Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - Unconditional by Michael Gilvary
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A husband and wife take parenting to a whole new level in this suspense tale from screenwriter Michael Gilvary.

Unconditional

Ted peeled away from the rush hour traffic on Ventura and turned up Tropical, starting the windy climb up the hill. He could've saved time by turning a few blocks sooner, but he preferred the eastern approach. It gave him a better view of the house.

The renovations had been done for nearly six months, but Ted hadn't tired of admiring the work. It was a nice house, perched high on the hill with a great view. A valley view, sure, but still something to be proud of.

Rachel was in the driveway, lifting groceries out of the back of the Land Rover. Ted pulled up the steep drive, gave the parking brake a solid pull and stepped out into the June heat. Rachel gave him a smile.

"You're early."

"You, too."

Ted kissed her on the lips and inhaled her perfume. He didn't understand the guys who cheated on their wives. He loved Rachel. Pushing forty, she was still smoking hot and busted her ass in Pilates to keep it that way.

He grabbed the lion's share of the canvas grocery bags and followed Rachel into the house to find Josh owning the sofa, his gangly, fast-growing legs slung over the armrest. The television was on, but Josh was listening to music on his iPod while playing a game on his little handheld thing—a PSP or a Gameboy or whatever it was called these days.

Rachel carried her bags past him. "Hey, Josh. How's it going?"

Josh didn't respond. Didn't even seem to notice their presence. Typical Josh. Just as Ted was finally putting all the pieces of his life in order—the house, the new business—Josh was the one thing he couldn't bend to his will. He was always a quiet child, and Ted was thankful for that. But, at thirteen, his personality, which once seemed merely introverted, was now revealed to be simply intractable. Silence in a toddler is relaxing. But silence in a young adult feels somehow judgmental.

Rachel made for the kitchen, but paused at the sight of an empty pudding container on the coffee table.

"Josh, what is this? What's the rule about sweets before dinner?"

Josh shrugged. At least he acknowledged her presence.

"You won't get any dinner at all. Isn't that what I said?"

Josh shrugged again.

"It is. And I really mean it, from now on."

Ted somehow found an extra hand and relieved Rachel of her grocery bags. He had no dog in this fight, having given up on these petty battles long ago. He'd much rather wrestle six bags of overpriced food into the kitchen and let Rachel deal with Josh's shit.

He lumbered into the spacious kitchen and around the counter. But just as he heaved the bags up onto the countertop, his shoe squeaked across the floor and Ted landed flat on his back with a breath-stealing thud, groceries spilling across the marble tiles around his head.

"Dammit!"

Ted sat up to see what kind of liquid food product Josh had spilled and not cleaned up this time. But it wasn't Dr. Pepper on the marble tiles. It was blood. A glistening pool of deep, red blood, surrounding the motionless, prostrate body of a Hispanic woman.

"Rosa! Oh, Jesus!"

Ted scrambled to his hands and knees to check Rosa's vitals, only to realize she was missing half of her face. Ted recoiled in unmasked terror.

"Oh, fuck!"

"What is it?" Rachel came running to see what had set off Ted this time. But she stiffened at the sight of Rosa's body and unleashed a formless scream. Then she staggered sideways and braced herself against the Sub Zero.

"Oh my God. Is she..."

Rachel couldn't finish the question, and Ted couldn't speak at all. So he simply nodded. And before Rachel could even wonder how this horrible thing had happened, the universe answered her unasked question by drawing her eye to the soapstone countertop, where a .38 revolver lay in silent menace.

She forced her trembling lips to form a single word: "Ted."

He followed her gaze and pulled himself to his feet so he could see what she was looking at. "Oh, God no." Whatever blood was still coursing through his cheeks, it too drained away.

Rachel pointed a shaky finger at the gun. "That's...Is that...?"

Ted's gun. Yes, it was Ted's gun.

He started toward the living room, tracking blood across the floor. He paused to kick off his bloody shoe and then continued stumbling toward Josh, still on the sofa, still glued to his videogame.

