Bethany trawled the room. With a pat on the shoulder and the touch of her hand, she baited hooks for Brian to reel in new clients. It was the typical crowd for one of the parties the law firm annually hosted.
She wedged between a potential client and his date. The nubile girl swayed beside him, barely post-pubescent. The dramatic white gown draped strategically over her high round breasts and gaped to her navel. She wore the slinky fabric like it was taped to her skin.
The simple suggestion that Malcolm’s legal interests would be better served by Brian’s careful attention to detail, sent the cheerleader scampering toward the champagne fountain for refills. Several men turned to watch her progress.
Malcolm ignored the girl and studied the elegant woman at his side.
Adept at reading sensitive shifts in emotion, Bethany recognized the man’s interest. At this rate her husband would not be a minor partner for long. She made a practice of poaching clients on his behalf. The lack of a prenuptial agreement meant she benefited by default.
Bethany was an accomplished liar, one of the best in a room filled with lawyers. That was the single personal facet she’d failed to hide from her obtuse husband. During thirty-six months of marriage, her skill in deception had proven a worthy asset.
Malcom’s escort witnessed her gentleman’s speculative eye rove over Bethany’s tall pale beauty and stalked a return path. Her black leather heels spiked tiny depressions in the carpet and expensive bubbly slopped over the edge of the glasses.
Bethany turned away with a smile of success curved on her plump lips.
A hand stroked her shoulder. Brian let his fingers trail down to her elbow. “It’s your turn.”
She topped him by half a head in height. “You go next.”
He smiled and pulled her close, tucked her into his side, one pudgy arm snaking around her waist as he addressed the room. “I would put my lovely wife’s picture in the dictionary next to scintillation.”
There was a round of applause. Several women simpered at the silly game and shot meaningful glares at their spouses.
Bethany swallowed a grimace and thought a more appropriate word would be fraud. She froze the amused smile on her mouth and looked at Brian Litzkowski. His bland face was wreathed in happy anticipation. For a fast second she wanted to claim she’d put his picture next to simpleton.
Instead she played nice. “Brian is generous.”
The insipid effort brought the expected vocal approval and a twinge of guilt pulled her down to kiss his cheek. It was true, Brian provided every last thing she needed: a new identity, a safe place to hide, and an existence so boring it was hardly worth getting dressed in the morning.
He squeezed her arm and stepped away. “Let me get you some wine.”
Brian would return with a plate of party nibbles and a glass of white zinfandel. The food and drink preferences were the only parts of the real Bethany Litzkowski he knew. She smiled and nodded at the guests, chatted and made small talk. Inside she screamed. Soon she’d be unable to choke back the cries.
That was the moment her past burst through the elevator door.
Bethany turned to stone at the sight of the armed man.
His angry shouted words echoed a heavy Sicilian accent. If there was any doubt about his intent, they evaporated when he screamed her name. Faces in the crowd darted frightened glances and shuffled away.
Soon she stood alone. The wall of humanity arced behind her, framed her like a sacrificial goat offered by a peasant in supplication to an angry deity.
Bethany swore under her breath. This must be one of the grandsons, hell-bent on avenging the old guy’s honor. The network built by generations of Cosa Nostra had traced her across an ocean and the crowded Los Angeles basin.
A curse in guttural Italian split the silence. The words flipped over the hourglass for the final countdown on Bethany’s existence.
The gun swept the room, the assailant’s arm held straight out like an accusing finger until it pointed at her chest.
Death would be swift and the end of life offered a resolution of sorts. No more strain or deception. Bethany squeezed her eyelids shut and found comfort in knowing that Brian mourned her passing. Her dumpy husband had wormed his way into her slate heart. That was something.
The blast hurt. The dual report of two rapidly fired shots deafened her hearing. Her vision swam. The thunder of her heartbeat drowned out all sound. The room spun when she focused on the sprawled body.
Brian caught her with one arm and clasped her tightly to his ribs, lowered her gently to the carpet.
Bethany clutched at him, hands tightening on his black suit coat. She tried to slide her eyes away from the dull glint of the handgun, huge in his small hand. The smell of cordite burned her nostrils. Her mouth went slack and a squeak of sound erupted from her chest.
A stampede of people sought escape.
Bethany’s gaze finally locked on her husband’s and she stammered out the words. “You. Shot. Him.”
He swept a hand over the crown of hair and grinned. “When the police arrive, let me do the talking. I’m a defense attorney Bethany, most of my clients are educated men in positions of authority with enviable social status.” He scanned a heated look down her body. “I know a quality criminal when I see one.”
Bethany flushed. “I’m sorry. I lied about everything.”
He lifted her hand and kissed her fingertips. “You weren’t alone in the lies. How else could a short bald attorney land such a gorgeous trophy wife?”
Flash Fiction Challenge: A Terrible Lie @ www.terribleminds.com