Former Captain Frank Able settled into his brand new recliner with a sigh. It had been a present to himself upon his retirement almost six months ago, not that he had been able to enjoy it much.
He had been on the force for almost forty-four years. In all that time he put away more than his share of bad men and raised two good ones. If anyone deserved a little time in the den in front of the T.V. by the fire with his old dog Champion snoozing by his side, it was Frank. But Martha didn’t see it that way.
Martha was Frank’s bride of thirty-eight years come December, not that she’d ever let him forget it. She was a petite woman, still trim at sixty-two, with thick gray hair she kept neatly styled in the same short waves she’d had since their wedding day. She was a culinary wizard in her bright yellow kitchen and kept their house neat and cozy. Everyone loved Martha.
Everyone, that is, but Frank. She nagged him constantly, from the minute he walked in the door until the minute he left in the morning. It had gotten even worse now that he was retired and home more often than not. Frank never let on how much she bothered him if he could help it, at first for the boys’ sake, then because he was used to her. You didn’t end a marriage of thirty-eight years simply because your wife was a bit of a nag.
Frank was warm and drowsy by the fire, only half watching the T. V. when Martha walked into the den.
“Frank, sweetheart, I’m so glad you can enjoy your new recliner dear while I’ve been slaving in the kitchen over a hot stove, but it’s almost dinnertime and you’d better get dressed; the Peterson’s are coming over and I want you to wear something nice. I laid something out on the bed for you, if you care to wear it sweetheart.”
Frank looked at Martha. The fire snapped and crackled, shadows and lights playing across her face, catching the whiteness of her teeth and the redness of her smile. She always wore that red lipstick when guests were over, another thing Frank couldn’t stand; the way it smeared over her teeth an into the cracks around her mouth as she ate, the way she laughed her loud, braying laugh with those red-flecked teeth after drinking a little too much wine, how flirtatious the wine made her.
“Frank, dear, hadn’t you better hurry?”
He snapped his recliner upright and scratched the back of his head.
“I reckon I’d better Martha,” he sighed, “I reckon I’d better.”
That night at dinner Martha drank heavily. Dan Peterson took a long swallow from his glass and addressed Frank.
“So Frank, how are you finding the retirees club, eh? Living fun and fancy free?”
“Yeah Dan, I guess we’ll have to get together in the park and play checkers like all the other old men,” Frank chuckled, stabbing at his dry steak.
“Kim’s been keeping me busy around the house,” Dan winked at his wife, “chores and whatnot, you know.”
“Oh Dan, I haven’t really,” Kim protested, “just spring cleaning the garage is all.”
“Spring cleaning should be done in spring, right Frank,” Dan guffawed.
“Good for you Kimmy dear,” Martha chimed in, “I can’t get Frank to budge from his comfy new recliner,” she laughed into her wine glass.
Frank stabbed again at his steak with a wry smile. Dan coughed and took another long swallow, draining his glass.
“Have some more wine, Dan?”
“No thanks, Martha. Excellent dinner though. I think we’d better be getting along home now.”
“Oh, but it’s barely eight, and besides, you haven’t had dessert,” Martha winked and licked her lips, smearing the hideous red lipstick like fresh blood past the border of her thin lips.
Kim dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white cloth napkin and cleared her throat softly, looking with a sideways glance at her husband.
“Yes, well, we’d best be going anyway Martha,” Dan folded his napkin and pushed back from the table.
Frank pushed back from the table as well, though he’d hardly touched his dinner. His smile was tight as he walked with his friends to the door. “Good to have you over tonight Dan, Kim,” he said, clapping Dan on his back. “Sorry about the wife.”
“No trouble at all Frank,” Dan helped his wife with her jacket, then put on his hat and overcoat.
Martha walked up to the party, sloshing her half-full glass of wine. “Sorry about what, Frank? What have I done now? Have I embarrassed you? ” She leaned on the bannister across from the front door.
“Martha, go and lie down, will you honey?”
“No, I want to know what you feel you have to apologize for, Frank? Why are you being such an old prude? We were having fun-”
“We’ll be seeing you,” Dan interjected, opening the front door and dragging his wife with him.
