GHOSTS OF OUR PAST
Kris stood over his desk, sweat forming on his brow, as he recollected his thoughts. She would talk, his campaign would be no more, his wife would leave him, his son would know. The list went on and on, and he could feel his headache’s intensity increase by the second. Exasperated, he reached out for a glass of water, which he accidentally knocked over. As he tried to clear the documents from the desk before they got wet, he felt that wave again. Fear was numbing him, and soon, he too would have to talk. The time was coming, and he could not be more unprepared.
Reaching into his pocket, Kris grabbed his phone. He now knew her number by heart. It was the only connection he had to this one girl who threatened his life as he knew it. ‘Rebecca,’ he muttered, ‘pick up the phone!’ He was getting frustrated. Each day she ignored him was a day he would never get back. It was twenty-four hours of tossing and turning and averting his eyes from those he loved. This morning his wife, Anna, had reached out to touch him as he left for his office. He had shuddered and recoiled as he caught the look in her eye. If only he could take back that moment, he now knew he would.
It was now five o’clock, time to leave the office and go about his meet and greet. He walked out of his office and found his assistant Tim and secretary Scarlet lost in deep conversation. ‘Young love,’ he mused. It was a sweet change to what his marriage had become. His wife loved him so dearly, but his world demanded sacrifices, some of which were too huge to bear. What they had now was an arrangement. She cooked and cleaned and watched over their ten-year-old son. He provided, much like his father had done. It was something he had hoped to break: the routine. He had hoped for a romantic marriage, one that he promised his wife twenty years ago when they first met. Kris had looked into her doe eyes and promised her the world, one he had hoped to give her. In between inheriting his father’s practice and taking up an interest in politics, he had lost the zeal to please her. One day she had walked up to him, intent on filing for divorce and moving to another town. She no longer cared what people in this quaint little town would say. Neither her grandmother’s curses nor her mother’s advice was going to hold her down. He remembered her outburst as she walked out the door, promising not to come back. For the few weeks she was away, he had come up with a convincing story. At first, she was visiting her relatives out of town. Then she had gone back to school in the hope of joining his practice. As he was coming up with another lie one Saturday afternoon, there was a knock on the door. He opened it to find her standing on the porch with a bag strapped on her shoulder. They did not say anything to each other; the bump was enough. Brian joined the family six months later and was the glue that held them together on most days. At others, it was the memories, and on some occasions, it was the love that they had first shared.
Kris awoke from his trance and cleared his throat. There was no time to dwell in the past. There was an election to win in a few weeks and a girl to find. None of these would happen if he were busy entertaining his thoughts. Nobody stirred in the room, and Scarlet continued to giggle and lean in, hoping to catch every word Tim had to offer. Kris neared the reception desk and made as if to walk out of the room. Scarlet was quick to notice him, and she stood up to bid him goodbye. On seeing this, Tim stood straight and faced his boss, ready for where the evening would take them. Little did he know that he would not make it back to Scarlet’s that day. The sheriff had other plans for him, as did some dark force that was now taking over the town.
Anna was confused. All night, she had sat in the living room, waiting for Kris to come home. The test was positive. Deep down, she was elated but couldn’t help but fear that her husband would not feel the same way. Brian had been a surprise, a good one, one that had saved a failing relationship. But with the elections in full gear and Kris intent on winning this time around, a pregnancy was not ideal. Her heart felt heavy as the hours dragged on. It was not unlike him to come home late after his campaign rounds. Often, he would be home by midnight, giving them enough time to catch up with each other. Not that he ever let on what was happening in the office. But those few moments when they sat together, she could get an idea of what was in the works. It could be from the way he sat, the curve of his smile, an unexpected sigh. But nothing that Kris would ever communicate in words. It worked for them, and her friends thought that hers was a great marriage. They did not know about the many lonely nights she spent in bed with him by her side. Today was different, though; she had good news for him. Another heir to the practice, maybe? It was clear that Brian would not follow in his father’s footsteps. Maybe Kris would appreciate another child, one whom he could make into a lawyer. One he might even spend time with. These thoughts stayed with her through the night. As each hour passed, she wondered what was keeping her husband away. Should she phone Scarlet? No, it was too late in the night. So she curled up on the sofa and waited. And when morning came, she was still seated, with more questions than answers than the night before. She heard Brian get up; it was time to prepare him for school. What if he asked where his father was?
