(psst, hey, want to read an excerpt?)
“I bet we could get away with it.”
What Rachel had said. Eight little words. Thrown out as an offhanded remark while she was watching television and the rest of them were engaged in their own pursuits.
“I bet we could get away with it.”
Eight little words.
And now here they were.
Standing around a body.
A bloody, muddy, crumpled, battered body.
The rain came down. Splish-splash-splatter-splat. In the puddles. On the grass. Dripping from the leaves and eaves. Soaking their hair, their clothes. Glimmering in the rectangles of light that spilled from the downstairs window and the wide-open back door.
For a long moment, the only other sounds were wind-stirred branches, distant traffic, a sitcom laugh track from inside the house, and their own ragged breathing.
Gwen’s throat worked, making little clicking-gulping noises. Annamaria stood motionless, her eyes huge pools in the dark, a fist pressed to her mouth. Darlene gagged, spun, and took two clumsy, stumbling steps away into the yard. She bent and puked in the bushes.
“Shit, Rache,” Jessie said. Her voice was low, almost stunned. She let go of the old bowling pin, which struck the body with a meaty thump. “You were right. We did it. We actually did it. You were right.”
Rachel passed a hand over her face in a slow, dreamlike swipe, smearing blood-spatter and rain into watery red streaks. “What?”
“Just like you said.”
“That’s not what I said.”
Darlene straightened and turned toward them. Annamaria touched the crucifix she wore on a fine gold chain and murmured a prayer. Gwen crouched and reached trembling fingertips toward the body, but stopped several inches shy of contact.
“You did so,” Jessie said. “You said you bet we could kill someone, and look. We just killed someone.”
“I did not!”
“Both of you stop it!” Annamaria stepped between them. “Just stop.”
“But I didn’t–”
They stopped. No one spoke. The rain fell. Splish-splash-splatter-splat. The body lay there. The old bowling pin, which was normally left on the back porch in case they needed a doorstop, lay beside it in the mud. Once white, age-yellowed like bone. With stripes like the fingermarks in blood across Rachel’s cheeks.
Made quite a weapon. Jessie had been able to get some serious swing.
Did a hell of a number on a human head.
A baseball bat might have done no better.
Gwen reached out again, and this time gave the body’s shoulder a slight nudging push. Darlene groaned.
“Rachel,” Annamaria said. She’d been wet to begin with, straight out of the shower with no time to dry off, a hastily-donned robe now pasted to her like a coat of paint. Her hair hung long, black and sodden over her shoulders. “Rachel, isn’t that what you said?”
“We all heard it.” Jessie glanced to Gwen and Darlene for support. “Didn’t we?”
“Yeah,” Darlene said. “She said she bet we could kill someone.”
“Well, that isn’t exactly what she said, though.” Gwen’s words, soft and almost diffident, were barely audible over the rain.
“All right… then what did you say?” Annamaria asked Rachel.
“I bet we could get away with it,” Rachel repeated.
Those eight little words again.
And now here they were, with a body at their feet.
The house they shared was shabby, drafty and a dump. It had mediocre wiring and sluggish plumbing. The water heater could handle maybe a shower and a half before going cold. The kitchen was done in vintage 1970s style. The living room’s matted-down shag carpet was burnt-orange.
But it was close to campus, closer to the bus line, and cheap—even cheaper, with the rent split five ways. None of them could afford to be very picky.
The upstairs consisted of four bedrooms, arranged two-and-two with a bathroom in between each pair and a claustrophobic hallway running down the middle. Tiny bedrooms. Space enough for a twin bed and not much else. Wallpaper so ugly that posters were less about décor and more about self-defense. More matted-down shag carpet, forest-green.
Each of the bathrooms had a toilet, pedestal sink, and stall shower about as roomy as a phone booth. Faded linoleum. Chipped porcelain. Missing tiles. Rusty fixtures. Ceiling lights that shed an unreliable, jaundiced glow, making it a crapshoot to apply make-up.
Annamaria, who’d been there the longest, paid an extra twenty bucks a month for the sole downstairs bedroom. It was somewhat larger, and it connected to the downstairs bath, which was the only one with a tub.
When not sleeping, in class or at their various jobs, they spent most of their time in the living room anyway. Yes, it had that awful burnt-orange shag carpet… and warped wood paneling dotted with nail-holes and dart-holes, with a round, untouched space where a dartboard must once have hung. Yes, it had lumpy couches upholstered in coarse and hideous plaid, and mismatched furniture that Goodwill would snub.
But that was where the television was, and the cable box. That was where Darlene and Rachel had arranged a couple of computer desks with printers and internet access. That was where Jessie could set up her yoga mat and assorted exercise equipment, or where Gwen could cover a whole table with her jigsaw puzzles and craft projects.
That was where they’d all been when Rachel said those eight little words.
