Stuck in their dark stalls, they champed and whinnied, starving for the exercise they needed. It was abusive. They needed to gallop, to feel the wind on their sleek faces, to pound their beautiful black hooves on the ground. Instead he gave them ridiculous names and let them rot in barred cells.
She readied the tea service and hurried down the hallway. Opening the study door, she stared with distaste at the back of Lloyd Halliday's bald head. Apparently, he hadn't heard her enter. He sat motionless in his favorite chair, his weak hands grasping the morning paper.
She started toward his desk, but stopped and stared at the outline of his skinny arms under the light blue pajama shirt.
The man hadn't done an honest day's work in his life, but because he was a Halliday, he could afford to sit around all day in his self-important cocoon while the rest of the world slaved.
Come to think of it, she'd never seen Angela Halliday work either. The woman was as spoiled and self-absorbed as her husband. Yet they had a dozen cars, three houses, and the best collection of thoroughbreds she'd ever seen. And all because his family had money.
Miss Baines thought of her own father. He'd worked as a farrier for years before finally succumbing to the tuberculosis that had made his life such an unholy hell toward the end. After his death, her trollop of a mother had remarried too quickly. In protest, Miss Baines left home for good at sixteen. At nineteen, she came to work for the Hallidays. Now forty-eight, her marrying days were long behind her. She'd had lovers but they only wanted her for a casual rut. She'd never had a marriage proposal.
This she blamed on her bosses. The bastards.
They were ten years older than she. They could have helped her find a mate. She was only a girl when she came to work for them. There had been no one else to guide her, no one to tell her that her twenties and thirties would fly by in a gray haze of dirty linens and tarnished silverware. No one to warn her that she'd look into the mirror one day and realize that her only accomplishment was making the lives of Lloyd and Angela Halliday easier.
And they loved to show her off. She was proof of their philanthropy. Came to us right off the streets, Lloyd was fond of telling his dinner guests. They'd turn their pitying doe's eyes on her and sigh. She'd strain out a smile and gather their slimy dishes and end up crying in the pantry while the other servants sat in the back kitchen getting drunk and telling sex jokes about priests and alligators.
She placed the tea service on Mr. Halliday's desk and tried to pour him a cup, but her hands shook. Little dollops of steaming tea slopped over the sides of the cup and drenched her fingers. She sucked in breath as the hot droplets sizzled blisters into her skin. Hissing, she set the kettle on the tray.
Baines stood erect and stared down at Lloyd Halliday. His pale face hung poised over the newspaper, ignoring her, as if she hadn't just scalded her fingers so he could have a hot cup of tea. Her jaw flexed, unflexed.
He was reading the Sports section, she noticed. Did he bother to read the business section? Couldn't he for a moment pretend he was interested in wheeling and dealing and checking on the stock market? Was he so comfortable that he needn't give his investments a periodic glance to make sure they hadn't gone belly up? Would it make a difference if they did?
She thought of her father and how hard he had worked.
He spent most of his time working to support his daughter and his ungrateful wife, but on the weekends he'd sneak his daughter into the stables at the track and let her sit on the horses. She remembered the way he'd lift her up gently and set her in the saddle. She loved the way his face shone out from under his wild mane of brown hair as he smiled up at her. He'd lead the horses around the stables and let his daughter feel the strength beneath her. She'd let out delighted shrieks and he'd smile and laugh until the coughing and the blood on his lips and hands brought him to his knees. It was his lot in life to be born poor and to die in agony while the Lloyd Hallidays of the world sat around in their pajamas as their bank accounts collected interest.
As she watched her boss, the thought she'd had in the dining room surfaced again: I will kill them today.
Her raisin eyes twinkled as she imagined their screams.
She placed the teacup on the desk, and picked up the monogrammed letter opener from atop her boss's desk. L.L.H., the initials read. Lloyd Ledford Halliday.
Fingering the carved wooden handle of the steel implement, she wondered how many adoring letters he'd opened with it.
The people who came to dinner at the mansion thought the world of him. He gave them a nice dinner, a tour of the grounds, and a brief ride on his horses; they drove away thinking him a great man.
