The court clerk asked me to raise my right hand. I did. Then he asked, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"I do," I said.
"State your name."
"Marianne Forrester." I took my seat on the witness stand. I didn't know if I'd be able to tell the whole story in a court of law. How could I explain how much I had loved my husband and how he had betrayed me? Moreover, how could I explain the guilt I felt?
It was the "if onlys" that made my heart ache. If only I had been older when we met. If only I'd had more education. If only I had been willing to stand up to him more often. And, most of all, if only I had never wished him dead. Maybe things would have turned out differently.
I'd been fresh out of high school when I met Darnell Forrester, M.D., a plastic surgeon. He'd given me my first job, working in his office. I'd felt lucky. He was so handsome and smart. Soon, we were dating. He said there was no problem with seeing him away from work. I should continue to call him "Dr. Forrester" at the office.
The other single women in the office were miffed at me "catching" him. I chalked it up to jealousy. One woman in particular tried to warn me away. Natalie said she'd seen him date other assistants and when things went badly, the assistants had always been fired.
I was too much in love to worry about her dire predictions. Darnell was a complete gentleman on our dates, taking me to fancy restaurants, out dancing, and even to the opera. The opera impressed me the most. I'd never done anything so elegant before. We saw Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." The music was transforming. The song where Butterfly sings of her love for the naval officer who is coming at last to be with her made me cry.
My dates with other men had mainly consisted of dinner and a movie. Of course, other guys I'd dated didn't have the kind of money Darnell did.
I loved going out with Darnell, but I was also embarrassed because I had only one good dress a black silk I wore to formal occasions. It wasn't sexy, but it was the kind of thing that could be worn anywhere. I tried to change the look by adding different scarves, but Darnell was not fooled.
"This is our fourth date and it's the fourth time you've worn that dress," he teased me one night. We had just sat down at Le Bistro, a romantic restaurant.
What could I say? I didn't want to admit I couldn't afford something new. I just smiled. He saw my uneasiness, though.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put you on the spot. It doesn't matter to me what you wear. However, I know how to solve the problem."
I looked at him quizzically, but he changed the subject and he suggested what I might like to order.
At work the next day, he called me into his office and shut the door. "For you," he said, handing me an envelope tied with a red bow.
Surprised, I stared at him. "What have you done?" I opened the envelope and found a $500 gift certificate to a fancy department store.
"Oh, my. I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't accept this." I handed the envelope back to him.
"Why not?" Darnell asked. He ignored my outstretched hand.
"Because you're my boss and this is getting too complicated." I placed the envelope on his desk and went back to work.
The next morning, I found a plain envelope in my office mailbox. It was the gift card and a note. "You don't owe me anything," the note read. It was signed, "Darnell."
I struggled with my conscience over whether or not to accept his generosity, but the truth was I wanted new clothes. The gift card went in my purse. I decided it wouldn't hurt to go to the store and look.
As luck would have it, there was a fabulous sale and I found two beautiful new evening dresses that I liked, one with flowers and one in my favorite color, blue. I also bought a gorgeous pair of strappy evening shoes, black, figuring I could wear them with everything.
Looking back I realized using the gift card was my first mistake. Maybe Darnell didn't feel I owed him anything, but I felt I did. The problem was I wanted nice things too much.
When I wore my new blue dress, Darnell complained the earrings I'd worn didn't do the dress or me justice. When he picked me up in his luxury convertible the next Saturday night, he presented me with diamond earrings. Oh, how they sparkled!
He held out the open box to me. "Take them they're yours."
I reached for the box, then drew my hand back. It was bad enough he'd paid for the dresses. I shook my head. "I can't."
Darnell frowned. "You don't like them?"
"Oh, no, I love them!" I assured him. "I just can't accept such a lavish gift."
"Can't? Or won't?" His mouth twisted.
"Please, don't pressure me," I said.
Darnell struggled to control himself. "I wanted you to look nice," he finally murmured. He looked down at his lap like a little boy who had been scolded.
"What if you lend me the earrings when we go out?" I asked.
Darnell looked up at me and smiled.
"Besides, the earrings would be safer that way," I added, thinking of my little apartment, all I could afford, in a seedy part of town. "You have a safe at your house, don't you?"
"Sure. That's a wonderful idea. You're so smart. Take off your earrings."
I did what he asked.
"Now put these on."
As I lifted my hair to put on the earrings, he kissed my neck, which made me shiver. "Let me see," he commanded.
I turned toward him and he grinned.
"They look great. And so do you." Darnell traced my face and the ear closest to him with his fingers. I shivered again when his fingers dropped dangerously close to my breasts.
"Thank you," I whispered.
Darnell kissed me then, long and slow. He drew back and stared at me for a moment, then cleared his throat. "We'd better get going," he said.
I barely remember what show we saw that night. All I could feel was Darnell's knee pressed against mine, his arm around me. I felt as though he was protecting me from the world.
Dinner was at a swanky steak-and-seafood restaurant. Darnell ordered lobster tails for us both, explaining that a whole lobster would be too messy to eat in our evening clothes. When we stood up to leave, I realized I had drunk too much wine. Darnell's arm steadied me.
"I'd better take you home," he said.
I giggled and nodded. He got off the highway at a different exit than mine.
"Hey, this isn't the way to my apartment," I protested.
"I'm taking you to my home," Darnell said.
I giggled again. "How nice." I'd never been to Darnell's house before. As we drove, the streets got narrower and narrower and the houses hid behind massive shrubs. Darnell turned into a driveway, drove down a path, and stopped in front of a huge building. The building was big enough to be a hotel.