"Josh?"

But Josh kept playing. So Ted grabbed the iPod cord and yanked the ear buds out of Josh's ears. "Josh! What happened to Rosa?"

Josh's eyes still didn't leave his game, but a shadow of emotion passed over his face. The little boy inside of him struggling not to cry. Ted willed himself to speak in a softer, less accusatory tone.

"Josh, please...What happened here?"

"She got all up in my face."

"She—what?"

"She told me to do my homework. I said I was gonna...She tried to take my DS away. Look!" Josh turned his game—a Nintendo DS—toward Ted, to show him a crack stretching across the glass. "She fucked up the screen!"

Rachel appeared beside Ted. "Josh...What happened? What did you do?"

But Josh just went back to his game, chewing his lips and hammering the buttons with his trembling hands. Ted reached out and smothered Josh's game unit with both hands, shoving the damned thing down into Josh's lap and forcing it closed.

"Josh! How did you get my gun out of the safe?"

Josh looked up from his interrupted game and right into his father's eyes, maybe for the first time in months.

"You wrote the combination inside the medicine cabinet...Duh."

Ted never hit Josh, not even once, but God how he wanted to in this unbearable instant. But, before his brain could issue the instruction to his clenched fist, Rachel darted for the nearest bathroom, a hand raised to her retching mouth.

Ted looked back at Josh, and realized his fist was cocked and ready. But he couldn't let it fly. All he could unleash were some words that he couldn't believe even as they left his mouth.

"Josh...Go to your room."

He never felt more helpless in all his life.


When Rachel had nothing left to throw up, she flushed the toilet and sank down against the side of the tub. Ted was standing in the doorway. How long had he stood there, watching her vomit, never thinking to come beside her and put a caring hand on her back?

"I don't believe this," she finally spoke, her throat stinging.

"It was an accident."

"He said that?"

"No, but, come on. He—he got the gun out, and he—he probably tried to scare her with it...That's all...He couldn't have meant it."

She nodded. Of course he was right. Her little Josh, her only child, given all he ever wanted, loved by parents who remained married even while his every last friend, it seemed, was watching his own parents get divorced. Her little Josh could not have meant to do...that.

"What do we do now?" she asked Ted.

Ted blinked at her stupidly and asked, "What do we...do?"

Rachel looked back at him and barked, "About the dead Mexican woman on our kitchen floor!"

Ted nodded in that endless, noncommittal way he always did when he wanted to forestall a fight. He entered the room, still nodding, and he crouched beside Rachel and took her hand.

"We're going to get Josh a lawyer. A good lawyer. A top lawyer. Whatever it costs."

"A lawyer?" Rachel asked.

"Yeah," Ted responded.

Rachel pulled her hand away from his.

"Ted, your gun—your fucking gun—is not registered. Right?"

"...No."

"Remind me why that is?"

"Well, it was my Dad's—"

"I don't give a shit. The point is, it's illegal. It's an illegal gun. Your fucking illegal gun. Involved in a murrr—"

Murder. A hard word to say when it was your own son who pulled the trigger.

Ted offered a substitution: "Manslaughter."

"Whatever," Rachel spat. "They'll put you in jail."

"We'll get a lawyer," he repeated. And when she glared at him, he tried to stand his ground. "It was an accident!"

"You'll go to jail. And he might, too. Jesus, Ted. What if they try him as an adult?"

"We'll get a top lawyer."

Rachel pulled herself to her feet and walked Ted backwards into the hallway, driving him with an index finger on his sternum.

"At best, Ted—at best—they take him away from us. From me, really, because you'll be in prison."

Ted backed into the wall and could go no further, but Rachel seemed to just keep on coming at him.

"His life is ruined. Our lives are all ruined. Do you understand that?"

"Maybe not...Maybe...We need to talk to a lawyer...We need to—"

"Ted," she interrupted, "we can fix this."

