Joe Daniels tried for years to put his military, special op, mercenary past behind him. He married a beautiful woman and settled into a mundane job as a police detective. Then everything came crashing down around him. A terrible accident that nearly claimed his wife’s life not only opened the door to his past, but forced him to recognize all of his perceptions of the world around him were wrong.
He opens his eyes with a start.
Cold air hits the back of his neck, and as it sends a shock through his already shocked body and mind, his first inane thought is at least the a/c breaker didn’t trip. His second thought is wondering how high the electric bill will be this month.
In the blink of an eye, his thoughts move past normal. Looking down, the blood on his hands is drying and the pair are beginning to look like cracked, red alligator skin. He rubs his fingers against his palms and watches as flecks of dried blood flake off and float to the floor in a silent cacophony of murderous confetti. With heavy arms, he lifts his hands and stares at the bloody mess. The dried blood flakes are the color of the red dirt he’d seen in parts of Texas. Texas dirt. Off-road Jeep. Indian reservations. Warm tequila with twists of lime. Armadillos belly-up on the side of the road with surprised expressions on their rat faces. Dilapidated barns standing in fields of dust. Scorpions. Odd jumbled thoughts crisscross his emotionally stressed mind.
As he continues to stare at his hands, he comes back to the present. His heart starts jack-hammering in his chest like an alien creature trying to get out. His heart isn’t just beating, it’s pounding with such force his whole body feels each jerk. He takes deep breaths and tries to calm his angry heart. Breathe in, breathe out. In. Out. After a few moments, he feels the pounding subside.
He hears the wind rustling dry autumn leaves in the trees. He listens to a noisy chorus of neighborhood dogs barking doggy gossip back and forth. He hears a car revving its engine as it speeds down the road in front of his house. A screen door slams shut – probably the old man next door who sits out on his back porch long into the night, looking at the stars and dreaming of times past. A group of loud wannabe thugs walks down his road, professing their toughness, all the while respecting their parents’ curfews. An owl hoots in the distance. A cricket chirps. Listening, he’s aware of all the normal sounds of night in his neighborhood.
Everything has become surreal. There’s nothing normal about the blood on his hands. The sight is an aberration. His stunned mind reels from the sight, yet, in fascinated revulsion, he stares. He doesn’t believe in fortune-tellers, but it’s eerie how the sticky, drying blood is outlining the lifelines of his palms. He curls his hands and looks at the crusty red of his fingernails – on his fingernails, under his fingernails, it will take forever and a stiff nail brush to get it all out.
His bare feet are stuck to the ground. He really couldn’t have told anyone how long he’d been rooted to the same spot. He felt as though he’d been standing there, in the middle of the kitchen, forever. As he lifts his right foot, the suction between bare foot and blood pool makes a decidedly nasty slurping noise. A part of him is terrified he’ll slip in the slick pool and slide all over the floor. The nightmarish image of a crimson slip-and-slide makes him extra cautious. Lifting his left foot, he gingerly steps on a kitchen rug. Strange relief floods him as he stands on the rug island in the midst of a sea of red.
Suddenly and spontaneously, the vomit rising in his throat becomes overwhelming. Unable to hold it in, he sinks down on one knee and regurgitates the dinner he’d had only an hour earlier. Between the metallic smell of blood everywhere, and the smell of the evening’s wasted dinner, he vomits again. He vomits until there’s nothing left but horrid yellow bile coming from his perplexed stomach.
Wiping his mouth against the sleeve of his t-shirt, he looks at his reflection in the stainless steel refrigerator. Brown hair is matted to his skull with sweat and his t-shirt is tie-dyed with blood. Streaks of red are striping his face, giving him a mask of grisly crimson war paint. His jeans are speckled in some areas, drenched in others, with blood that turns a funny shade of burnt orange on the denim material. Still on bended knee and holding his hands out in front of him, he looks like a supplicant to an ancient temple sacrifice. He stares at the horror and the horror stares back at him.
So much blood. Everywhere. No surface is untouched. Even the kitchen ceiling has a crescent-shaped streak of splatter. The human body holds almost eleven pints of blood and the kitchen looks like it’s been bathed with every pint. In a Zen-like moment, he watches single crimson drops slowly drip from the small pool of blood on the kitchen counter, trail down the side of the closed silverware drawer, and join the larger pool of blood in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Unsteadily, he gets to his feet. A yard to his right is the recently alive and now dead body of his wife. Stepping gingerly around her still frame, he looks at her vacant, half-closed eyes and wonders how long a person goes on seeing after their heart stops. So far, no one had satisfactorily answered that particular question and he didn’t hold high hopes on being able to answer it himself. He wants to close those slitted, staring orbs, but hesitates, telling himself he doesn’t want to get dried blood from his hand in her eyes. No, the real reason is he’s too unnerved to touch her because, in his mind, with death, his wife is no longer his wife.