Darnell came around to my side of the car and helped me out.
"Wow!" was all I could say.
Darnell laughed. "Come in. I'll make coffee." He led me toward the front door.
"I don't know if I want coffee," I said. "I feel so deliciously well, deliciously something."
Darnell laughed again. "I think you're deliciously drunk." He nibbled my ear.
"You wouldn't take advantage of a girl, would you?"
Darnell smiled, slid the key in the lock and turned the bolt.
The huge foyer led to a winding staircase up to the second floor. Instead of going up, Darnell shepherded me to the right, into the den. He parked me on a couch near the fireplace. After he made a fire, he turned to me. "Coffee?"
"No, thanks. Do you live here alone?
"It's just me and the housekeeper." He settled down next to me. "And it's her night off."
"It's just so big," I said.
Darnell smiled ruefully. "I knew you'd be overwhelmed. That's why I waited to bring you here." He leaned over and kissed me, another lingering kiss.
I wasn't tipsy from the wine anymore. I was drunk on his charms. Still, I asked myself what I really knew about the man. Could I trust him? He hadn't said those three magic words yet, much less the four words that would indicate he was committed to me. 'I love you' and 'Will you marry me' were a lot different than, 'I want you.'
"Darnell, I don't know . . ." I began.
"But I know," Darnell said, planting little kisses down my neck.
"What do you know?" I asked, pushing him away from me. But not too far.
"I know that I love you," Darnell said. "And I know I want us to be together."
Halfway there, I thought. "Darnell, I love you, too. But I need a commitment before I take the next step."
Darnell smiled. "And what is the next step?"
I sighed. "Now you're playing with me."
He nuzzled my neck. "Not playing." He kissed me gently. "Teasing, I think is the word."
He laughed softly. "From the moment I met you, I knew you were the one for me. Does that satisfy you."
I groaned. I wanted desperately to give in to the feeling engulfing me. Suddenly Darnell was caressing my body. My breath came in ragged gasps.
"Mmmm, you smell so good," he murmured.
"Darnell," I whispered.
"I'll get the ring tomorrow," he whispered back. "But I want you now. Please say yes."
"Yes," I whispered before he carried me upstairs.
When I awoke the next more, I had to think for a moment to remember where I was. Darnell was gone, but I heard water running. I saw my underwear and my beautiful blue dress puddled on the carpet. I got out of bed, pulled on my clothes, and walked toward the bathroom door.
"Darnell," I called hesitantly.
"You're awake?" Darnell called from the bathroom. The water continued to run in the shower. "I forgot to set the alarm. Look, there's another bathroom down the hall. You'll find makeup and all that stuff in there. There's a closet as well. Find something that fits. We're going to be late to work, but that's a doctor's privilege."
"Okay," I agreed. I walked down the hall and found the other bathroom. It had a huge shower, marble counters, and a big cabinet with a sink on top. The cabinet drawers were full of unopened packages of mascara, blush, and lipstick. How strange! A bathroom full of women's makeup. It made me wonder how long he had been planning to bring me home. I wasn't naive enough to believe I was the first woman he'd slept with, but did he make a habit of sleeping with his assistants? And what about the promise of a ring?
After I took a quick shower, I opened the closet door. The walk-in was filled with women's clothes in all different sizes. One section consisted entirely of women's medical uniforms. I stood back, amazed.
"Find something you like?" Darnell asked.
I jumped. "You startled me."
"I'm sorry." Darnell was wearing his doctor's uniform. He brushed by me and pulled out an assistant's uniform, one just like mine. "How's this?" He handed it to me.
I checked the tag for size. It was perfect. "How did you know?"
"I have a good eye for that sort of thing," he confessed with a wink and a smile. "You'd better hurry."
When I got downstairs, Darnell handed me half a plain bagel. "We'll get coffee at the office," he said.
Driving to work, I wondered if anyone would notice we would drive up in the same car. "Do you want to drop me off a block away and I'll walk from there?" I asked.
"Why?" Darnell shook his head. "Keeping this kind of secret will be impossible. Marianne, everybody at the office knows I've been dating you. It won't come as a surprise that we're sleeping together."
I cringed. "Natalie says "
"Natalie talks too much." Darnell's face contorted in anger. Then, just as suddenly, he broke out in a grin. "Besides, I never dated her. I think she's jealous."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Maybe so."
"Look, don't worry what other people think." He lifted my hand up to his lips and kissed it. "You're mine now."
I settled back in the seat. I wanted to belong to a man, to give myself to him totally. Isn't that what love was all about? Darnell seemed like the right man for me.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Natalie was just getting out of her car.
"Hello, Natalie," Darnell said jovially. "I guess we're all a little late this morning."
Natalie shot me a dirty look.
"Go up to the office," Darnell told me.
"Okay." Before I got to the stairwell, I heard Darnell yelling at Natalie. I ran up the stairs, afraid to hear his words.
The office manager stopped me at the door. "What's the matter with you?" Beverly asked.
"It's all right. Dr. Forrester isn't in yet."
Darnell must have come in the back way, but Natalie came in the front door, looking shaken.
"What's with you?" Beverly asked.
"Better ask her," Natalie replied, tilting her head at me.
"I don't have anything to do with whatever happened."
"Oh, no? You just got me fired," Natalie said. "The doctor told me to get my things and leave."
Beverly looked surprised, then said, "I'm sorry, Natalie. He's the boss." She turned to me. "You need to go to your station."
Natalie was in the back office, slamming her personal belongings into a box. On her way out, she came by my desk. "Well, Cinderella, you think you're so special. You think he's Prince Charming, but he isn't."
