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Jan Christensen
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A ROCK IN MY POCKET

Jan Christensen

 

My eyes snapped open, and I stared at a white wall, a wall that looked as if made of big white stones. No stones I knew of were that white. I shivered although my body was warm enough. Only my face felt cold.

 

I tried to think, but my head hurt, and I didn't know where I was.

 

I gradually became aware of three things. I knew I was a woman, I didn't know my name, and someone else was in the room with me. Whoever it was didn't make a sound, so I slowly looked to my left. More white wall. I looked to my right and gasped.

 

An old crone squatted there, her small black eyes staring at me. She had the prerequisite hooked nose with mole beside it, jutting chin and long black hair. She wore clothing like I'd seen in movies about Eskimos, the hood pushed back. I shivered even though I realized several animal skins covered me. The smell of them made me nauseous. And the realization that I was in an igloo, far from home, made my head spin.

 

"Who are you?" I croaked. "Where am I?"

 

"I am Naqi. You are outside Unalakleet in Alaska in a hunting igloo." The old woman rose and approached me. I tried not to flinch.

 

"You speak English."

 

She didn't answer but held open her hands to show me a rock, a hairbrush, and five twenty-dollar bills. "These were the only things in your pockets. We found you in the airplane. The man with you was already dead. He is in the next room if you wish to see him."

 

Plane? Man? My mind seemed to be a total blank. Why had I been in a plane in Alaska? More importantly, who was I?

 

I shook my head, staring at the things in her hand. The rock was a good size, round and smooth. The hairbrush looked well used. The money was, well, money—American. She placed them on the floor next to my pallet. I wanted to brush my hair but didn't have the strength to even reach for the brush.

 

"No ID?" My voice sounded weak.

 

The skin around her eyes narrowed. "You do not know who you are." It wasn't a question, and I realized she hadn't answered mine.

 

The dizziness intensified, and I lost consciousness.

 

I awoke again to the smell of something delicious—a stew, I thought.  I hadn't moved, and a feeling of dread overcame me. It would be bad enough to wake in a hospital somewhere, with regular walls, glaring florescent lights, and medical machinery everywhere, hovering nurses and doctors. And a bed instead of a pallet on the floor. But this!

 

I realized I hadn't tried to move anything earlier except my neck when looking around. Cautiously, I wiggled my toes under the heavy pelts, then lifted my right leg. Left leg. Left hip hurt, but not too bad. I wiggled my fingers, lifted right arm, left arm. All seemed to be working. All except my head.

 

"You are awake." The old crone brought over a bowl. "We found no bad injuries, not even a broken bone. We are not sure yet what killed the man. He had a gash on his head, and his foot was broken." She set the stew down on the pelt-covered floor and helped me sit up, placing two pillows behind my back. "Can you manage?"

I took the bowl and dipped the spoon into it. It was just the right temperature, and I found myself really hungry. After about four spoonfuls, I asked, "What is this? It's delicious."

 

"Venison stew."

 

"Oh." I thought of Bambi, shoved the thought aside and finished it. Naqi took a roll out of her pocket and handed it to me. "I will be back with tea," she said, retrieved the bowl, and left me munching the roll.

 

She came back with hot tea. I thanked her and drank it quickly.

 

"You still do not know who you are?"

 

"No."

 

"Let us see if you can walk. Maybe if you see the man, everything will come back."

 

"Good idea."

 

She helped me lift the heavy pelts and to pull on my boots.

 

I wore jeans and a long-sleeved green and white striped sweater. Naqi handed me a parka, which seemed familiar. I put it on and stuffed the items beside the pallet in my pockets, feeling some grit in the right-hand one. From the rock, I realized. Why had I carried a rock in my pocket? 

 

We went through a narrow passageway and entered another, rounded space. A man lay on a pallet on the floor. I knelt down in order to see him better. He'd been a handsome man, probably about forty or so. His eyes were closed, so I didn't know what color they were. He had a short beard and well-trimmed mustache. He wore chukka boots, faded jeans, and a dark blue parka, so it was hard to tell how fit he had been. I didn't recognize him. I started to rise, and when I did I saw a small scar at the edge of his hairline, and who he was came rushing back. Only by bracing my hands on the floor did I prevent myself from falling on top of him.

 

"You know who he is." The old crone bent down to help me up.

 

"My husband," I whispered.

 

***

 

I don't remember getting back into the other part of the igloo. I lost consciousness sometime after seeing Lionel, and I had no idea how long it was before I awakened again.

 

I didn't feel anyone watching me this time. Gingerly, I got up. Naqi hadn't taken off my boots and the parka waited at the foot of the pallet.

