I KNOW A KILLER - J.R. LINDERMUTH
The girl got my attention first. She was the kind you don’t miss when they walk into a room and I was focused on her until she slid off the stool and headed for the ladies. That was when I noticed him. I felt his eyes on me and when I swiveled my head and saw him, my heart nearly stopped.
He’d put on a few pounds and the mustache and goatee were new but I’d have recognized those cold dark eyes anywhere. You aren’t likely to forget a guy who has promised to kill you.
My hands were shaking. I nearly dropped my drink.
“What’s the matter with you, Sam?” George Burrows, one of the guys at the table with me, asked. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
“Yeah. Something like that. Look, excuse me, fellows. I gotta go to the can.” I threw a couple bills on the table to cover another round of drinks and scuttled out of there. I felt his eyes boring a hole in my back until I was out of the room. I didn’t stop shaking until I was off the elevator on my floor and safe in my room.
Even then, I couldn’t relax. Seeing a ghost would have been a pleasure in comparison with being in the same hotel with him. I never wanted to see him again, and I didn’t expect to—especially not here. I’m a software engineer and the hotel was full of others just like me, all of us here for a convention. He didn’t fit in with this crowd.
I’d seen a lot in Iraq, but this guy was the worst of all. That day, nearly six months ago in Baghdad, was a day I’ll never forget. And he was the reason why. My computer skills kept me safe in the Green Zone most of my tour in Iraq. With only a month or so left to my tour, I figured I had it made. That was when he entered my life.
In the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time, I witnessed what he did. He could have killed me then but, for some twisted reason of his own, he didn’t. “You say anything, you'll be next,” he said. After what I’d seen, I knew that wasn’t idle chit-chat.
Volunteering is the last thing any sensible person does in the Army. Call me crazy but, to get away from that cold-blooded killer, I promptly volunteered for the most hazardous duty in the most dangerous area. I was fortunate. I made it through the rest of my tour without a scratch, got back to the States and resumed my old comfortable life.
Things were going good—until I spotted him at the convention.
I spent a restless night but by morning had my courage back. What did I have to fear? I hadn’t betrayed him. Anyway, what could he do to me in front of a crowd of people? Working the convention was important for my job. I couldn’t just stay in my room.
The convention was thronged with people but I didn’t see him the rest of that day. Still, when the guys asked me to go to the bar that night, I begged off. I told them I was behind on my reports and had to go up to my room. As much as I wanted a drink and company, I felt it was a better idea to rely on the mini-bar and TV in my room.
I walked to the elevator, punched the UP button and waited. The door opened and I found myself face-to-face with her—his woman. She backed in the corner as I stepped in, hands held stiffly in front, white-knuckled fingers clutching her purse before her, as though it were a shield. Her eyes skittering every place but on me, she licked her lips. “Don’t be afraid,” I told her. “I mean you no harm.”
“Just let me off,” she said. “Please.”
“Sure.” I stepped aside. “Like I said, you don’t have to be afraid of me. It’s him you gotta worry about.”
“The guy you were with last night.”
She gave me an odd little look, tilting her head like a bird. “I was with my husband. Why should I be worried about him?”
“Yeah. I don’t know what he’s told you about his past, but he’s a lunatic. Look, if you’ll come up to my room, I’ll tell you all about it. He’s dangerous. You don’t want to stay with him.”
She scuttled past me.
“Room 787C,” I yelled as the door slowly closed.
Well, shit on her, I told myself. If she doesn’t want to know, it’s her tough luck. I figured I had done my part warning her.
I was in my room maybe fifteen minutes—just long enough to shed my jacket, loosen my tie, kick off my shoes and pour a drink—when there came a tap at my door. Drink in hand, smile on my kisser, I crossed the room and flung open the door, sure she had changed her mind. But it wasn’t her.
“What kind of nonsense have you been telling my wife?” he asked.
I backed away, intent on closing the door. But he came on, index finger jabbing into my chest. “I want you to leave her alone. You scared the hell out of her. She came to me, crying.”
I’m not a brave man. I'm the first to admit that. I was scared. I didn’t know what he might do. I just kept backing up. Suddenly I was against the nightstand and he was still coming on. I reached behind me. My hand encountered the telephone. Next thing I knew, I was smacking him in the face with the phone.
He slumped to his knees and I hit him again. I picked up the phone and slammed it down on his head. Again. And again. And again.
They said I pounded his face into an unrecognizable pulp. They told me I killed the wrong man, that this guy was never even out of the States. They said he was only trying to get me to stop annoying his wife. Well, I know who he was. I recognized those eyes. I know a killer when I see one.
BIO: J. R. Lindermuth is the author of eight novels, including four in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and on line. Check out J.R. Lindermuth for reviews and sample chapters.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago