(For your entertainment – first chapter of my recent novel, Love & Murder in Cyberspace)
Mark and Richard
Where shall I start my wretched tale of Galahad and I? In the beginning, the middle, the end? Each clamors for attention, saying "pick me," "pick me," and for good reasons naturally. It's still a toss-up as I far as I'm concerned, especially since I've lost track of time. So much has happened since, I don't know anymore. Where is the beginning or the middle? And I'm still uncertain of the end. In all likelihood, I'll either shoot myself through the head or die from overdose. And that's the desirable alternative. The thing I dread the most, I could get a life sentence.
The last three months have been dreadful. I was on the run, from myself first, then the law. Not one peaceful moment in the whole lot, no sense of reprieve. No wonder I turned myself in. Anyone would. There's nothing worse than uncertainty, not knowing whether you're guilty or innocent. I'd rather stand convicted, right or wrong, than have her on my conscience and live the rest of my life like some hunted animal from cave to cave – a stranger to myself, equally unfit for the company of men. Even if they hang me.
My recollection is still hazy, especially of that night. Will I ever know? Perhaps it will come to me like a bolt of lightning; perhaps it never will. Even so, I'm beginning to recover a sense of composure, a kind of peace that comes only with acceptance. Bit by bit, I've started reconstructing the sequence of events, states of mind, motives, so as to piece it together into a coherent whole. And it's been only days.
Thank God for solitary confinement, a true solace for the troubled soul.
But I had better get on with my story. So little time, so much to tell.
Galahad and I have been sweethearts, you see. Prospective sweethearts, I should say. Then, she sprang this character on me. Mark Gould was the name. I knew him to be worthless, a complete scumbag, totally undeserving. What business did she have to connect with someone like that? Was it to spurn me, to make me declare my intentions and act like a man, or did she really fall for that jerk head over heels?
The latter was unthinkable, totally out of character; the former, a cause for concern and opportunity at the same time, how well I knew it, to take action, decisive action. Understand therefore that I had to find out which was which – where exactly we stood, Galahad and I? Mark was inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, a mere appendage, a pretext.
Easier said than done.
All Capricorns are gold diggers by nature. Financial security is their prime concern, and Galahad ranked with the best of them. Relationships were always a means to an end – a stepping-stone to a life of ease, comfort and general well-being. I ought to know. Ran into her sugar daddy once. A harmless little fellow, not much to look at, rather plain and nondescript. So physical attraction couldn't have been a factor, though one never knows of course: there's no longer accounting for a woman's taste. In this case, however, I was dead-certain. No wonder she'd kept it a secret. Didn't want to be seen with anyone like him. In her place, I'd be embarrassed too.
So I wasn't jealous, not on account of Richard. Far from it, I considered it a privilege to play the role of a rival. Of course, my rivalry was of a different kind. Let her use other people, I thought, to feed her insecurities – more power to her – provided of course she looked to me for her emotional needs. In that department, I was certain I had no equal.
Consequently, I was fairly content to fill that niche in her life. In time, of course, I'd hoped to break her out of her ugly habit – her rather misplaced concern with things material. It presented in fact the greatest challenge – to make her unencumbered and free like I knew she could be. That's why I loved her so – for her potential! Meanwhile, I accepted her weakness as a temporary aberration, a glitch, something she'd eventually grow out of. I pictured a happy ending. But then, she sprang this Mark character on me – not only a pauper but a worthless leech. It made no sense. Again, was she spurning me, using him as a puppet to affect our breakup or did she really fall for that creep?
The rest of the story follows a natural progression. Events take shape all on their own, each impinging on one another swiftly with mechanical efficiency, exhibiting the iron law of cause and effect beyond all questioning, uncertainty or doubt. It's almost as though I was caught in some humongous spider web, unable to free myself, destined to follow the dictates of the moment, drawing me closer and closer to the final act.
Galahad, I must preface, was one of the most secretive persons you could ever meet. She guarded her privacy like one does their heirlooms. Even her residential address she regarded as top secret. Post office box was all she'd ever give out, and even then you had to consider yourself lucky. Consequently, it was imperative to disguise all interest in the matter and proceed with the utmost caution or I'd never learn the truth. Hence the first item on the long list of must-dos – keep on going to work as though nothing had happened. (Didn't I mention we worked for the same firm? How silly of me! That's how we met.)
Then it struck me. I couldn't possibly risk being spotted by her after hours. Her naturally suspicious nature would have alerted her and told her something was up. Any detective work would have to be done by proxy. Fortunately, I knew a PI by acquaintance. We frequented the same tavern. Seemed like a nice chap, easygoing and reliable. Jake Hammonds was the name. Gave me his business card once. Reasonable rates, he assured me; could use extra work. A phone call the day after got me the appointment.
In less than half an hour our business was over. Didn't go much into detail. How could I? I was grateful he didn't inquire. Simply told him we had met at work and were considering an engagement. Didn't know much about her. Raised in St. Paul, Minnesota; in the Bay Area since 1997. Graduated from Mills College with an MA, in political science, I thought. Did tarot-card readings on the side, possibly a Wicca, frequented a spa now and then. Had a rich boyfriend named Richard, but their relationship as far as I knew was platonic. I assured him I wasn't jealous. "Sugar daddy" – that's what I thought of him. Other than that, she was an enigma.
Naturally, I wanted to know more – about her life, habits, circle of acquaintances and friends. Would he please follow her for a week or two? A standard background-check, nothing out of the ordinary. I'd told him of my past marriages too – all tumultuous, passionate and brief. Didn't want to make another mistake. This time I wanted to make certain. Charlie Pride's country tune, "It Was a Picture-Perfect Wedding," kept ringing in my ears. "Wrong" was one word I didn't want to understand.
I think he bought it. Didn't bat an eye.
I apologized for the vita brevis. Not much to go on. Just a name, physical description, where she worked, the town where she lived, the make of her car.
He said it was enough. Would get back to me with a full report in a couple of weeks. Asked for a thousand in advance, two thousand on completion.
I paid without hesitation. Didn't mention Mark Gould. No need to. No matter what, the truth was bound to come out, so I kept my thoughts to myself.
The worst part was over, the next about to begin. The waiting!
It was early November, two weeks before my birthday.