Paul was on his way home one foggy summer evening when he decided to divert from his usual route. He meandered through the quiet streets, opting to go the long way, hoping to avoid people he knew.
In the six months he’s lived there, Paul has grown very tired of people. Sandra said it was because he was a loner. He said it was because the people in the small quiet town are very nosy.
Curious, Sandra said. People are curious about the new members of the neighborhood. It’s called being welcoming.
It’s called being bored, he countered. When the only exciting thing people talked about was when the former mayor’s wife ran away with the artist commissioned to paint the town hall mural twenty years ago, people are bored. They need another artist to run off with the current mayor’s wife. Or the mayor.
Sandra laughed so hard she almost dropped the plate she was rinsing. Then she suggested that they think of doing something that would be talked about for longer than twenty years.
Sandra. He smiled as he thought of her. They met one summer night five years ago when Paul decided to get drunk alone after he sold his first book. He ended up having only one drink as he spent the whole night exchanging stories with a beautiful, petite programmer. Sandra.
Warm, bright, and sweet, Sandra is his steady flame; gentle, warm, and always glowing. Paul’s world shifted and he found himself wanting something he never thought he’d want. Three months after they met, they were married.
And now, Paul agreed to plant roots when he never thought he would.
Not that they were planted very long, he thought wryly. In their five years of marriage, they moved twice. Paul’s restless nature meant that sooner or later he’d dragged her someplace else. And because Sandra loved, she happily let him.
She was lucky enough to have a job that allows her to work anywhere. Right now, she’s on an overnight trip to assess a site, as is sometimes required in her job as a security systems consultant, and won’t be back for another six hours.
But Paul knew that she would rather stay at home (wherever that is at the moment) where she can putter around their garden or sit outside reading a book. He was lucky enough, he thought, to have a wife who can turn anyplace into a home.
Paul’s musings stopped when he realized he had been walking for twenty minutes without coming across anyone he knew. Or anyone at all.
He wondered briefly how it is that a town this small could actually have almost-deserted streets, then concluded that the streets he is walking on are so far the town’s center that people rarely used them.
He rounded a corner that took him to a short street he realized he’s never been before. Narrow, yet well lit even with the fog, the uniform row of buildings on both side looked both sinister and charming.
Charming because of the different coloured doors. Sinister because he found it odd that he can’t seem to guess whether the buildings are houses or apartments or offices.
He looked up, stared at one window, trying to catch even just a little glimpse of the inside. He caught a movement at the corner of his eye and saw a large burly man step out of the shadows. The man stood in front of a bright blue door with a yellow lion knocker. And stared at him.
A guard, Paul thought. He was unnerved enough by the man’s stare that he tightly smiled, nodded, then hastily walked away. As he turned into an alley, he heard the click of heels.
He stopped, leaned against the side of the building and peered back into the street.
A woman was walking down the street. He couldn’t see her face beneath the hood of the black coat she wore; he couldn’t see anything but yellow stiletto heels peeking out from under the long cloak-like fabric.
But something kept niggling at the back of his mind, something about the woman bothered him enough that he stood hidden and watched.
The woman lifted her head, and Paul froze. He saw the woman smile at the guard who nodded and opened the door. The woman looked around and, seeing no one, stepped through the door.
Paul started to step out from where he was hiding, then stopped. Shaking his head, he walked on home, his mind filled with questions. What was Sandra doing there? Should he go back, see what that was about?
By the time he reached their house, he has convinced himself that he was mistaken. Sandra was four hours away by plane. She left with a backpack containing a change of clothes and sensible black pumps.
No long hooded coats, no yellow stilettos. She doesn’t even have yellow stilettos. Chalk it up to his writer’s imagination — the foggy alley, the hooded woman, and the fact that he was thinking about Sandra while he was walking.
He was able to put in a solid three hours of work before he dropped off to sleep.
The following morning, he woke to find Sandra wrapped around him. He dimly remembered waking up when she slid into bed and kissed him goodnight. Careful not to wake her, Paul dropped a kiss on top of her head, stood up, and tiptoed out of the room.
He turned on the news as he ate his breakfast. Still sleepy, it took two sips of coffee before his sleep-fogged brain registered what his ears were hearing. He snapped awake, snatched up the remote, and turned the volume up.
A massacre, the reporter said. A backroom poker game in what is now a suspected hideout of a smuggling ring that has eluded the police for years. Twelve men dead.
The reporter broke off her speculation of an assassin hit due to territory rivalry when the police started bringing the body bags out to the ambulances.
Paul stared at the television screen, horrified. But he wasn’t looking at the body bags. He was staring at the door behind the reporter. The bright blue door with the yellow lion knocker.
Twelve men dead.
But where was the woman? he thought. Maybe she got out before it happened.
Thanking his lucky stars that he decided not to loiter around that street last night, Paul stood up to top off his coffee and cursed as his elbow nudged Sandra’s backpack off the stool and into the floor.
As he was about to bend down to pick it up, Paul stopped. Scattered on the floor, thrown out of the open backpack, is a pair of yellow stilettos heels.