“Jesus, Dev, you startled me,” my wife Becca said. “Why are you still here? And why in hell are you––”
She never got to finish the last question. I was too quick in bringing the claw hammer down on her head.
My wife slid out of the chair and flopped onto the floor like she had been deboned. I raised the hammer again and tenderized her temple, which made her right eye bulge slightly.
Maybe Becca’s unfinished question had been prompted by seeing the hammer raised over her head, poised to strike. Or maybe it had sprung from the fact that, except for a pair of latex gloves, I was completely naked.
I guess I’ll never know. Darn.
The reason I was completely naked a little after eleven in the morning would have been easy to answer. I had done an episode of Forensic Files on television one time in which a man committed a murder while wearing a yellow rain slicker, which he then washed down, only to be tripped up when drops of blood were discovered on the band of his wristwatch.
I decided to remove any possibility of blood spatter. Not only had I removed my watch, I removed everything else, top to bottom. If there was any blood on me, a quick shower would remove it. I had prepared for this death scene meticulously. There are perks to working through the Method even if other, lesser actors consider you a self-indulgent pain in the ass. What do they know? Let them murder someone without the preparation and see how far they get. Still, it’s the actual performance that matters, and my portrayal of a devoted husband who had no idea that his beautiful, if increasingly distant wife was screwing around on him had been one of my best.
The curtain had just come down on that performance.
Like a hammer.
I checked Becca’s pulse to make sure she was dead and not simply unconscious. It turned out she was playing her part admirably, particularly for someone not trained in the Method.
I could hear the television blaring in the other room. I had turned the volume up so as to cover any noise that Becca might have made while I killed her. The voice of a local newscaster droned on about an overnight structure fire somewhere, like that was the biggest problem in Los Angeles. Not homelessness, not traffic, not the lack of affordable housing. I left the television on, even though I had already tuned out the audio. I had no interest in the news. How could I? Officially, I was not even here.
Officially, I was out watching a movie, because the SAG Awards were coming up and I wanted to see everything so I could vote responsibly. I even had proof that I was out watching a movie, thanks to a very enterprising independent theatre owner who offered post-dated ticket stubs as alibis, no questions asked, for a price. I’d heard about the guy and his services from another actor some time back. Usually this sideline was offered to facilitate trysts, but no questions asked meant no questions asked, so when I went down to the theatre two days ago, the guy had no idea he was selling me a ticket to kill.
The blood from Becca’s head wounds was now seeping onto the floor. Some of it was spreading to her clothing, which she would have hated. Becca was very particular about her wardrobe. It’s too bad she wasn’t naked, too.
Then again, had she not been so naked in that sex video I was not supposed to find, the one that co-starred our next-door neighbor Steve Barrier, she might still be alive.
I carried the hammer into the kitchen and ran hot water and bleach over it. That would not completely eradicate all traces of blood, hair and tissue, but that did not matter. The goal was to make it look like someone had tried to completely eradicate them.
Steve Barrier, to be precise, since it was his hammer.
Going into the bathroom, I checked myself out in the mirror and saw no visible blood spatter, but I took a shower anyway. Afterwards I flushed the gloves down the toilet, giving a couple extra flushes, just to make sure.
Having dressed again, I used a paper towel to pick up the hammer and then went over to Steve’s house. I knew he’d be gone because it was Friday morning. He went grocery shopping every Friday morning, without variance. For as long as I’ve known him he’s taught night classes, which left his days free––not unlike me, unless I’m on-set––and each day had its own routine. One could set their clock by Steve’s actions.
Suddenly I wondered what day of the week had been earmarked for Steve and Becca’s fuckaramas. Saturday was my guess, since I was part of an acting workshop that met in Hollywood on Saturday afternoons, and she was frequently in a better mood when I got home.
I let myself into Steve’s house with the key he had left me some months back, before he broke his routine to go out of town for a funeral, so I could feed, water and walk Trevor, his golden retriever.
I liked Trevor.
I used to like Steve.
Judging from Trevor’s tail action, he was happy to see me again. After giving the dog a few head-scritches, I made my way to Steve’s garage and replaced the hammer on the hook from which I had taken it earlier.
It was now eleven-thirty-six (yes, I had put my non-bloody watch back on after my clothes). Steve would be returning from the store before long.
