by Sheila Gale
Eve stared at the knife stuck in Millie’s heart. ‘Up to the hilt.’ The phrase had always seemed melodramatic. She’d read something like it in one of her murder mysteries recently: “She plunged the knife so deeply that only the hilt was visible.” Now Eve realized the words were an accurate description.
The deed had been much easier than she’d imagined. Millie had been in a deep sleep, and the knife had slid between her ribs, like soft cheese. Now, Millie, with her porcelain complexion, baby blue eyes, and blonde hair, lay sprawled across the bed. Her mouth sagged open, and her eyes stared out of an ashen face. Eve trained the flashlight directly at Millie’s unblinking eyes. “You don’t look much like Miss Georgia Peach now,” she mocked.
Hands trembling, Eve fumbled in her pocket for a cigarette and after several attempts, managed to light it. She stood by the open bedroom window, took a long draw and exhaled from the side of her mouth. By the time she’d finished the cigarette, the trembling had stopped. She flushed the butt down the toilet. Picking up Millie’s air freshener, she sprayed the air a few times until all traces of smoke disappeared.
Eve rooted through Millie’s jewellery box and stuffed necklaces, rings and bracelets into a small knapsack she’d picked up at Wal-Mart. Robbery often led to murder, didn’t it? She hoped the police would see it that way. They did in mystery novels. To make it appear that the thief had been in a hurry, Eve left the lid open, dangled a necklace over the side of the box and dropped a brooch onto the floor.
She crept downstairs. Millie’s kitchen with its neat shelves, tidy countertops, and spotless floor had always impressed her. She’d often teased her friend about being a neat freak. The flashlight’s beam grazed over the butcher block, where knives were lined up in size order, ready to use, their steel blades glinting in the light. Eve stared at the space where the carving knife usually sat. Sometime during the next twenty-four hours, that knife would be secured in a plastic bag by the police for evidence.
As she slipped out of the house, Eve smiled. Millie’s habit of leaving the back door unlocked had served her well. She closed the door and glanced around. The only sounds came from the rustling of night creatures in the undergrowth. Car headlights flashed through the trees, illuminating the moonless night.
Eve removed the latex gloves and shoved them into the knapsack, along with the flashlight and jewellery. She’d get rid of the knapsack later. Retrieving her bike from behind some rhododendron bushes, she cycled home.
Eve wheeled the bike into the garage. Her husband Earl had driven over to Savannah to visit his brother, so she’d have the house to herself for a few hours. Shrouded in darkness, the house seemed cold and forbidding. Earl was never one to waste electricity. Well, stuff him! As she made her way to the den, Eve switched on every light. Removing her jacket, she dropped it on the sofa and flicked on the remote. CNN, what else? That’s all Earl ever watched. She changed over to FOX and turned up the volume.
A half empty bottle of whiskey sat on the bar, next to Earl’s crystal hi-ball glass, one of a set of glasses she’d given him on his 60th. birthday. Every evening before dinner, he poured himself a Scotch on the rocks. She picked up the glass. As she smoothed her fingers over the crystal, Eve’s throat tightened. Swallowing hard, she rooted through his stash of booze for a bottle of rye and poured herself a healthy measure. She lifted the glass in a mock toast. “To Earl. May you suffer for the rest of your life for what you’ve done.” Tears stung her eyes. She slammed the glass down on the bar counter so hard it splintered into pieces. Damn you, Earl O’Malley! Damn you! Eve swept the shards of glass into the trash can and poured another drink.
After several large sips, she felt the tension in her body ease. From the side table next to Earl’s recliner, Eve picked up a half-smoked Gauloise from the ashtray. She lit the cigarette and settled back on the recliner. Friends teased her about her unusual taste in cigarettes. With all the American brands, why these? Eve had discovered the perfumed French cigarettes in her early twenties when she travelled through Europe to celebrate graduation from law school. She’d been smoking them for almost forty years now and wasn’t about to change brands at this stage of her life.
