YOU ARE NEXT by Katia Lief
By SMW Staff
There was something intensely satisfying about digging bare-handed in the dirt. My gardening gloves were soggy so I’d abandoned them on the cracked cement next to the barrel planter I was filling with orange begonias. By late summer these six plants would be triple in size and the pot would overflow with clusters of bright waxy petals. Waiting patiently as they grew and enjoying their beauty was one in a million facets of my therapy, but then everything I did these days was an aspect of recovery. So sayeth “Once-A-Week” Joyce, as I had secretly dubbed my therapist, recalling as I had a hundred times and with the usual inner tickle how at my initial appointment she had made sure to point out that the word joy was embedded in her name. I had smiled for the first time in months, which had been exactly her goal.
I’d been outside doing the back garden all morning and these front pots would take the last of the dozen trays of spring flowers I’d carted home from the nursery yesterday afternoon. One of the planks on the barrel had rotted over the winter and was sagging out. I wouldn’t bother my new landlord with it; next spring, I would use my own money to buy another one. I patted down the soil, noticed that every one of my short-bitten fingernails was crusted with black dirt, and wiped my hands on the front of my jeans. It was hot out. I was suddenly thirsty and my mind conjured a tempting image of sweet ice tea over a stack of ice cubes. The cool, shadowy inside of my ground floor one-bedroom apartment beckoned. I bent down to collect my gloves.
A dented gray sedan stopped in front of the brownstone.
A black guy wearing a red baseball cap turned off a Willie Nelson song and leaned partway out of the driver’s window. That was when I saw the police radio on his dashboard and knew he was a cop.
“I’m looking for Detective Karin Schaeffer.”
“I’m no longer with the police force.”
He left the motor running and got out slowly. Smiled. All I wanted to think about was that I liked his perfect white teeth.
“Billy Staples, detective first class.”
I stood there. It wasn’t nice to meet him and I wouldn’t lie by saying it was. I didn’t want him to be here because they didn’t show up in person to deliver paperwork, and anyway, my medical discharge had already been signed, sealed and delivered. They only came in person with bad news.
“I’m kind of busy,” I said. Standing there in my dirty jeans. Holding limp gardening gloves and a muddy spade. Looking like a retired old lady with nothing but time on her hands, though I was only thirty-three.
“Listen, Karin, I know you don’t want to hear anything from us. I got that. But there’s something you have to know.”
“How did you find me?” Phone book, Internet white pages…I had made an effort to unlist myself in every directory.
“Well, for one thing, you sent the benefits department a change of address.”
Of course I had; I needed those disability checks to pay my rent, since the sale of my house hadn’t netted any profit.
“Right,” I said. “Sorry, I’m just a little tired. Not thinking straight today.”
I’d heard that too many times by now: I understand. So he knew. Everyone knew. All the world had been informed of Karin Schaeffer’s tragedy, and then moved on to the next big bad story…except for me, of course, having been abandoned to it.
“You know you have an enemy.” It was smart of him not to have phrased it as a question. Of course I knew I had an enemy.
“Martin Price is behind bars,” I told him.
The media had called him the Domino Killer. In the detectives unit we’d called him JPP for Just Plain Psycho. The judge called him the worst threat to innocent people she’d ever encountered and put him away forever, specifically for the murders of Jackson and Cece Schaeffer, my husband and three-year-old daughter. There had been others before that but it was my family’s murders that had put JPP away once and for all.
“He escaped last night. Got a call from your old unit in Jersey—asked me to find you. Seems no one answered when they called.”
“Well,” I said, “thanks for telling me. I guess.” I wanted to get inside. Wanted the cool of my own private space. Wanted that sweet ice tea. But Detective Staples wasn’t finished.
“The thing is, he left a note for you.”
“A note?” Please, no. Not another note from Martin Price.
“Well, kind of a note.”
I could already see it. I already knew.