Just before I left his house, I jammed on the thrift store bucket hat I’d bought specifically for this morning and put on a pair of sunglasses. Keeping my head down and my hands in my pockets, I adopted a hunched stance and a long-striding lope for the three-block hiked to the place I had parked my car earlier this morning. A lot of people don’t realize how important affecting a specific walk is in creating an overall performance. Oh, no, officer, it wasn’t Devin Maguire that I saw, I imagined another neighbor telling the police. I know the way Dev walks, and there’s no way that was him.
Once I had arrived back at my car, I got in and drove around for awhile, exploring some unfamiliar areas of Los Angeles, before stopping for lunch at an Italian restaurant on York Boulevard that I had never before patronized. After eating, I walked around the neighborhood looking for a trash can in which to ditch the hat and sunglasses.
At the proper time, meaning when the movie I was supposed to be watching let out, I headed home to “discover” the murder of my wife.
It was about two-thirty when I got there, and I made a point of running up and down the stairs of my house several times before putting in the 911 call, so I would sound breathless and panicked from the shock.
By the time the first wave of police arrived my eyes were red from crying. It was genuine, too. I don’t employ cheap actor tricks like palming onions. But I knew that cops were trained to automatically suspect the spouse in any murder case, so the performance had to be flawless.
I was sitting in the kitchen, staring at my feet, when the homicide detectives arrived.
After examining Becca’s body, they came to me and asked for my story. I underplayed the scene, making sure to dwell on the fact that I couldn’t understand what had happened to Becca.
One of the detectives, a large, florid-faced man named Michelson, said: “Well, we won’t know precisely until the ME examines at her, but blunt force trauma to the head looks like the cause. Based on the size and shape of the wounds, I’d say it was something like a hammer.”
“My god…” I moaned.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Maguire. You don’t happen to keep tools, do you?”
“What? Oh, no, not very many,” I said. “If I need something I borrow it from my neighbor. He owns every tool there is.”
Michelson’s partner, a young Hispanic guy named Acosta, sprung the question I had been expecting: “Would you tell us where you were this morning?”
I told him I had gone to see the early showing of X-Men: End of Days at the Figueroa Theatre. “Of all the mornings to go see a damned movie.”
“Was it any good?”
“The movie. Any good?”
I had read enough online reviews of the film to fake it for him, but I introduced a shade of annoyance for realism.
“Why are you asking that now?” I demanded. “Yes, it was good, better than the last Marvel epic, though it had one too many endings. The reason I went is so I can make an informed vote for the SAG Awards.”
“Oh, you’re an actor?”
“And you think a superhero movie is going to be up for a SAG Award?” Acosta asked.
I’ll admit it; that question took me by surprise. “For the stunt category,” I ad libbed. “What does it matter? My wife’s been killed!”
“Right, sorry, sir,” Acosta mumbled.
“Can you think of anyone who might have wanted your wife dead?” Michelson asked.
I lowered my head and squeezed out one last tear. “No, I really…oh, god, oh, no. No, Steve wouldn’t do this.”
They took the bait.
“Who’s Steve?” Michelson asked.
“Our neighbor,” I said. “Things have been a little tense lately, because he works nights and his dog barks while he’s gone, and that’s been annoying Becca. But…no, forget I said anything.”
“If you know something, sir, you need to tell us,” Michelson said.
“Well, she was talking about contacting the city to try and have the dog removed, but that’s hard to do. She confronted Steve about it last week, but he brushed her off.”
All of this was bullshit, of course, but Becca was no longer around to contradict me.
“So you think you’re neighbor might have killed your wife because of a dog?” Acosta asked.
“I…no, I can’t believe that. Never mind. It’s too absurd.”
“Would this neighbor with the dog be the same one with the tools?” Michelson said.
“Oh my god,” I whispered, after a suitably shocked pause.
“Tell us about this neighbor of yours, Mr. Maguire.”
I answered their questions in a convincingly shaky voice. When they were done, Michelson asked if I would mind going to the station to make an official statement. I agreed, saying I didn’t want to be in the house with Becca’s body, which could not be moved until the medical examiner had investigated.
I also knew that the police were going to talk to Steve. He would deny everything, of course, but that wouldn’t matter much once they found the hammer.