Baines stared at the shiny face of the letter opener for a moment and wondered how sharp it was. She pressed a silver edge against her thumb but frowned when it didn't break the skin. She turned it over, dragged it across her palm and sighed as the flesh divided. It wasn't razor-sharp, but it would do. The blood in her palm stirred the old memories. She remembered the way her father had coughed that last night.
She lunged at Lloyd Halliday, crooked an elbow under the little man's chin and wrenched him sideways. His back arched against the arm of his favorite chair. He gasped. Half of the Sports section tumbled from his flaccid grip and took cover between his legs. She used her forearm to lever up his chin and pushed the steel point of the letter opener against his Adam's apple with her free hand.
Okay, she thought. Now what?
The sparse hairs on his bald pate tickled her chin. A moment ago, she had had no compunction about putting the man to death, but now that she was in position to take his life, uncertainty gripped her. She despised him, yes, but did he deserve to die?
Unsure of what her next move should be, she occupied her mind with other matters. This close to him, she could see the brown liver spots dotting his scalp. She tried to count them but lost track at eleven.
Halliday sat thunderstruck. It occurred to him that the maid had lost her mind. He would not have been more surprised had the chair itself grown fangs and swallowed him whole.
What the hell had gotten into her? Had she mixed the wrong combination of cleaning products into a mind-clouding witch's brew? Maybe she had been an opium addict all along and her mania had finally manifested itself. He could see the dark handle of the letter opener out of the corner of his eye. It had been a gift from Angela. The carving on the handle was a Celtic rune which stood for COURAGE, he remembered the front of the box saying. With its silver tip jabbing his Adam's apple, however, he felt anything but courageous. It was all he could do to keep his bowels from uncorking.
The clock above the window ticked.
He wondered whether or not Miss Baines had shut the door on the way in. He supposed so, although he hadn't noticed the sound of it. Was Angela still about? No, she'd be off to her luncheon by now. His eyes welled up with tears as the reality of his situation sank in. He was all alone. If the maid decided to sheath the silver dagger in his throat, there was nothing he could do about it.
Lloyd struggled to blot out the horror of his predicament by grasping at straws. Perhaps the woman didn't plan on killing him. Maybe this was her way of positioning herself for a raise, as if fear were the bartering tool that would net her better wages. Well, she needn't worry about that now, he thought. As soon as her hand dropped from his throat, the letter opener would be his, and she would be out of a job. She'd be in jail for attempted murder if he had anything to say about it.
As if in answer, the pressure on his throat increased. He felt the silver tip pierce his skin. Warm blood trickled down his neck.
Lloyd gulped. He had no idea when Angela was due home from her luncheon. Oh, damn that woman. One could never predict whether she'd be arriving home at one o'clock or five. It all depended on the department stores. If the new line had come in at Bixby's, he might not see her again until nightfall. This crazed lunatic of a maid could cut out his liver and have it cooked and eaten by then.
He thought of Angela. Even though she was pushing sixty, she was still a stunner. He knew she'd married him for his money, and in the beginning, he'd been fine with that. In the intervening years, though, he'd begun to wish she'd show him a little tenderness. Maybe, if he made it through this mess, they could work to better the relationship. He was certainly willing.
He hoped she'd come home soon. There was no telling what Baines was capable of. Until now he'd seen the woman as a necessary appliance. She wasn't particularly efficient, but she'd never been terrible at her job either. At least not homicidal. What the hell had set her off?
His voice came out in a hoarse whisper, "Whatever's happened, I'm sure we can work it out."
The arm under his jaw tensed. Light-headed with fear, Lloyd held his breath. Perhaps the woman really did intend to kill him.
"I see," he croaked.
He could smell the maid's soap. That figures, he told himself. The woman wasn't the type to wear perfume, so she smelled of soap. The scent reduced his anxiety. How could a woman who smelled of soap kill anybody? If she were truly insane, she wouldn't bother with bathing. She'd be soiling herself and playing the tambourine.
A grim thought occurred to him. Maybe this wasn't a senseless act after all. What if Baines really did have a motive in killing him? What if she and Angela were in cahoots, had staged the entire thing to make it look like a robbery? He would be murdered, Angela would knock the maid over the head a couple of times to make it look as though she'd been attacked, and the two of them would live the rest of their lives off of his insurance money.