Without waiting for his reaction, she called out to the hallway, "Josh! Come here, please!"

"Rachel," Ted whispered, "what are you saying?"

"We have to fix this."

Josh's bedroom door opened up and Josh appeared there, still working his videogame. Rachel approached him.

"Josh, honey...Did anyone see Rosa?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did anybody see her here? The mailman? The neighbors? Your friends?"

Josh shook his head.

Ted grabbed Rachel's shoulder, still operating under the delusion that he was in control of this situation.

"Rachel—"

Rachel shrugged him off and continued talking to the barely responsive Josh.

"Did Rosa call anyone while she was here?"

Josh shrugged, eyes still firmly fixed on his game.

"You don't know if she called anyone?"

"I don't think so. Why?"

"Okay, honey. Go back to your room."

Josh withdrew into his room and closed the door. Ted stared at Rachel, who in turn stared at Josh's closed door.

"Rachel, what are you doing?"

"We can make this go away."

"You're crazy."

Rachel turned toward him, slow and deliberate.

"You left a loaded gun where he could get it. They are not taking my child from me because of your fuck up. We are going to make this go away. We...are going to make this go away."

She marched into the living room, Ted following on her heels.

"Rachel, you're talking about—about disposing of a body. Of—of getting rid of all traces of—of—" He jerked his head, as if this was some nightmare and he could shake himself awake. "You've seen CSI! They have ultraviolet lights and whatnot!"

Rachel reeled around to face Ted, stopping him short.

"Do it, Ted! Fix it! Just fix it!"

Ted backed up a step, a wounded animal. Over the course of their marriage, Rachel had gently lulled Ted into a compliant state. She had never resorted to barking an order at him like that. It had never been necessary. But, desperate times and all that.

The ringing phone jolted Ted out of his stupor.

They found the handset on the kitchen counter, both of them pretending not to notice the crime scene on the floor as they rushed to pick up the phone. Ted got there first. He checked the caller I.D. screen.

"Oh, Christ-all-fucking-mighty. It's her family."

The phone kept ringing in his hand, but he stood frozen, staring at it. So Rachel grabbed it from him and answered, "Hello? Hi, Oscar, yes...I was about to ask you the same thing."

She looked at the dead body on her beautiful new floor.

"Well, she never showed up for work."

Ted waved his hands at Rachel in mute protest. Don't do this, he silently begged her. Don't commit us to this course of action. But Rachel simply turned away from him and plowed forward.

"Yes, well, when you find her, tell her she'd better call us and explain herself if she expects to continue working here? Comprende? ...Okay, bye."

She hung up the phone and pressed it into Ted's belly. He took it from her, ashen and defeated. Their course was set, and Rachel was at the helm.

"I'll deal with Josh." She pointed to the bloody lump of meat that used to be Rosa. "You deal with that."

She looked at Ted. He was clutching the phone against his stomach and gazing slack jawed at Rosa's body. He was in need of coddling, so she softened.

"We're going to fix this, Ted. We're going to make it go away...And we're never going to look back."

Rachel pushed past him and walked out of the room, leaving Ted alone in the abattoir that was once their kitchen.


Ted worked in a daze, letting the finer details of his task distract him from the thoughts spinning wildly out of control behind his glazed eyes.

Pretend you're cleaning up road kill—a messy job, but ultimately pretty simple. Get that old tarp out of the garage. Grab some work gloves—the filthy ones you use when you have to snake the sewer cleanout.

Ted spread out the tarp alongside Rosa's body. Then, with trembling hands, he made his first meager attempt to roll her onto the tarp. But the feel of her limp weight in his hands sent him shrinking back.

He gathered his nerve and stepped in again for another try. He pulled her by the arm, but she just slid on the tiles, pushing the tarp away and leaving a smear of blood. What Ted really needed to do was get a better grip on her torso, but her trunk was covered in blood.

