The Spanish Rose

I switched off the car radio, cursed the little Jesus doll swinging from the rear vision mirror and took a final drag on one of those sickly sweet Turkish cigarettes my wife used to smoke. Christ I swear I contemplated stubbing the smoldering fag out in my eyeball—but didn’t. I was mad because somebody saw me driving away, or at least they’d caught a glimpse of my car. Maybe they got a good look at me too; I really didn’t know. How the hell had anybody managed to see me at all? I’m no master criminal, by profession I’m a desk clerk, but still I thought I’d made a clean getaway. I clenched my fist so hard the knuckles cracked. Didn’t release the grip until a dull ache shot through my wrist.

The rain belted down on the windscreen and right over my head on the car roof. Heavier with every passing second like God was spitting on me. I’d worry about him later, for at that moment nothing mattered more than putting some distance between me and the authorities. If I stuck to the backroads I’d be okay. I flicked the smoke, fired the motor, cautiously nosed the car out of the cul-de-sac and into the street. Headed towards the hills. Visibility continued to diminish as the rains that had drenched the province for days hammered down, but I knew the area fairly well and found my way through the maze of water-logged thoroughfares without drawing attention to my vehicle.

Once out of suburbia and on the country lanes I felt the stress start to ooze away and reflected on the events that morning. The fellow who my wife confessed to getting down and dirty with copped three bullets from my .45. I’d slipped in through his backyard and caught him at the breakfast table. A fellow diner of his had her back to me. Probably another student. Had no desire to kill anyone besides him but couldn’t risk her turning around and seeing me. I clocked her on the back of the head.

He didn’t move. No expression but pure fear poured out of his China blue eyes. Moments after he hit the floor, two witnesses charged into the kitchen and by then I was committed and unloaded on both of them. Carried the unconscious girl out into the laneway and placed her in the trunk of my car. Looking back I’d hazard a guess and say when I opened fire, I made more noise than I thought. Silencers ain’t silent—that’s what they say after all.

If I could have taken the highway my flight from justice would have been a whole lot easier but I simply couldn’t risk it. It took about an hour before I reached the gateway to a rollicking cluster of emerald hills surrounding our town. In the distance and looming ever larger came the unmistakable sight of a roadblock. An abundance of Emergency Services men in high visibility vests waved massive glowsticks and maneuvered me until I parked behind the police patrol car. I complied. Didn’t know what else to do.

One of the fluorescent men gestured for me to wait in my vehicle. Trying to work out what was going on through my hectic windscreen wipers made me want to pull out my teeth. A cop stepped out of his car. Was he scrutinizing me and my vehicle? Surely, they could not have identified me, not already. This had to be a routine stop. They could have been checking to see I was okay, what with the bad weather and all. Country cops do that. With a girl in the trunk of my car I could only think about escape.

Too claustrophobic. Just bloody well sitting there was crushing me. I opened the car door and stepped out. The torrential downpour blasted down on me. A roar in the skies. Bits of rubbish and debris danced around in the air. My heart beat through my chest. Pulsated in my forehead. Had to get around that cop and the fluorescent gang. Wherever, whenever, had to make a move. Any move.

I leapt back into the driver’s seat, turned the ignition and tramped my foot down on the accelerator. A pudgy officer—not the one who’d been checking me out—appeared from nowhere. Started waving his arms like a hysteric. Tried to miss him, instinctively spinning the steering wheel but I knocked him down anyway. Sideswiped a patrol car. This jarred my upper body forwards. My temple bounced off the steering wheel; a searing pain shot through my neck and back but I regained control of the vehicle and gunned it down a side street.

The next five minutes were a blur. Lines of warm blood streamed down my forehead. Gas, break, gas, break, turn left, turn right. It seemed to take forever but I made it onto a dirt track that shot like a vein through to the heart of the hills. Pulled over under the shadowy canopy of a massive oak tree. Impossible to spot my car from there.

Safe at last.

I killed the engine. Checked myself out in the rear view mirror. My crimsoned face wore a glazed facade. A sheen of sweat. I slumped back and pressed the palm of one hand on to my bloody forehead. The vehicle needed dumping. The manhunt would now be in full swing and I couldn’t outrun those guys. After I got rid of the car, I’d go on foot, find a cave to squat in for a few hours and finish my cigarettes, then choose a nice corner on a remote hillside and put the .45 to my head. That had always been the plan.