Down at the stationhouse I dictated my statement to a young policewoman, and after reading back, signed it. Then I asked if I could stay there a little longer until I got my head together. The policewoman brought me coffee and let me sit in an empty room, where I figured I was being watched.
That was fine; I could continue the performance.
After an additional half-hour of dry-sobbing, shaking, and wiping away imaginary tears, though, I was getting a little antsy.
I stepped out of the room to ask if I could leave, and ran into Detective Michelson.
“Oh, Mr. Maguire, I’m glad you’re still here,” he said. “I have some information for you.”
“Yes. Let’s go back in here where we can talk privately.”
He ushered me back to the interrogation room and asked me to sit down, then closed the door.
“Now then,” the detective began, “I’ve spoken with your neighbor, Mr. Barrier, and we found what we think might be the murder weapon in his garage. My guess was on-the-money. It was a hammer.”
“Oh, my god,” I groaned. “I still can’t believe Steve would do anything like this.”
“Were you aware that he and your wife were having an affair?”
I let the shocked expression bloom over my face.
“My god,” I uttered, “I…no, I didn’t. But if they were…why on earth would he kill Becca?”
“Well, sir, about that. It turns out he didn’t kill your wife. He couldn’t have.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means we’ve cleared him as a suspect”
“How…I mean, why?”
“Because in your statement you said that you left your house about ten-thirty this morning, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, that would be about right,” I said. “The movie started at eleven-something. Wait, I can tell you exactly.” I pulled the stub from my pocket. “Eleven-ten,” I said.
“And you returned home, about…”
“Two-thirty, somewhere around there.”
“So the movie was, what, two-and-a-half hours long?”
Before answering, I strove to analyze the question. Was he trying to trip me up on the length of the movie? I knew it was over two hours, but how much over I couldn’t say. “It was long, yes,” I replied. “And there were previews before it started. Why are you concerned about its length, detective?”
“I just want to make certain I have the timeline right,” he replied. “Your wife was alive when you left at ten-thirty, and dead when you returned at two-thirty, right?”
“Yes, and then I called 911.”
“That verifies Mr. Barrier’s alibi. You see, your neighbor was on jury duty today, serving from eight in the morning until he was dismissed at three in the afternoon. Within that time he never left the courthouse. He even ate lunch at the courthouse café with some of the other jurors. His presence there has been documented by the jury clerk.”
“Oh…well, that’s a relief,” I muttered. “I didn’t want to think that Steve did it. But what about the hammer you found in his garage?”
“I think the hammer was planted there by someone with access to the house. When we spoke with Mr. Barrier, he told us you had a key.”
“I took care of his dog once when he was gone, but I’m not even sure where that key is.”
Michelson gave me a smirk of disbelief.
“What, exactly, are you trying to say?” I demanded, starting to perspire. “That I killed my wife? That is outrageous! You have proof that Steve couldn’t have done it, and I’m glad. But I have proof that I couldn’t have done it, too!” I slammed the theatre ticket stub down on the table. “Look at that. Look at the date. Look at the time. What more proof do you need?”
“This is nothing but a piece of paper, Mr. Maguire.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that pieces of paper can be falsified. I’ll admit I don’t know exactly how it was done, but I know it was done.”
“Oh, really? What makes you so certain this ticket stub has been falsified?”
Detective Michelson planted both fists on the table and loomed over me, causing me to shrink back, and said: “Because the Figueroa Theater burned to the ground last night.”
“A fire broke out around midnight. A suspicious one, too. But that’s the fire department’s problem, not mine. All that concerns me is that by the time the fire units arrived got the blaze contained, there was nothing left of the building but smoldering rubble. That was some nine hours before you say you were there watching a movie. So whatever it says on that little scrap of paper really doesn’t matter much.”
“Burnt…down,” I groaned.
“I’m kind of surprised you didn’t know that,” Michelson said. “The story was all over the news this morning.”
The news report about the building fire that I had ignored while I was murdering Becca.
“Oh, my god,” I moaned, putting my face in my hands.
“I think you’re alibi just went up in smoke, Mr. Maguire,” the detective said, “so what say we start all over again?”
I sat there, silent, shaking, afraid to say anything. The worst part was that for the first time in my life, I didn’t know how to play the scene.
# # #
Michael Mallory is a Los Angeles-based writer, journalist, and occasional actor. His most recent mystery novel is Eats to Die For! from Wildside Press.