Earl didn’t approve of Eve’s smoking and couldn’t stand the Gauloise cigarettes. “They have a real sickly stink to them, and they’re full of tar. I’m warning you, Eve, those cigarettes will be your downfall.”
Eve knew how to shut Earl up. “And what about your drinking! That’s not doing your liver any good!”
She inhaled, holding her breath for a few seconds before blowing out a long stream of smoke.
They’d married young, and together, they’d built up a successful business, O’Malleys Furniture Inc. Eve, with her sharp features and sallow skin was no beauty, and she’d known right from the start that, with his lazy smile and deep blue eyes, women fancied Earl. Though she only worked part time at O’Malleys, Eve kept a keen look out for any female employee who cast her eyes in his direction. She was O’Malley’s legal advisor but also hired the office staff. That Lily, with her swaying hips and curly blonde hair had thought she was a shoo-in for the receptionist’s position, but Eve offered the job to a middle-aged matron with legs like tree trunks. And that Mandy Danson, from Accounts! Just by chance, Eve had dropped by Earl’s office one day to find Mandy leaning over his desk, boobs spilling out of a lime green spandex top and a skirt so short it left nothing to the imagination. Mandy had left O’Malley’s the next day, telling everyone she’d had been offered a better job. Only Eve had known the truth.
A few years ago, when Earl was fifty-eight, she’d watched in horror as he clutched his chest and collapsed on the bedroom floor. After the heart attack, he sank into a deep depression. He refused to seek help and began to drink heavily, often arriving home after midnight, a bottle of booze in his hand, reeking of whiskey and cheap perfume. One night, he staggered into the house, his arm slung around a slightly-built Asian woman. “This, this is…Crystal,” he’d slurred, trying to focus his bloodshot eyes on Eve. “She’s from China.”
Eve had marched into the kitchen, filled a pot with cold water, and threw it over them. “Get out!” she screamed. She picked up an ornate vase that Earl had given her for their 25th wedding anniversary, and threw it at him. It missed and smashed onto the stone tiles. As she stared at the broken pieces, Eve decided she’d had enough of Earl’s shenanigans. Early next morning, she’d called a locksmith to change the locks.
Free to do as she’d pleased, Eve took ballroom dancing lessons, joined a book club, and signed up for Italian classes. An avid reader, she enjoyed a wide selection of topics, including murder mysteries. Her busy life kept her well occupied; but in the evenings, when the grandfather clock in the hall chimed six, she found herself listening for Earl’s key in the lock, and his booming voice calling out to see if she was home. He’d stride across the living room and give her a kiss. “Hi, Teach.” His nickname for her stemmed from high school days, when she’d tutored him in math.
A year after they’d separated, the doorbell rang. Leaving the chain on, Eve opened the door just enough to see who’d dropped by. Earl stood on the porch. Even with his thinning hair and a bit of a paunch, he looked dapper in a navy blue blazer and beige chinos. He held a large bouquet of red roses in his arms. Eve’s heart began to flutter as she remembered the night Earl proposed to her. He’d sworn his undying love and presented her with a red rose.
Telling herself not to be sentimental, Eve opened the door.
He shuffled his feet. “Eve, I’ve come to beg you to take me back.”
“After the way you treated me? You must be kidding!”
His face grew pale. “Look, I know I behaved bad, but could you try to forgive me?” His eyes pleaded with her.
Eve said nothing.
“I sold the business. I want you to come with me to Hilton Head. We can buy a house and retire there.”
“You expect me to drop everything, just like that?”
“It’s a bit sudden, I know…”
Eve cut in. “Do you realize what you did to me, with all your drinking and womanising!”
Earl hung his head. “I love you, Eve. I’ll never hurt you again. I know I can’t take back the pain I’ve caused you, but will you give me another chance?”
“I’ll think about it.”
As he handed her the flowers, his voice cracked. “Don’t take too long.”
After Earl drove away, Eve made a pot of coffee. Settling down in her favourite chair, she sipped the hot drink and mulled over everything he’d said. Her heart told her to give him another chance, but could he be trusted? Closing her eyes, she breathed in the roses’ heady perfume and came to a decision. She’d go to South Carolina with him and give their marriage another try.