"Oh, you're just jealous," I retorted.
"I wouldn't date him because I knew about Kitty."
"Kitty? Who's Kitty?" I wondered if Darnell had a child he hadn't told me about.
Natalie laughed. She leaned toward me. "Ask him," she hissed.
Darnell turned the corner. "Out! Now!" he yelled at Natalie. She disappeared down the hall. He looked around at the assistants. All of us were stunned. "We have patients waiting," he snapped.
Mornings were always busy in the office. Lots of women came through hoping surgery would straighten their nose, enlarge their breasts, flatten their stomach. Anything to make them perfect. Darnell's services were very popular.
After the morning rush, Darnell went out for lunch. He called me into his office and presented me with a little velvet box. "Open it."
Instead of the diamond I'd been expecting, the ring was an emerald.
"Let's see if I got the right size." He slid it on the ring finger of my right hand. It fit exactly. "What do you think? I thought it would be perfect for you."
I looked at him. "But, I thought " I stammered.
"What?" he asked innocently.
"Darnell, I thought you were going to buy me an engagement ring. Otherwise "
"Otherwise you wouldn't have slept with me?" He laughed. "Darling, you are most amazingly provincial."
"But " I faltered.
Darnell enveloped me in his arms and kissed me on the lips. "And I love you for it." He reached into his pocket for another box. "I also bought something else. I think this is the one you're looking for."
I took the box from his hand and opened it hesitantly. Inside there was a huge round diamond. Darnell took the ring out of the box and slipped it on the third finger of my left hand. It was a perfect fit as well.
"Will you marry me?" Darnell asked.
"Yes," I whispered.
"That's the word I wanted to hear." Darnell kissed me and held me tight. Finally, he released me. "We'd better stop this or we'll really have everybody talking."
I laughed and held out both hands to him. "Darnell, they're lovely."
"You'll need to start getting your nails done," he said.
Ashamed, I curled my nails under my hands so they wouldn't show.
He kissed me on the cheek. "I'll take you by your place to get your things. You'll stay with me now."
"What about my apartment? I signed a lease."
"Would you really prefer to live in an apartment when you could live with me?"
"No," I admitted.
"I'm sure you can find somebody to sublease it from you." He checked his watch. "Sorry, I have a patient coming in at one o'clock."
Before I knew it, Darnell and I were pulling up to his house in his fancy car. I'd just brought with me some of my better clothes everything else I owned had seemed too shabby to fit in Darnell's house. Walking in, I felt as though I were walking into a new life out of poverty and into luxury.
The first shock came when Darnell walked through the door. He'd just started up the stairs when I heard a female voice.
"Darnell, is that you?" she called.
Darnell looked surprised. "Oops, I forgot to tell her you were coming." He smiled at me. "Kitty? Where are you?"
"In the kitchen," the voice said.
"Come on," Darnell grabbed me and pulled me down the hall. "Might as well get it over with right now."
In the kitchen, a tall, good-looking woman with long black hair stood at the counter, chopping vegetables.
"Kitty, I want you to meet Marianne," Darnell said.
Kitty's green eyes widened when she saw me, but she recovered quickly. She placed the knife on the counter and held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you."
"My pleasure," I responded, taking her hand.
She squeezed my hand so hard I almost cried out in pain.
Kitty let go.
Darnell said, "Marianne is living here now. You will get along with her."
"As you wish." Kitty asked me, "Do you like chicken cordon bleu?"
I had no idea what chicken cordon bleu was, but I was determined to like whatever she cooked. "Of course. I hope it's not too much trouble."
"No trouble at all," Kitty said. "Dr. Forrester always has me cook extra for guests. Dinner will be served in half an hour." Her tone implied we'd better not be late.
Darnell turned to me. "Let's take your things upstairs."
As we mounted the stairs, I said, "So, Kitty's the housekeeper."
"She sounds like a drill sergeant."
Darnell laughed. "Her dad was in the Navy. She's a great cook. Don't let her bother you, though. Her bark is worse than her bite."
She certainly isn't a dog, I thought. I wondered if looking like a cover girl had been part of her job description. She was beautiful enough to be a fashion model. Or a high-priced hooker. "How long has she been with you?"
"Ever since I bought the house. I couldn't take care of it all by myself."
I wondered if Kitty had provided other services besides just the cleaning and the cooking.
At dinner, Darnell ignored Kitty as she presented the food. She, in turn, was respectful and addressed him only as "Dr. Forrester." The chicken with ham and cheese she served was delicious.
"How does Las Vegas this weekend sound?" Darnell asked me as we ate our dinner.
I smiled. "It sounds like fun. Do you like to gamble?"
"Not really," Darnell said. "But I'm going to take a gamble on you. I know a beautiful wedding chapel there."
"This weekend? So soon?" I was shocked.
"You do want to get married, don't you?"
"Yes, of course."
"We've made the decision. Why wait?"
"No reason, I guess." My head spun. "May I ask my sister to come with us? She's the only family I have since my parents died."
"Okay," Darnell said. "You'll have to sign a prenuptial agreement, of course. I'll have my lawyer draw one up. And there are several rules I'll ask you to follow."
"The first goes without saying. You will remain faithful to me. Two, you won't spend more than one hundred dollars a month without my permission. I prefer to give gifts and I enjoy seeing you wearing the things I pick out for you. Three, you know Friday is my day off. I spend that day as I wish. Sometimes I go fishing with my friends, sometimes I just stay home. You can do whatever shopping you want, but you can't be here until Fridays at five o'clock. I realize this sounds a little unusual, but I really need some time to myself."