Too many random thoughts are coursing through his shocked brain. He has to hurry, but he feels so sluggish, so tired. Leaving the island-like safety of the kitchen rug, he plays a macabre hopscotch, stepping only on clean squares of cold tile until he reaches the old-fashioned rotary phone he’d picked up at an antique store four months ago. Putting his hand on the phone, he hesitates before lifting the receiver. He closes his eyes and, in his mind, he walks through his house. In his mind, he sees how it was when they had first moved into it four years ago. He sees how it was when he had been content and satisfied with life. He sees how it was before the horror of this night. He opens his eyes and calls the police.
“My wife’s dead,” he calmly tells the dispatcher. “There’s blood everywhere.” As the dispatcher asks for his address, he’s suddenly hit with another wave of fatigue and doesn’t feel like talking anymore. Laying the open line on the counter, he sits on the barstool and waits. The police will trace the call and probably be at his house in minutes. Mention blood to an officer of the law, and they take it very, very seriously. As a police officer, he knows this first hand.
Calmly, he listens as the kitchen clock ticks the minutes by. The rhythmic tick-tick-tick soothes him. Laying his head on folded arms, he closes tired, scratchy eyes. He feels peaceful and, at the same time, deliriously alive. Something has happened to him. A switch buried deep inside has been flipped on and he’s grateful for life in the midst of death. Therein lay the irony – he is alive and his soul mate was dead.
In the distance, he hears the siren. Much quicker than he thought, he’s oddly proud of the rapid response from the police station. One of the many advantages of living in a small town is when there’s an emergency, the police or fire department are almost immediately at the scene. This time was no exception.
As the flashing lights approach his house, he reflects on how beautiful his wife’s hair had been. Naturally auburn with hints of gold, it was the first thing he’d noticed about her when they met five years ago. Turning his head, he dispassionately stares at the body on the floor and notices how dull and artificial the hair looks. Death had drained any energizing highlights out of her tresses.
He hears the front door open cautiously and, with guns drawn, two officers approach the kitchen. As they near him, he makes sure to keep his hands, those bloody, flaky hands, up and in front of him. Catching his reflection in the silvery fridge again, he looks like he’s trying to play patty-cake and he hiccups as he swallows an insane laugh building up inside.
The first officer looks at the dead body on the floor and asks, “Oh, god, Joe, what happened?” As the officer looks around at the blood splattered everywhere, there is a mixture of fear, pity, and revulsion on his face. The second officer simply shakes his head and looks sad as he calls dispatch for the coroner. Because Joe’s one of them, and, more importantly, because they know him to be a stand up guy, the two officers don’t immediately suspect him. “Man, what the hell happened?”
Still sitting with patty-cake hands in front of him, Joe looks back at these men who are his friends. He knows these guys. He drinks beer with them on Tuesday nights. He watches football with them on Sundays. Has barbeques in rotating backyards with them. These guys are part of his life. These are the guys he would give his life for in the line of duty. “What happened?” one of his friends repeats. Staring back at him, still wearing an expression of shock, Joe tries to clear his scratchy throat. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I can’t remember.”
Dawning awareness stiffens the two officers into rigid, policeman-like pose. “I don’t remember,” Joe repeats.
Handcuffs materialize as Joe, knowing what is coming next, rises to his feet. “I don’t remember,” he says once again as his hands are handcuffed behind his back.
The policemen look at his shocked expression and, although they have already made up their minds he is guilty of murder, they like Joe enough to want to believe he really doesn’t remember the terrible thing he’s done. Crime of passion, crime of insanity – they want to believe it is anything but cold, calculated murder.
All three turn toward the open front door as they hear an ambulance and several cars pull into the front yard. The least of Joe’s worries were the deep ruts those heavy vehicles would be putting in the soft ground of his lawn, but thinking about the small things was keeping his mind sane and his thoughts in focus.
