by Terry Larson
Kelvin Schneider debated whether he was asleep and dreaming or that he was awake and disturbed. All he knew was that he was surrounded by darkness and his mind was occupied with his recent past. His emotional problems, he realized, had taken a turn for the worse because of his experiences.
He wished his mind didn't always drift back to that dreadful day when his wife of twelve years had been shot and killed by his best friend, Bob O'Chevsky. Why did he have to take that two-day vacation to get away from it all? Sylvia had been so considerate, telling him that the rest from the world would do him some good, just before giving him her last kiss as he stepped into his Accord to leave for where he told her were the mountains to go fishing. Mountains and fishing, heck -- he had headed straight for Laughlin, Nevada for his version of getting away from it all.
Arriving home on a Wednesday afternoon, he had found a sheriff's car parked in front of his house. He had been shocked to learn what had happened -- his wife and O'Chevsky both found dead in O'Chevsky's apartment. Later, he thought how ironic it was to be worrying over the $1500 he had lost at the gambling tables. What was that compared to losing his wife?
He was held for questioning, but released a day later when he was identified as being in Laughlin at the Riverside losing big bucks at the dice table at the time of the crime. It was lucky for him that he had made such a fool of himself by shouting obscenities at the house men after losing the last of his ten dollar chips.
It was not long after his release that he learned that O'Chevsky had shot Sylvia several times before shooting himself in the head. The motive for the killing was not clear, but it was determined that the two had been having an affair for a couple of years. Maybe Sylvia had informed O'Chevsky that she was breaking off the affair. At least Schneider found this scenario to be reasonable and somewhat comforting.
Since the shootings his confusion had grown worse. For a couple of months before the tragedy he had been having therapy with Leonard Brownlow, the psychiatrist he had gotten to know on his bowling team. Maybe because he was a friend of Brownlow, he had never heard a word about what his psychiatric problems might be scientifically called. He did know that he had problems with distinguishing reality from dreams at times. He also had a sense of persecution, possibly, according to Brownlow, brought on by an over-protective stepfather. He knew that ever since the deaths his problems with reality were becoming worse. Thinking this, he remembered that today he was to have another session with his friend. He hoped that it would do him some good.
His tortured thoughts returned to the beginnings of his relationships with Bob and Sylvia. The three of them had gone to grammar and high school together. Bob and he had been the best of friends ever since grammar school, palling around after school, going to summer camps together, helping to build a robotic car as part of a regional contest, and going out for sports together, even in college. They always got along fabulously except when they both fell in love with Sylvia Finely when they were all seniors at Credall High School. O'Chevsky and he had a $10 bet as to who she would go out with her first. Schneider had always thought that it was because of his shyness that he lost the bet. He might have been correct, but she dumped O'Chevsky after going out with him a couple of times, then began to date Schneider some time later.
But he had to admit to himself there was more to it than that: Although O'Chevsky had been bigger and better looking than he, even as kids, and had been one of the more popular athletes, he was egotistical, aggressive, and sometimes abrasive. Still, somehow, he always seemed to get his way in the end.
Perhaps those traits had been responsible for the affair between O'Chevsky and Sylvia all those years later -- Bob had been compelled to 'win' the competition for Sylvia, and Sylvia hadn't been strong enough to resist him. At least Schneider preferred to think that is what had happened.
Schneider was glad that he found himself in Dr. Brownlow's office, now lying on the sofa, gazing up into his steely blue eyes and listening to his soft, reassuring voice.
"How have things been going, Kelvin?"
"Not bad," he lied.
"Still having those horrible dreams?"
Kelvin's inner calm took an instant jolt, even though he knew the question was coming.
"Yeah, I guess so. At least I hope they're dreams and not the real thing."
Dr. Brownlow smiled, leaned over and patted Schneider on the shoulder.
"Now I've told you that this thing with Sylvia has impeded your progress with your mental health. You must try to take your mind off the whole episode and keep telling yourself that you're not to blame."
"I know ... I know. I try to, Len, but sometimes it's hard. I feel so guilty about lying to Sylvia about going fishing. If I hadn't ..."
"Like I've said before, you must not blame yourself for that, Bob. The lying did not kill your wife. If you had gone fishing instead of to Laughlin, she would still be dead."
Schneider closed his eyes and wondered for an instant if he was in Brownlow's office. "True, but if I hadn't gone ..."
"Husbands and wives can't be together all the time, Kelvin ... and you didn't pull that trigger ..."
Dr. Brownlow, seeing his patient wince, said, "Sorry, Kelvin, bad choice of words. What I'm trying to say is that if you have any guilt for being away at that ... ah ... time, it should just be associated with not telling your wife the truth, not with the murder. And you must remember that you were distraught. You needed to be alone, and Sylvia let you go because she knew that. You could have told her you were going gambling, but that's not relevant right now."