I knew Darnell was never in the office on Fridays and we had a smaller staff then. He also had another surgeon cover for him in case of emergencies. I wondered if I would still be working after the wedding, but I didn't ask.
Kitty came in just then to serve dessert. A sly smile crossed her face when she looked at me. It was obvious she knew something I didn't. Everything was happening so fast. But I told myself Darnell and I would marry, no matter what. The sooner, the better.
Unfortunately, my sister, Francine, couldn't come to the wedding. My niece had a bad case of strep throat and Frances, as a single parent, didn't want to leave her. "And I haven't even met Darnell yet," she protested. "Are you sure you're doing the right thing?"
"He's Mr. Wonderful, Francine. He's rich, he's handsome, he's the man of my dreams. I couldn't ask for anything more."
"You're my only sister and I won't even see you become a bride," Francine lamented. "But you understand why I can't be there, don't you?"
"Of course," I told her. "I hope Lucy feels better soon."
"Good luck," Francine said. "Take lots of pictures."
"I will," I promised.
We left Thursday night after work, Darnell explaining that he would break his Friday alone time to make a long weekend for us. Darnell insisted on taking a limousine to the airport. The driver was a big, hulking guy with a surly air about him.
"Don't pay any attention to Carlton," Darnell advised, when the man scowled at me.
"Why do you put up with him?" I asked.
"He's a friend of Kitty's," Darnell said, as if that explained everything.
I liked the pilot of the private airplane much better. Wilson came back to the passenger area and smiled as he welcomed us aboard.
"We'll be underway in just a few minutes, ma'am," he said to me. "Make yourself at home."
I settled into a big leather seat next to Darnell. "Didn't you want to invite some friends as witnesses?" I asked him as the jet took off.
"No." Darnell pulled me close to him. "And, truthfully, I'm not sorry your sister can't come. I want you all to myself. It will be our honeymoon soon, after all. Care for some champagne?"
I giggled. "Sure!"
Las Vegas with Darnell was like a fairyland. We hit the big boutiques first, buying wedding clothes, shoes, and a wedding ring for me. Darnell said he didn't want a wedding ring for himself.
"That's not my style," he informed me abruptly.
Warning bells went off in my head, but I ignored them.
We met Darnell's lawyer at the wedding chapel. He had the papers for the prenuptial agreement.
"The next time you get married, let me know sooner. I had to rush to get these done."
Darnell frowned at him. "That's you job." Darnell turned to me. "The papers say I'll have to give you ten percent of my earnings during our marriage, since we live in a community property state."
I vaguely remembered from Francine's divorce that she was entitled to half of the income made during the marriage, but I signed the papers anyway. After all, I trusted Darnell. He said he loved me. Why would he try to cheat me?
When we filled out the paperwork for the marriage license, I was shocked when I saw Darnell write down the number three in the space provided for the number of previous marriages. When I mentioned it, he just smiled.
"In this case, the fourth one's the charm, right, sweetheart?"
I wondered what had happened with his other marriages, but it didn't seem the right time to ask. I'm sure if I had been married before, Darnell would have quizzed me about my previous marriages. Still, I was caught up in the moment and pushed my worries away.
The ceremony itself was nothing special. The minister intoned all the standard words with a bored air. I was very aware there were other couples waiting their turn. We barely had time to get congratulations from our rented witnesses and take a formal photograph before we were ushered out the door.
Well, no matter, I thought. We were legally wed and that's what I'd wanted. Darnell had reserved a honeymoon suite at one of the most expensive hotels. We went shopping in some lovely boutiques, had dinner in swank restaurants, and saw several live shows. The weekend passed much too quickly.
Once we got back home, we settled into a routine. Even Kitty sheathed her claws now that Darnell and I were married. My husband and I had an easy relationship. He loved to give me gifts and I loved receiving them. I didn't mind being out of the house on Fridays. Usually I worked at the office. Darnell had ordered Beverly to give me additional responsibilities, so I often spent the day dealing with billing paperwork instead of answering the phone.
Slowly, though, things began to change between us. Darnell began to seem distant and restless. My attempts to interest him in doing anything different fell on deaf ears. Even our sex life became boring. He liked me to wear long cotton nightgowns that covered my body.
One day, I saw an advertisement for sexy lingerie and ordered a catalog. I worried about taking some initiative, but finally, I decided to order a short red satin nightgown with a plunging neckline and a slit in the bottom. The night it arrived, I wore it in the bedroom. When Darnell came in, I strutted around, trying to act like a fashion model. I hoped I looked sexy.
"What is this?" he asked.
"I just thought you would like to see me in something different."
"Marianne, you're my wife, not some whore off the street."
Hurt, I said, "I know that, darling. But there's no rule we can't change things from time to time."
"No," Darnell agreed. "But I like the pale blue nightgown you wear. The one I bought you. I make love to my wife, the way you're supposed to make love, not when she's wearing some kinky get-up."
"It was just an idea. I'm sorry I brought it up," I apologized.
When we got into bed, Darnell turned away from me and fell asleep. The next night, I wore the blue nightgown and we made love. At least, he made love the same way he always had, the standard missionary position. I was his wife and I got the standard treatment. I wondered if his other wives had gotten tired of Darnell's lovemaking as well.
A few days later, I felt ill. The flu had been going around the office and although I'd gotten a flu shot, I felt feverish. After three o'clock I decided what I needed was bed rest at home. I knew it was Friday because Darnell wasn't in the office.
