“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
Annie stared down, the words momentarily stuck in her throat. Finally: “It’s my husband.”
On the floor, his cheeks the color of aged meat, John clawed at his neck, the veins popping out as if they were about to explode. He gasped.
The voice on the phone said, “Your husband?” and sounded so disconnected it felt strangely out of place.
“Yes. Please help me.”
“Okay ma’am, I need you to remain calm. What is wrong with your husband?”
Annie gripped the cell phone. “He’s… He’s dying.”
John looked up. His eyes narrowed, his mouth a slashed line. He reached out a hand, and she stepped back. Then, he groaned and clutched his stomach so fiercely that Annie believed he would rip it out. If only he could. A second later, he barked out a tidal wave of acid and bile, the flow of it bathing the floor around him. It oozed between the ceramic tiles, the grout acting like gutters on a city street, channeling the vomit away.
Through the cell phone’s speaker, the woman said, “Can you tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know,” Annie said. “I made him a cup of coffee and now he’s on the floor puking up everything.”
“Okay,” the woman said. In the background, Annie heard several clicks. “I’m alerting the paramedics and the police. Can you give me your address?”
Annie looked down where John continued to writhe.
The woman said, “Ma’am, I need your address.”
Annie gave it to her.
“Can you tell me what kind of coffee you gave your husband?”
“It’s the kind he always asks for, the instant stuff from Starbucks.” Annie squeezed her eyes shut and pressed a hand to her forehead. “Via, I think.”
“Okay, I’ll also alert the paramedics for the possibility of food poisoning. Please hold.”
Annie stared at John’s hands, the veins and fat knuckles. His ring. A moment later the woman’s voice returned.
“Can you tell me your husband’s condition now?”
“He’s still on the--He’s going into convulsions now.”
“Ma’am, I need you to remain calm. The paramedics will be there soon. What I need you to do is open up the front door. Can you do that?”
Annie turned and ran down the front hallway. She snapped the locks open, twisted the door knob and pulled hard. In the distance, about a mile away, she saw the twinkling of her neighbor’s security light above their garage door.
“Okay,” she said. “The door is open.”
“Is the pathway clear?”
Annie looked around. “Yes.” She ran back toward the kitchen and stopped where the carpet met the tile. Looking down, she leaned against the wall and closed her eyes.
On the phone: “What you need to do now is--”
“We can stop, Jan. He’s dead.”
A pause. “Are you sure?”
“I’m not about to touch him, but yeah, I’m pretty sure. His chest isn’t moving and his eyes have that distant look in them.”
Another pause. “You have the bottle of pills I gave you, right?”
Annie glanced toward the kitchen counter. “Yes.”
Jan told her to toss them on the table, make it look like a man who was desperate to end things. “Be sure to place his fingers on the bottle.”
“Oh God, please tell me you’re kidding.”
“It’ll look bad if he’s diagnosed as an overdose but no fingerprints on the product.”
Annie sighed but nodded. Her big sister had always been right, even about marrying John--as it turned out, a violent man she didn’t really know. But still…
“Are you sure this is going to work?”
“Of course,” Jan said. The way it was planned, the only thing the coroner would find in his stomach would be more of what was in the bottle. “With the previous police report, it’ll look like he had finally pushed things too far and this time his wife decided to leave him. So he killed himself.”
Annie touched the side of her face, the flesh still puffy where his ring sliced through. The pain stung. “He was never going to stop.”
“Not until one of you were dead. We just made sure it was him instead of you.” A pause. “Okay, call the police tomorrow. And when they ask, you found him on the floor. You only came home to pick up some clothes when you thought he was supposed to be at work. You can remember that, right?”
“Good. Oh, and one more thing. Get rid of that prepaid phone. If the police find it, we’re both screwed.”
Annie nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”
She clicked off, still amazed at how calm Jan had sounded, and then looked down at her husband. Her ex-husband now. She cringed, thinking about the fights. Those knuckles. There was no other way. Even if she left, he would have tracked her down, hurt her some more. No, the only way to deal with it, as Jan had said, was to take it right back at him. Thankfully, knowing how he would react, Jan also suggested the fake 9-1-1 call. That way, he would think Annie was doing her best to save him. If he suspected poisoning, he might have tried to kill her before he died.
She slipped on a pair of latex gloves and did everything just as Jan told her. Could it all unravel? Sure, but then it was too late to care about that now.
She clicked off the lights and closed the door.