Remanded to prison, high-profile court case, face to face with my wife in the dock, a national disgrace, a laughing stock to some. No. That wasn’t in my cards. I’d taken control of events that morning, and nobody was going to write the final scene but me.

*

Their first kiss. It happened in a dark corner at the back of the university library. My wife’s a 31-year-old biology researcher. The lad she fell for is 19, maybe 20. The night before I killed him she made me a lovely dinner. Plied me with red wine then told me she had something to get off her chest. She’d fallen in love. Wanted to be with him. Wanted to leave the college and start a future with the boy. So important for him to keep his studies going. Engineering. Jet engines, that was his thing.

I told her I respected her for being honest and lied, pretending I’d known something was going on. Truth be told, I didn’t suspect a damn thing. She’d been spending a lot of time at work, but that was nothing unusual. I’d only ever seen them together once, at Open Day. He’d just made a speech. Something to do with students giving back to the community. After the red wine dinner my wife went to bed and I gave Open Day some proper thought. Should have known something was up. He came off stage and she couldn’t keep her hands off him. Giggled profusely.

I stared deeply into that stemless tumbler of pinot noir my wife had poured for me. Russelliana Primavera. I examined the label. An unusual wine in that a blossoming Spanish rose sat at the bottom of the bottle. Picked up her phone and put his name into the search engine. Came up with an address. I’ve no idea why, but I didn’t light up one of my Marlboros, I chose instead to smoke one of my wife’s Turkish cigarettes. And so I got to thinking.

The boy had grinned at me. I took another sip of pinot and thought about that grin. It was when my wife was chatting with him. She wore a syrupy smile and dopey expression on her mug—so often a facial expression worn by beguiled females—and he’d caught my eye and grinned. Sipping on the wine and smoking her cigarette—that was the moment when I made the decision to end his life. Not hers. No. Absolutely not. I wanted her to live and to live forever, drenched in the knowledge of what she’d done and the lives she’d ruined, especially mine.

*

I stubbed out the Turkish cigarette and made a decision to deal with the one problem I’d been hoping to avoid. The girl in the trunk. What to do with her? Since making my exit from the boy’s home, I’d really had no time to come up with any strategy. I’d shoved her in the trunk to buy some time before the cops got onto me. Killing her had not been on the cards, not at all, and I’ve certainly never been the kind of man to even consider sexual abuse of any kind.

But then it occurred to me. What if I did send her back to the town completely ruined? What if my wife had to suffer a living reminder of what she’d done, every time she bumped into anyone who knew her beloved boy? How would she feel knowing the girl was kicking and screaming in an institution for the traumatized? Anybody can feel bad by a tombstone in a cemetery, but we only experience genuine pain and sorrow through life—not death. That would be the gift I’d take great pleasure in leaving behind for my wife.

The rain had finally begun to ease off. To put the girl through a proper ordeal I needed an empty holiday home or vacant country cottage. Somewhere with tools or kitchen utensils and a place for me to bathe when I’d completed the deed. No, there was no time for that. I’d take her right there at the base of the oak tree. Right in the mud and filth.

I stepped out of the vehicle and drew in a full breath of that rich country air. Cannot deny, I could sense a part of me rising to the challenge. An almost euphoric floating feeling, a giddiness in my head and guts. It swept across me as my gaze turned upwards to the crystal glimmer of sunlight bursting through the vermillion flush of leaves and branches overhead.

I flung open the trunk and my world ended.

It wasn’t just that the girl had died. In my haste to drag her out of the boy’s home and into my car, I’d not really taken a good look at her. She was only about 14. I’d supposed she was around the same age as the boy—one of his fellow students—but no, her lifeless China blue eyes and cherubic complexion belonged to a girl of not more than 14 years. Certainly his little sister. It looked like when I’d sideswiped the vehicle she’d been thrown to one side and taken a fatal knock, for her forehead had a severe gash in it. As did mine.

Pools of dried blood had collected underneath her, framing that not unpretty face. With the streaks of blood in her sprawled out shock of hair, her head looked like a rose blossoming in wine.

The Spanish rose.

That was why my wife chose that wine to have with dinner when she made her confession. We drank a bottle on our honeymoon. Our honeymoon in Tenerife. My knees went weak. What had I done? Julia was my wife. I slammed the trunk shut, got back into my vehicle, fired the engine, spun the car around and headed to town to turn myself in for massacring two kids and their parents.

And that’s how I ended up here on death row.

 

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