Darnell's car was in the garage when I got home. If I was quiet, I figured he wouldn't notice me. As I came up the stairs, I heard noises coming from the bedroom. I knew I shouldn't, but I couldn't help myself. I pushed open the bedroom door. Kitty lay thrusting on top of Darnell, wearing my red satin nightgown, obviously enjoying herself. They were so engrossed in their activity, they didn't see me.
I ran, jumped into my car, and drove to Francine's house, sobbing all the way.
"I can't believe it!" I cried to her.
"Marianne, you wouldn't be the first woman whose husband cheated on her," she tried to soothe me.
Francine knew that the hard way. Her ex had done the same thing, not with a housekeeper, but, even worse, with her best friend.
"I know that! I won't even claim I didn't think they might have something going on. But why would he let Kitty do things like that to him and not me?
"Maybe he's more restrained and respectful with you because you're his wife. You know, that 'good woman' versus 'bad woman' thing."
"That's really showing respect, sleeping with another woman!" I snapped.
"I didn't say it was right. Look, go lie down on the couch and I'll bring you some tea," she offered.
I spent the night at Francine's house. Darnell didn't call. I figured he didn't remember my sister's name, so he wouldn't be able to find her number.
By Monday, my fever was gone and I went back to work. Darnell called me into his office and told me he was disappointed in me.
"Disappointed in me?" I asked, incredulous. "You're the one sleeping around and you're disappointed in me? How long has this affair been going on?"
"It's none of your business," Darnell snapped.
"Darnell, it is my business. We promised to be faithful to each other," I reminded him.
"I never promised that."
"It was in the wedding vows. Or don't you remember?"
Darnell came out from behind the desk and shook his finger under my nose. "Look, I told you before we got married about my Fridays. If you don't like it, you can get out!"
"I guess this is goodbye, then. I'll find a lawyer. You'll hear from him."
"Goodbye and good riddance," Darnell said.
A few months later, I was working for another doctor. It took me awhile to find somebody who wasn't friends with Darnell, but eventually I found a pediatrician who didn't care I'd left a plastic surgeon under less than stellar circumstances. My lawyer, Mr. Henderson, discovered right away there were problems with the prenuptial agreement I'd signed. He told me the document wasn't worth the paper it was written on and we could take him to the cleaners for what he'd done to me.
"I don't want to take him to the cleaners, Mr. Henderson," I said. "I just want a divorce."
One Friday, Darnell showed up at my new workplace.
"Look, Darnell," I said, "I've finally developed a backbone and I'm not going to let you treat me like dirt."
Darnell realized everyone in the office was watching us. "Can't we talk someplace more private?"
"No. I'm busy. My lawyer is taking care of the divorce. Besides, he's told me not to talk to you."
"Marianne, honestly, I didn't come here to talk about lawyers." He looked at the floor. "I came to ask about a reconciliation."
"Did Kitty throw you over for someone else?" I snapped.
"This has nothing to do with her."
"You still have to talk to my lawyer."
"Even if I want a date?"
"Yes." Seriously, did he really think I was an easy pushover? "Drop dead," I muttered as he walked out the door. The phone rang and I picked it up to deal with an anxious mother.
Mr. Henderson called me that night at my apartment. He said Darnell had contacted him about seeing me again. He also said Darnell was paying alimony to all three of his ex-wives. I told him I didn't care.
"How many times do I have to say this? I just want out. When I think of him and Kitty together, I get so angry I wish he was dead."
"Whoa, stop," Mr. Henderson said. "I'm your lawyer and what you tell me is privileged, but don't say that to anybody else. What if something happened to him? You could be a suspect."
"You worry too much. I'm sure I'm not the only woman who would like to wring her husband's neck. Besides, nothing's going to happen to Darnell."
"I wouldn't count on it. I've seen too many divorces get way out of hand. Listen, we can continue with the divorce or we can put it on hold for now."
"Go ahead and file the papers," I said.
Darnell had other ideas, though. He left messages on my cell phone, sent me flowers, and waited for me in the parking lot of the office building. I told him I wanted him to leave me alone.
"But I fired Kitty!" he shouted.
"I don't care," I yelled back. I jumped in my car and raced home.
There was part of me, though that wondered if Darnell had really changed his ways. I had been so stupid to marry him so quickly. Why hadn't I waited until I'd known him better?
Truthfully, I had been greedy. It isn't easy to look at yourself and see the ugly side of your character. I wanted to have nice things. I wanted to be married to a doctor. But I'd also wanted to be loved and cherished by one man for my whole life. It was hard to walk away from that need.
Oh, be quiet, I told the part of me that wanted to give Darnell another chance. I made myself some tea and sat in front of the television, watching police procedurals for the rest of the evening.
The next day, a huge bouquet of red roses was waiting for me at the office. 'It's your birthday soon,' the card read. 'How about dinner at Le Bistro?'
"He remembered," I sighed. "My favorite flowers and my favorite restaurant." All day long I though about Darnell, our relationship and about the chance of reconciliation. If he'd really changed, didn't I owe him another chance? Maybe this time we could have a proper courtship.
Darnell was waiting for me outside the office. "Did you get the flowers I sent?" he asked.
"Yes. Thank you," I said.
"How about going out this Saturday night to celebrate your birthday?"
"Maybe," I said. There was no need to give in right away.
It was Friday before I would agree to go out with him. "But you can forget about me sleeping with you," I warned him.
"I won't make any moves until you're ready," Darnell promised.
Saturday night came and we ate at Le Bistro. The weather was perfect. We watched the sunset from a window table as we ate our meal.
"Marianne, I apologize for everything," Darnell said softly. "I'm so sorry for everything I've done to you."