Horror washed over him. He'd insisted on a prenuptial agreement, but he'd made the mistake of listing Angela as the sole beneficiary on his life insurance policy. Damn that woman. He'd safeguarded himself from a profit-seeking divorce, but he hadn't protected himself against a murder plot.
No, that was insane, and furthermore, it was unfair to his wife. He thought again of turning over a new leaf. Yes. He and Angela were still young enough to make a good go of it. She was still lovely, and he fancied himself in better shape than other men his age. They would take a trip to Europe. Some time on the Riviera would be just the thing to inject a little romance into their marriage.
The idea of an improved marriage bolstered his resolve.
"Look here, Miss--" he began, but stopped as the vise grip on his jaw tightened.
"Please tell me," he said through clenched teeth, "what you want."
She eased the letter opener away from his Adam's apple, but kept her forearm firmly clamped under his jaw. He longed to slip free of her grip but knew she'd be able to thrust the dagger deep into his throat before he could drop his chin to protect himself.
"Okay. Please don't hurt me," he said. "I'm sure there's been some misunderstanding."
Footsteps sounded behind them. Miss Baines turned her head and stared at the woman standing in the doorway. Halliday started to turn but thought better of it. He could already feel the blood drying on his neck from the first attack. He didn't want to give her a chance to cut him again. Next time, she might open his jugular.
"Angela?" he asked.
Mrs. Angela Halliday, her eyes full moons, stood and stared.
"Stay right there," Baines commanded.
Dressed in a pink dress, her brown curls peeking out from beneath the brim of a small white hat, Mrs. Halliday massaged her bony chest and stared at the woman holding her husband hostage.
She asked, “What are you doing to my husband?”
Miss Baines turned her head and shot her a mischievous glance.
"Answer me," Mrs. Halliday demanded. She took a step toward the pair.
"Don't come any closer, Angela," said the maid. She didn't like having the woman behind her. With a violent twist, she wrenched her hostage out of his chair and onto the hardwood floor. Lloyd winced as his tailbone bounced on the unforgiving surface, sending electric currents of pain shrieking through his body. Miss Baines moved with him, her knees planted under his shoulders, the back of his head wedged against her stomach. His skinny legs lay spread-eagled on the floor like a light blue pair of scissors.
"Okay." Angela folded her arms. "What do you want?"
"I want my life back."
"We don't always get what we want, do we?" Angela said. Baines glanced up at her in surprise. She wished she could read what the woman was thinking. If Angela was concerned about her husband, she no longer showed it. Under her bleach-white hat, her countenance was serene.
The effort of pulling the man onto the floor had taxed Miss Baines. She worked to slow her breathing. She gathered herself and said, "First of all, I want you to give me back the decades I've wasted on you and your husband.” She thought for a moment, then added, “And after that, I want you to beg for your husband's life." Yes, that was exactly what she wanted. After debasing herself for twenty-nine years, it was a pleasure to hold a knife to Lloyd Halliday's throat, to feel the man squirm. Now she wanted to hear his wife whimper and plead.
Angela grinned. "You can't be serious."
Miss Baines leaned on her hostage and squeezed the letter opener. She was growing nervous. The wooden handle was slippery in her grasp.
"Beg," said the maid.
"If you think I'm going to humiliate myself on Lloyd's account, you're going to be sorely disappointed."
Baines felt her anger returning and heard a low, keening gurgle issue from Halliday's mouth. She looked down at him and realized she'd been choking him unconscious. Relaxing her grip, she gazed up at Angela. Lloyd opened his mouth and coughed, his thin body heaving and retching.
The two women stared at one another. Baines said, "You're in no position to make me angry, Angela."
"What is that?" Mrs. Halliday's brow furrowed. "Is that Lloyd's letter opener?"
"Yes it is. Now beg for your husband's life."
Angela hugged herself and smiled. "You've lost your mind."
The maid fixed her raisin eyes on Angela Halliday and saw that the woman wasn't bluffing. She didn't seem to care whether her husband lived or died. Staring impassively down at him from the doorway, she looked as though she could be waiting for a bus.
"I'll kill him, Angela."
