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Sally Oliver stood at the bedroom window and watched her husband of three months climb into his pickup. When the dark green truck turned the corner and disappeared, her body sagged with relief. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself. The temperature inside the house matched that of the outdoors, but she didn't dare ask Jimmy to light the furnace.
What had happened to the kind, sweet man she'd married? Her blue eyes clouded with tears. She turned from the window, wincing from the fresh bruises covering her ribs. "What am I going to do?" she moaned. She sat on the edge of the bed and buried her head in her hands.
Before their marriage, Jimmy had courted her with red roses, candy and gifts. He'd always been gentle and kind. But now the romance had disappeared along with the tender love-making. Now, he just satisfied his own sexual desires, and if she complained, he treated her with contempt, calling her frigid.
Glancing into the dresser mirror, she studied her reflection. She still had the same petite figure that he couldn't keep his hands off before they were married. So, what had gone wrong? She sighed and turned away. But lately, it seemed she did nothing right--except earn a good wage as an accountant. And even that caused problems. When she told him she'd decided to have her checks automatically deposited into her own personal checking account, he exploded, which led to a bitter argument and abusive behavior. She trembled, recalling the fierce blows he'd inflicted. He not only wanted to control her money, but her very life. Hurt and confused, she paced, knowing she couldn't take much more of this battering.
When the phone rang,she flinched, figuring Jimmy wanted to harass her more. If she ignored it, he'd make her pay later. On the third ring, she hesitantly picked up the receiver and took a deep breath.
"May I speak with Mrs. Randy Oliver?
Hearing the feminine voice, Sally relaxed. "Speaking."
"Are you alone?"
She knitted her brows not liking the sound of the question. At this time, she certainly didn't need a prank call. "Look, I'm very busy."
"Your life's in danger. So please, don't hang up."
"What!" Sally exclaimed, entwining the phone cord around her fingers.
"I want you to listen closely. I'm Jimmy's third wife and I want to tell you what happened to his first two."
The cord dropped from her fingers. "Is this some sort of a sick joke?"
"Check the marriage records if you don't believe me. Jimmy killed his first two wives."
Sally sank down on the edge of the bed, gripping the receiver to her ear.
"He planned to kill me, but I escaped before he could follow through. If there's an insurance policy on you with him as the beneficiary, you'll be next. Here's what happens."
Nervously, Sally ran her fingers through her brown uncombed hair, trying to digest the horror story she was hearing. When the woman finished talking, Sally gulped a breath of air. "What's your name?
The line went dead.
Grabbing the phone with both hands, she screamed, "Please, no, don't hang up. Hello, hello."
Her body trembled as she reluctantly dropped the receiver onto the cradle. The coldness of the room seemed nothing compared to the fear creeping through her veins.
* * *
Julia Evans stepped from the warmth of her white BMW into the crisp October morning. Ducking her head against the chill, she lifted her coat collar and held it tightly around her neck. A gust of wind whipped the stylish coat against her shapely legs when she hurried through the glass doors of the large office building.
Her heels clicked across the glossy tile of the lobby then sank into the thick carpet of an oak paneled hallway dotted with offices. She entered the All American Accounting Firm and smiled at the receptionist.
"Good morning, Tee,"
"Good morning, Ms. Evans. Plenty chilly out there isn't it?"
Julia nodded, smoothing down her short cropped hair, then blowing on her hands. She picked up a handful of letters from her mail box and strolled over to the kitchenette to get a cup of coffee. Pausing at the door of Sally's meticulous office, she stared into the empty room and frowned. That's strange, she thought, Sally's always here before me.
Still somber faced, she entered her own office next door, hung up her coat and listened to three calls over the voice mail: two clients waiting for their tax returns and old Mr. Hagar wanting a meeting.
An hour later, she buzzed Tee. "Sally in yet?"
"Did she have an appointment this morning?"
She heard the rustling of pages while Tee flipped through her calendar. "No, nothing's listed."
"Thanks." Julia tapped her chin with her forefinger. This is not like Sally at all. She'd have notified the office by now if she wasn't going to show.
She dialed Sally's home, but got a busy signal. This also puzzled her. They had call waiting. Sally didn't have a computer at home to tie up the phone line so it must be out of order.
After two hours of trying to reach Sally without success, Julia pulled the directory from her bottom desk drawer and looked up the auto repair shop where Sally's husband worked. She keyed in the number, tilted her chair back and waited, tapping her pencil on the desk. It took several rings before a deep masculine voice finally answered.
"Baker's Garage. Jimmy speaking."
She came forward in her chair. "Jimmy, this is Julia Evans."
"Hey there, babe, what can I do for you? That Beamer giving you trouble?"
"The car's fine. I'm worried about Sally. She hasn't shown up for work. Is she sick?"
He hesitated a moment. "I don't think so. Did you try the house?"
"Yes, several times, but I keep getting a busy signal."