"Let's just be happy in this moment," I suggested. "If I think too hard, I'll have to remember how hurt I am. So, I'm not going to think about that this evening."
Considering what came next, I should have been thinking long and hard. In fact, I should have skipped meeting him again altogether.
Darnell decided to take the scenic route to my apartment, which led along a twisty road. Darnell navigated the turns fast and wide. I asked him to slow down.
"I can't. I think someone is following us."
Suddenly, a car accelerated around us, side swiping Darnell's car. He pulled off the road in a dark area. On my side of the care, there was a steep drop. I pulled my eyes away from the edge to look at Darnell. "What's happening?"
Darnell never got a chance to answer. A man dressed in black wearing a ski mask jerked The driver's side door open and shot him twice, once in the head and once in the heart. Then he pointed the gun at me.
I pushed open the passenger side door and threw myself off the side of the hill. The rocky ground tore my clothes and my shoes came off as I tumbled down. The man swore and bullets hit the stones near me. One grazed my leg.
Some brush stopped my descent. I crawled behind a boulder for cover. Finally the shots stopped and I lay shaking until my heart quieted down. My whole body ached.
"I got him!" I heard the shooter yell.
"What about her?" a woman's voice asked.
"She got away."
The woman swore. "Dump the car," she ordered.
After a moment, I saw the car tumble down the cliff straight at me. I had no choice but to get up and run.
I ran as quickly as I could, my arms and legs being torn by the brush. Fortunately, there was no moon. The noise of the car crashing down covered the sound of my running. Once the car came to a stop, I crouched down, shivering. I heard two car doors slam and a car take off. I crawled into a shallow hole and covered myself with leaves. My leg burned with pain. Eventually, I must have fallen asleep.
In the morning, I continued limping down the canyon. It seemed to take forever to get to an area with houses. I finally collapsed on a sidewalk.
"Ma'am, can you tell us your name," a young emergency medical technician asked.
I blinked up at him. "Marianne," I said. "Marianne Forrester."
"Ms. Forrester, do you know how you got here?" he went on.
The world started swimming and I must have passed out. Mercifully, when I woke up, I was in a hospital room. My arms and legs were bandaged. I had bruises and scrapes all over my body.
Two detectives came into the room. One introduced himself as Detective Hudson. He was young and clean cut, wearing a nice looking blue suit. "Mrs. Forrester, I'm sorry, but we have to ask you some questions."
I tried to nod my head, but it hurt too much. "Okay," I croaked.
"Can you tell us what happened?"
I told them everything I could remember.
"Do you know where your husband is now?" Detective Hudson asked.
"He was still in the car when it went over the cliff," I replied.
Detective Hudson glanced at the other detective.
The other man introduced himself as Detective Oliver. He was a heavy set older man with a salt-and-pepper beard and mustache. "Was your husband alive?"
My throat swelled up. "I don't think so."
"Are you sure the shooter was a man?" Detective Oliver asked.
"Yes. I heard him talking to a woman."
"So, you jumped, then the man shot at you?" Detective Hudson wrote in a notebook.
Detective Hudson took down Darnell's name, his address, and the address of his office. "Do you know of anyone who might want to kill you or your husband, Mrs. Forrester?" he asked.
"No. No. I can't imagine who . . . ." My head hurt as I tried to think. "Oh, you know, we had a housekeeper. My husband fired her recently."
"Well, my husband and I were separated because he had " I couldn't finish the sentence.
"He was having an affair with her?" Detective Hudson's blue eyes pierced through me.
"Yes." There was no point in hiding it. I suppose that sort of interrogation was routine to the detectives, but I found it humiliating. Not only was my husband dead, but now everyone would know he had been unfaithful to me.
"Kitty. Kitty Charmaine. She might have been the woman I heard, but I'm not sure."
"Do you know where we can find her?" He was writing notes again.
Detective Oliver said, "All right, Mrs. Forrester. We'll be back. Don't leave town," he warned. Like I could go anywhere with my injured leg. Besides, did they really think I had anything to do with Darnell's death?
Although the bullet had only grazed my leg, I'd lost a lot of blood by not getting medical attention right away. The doctors insisted I stay in the hospital overnight.
The detectives came back that evening to let me know the car had been found with a body inside.
Detective Hudson said, "We assume it's your husband. I'm sorry."
I covered my face with my hands. Poor Darnell. He didn't deserve to die that way.
"So far your story checks out," Detective Oliver said. "We know the motive wasn't robbery because your husband's wallet was still in his pocket and your purse was still in the car. That leads us to believe the shooting was personal.
"Oh, no!" I dropped my hands in my lap.
Detective Oliver said, "Did you murder your husband and then made it look like someone tried to kill you?"
"No! Why would I do that?"
"Revenge comes to mind," Detective Oliver replied. "You knew he was going to divorce you."
"In the first place, I asked for the divorce. Besides that, my husband was talking about a reconciliation. And why would I hurt myself? That makes no sense." .
Detective Oliver smirked. "What about having him killed? Hiring someone?"
I threw up my hands in disgust. "I give up! I won't even dignify that with an answer."
"All right, then," he said. "We're done for now. We'll talk with your coworkers next. I'm sure we'll speak again when we have more information."
Detective Hudson waited until Detective Oliver left the room. "We have to consider all the possibilities," he said. "I know this must be terrible for you."
After Detective Hudson exited, I muttered, "Well, I know who's playing 'good cop.'" Detective Oliver was obviously trying to make me crack, the 'bad cop,' while Detective Hudson pretended to be on my side, hoping I'd confide in him.
