There’s the blast from the discharged weapon, and the shattering of plate glass as the bullet blows through it. But neither seem to register with me until seconds after the fact. The phone extension is hanging off the counter, and a computerized voice is saying, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and dial again.”
I sit back on the floor and observe the letter opener buried handle deep into Martin’s sternum, and at the dime-sized hole in his forehead, and Carol’s counter painted with a semi-round stain of blood, brains, and white bone. I stare into Martin’s still wide-open eyes, and his gaping mouth, which now is drooling dark, almost black blood mixed with clear saliva.
“For the fucking love of Pete,” I whisper.
But it’s not really me talking so much as an imposter. Did I just kill a man? Or did Joanne? One thing is for sure, just like the bullet and the shattered glass, her voice doesn’t register with me right away. It takes a few seconds.
Until she breaks me out of my spell by barking, “Bradley, we have got to go! Now!”
I turn, gaze at my wife, the smoking pistol in her hand.
“I just killed a man,” I say. “We just killed a man.”
She tucks the pistol barrel into her pant waist.
“A man who was clearly trying to kill you,” she says. Then, stepping further into the space, she takes a quick look around. “What have you touched?”
I manage to get back up onto my feet, unsteady, dizzy, the bottoms of my feet not really feeling the hard floor beneath them.
Sweet Jesus, Brad Jones is going to hell…
“Nothing really,” I say. “Just the wanted poster and the letter opener that’s inside his chest.”
“Okay, okay,” she says. “Stay right there. Don’t move an inch.”
She heads out the door, comes back in with a small purse sized package of Cottonelle flushable wipes. She peels one out and starts wiping down the Formica covered counter. Naturally, she ignores the blood and brain spatter. She then makes her way to Martin, and pulling out a fresh wipe, begins wiping the letter opener handle. Once that’s done, she stands up straight and faces me.
“Where’s the wanted poster?” she asks.
“I stuffed it in my pocket.”
“Pull it out and reattach it to the wall.”
I pull it out. It’s got creases in it now from the folds, plus four small tears in the corners from my ripping it off the bulletin board.
“Never mind,” she says, shaking her head. “Just give it to me.”
I hand it to her.
She goes to the counter, does her best to smooth out the creases and folds. She tacks it back up to the board. In all honesty, it doesn’t look half bad, considering I ripped it away from the thumbtacks. She then goes to the door, pulls out yet another wipe and, covering her fingers with it, opens the deadbolt. Stepping outside she wipes down the opener.
“Think you can lock the door without getting your prints on it?”
“I can manage,” I say.
I lock the door. It seems like a silly gesture considering the lower portion of the glass is blown out. But then, it’s got to look like I was never here. Joanne was never here. Some crazed individual who had a grudge against Martin came here, and shot him in the head and stabbed him in the heart. Maybe some fellow mailman whose wife was banging Martin on the sly. Maybe even one of Martin’s supposed friends. Whatever the case, the cops would see it as a crime of passion. That’s what I’m hoping as we get back in the minivan and flee the murder scene. Or perhaps I should call it self-defense.
I pull out onto the road.
“Brad,” Joanne says after a beat.
“What is it?”
“You’ve got blood on your hands.” Handing me a wipe from the packet she’s still holding in her hand. “Clean it up.”
Taking hold of the wipe, I clean my hands while I’m driving. My hands are trembling. I hand her back the wipe and she deposits it in her purse.
“We need to stop at the supermarket,” she says. “Remember?”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
Then, “So you going to tell me what happened, Bradley?”
My brain is still buzzing with adrenaline, my body feeling like it’s levitating off the seat. My entire world has been thrown off its axis.
“What’s to tell?” I say. “That man’s name was Martin. We never really got along. He was kind of bully to me. Always calling me, old man.”
“So that’s why you killed him?”
Turning to her quick.
“You put a bullet in his brain,” I point out.
“Okay, so we both killed him. But I know precisely why I did what I did. I’m just wondering why you did what you did.”
