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 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Well... I definitely didn't see the ending coming, which by the way for me is one of the most important aspects of a story. I hate being led along to an ending I see as predictable.

I agree with many of the others than attraction isn't exactly the best way to give her a change from fear to pity and it is a hard transition to pull off. I think that if you use his son as the catalyst you could still have a smooth transition. Write in a way where he breaks down because he is so upset his son is having such a hard time and that he needs a mother to give him the right direction. This will allow Jill to sympathize as a woman seeing a man breaking down for his need to have not only his wife but his son's father.

Great story!

B

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Great job. This piece is refreshingly sound in structure, style, and narrative. I'm not terribly familiar with the genre, there is merit in pleasing a casual reader, but I don't have a lot to say along the lines of style in genre.

I think the conversation about the kids is relevant and very apropo--It's what neighbors talk about and I think it lets you introduce her anxiety towards him in a logical way. Also, it think it's perfectly ironic that she's attracted to him--as long as it isn't too much of a 180--because it mirrors the extramarital relationship that started all the trouble.

Keep up the good work.

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Wow Jim this was a good one! Thank you for sending it my way! I think the plot is well developed, and as far as her staying and talking to him, I didn't read it as attraction, but rather a bit intrigue growing in her mind to find out what really happened. I mean she was at a party, so she felt safe with him, why not ask the questions, if he felt willing to oblige her. Moving away, and going to the party for the kids worked for me too. The only thing I would like to have seen, which is my sadistic mind asking for more, is maybe if you want to play on the attraction feel, by taking this story a little further, and have them lead into an affair. I think that would play into the whole making the husband feel everything that Whitaker felt leading up to the death of his wife, the betrayal and the loss. I think that would've been a great twist to have the story be of an affair in the reader's minds, then lead into to this conversation later after Jill's husband found out about the two of them. You could play it off that her husband just was playing along thinking Whitaker never got a good look at him, and didn't want to draw attention his way so he played along with his wife befriending him. I don't know I don't want to rewrite your story. lol. Because it is fantastic the way it is! This stuff just popped into my mind as your story unfolded, and as a writer my mind started flowing with your plot. lol. I love your ability to build up to the twist, it keeps the reader's mind reeling with wonder. I would like to see this developed into a novella, I think you could tweak it into a very compelling longer read!

Great Write Jim!
RLG,
Tommy


Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is very well written. I am not sure the importance of a t.v. show representing him. Also, if you are going to have Jill's attraction to the murderer the reason she doesn't run, you should mention it sooner, maybe when they first meet. Just a suggestion. Good job!

Posted 10 Years Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Wow, what a twist! I love how the beginning was perfectly set up for the end. Great job!

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I felt like I was right there watching the whole scene!
The ending is awesome! I definitely wasn't expecting her death.



Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I love the twist at the end, very suspenseful!

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

What a fantastic story! Totally gripped me. My heart was pounding at the end when she realised it was her husband and that he had come to kill her. I love your style of writing, so easy to get lost in

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

It's a good story, and although you can start to sense the twist coming I think it's actually a good thing. Surprise is actually an overrated and cheap trick, but building suspense toward a moment the reader can anticipate, but isn't quite sure of... that's a neat trick to pull off. In terms of the narrative flow, I'd say it's 90% there. It reads like a well-revised draft but not quite as a final draft. Some suggestions:

- Adverbs in general: tough thing about adverbs is that you should never use them unless it's the one you should use. ;) I would just search through all of them and give them another think. You'll keep some, get rid of others entirely, and transform others. Adverbs are great for first drafts, because they help you move along the story and get to the finish line, but then you have to go double and triple check each usage to be sure it's the RIGHT usage. Tricky.

- One example of an unneeded adverb (IMHO): "He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other." If you just remove "uncomfortably" from this sentence, it doesn't change the meaning at all. We know the reason he shifts from foot to foot, so it's unnecessary to actually state it. Just describing the action infers the motivation.

- " he said, showing his defeat in his face." This works okay, but you miss an opportunity to actually give us a description of the defeat in his face. If you could find a few words to describe what is actually happening, you could insert it here to great effect. In the greater flow of the narrative, you still want it to be succinct, but a few well-chosen words here could make a big impact.

- Change of POV in last paragraph. Not sure on this one. While it's nice for a twist ending to get in on his thought process, you've pretty much told the whole story from "over the shoulder" of the victim, and I'm not sure switching works. I'm not sure it doesn't work either, though. Maybe tinker with ending it from the victim's dying realization and compare the two? You might still keep what you've got, but I think it's worth a look.

Again, I think you're 90% there and just a tinker away from a really tight horror story you might read in an anthology. The last 10% (from good to great) is always the hard part!


This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Jim...Reliable father and banker by day, master of prose and horror by night :)

You are a fabulous writer.

Before I leave my review, I wanted to say that I loved this -- When you're new at it, you don't know how you are until someone tells you. -- This could be the quintessential aphorism for all writers. I could not agree more!!

Your story -- Outstanding! I read through the other reviews to in order to not repeat suggestions, critiques etc...You don't need to hear the same thing twice. I will only tell you that I agree with the person who suggested giving the physical descriptions sooner. This is solely a personal preference. It in no way reflects your writing. I do not agree with the person who suggests you diminish the amount of italics. Italics are little beauties that say "WHAM!" You can feel them touch your brain when their written.

I see the similarity in our writing styles, so obviously I LOVE the way you write. (I hope that didn't sound narcissistic) I only mean that the way you structured the piece, the flow, the break in dialogue, the unfolding of exposition, is exactly the way I would have. Although you story was lengthy, it was a easy and very natural read. Your pacing is perfect! Your descriptions and the little things are well told. Ex: In the beginning where you are trying to figure out what she is having this visceral reaction to Michael and the vividness of the flashback with her wife's killer. I loved how you gave generously to the reader. I was not left to infer anything.

That last scene...Woah...The moment where Michael is holding Jill in his arms is palpable. Saying I pictured it well would be an understatement. I could see the fear and desperation in Jill's eyes, the bittersweet vindication in Michael's. What I found that you did oh so intelligently, was write Jill in such a way that we did not form a strong attachment to her. On the contrary, my loyalties lied with Michael. Eek, what does that say about me! No, I'm kidding. This lack of a strong connection to Jill was absolutely necessary. The reader would have been furious had you killed off their protagonist. In a way, Michael is the protagonist...Twisted and Brilliant!

Jim, you are just fabulous!



This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 10 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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