Given their schedules, Sunday evenings were about the only time all five of them were there and awake at once. This particular rainy Sunday was no exception. They’d worked out a rotating arrangement of each taking weekly turns to provide Sunday dinner for the house, which ranged from bringing in takeout to a full meal.
This week was Annamaria’s turn, and Annamaria loved to cook.
Gwen curled in the corner recliner, studying, feet tucked under her. Jessie in sports bra and bike shorts, on the floor, stretching. Darlene hunched at the computer, frowning, occasionally rattling out machine-gun bursts of typing. Annamaria going back and forth from the kitchen, where things steamed and simmered and gave off tantalizing smells.
And Rachel watching television.
The way she did. Not talking to herself, exactly, but not directing her words at any of them in particular either.
“I bet we could get away with it,” she said.
Nobody replied. It was just another Rachel-remark, tossed out there casually as anything while she sat in front of the television with a bag of microwave popcorn leaning open against her knee.
“No one would ever suspect a bunch of college girls.”
Rachel-remarks and Rachel-chatter. Washing over the rest of them like a steady breeze. She never seemed to expect–or wait for–an answer. Half the time, it seemed as if she didn’t realize she was talking out loud.
“We would be basically the exact opposite of the profile.”
She’d confessed to them that her brain was always running so fast, she sometimes had to run her mouth too. In order to keep herself from exploding. To relieve the pressure.
“I mean, they wouldn’t even consider the possibility.”
After so many months as housemates, they all knew that this kind of ongoing idle commentary was pure Rachel. It was as much a part of her as the upturned little nose and chipmunk cheeks. Some people said she looked like a cartoon character. Like a grown-up version of Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls. Wide blue eyes, short blonde hair, curvy little bod. She was cute, that’s all there was to it. Cute in a perky, cartoon kind of way.
“As long as we did it right. As long as we were careful to only leave the right kind of clues. Because, really, they’d be looking for certain clues. Expecting them so much that they might overlook any that didn’t fit the pattern. Once they’ve got a theory, they tend to zero in on evidence that supports it.”
Annamaria said they’d either learn to live with it, or it would drive them nuts and they’d move out. She and Rachel had been housemates the longest, and had seen half a dozen come and go over the past couple of years. Not all of the turnaround could be laid at Rachel’s feet, but not all of it couldn’t, either.
The house was rented as ‘partly furnished,’ a phrase which really meant untold generations of previous tenants had left behind a hodgepodge of junk when they’d graduated and headed for greener pastures, or dropped out of college and vanished off the face of the earth.
“The hard part would be in making it not seem like some kind of cult or gang thing. Wouldn’t want to get them thinking along those lines. It’d have to look genuine.” Rachel paused long enough to cram a handful of popcorn into her mouth. She nodded, her alert blue gaze still fixed on the television, and made muffled, crunchy-sounding mumbles.
The television was one such relic of the past: a huge and heavy brute in an age of sleek plasma flat-screens. It loomed like a rhino or wildebeest at a watering hole. And the cable box on top was like one of those little birds that perched on the backs of such behemoths.
Rachel went mumble-crunch-crunch-mumble, swallowed, and added, “But the first one, you’d want it to be clumsy-looking. Rough and rushed and hesitant at the same time. Eventually, though, it’d have to look more skillful. More precise. You’d be getting practiced. Getting used to it. Getting confident.”
The living room’s bookshelves were crammed with secondhand paperbacks, old magazines, and outdated textbooks with highlighting and underlining done by several different students. The kitchen cupboards and drawers held a jumble of pots, pans, dishes and silverware.
“Arranging for them to be found might be tricky. Highest risk of someone seeing you. But they can’t just disappear. That isn’t the same. Being spotted doing the drop or the dump, though, that’d be bad. That could blow the whole deal right then and there.”
But the rent was cheap. The location was convenient enough. It beat living in the dorms.
Their landlady, Lorna Hubert, was a stocky, hard-drinking old bitch who’d taken her big, bad-tempered hound dog and moved to a trailer park after the divorce. Not that anyone could have blamed Mr. Hubert for walking out. The wonder of it was that he’d stuck around as long as he had. Mrs. Hubert’s legacy lingered in the décor, and Griz-the-dog’s lingered in the scratched doors and walls, gnawed furniture, potholes dug in the yard, and landmines of ancient dogshit.
Griz’s predecessors had left plenty of their own contributions over the years, and were memorialized now in a pet cemetery in one of the property’s far corners. Woodburned names on plank markers: Bruno, Major, Rex.
“It’d have to get more flamboyant, too,” Rachel said. “Making it a dare, a challenge. Throwing down the gauntlet. Catch me if you can!”
They even had access to their own washer and dryer, rather than having to take their laundry to a coin-op in town. Of course, the free ones were noisy and unreliable, and they were out in a shed attached to the garage, which meant that getting to them required a trudge out there, sometimes in inclement weather. There was a covered concrete breezeway between house and garage, but the sides were open to the elements and the roof leaked.
