Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Five
A Safe Place
On my way through the lobby I peeked into their mailbox – nothing – and a chill ran down my spine. By now that box should have been stuffed with junk mail if nothing else.
The yellow “Crime Scene” tape was still stretched across their door. I could taste my lunch again.
I was hoping that I was wrong, but when I grabbed the knob and it turned, I knew that I wasn’t. I took my weapon out of my pocket. My palm was sweating, along with everything else.
Considering what Cumberland had already done, I was scared about what I’d be up against when I opened the door. I’m no superhero. I’m just a guy with limited corporate world job skills trying to keep myself fed.
I turned the doorknob as slowly as I could, hoping it wouldn’t squeak. When I pushed the door open a crack I could see that a light was on somewhere in the apartment. I could smell something too – something familiar – Lasagna? It smelled like one of those frozen lasagna dinners I buy myself. And garlic bread. I could hear someone singing.
When I stepped inside the front room I could tell that the smells and the singing were coming from the kitchen near the rear of the apartment. I headed that way moving from area rug to area rug to cover my footsteps. The dining room table was set for one. A bottle of Chianti was open next to a single wine glass.
I stepped into the kitchen doorway. The floor creaked and Cumberland turned around. He was holding the lasagna with both hands. He had on two red oven mitts and an apron asking me to kiss the chef. I passed.
I thought he would look surprised, at least, or maybe throw the steaming lasagna at me – but he didn’t. He didn’t move. He smiled. That I didn’t see coming.
“I heard you come in. I’ve been expecting you, sooner or later. Would you like some lasagna? There’s plenty.”
I’m standing in this guy’s kitchen with my gun aimed at his guts and he asked me to join him for supper.
“I’m not hungry.” That was a lie. “I have to take you in. You know that.”
“Yeah, I know. But, like I said before, I didn’t do it. How could I kill her? I loved her. Can you believe that?”
“Even after I showed you those pictures of her and…?”
“I know. That really hurt me. I guess I knew it already that she was playing around, but your pictures – that hurt.”
He had tears in his eyes. He wiped them away with the oven mitt.
“And I’m sorry about your office. I just went nuts. But I didn’t kill her. I couldn’t have killed her – even though…. I can prove I didn’t kill her. I have an alibi.”
“What kind of alibi?”
“I was already in jail.”
“What are you talking about – in jail?”
He smiled again and started moving toward me. I lifted my revolver and aimed it between his eyes.
“Stop right there, Cumberland. Don’t get any closer or I will shoot you dead.”
He stopped. “Can I just set this down? It’s getting heavy and it is hot. These are cheap oven mitts. I’ll put it down on the table and I’ll back up. OK?”
It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask. “OK, but no funny business. I’m a good shot.” That was lie too. I’d be lucky to hit him at all even though he was only five feet away. I hoped that my shaking knees weren’t obvious.
He did like he said. He put the lasagna down on a straw trivet, then went back to where he started. He closed the oven door and threw his mitts on the range top. I didn’t like his additions to our agreement. I told him so.
When he crossed his arms and leaned against the stove I asked him, “You were already in jail? What kind of line are you trying to hand me?”
“I’m trying to hand you the killer – if you’re interested. Are you interested or are you just going to shoot me and close the case?
My knees stopped shaking and my heart started pounding.