"Then kill him. I'm sure you've done enough snooping through our things to learn of the insurance policy."
"Angela," Halliday whispered, tears streaming from his watery eyes.
"Oh, quit blubbering, Lloyd. I never loved you, and you never wanted anything in a wife but a trophy to show off to your friends." Angela smiled, her eyes glittering like chips of ice. "You're nothing to me."
"But he's your husband," Baines said, aghast.
"He's nothing to me. You're nothing to me, Lloyd," she said, her eyes flashing.
"Angela, please," he whispered.
"Go ahead. Kill him."
The maid glanced down at the bald head in her lap and seemed to see the man for the first time. The liver spots were rather pitiful in the dim light of the den. Halliday looked like an overgrown child in his light blue pajamas.
What had she been thinking? Mrs. Halliday was the real monster. It was she that Miss Baines hated the most, she that had caused most of her misery. Miss Baines thought of the tablecloths. It didn't matter if the formal dining room were used or not—the tablecloths absolutely had to be washed and pressed. Five times a week for the past twenty-nine years she had lugged the heavy linen bundle down the stairs to the laundry room. And for what?
A dull ache began to pulse in her lower back.
"So, Miss Baines. Are you going to do it or aren't you?" Angela leaned against the doorjamb and appraised the pair on the floor.
Releasing Halliday, the maid put the letter opener between her teeth and, like an arthritic pirate, rose to her feet.
"So you've come to your senses?" Angela's grin was triumphant.
The maid grunted. She released Halliday; his head thumped on the floor. Neither woman noticed. Pulling her weapon from her mouth, Baines lurched across the room.
"What are you doing?" Angela watched in fascination as the hunched-over figure shambled toward her. "I said, wh--"
She gasped as the maid flew at her, the silver shard glinting. The letter opener missed her face by inches. She fell back through the doorway, turned, and nearly landed on her face. Stumbling, she pawed at the floor to gain her balance. Her hat fell off.
She threw a terrified look over her shoulder as the steel blade whistled through the air and slashed across her buttocks. Searing pain erupted as she felt a draft whisper over the fresh wound. As if to preserve her modesty, she covered the gouge with one hand and pushed herself up to a running position with the other. She tried to regain her balance, but her high heels betrayed her.
Angela looked back and cried out.
Miss Baines was grinning at her.
To make matters worse, the deranged woman was raising the letter opener for another assault. Damn these high heels, Angela thought, and yelped as silver whizzed down and slashed the back of her arm from shoulder to elbow. The pain was incredible.
Arms flailing, Angela dashed down the hallway.
She glanced back at her pursuer, and was heartened to find she had increased the distance between them. She could hear the maid's tortured breathing and thanked her stars that she'd kept in shape playing tennis at the country club.
Now, if she could only make it out of the house. She would push through the swinging door at the end of the hallway, race through the kitchen and foyer and escape through the front door. Once outside, she'd dash to her car, and then she'd be off to the police station. At once she envisioned herself telling her friends at the club about her heroics. The near-death experience would make her lovemaking with Stan Mortenson, her tennis instructor, even sweeter than usual.
Her arms pumping, Angela smiled.
She risked another backward glance and her smile faded. The maid had gained on her and was closing fast.
Frantic, she wheeled to her right, and bursting into the dining room, swung shut the door. She immediately realized her mistake.
She was trapped.
Angela braced against the door, thinking. The only way out was the bay window across the room. She'd have to smash it with a chair and climb out. But to get across the room she'd need to leave her post at the dining room door, and there was no lock to hold the deranged servant outside.
Behind her, Angela heard laughter. My god, she thought. Had the woman harbored this homicidal rage all these years, allowing the bile to bubble and churn inside as she went about her duties as if nothing were amiss?
She heard a faint clatter and glanced down to find the steel point poking under the door, probing for a target. It reminded her of the doll in that old Karen Black movie. She tried to pin the weapon under her shoes, but the narrowness of her heels made it impossible. The steel point disappeared.
The door jolted. Angela pushed back, driving with her legs, but the door continued to jump. She'd not be able to hold Baines off much longer. Whatever fell demon had possessed the woman had given her incredible strength. And where in God's name was Lloyd? Some husband. Probably in the bathroom putting iodine on his scratch while she was trapped in here fighting for her life.