Tim lay in the corner, watching his boss with fear written all over his face. Kris shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and got up from his desk. The sheriff was outside, questioning Scarlet, who had arrived for her shift, unaware that there was a pending investigation. From his office, Kris could see people streaming into town, ready to start the day. It would not be long before they too knew what was happening. The fear was getting to him now, and this time, he had a valid reason for it.
As they crossed the last street the night before, the sheriff had accosted them. Mark was a man of few words but was known to get to the bottom of every case. Not that there was much going on at any given time. Missing hens, runaway children, disputes between neighbors, he handled them all. So when he approached Kris, no alarms went off in his head. And they should have, given his situation with Rebecca. The sheriff was very clear; they had found a body, a woman’s body, down by the river. In her purse, she had an address, Kris’s home address.
Given that they did not have much to go on, they had sought Kris, hoping that he could help fill some gaps. His status in the community earned him some perks. More often than not, Mark would march suspects down to the station to record statements. But he made an exception in this case and interviewed Kris in an office uptown, where the meeting would not be open to the public.
A beautiful young woman with blonde hair and a slender stature had lain on the river bed for a day or so. An older man had found the body on his camping trip with his grandsons. It was not a trip they would forget any time soon. And neither was this day forgettable to Kris. He had stared long and hard at the picture, unbelieving as he felt all his strength leave his body. There she was, his sweet Rebecca. It was evident that Kris knew the woman and the sheriff dug in with his questions. At some point, he alluded that Kris had an affair with the woman. After all, she was a young beauty and most men, if not all, would not pass up the opportunity. Kris had lost it and lashed out at the chief who was taken aback by his behavior. Kris was not a man known to have a wild temper. It was a new side to him, a revealing side.
Before Kris met Anna, he led a wild life. He was away from the small town, which had chained him to a world with few possibilities. In college, he could do what he wanted, and with Hailey by his side, anything was possible. They got drunk and stayed up until the wee hours of the night. Skipping classes became a norm, and soon, they shacked up, unwilling to pass up any moment they could spend together. Life was simple, and they had a whole future ahead of them. Towards his last year, things got bad between them. He was insistent that he had to take over his ailing father’s practice while she wanted to see the world.
A difference in opinion opened up another realm in which they could not be together. He set off for his home, while she, the dreamer, set off on a world tour. He was not to hear from her again, and neither was she from him. It marked the end of a long friendship and the beginning of a suffering marriage. Twenty years later, a shy and breathtaking young woman had come into his life. Her mother was long gone, but the memories of their time together were fresh. He knew from the moment he saw her that Hailey was back in his life. Only this time, he would not let her go. The question was how he would break it to his family and community with the election ever so close. But that was not to be. She now lay in a cold and dark mortuary on the west side of town. And he was a primary suspect. If only Hailey could see him now.
Kris was now back home with his family, or what remained of it. To the outside world, the family unit was strong. But inside, there were silent wars that lasted through the days and nights. It had been a week since his release, and the whispers were getting louder. Murderer, child killer, beast, he had many titles to his name. But none were fitting for a man who had no hand in the death of his daughter. To his wife, he was a liar and a killer. She could do the math. Anna knew that Rebecca was the fruit of an affair that took place when Kris was off in college. And she carried the hurt with her in everything she did. From the scraping of the windows to the vacuuming in the wee hours of the night. It was in the way she lay in bed all day, in the tear stains on her pillow, to the sobs from the bathroom. But to the world outside, the murderer was back in the arms of his loving wife.
Scarlet spent her time arranging books in the office and trying to look busy. The client visits had reduced as most lawyers had been quick to grab the now open business. ‘Vultures,’ she hissed under her breath as she pushed the last book into the shelf. From the corner of her eye, she could see Tim walking down the street. She smiled as she entertained thoughts of calling him over when her shift was over.
Mark was not one to waste time when conducting investigations. Something nagged at him about this murder. It had seemed careless. The murderer had not bothered to immerse the girl’s body in the water but instead had left it on the shore. Whoever did this wanted the body to be found, and that left out the girl’s father. But there was something else, she was pregnant, and this was a fact of which Kris was not aware. Again, that took the focus off of him. But who else wanted the girl dead?
