October 30, 2014

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

They found her body.

Well, what was left of it.

The individuals who moved Bridget—and I say individuals, plural, because there is no way one person could have pulled this trick off—wrapped her in an old area rug, hauled her up the basement stairs, into the trunk of a car, then drove her 4.81 miles to Geneva on the Lake, the town's one lone luxury hotel where everyone knows I am a regular. However many notches there are on my bedpost, that's how many times I've reserved Room 14. So let's just say a lot.

Back to Bridget. The individuals who dumped her body in the hotel's gardens, which their brochure likens to the Gardens of Versailles (whoever wrote that clearly has not been to Versailles), weren't done yet. Oh no, that was just Act I. Act II was to set her on fire.

That old mangy rug they wrapped her in was like a delicious manmade fiber ice cream cone that the flames could just not stop licking. It took almost an hour to extinguish the fire, but not before it reaped significant damage on the hotel's property. Silver lining: at least it wasn't wedding season.

The individuals who did this didn't care about being discreet. They wanted Bridget's charred remains to be found. And in a place where I was a loyal customer, no less. It was obvious that whoever was behind this wanted to fan the air of suspicion around me. Sound paranoid? Well, I was.

It couldn't have been a coincidence that Bridget's body surfaced immediately following her sister's arrival in town. But Abby had shocked me the other night in my living room. The tears in her eyes, the confusion in her voice when I accused her of ruining me, her hug, which felt excruciatingly sad and desperate—it all seemed so genuine. Could it have been possible she'd never been out to get me? Could Bridget have been the ringleader all along? Made up the stuff about carrying out her sister's orders?

I didn't even have Campbell's number, so when Biz woke me up the morning the news reported that Bridget's body had been identified, so hysterical I dumped my glass of water out the window and filled it with a shot of vodka for her, I just showed up at his house.

Campbell opened the door before I could even knock. He was wearing work out clothes, his face an angry red, two half moon sweat stains ringing his underarms. He picked up the hem of his t-shirt and wiped his face, revealing a torso that might as well have been photoshopped. I tried not to stare.

"Isn't this your bedtime?" Campbell asked.

It was a little after seven in the morning. The question wasn't totally out of line. "I know you did it," I said as I brushed past him, making my way into the kitchen, where I could smell expensive coffee beans brewing. "What I just can't figure out is, why?"

I heard Campbell's sigh in the foyer, then the door closing shut behind him. His frame filled up the kitchen's entryway, and he reached up, clutching the archway's molding with one hand, his left foot in the other. He grimaced as he stretched out his quad.

"Remember that thing I said about never lying to you?" Campbell switched legs. "I wasn't being totally honest. But I reasoned that was okay, since you weren't either."

I couldn't look at him without thinking about being pinned to the bed by him, so I busied myself poking around in his cabinets looking for a coffee mug. I suddenly smelled him behind me—endorphin laced sweat mingled with the cool crispness of the outside, of fall's disintegrating leaves—and then his big arm blocked my peripheral view as he reached into a cupboard above my head. He retrieved a mug and poured me a steaming cup of coffee. I took a scalding sip and winced. "So be honest. Hit me. I can take it."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Campbell smirked. "You'd rather some guy knock you around than kiss you."

I groaned. "I'm not here to be psycho-analyzed. I'm here to find out what the fuck is going on. And I swear to God, if you don't tell me, I''ll"—

"You'll what?" Campbell folded his arms across his chest, his expression tickled pink. "Go to the cops? And tell them that you think I'm the one who moved the body of the girl you shoved down the stairs to her death? There was a second there you could have grabbed her and pulled her back, you know. But you made the decision not to."

I stopped breathing, and my voice was barely a whisper. "How do you know that?"

"Because I was there, Elizabeth."

I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head, feeling like I was in a bad nightmare, like I could start myself out of it if I tried hard enough. "You couldn't have been. Your car. I would have seen your car."

"I don't park my car in the driveway when I go to that house to sell coke to spoiled little Smithson brats."

I felt like I was in a horror movie. The moment the music swells and the pretty and spunky female lead realizes she's invited the murderer into her house and handed him a chef's knife to chop carrots for dinner. "I don't believe you," I said, even though I did. His beautiful house, the handsome wares that filled it, his high-maintenance silver Saab—none of which a detective's salary could buy. His clothes though, some small part of my brain reasoned, his clothes were sometimes bad. Those nights I ran into him at the townie bar, the time he interviewed me down at the station, he was in stiff, shitty Walmart jeans, polyester blend button downs. Other times, he looked like the subject of the off-duty page in the Wall Street Journal: all fine knit sweaters and perfectly tailored designer denim. Then I realized this dual style was purposeful—a ploy to keep his fellow officers from sniffing out his side hustle. If he dressed too well, all the local yokels would start to wonder. The level of premeditation that had to go into his deceit made me sway, like I was going to faint.