Angela stared across the room and struggled to formulate an escape route.
Between her and the window, a bundle of linen lay piled on the floor. Damn that Baines. She'd no doubt planned it. Had their dining room table been smaller, the tablecloth would have presented no difficulty, but because they'd opted for a table that seated twenty, the huge mound of linen stretched all the way to the wall. She could try to climb over the table, but the thought of exposing her buttocks to the pointy steel tip again made her rule out the idea. She could try to crawl under it, but she'd have to navigate table legs and chairs, and again, the thought of serving up her rump to the maid for target practice was one she refused to consider. She pawed at the back of her dress and the felt the soggy fabric sticking to her wound.
She grunted as Baines battered the door.
As it bucked against her, an arm shot through the opening. A hand flailed and grasped at her hair. Angela gritted her teeth and worked to pin the woman's arm in the doorjamb. She strained but found herself losing ground. She couldn't get any goddamned traction in her high heels.
It was useless. Baines was pushing through.
Angela sized up the tablecloth. She would have to leap over it to avoid getting tangled up. There were no alternatives. The maid would come crashing through at any moment. She had to try it.
Angela pushed away from the door, heard a whooshing sound as it opened behind her, and leaped into the air.
And screamed as her feet caught on the tablecloth. The hardwood floor rushed up to meet her.
Half-turning, she struck the ground and saw the maid bearing down on her. Angela brought her hands up to cover her throat as the maid's feet tangled in the linen and sent the woman tumbling toward her. The letter opener swung up as the maid's body crashed down.
Angela watched in shock as its silver tip impaled Baines in the throat.
The maid's body jounced on top of Angela, knocking out her wind. The maid's weight drove the steel blade home. It buried itself up to the hilt in the woman's throat. Blood spurted out around the handle of the letter opener and painted Angela's screaming face red. She thrashed and struggled to rid herself of the maid's hot bulk, but the dying, gurgling woman lay fixed on top of her. Miss Baines clawed at the steel shard, trying to dislodge it, but it remained embedded. Hot jets of blood drenched Angela as she screamed and worked to roll out from under the dying woman. Through the steaming flood, she tried to shout her husband's name. Her voice was cut off as a gout of blood spurted into her mouth.
Angela couldn't breathe. The maid's heavy body was implacable. Blood splashed hot and sticky over her face and hair.
At last, the Baines lay still. The pumping blood began to subside, having spent itself on Mrs. Halliday and her linen.
Angela writhed to free herself. She couldn't allow herself to be buried alive under this lunatic's corpse. After what seemed an eternity, she rolled out from under the dead woman. The body made a squishing sound on the wet tablecloth.
Weeping, she turned her head and vomited up the blood she'd ingested. Where in God's name was Lloyd? Probably still whimpering on the floor of his den. She wept, gagging at the taste of copper in her throat.
She sat up and stared in disbelief. Someone had actually tried to kill her.
And the maid, of all people. The woman had been such a quiet, nondescript cog in the machinery of her household that she'd not thought her capable of any human emotion, much less a murderous rampage.
She surveyed the room in disgust. Blood was still spreading from beneath Miss Baines, soaking into their beautiful hardwood floor.
Angela remembered her own wounds. The cut on her buttocks hurt, but the one running the length of her arm pulsed with a pain she'd not thought possible. She felt herself growing faint.
Her hands slipping, she managed to struggle out of her shoes. She'd never wear high heels again. Fighting waves of nausea, she pushed slowly to her feet and ambled into the hallway. Once there, she leaned against the antique floral wallpaper, not caring that she was smearing the maid's blood all over it. She closed her eyes and rested. Her gorge began to calm. Once again in control of herself, she opened her eyes and peered down the hallway.
From the doorway of his study, Lloyd watched her.
"Where the hell were you, Lloyd? I could have been killed."
Wordlessly, he approached. There was something odd about the way he moved, although she couldn't put her finger on it. No matter. Soon she would be in intensive care. "Lloyd, please come here and help me."
His face in shadow, he shambled toward her. He didn't seem to be in any hurry.
