The afternoon sunlight glinted off of Myron’s whiskey and ice while the kitchen clock ticked away the seconds. From across the room, Jillian stared at him with eyes he imagined would have smiled if they could.
“You need to throw me a line here,” he said.
She grinned. “That’s funny. I thought even you ex-Navy boys knew how to swim.”
“We do. But that’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”
“Well, I was pretty clear. What part didn’t you understand?”
He placed his drink on the counter and crossed his arms. “For starters? The part about you actually talking to Rose.”
It was a question, he knew, not a comment. As if to say that, yeah, she did have a conversation with Rose. Did he have a problem with that? And there was part of the rub; he did have a problem. Rose had been gone two years now, over the rail of the Caribbean Queen and down into the ocean, never to be seen again; and yet, here was Jillian acting like the two of them just sat down with each other at Starbucks and had a nice chat over a couple of lattes.
The other part of the rub—the little nugget he found hard to set aside—was deciding whether or not Jillian was sincere or putting him on. Maybe it was worse. Looking at her, though, he couldn’t say for sure.
He frowned. “You been snortin’ again?”
She scoffed and shook her head. “Same old Myron. Still believing only in the world you can see, cracking wise about the one you can’t.”
He nodded. “Maybe, but it sure beats living on false hopes and superstitions—or that stuff you tend to see with a line of powder up your nose.”
He shook his head. “We tried that once. Trust me, it won’t happen again.”
“Oh, you’re right about that.” She reached for her purse on the table and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, a lighter. “Besides, I would never sleep with the man who killed my sister.”
He leaned back and whistled. Now, we’re getting to it, he thought. The problem with a brain nugget, the word he used for puzzles that made him stop and wonder just what he was really looking at, was that sometimes they turned into boulders—much larger problems than he initially thought. And Jillian’s desperate phone call, the bottle of whiskey she brought along with her, made him wonder if this was going to be one those times.
“Where’d you get that one?” he asked. “You see it between the lines you laid on the coffee table? Or better yet, maybe Rose gave it to you, moved the little triangle while you were playing around with your Ouija board.”
“Go ahead, Myron, make some fun. Your defenses won’t work this time, though. And you want to know why?”
She lighted a cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke.
“I’m gonna guess I don’t have to ask,” he said.
“Because Rose told me the truth. About you, and about that night on the boat. She told me what really happened.”
He smiled. “Is that so?” Glancing to his right, he spotted the block of knives next to the coffee maker. Rose gave him the set last year. A Santa gift, she’d told him and clearly meant it, too. As if he should actually believe in the jolly old elf as much as she did. One thing about the Donahue sisters: they were quite the pair.
“She told me how you asked her to go for a midnight stroll,” Jillian continued. “How you told her it had been a long time since the two of you walked hand-in-hand under the moonlight. And how you rubbed the small of her back, and then grabbed her rear while the two of you rode the elevator up to the deck.”
His smile faded. This little nugget was definitely a boulder.
“There’s no way you could have known—”
“Oh, there’s more, Myron. You see, she knew about the gambling problem, too. How you embezzled money from the company to front it all, and then found yourself in bed with the local shylock in order to keep your boss from knowing what you did.”
Myron picked up his glass and drank the rest of the whiskey. The boulder was rolling downhill now, destroying everything he had accomplished and leaving a trench in its wake.
“You’re crazy,” he said. His hand started to shake, so he placed the glass down on the counter, glancing again at the block of knives.
Jillian took another pull on her cigarette. “Am I? Well, try this on: ‘One thing I gotta say, Honey’”—her voice changed, huskier and full of drama—“‘is I want you to know how much I love you, and that I don’t really mean this. There’s just no other way.’”
His blood turned to slush as the words cut through him. Those were his words, just before…
Jillian smiled. “And to think you actually believed you could take the insurance money and—”
Before she could react, before his mind could tell him to stop, Myron grabbed the long butcher’s knife and watched her expression change as he rammed the blade through her.
“You are,” he said.
Jillian’s eyes softened, and then changed. Again, he thought they would have laughed if they could. “Rose told me something else,” she said, her voice breaking down. “That you’re a sucker for a glass of whiskey.”
He let go of the knife and glanced down at his shaking hand, knowing now that it wasn’t all nerves. Sunlight turned to grey, and the room swirled as he fell to the floor.
Looking up he saw another figure, one who wasn’t there before.
“Hello, Darling,” she said. Her fetid breath was far worse than anything he’d ever smelled before.
She smiled, her teeth black and gums white. “I’ve been waiting for you.”