Campbell put his hands on my shoulders to steady me. "You have some choice words for my kind," I said, through gritted teeth. "But really, you're no better than the rest of us. You're turning a profit on those spoiled little Smithson brats."

"And why shouldn't I?" Campbell demanded, dropping his hands from my shoulders and starting to pace, like a tiger stalking his next meal. "This is my home!" he declared, impassioned. "You all roll up here in your shiny gas guzzlers, treating the rest of us like the gum on the bottom of your shoe. You ruin my life and the least I can get out of it is to make an extra buck."

I stared at him like I'd never seen him before in my life. "At least I'm honest with myself," I said. "Just admit you're a greedy, entitled piece of shit like the rest of us."

"You don't"—Campbell exhaled, angry. "You really don't understand."

"I don't understand!" I said. "I don't understand any of this! Why would you move her?"

Campbell stopped pacing. "That I didn't do. You have to believe me."

I laughed. "Sure. I'll take the local drug dealer's word. Why not?" I realized something then. "That's why you have to protect me. That's why you can't turn me in. Because if you do you have to admit why you were there in the first place."

Campbell stared at me, simmering with resentment. "That's part of it," he said.

I put my coffee mug on the counter and folded my arms across my chest, giving him a smug little smile. "What's the other part?"

Campbell swept his thumb over his lower lip, like he had cut his finger and was tasting blood. He smiled a little too. "You know the other part."

He stepped closer, hooking his thumb in the belt loop of my jeans, jerking me toward him. I went for his pants, but he just grabbed my hands and held them in place, like he was stopping me, even though I could feel how hard he was through his thin mesh shorts. "This will end," he said, dipping his head low and brushing his lips against mine, "badly."

I kissed him back, grinding my body into his. "Very badly," I agreed.

He backed me into the kitchen counter and I sucked in a sharp breath as the corner dug into that tender spot just above the tailbone. He didn't stop kissing me as he unbuttoned my jeans and pushed them off.

"I want you to remember this," he said, cupping me between my legs, making me sigh, "when you're fucking your perfect little husband someday."

And oh God, I would. I would remember everything. First, his head between my legs as he knelt down in front of me right there in the kitchen. Then later, the salty bite of his skin when I clamped my teeth down on a fold in his neck, the way he wrapped his arm around my waist, steadying me against him as he drove into me, like I might disappear if he didn't, leave him with no place to finish, no one to curse at as he came, as he realized what he had done—again—and just how powerless he was to deny me.

I went to clean up after, but Campbell said there was no soap in the downstairs bathroom and to use the one upstairs, off his bedroom.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor, passing more photos of Campbell's family, his red haired sister and his worn looking mother, smiling in happier times. I padded down the hall and through the bedroom—the bedsheets thrashing in wild, unmade peaks—and into the bathroom. I was just about to sit down when I noticed he was out of toilet paper.

I checked in the cabinets below the sink, and, sure enough, there were extra rolls. I started to shut the door, before realizing there was what appeared to be a second, smaller door in the back of the cabinet,  slightly ajar.

I got down on my knees and reached inside, pulling the door all the way open, revealing a small cubby piled high with what looked like old, yellowed newspapers.

"What the..." I mumbled, crawling practically inside the cabinet to pull out a small stack.

In my head, I heard the crescendo of that horror movie music again as I realized how much Campbell was still keeping from me. Because who was on the front page of the Finger Lakes Daily but Campbell's pretty ginger sister. Her headline: Charges dropped in the Seneca Sorority Sister case.

Campbell hadn't lied about having a dead sister. But he had omitted the part where she had been the pledge who had drowned in Smithson's last known hazing incident gone awry, the reason all the sororities had been shut down. "You all roll up here in your shiny gas guzzlers, treating the rest of us like the gum on the bottom of your shoe. You ruin my life and the least I can get out of it is to make an extra buck," Campbell had said to me, not ten minutes ago.

He was getting something else out of it too: revenge fucking the girl who represents the enemy. I suddenly understood—Campbell wasn't obsessed with me because he was in love with me. He was obsessed with me because he hated me.