He had an idea. He lifted her legs by the ankles, crossing one over the other in an attempt to flip her over. Success. The corpse flopped onto the tarp, but the act of raising her legs caused her skirt to slide up over her waist, revealing her white cotton underwear stretched across her buttocks.

Ted dutifully averted his eyes as he reached down to fix Rosa's skirt. But, because he was looking away, he missed the bunched up fabric and his fingers instead brushed against her ass. Ted yanked his hand back and stepped away from the body, just about ready to cry.

Somehow, he managed to bundle Rosa up in the tarp, drag her out through the garage and bear-hug her up into the open rear hatch of the awaiting Land Rover. Tossing his work gloves onto the body, he closed the hatch and breathed deep for the first time in what seemed like an hour.

"What are you going to do with her?"

Ted spun to find Rachel standing in the open garage door. She shook her head, changing her mind.

"No, don't tell me."

Ted suddenly found himself unable to look her in the eye. Was it his own shame, or was it disgust at her stone-hearted attitude about all of this? In this tangled moment, it was impossible to unravel his feelings. He took out his keys and walked around to the driver-side door.

"This could take a while."

"Wait, you're going right now? What about the mess in the kitchen? You have to clean that up!"

Ted got behind the wheel and sighed, "Fuck you. You clean it up."

That quieted her down. Rachel just stood there, staring at him as he closed the door and started the engine. Finally, she snapped out of it and tapped the window.

"I can't do it! I'll get sick again."

Ted glanced her way, but still couldn't make eye contact. He didn't want to be mean or heartless, but he was not in control of himself anymore. His muscles moved on their own, putting the shifter in gear, nudging the gas pedal. He drove away from Rachel, just left her standing in the driveway, somehow pale and livid at the same time.


Back in the kitchen, Rachel stood in the doorway and looked at the smeared pool of coagulating blood on her white marble tiles, her fear and disgust slowly giving way to anger and determination. Maybe Ted couldn't stomach cleaning up this mess, but she was not so weak. She decided that Ted would have fucked it up somehow, anyway, and that it was a job better left to someone more detail-oriented. Someone made of firmer stuff.

She found her rubber cleaning gloves. She found the Pine-Sol and sponges and an old scrub brush. She got on her hands and knees and corralled that gluey blood with paper towels, sopping it up and filling the trash can with bloody wads. She sponged away the splattered droplets on the cabinets. She scoured the tile and the grouted spaces between. And when she'd gotten every last visible trace of Rosa's gore, it all went into the trash can—the sponges, the brush, the bloody rags, even her gloves. Then, without pause, Rachel peeled off her t-shirt and threw that into the can, followed by her Capri pants, the knees of which had grown pink with blood diluted in Pine-Sol.

She stood there in her bra and panties, surveying her work—her beautiful marble floor cleaner now than it had been the day it was installed.

Then she set off to take the hottest shower of her life.


The Land Rover sat idling at the curb on a desolate stretch of Riverside Drive. Inside, Ted clutched the wheel and stared into the middle distance. The cargo area was now empty. Rosa was gone, dumped on the side of some broken-up maintenance road in Elysian Park, though Ted was hard-pressed to recall any of the details. Had he checked to make sure no one saw his car? Was the spot visible from the freeway? He couldn't be sure of anything at this point. He wasn't even sure he cared anymore.

He looked down at his hands. His criminal hands. There was a speck of blood on the rolled up cuff of his sweat-stained shirt. Ted stared at that speck, and realized that at some point in the last few minutes, he had started to sob.


Showered and dressed, Rachel now stood at Josh's closed bedroom door, staring at the maelstrom of Dragon Ball Z stickers and other lurid crap that was plastered all over it. Behind that door was Rachel's final task—and the toughest one yet. Ted could bitch and moan about having to dispose of a body, but Rachel knew he didn't have the stones to handle her job. Behind that door was the weakest link in her plan—a child who, for the rest of his days, would have to keep a secret.

She rapped her knuckles on the door and turned the knob.