Frank slammed the door behind the Petersons. “Really Martha, act your age,” Frank fumed at her. “Look at yourself. You’re acting like a child. You’re slopping wine all over the place. And you have lipstick all over your teeth. You look ridiculous.”
Martha straightened in a cold rage. “What makes you think you can speak to me that way, Franklin Rudolph Able? What gives you the gall to scold me in front of our friends?”
Frank folded like a house of cards. “Martha, listen honey, maybe you’d-“
“Don’t you ‘listen honey’ me, Frank!”
Martha was all geared up to lay into Frank with a vengeance, but Champion picked that moment to see what all the fuss was about. He bounded around the corner, galloping towards his master. Unfortunately for Martha, he was unable to stop himself on the hardwood floor and crashed into her legs. The wine glass fell from her hand sending shards of glass and red wine droplets everywhere.
Martha landed hard on her backside with a yelp and a curse. She floundered for her footing, cutting her hands on the broken glass. Champion whined an apology, his tail between his legs, but she would have none of it and began screaming obscenities at the dog.
Frank had bent to help her up, but stopped and straightened. “Don’t talk to Champion that way,” he said sharply.
“You care more about your precious dog than you care about your own wife,” she accused him as she struggled to her feet.
“Just don’t speak like that to the old boy when he doesn’t deserve it,” Frank said.
Martha leered at him, blood dripping from the cuts on her hands and mixing with the wine on the floor. “Screw you and your dog, Frank. You’re a couple of worthless old men, the pair of you.” She jabbed her bloody finger into his chest repeatedly to accentuate her point.
Frank was close to snapping. Thirty-eight years he had put up with this woman. For thirty-eight years he’d provided for her and their two sons. Every Friday night for thirty-eight years he’d brought this woman home a bouquet of flowers without so much as a thank you to show for it. Ungrateful, that’s what she was. The last ember of affection he’d nursed for her disintegrated to ash.
“Martha,” Frank said coldly, “touch me again and you’ll regret it.”
She threw back her head and laughed her great, braying laugh.
“And what are you going to do about this,” she asked, shoving him with her hand. “Or this,” she asked, shoving him again, “or-“
Before she could push him a third time, Frank snapped. He shoved her with all his might. Her body flew backwards, her head slamming into the banister. She crumpled into a limp little pile.
She was dead. Frank knew she was dead. He knew she was dead, and he also knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing her either. He knew what he had to do.
He whistled for Champion to follow him to the kitchen. The dog’s tail wagged when Frank grabbed the peanut butter from the pantry. Trusting Champion never suspected that folded into the delicious treat was one of Martha’s sleeping pills from the orange bottle over the kitchen sink.
Frank grabbed a small trash bag from the kitchen and headed to the garage to get a shovel and a ladder.
He was a strong man, but it took him all night to dig the hole. It was deep hole, oval in shape and not very wide. He knew no one would see him with the tall fence and thick shrubbery surrounding his property. He had no work and no plans for the next couple of days. He had time. At five in the morning, he took his wife’s body and a week’s worth of her clothes and dumped them down the hole, shoveling five feet of dirt back in on top of her. He walked towards the house with heavy steps.
Champion had been waiting for him. His brown eyes twinkled with affection as Frank let him outside into the early morning air. Champion nosed at him drowsily, his nearly white muzzle glinting in the pre-dawn light. Frank held Champion in his lap as he slipped the plastic bag over the dog’s head, cradling him until the kicking stopped.
Frank stroked Champion’s silky ears one last time as he lowered the limp, furry body into the grave. It was nearly ten in the morning before he tamped down the last shovelful of dirt. He put the shovel and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to clean up and get some sleep.
From all his experience in the force he knew they’d never find her body, not in his lifetime at least. No one would question such a small looking hole when they found out Champion had passed in the night from old age.Even if they brought cadaver dogs, Champion’s body would serve as a false positive; they wouldn’t dig any further. The Peterson’s would serve as witness to Martha’s inebriated, confrontational state, and Frank would tell the detectives that she went to her sister’s place to cool off. Plenty of winding roads between here and there. Besides, Frank had a sterling reputation among his fellow boys in blue. They wouldn’t suspect a thing.
Inside, Frank knelt beside the puddle of wine and glass and his wife’s blood, crying like a girl with her first heartbreak. He was sure going to miss that dog.