Once again, he was back in his files, reading each line over and over until it became a part of his memory. The longer he waited, the easier it would be for the murderer to get away. It was time to visit Scarlet. She might know more about her boss than she was willing to let on. It was always someone close to the murderer who hid vital information. It was a fact he had come to terms with over his years at the station. A hard one, albeit, but one he needed to consider in each case even if it meant harassing the prettiest receptionist in town.
Scarlet was busy trying to understand the carrot cake recipe when there was a knock on the door. She took a look at the couch where Tim was sleeping and decided against waking him up. Instead, she headed outside to have a chat with Mark. She liked Mark, and had he been available; he would have been her first choice. The weather was chilly, and being out in the open air was not very conducive. Gesturing, she urged him to take her through the story fast. Chuckling with an evil glint in his eye, Mark dove into the questions. Where did Kris spend his alone time? Any special visitors of late? Had he had affairs that she may know of? The questions continued for a while before the rain began to beat down on them. Mark promised he would be back soon and thanked her for cooperating. He hoped that being kind to her would help her open up. But there was something else. Her demeanor had changed in the last few days, and he could not understand what had caused the change. When he got to the station, he would take a closer look at this damsel who had the means and probably motive to frame her boss. And why not? He flashed her a broad smile and got into his wagon. Driving away, he thought he should stop for a pack of cigarettes.
Inside, Tim was waiting for Scarlet. He leaned over the kitchen counter and picked up the book. ‘What was that about?’ he asked her when she entered the room. Scarlet shrugged off her coat and sat on a stool by the sink. ‘He wants to know more about the boss. They are still looking into him,’ she replied coolly. Something about the meeting had shaken her. Mark expected her to know everything about her boss, but she did not. However, she was in a room with someone who knew everything there was to know about Kris. ‘What did you tell him?’ Tim asked, nearing the sink. Scarlet chuckled. ‘Well, there was nothing to add to the story, so he has to look elsewhere.’ She was now ready to start making the cake and to shake the gut feeling that was beginning to get the better of her. ‘Really? For half an hour, that’s all you told him?’ He was now standing over her, a vein popping in his forehead and a menacing look in his eyes.
Weeks earlier, Tim had received a phone call, which he had insisted on taking in another room. There were shouts followed by ‘Your father can never know!’ Scarlet, being the doting girlfriend, had stayed away from questioning Tim on this. But now, with him standing over her, looking like he was ready to strike, it all added up. In a small town such as this, people talked. They might speak of a long lost daughter for a while. But if she were to show up pregnant with the assistant to blame, it would be a scandal. More so if the assistant also had political ambitions and was unwilling to take up the boss’ daughter as a wife.
There was a knock on the door, a barely audible one, seeing as the rain was getting louder. Scarlet seized the opportunity and ran out through the back door, only to find Mark standing out in front. Tim was hot on her heels, but on seeing Mark, he tried to head to the neighboring house. Shots rented the air, and all was still. There he was, wounded and yelling in pain in the cold and wet lawn. Scarlet stood by the road, confused and shivering as Mark called for backup. It turns out he did not need those cigarettes, after all. He was right about the bad feeling, only wrong as to who it was about. It was the assistant all along. ‘How terrible!’ he exclaimed as he wrapped a coat around Scarlet’s shoulders.
It took months for the town to regain some stability. The court hearings had come to an end, and it was now time for the verdict. ‘Guilty!’ stated the judge as he banged his gavel. Tim looked downcast as the police led him away. It would take time for Kris and his family to be what they used to be. But for Scarlet, it was the green light she needed to leave the town. After all, an ex was heading to jail, with nothing but a story to tie him to her. ‘That’s what you get for cheating on me with an out-of-towner!’ she hissed at Tim as she left the court in a hurry. Mark watched this exchange from the corner of the room. The gut feeling was back as he watched the red-haired beauty dash towards the exit. As she reached for the handle, she glanced at Anna who met her look with a slight smile. It was over within seconds and Scarlet’s hair was all that he could see from where he stood. Could he have been wrong about the whole thing?