Something to Hide

This story was submitted to a writing contest a couple months ago and made it to the top 100 judging, but didn’t place.

Everyone has something to hide, but they can’t hide it from me. I see their secrets in a cloud, literally hanging over their heads. I suppose that’s why I became a private detective.

I started seeing people’s secrets after serving in the Army during the height of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. My duty as a driver turned to combat soldier–a role in which I hadn’t been trained or expected to fulfill as a woman–when Iraqi insurgents attacked our convoy inside the city limits of Iskandariyah. As soon as bullets hit our truck, I grabbed a weapon and fought with my fellow soldiers to defend the convoy.

After the gunfire ceased, I was shocked and heart broken to find that I had accidentally shot and killed a mother and her daughter around the same age as my niece. We left the scene; never to speak of their deaths again.

Three months later I sustained a head injury and spent a month in a coma. Shortly after I woke up, I remember the nurse helping me to the bathroom. I splashed water on my face, and when I looked up and into the mirror I was taken aback. Besides me, the mirror reflected a blurred vision of the dead mother and her daughter hanging in a cloud over my head. Then I turned toward the nurse. She also had a cloud, revealing she was a kleptomaniac. Five years later I’m still haunted by the mother and daughter, as well as the rest of the world’s secrets.

Today I’m on surveillance at the Sunflower Motel for a client who suspects her husband is having an affair. Cheater cases are quick money, and this one was no different. From the first moment I spotted the husband, I could see infidelity hanging over his head.

The husband entered room 103 around two o’clock. Ten minutes later a woman pulled up and got out of a car she parked beside the husband’s car. She knocked on the door of room 103, and when the husband answered, I snapped a picture of the two greeting with a kiss.

As I lowered the camera, I noticed the cloud above his head turn blurry. That sometimes happens with people who have a lot to hide. I thought nothing of it and started my car.

I took my time going home, stopping for gas and Chinese takeout on the way. At home I downloaded the pictures off my camera and emailed them to my client as she had asked. Then I settled down in front of the television and finished off a carton of chicken fried rice and a bottle of Chardonnay. By five o’clock I fell asleep.

I awoke to a reporter on the evening news saying, “A woman was found strangled at the Sunflower Motel in room 103 a few hours ago. Police are linking this murder to two others committed in the past three weeks.”

So that’s why his cloud blurred. My next thought was to warn my client. I dialed her number, but got an answering machine. I said, “Julia, it’s Penny. Call me. It’s an emergency.”

She picked up. “Penny? I got the pictures. Thanks.”

“I’m calling about something else. Is your husband home?”

“Yes. I mean no.” Her voice sounded shaky and stressed.

“You need to get out of the house Julia.”

“I’m fine.” She hung up. Or, I wondered, was it her husband who hung up?

I redialed Julia’s number but she didn’t answer. So I called the police and told them about what I’d seen during surveillance earlier that day, as well as the call to Julia and her stressed condition over the phone. They said they’d look into it immediately.

I felt antsy and couldn’t just sit at home waiting for an update on television. I got in my car and drove to Julia’s house. There were two police cars parked in front of the house when I arrived.

I got out of my car and nervously approached the front door. When I rang the doorbell, I prayed the door would not open to a murder scene.

Julia answered and I felt relieved until I caught sight of the cloud of secrets above her head. Three strangled women appeared in the background while Julia pulled a wedding band off the finger of a man’s dismembered hand. She put the ring in her pocket and shoved the hand in a black trash bag.

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