"That's odd. Something must be wrong with the phone. I'll see if I can reach her."
"Please have her call work if you contact her."
Julia stared blankly into space. He certainly didn't seem too concerned. Maybe I'm worried over nothing, she thought, drumming her red manicured nails on the desk, waiting for the phone to ring. She tried to focus her attention back on the Webster account, but couldn't concentrate. With no word from Sally or Jimmy, she decided to leave a few minutes early for lunch and run by their house.
She wound around the streets of the modest residential area and parked in front of the small cottage that reminded her of a small white doll's house. Jimmy had lined the walk leading to the front porch with crimson roses, giving the house a splash of color.
Gripping her coat tightly around herself, she hurried toward the front entry, dodging a couple of overgrown thorny stems. She rapped out the coded message that she and Sally had shared since they were kids, but no one responded. Impatient, she tried the door and found it unlocked.
She poked her head inside and called loudly. "Sally?"
Still no response. Stepping into the living room, she shivered. Good Lord, it's cold in here, she thought, tugging her coat tighter around her slim body. Sally kept an immaculate house and everything appeared in order. She called out again. "Sally, it's Julia. Are you here?"
She listened closely for any sound of movement and hearing none, headed down the short hallway toward the two bedrooms. The master bedroom's door stood partially closed. "Sally, are you in here?" she asked, gently pushing it open.
Julia gasped, finding the empty room a disaster. The bed covers were piled in total disarray in the middle of the mattress. Clothes lay scattered all over the floor and dresser drawers hung open, stripped of their contents. Her gaze traveled to the closet. Jimmy's clothes hung on one side, but where Sally's suits and dresses should have been there were only vacant hangers.
The phone lay on top of the rumpled covers. Its receiver, beeping out it's warning to hang up and redial, dangled over the side of the bed. Julie placed it back on the cradle and put the phone on the bedside table. Not knowing what to think, she stood in the center of the room, hands on her hips, bitting her lower lip. Something was wrong. Obviously, Sally had left in a hurry. But why? What had happened?
As she left the bedroom, she glanced into the small bathroom across the hall and stopped abruptly. A broken bottle of make-up lay in the sink, the beige liquid dripping off the sides of the white porcelain. Julia's anxiety grew. Sally would never leave a mess like that.
Rushing out the front door, she circled the corner of the house. The garage door stood open, but Sally's pale blue Toyota Celica was no where in sight. Surely if there had been a family emergency, Sally would have at least notified Jimmy or called into work. A sense of apprehension crept over her. She headed for her car, looking once more toward the house before climbing inside.
Just as she started to drive away, a horn sounded behind her. She glanced into her rear view mirror and recognized Jimmy's green pick-up turn into the driveway.
He hopped out and waved. "Is she all right?"
Julia stepped out of her car. "She's not here. It looks like she left in a hurry. Is there a family emergency?" Still in his coveralls from work, he put his fists on his hips which reminded Julia of an angry little boy.
"If so, she sure as hell didn't tell me." He stormed across the lawn toward the garage, bellowing. "Goddammit, I've told her not to leave without locking up the garage. I've got hundreds of dollars worth of tools in there." Yanking down the big door, he locked it, then marched toward the front of the house, motioning for Julia to follow. "Come on in. Maybe she left a note."
Reluctantly, she complied, but stayed near the front door while he went through the house. Her gaze lingered on items in the living room when it suddenly dawned on her it looked different. She hadn't been here for over a month and it took a minute before she realized it no longer had that warm feminine touch. The colorful prints she and Sally had purchased right after they'd gotten married, no longer adorned the walls. Only pictures of Jimmy hung in their place. How strange, she thought.
Startled by slamming doors, Julia glanced toward the hallway. Jimmy stomped into the living room. "There's no note. I don't know where she is, but she took most of her stuff."
"Maybe she didn't have time to call before she left." Julia quickly stepped outside. "But if she gets in touch with you, please let me know."
"Sure." Wanting to get out of there, she barely heard the response as she hurried down the sidewalk toward her car.
While driving back to the office, her concern went out to Sally. But Jimmy's conduct bothered her the most. She remembered his flirtatious ways toward her and other women before they were married, but his reaction just a few minutes ago really unsettled her. It brought back memories that she didn't like to recall. She gripped the steering wheel, trying to shake off the feeling.
Pulling into her parking space at work, she let out a loud sigh and stared out the windshield at nothing. "Oh, Sally, I hope everything's okay. Call me soon."
She'd no more sat down at her desk when the thought struck her that Sally might have called her apartment. Quickly dialing her own number, she activated the answering machine. When Sally's sobbing voice came over the line, Julia half rose from her chair, her hand flying to her throat.
"Julia, I won't be at work for a while. Don't tell anyone you've heard from me, especially Jimmy." Her voice broke into a sob. "My life's in danger. I'll call you when I can."