It occurred to her that her husband might be less than pleased with this reaction and embarrassment forced her to look away.  She shifted her position so her backside was no longer pointed directly at his face.

In spite of her uneasiness, she turned back to him and met his eyes straight on.  “Can I get you one?” she asked, holding up the can of soda.

            “No, thanks,” he replied.  “I’m good.”  There was a bit more color in his cheeks as well.  He took the can from her, but only to pop the top and hand it back.

            “Thank you,” she said, doing her best to cover her discomfort.

            “I really should be getting back to my family,” Jill said, hoping she sounded apologetic.  “It was nice to meet you.”  Then, before making her exit, “I hope you like it here.  It’s a really good neighborhood.  You’re new and still a curiosity, but over time, you’ll fit right in.  You know what they say… time heals all wounds.”

            “I wish I could feel confident of that,” he said.  “I was already tried and convicted…twice.  I’m hoping I won’t be a third time.”

            “Huh?” was all that came out of her mouth.  Tried and convicted?  Okay, I’m confused.

            “I was put on trial and found guilty, by the media and by the public,” he said, answering her unspoken question.  “We lived through it twice.  Once when I was arrested and again when the True Crime episode aired six months later.”

            Jill cleared her throat and said, “I…I actually saw that episode.  I’m a bit of an addict of that kinda stuff.  I’m a big fan of Ann Rule’s books.”

            His voice was low and she couldn’t help but notice the tremble in his words as he repeated, “Ann Rule.”  Was that disgust in his voice?  “She contacted me after the show aired and wanted to write my story.  I declined.”  He gave a short laugh.  “Who knows, maybe I’ll write the book myself one day.  At least the real story would be told then.”

            She couldn’t believe she was hearing the words coming from her mouth.  But there they were, quiet and low, but firmly thrown out there just the same.  “What is the real story?”  Any thought of making an escape left her.

            Her momentary bravado shocked even her.  Whitaker studied her for a few moments and to her surprise, a slight smile parted his lips, showing the briefest flash of white teeth.  She couldn’t be sure if it was a smile or a smirk.

            It was too late to take it back, so she continued.  “Well, the show painted a pretty strong picture of your guilt.  It was obvious they felt you got away with murdering your wife.”  The smile dropped from his lips and she wished she’d put it a little more delicately.  Hoping for a bit of misdirection, she added, “I remember they were pretty hard on the District Attorney for not prosecuting, as well.”

            “Yes,” he said.

            Jill waited for him to continue and when he didn’t, she did.  “So, what happened?” She grew braver with each word, her curiosity surpassing any embarrassment.

             “There wasn’t enough evidence to hold me, so I was released.”

            Jill said, “The show made it sound like the DA didn’t want to take a chance with his conviction record on a case where the evidence was mostly circumstantial.”

            “Yes, it did.”

            Now that she had him started, she wasn’t going to let up that easily.  “They didn’t really tell much of your side of the story.  Just your claims that you were innocent and witnessed someone else do it.  They didn’t present it very believably, almost like they were saying ‘yeah, right’.”

            “I did see it happen,” he said.  “I got a good look at the guy and gave a full description to the police.  I even sat down with their sketch artist and came up with a great picture of him.  They were convinced I did it, so they never even looked for the guy.”

            “Well, it all seemed pretty convincing.  You threatened her in public and a few hours later, she’s dead and you’re standing over the body with a bloody knife in your hand.”

Shut the hell up, Jill!  Are you intentionally trying to piss off a murderer?

            “That isn’t exactly the way it happened, but yeah, that’s the True Crime version.  It seems that’s the version people want to believe, including the police.”  Jill could see he was growing upset.

            Don’t push it, Jill.

“So what really happened then?” she asked, softening her voice.

            Whitaker studied her for a moment.  She could see his mind working, as if struggling with a difficult decision.  Appearing to have reached a conclusion, he began.

“I never threatened her.  We had a loud argument.  That’s all.”