The coroner walks in and, though he has seen so much in his fourteen years on the job, even he is briefly shocked by the crimson scene of violence. Shocked, yes, but he has become so hardened to the things he sees that shock is quickly replaced by slight boredom. Dead bodies hold very little fascination for Doctor Tanaki. He nods to the policemen, looks curiously at Joe, and struts a little for his unwillingly captive audience.
Carefully avoiding the large pools of blood, the coroner squats beside the still body. He pronounces the death official and feels a slight fool as he does every time he has to make a statement about the obvious. And this woman was obviously dead.
Doctor Tanaki could see the clean slice between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae had almost severed the head. Massive blood loss is also a telltale sign of demise, along with the cloudy eyes and the lack of any normal sign of life, like a heartbeat and respiration. Yep, she was dead and the good doctor was bored.
“Mark TOD, twenty-one hundred, fifteen,” he tells his assistant. “Bag it, tag it . . .” he pauses as he looks a little closer at the deceased’s hairline. “Hold up a sec,” he says as he reaches down toward the dull hair. “Never mind,” he mumbles as he stands up quickly and tells his stone-faced assistants to get cracking.
Unwillingly, Joe’s eyes draw back to the body as the coroner’s aides manipulate the still figure. Avoiding as much of the blood as possible, the pair efficiently and expertly start to roll the body onto the open black bag when a wheezing moan escapes the dead woman’s lips.
The after-death rattle. The release of that last bit of air in the lungs startles Joe. He is familiar with the sound, but this time it is like a final accusation. Shuddering, Joe feels nausea rising in his throat again. Suppressing the bile, he looks away.
The coroner scampers out of Joe’s house just ahead of the heavy black body bag. The officers and Joe watch as the EMTs load the body into the ambulance. In the sudden, eerily silent house, the only sound is the soft whir of a camera as a lone police photographer takes pictures of the crime scene.
The officers, Joe’s friends, walk Joe out of the kitchen, down the hall, and out the front door to the waiting police car. Joe knows, by their demeanor, that they’re struggling to believe he was not in his right mind when he stabbed and then nearly decapitated his wife. He knows that a judge could be equally fooled – that is, if he makes it before a judge, which is highly unlikely.
Walking between the two officers, Joe spies some of his neighbors watching from the safety of their porches and yards. One little boy waves at Joe and Joe winks back at him. The sounds of the neighborhood have quieted, but aren’t entirely gone. The wind still rustles through the trees. A few dogs are still talking to each other. The wannabe thugs are still loud, but as they spy bloody Joe, some of them become quiet and turn just a little pale.
Wrapped in an artificial air of tragic amnesia, Joe keeps mumbling his “I don’t remember” mantra as he’s guided to the back seat of the patrol car. As he sits down, he forces himself to cry, deep sobbing cries that hurt his head and make his throat raw. His eyes burn as he blinks harder to produce more tears and he cries as if his life depends on it. And it does.
Sympathetically, one of the officers pats his shoulder. He feels bad for his friends. If anything, he wishes they had not been the ones to respond to the call. Now, they’re wrapped up in this unholy mess and there’s precious little he can do to help them. Better for them to know very little. “Oh, god, I don’t remember,” Joe whispers, part in faux heartfelt grief, part in true anguish for the woman he’d murdered. Oscar winning act that it was, Joe wishes he could believe it himself.
But he remembers. He remembers everything. Everything single thing from the beginning of the day to its deadly end. From the quiet routine of dinner to the final damning glimpse of deception. From the comfort and safety of the sanctuary that one calls home to the chilling realization that everything you thought you knew was false. From the first stab to the deathblow. From grief and sadness to grief and retribution.
Sitting in the backseat of the police car, his quest has begun.
He is on the road to finding out why he had had to kill his wife.
Writing since the age of seven, the love of the written word has kept Dare grounded in the curiousity-laden world of writers. Constantly thinking what if?, has given Dare the seed for many stories.
The first stories published by Dare were written for Rutger Hauer’s website many years ago. Since that time, other short stories have been published academically and in mainstream fiction.
“False Positive” started out as an entry into a contest sponsored by CourtTV (now TruTV) in October, 2007. The initial book was written in thirty days.
The author is still recovering.
Although “False Positive” did not win the contest, the book interested Dare’s current publisher, Second Wind Publishing and made its debut in October, 2008.
The next book in the Joe Daniels trilogy, “False World,” was written at a more leisurely pace and was published in November, 2009.
The author is recovering quicker this time.
The third and final novel in the trilogy has been started. Since the author seems to be averaging a finished book a year, expect the next installment in late 2010.