Josh was reclined on his bed, still clicking away at the ever-present game in his hands.

"Josh, we need to talk."

"I know."

She sat on the edge of his bed, and she ran a loving hand through his hair. She wanted to get that gesture out of the way. Her son was a killer, and earlier, puking her guts out, she had wondered if she'd ever be able to place a loving hand on him again. But later on, scrubbing up the carnage on the floor, her perspective changed. They were all in this together, she had decided. Her son was a killer, but he was still her son, and she was still his mother. So she tousled his hair, and was surprised to feel love in that moment instead of revulsion.

"You made a very big mistake today," she told him. "You know that, right?"

He shrugged.

"You're in a lot of trouble, aren't you?"

He nodded. Rachel put a hand on his leg.

"But your father and I," she continued, "we love you very much. So, we're taking care of it. Okay?"

Josh nodded.

"Josh, I want you to look at me."

His eyes met hers for a second, and then it was right back to the game.

Rachel pressed on, "You know what a secret is, right?" She waited for his perfunctory nod. "Well, this is a big secret, an important secret. Nobody can know about this. Not your friends. Not your teachers. Not even grandma. Do you understand? It doesn't leave this house. Ever."

Josh nodded again, but it still lacked sincerity. His eyes and attention remained fixed on that fucking videogame.

"Are you listening to me, Josh? Put the game down."

"I'm almost done with this level."

"I don't care, Josh! Put it down!"

"I gotta rescue the other members of my team!"

Rachel looked at her hand on Josh's knee and was suddenly aware of what a forced gesture it was. She didn't want to be touching this spoiled little shit who couldn't even be bothered to put his game down for five seconds to show a hint of appreciation for the sacrifice his parents were making in order to keep the boy out of prison.

But she didn't pull her hand away. Her plan was falling apart before her very eyes, but Rachel was not a quitter.

She watched him playing his game for a moment, and then she saw a new angle into this thicket.

"You're right, Josh. It's important not to turn your back on your team members. But you know, what? Your dad and I...we are your team. Don't you see that?"

Josh didn't respond for a moment, but then a wonderful thing happened. He paused his game. He lowered the Nintendo DS and he looked up at his mother. She continued.

"We're a team—the three of us. We can only trust one another. Your father and I, we've got your back. Okay? But you can't blow it for us, or the whole team goes down...We keep this secret forever. Do you understand? We're going out on a limb for you. Do you have our backs?"

Josh thought about it for a long beat, and then he nodded, thoughtful and sincere.


Ted pulled into the driveway and parked the Land Rover. He stepped back inside the house, looking five years older than when he left.

The kitchen floor was spotless, but the garbage can was full of bloody paper towels. That would have to be dealt with. Can't just drop that in the bin and wait for trash day.

And, of course, there was the gun on the counter. The gun that he just had to keep because it reminded him of his late father. Now he never wanted to see it again. He needed to find some way to make that thing disappear forever.

"How did it go?"

Rachel was staring at him from the living room doorway.

"Fine, I guess."

"Are there any traces in your car?"

"I don't think so. I used the tarp."

"You didn't keep the tarp." Was that a question or a statement?

"No. I stuffed it down a storm grate. But I got blood on my sleeve."

"You probably have trace evidence all over you. Get undressed. Throw your clothes in there," she ordered, pointing to the overflowing garbage bag. "Then take that bag and throw it in a dumpster in Long Beach or someplace. It's got to be done tonight."

Ted nodded. Rachel tilted her head toward the silent weapon.

"And, for God's sake, get rid of that fucking gun. Throw it in the ocean. Make sure nobody ever finds it."

"I know. Okay? I know." He still couldn't look her in the eye. "Did you talk to Josh?"

"He's on board. He understands. I told him—"

Her words were cut short by the doorbell. Ted finally looked right at Rachel, both of them paper white.


At the threshold stood a friendly looking gentleman in his fifties, wearing an awful, beige blazer. A cop if ever there was one.

