Just nominated for a Lovey Award by the Mystery Writers and Readers of Chicago, Death and White Diamonds dives right in…
The weather was changing, clouds blocking out the stars, wind whipping the surf into a frenzy. As high tide approached, the beach was nearly gone, just a narrow strip of sand between water’s edge and dune grass, the rhythm of the waves pounding at the shore, washing away the evidence. My attention was drawn to the distant lights of a lonely freighter. There was a chill in the air. I hardly noticed. The knife was still warm in my hand.
I looked down the beach. Not ten feet away lay Lorraine, her blouse ripped, an ugly gash just above her left breast, a delicate thread of blood making its way between her breasts and running down along her abdomen. I couldn’t take my eyes off the blood. Something in me stirred. Was it wrong that I saw her, at that moment, perhaps for the first time, achingly lovely?
I forced my eyes away from her chest and peered at my wristwatch, the hands luminous. Three a.m. We had walked down to the beach together shortly after midnight, through the dune grass, giggling. I’d been carrying two wine glasses and a bottle of merlot. Lorraine had been carrying a blanket. I remember thinking, at the time, the surf sounds angry. And then? I can’t remember. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t responsible for the death of Lorraine van Nessen. But it took no great powers of deduction to realize that I was going to be the prime suspect when Lorraine’s body was discovered. If Lorraine’s body was discovered.
I pictured Lorraine’s body floating out to the middle of Castleton Bay. I wondered how long it would take for her body to sink. And once it was submerged, I wondered whether it would stay underwater. I’d watched enough detective shows to realize that at least on television, bodies had a way of popping to the surface at the most inopportune moment, usually just before the first commercial break. I couldn’t take that chance.
Disposing of the body safely would be a gruesome bit of business. Still, I didn’t think Lorraine would mind.
Port Salmon was a ghost town in February, especially on the bay side of town, along Ocean Avenue, at three in the morning, the homes seasonal, rentals mostly, just a few hundred yards from the beach, but all of them empty during the off-season. Lorraine’s grandfather had built most of these homes and even in retirement, he looked after “his” houses. He remained one of the few year-round residents right up until the end. Lorraine was the only one left who made use of the house. And now that too was coming to an end.
I would have plenty of time to dispose of Lorraine’s body. I walked toward Ocean Avenue, turning back briefly to make sure that Lorraine wasn’t moving before hurrying back to the beach house. I didn’t have a plan, not at that point anyway. But I did have a glimmer of an idea.
I rooted through the cellar, searching for a proper tool. Fifteen minutes later I was back on the beach. As I made my way through the dune grass, I sensed a presence on the beach. I was not alone. Someone was crouching low over Lorraine. I held my breath, trying to get close enough to see without being seen. I looked again. Not someone, I realized. Something. A dog was sniffing at the body. I scanned the beach, praying the dog was a stray. Suddenly I felt bad for Lorraine.
Scat, I hissed, waving the hacksaw in the dog’s general direction. The dog snarled, but backed away. I threw a piece of driftwood down the beach and the dog took chase. I stared at Lorraine’s body, a woman’s body, plump and inviting, even in death, especially in death, her full hips, her perfect round breasts, the four inch gash just above her left breast. I’m sorry Lorraine, I whispered, for what I’m about to do.
It was slow work, with the hacksaw. Before long, I was breathing hard. My shirt was soaked with sweat, the sweat drying cold against my skin. I had to face a hard truth. I was out of shape, twenty pounds overweight, unused to physical labor. The hacksaw had not been designed to cut through sinew and bone. At least not by me. My arm grew numb, but I had little to show for my effort, her body scarred by the hacksaw blade, but still intact. I was making more mess than progress. The tide was coming in quickly now. I needed more time. Lorraine needed more time.
It’s funny, don’t you think? Whenever Lorraine wanted to talk about our relationship, about our future, I always put her off. We’ve got plenty of time for that later, I told her. All the time in the world. Now we needed more time.
Wrapping her scarred body in the blanket, I dragged Lorraine back through the dune grass. The path through the dunes was narrow and long. My feet sank in the soft sand. As I made my way through the dunes, the footing gradually grew firmer. When I reached the road that bordered the beach, I slung her over my shoulder and carried her across the street and down the deserted road until we arrived at the house. Pulling open the cellar door, I carried her body inside and collapsed in exhaustion at her side.