“About?  If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”

He cocked his head and looked at her, one eyebrow raised.  He took a deep breath.  “I suspected her of having an affair.  I confronted her about it.  Perhaps it wasn’t the best timing to do it in the middle of the bank lobby.”

            “Yes, I remember,” Jill said.  “Motive.”  No other words were necessary.

            “The argument continued for a couple of hours when we got home and she locked herself in our bedroom.  I could hear beeps through the door.  She was punching numbers into the phone.  I went downstairs and picked up the extension in the kitchen.  I heard her say, ‘I’ll see you in a little bit,’ and a man said, ‘Okay.’  A few minutes later, she came down and walked out without saying a word.

            “I followed her.  She went north on the 405 into the Valley and got on the 101 west.  The freeways were crowded and slow, so it was easy to follow her, although I’m not certain she even cared.  She got off the freeway and after a few blocks, turned into the parking lot at Lake Balboa Park in Encino.  I pulled into the other end of the lot behind an SUV where I couldn’t be seen and watched and waited.

            “It was getting late and the sun was going down.  I started to think he wasn’t gonna show.  My wife got out of the car a couple of times and paced back and forth, checking her watch.  After about a half hour, a Chrysler pulled into the lot and parked next to her.  A man got out and stood next to her BMW.  She got out and they walked into the park.  They passed under a streetlamp and I got a good look at him.  I didn’t recognize him.  I got out of the car and followed them.

            “They walked down to the lake and sat on a bench beside the water.  It was getting pretty dark, but the lamps around the lake were enough for me to still see them.  I hung back in the trees so they wouldn’t see me, too far away to hear what they were saying.  I could tell they were arguing and the man was getting louder, but I could only catch a word or two of it.  He wasn’t happy.  He grabbed her by the arm and she jerked away, got up and started walking away from him.  I heard her holler, ‘I can’t do this anymore!’  He jumped up and grabbed her and spun her around.  It looked like he punched her in the stomach.  I started running toward them.  She fell to the ground.  He must’ve heard me coming because he wheeled around and I got another look at his face.  Then he took off toward the parking lot.

            “When I got to her, I saw the knife sticking from her stomach.  I screamed for help and fell down on the ground beside her.  She was alive, awake and staring up at me.  She took my hand and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’  She died right there in my arms.”

            Jill saw the tears welling in his eyes and at that moment, she believed him.

            He took a deep breath and continued.  “I wasn’t thinking straight.  I just watched my wife die right in front of me.  I didn’t care about the affair, I loved her.  I was hollering for help and holding her.  I don’t remember doing it, but I guess I pulled the knife out of her stomach because, when the two witnesses came running up, I had it in my hand.

            “You know the rest.  I was arrested, questioned and released.  Then came the media circus and after a couple of weeks, they decided not to file charges.  I guess the DA thought my story was believable enough to convince a jury.  But I was never cleared.  To the public, I was guilty as sin.”

            “Such a terrible tragedy.  It must have been so horrible for you,” Jill said.  “You must want vengeance in the worst possible way.”

            “I gave up on the police ever finding him or even looking for him.  For months, all I thought about was hunting him down myself.  I fell asleep at night thinking about all of the ways I would make him pay, if I ever found him.  But now I understand.  That isn’t what I want at all.”

            “You don’t want him dead?”

            “No,” he said.  “Killing him isn’t enough.  A moment of pain and then it’s over.  I want him to feel what I feel.  I want him to live a long life, suffering what I’ve suffered and knowing he’s to blame.  I want him to reach out in the night for the warm body that should be there next to him but isn’t.  I want him to feel the helplessness of trying to comfort his children when they wake, screaming in the night from their nightmares.”

            He paused, a distant look in his eyes, and Jill could see the muscles tighten in his jaw.

“No, I’m not going to kill him.  When I find him, I’m going to kill his wife.”