I understood why the police might have thought that I'd killed Darnell. They didn't know me. But I knew I wasn't guilty. I also knew that Kitty could not have been the murderer. The shooter had definitely been a man. Someone had murdered Darnell and the police were looking at me instead of finding the real killer.
All of a sudden, my frustration and the enormity of the recent events in my life hit me. Darnell was dead. No matter what would have happened in our relationship, our marriage was gone with him. I buried my head in the pillow and cried.
I knew what I needed most was rest. Unfortunately, a nurse was always in and out of the room, taking my temperature and blood pressure. When the doctor finally agreed I could leave, I called Francine to come pick me up.
"So they still haven't found Kitty?" Francine asked.
"Marianne, if she had anything to do with Darnell's death, the best thing she could do for herself is to leave the country."
Several days later, the two detectives came to see me. We sat in Francine's living room. Detective Oliver started the questioning. "Mrs. Forrester, several of your coworkers have told us you were quite angry with your husband. One said she heard you wish he was dead."
Me and my big mouth, I thought. I should have listened to my lawyer. "I was angry with Darnell," I said. "I can't deny that."
"You do have a motive to kill him, then," Detective Oliver said.
"But the bottom line is I didn't kill Darnell. And I didn't have him killed," I protested.
"You've got to see how it looks," Detective Hudson put in. "You were angry enough to threaten him and now he's dead"
"Have you talked to Kitty Charmaine?" I asked pointedly.
"We haven't been able to find her," Detective Oliver admitted. "But it still seems to me you have more of a motive. And you were there when the attack took place, but you can't identify the attacker. Or the accomplice."
"It happened so fast," I explained.
"It isn't unusual for someone to make up an assailant in order to divert suspicion," Detective Oliver remarked.
"I'm not making up anything!" I shouted.
"All we have is your word. You can see how difficult it is for us," Detective Oliver said.
"It isn't my job to make your job easier," I sputtered.
"Mrs. Forrester," Detective Hudson began, "We've talked to you husband's lawyer. He said Dr. Forrester didn't fire the housekeeper. In fact, he believes you were the most likely person to want your husband dead."
I blinked back tears. "All I know is what Darnell told me. He swore to me he'd fired Kitty. I wouldn't have considered getting back with him if I knew she was living there."
Detective Hudson said, "We also understand you signed a pre-nup that cheated you out of half the earnings Dr. Forrester made while you were married."
"We were only married a few months."
Detective Oliver smirked. "But not only did he cheat on you but he was cheating you financially. That gives you a motive in his murder. Why should we believe your story?"
The tears finally came. "Because it's the truth."
Detective Oliver glanced at Detective Hudson. "I think that's all for today," he said. I could still see the look of suspicion still on his face. He probably thought my crying was a ploy as well.
The detectives showed up bright and early the next morning.
"We got the report on insurance coverage," Detective Hudson said. "Did you know your husband took out a large life insurance policy on you? He bought it last month."
My mouth dropped open. "What? We weren't even together last month." I thought for a moment. "Oh, that's right. Last month was when he started asking if we could get back together again."
"You both were insured for six million dollars," Detective Oliver said. "Obviously, this complicates the case."
"I had no idea. Why would he take out a life insurance policy for me when we were separated?"
"Why, indeed?" Detective Oliver gave me a moment to reach the same conclusion he obviously already had.
"I can't believe Darnell would hire someone to kill me."
Detective Oliver continued, "Okay. Here's my theory. I think he did. Maybe this reconciliation your husband wanted was to lure you into a set-up."
"But I'm not dead. Darnell is."
Detective Hudson chimed in: "Right. I think it was a double cross. Your husband wanted to kill you and he hired someone as the hit man. Here's where the twist comes in. The hit man wanted your husband dead, so he shot the doctor first. Unfortunately for the hit man, you got away."
"Oh." My head was spinning with the thought of Darnell hiring someone to kill me. How could he have hated me so much?
Detective Hudson continued. "Of course, then there's Detective Oliver's theory. He still thinks you shot your husband, pushed the car down the ravine, then shot yourself to make it look like you were also a victim."
"Really? So where's the gun?"
Detective Oliver said, "You threw it down the ravine. We still haven't found it yet, but we will."
Detective Oliver said, "Lucky for you, Detective Hudson likes your story. I'd rather be questioning you down at the station."
"There's no need for that. I'm cooperating. I want to find out who killed Darnell, too. . . . Why can't you find Kitty?"
"We can't find anybody who knows her. The neighbors don't. Apparently, she doesn't have any family or friends. At least we haven't found anyone who claims to be her friend."
"Oh, I remember Darnell telling me about one of her friends. Darnell sometimes used him as a chauffeur. He was a rather unpleasant fellow."
"What was his name?" Detective Hudson asked.
"Carlton, I think. Darnell said he hired the man occasionally, but only because he was a friend of Kitty's."
"No last name?" Detective Hudson asked.
"Darnell never mentioned his last name to me."
Detective Oliver looked skeptical.
"I could identify him, if you have a photo," I offered.
Detective Oliver said, "Let's go down to the station." He had a note of triumph in his voice. He was getting me where he wanted me all along.
At the station, Detective Oliver placed a tall stack of books in front of me. "Mug shots," he said.
"Don't you have the photographs on a computer?" I asked. "I thought you could search the database for names and show me all the pictures of men with the first name of Carlton."
"Database on computers with our budget? Lady, you've been watching too much TV," Detective Oliver responded.
I struggled through the pages of photographs. There were several men who looked like Carlton, but no one who matched exactly. I kept looking until my head ached.
Detective Hudson came by with two cups of coffee. He handed me one.
"Thanks," I said, taking the cup.
