Samantha stared at the pulsing cursor on her screen as it mocked and dared her to decide. Her desk overflowed with books depicting, murder, mayhem, and body disposal. And true accounts of atrocities most people would rather not know, but upon which she thrived. Samantha Smith wrote murder mysteries—the ultimate human puzzles.
Sam crushed out a cigarette in the full ashtray and pondered how much damage cigarette lighter could do to a victim. While Sam deliberated, her villain paced and screamed from the electronic page. “Hey! What the fuck am I gonna do? Torture her with the lighter in my car or do I get a Zippo? A real man’s weapon?”
“Snap out of it girl before you climb inside that monitor?” a voice from the real world asked.
Sam felt her heart brake as her body did an involuntary jump. “Oh Jesus, Erica, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me?” Sam wagged a finger at Erica Markum—friend and aggravator alike.
Erica snickered and her dark eyes danced. “I didn’t sneak up on you, darling. I simply walked in. Is it my fault that you’re so absorbed in whatever murder you’re plotting that you’ve gone deaf?”
“All right,” Sam smiled and easily forgave the intrusion. “Honestly, I could use a distraction.” The sound of her villain’s voice reduced to a mere nagging whisper in the back of her mind. Sam lit another cigarette and scanned her desk for the cup of coffee she’d brought into her office hours before. “Are we having lunch or something? Did I forget again?”
Erica shook her head and thumbed through one of Sam’s reference books. “Mmmm, The Poison Cookbook. That should make for some interesting recipes.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Just dropped in to say, hello.” Erica smiled seductively.
Sam took the book away from Erica and put it aside. She admired Erica’s long, red fingernails and pictured her at home in a novel about murder and deceit. She’d make a perfect murderess – beautiful, intelligent and manipulative. Sam let the idea percolate in her head. A definite possibility for her next female villain. Sam smiled in that writer way as the wheels turned. Click, click, and click.
Erica tensed. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” Sam asked.
“Like you’re wondering if I have a gun in my garter belt,” Erica chided.
“Am I, darling? I’m sorry. Really, I was just thinking about my story. You know how preoccupied I can get.”
Erica fidgeted with the clasp on her designer handbag. “Don’t lie to me, I know you were thinking something.”
Sam laughed. “You’re right. I was thinking . . . I was thinking what a good villain you would make.” Erica frowned. “Don’t get upset, I don’t mean literally . . . I mean for one of my stories, you know?” Erica’s frown became a grimace. Sam hurried to explain. “As a model, I mean. That you would make a good model for one of my villains . . . in a story. Oh come on, it’s a compliment really.”
Erica smiled without joy. “Oh,” she laughed. “Yes, I see. Well, thank you.”
Sam clutched a little at Erica’s reaction—she was still pissed, that was obvious. Better to change the subject. She made a big deal of routing around her desk. “Do you have a cigarette? I can’t find mine anywhere.”
Erica frowned. “You can’t find them because you smoked all of them”
“Do you have a cigarette?” Sam asked again and wondered why she and Erica were friends.
Erica dug through her bag. “So tell me, what kind of killer would I be?”
Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably clever.” She leaned back in her old desk chair and envisioned Erica as murderess. “I think with panache.”
Erica’s grin was sudden and genuine. “Oooh, with panache. Really? You think?”
Sam nodded and grinned. “Yes, definitely. And your crime would be clever and unexpected. Your victim would trust you and would be utterly shocked when you finally attacked.”
Erica smiled again but it was a little creepy and Sam a shiver. “How intriguing. Why would I kill? Would I have a reason, or would it just be for kicks?”
But Sam was enjoying the game. “Good question. No, you wouldn’t do it for kicks. You’d have a reason. Jealousy probably.”
Erica looked angry suddenly and shook her head. “I would not!”
“Oh please, Erica, you know how jealous you are. Don’t you remember last summer? You thought I was having an affair with Jim? It took us weeks to convince you that you were being paranoid.”
Erica’s face clouded and she nodded. “Of course, I remember.” She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bag and offered a smoke to Sam.
Sam snatched the smoke, lit it and took a deep drag. “Thank God!” She coughed. “Jesus, these are strong! What are they?”
“Poison, darling,” Erica smiled. “Pure poison.”
“Please, don’t start with the lectures again. I get enough of that crap from my mother. Besides, you smoke too.”
“Yes,” Erica nodded, “but in moderation. It’s not an addiction for me.”
Sam felt dizzy and put the cigarette in the ashtray. “I don’t feel right.”
Erica stroked Sam’s hair and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, darling, it won’t last long. I read it right here in your lovely book. It says the pain passes quickly.”
Sam’s heart raced and she couldn’t focus. “What book? What do you mean?”
“I warned you about Jim. You think because I’m beautiful that I must be stupid?” Erica waved a photograph of Sam and Jim in an intimate pose, in Sam’s face. “I know what you did.” Tears welled in Erica’s eyes but she ignored them. “Well darling, it’s all over now.”
Sam realized she’d be dead in minutes. The room faded out of focus. And she couldn’t voice the questions and defenses raging in her mind. Just before Sam’s equilibrium deserted her, she lunged for Erica but instead fell to the floor.
Erica leaned down and checked Sam for a pulse, then smiled. “Bye, bye, darling.”
Erica snubbed the burning cigarette out in the ashtray and put the butt in her pocket. “Musn’t leave evidence, must we?” Erica asked as Sam’s dead eyes stared up at her. “I must say darling, you were right I am a clever murderess. Do you think Jim will agree? Erica shrugged her lovely shoulders. “I guess the experts are right—smoking is hazardous to your health.”
What’s Christine smoking?