Now that she had finally shut her mouth, Debbie’s face was a stone. She hadn’t moved a muscle in twenty minutes. Will kept on talking, trying to pull her out of her funk. By God, he hadn’t hauled that fifth wheel up a twisting, potholed mountain road for nothing.

“So, that’s karma, I guess,” he chuckled, continuing to whittle at a branch with his pocket knife. “The guy runs off to Mexico with everyone’s money and his best friend’s wife, then BAM! some granny mows him down with her Buick.”

He looked at his wife from the corner of his eye. Her brown eyes were black with discontent. Will could almost feel his skin being seared off his bones.

You wanted to try camping, remember?” He sliced another long strip off of the branch.

“Well, it’s crap. I don’t know what Daddy saw in it.” Debbie ran her hands through her bleached hair. “Now, we have to find someone to buy this trailer.”

“We’ve only been here an hour. We need to get acclimated to it.”

“I’ll acclimate right into a coma if I have to watch you playing with that stick much longer.” Debbie pulled herself out of the camp chair and walked around the fire pit, hands on her hips. “Where the hell are Nick and Katie?”

“Probably lost and on the run from a pack wolves.”

Debbie spun around “Wolves?!

“Kidding. There aren’t any wolves,” he reassured her. “Just murderous mountain people.”

Will chuckled, delighted by the fear that flashed over her stony gargoyle expression. It was a mean satisfaction, he knew. He almost felt ashamed – except for the past six months of hell. Debbie exemplified the trope that ‘money did not buy happiness’. Her brother, Nick, could testify that getting shut out of a will was a downer as well.

“Not funny, Willie,” Debbie said, glaring. Will hated when she called him that. He resisted the urge to imbed his knife into that crease between her brows. That would spoil the day. Nick and his wife, Katie, would be there soon. They were great people. Things would definitely improve.

“Let’s take a walk.” Will picked up the branch, which was now fashioned into a walking stick, and folded the knife into his pocket.

“Uh, I don’t know if we should be stomping around out here.”

“It’ll be fine. We’ll just go down to the river.” Will headed toward the sound of rushing water, parting the brush and low branches with his new staff. He didn’t look back to see if Debbie was following. She wasn’t good at being on her own.

Reaching the river bank, Will hopped from stone to stone with ease. He made his way to a large, flat rock in the center of the river’s late summer flow. Turning, he saw Debbie negotiating the same stepping stones he had used. His breath caught in his chest each time she wobbled for balance.

Safely next to him on the island stone, Debbie looked around. Will was surpried by the slight smile that curled her lips.

“You took me to the river on our first date,” she said, raising her voice above the river’s din.

“We got stoned.” Will smiled at the memory.

“You kissed me.”

Will looked down at his wife’s upturned face, now relaxed and almost pretty – reminding him of the girl who was gone. His fingers tightened around the staff he held in both hands, a barrage of emotions surged through him. Jerking toward her, Will shoved the stick against Debbie’s chest with all his strength. Her ‘kiss me’ face turned to shock as she flew off the rock. Now, she reminded Will of a gargoyle discovering its wings had been clipped, screaming and clawing at the air.

Debbie landed in a motionless heap, draped over the stones they had used moments ago. Will rushed down to her with a unhappy frown. Had she hit her head on the rocks? He hadn’t been able to hear a thud over the rushing water. A growing puddle of blood put him at ease. He placed his fingers against her throat.

“Oh my God!” a woman’s voice cried out. Will turned to see two hikers emerging from the trees on the opposite side of the river. “Is she dead?!”

Will stood up, feeling a little guilty as Katie and Nick hurried over.

“No pulse,” Will told them, dreading what was coming.

“How did this happen?” Katie’s voice was outraged as she looked down at Debbie’s limp body. She turned to Will and slammed her fist into his arm. “Goddammit, Will, you promised!”

“It was an accident!” Will rubbed his arm.

“Yeah, right. You knew I wanted first crack at her. Selfish bastard.” Katie pursed her lips in thought. “Well, then you’re giving me the fifth wheel, as a bonus to my third of the inheritance and the life insurance.”

“Done.” Will watched her as she marched in the direction of their camp.

“Think there’s time for a couple of brewskies?” Nick asked, with a grin.

“You got it, bud!” Smiling, Will clamped his hand on his brother-in-law’s shoulder and looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful day for murder.


2 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

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