I imagine that most men would find it difficult to fall asleep next to a corpse, even if the corpse wasn’t your girlfriend, even if you weren’t about to be the prime suspect in her murder, even if you weren’t just a little bit turned on by the intimacy. I dipped my finger in the blood between her breasts. I drew my finger up to my lips. I wanted a taste. But that would be wrong. I kissed Lorraine lightly on the lips and said good-night.
I slept till mid-morning, on the floor in the cellar, Lorraine at my side, lying in a pool of dried blood and semen. I shook the stiffness from my shoulders and breathed in the day. The day, apparently, smelled of death and White Diamonds. Lorraine had a thing for Liz Taylor. Something about that made me happy.
I’m not a power tool kind of guy. When my friends talk about their home improvement projects, I fade into the background, silent, letting the do-it-yourselfers trade their tales of sheetrock and spackle, talking a language I don’t understand. I examined a large saw in the cellar, wondering what it was called – a table saw maybe – it didn’t really matter. Anything was better than making a second attempt with the hacksaw. I stared at the blade for several minutes before plugging in the saw.
Lorraine was obsessed with her weight, but she was not, in truth, a large woman. I had, on more than one occasion, picked her up and tossed her on the bed during intimate moments. But now that she was dead weight, moving her was more difficult. Lifting her, I stumbled and we both hit the floor hard. I got up slowly and rubbed my shoulder. Moving slowly now, I dragged her body up onto the table, pushing it toward the spinning blade. The machine hummed. I hummed along with it.
Making the first cut was hard, but the left hand came off easily enough. I tossed the hand in a trash bag at the foot of the saw and worked my way up her arm. I was encouraged by the results. I paused to admire the saw, the housing metallic red, the blade a beautiful steel gray, tipped in blood red. I was beginning to understand my friends’ fascination with power tools. I’d have one helluva story to tell, the next time we talked home improvement over a pitcher of pale ale.
Somehow I managed to block out the notion that it was Lorraine on the table, that it was Lorraine I was feeding to the whirring blade. Then I got to her head. Her blue eyes and blond hair. Her high cheekbones and full lips. I sat down on the cellar floor and gave myself permission to cry. I didn’t want to finish the job, but I knew there was no other way. It was time for me to man up. I cut through her neck, doing my best to avoid those baby blues staring at me, asking why. I put the head in its own trash bag, sealed it right away, and double bagged it. Once the head was removed, the job got easier. It wasn’t Lorraine anymore on the table. I found a rhythm to the job, systematically cutting and bagging and cleaning the detritus. I began to sing as I worked, without regard, at first for the song, one of my favorites, suddenly taking on a whole new meaning – The Right Tool for the Job. I smiled. It’s amazing how a little thing like that can brighten your whole day.
I tossed the final body part, Lorraine’s left foot and leg below the knee, into a trash bag and smiled at a job well-done. I looked at my watch. Two in the afternoon. It had taken nearly four hours to cut her up into disposable parts. I’d have to wait until dark before attempting to dispose of those parts. Until then, I needed a place to leave the trash bags. There was an enormous freezer in the cellar, large enough to feed a house full of guests in season. Out of season, it was easily large enough to handle Lorraine’s trash bags.
I was jazzed. I stood in front of the freezer, talking to the trash bags. I wished Lorraine were alive, so I could tell her what I had done. I had never felt quite as vibrant as I felt when I was cutting her up into little pieces. And I needed to tell her all about it. But isn’t that just like a woman? When they want to talk, they expect you to drop everything and listen. But now, when I really needed to talk to someone, Lorraine was ignoring me.
I’m not a handsome man. I’m just a little too short, a little too soft, my features a little too feminine. But covered in blood and dirt, I realized appearance was only a matter of perspective. Suddenly I felt taller, trimmer, more manly. I studied my features carefully. My face was rugged in a way I had never noticed before. I imagined myself dressed in tight blue jeans and white T-shirt, work boots and hard hat, endorsing a certain line of power tools.
