Beth Wilcock lives in fear.
Someone keeps calling and leaving threatening messages.
The phone calls started after a simple car accident.
An accident that will escalate to something much worse.
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Wanna die, bitch?
Beth Wilcock hurried to her car, the cold breath of winter seeming to laugh at the attempts of the heat seeping through the large vents in the underground parking garage. The January weather seemed determined to make its presence known and the slightly chilled air touched her cheeks with icy cold fingers, making her shiver. Or it could have been because of the phone call from last night. She didn’t want to think about it too much.
Wanna die, bitch?
But she couldn’t stop herself. She knew that voice. Feared it. The first time she’d heard it, she’d dismissed it as just a crank call. She figured it was some drunken kid calling from the university close by. The Virginia suburb where she lived and worked had suffered an ice storm that had closed businesses for three days, people had gotten bored and pranks weren’t uncommon.
Then it happened again.
He always started with the same three words; the same low male voice. He didn’t try to disguise it. As if he wanted to taunt her. As if he wanted to say “I know who you are, but you’ll never know me.”
“Why are you doing this?” she’d once asked him.
He never gave her an answer. Or a reason. He took pleasure in her fear. He also took pleasure in her anger. When she shouted at him, using the foulest language she could think of, he just laughed, and it sounded like the thudding echo of nails being driven into a coffin—final, cold, deadly.
She hadn’t gone to the police yet. The calls were short and varied. She had no proof, just her suspicions of who she thought he was. She knew the police would suspect the wrong man—the rapist who was stalking women in the metropolitan area, who stalked his victims first.
No, her caller was different. He targeted her with precision. He left messages.
He never did at first. He only started when she stopped answering his calls and he took it as a personal affront. He wanted her to suffer for an unknown crime. But she knew it was personal.
His name was Stephen York and she’d crossed him. She hadn’t meant to. When she’d backed her little yellow sports car out of her parking space three months ago, she hadn’t noticed his black sedan doing the same. She felt the bump then heard the sound of colliding metal and her heart sank.
She jumped out of her car and met eyes of ice, eyes of vengeance. Her heart didn’t sink further, it shriveled. She’d seen him occasionally in the office complex where she worked in marketing, doing her best to avoid him and the rumors that surrounded him.
Martin Weston, the security guard, had arrived quickly on the scene to diffuse any issues. Everyone knew Stephen York meant trouble. He was the ruthless CEO of a finance firm, a tall black man who walked with the casual lethal arrogance of a gangster dressed in a businessman’s suit. What would have been a minor altercation between others would be a declaration of war to him. She’d apologized profusely, even tried to turn it into a joke taking all the blame and saying that she’d pay. He didn’t smile, instead saying “I know you’ll pay.”
She’d laughed at that (she still didn’t know why since it wasn’t funny) but she now knew she shouldn’t have. She hadn’t taken it seriously. She should have and had regretted it since. She knew what he was capable of. She’d seen him attack a stranger who’d just tapped him on the shoulder and later found himself pressed against the wall. She’d watched him shatter a mirror with his fist on the mezzanine level of the building. She’d hurried into the elevator before the guard approached him.
The mirror had been replaced the next day and nothing was said, but a man with a temper like that was dangerous. And now she knew how much. The calls had started soon after the car accident; she hadn’t put the connection to him—thinking it had all been sorted—until she’d foolishly tried to cut in front of him in the cafeteria because she was late. In a low voice of warning he’d said, “You wanna die?”
She’d smiled nervously and laughed (again she didn’t know why) and made sure to never cross his path again.
When Beth saw his car, she stopped as if his presence had suddenly loomed in front of her like a ghost. She didn’t want to be alone. She would get security to escort her. She’d gain her proof soon, but not tonight. She went back inside.
When she requested an escort she was relieved to have Martin as the guard on duty; a black man who had sharp watchful eyes, and a calm quiet quality that she trusted. Not overly friendly, but not cold either.
“Glad it’s you,” she said as he walked her to her car. The air still felt chill, but not as deadly cold as before.
“Why?” he asked.
She shrugged, a little embarrassed. “Don’t know, just need to feel extra safe tonight.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
She nodded, wishing she had something else to say. Because of her shyness, and her interest in him, she didn’t always respond to him the way she wished. She wished she could laugh easily or chat without anxiety, but she couldn’t. Others would think she was being rude or standoffish, but he didn’t seem to mind.
She was almost to her car and knew there wasn’t much more to say. Tonight she would be safe.
“Any plans?” he asked.
Would he ask her out? A little thrill went through her. At times she felt that he was interested in her too. If he did, she would say yes. “No, not really.”
“I could make a suggestion.”
Her heart started to pound. “Okay.”
“Wanna die?” He stopped. “Bitch.”
Her blood felt as if it had turned into a river of ice in her veins. At first she stopped just as he had, as if he had a cosmic connection that bound her to him. Then she heard a car door close from somewhere in the distance and she ran.
He chased her.
But the parking garage seemed to swallow the echoes of her voice. She darted between cars, feeling him coming in close behind her. She didn’t look back, she ran until his footsteps didn’t sound close enough and then she dropped to the ground and rolled under a car.
