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A Really Great Team
About the Author: Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, all from Poisoned Pen Press), feature Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert.

“Really, Helen? With Stan? … Our own lawyer?”

Stan Rakson, senior partner at a downtown law firm, family friend, and the back-stabbing prick having an affair with my wife, answered before she could.

“Sorry, Dave.” He shrugged. “These things happen.”

My wife Helen, tall and slim and as lovely as the day I married her eight years before, slid her hand into his. I had to admit, they made a handsome couple. Though ten years older than either Helen or myself, Stan Rakson had the trim but sturdy body and assured manner of a professional athlete.

At that moment, he certainly had the home field advantage. We were standing in the main room of his expensive house on the lake, our three images reflected in the broad picture window looking out over the water. Like every other room in the spacious vacation home, this one boasted sleek, high-end furniture, some impressive artwork on the walls, and the hushed stillness of old money. The only sound was the muted lapping of the waves from the wind-stroked lake beyond.

It wasn’t five minutes ago that I’d pounded on the front door and demanded to be let in. Helen, still in silk lingerie and holding a martini glass, looked as if she’d faint on the spot when she saw me. But Stan, clad only in a robe, had opened the door to admit me with what could only be described as a smug smile.

“If this were a Noel Coward play,” he’d said, “one of us would be saying something arch and funny right about now.”

And, just like a character in one of Coward’s plays, Stan sported a pair of glazed eyes over that smile. Not exactly drunk, but on the way there.

Anyway, I confess I didn’t know how the two lovers would respond when I showed up, having followed them out of town, staying well back from Stan’s Mercedes. Maybe there’d be threats and recriminations, or copious tears of remorse. And while neither he nor my wife had been particularly discreet about the affair, I’d hoped at least for some kind of apology. A half-baked explanation. Something …

But that wasn’t Stan’s way, apparently. He’d merely taken his place possessively next to my wife, retrieving his own drink from a side table. Meanwhile, behind them, the night had begun spreading an insistent, hazy gloom over the lake.

“Stan, listen. You and your wife Julie … I mean, the four of us have known each other for years. Had dinner together. We’re friends.”

He shook his head. “God, you’re dense, Atwood. My marriage is shit. Has been for a long time.” He finished his drink. “I don’t give a damn about Julie. Not anymore.”

No longer able to look into his arrogant eyes, I turned to my wife.

“Helen, please …” I took a step toward her. “I don’t understand. How can you throw our marriage away like this? After all these years? Besides, you’ve always said we make a great team. Remember?”

“Maybe we did … once.” Her face was cool, placid. “But now I’ve traded up to a better one.”

She went on to say a few other things that were hard to hear, then finished her drink in a single long swallow. And turned to her lover.

“Stan, honey, I need you to do something for me, okay?”

“Sure, babe. What is it?”

Helen smiled solemnly over at me.

“I need you to take Dave here out on the boat, shoot him, and dump him in the water.”

A cloud-shredded moon was the only light in the plunging darkness, except for the feeble glow of the single halogen lamp on Stan’s boat dock. It was a narrow strip of weathered hardwood planks, extending from the rear deck of the lake house about a dozen feet out over the black waters. Stan had the nose of an ugly revolver pressed against my back as he prodded me along its creaking length.

“I always keep this baby in the house,” he’d said just a few minutes before, as he took the gun out of a cabinet drawer. “For protection.”

He’d kept the weapon pointed at me as he waited for Helen to bring him a pair of sneakers, jeans and a pullover sweater from the bedroom. Then, as he marched us out the back door, he offered Helen a wry wink. But not before he’d downed another drink, probably to screw up his courage. Though maybe one too many. Even behind my back, I could hear the uneven stutter of his steps.

There was a good-sized outboard tied to metal cleats at the end of the dock, and, with a boozy, guttural growl, he motioned for me to climb in. To clamber all the way up to the bow. And sit.

This story appears in our DEC 2019 Issue
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