Schneider was half-listening now, thinking of what must have been a dream. He heard himself begin relating it in response to the doctor's earlier question about still having dreams: "I was crawling through the window. It was dark in the room. I stumbled into what I knew was the glass screen of a TV set, I could hear voices in the next room. I didn't want to hear the little moans or the accompanied squeaks. I had the .38 in my hand before I opened the door. A light by the bed was on. I said something like, 'Aha, I caught you in the act.' Bob rolled out of the bed and I screamed at him to sit in the chair next to it. Then I shot him in the head -- I think three times. Sylvia ..."
Schneider began to cry.
"That's enough, Kelvin." Dr. Brownlow was standing over Schneider, shaking him by the shoulders. "That's the same damn dream you've told me several times. It's just a dream expressing your hatred for what your friend and wife had done to you. Nothing more. We know it's not true. Bob was the killer. And he shot himself in the head, once and once only." He patted Schneider on the shoulder and caught his eye. "The police would hardly have concluded that Bob killed himself if he had three bullets in his head, would they?"
Schneider lay there confused again. Had he visited Dr. Brownlow? And was it just yesterday he did so or the day before? Then he remembered dreaming just before waking. The dream had been so vivid. It was about a man that he had seen before; he was certain about it. But where, when, or why? Suddenly, he remembered. He and Bob were eating Chinese food at Wong's Restaurant on 21st St. That must have been at least six years ago or more. Yes, it was more like almost ten years ago when they both were having lunch together occasionally. This young man had walked by the window at which they were sitting. It had been raining cats and dogs for some time, but the man sauntered by the window, bareheaded, but wearing a heavy, black overcoat. The man stopped at the window and turned his head to stare at them.
What struck Schneider's mind was how startled Bob looked when he stared back at the man. "What's the matter?" he remembered asking his friend.
"Oh ... oh nothing," Bob stammered, his face ashen.
"Something's wrong," Schneider had pressed.
He remembered that Bob admitted that the guy was someone he had a problem with a few years before that, but would not say what the incident was.
He thought about his dream some more. He could not remember the next part of it, but again it had something to do with this same man. He then remembered that Bob and he had both seen the man again at his and Sylvia's 10th wedding anniversary. When he had brought this up to him again he would not say why they were enemies, but mentioned something that the guy had been stalking him. He remembered that in the last part of his dream, he could see the man stalking Bob, following him home on a dark night.
Why should he be having this dream now? What did it mean?
He never thought that he would have the nerve to have visited Deputy James from Homicide to discuss the murder and suicide of his wife and friend, as the case was already closed and he had been exonerated. But that is where he found himself, his memory again skipping in time.
"What is this all about, Mr. Schneider? You know we have closed the case and have compelling evidence of what happened."
Schneider hesitated and then said, "I know, I know, but I have a real strong feeling that something else happened."
"Well, let's hear it," Deputy James said.
Schneider thought he saw the deputy roll his eyes. He believed the deputy did not like him in the least, maybe because his investigation had made him aware of Schneider's psychological problems. He even suspected that James wished that he had been able to prove that Schneider had been the one who had done the shooting.
"First of all, as much as I, of course, can never forgive O'Chevsky and my wife for having an affair, I can't believe that O'Chevsky could have done it. I knew him almost all my life, and I just don't see him as a murderer. Oh yeah, he was a little bullheaded, a little proud, and guilty of adultery, but he never got into serious trouble before and he was not violent."
Deputy James looked disdainfully at Schneider before saying, "I'm sure many people have described murderers in the same manner, Mr. Schneider. Now let's hear something concrete if you have any such information."
"I know that Bob O'Chevsky had an enemy that stalked him at times over a period of many years. I had forgotten about it until last night when I had this dream about the guy stalking him to his house in the middle of the night."
"What do you know about this stalking -- other than this dream?" the deputy asked.
Schneider described in detail the two incidents he had witnessed and mentioned that O'Chevsky had insisted that the guy had been stalking him."
Deputy James looked at him with disbelief. "Is that all you got? A couple of isolated incidents occurring many years apart. You mean you're telling me that you hadn't even thought about them until you had this dream last night?"
Schneider, looking sheepish, answered, "Well, yeah, but Deputy James, I feel very sure about this. You see, I'm sort of, well sort of a psychic person. I think you should look into this."
Getting up from his chair, Deputy James said with a crooked smile, "Anything else you want to tell me? No? Okay, I'll include this info in the files. Got to run now. Have a nice day."
Schneider knew that his visit with Deputy James had been for naught. Even if James did record what he had told him in the crime files, the case was closed, and his -- theory -- would have no impact.
No, he had wasted his and the Deputy's time. What he needed to do was try, himself, to figure out who the stalker might be. He had little chance of ever solving the mystery ... unless ... unless the stalker was someone that he, Schneider, knew. After all, he and Bob shared many of the same friends -- and the man had attended Schneider's 10th Anniversary party.
Who could it be? What could have led him to murder not only Bob, but Sylvia too? Most likely, the stalker had gone to Bob's house and found that Bob was not alone. But he was so determined to kill Bob that he had turned the gun on Sylvia as well, since she was a witness. Then he placed the pistol next to Bob's body in such a way that it looked like he had shot himself -- fired it into Sylvia's body to make sure Bob's hand would bear traces of gunshot residue ... It was Bob's gun ... but the stalker may have known about it, and forced Bob to lead him to it, maybe using another gun or knife.