“I will get you,” he said, sounding like the taunting voice on the phone. “You can’t hide.”
Why? Why? What had she done to him? She’d been kind. Always. She held her breath when she saw his shiny black shoes stop near her. They hesitated then moved away.
She didn’t know how long she stayed their unmoving, barely breathing before she felt something grab her leg. A clamp—the clamp of a man’s large hand wrapped around her ankle. He dragged her back, she clawed at the ground, her nails scraping against the cement, then she reached to grab the undercarriage of the car, but the wires she seized broke as he continued to drag her.
She emerged from the safety of the car and opened her mouth to scream. His fist stopped her as it made contact with her face.
He pointed at her, the expression of rage on his face one she’d never seen before. “Don’t scream and I won’t hurt you.”
Beth didn’t believe him. He’d already hurt her. She knew he’d do more.
She screamed again and felt the power of his fist against her cheek then saw darkness.
She knew the room.
Beth woke up, her legs and arms bound to a metal chair, her coat and handbag gone, and looked around her. She was in the storage closet on the top floor of the office building. She’d been there once before when Martin had helped her take some chairs to the conference room for a meeting. She’d never questioned why he had been there, perhaps she should have. Perhaps she should have wondered why he seemed to be around at the oddest times, showing up on her lunch break, bumping into her early in the morning, offering a ‘hello’ when she worked late. His actions had seemed harmless then. They had a more sinister tone now.
Why had he taken her there? Why did he hate her? What had she done? What did he want with her?
She closed her eyes when she heard the door open. The sound of his footsteps drew closer, soon followed by his taunting voice. “Wanna die, bitch?”
Is that all you can say? She wanted to scream but making him angry wouldn’t help. She kept her gaze lowered, hoping she looked defeated.
“This is where I first fell for you,” he said as if they were old lovers going down memory lane. “You were so pretty and shy and I liked that.”
What changed? “I thought we were friends,” she said, keeping her head lowered.
“Is that why you ignored me?”
When? “No I—”
“Are you calling me a liar now?”
Mustn’t make him angry, must keep him calm. “No,” she said quickly, lifting her head, but still keeping her gaze lowered. She wouldn’t challenge him. “I’m sorry.”
“You did. You ignored me because of him. You laughed when you were with him, you never laughed with me.”
“You know who. York.”
York? Never. “No, I don’t like him. Never have.”
He lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. “Then how come when he said ‘You wanna die’ you smiled and laughed. I was there I saw it.”
Beth stared into his dark, brown gaze wanting to see madness, but instead seeing a man made powerful by his own delusion. “I laughed because I was nervous. He always makes me nervous.”
“And I don’t?”
“No, because…I like you.” She swallowed, trying to stomach her own lie. She had once, but not anymore. “You make me feel safe.”
He untied her feet and hands then took a step back. “Stay with me.”
“Okay,” she said before she grabbed the metal chair and struck him with it, hitting him hard on the side of the face, knocking him to the ground.
Sharp pain surged through her when she raced to the door and closed it behind her. She briefly leaned against the door, gathering strength as she realized Martin had done something to her ankle, twisted or sprained it, she didn’t know what, but she could imagine it now red and swollen. She didn’t have time to examine it. She needed to get away from him.
Beth limped down the dark hall to the elevator that would take her to the main level since she couldn’t make it by the stairs. When she reached it, she pressed the ‘down’ button multiple times urging it to come. Please, please, please.
In the distance she heard Martin banging on the metal door or was that her imagination? She wasn’t sure. He could still be knocked out.
The elevator came. She stepped inside, gripping her hands together as the doors closed. She’d soon be safe.
She watched the numbers light up as the elevator car slowly descended. Then it stopped.
The doors opened.
Stephen York stood there.
Large, lethal, cold, but she’d been wrong. He hadn’t been the voice on the phone. He hadn’t been the one terrorizing her.
But she still didn’t feel safe. Her mouth didn’t move, although her heart screamed for help.
She watched him with wary eyes as he stepped onto the elevator and turned his back to her. He reached up and slammed the security camera with his fist, causing her to scream. She’d felt Martin’s fists, she couldn’t imagine what he could do to her. She was trapped.
“It’s okay,” he said, taking off his jacket. He held it out to her still not looking back. “You don’t need to tell me what happened.”
Beth reached for the jacket with trembling fingers. She was so cold, although the building wasn’t.
“But you do need to call the police,” he continued. “I’ll wait with you until—”
“Why did you smash the security camera?”
“Because you kept looking at it terrified,” he said in a hard tone, but she preferred it to Martin’s soft tones. “First I thought you were terrified of me, but then I knew I wasn’t the one who’d attacked you, so I came to another conclusion.”
I thought it was you at first, she wanted to say, but it was not the time to confess. She wasn’t safe yet, Martin was still out there. “I can’t be here,” she managed, her voice hoarse.