"Damn you, Lloyd, I've been through hell and I need medical attention."
She couldn't believe he would behave this way after the ordeal she'd suffered. His self-absorption incensed her. He was no man. He was a useless husk that took up space.
She hated him.
She hated him for his laziness and she hated him for abandoning her when she needed him the most. Above all, she hated him for the way that he was scaring her now.
He moved into the light, and what she saw made her feel no better.
Down-turned, his face was set in a scowl. His eyes peered up at her angrily. He was growling.
Angela began to back away.
His eyes shined in the shadowy hallway.
She noted with alarm that his hands were balled into fists.
"Lloyd? You're scaring the hell out of me. Lloyd!"
She turned and ran. This time, there were no heels to slow her down.
She made it to the front door and sprinted down the porch. She thought of screaming for help but remembered it was Saturday and the help wouldn't be there to prepare dinner until five o'clock.
My God, she thought. That was four hours away.
Lloyd exploded through the doorway and made for his wife. Angela turned right and ran toward her Lexus, but he anticipated her and cut her off. She turned, her feet sliding on the grass, and sprinted for the shelter of the stables. If she could somehow lead one of the horses out of its stall, it could carry her to salvation. Forty yards and she'd reach them. She crossed the driveway, ignoring the flecks of gravel puncturing her bare feet. Thirty yards. She thought of Stan Mortenson. He'd murder Lloyd for this. She cast a glance over her shoulder. Her husband was bearing down on her.
She'd never make it.
Twenty yards. Fifteen. Five.
She opened the door, dashed inside, and pulled it shut behind her. Unlike the one in the dining room, this door had a lock. She grabbed the metal bar and shoved it down.
Angela braced for the impact of Lloyd's body. She held her breath, waiting. The horses in the stalls ahead watched her curiously. Their black eyes shined in the faint light filtering in through the tiny windows. She waited.
Surely he had reached her by now. Why hadn't he begun pounding on the wood and forcing his way in? She shivered.
It was very dark. The horses, sensing danger, stamped and snorted in their stalls. Could he have gone around to the opposite entrance? Would she see him before he was upon her? She leaned against the door and strained to see down the line of stalls. She could make out the straw on the floor in front of her, the outlines of a few horses behind bars, but not much else. Was he, even now, approaching her head on, preparing to wrap his hands around her throat?
The door jumped against her back. She screamed and whirled. She leaned forward and pushed on the door with all her might. The metal bar rattled.
The lock was antiquated, she knew. It wouldn't hold for long. The door shuddered and she heard the wood holding the metal bar in place giving way. She wouldn't be able to hold it. In moments, he'd be through. She moaned and let go.
Turning, Angela ran for her life.
She bounded around a corner and ran blindly into the darkness. She heard the neighing of the horses but had no idea what part of the stables she was in. She had wandered into a section without windows. At any moment she might smash into a wall and knock herself unconscious. Then what? What would that madman who had taken possession of her husband do to her? She heard a bang as the door crashed open.
"Angela!" a voice roared.
"Oh my God," she whimpered. She lunged into an empty stall and pulled shut the barred door. She hoped the sounds of the startled horses would mask the sound of her breathing. She could hear them thrashing about in their stalls.
She had to think. She had to figure out what to do. Maybe Lloyd would think she had escaped and look for her elsewhere. Suddenly, she wished the horses would stop their fussing. She listened for the sound of footsteps but couldn't hear above the din. Crouched against the bars, she waited.
She thought she could hear something moving stealthily down the aisle. If only she'd been able to lock the stall and keep Lloyd out. Angela huddled against the bars and struggled to see through the gloom.
She heard footsteps and faintly, something else. Something high and melodic, like wind chimes.
Angela leapt back as the barred door swung open. In the darkness she could just make out a pale human form. The figure approached and stood before her.
"Please, Lloyd. Please. Whatever's gotten hold of you, please stop," she pleaded. "First that terrible woman and now you. Everyone's gone crazy today."
She saw, when his face moved very close to her, that his eyes were wide and glassy. His voice was toneless. “It's over, Angela.”
“Please, Lloyd. Get me to a doctor.”
"Don't you remember what you said in there?"