"Evening, ma'am. Mrs. Dinger? Rachel Dinger?"

Rachel studied him from behind the half-opened door with carefully measured suspicion.

"Yes."

The man produced a badge.

"Lieutenant Waters, LAPD."

Rachel fought to keep her cool, but she could sense Ted behind her, watching from the kitchen doorway. She could practically hear him craning his neck to get a better look at Waters.

Waters continued, "You folks employ a Rosa Hernandez?"

Rachel blinked at Waters for a moment, drawing on her very real fear to feign sudden concern for a friend. "Is Rosa in trouble?"

"Well, I don't know," came the response. "Her husband's reported her missing."

Rachel had done theater in college. She was never very serious about it, but it was something she enjoyed.

"Oh, my God. I'm such a bitch."

"Ma'am?"

Rachel realized she was still holding the door in a defensive, half-closed position, so she swung it wide open.

"Come in, please."

Waters stepped inside and let his eyes sweep the spacious living room.

Rachel explained herself.

"Oscar called earlier, looking for Rosa. I thought it was some kind of...Rosa never showed up for work today, and I sort of assumed..." She waved off the thought, as if she didn't want to badmouth anyone.

"Well, I'm not sure this case warrants any man-hours just yet, but Mrs. Hernandez's sister is a secretary in the deputy chief's office, so here I am," Waters explained. "Mr. Hernandez says he dropped Rosa off at the bus station this afternoon. You're saying she never arrived?"

"That's correct. She's supposed to be here by two-thirty, before Josh gets home from school."

"Were you here at two-thirty?"

"No. My husband and I both got home about five-thirty."

Waters looked at Ted.

"Is this your husband?"

Ted made a real effort to straighten his spine.

"Uh, yeah. Ted Dinger." Realizing how awkward he must look, standing in the kitchen doorway, he stepped forward and joined Rachel and Waters. Rachel fixed him with a cold, unreadable stare before turning back to Waters.

"Lieutenant, do you think something's happened to Rosa?"

"It's a little soon to start worrying," Waters responded, "but we do like to take these things seriously. How long has Rosa worked for you?"

"Three years. Maybe, four," Rachel told him.

Ted added, "She's like a member of the family, sort of."

Rachel struggled not to throw Ted another irritated look. Sort of? Was he an idiot?

"Josh is your son?" Waters asked.

"Yes," Rachel responded.

"Is he here? Mind if I ask him a question or two?"

"Of course." Rachel stepped toward the hallway. "Josh! Honey, come out here a minute!"

While awaiting a response, Rachel forced a smile for both Waters and Ted. But then she spotted the speck of blood on Ted's sleeve and all at once the sheer lunacy of this endeavor overwhelmed her. What the fuck were they thinking?

Ted read the panic in her eyes and followed her gaze to his sleeve. He folded his arms to conceal the bloodstain.

Then Josh appeared in the hallway, Nintendo DS in hand. Rachel's smile returned, like a reflex.

"Josh, this is Lieutenant Waters, with the—the police. He needs to ask you a few questions about Rosa. She's, um...She might be missing."

Josh stared wide-eyed at Waters, no response at all to this alarming news.

"Hi there, Josh," Waters smiled. "Did Rosa ever show up today?"

Josh shook his head, "Nuh-uh."

"What time did you get home from school?"

Josh thought about it and shrugged. "Two-forty-five, I guess."

"Did Rosa call or leave a message?"

"Nuh-uh."

"Has she ever done this sort of thing before? Just not show up for work?"

Josh shook his head.

"So, were you worried or concerned?"

Josh shrugged, "Why should I be?"

Waters looked back at Ted.

"Member of the family, huh?"

Ted grinned, "Sort of."

Rachel and Ted exchanged another look, both of them convinced that this was going downhill. Just then, Waters' cell phone rang somewhere inside his hideous blazer.