 

In the doorway, I stopped to look around. No one in sight. I had a sudden urge to run. But I didn't know what direction to go, or even where I wanted to go. I just knew I didn't want to be here anymore. Two people approached over a small hill. A feeling of dread overcame me, and on weak legs I went back inside to sit on the pallet and wait.

 

Naqi entered with a short, stocky man, also dressed as I pictured Eskimos dressing. Both pushed their hoods back as they entered, and I saw a resemblance between them, although his nose was straighter, and his mole was high up on his forehead.

 

The man stood looking at me, then they both squatted, and he finally spoke. "I am Tyee, chief of our village. Naqi tells me you have started remembering, and that the pilot is your husband."

 

I nodded.

 

"Do you remember what happened before you crashed?"

 

As he asked the question, it all came rushing back. How I took the rock and smashed it into my husband's forehead. As I put the rock back in my pocket, the plane skittered and shook, then veered sharply off the runway and rolled into a bar ditch. I was jerked back and forth and hit my head on something hard. And then I woke up in an igloo.

 

"No," I said. "I only remember flying, and he was about to land, and then, nothing."

 

"You had a rock in your pocket. Did you always carry a rock in your pocket when you flew with your husband?"

 

"Yes." I saw the look of surprise on both their faces. "It was a joke. I always carried a rock, my hairbrush and a hundred dollars. In case we crashed." My laugh was shaky. "I could smash out a window to get free from the burning plane. I could brush my hair--nothing aggravates me more than unbrushed hair."

 

"But only a hundred dollars? No credit card?"

 

"Part of the joke. I never expected we'd crash. Lionel was an excellent pilot."

 

"Maybe so, but not this time. Our local mechanics have gone over the plane, and have found nothing to cause a crash. So it must have been pilot error."

 

Yes, pilot error. I'd found out just before our trip that he was playing around on me, and not for the first time. The shock had nearly undone me. Maybe it had undone me because I decided the only solution was to kill us both. I couldn't stand the sight of him. A divorce would be too painful. I needed immediate relief. When he told me about the trip to check out some land in Alaska, I'm jumped at the chance to go with him. He didn't know I'd found out about his tawdry little affairs. I'd never see that smug smile again because I planned to kill him while he flew the plane. But I weakened, and the strength only came back to me as he was landing. Now he was dead, and I still lived. I wasn't sure yet how I felt about that.

 

"How bad is the plane damaged?" I asked.

 

"Flat tire, some damage to the frame. Not much. It will not take too long to fix. An autopsy has been performed on your husband, and it was ruled an accidental death."

 

I sighed with relief and nodded. "So when can I leave? When can I take my husband home and bury him?" I realized I hadn't shed a tear. Perhaps that bothered them. Or perhaps, I hoped, they thought I was still in shock. And I didn't care that much about going home, but the cold was really getting to me. My teeth chattered, and suddenly there were tears in my eyes. Tears of regret and grief for what I'd thought I'd had. I wiped them away and looked at Tyee.

 

"You may leave as soon as you can make arrangements," he said and stood up.

The relief was instantaneous, surprising me. I tried not to smile. I was going to get away with it. Justice had been served.

Well, not totally. There were still at least two women who had enticed my husband to cheat on me. Maybe I'd look them up when I arrived back in the lower forty-eight.  

I fingered the rock in my pocket.  

Didn't they say living well was the best revenge?  

For me, living at all and taking my revenge was going to be best.

 

THE END

 

 

 

THE MAP

by

Jan Christensen

 

The hand-drawn map accompanying the ransom note looked clear enough. Drive up Lonesome Hill and continue down the other side. At Crisco Pass, make a left, drive for one mile. The computer-generated instructions at the top of the page said a cabin, on the right, stood back from the road. A sign was by the mailbox: “Lonesome Hill Lodge.”

Gaye didn’t need the map. Her parents took her there for dinner on special occasions, but it had been closed for years. Just as well. The particular memories of those outings were not all pleasant—the bickering had become old by the time she turned twelve. But at least they were more subtle about it when out in public. At home, the dishes and insults flew in about equal measure. Was she bitter about her childhood? Yes.

She thought about Josh. How was he holding up? How did it feel to be big, strong, and helpless? She wondered if he was wounded, and if so, where. She wondered if he was alive.

Pushing those thoughts away, she had to make a decision about how to handle this. Meet the kidnapper’s demand not to notify the police? Just pay the ransom and hope for the best? Or go up there and rescue Josh on her own?

The irony was, she no longer loved Josh. He’d become predicable, uninteresting. Gaye craved excitement and risk. Should she risk her life now? For someone she didn’t even love? It was against everything she believed in to pay the ransom.