I did a quick google search. You can find anything on the internet. Even so, it amazed me that they advertised so openly. There were hundreds of hits, the closest one just up the road a few miles. I’d never been to a massage parlor before. I consider myself a man of high moral standards. Under normal circumstances, I would never go to a place like that, never treat a woman that way. But these were not normal circumstances. Someone had murdered my girlfriend. I needed a woman to help me relax and Lorraine was no longer available.
I drove north on Route 9, looking for the Asian Paradise. I didn’t know what to expect and nearly turned back twice before spotting the small office building. It might have been an accountant’s office, or a dentist’s, but for the discreet sign in the window. I pulled my car into a space behind the office and parked, pleased to see a private entrance around back.
I tried the door, but it was locked. Perhaps it was closed for the winter. As I turned to leave, the door cracked open. An Asian woman of indefinable heritage and indeterminate age checked me out carefully. “Forty dollars,” she said, and smiled, pulling me inside the office.
For the next hour, it was all she said. I was relieved that she didn’t speak English. I didn’t want to know who she was, didn’t want to know what was on her mind. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do first. When she began to unbutton my shirt, I figured that I was supposed to get undressed. I stripped down to my boxer shorts and socks and waited. The Asian woman pointed and giggled. I knew what she meant, and slowly stripped off my boxer shorts. For reasons I didn’t entirely understand, I chose not to remove my socks. I lay face down on the massage table and waited.
As she worked on the knots in my shoulders, I found myself talking about Lorraine. We were not exactly lovers. What was the term the kids used? I tried to remember. Friends with benefits. That wasn’t quite right either. I wanted to explain, not for the Asian woman who was walking on my back. She had shown no evidence of knowing any English beyond her initial two-word greeting. No, I was talking to explain it to myself. Co-workers with benefits? That was closer to the truth. A matter of convenience for two lonely adults. Part of the company’s defined benefit package. Lorraine was an Assistant to the Vice President of Finance, five years older, two levels, at least, above me in the organizational chart. I was an entry-level quality assurance analyst, tracking performance by department. My job was to crunch numbers, and to display those numbers in fancy three-color pie charts, charts that were supposed to make the company look good, even when it wasn’t. I had a knack for making the numbers fit the company’s desired storyline. A generation past, I would have had a bright future at the company. But I knew it was only a matter of time before my job was outsourced to India. It was useful to have relations with an Assistant to the VP of Finance. I was going to miss her. “I’m going to miss Lorraine.”
The Asian masseuse climbed down off my back. I stopped talking while she finished the massage.
I dressed quickly and prepared to leave. The masseuse unlocked the door. “So sorry hear about Miss Lurlene. You come back, okay?”
I told myself it didn’t count as cheating. After all, Lorraine was dead. You can’t cheat on a corpse. A dismembered corpse at that. So why did I feel guilty? As I drove back to the house, I considered my options. I had come to Port Salmon at Lorraine’s urging, to spend a long week-end, off-season. I’m not one to understand the appeal of a deserted beach in the cold of February, but Lorraine had insisted, using words like trust, and commitment, and bonding. She promised me a week-end I would never forget. So why was it that I couldn’t remember what happened out there on the beach? Now Lorraine was dead, in pieces, in the freezer.
Some people might interpret my decision to chop her up as evidence of guilt. But they would be wrong. Chopping her into pieces had been a difficult, but necessary step to protect my own innocence. In my favor, no one knew I had come to Port Salmon with Lorraine. And no one knew that she was dead.
I couldn’t just carry the body parts down to the water’s edge and set them adrift like little toy boats, the S.S. Lorraine, a fleet of S.S. Lorraines, set them adrift in the current, and watch them sail off until, one by one, they sank to the bottom of the bay. Because, by morning, the currents would wash those body parts back up to shore. By morning, along with the seaweed and the hermit crabs, the driftwood, oyster shells and egg casings, the beach would be littered with Lorraine.
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Jeff Markowitz is the author of the darkly comic mystery/thriller, Death and White Diamonds, as well as three books in the Cassie O’Malley mystery series. He loves to write early in the morning. “You can usually find me at my computer at 5:30 in the morning plotting someone’s murder.” When he’s not out looking for dead bodies, Jeff keeps busy as the founder and Executive Director of a nonprofit agency serving adults with autism. Jeff is a proud member of the International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.
Learn more at Jeff Markowitz.com