“Because he’s still here in the building. I left him in the main storage closet on the—”
“I know where it is.” The elevator doors opened. “I’ll walk you to your car and then—”
“No, please don’t—” She almost said ‘leave me’, but didn’t want to sound as weak and helpless as she felt. York was the kind of man who didn’t like weakness. “Don’t get involved,” she said following him out.
He turned to her as the elevator doors closed behind her. “Why not?”
“He’s dangerous,” she said then realized they hadn’t gotten off on the main level, but had descended to the basement garage where Martin had attacked her. Despite Stephen’s coat she still felt cold.
“Did he have a weapon?” he asked.
She shook her head. “He’s part of security, he could find me.”
“Will you let me drive you away from here?”
“Forgive me, but I’m not patient,” he said then lifted her into his arms. “You’ll slow us down.”
Once inside the front seat of his car, Beth felt a semblance of safety, she’d soon be free from this nightmare.
Then the car wouldn’t start.
Her mind flashed to the undercarriage and the busted wires. It was his car she’d hidden under? She’d ruined his car again? “This is my fault.”
“No, it’s not. There’s another reason for this.”
And her mind flashed to Martin’s jealousy. Yes, he could have done something to his imaginary rival.
Stephen pulled out his cell phone. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere until he’s in custody.”
But Martin wasn’t where she’d left him. He had escaped and disappeared, cleverly avoiding all the security cameras. The police had arrived swiftly but there nothing they could do except search for a man whose mother said he was the sweetest child she had.
For four months the calls stopped, although her fear didn’t.
Beth never worked late and every evening Stephen escorted her to her car. As time passed, she got to know him better. She learned that he did have a temper, but it was never violently out of control with others. When she’d seen him smash the mirror on the mezzanine he’d just received a call that his sister had lost her battle with her opioid addiction. He’d seen his reflection and blamed himself. He’d quickly apologized to the guard and paid for the damages. The stranger he’d assaulted, hadn’t been a stranger at all, but an old college friend who he liked to roughhouse with.
He didn’t smile easily but that didn’t mean he was humorless and his statement in the cafeteria had been his way of teasing her. He was not dangerous. All her perceptions about him had been wrong and that shamed her the most.
Months later, when they were dating, she still couldn’t tell him that she’d first suspected him. She didn’t know why. A year later as she straightened their wedding photo that hung in the hallway of their new blue and white split level house she wondered if she could start to feel normal again. Start to fully forgive herself.
Then the phone calls began again. She’d been in the kitchen finishing off another piece of chocolate Stephen had gotten her for Valentine’s Day when her cell phone rang. She hadn’t checked the number, just licked her chocolate covered fingers and answered the phone.
Wanna die bitch?
“What is it?”
Beth spun around at the sound of Stephen’s voice behind her. She dropped the phone. She wasn’t safe and now neither was he.
He saw her face and didn’t need her to say anything. His expression darkened and he bent to pick up the phone, but she kicked it out of reach. He stared up at her surprised.
“I’m sorry,” she said then hugged him.
He gathered her close and held her tight. “There’s nothing to apologize for.”
She mumbled something into his shirt.
He drew back and stared down at her. “What?”
“I thought it was you,” she said in a choked whisper, shame and regret heavy in her voice. “At first I thought the phone calls were from you. I’m sorry.”
He tenderly cupped her face in his hands and stared at her with the same expression of love in his eyes he’d had when he’d asked her to marry him. “It’s okay.”
But it wasn’t. She had more to lose now. She didn’t want to see him get hurt.
“Let me disappear until this is over.”
“No, I’m not leaving your side.”
But he wasn’t by her side when a man’s right hand washed up along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The police were able to identify it as belonging to Martin Weston, but the rest of him was never found.
Beth wasn’t sorry, but she did wonder. She sat next to her husband as they watched a movie several weeks after the gruesome discovery and questions filled her mind. Did he know anything about it? She had wondered about his impromptu trip last week. And she hadn’t seen him wear his peach colored shirt in a long while. Had he gotten rid of it? He did have eyes of vengeance. Was he capable of killing a man?
“What are you thinking about?” Stephen asked her, he had a habit of sensing when her mind drifted.
“It’s over now,” he said in a soft voice.
She could only nod, feeling the weight of his arm as it rested around her shoulders.
“Do you believe me?”
She nodded again.
Stephen gently touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. “Martin was right handed, correct?”
“Yes,” Beth said, remembering the savage blows he’d given her, her chest tight. “I guess he isn’t anymore.”
She stared at the TV screen unable to look at her husband, her mind whispering…the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
He pressed his lips against her forehead they felt solid and warm against her skin. “He’ll never hurt you again.”
Beth felt the tension within her ease. No, Stephen York was no devil and she wouldn’t spend any more time suspecting him—she didn’t care what he had or hadn’t done. She was safe now; her life was her own again. She would forgive herself, she’d committed no crime and she no longer needed to feel imprisoned. She turned, met his dark gaze and smiled, grateful she could finally breathe.
Copyright © 2017 Dara Girard
Published by Ilori Press Books LLC
Cover and Layout © 2017 Ilori Press Books LLC
Cover Image © donatas1205/123rf
This story is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.