"My apologies," he said, as he dug out the phone and answered. "This is Waters...I'm sorry, what? ...Listen, I'm in the hills, I've got a crappy signal...Hello?" He frowned at the phone and closed it up. He looked back at Rachel and Ted.

"Folks, I hate to impose on you like this. Can I borrow your phone?"

Rachel nodded, perhaps a bit too vigorously, "Of course."

"It's in the kitchen," Josh blurted out. Ted and Rachel stiffened.

Waters started toward the kitchen door. "This way?"

"I'll get it for you," said Ted, hurrying after Waters, trying to overtake him without looking too suspicious.

Rachel waved Josh back into his room, desperate to stanch the hemorrhaging of dubious responses from the boy.

Once in the kitchen, Ted reached over the gun on the counter and grabbed the phone. He spun around to find Waters right behind him. Ted stood directly between Waters and the murder weapon. He nailed his feet to that spot and handed Waters the phone.

"Appreciate it," the older man nodded as he took the phone and dialed. Rachel entered behind him and froze in her tracks.

Waters waited for an answer on the line.

"Sorry about that, I lost you. What were you saying?" Then he stepped around the counter to grab a paper towel from over the sink. Ted scurried after Waters to once again put himself between the cop and the gun.

"I see. Any ideas?" Waters continued, fully focused on his conversation. He blew his nose in the paper towel, then dropped the wadded up towel into the garbage bag, brimming with bloody rags.

Rachel crossed the room as fast as she could while still maintaining her poise, like walking through syrup. When she finally reached the garbage can at long last, she folded the bag over and slid the can back into its cabinet. Waters didn't even give her a second look. Just kept on listening to the phone.

"Alright, then. Thanks." He hung up and handed the phone back to Ted. "Folks, I got some bad news for you...Couple walking their dog ran across Rosa's body in Elysian Park."

Rachel's knees went wobbly.

"No..."

"I'm afraid so. Mr. Hernandez just made a positive ID."

Rachel muffled a scream and collapsed into Ted's arms. He held her tight. He'd grown to hate her in these last few hours, but right now, there was nowhere he'd rather be than here in her arms, feeling her warmth pressed against him.

Waters stepped away to give them their space.

"Apparently she never got on the bus," he explained. "She was shot once with a thirty-eight. Body was transported and dumped in the woods. Purse is missing."

Rachel's heart tightened like a fist. Rosa's purse! She let go of Ted and turned slowly toward the corner of the counter where Rosa always kept her things. And there it was—the purse. Barely visible behind a still-packed grocery bag, just three feet away from Waters.

Rachel turned her eyes toward Waters to find him staring right at her. He followed her gaze toward the grocery bag.

Before he could look any closer, Rachel said, "Lieutenant?" He turned back toward her. "Are you—" she half-swallowed her words, "are you going to find whoever did this?"

Waters pushed up his lips in a weary smile and let out a sigh.

"I'd like to say we will. We'll do the forensics, try to retrace her footsteps, search for links to other cases. But unless someone comes forward with a solid lead, a random crime like this..."

He doesn't have to finish the sentence. His upturned hands said it all. A random crime like this will likely never be solved.

Rachel and Ted started to breathe again. Rachel became aware of her relief and concentrated on making it appear as grief. She felt Ted's hand slip into hers and she looked up into his eyes. They were going to make it after all.

Waters was talking again.

"I'll let you folks get back to your—"

A savage crash split the air and cut him off mid-sentence, slamming him back into the wall, his chest erupting in a volcano of blood.

Rachel screamed. Ted sucked in a lungful of air. They both turned around to find Josh standing behind them, the revolver shaking in his small hand.

Waters slid to the floor, leaving a great, glistening smear of blood on the wall.

Josh set the gun back down on the soapstone. "Mom? Dad? It's okay," he told them. "I got your back."

About the Author

Michael Gilvary wrote the upcoming indie, Greta, starring Hilary Duff and Ellen Burstyn. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son, and has never dumped a body in Elysian Park. So far as you know.