“Because he knew, Jo,”
“He knew what?”
I hit the brakes and stop hard for a red light I nearly blow through. Joanne stops herself from shooting out the windshield by extending her hands and planting them against the dash.
“Jesus, Bradley,” she says, “watch what you’re doing. You want me to drive?”
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m just shook up is all.”
“So, what did he know?”
“Everything. About killing the Perez brothers, about our taking their cash and their drugs, and getting rich off it all.”
“How would a stupid postal employee know all that?”
I shake my head, throw up my hands.
“How should I know?”
“The light’s green, Brad,” Joanne says.
The guy behind me driving an expensive Range Rover lays on the horn. I feel an immediate wave of rage and flip him off. He revs his engine, speeds up, pulls around me and with his passenger side window rolled down, gives me the high middle finger.
“Right back atcha, asshole!” he shouts, speeding off.
“Guess I had that coming,” I say.
“Are you done?” Joanne says, annoyed.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m done.”
“The question still stands,” she goes on. “How do you think the guy we killed knew our story, detail for detail?”
“I think he’s been watching the news. He looked at the poster, was convinced the man in it is me, then put two and two together. One day I'm a simple postal worker who’s been doing the same boring job day in and day out for more than thirty years, making less than average middle class wages and wondering how I’m ever going to get out of debt before I die. Then suddenly, I’m quitting my job early and investing in a brand new business that ain’t got squat to do with delivering mail.”
“Okay, fair enough,” she says, as the Price Chopper supermarket comes up on our left- hand side. “But he’s dead now, so it doesn’t matter.”
I turn into the lot, search for an empty space.
“But what if a whole bunch of other people at the postal distribution center have deduced the same thing? How do we know the FBI aren’t conducting secret interviews with everyone who knew me right now?”
I find a space, pull into it, shut off the engine. Silence fills the old minivan. So does this uncomfortable vibe. No, that’s not it. Uncomfortable is too namby pamby a word. Dread is more like it. I’ve just struggled with a man and stabbed him in the chest while my wife shot him in the head, pointblank. Coming from out of the very near distance: sirens. Police sirens. Out of nowhere, two blue and white Albany Police Department cruisers go barreling down Central Avenue in the direction of the New Karner Postal Center.
“They know,” I say.
“Of course they know, Bradley,” Joanne says, matter of factly. “It’s their job to know.”
“But how did they find out so soon?”
“Maybe a night watchman found our dead guy,” she says. “Sounds logical to me.”
More sirens blare as an EMT van speeds up the avenue in the same direction. Then comes a fire truck, not that it’s necessary. What they need is the coroner. Who knows, maybe the new and improved Fitzgerald Funeral home will be hired by Martin’s family to do the internment honors. Talk about irony.
The dreadful quiet fills the van again while my wife rummages around her purse.
“Now where’s my grocery list,” she says, like it’s just another day. She finds it, and smiles. “There you are you little devil.”
She mumbles the items on the list to herself. “Hamburg, lettuce, corn…and for the love of God, tampons. You’d think at my age, I’d be done with that nonsense.” Then, turning to me. “You coming in with me, Bradley, or are you going to stay out here and brood?”
“You go ahead,” I say. “I’m still trying to catch my breath.”
She opens the door and slips out, her grocery list in hand, her expensive bag slung over her shoulder.
“I hate to be a Debbie Downer, Bradley,” she says, not without a sad sort of grin on her face. “And I know I’ve said it before. But I sometimes wonder if you really are truly cut out for this business.”
I stare at her face. It’s a pretty face, if not beautiful. Years younger than it was when this whole thing started. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m not cut out for this business. But one thing is for certain. Joanne is cut out for it. Too cut out for it maybe.
“Think I’ll make Brad his favorite spaghetti and meatballs,” she whispers while staring at her list. “I’ll pick up some garlic bread too.”
She closes the door, and happily makes her way to the supermarket entry, like any other normal housewife picking up dinner for the family.
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