"She says she loves him. He refuses to believe her, but he's still willing to take that long step off."
"Just push him over. When you're alone. Nobody but you would ever know what happened, and you could say whatever you want." She smiled. She was joking.
Only she wasn't joking. We both knew it.
What could I say? I didn't know, so I said nothing. I sipped coolly at my drink, returning her smile blankly.
"He hates me you know." She began fingering the lace of her shirt's frilly lapels. She was wearing this suit thing that drove me crazy. It had this tight little coat that accented her round breasts, and a short, but not too short, skirt that did wonders for her thighs. She smelled like a breeze drifting down from heaven. "He's always putting me down, telling me how worthless I am. Sometimes he even hits me."
At the same time I both believed and disbelieved her. On the one hand, there was what she said. On the other, there was her husband, my best friend. I had never known him to hit a woman in his life. Unlike myself. Still. He could get angry, really angry. He had a violent kind of temper. Maybe there was a side to him I never saw, despite all the years we had known each other. I didn't sleep with him, after all, and she did. And I so wanted to believe. As a sane man contemplating murder, it was important for me to feel justified. Even if I never pursued my thoughts any further than the boundaries of my own skull, it would be good to feel justified.
But to feel justified, a man had to know, really know, what he was getting into. So I was skeptical. I asked, "When did he hit you?"
"I don't remember. Not often. But he has before." She made a mask of her face, a mask of anguish and torment. "So what if he only hit me twice, or even once! He shouldn't hit me at all!"
"Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you needed it."
She fell silent. She pouted. After a few seconds, she stood up from the couch, and strode across the living room to stand silhouetted against a broad set of French veranda doors. "You're a bastard, Lenny. He's mean to me. You know he is. He doesn't love me."
"And I do?"
"You could." She turned around to face me now, but I couldn't see her face for the light shining through the door behind her. "We could be good together. I know we could. There's something between us, Lenny, there always has been. Can't you feel it?"
"I don't know. I feel something." I took another sip from my Southern Comfort. It was good. It was sweet. Maybe a little too sweet. Like her. "But it could be just the stiffening of my prick. Is that good?"
"It could be, Len. If only . . . ." She didn't finish. She didn't have to.
"If only Brad took that long step off." I finished for her.
Before she could answer, there was a sound of keys in the front door knob. Brad was home. I stood up, smiling, and slapped him chummily on the back as he walked past. She was already at the bar, fixing him his favorite drink. Smiling like Satan, the gates of hell hidden behind her back, she worked cheerfully. There was nothing in her face to betray the horrible truth that her thoughts concealed.
The next day we were wrestling a truss into place, standing on one narrow metal rib bone of a warehouse soon to be, forty feet above the slab. I thought of her, of what she said. I thought of that long first step to the right.
"Give me a hand with this bolt, Len. This fucker's heavy."
I took a step forward, put my left hand on his back, my right hand on the truss. With a monumental shove, I heaved the balking support into place. It fell with a clang over the bolt in question.
Just a little push, I thought. That's all. He wasn't wearing a harness, never did. Just a light shove, and it would be all over. Just a light shove on his back, and she would be mine.
"You got the air ratchet?" he asked.
I pulled it off my tool belt. Handed it to him. My left hand still resting lightly on his shoulder.
"Grab the hose."
Just a little applied force. But I didn't do it. Instead, I turned back to the Heister parked against the beam not far away. I grabbed the air hose.
As I offered him its business end, I asked, "Do you have life insurance, Brad?"
"Huh?" But he didn't really want to hear my reply, not right away. The air ratchet whined into life, its voice growling lower and lower in pitch as the bolt was cinched tight. When it was done, he slapped the truss, as though he could tell if it was sound or not with that simple gesture. Then he snapped the hose loose from the ratchet and made his reply. "Yeah I got life insurance. We all do, through the company."
"No, I mean real life insurance. Stuff you pay for on your own."
"Oh. Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. It came with a medical and dental plan we bought last year."
"Oh, a couple of hundred thousand, or so."
I blanched. My hands began to shake nervously. "That's not what I meant. I meant, how much does it cost?"