"What?" she sniffed. "What on Earth are you talking about?"
He watched her. "You said you didn't love me."
Her breath caught and, for a moment, she almost laughed. A little smile tugged at her blood-smeared mouth. "Lloyd, she had a knife at your throat. I hardly knew what I was saying at all."
"You mentioned the insurance policy."
"Don't you see? I know, Angela. I know that you wanted me to die in there."
She shook her head and her voice rose. "Do you hear yourself? The woman tried to kill me too, Lloyd. I saved your life by getting her away from you."
"You would have let me die."
"I saved your life."
"You never loved me."
"Goddamnit, Lloyd, I've had enough of this. Now let me go or there's going to be real trouble."
He stared at her without blinking. "Don't go away."
Angela watched him rise. She saw what it was that had sounded like wind chimes.
A key ring.
"Lloyd," she cried, rising to her feet. "You aren't locking me in here. Lloyd."
The door swung shut. As Angela lunged toward it, she heard the tumblers of the lock click into place. "Damn you, Lloyd. Let me out of this stall right now."
She screamed and thrashed against the bars. The horses cried out in sympathy.
She turned and looked behind her. The brick wall gazed at her without pity, entombing her. She moved away from the brick and grasped the bars. She rattled the door, but it wouldn't budge.
Moments later, the horses began to shriek. Beneath the clamor, she heard the jangling of the key ring. She pressed her face between the cold iron bars and stared out. Her eyes had adjusted to the light, and she could see her husband moving down the row of stalls. He was leading a horse and carrying something long and shiny.
When he got closer she could see it was a shotgun.
Angela backed away from the bars.
"Do you know what it's like," Lloyd asked, "to have a wife who doesn't love you? Who has all the money that a person could ever want, but still wants more. Do you know how it feels to sleep next to a woman who wishes you were dead?"
Angela shook her head, "No, Lloyd. That's not true." She saw the key slide into the door and turn.
"I'm not an idiot, Angela. I understand more than you think. Too much. My life has been a miserable charade. And today my wife tried to kill me." The door opened.
She huddled against the back wall, a vague dread gripping her.
"You tried to push her into killing me, Angela. You saw your opportunity. I'd have been dead, and she'd have been put away for life."
Following him into the stall was the largest stallion she'd ever seen. Its lithe muscles rippled under a sleek brown coat.
Her voice came out in a whisper, "What are you doing with that thing?"
"It isn't a thing, Angela." He looked up at the horse and ran a hand over its muscled back. "Father's Fury."
"Father's . . ."
"Too wild to ride. Hell, he hasn't even been broken yet. But God, he's beautiful, isn't he?"
The horse trembled. Angela moaned and pressed her back against the brick wall.
With one motion, Lloyd released the stallion and leaped away. Angela stared in horror at the great stallion. Father's Fury snorted, returning her gaze. Lloyd slammed shut the door and turned the key.
"Lloyd! For God's sakes!" He could barely hear her over the shrieking of the great horse.
"Here's to hate, Angela."
He pumped the shotgun, pointed it toward the ceiling, and fired.
Father's Fury convulsed in a whir of legs and hair. It bounded and lashed out in an ecstasy of rage. It savaged itself against the bars and pounded again and again against the brick back wall. After a few moments, Lloyd could no longer hear Angela's screams. The sounds of the stallion's hooves leaping about the cell became wet and pulpy.
When the horse had spent its anger, Lloyd unlocked the stall door and let it swing open. He bunched up against the bars outside and waited. He pumped the shotgun, ready to meet the stallion's wrath.
A black shape reared up in the doorway. Father's Fury exploded past him, body slick and shiny with blood, and was swallowed up by the darkness.
Lloyd watched the animal go, listened as the powerful hooves pounded away. Exhaling a trembling breath, he moved into the stall. Bits of flesh sopped under his feet. The sawdust on the floor was soaked with blood. In the corner lay an unrecognizable heap of innards and bone and torn strips of fabric. He walked to the back of the stall and stared down at the mess.
Lloyd sat on the floor, his back against the gore-streaked brick wall. He smiled down at what was left of his wife.
"Here's to love, Angela," he said as he placed the twin barrels into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
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