Edward Owen – Author

Ray Bradbury Challenge #16- Blood and Dirt

This story started as a teaser only, no story. I finished three paragraphs before I figured out where the story was headed. Sometimes our sins come back to haunt us and not always in the way we expect. Are you looking over your shoulder?

Blood and dirt. To James, they were signs of a job well done. It was almost a shame to wash his hands, but then such stains would invite questions he’d rather not answer. Someone in his line of work avoided undue attention. It had a nasty habit of ending careers.

The florist delivery van had been pure genius. What woman wouldn’t open the door for man holding a large bouquet of flowers? They had cost him almost a hundred dollars, but considering the fee he was receiving from his client they were a minor expense. The van had allowed him to transport her across the city unnoticed. If ever it was discovered at the bottom of the lake, any forensic evidence would be obliterated.

The loamy soil in the Wisconsin woods had been easy enough to dig but it would be frozen solid in another month. By the time anyone thought to look for her out here, there would be several feet of snow covering the ground. He had buried her deep enough to prevent any animals from digging up her body. No, Sasha Antonavich now existed only in the memories of her friends and family. And the conscience of the person who paid to have her killed. Her memory would fade from James’s mind in a day or two.

He flipped through the file one more time. There were several pictures of her that had been supplied by his employer and a few more taken by James himself. He was almost tempted to keep the one of her tied to the bed. Her body exuded a raw sensuality that women seemed to possess for a short time in their lives. He would never actually do something so reckless but the thought excited him. Breaking the rules, even his own, had always held a certain fascination for him. His survival instinct got the better of his emotions and the nude photo was burned with the rest of the documents. The ashes blew through the dead leaves as if he were performing a cremation ritual. He paused as the scent of burning paper blended with leaves, loam and newly turned soil. The moment passed – he strolled to the edge of the lake and scrubbed his hands in the icy water until they were numb and red.

He had stashed a motorcycle in the trees and the ride back to town was brisk and invigorating in the chilly night air. He left the bike in an area of town where its disappearance was a given. It was a short walk to his hotel where he arrived without incident. The small receiver in his pocket indicated the room was empty but he slipped his Glock from its holster as backup. Once he was safely inside with the door locked he allowed himself to relax enough to enjoy a hot shower.

As he stepped from the bathroom dry but quite naked he picked up his shoes and stopped. On the carpet was a small clump of dirt. Impossible. He had changed clothes on the way back, the coveralls and boots disposed of in a dumpster behind a restaurant on the highway. He picked up the offending lump of soil and held it to his nose. It gave off the same earthy odor as the dirt in the woods. It must have dropped from his boots and lodged on the sole of his shoe. He carried it into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet.

He pulled back the covers on the bed and slipped between the cool sheets, sliding the Glock under the pillow as he did so. His hand brushed against a piece of paper. He pulled it out and stared at it, unable to swallow the lump rising in his throat. It was a picture. The picture. The one of Sasha lying naked, tied to her bed. The one he had watched burn to ashes in the woods. He stumbled to the bathroom and ripped the picture to pieces, his hands shaking. Two scraps fell to the floor as he tried to drop them in the toilet. He leaned over to pick them up and his legs gave way. His head hit the wall tile as he crashed to the floor. Blood trickled through his hair into his eyes and the room began to spin. Struggling, he grasped the pieces and off the floor dropped them into the bowl. He pulled down the handle and listened as the water carried off the evidence of his crime.

State police, open the door!”

James was rousted from his sleep, still sprawled on the bathroom floor. The pounding on the door reverberated through his skull. He dragged himself upright and slogged his way into the bedroom. He grabbed his robe and trudged to the door. With the latch released he swung it open. Four uniformed state troopers stood facing him with their guns drawn.

Sir, is there anyone else in the room?” said the officer closest to the door.

Um, no, just me. What’s the problem?”

I need you to come out here sir. We got a report of screams coming from this room. I also need you to explain the blood on your head.”

That was crazy. There hadn’t been anyone else here. There must be some mistake.

I slipped in the bathroom and hit my head. I assure you I’ve been here alone all night.”

Then you won’t mind if we take a look around.” Three of the officers pushed their way into the room as the first one led him out onto the sidewalk.

James watched as the men opened drawers and his suitcase. He was thankful he had found the picture.

As he relaxed, one of the troopers called out, “Hey Captain, we’ve got something,” and marched toward the door.

What is it?”

The trooper held up a small evidence bag. “Found this all over the floor, even in the bathtub. Looks like a mixture of blood and dirt.”



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