“But they’d never figure it out. They’d never guess it was us. I really do think we could do it. Get away with it, that’s the big thing. I still bet we could, though. I bet we could get away with it.”
And now here they were.
The body crumpled on the wet grass, crumpled in the mud. One arm outflung. Rainwater puddling in the cupped palm. A heavy ceramic coffee mug, astonishingly unbroken despite having been hurled full-force and connecting, rested nearby.
“Well,” Jessie said, raking her fingers through her short hair and making it stand up in crazy spikes, “I got news for ya, Rache… we just did.”
“We killed someone,” Gwen moaned. She was still crouched, though she’d withdrawn her reaching hand.
“We’re murderers.” Darlene looked like she wanted to throw up again.
“Look,” Rachel said, in a way that suggested she was trying very hard to be patient. “I wasn’t talking about murder, okay? That isn’t what I said. That isn’t what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean?” asked Annamaria.
“You guys never listen to me, do you? Weren’t any of you watching that show? It was all about serial killers, okay? The way the FBI profiles them and everything. How it’s almost always, when you’ve got a serial killer, it’s almost always the same kind of person. White male, thirtyish, loner, history of cruelty to animals, starting fires, wetting the bed.”
“Sure,” Jessie said. “Like those guys in the news that have body parts in their fridges.”
“Right!” Rachel’s eyes gleamed. “Right, exactly. See, and that’s just it. That’s the profile.”
“Wait… wait.” Annamaria raised both hands, palms out. “Serial killers? They’re monsters.”
“Yeah! But, get it? The cops would never in a bazillion years suspect us. I mean come on! A group of five college girls? That’s not the way serial killers operate. It’s just so totally out there that they wouldn’t ever believe it!”
Gwen rose slowly to her full height, which, tall as she was, took a while. “You think we’re suh-suh-suh…” She shook her head, unable to say it.
Rachel rolled her eyes. “Well, no! Not hardly!”
“We’re…” Darlene pointed down at the body. She swallowed thickly. “We’re murderers.”
“That’s not the same. Besides, I said ‘get away with it,’ remember? There’s a big difference between killing somebody and getting away with it.” Rachel wiped more diluted blood from her face, looked at her hand, and showed it to them. “This is a mess, that’s what this is.”
“I’ll say.” Jessie picked up the bowling pin again, holding it gingerly by the end. She toed a saucepan, which had been pretty well dented even before Rachel landed a couple solid whacks with it. “What are we gonna do? We’re fucked. We are just thoroughly fucked.”
“Maybe we should call the police–” Gwen began, but bit off her words when she saw their expressions.
“If we do that,” Rachel said, “then like Jessie said, we’re absolutely effed.”
“I don’t want to go to jail,” Darlene said, snuffling.
“Not to mention being expelled, evicted, and kissing your financial aid good-bye,” Annamaria said.
“Then what are we going to do?” asked Gwen. “We have to do something. We can’t… we can’t just…”
“Say it was an accident?” Jessie grimaced. “Don’t think anybody would buy it.”
“What if we made something up?” Darlene gestured at Gwen. “You’re good at that. Make up a story. Some… burglar or homeless guy or something.”
“No good,” Rachel said. “There’d be evidence. Prints, fibers. They’d question us. They’d find inconsistencies, contradictions. No matter how well we thought we’d prepared, some elements wouldn’t add up.”
“What, then?” Annamaria clutched her robe closer, though by the way the satin clung, it wasn’t doing much for the sake of modesty. She was barefoot, bare-legged, mud-splashed, one knee seeping where she’d skinned it when she took a fall during the short, violent chase. But her dark eyes, fixed on Rachel, were calm and steady. “What should we do?”
“Hide the body,” Rachel said. “Dispose of it, get rid of it. Make like it never happened. We don’t know anything. We didn’t see anything, hear anything. It’ll seem like a disappearance then.”
“You mean…” Darlene swallowed again and nodded toward the garage, where a collection of rusty old gardening tools hung on wall pegs. “You mean like get a shovel… dig a hole..?”
“Here on the property?” Gwen added. “Not out by the dog graveyard?”
“I know it’s not ideal.” Rachel sighed, started to bite her thumbnail–an I’m thinking habit of hers–but realized it was covered with blood and caught herself in time. “Moving it, though, that’s risky too. How? Load it into the trunk of Jessie’s car?”
“Fuck no, not my car, you don’t!”
“Not mine, either!” Darlene said.
“Or mine,” said Annamaria. “Not that it’d fit.”
“See, if we do that,” Rachel went on, “there’s risk of leaving trace evidence. No matter how careful we are. And even assuming we didn’t spill a single drop of blood inside, what then? Where do we take it?”
No one answered. The rain came down, splish-splash-splatter-splat.
Then, on the ground at their feet, the body gasped.
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