            Jill stared at him, her eyes wide, her mouth agape.  The words were frightening, but she thought she understood.  As the chill of his words wore off, she watched his head bow and his shoulders slump in utter defeat.  She could feel his grief and felt the need to comfort him.

            “If it makes any difference to you, Michael, I believe you.”  She smiled and put her hand on his arm.

            “Thank you.  That means a lot to me.”  He smiled back at her.

            Their eyes met and locked.  Jill felt strangely drawn to him.  She knew he felt it, too.

            Stop it, Jill!  You’re a happily married woman!

            Whitaker took a step forward and stopped directly in front of her.  He leaned in and her heart began to flutter.  No!  Stop him before this goes too far!  His hair brushed against her cheek as his lips moved close to her ear.

“He’s here,” Whitaker said, almost in a whisper.

            “Who’s here?” Jill asked, still distracted, swimming in her own thoughts.  Her eyes widened as understanding began to float to the top.

            Whitaker pulled back and stared straight ahead, eyes misty and seemingly unable to focus.  “The man who murdered my wife.  He’s here.”

            “He’s here at this party?  Right now?  Did you know he was going to be here?”  Then, as the realization struck her, her eyes widened.  “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

            “No,” he said.  “When Jake and I came through the garage into the backyard, I couldn’t have been more surprised if I’d walked in on the second coming of Jesus.  I had no idea who killed my wife, except what he looked like, until I saw him here a half hour ago.”

            “Oh, my God!  Oh, my God!  What are you going to do?  Are you going to call the police?  Does he know you’re here?”  The questions poured from her gaping mouth.  Then, “WAIT!  Who is he?”

            Taking her by the elbow, he guided her to the workbench and pointed out the window into the backyard.  Her eyes followed his finger.

            “That’s him.  The guy in the blue shirt, drinking a beer with Steve.”

            A furrow crossed her brow, realization slow to dawn, awareness just out of reach.  “Ummm… but… but…,” she stammered, “That’s my husband.”

            Whitaker studied her face, waiting for the birth of comprehension.  The moment it arrived, he picked up a fillet knife from the workbench and pushed the blade between her ribs and into her heart.  Circling her waist, he pulled her close, their faces only inches apart, as if lovers moving together for a last kiss.  He stared hard into her eyes and felt the heat of her gasping breath against his cheek.  He twisted the blade hard inside her, breaking two of her ribs and watched the light fade from her eyes.

 

 

© 2011 Lyle James Parson II

 

© 2011 Jim Parson


Author's Note

Jim Parson
I've pretty much edited this to death now and am satisfied with all grammatical issues. I'm only looking to resolve a couple of plot points. Several reviewers have mentioned they felt the conversation about their children was unnecessary. He needs a reason to approach her and there needs to be small talk before he breaks into his story. If not them, then what? Although I'm satisfied with the kids being his reason, I'm looking for suggestions if it will improve the story.

The other issue is Jill's character. I need to take her from being afraid of him to being sympathetic in the span of a ten minute conversation. It seemed to me that the only way to accomplish this was to develop a minor attraction to Whitaker, without going too far. This doesn't seem to be terribly popular with readers, so I'm looking for other alternatives that take her from A to B without her running from the garage.

Thank you to those of you that took the enormous amount of time you did to help make my story better! You're the greatest!

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Featured Review

Mirrored revenge, what a compelling concept to consider in detail. You flourish in the land of twists and turns, Jim, yet in a timely way, so as not to lose that all important grip on your readers. I love the hint of attraction, and the final act that cuts open what could have been. Another amazing, suspenseful write, Jim! I must keep reading...

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The style made for a quick read and the details made for an engrossing one. The attraction Jill has for Michael is essential, especially when we learn of her interest in True Crime. And the allure of the bad boy is undeniable. I feel the addition of the children is also key, as it humanizes them both and makes the characters relatable. How difficult it must be to have a son and be accused of such a heinous crime. How difficult it must be to watch a suspected murderer waltz into your party, then your garage. But I have two issues that I believe, if addressed, would improve the story.