Yes, that's it. It's so obvious. Schneider than turned his mind to the past when Bob and he had been close and tried to remember their mutual friends. The murderer must have been a friend, a casual acquaintance would never become so distraught over something Bob had done that he would stalk him and murder him. But try as he might, he could not think of one friend of Bob's who would have had cause to hate Bob enough to actually kill him.
Maybe it was not a friend after all. Then it struck him. It must be the guy that had been engaged to ... what was her name? Oh yes, Marilyn Bannister. And his name was ... Conrad. Conrad Symington. How could he ever have forgotten how Bob had stolen Marilyn from Symington? Conrad and Marilyn had been engaged, but she had suddenly broken up with Symington and started going with Bob. A few weeks later, Bob and she had been returning home late one night after going to a party when Bob rolled the car during a rainstorm. Marilyn had been killed instantly but Bob had emerged with just a few scratches. The car had rolled into a ditch along side the deserted road. Since no one came by, Bob walked four miles to town to report the accident. Somehow, the police never gave him a sobriety test, even though it was known that he was a heavy drinker -- typical O'Chevsky luck. Even if they had given him the test, shock and the long walk would have cleared the alcohol from his head and his blood. It was well known that Symington had never forgiven Bob for the accident, despite Bob swearing that the slippery road had caused the accident.
That's the guy, it has to be. Conrad Symington. How could I have ever forgotten about him?
After reaching the conclusion that Symington was Bob's and Sylvia's murderer, Schneider's mind seemed to be in a daze. He had no awareness of time or site. He was lost in the thoughts of what to do about his revelation and at times had trouble separating fact from fantasy. At first he was tempted to return to the Sheriff's office to tell Deputy James about it, but decided not to, thinking how little respect he had gotten the first time he went there to tell him about the stalker. No, he must do whatever was to be done himself. And what could he do? He wasn't a detective, and besides, after two months on worker's compensation he had a job to report to on Monday. Even if he had the time, it would be dangerous investigating a murderer. Why did he feel that he had to solve this thing anyway? The case was over, and he had no obligation to stir up trouble. But then he could safely ascertain if Symington was still alive and maybe without too much trouble determine if he could have been in Kingman, Arizona on the day of the deaths. The more he thought about it, the bolder and more possessed he became to test his theory.
He did not know how he did it, it was as if he had blacked out again, but somehow he had determined that Symington had moved back to Kingman over two months ago. He also found out that he was jobless and was known to frequent the bars almost everyday. That sounds like a guy with a troubled mind, Schneider thought. I know he's the one; he has to be.
But now what was he to do? Go confront him? Go tell Deputy James? Disguise himself and try to strike up a conversation in a bar with him about the terrible murder and suicide that occurred in town recently?
The last thought sent shivers up his back. He wasn't a coward, but to take such a risk with a murderer? He thought not. Then he realized that something in his mind told him that he should visit the scene of the crime. But what could he determine from such a visit. Professional lawmen had already done that, scouring the place for evidence, confiscating Bob's gun, and doing who knows what else. There was no practical reason for going there. But still ... Then regardless of logic he knew he had to go, if for nothing more than to satisfy his curiosity and have something to do in the way of attempting to prove his theory, no matter how futile.
Where am I? He must have blanked out again. He felt like he was a helpless insect caught in a gigantic web with the spider inching towards him, anxious to devour him. His vision had been blurred, but it was now beginning to focus. It was daylight and he was in a room. His memory was coming back. His last memory was that he was going to go to Bob's house. Why did he have this horrible feeling of complete demise and hopelessness?
Where were those voices coming from? He would expect that Bob's house would be vacant. His sister couldn't have sold it this fast could she? The voices were coming from the next room. Seeing better now, he saw that the door leading to that room was slightly ajar. Peeking through it he saw several deputies standing and talking.
"Glad you got here, Wendell," one of the deputies said. "I don't think there will be much for you homicide guys to do on this case. Pretty cut and dried. Looks like one of those cases in which the husband catches his wife making love with another man, shoots both of them, and then turns the gun on himself."
Schneider, his brain feeling as numb as the rest of him, commanded himself to have a look at the bodies. Mysteriously, he found himself viewing with knowing horror the scene from above. There was beautiful Sylvia, lying naked and bloody on the bed; muscular Bob, sitting naked, slouched over in the room's one chair, his disfigured head a mass of blood. What's this about a third body? he asked himself. His vision drifted back to the living room where he saw a body lying in a pool of blood on the floor. His vision, somehow focused from near the ceiling above the pasty face, recognized the wide-opened brown eyes and the pasty white face as belonging to himself.
© 2008 Terry Larson
Bio: Terry Larson is a retired NASA aeronautical space engineer, now busily engaged in mostly sci-fi writing. He has self-published two novels ("House of Parrotise" and "Trail Angels and Devils") through Xlibris.com and is now beginning to try to publish short sci-fi stories from the 80 he has written. His shaggy dog tale A Dog's Story appeared in the March 2008 edition of Aphelion.
E-mail: Terry Larson
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