"I didn't know if you liked cream or sugar," he commented.
"Black is fine," I replied. I took a sip. It tasted like mud.
"How are you doing?"
"So far, nothing," I confessed.
"I have more books," he offered.
I shrugged my shoulders. "If you think that will help."
Detective Hudson smiled. "Let me see if I can find a sketch artist available. If you can describe Carlton, we can send it to the other police stations in town."
"Why didn't you start with a sketch artist?" I asked.
"Maybe I needed to see if you were sincere," Detective Hudson said.
"Always testing," I mused.
"Sorry. It's my job."
After meeting with the sketch artist, I decided to call Darnell's lawyer and ask permission to get the clothes I had left behind in my hasty departure from the house. He agreed to meet me there.
"Have you heard from Kitty?" I asked while I was gathering my things.
"No," the lawyer said. "She seems to have disappeared. It's too bad."
"You liked her?"
"She was very faithful to Darnell. Not faithful in the way you would imagine it, but faithful nonetheless."
"And Darnell didn't fire her?"
"I'm sorry, no. He didn't fire her. They had a strange relationship. In a way, I think they loved each other."
"If that's love, I don't want any part of it!" I snapped.
The lawyer smiled at me. "You are very young," he said. "And naive. I don't know what hold she had over him, but she was here in this house through all of his marriages." He glanced at his watch. "I'm due in court soon. Are you almost done?"
"Yes," I told him.
I gathered my bags and we walked out the door. He locked it and I watched him zip off in his shiny new car. I got in my old clunker and headed down the street. Halfway down the hill, I saw Kitty driving up. She was yelling at a man in the car.
There was no time to call the police. I turned my car around and followed Kitty. She turned into Darnell's driveway and stopped. I parked my car behind some bushes and got out quietly.
"We wouldn't be in this mess if you hadn't been so stupid, Carlton," Kitty berated the man as they got out of the car.
"I had to do it," Carlton insisted.
"You were supposed to kill her, not him, you idiot!"
"I was trying to get both of them."
"Well, you missed her. And now I have to leave the country. You could have at least told me what you were going to do. I could have brought my passport with me."
"I don't see why we have to leave now," he whined.
"What do you mean by that? Do you think I'm going anywhere with you, you moron? You've ruined my life."
"Oh, sweetheart, don't say that. I did it for us," Carlton said.
"There is no us. Not anymore. Darnell paid you to kill her. You couldn't even do a simple job right."
I felt sick to my stomach.
"I wanted Darnell dead first," Carlton said angrily. "I didn't want his hands touching you again."
"Maybe I liked his hands touching me. Did you ever think of that?"
"But you said you loved me." It sounded like he was about to cry.
"Maybe I loved him, too. Did that ever occur to you?"
"No! You love me!"
"I wanted to marry Darnell," Kitty yelled.
"No!" Carlton screamed. Before I knew what was happening, he'd pulled out a gun and shot Kitty in the chest. Then he ran to the driver's side of the car, jumped in, and sped away.
I ran to Kitty and lifted her head off the concrete pavement.
A neighbor came out to see what was happening.
"Call for help," I yelled.
Kitty coughed and blood trickled out of her mouth. "What a guy, that Carlton. I didn't think he had it in him." She sounded almost proud of what he'd done.
"Don't talk," I told her.
"Darnell loved me, you know," Kitty whispered. "I don't know why he kept marrying other women. He was so stupid . . . so dumb." She got an evil glint in her eyes. "He never thought of killing you until you said you wished he were dead."
Hot tears ran down my cheeks, falling on Kitty's face.
An ambulance pulled up and took Kitty to the hospital.
The police put out an all-points bulletin on Carlton. They found him barricaded in a house nearby. Carlton committed suicide before the police could capture him. He'd left a written confession. In it, he explained how he and Kitty had been lovers, how he'd been willing to do anything for her. When Darnell had asked Kitty to find someone to kill me, he'd agreed in order to kill both of us. Carlton thought by doing that, he could force Kitty to be his alone. But Carlton had underestimated Kitty's attachment to Darnell. When Carlton realized she would never be his alone, he shot her.
Kitty recovered in jail. When she was well enough, she stood trial for conspiracy to commit murder. I testified against her. It was agony to endure those cold eyes of hers trained on me while I was in the witness box.
I heard her accusations in my head all the time. I knew I wasn't responsible for Darnell's death. But if I hadn't wished him dead, maybe he wouldn't have hired someone to kill me.
When I mentioned that to Francine, she said, "That's nonsense. Darnell got what he deserved. He should have married Kitty instead of stringing her along like that. They would have been happy together."
"I don't know if either of them could have been happy with anybody," I said, remembering Darnell's restlessness. "I don't really understand why I married him."
"You were hoping he would love you and cherish you your whole life," Francine reminded me gently. "Most everybody wants that. You just need to be more careful with the next man."
I hoped there would be a next man. One thing was certain, though. If I were lucky enough to find someone to love again, I would insist on a very long engagement.
I was in the courtroom to hear Kitty convicted of all the charges. Detective Hudson came by to congratulate me. Then he asked if I might be free to have dinner sometime.
"Another test, Detective?" I asked.
"No more tests," he said. It was the first time I'd seen him smile. He had very deep dimples.
"How about coffee instead?" I asked. "My treat."
Detective Hudson was very tempting. I knew I'd better take a new relationship slow, take my time, and not be impulsive. Life with Darnell had been a bad experience. I owed it to myself to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them again.
"Okay," Detective Hudson said, and smiled again.
You gotta love a guy with dimples.
Copyright October 26, 2021