Six months later, they’d driven down to Hilton Head and bought a house in one of the plantations. Eve’s dream of an idyllic retirement had come true. She’d pushed all the unhappy memories to the back of her mind and threw herself into island life. They played golf twice a week, took long bike rides through shaded plantations, and dined out with new-found friends. They lounged on their deck on hot sultry afternoons drinking iced tea. Sometimes they’d take a picnic and enjoy a lazy afternoon on the beach. She met Millie, a widow from nearby Georgia, at the local tennis club shortly after arriving in Hilton Head, and they became close friends. After their weekly tennis match the two women would go back to either Eve or Millie’s house for coffee and get caught up on the latest gossip.
The dream had lasted for three years. It began to unravel a month ago when Eve, sorting out the laundry, discovered a lipstick stain on Earl’s shirt. She sniffed the shirt. Flowery perfume! She rummaged through his trousers and jackets. Nothing. Eve remembered he’d been wearing blue jeans lately. The pockets were empty, except for a piece of scrunched-up paper lodged in the corner of a back pocket. Eve smoothed it out. On it was scrawled a phone number, written in turquoise blue ink. Heart racing, she punched in the number.
It rang out three times before an answering machine kicked in. “Hi, this is Millie. I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message…” Eve felt the blood drain from her face. It was her friend Millie’s voice, but it wasn’t her phone number. Surely there must be a mistake! Then Eve remembered that Millie had bought a cell phone a few weeks ago.
She sank onto the bed, numb with shock. Her best friend Millie and her husband Earl were having an affair!
After a while, the numbness disappeared and anger bubbled up inside her. How could they do this to her! Why hadn’t she realized what was going on? Earl’s sudden interest in bridge should have been a red flag. Bridge! Hah! He’d been meeting Millie. She’d been widowed for two years and lived alone in that big house. Set back from the road and almost hidden by trees, it was ideal for a liaison. And what about that diet Earl went on a few months ago? He always claimed diets were a waste of time, so she should have been suspicious of his new-found enthusiasm for vegetables and yoghurt. What a fool she’d been! And that two-faced so-called friend of hers! How could she have sex with Earl one day and meet Eve for lunch the next!
Eve felt weary all of a sudden. She drained the glass. Time for one more smoke, then bed. She searched around for another packet of cigarettes but couldn’t find any. What about the packet she’d taken with her to Millie’s house? She picked up the discarded jacket and searched though the pockets. All she found were tissues and candy wrappers.
The shrill ring of the phone made her jump. She picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Hi honey. It’s Earl.”
Her grip tightened. “Where are you?”
“About to turn into Millie’s driveway.”
“What are you doing there?”
“Woa – what’s up with you? Millie and I have been roped in to organize the annual bridge tournament – remember I told you about it the other day.”
“I know. She’s gonna hand me a list of names then I’ll be outa here.” He sighed. “I’m beat. That brother of mine is hard going sometimes. Anyway, I’ll see you in a couple minutes.”
“How could you do this to me!” A sob caught in Eve’s throat. “You and Millie….”
“Honey, have you been drinkin’ or something? What are you talkin’ about?”
“It’s no use denying it. I found the lipstick on your shirt and could smell perfume on it. And I found the number of Millie’s cell phone in your jeans pocket.”
“Jeez, Eve. I’m sorry. I should’a told you.” He paused. “Remember a month ago when I won the Island Classic Golf Tournament? They had these young women – sorta like cheerleaders – to hand out the prizes. They kissed the guys and made a fuss because the local paper wanted photos.” He paused. “I promised you I’d never hurt you again. I meant it then, and I mean it now. I love you, Eve.” He laughed. “Even though you do smoke those goddammed Gauloise cigarettes!”
It all came rushing back. Earl had warned her those cigarettes would be her downfall. On her way to collect the air freshener from the bathroom, she’d left the packet of cigarettes on Millie’s dressing table.