Her Cheating Heart by Russel D. McLean
The door was open. The lights were off. There was music playing.
I walked inside, announced my presence. Five minutes early. The open door worried me.
The country music didn’t help.
I’d walked out on Ros for this. All the usual arguments. Accusations of me losing myself in the worlds of my clients, of knowing them better than the woman I loved.
Did I cut out on her for the job?
Or because I knew she was right?
“Mr Williams?” I stopped at the stairs that led to the second level of the house. The music – soulful, cracked vocals and melancholic guitar – came from the rear of the house on the ground level.
In the living room, where the music was playing, the only light came from the streetlights outside. Illuminating the room just enough so I could see my client, Mr Williams, sitting in an armchair by the fireplace. Drinking from a crystal whisky glass, slumped like jelly.
The first time I met him, Mr Williams had worn a well-pressed wool suit, white shirt and dark tie. His hair, thinning, was carefully combed. He walked tall. All confidence. Until he talked about his wife. The things he suspected. The things he feared.
Seeing him slumped in the chair, some sadsack alcoholic catastrophe, made the hairs on my arms dance as though a cold breeze had blown across them.
He turned his head. From the distance of a few feet I could smell the booze. Light a match, burn the bastard down.
“Oh, aye,” he said, and laughed the laugh of a condemned man. “Mr Bryson. You’re early.”
I stepped forward, took the glass from his hand. “It’s a little early.”
“I’ve been at it all day. A little bit tae start me in the morning, a wee bit more at lunch and then…” he laughed, again, didn’t bother finishing his sentence. “Preparing myself, ken? For the news.”
Williams had let this worry gnaw at his soul for a long time before he even came to me. A cancerous suspicion that had eaten away at him until he could think of nothing else.
I remembered the moment he lost his poise in my office:
“My wife… I think she’s cheating on me.”
Simple words, enough to near kill him.
This morning, I’d felt good, Knowing that his fears were unfounded. Not often in this business you bring anyone good news.
I waved the file in front of him. He waved back, dismissive in the way only a drunk can be. “Dinnae need tae read it,” he said. “Know it all, Bryson.”
I wanted to shake him.
He mouthed along for a moment with the country song on the stereo. Then, he said, “Her cheatin’ heart.”
I shook my head. “Mr Williams, your wife loves you.”
During our fight, Ros had called me an emotional jackal, confirming people’s worst fears. “When’s the last time you made someone’s life better?”
The proof was in my hands.
Proof my client had begged for.
Proof I knew now he had never expected.
So what had I been expecting? A hug? Tears of joy?
When you come to someone like me, you don’t expect to be told that your suspicions are wrong.
He shook his head, mumbled something incoherent.
“I’m serious,” I said. “It’s all here. Her every move, her whole life when she’s with you and when she’s away from you and when –”
“Shut up!” he roared. Stood up, tried take a swing at me. He moved slowly, carried roughly by the momentum of rage. I stepped back. He fell onto the floor in front of me, rolled onto his side, tucked his knees up to his chest and started to sob.
More to his reaction than drunken irrationality.
Maybe I should have seen it earlier. But I hadn’t been looking. Taking his nervous twitches, the way his eyes refused to meet mine and the way he rubbed his hands harshly together to be signs of his concern rather than anything else.
But seeing him here, in this state, I knew that there had been some deeper seated cause to his malady. And I hadn’t noticed. Or else ignored it.
I walked over to the stereo, turned off the country music. Now there were merely sobs. Like there was a difference.
I crouched beside him, said, “Its good news.”
“Nah,” he said, sniffling like a child. “Its not good news, Bryson.” He pushed his chin down, like he was trying to hide his face between his chest and his knees.
Anger to sadness. All it takes is the flip of a switch inside your brain.
He had told me during our initial consultation how much he loved his wife. His thick brow creasing with concern; heavy, black eyebrows closing together. Voice lowering to a near whisper as he told how much he loved her. “Its killing me,” he said, “to even think that she would be… with someone else.”
Alarm bells should have rung, perhaps. He’d been in a bad way. I should have seen it. Should have realised:
He’d judged her already.
Found her wanting.
As he cried, I found myself reaching out as though to touch him, but pulled back, as if afraid he would turn his head and try to snap at my fingers like some wild animal.
“If your wife finds you like this,” I said. “She’s going to ask some strange questions.”
“Ye dinnae get it, do you, Bryson?” he said. “She’s been here all the time.”
“Upstairs,” he said. “In the bedroom.”
I stood up. The hairs on my arms danced again, this time with an urgency that felt sharply electric. I walked out, leaving the files behind, taking the whiskey glass.
The master bedroom. Her body underneath the bed covers. Like she was asleep.
Except blood had soaked through the white sheets.
He’d positioned her carefully, lovingly, gone to great lengths to make it look as though she’d simply slipped away in the night. Would have worked if the blood didn’t tell a different story.
Same with the shattered bedside lamp and the cracked mirror. Blood on the carpet, too, soaking into the thick, cream fabric.
He’d been sick when he came to see me. A paranoid and dark sickness that, unchecked as it was, had manifested itself in this contradictory scene of deep hatred and gentle adoration.
I had to wonder, was there something more I could have done? Could I have prevented this terrible tragedy?
I dialled the police from my mobile. Told them who I was, where I was.
Every detail they asked for.
Hung up and hung around.
Waiting to hear the sirens, I dialled another number.
Ros answered, sounding hesitant.
I looked around the room, realised I didn’t know what to say. But I had to say something. Make some sense out of this.
Figured hearing her voice might help.