What did she owe Josh? She knew he’d stayed with her for the lifestyle, not for love. He seemed to like her okay, laughed at her jokes, humored her dark moods, and made her favorite cocktail. But any gigolo would do the same. It was all so trite. Rich, slightly older—okay, quite a bit older—woman, and young, handsome lifeguard—lifeguard! Yes, he was going to college to earn a degree in, what was it? She couldn’t remember. After they met, he dropped out to jet around with her.

Now he’d got himself kidnapped. She looked at the note again. There was something about it . . .

***

Gaye drove up the big hill with the top down on her red Mercedes, a stuffed Kate Spade satchel in the trunk. She sang along with Billy Joel, tapping time with her fingers on the steering wheel. The drive was spectacular—tall white birch trees, the occasional deer, and the scent of pine needles in the air.

When she arrived, she was saddened to see the dilapidated lodge. Someone stood in the doorway and watched her climb the stairs. He had a Glock in his left hand and a bandana over the lower part of his face.

Gaye’s long, blonde hair was pulled tightly back into a ponytail and her own gun nestled in its holster under her left arm. The satchel felt heavy in her hand, and after the two of them entered, she set it down by the door.

“I see you didn’t call the authorities.” The voice was low and slightly muffled.

“How do you know they’re not hiding in the trees?”

“I tracked all your phone calls. And your movements.”

“Phone GPS? I could have left it somewhere and walked away. You wouldn’t have known.”

He shook his head. “I followed you and bugged your house. And your car.”

She didn’t like that, but she shrugged. “You kidnapped Josh all by yourself?”

The corners of his hazel eyes crinkled, so she knew he was smiling. “Yep.”

“Where is he?”

“In there.” He pointed with the Glock toward a closed door to the left.

“Is he all right?”

“He’s okay. You lead the way. Bring the bag.”

She picked it up and walked to the door, opened it, and looked inside.

Josh sat behind a desk, his arms pulled toward his back as if handcuffed. A bandana was tied around his mouth. His eyes pleaded with her for help.

Gorgeous eyes. Hair all in place. His yellow golf shirt looked as fresh as when she saw him three days ago. She turned to the other man. “Take off the gag. I need to talk to him.”

 “You don’t give the orders here. The gag stays until our transaction is done.”

“The bag doesn’t get unlocked until I decide to unlock it. And you’ll never find the key. So, take the gag off. Now.”

He squinted at her. “I’ll shoot the lock off if necessary.”

She sighed and dropped the bag to the floor. “Josh, what are you doing?”

When the man turned to look, his gun hand lowered slightly. Gaye pulled out her Smith and Wesson and shot him in three easy shots to the neck. He’d stood way too close to her. He fell to the floor in a heap.

Josh pulled the bandana away from his mouth, stood up and staggered around the desk.

“Stay where you are, Josh.”

He stopped short, looking shocked.

She bent down to get the other man’s gun, holstered her own, and pointed the Glock at Josh. “You should have finished your coursework at college. Maybe it would have smartened you up.”

“What are you talking about?” His voice sounded strained and weak.

“You thought you were being so clever. You forgot you’d drawn a map to this place back when we first met after I told you about it.”

He started shaking his head and couldn’t seem to stop. “No. You’re wrong.”

Her gun hand didn’t waver. “No, I’m not. You made the same mistake on both of the maps. You spelled Lonesome wrong. It has two e’s. You weren’t majoring in English, were you? I forget what it was.”

Still shaking his head, he stepped backward. “Criminal Justice,” he whispered.

She laughed. Then she shot him in the heart and watched him fall. She wiped the Glock with a handkerchief she had in her pocket and placed the gun in the other man’s hand. Did the same with her own, untraceable one, and put it in Josh’s hand. Then she picked up the satchel full of bricks and left the lodge.

“Won’t be going back there,” she said as she climbed into her BMW. “Full of bad memories.”

Halfway down the hill, a sudden thought hit her. Had she put the gun in the other man’s right hand or left hand? She couldn’t remember. Too dangerous to go back. Dread engulfed her as she drove on. Maybe she should finish her own college degree. If she didn’t end up in prison. She doubted they taught criminal justice there.

Was that a siren she heard, or only a sound in her head? She guessed she’d soon find out.

THE END

Jan Christensen’s published short story collection numbers more than 70 stories (including “The Rock in My Pocket” in Issue #29 of Yellow Mama in December 2011). The latest appeared in Mystery Weekly, Mysterical-E, and Kings River Life. She has also published eleven novels, belong to MMA, SinC, and she is past president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

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