First, why did the lover kill the wife in such a public place? He clearly planned it, as he brought the knife. But what drove him to it? Why did he think he could get away with it in the middle of a public park, regardless of the time of day? There needs to be a hint of desperation. That if she leaves that park alive his life is over. Could Michael possibly overhear her shouting "I'm going to call your wife when I get home," or something that compels her lover to act, then and there. Otherwise, I question why she went to meet him in the first place and how it all went so bad so fast.

Second, I saw the end coming a few paragraphs before it happened. Not that that's bad, but I wonder if you could leave the reader with more dread, less revenge. Here we have an infamous man who came to a party with his little boy. I have to figure every eye would be on him. Should someone ask: "Where'd that Michael Whitaker get off to?" I would assume half the fingers in the place would point towards the garage. He couldn't possibly think he'd get away with it. And he's definitely not acting in the best interests of his son, with whom we've already come to empathize. In this way, he is as impetuous as the man who killed his wife. As Michael himself said, he wants that guy to suffer a slow burn. Therefore, I think Michael should make his intentions crystal clear but not kill her. Let her stew. Then, when she tells her husband, he'll stew. Let Michael drive the guy mad with fear before he condemns him to a lifetime of grief.



Posted 1 Year Ago


Wow, I want to read more. Astonishing detail in this story had me on the edge of my seat. I love the delay in the writing, you were able to move the story forward but also hide the details which kept me reading and wanting to read more.

Posted 3 Years Ago


Reading your author's note, it seems the changes you have made are all for the better. I think the tale is quite good, as it is.
Perhaps some improved sentence structure here and there, but I'm nitpicking.

This is EXACTLY the type of tale I would have written, while using just a tad more descriptive sections. But your use of dialogue to tell the tale is perfect.

Bravo; I'm jealous :)



Posted 4 Years Ago


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It's a very very nice story!!! The plot is very interesting, the ending not awaited and the descriptions very good. I really liked it!!!

Posted 7 Years Ago


It was really a great read! An eye for an eye is a motto tha I love used in stories. You wrote this so well and beautifully, though I must confess that I did guess the ending before it happened. Still, a great, powerful read.

Posted 7 Years Ago


Good stuff. Didn't see the ending coming until the, "I'm going to kill his wife," line. The small-talk about the kids is a good way to go with the dialogue. It's believable. The hint of attraction Jill feels is also believable, but if you're looking for a different way, maybe have the son Jake come into the garage and ask for something simple, a soda maybe. The dad says yes and the son says something like, "I love you daddy," and gives him a hug Jill sees the son's love and drops her guard.

Posted 7 Years Ago


Wow Jim this was absolutely excellent. I'm really enjoying your stories; your an unbelievable storyteller!!! Towards the end i copped what was going to happen but i wasnt really sure, and it ended way different than what i imagined! Excellent.

Posted 8 Years Ago


Mirrored revenge, what a compelling concept to consider in detail. You flourish in the land of twists and turns, Jim, yet in a timely way, so as not to lose that all important grip on your readers. I love the hint of attraction, and the final act that cuts open what could have been. Another amazing, suspenseful write, Jim! I must keep reading...

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Whoa. The ending was completely unexpected, which is awesome. I loved how I couldn't stop reading it and it was so dramatic.
That was amazing, I don't think you need to do any more editing.
Awesome job! :)

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Oh my... God. I haven't read a short-story that has kept me hooked the whole way through on this site in a long long while. I couldn't look away from the screen! It was wonderful, unperdictable, and intricate! Brilliant write!

~Adora

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on January 29, 2011
Last Updated on March 17, 2011
Tags: suspense, mystery, thriller, vengeance, revenge, murder
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Jim Parson
Jim Parson

Los Angeles, CA



About
I have been a banker for the past 28 years, but my dream has always been to write. I thought maybe it was time to give it a try. I don't think I'm the greatest writer, but I think I can tell a prett.. more..

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