I liked to go there and read the New York Times or a novel. Sandra owned the place and she’d always be there. I mean always. Maybe sometimes she’d be in the back but only for a second. Sandra was in her mid 40s (she told me) but looked closer to 30. I don’t know how she got such a deep tan given all the time she spent in the damn cafe. It was called Sandra’s, by the way. She had several pretty young women working for her and one skinny, pale gay fella. They were all real nice and would chat with you or leave you alone as you wished. I always exchanged a few pleasantries before I started reading and before I left. I was like that.
It’s important here to add that Sandra and I had sexual relationship, I used to drop back by around closing time and that led to a lot of conversations and eventually to dinner then to the bedroom. She was divorced with no kids and I’m widowed with two who are grown. There were no strings attached, neither of us was looking for anything more than the comfort and closeness that sex provides. I supposed it could turn into something else someday but I doubted it. We were both too jealous of our privacy. I slept with one of Sandra’s employees once but Sandra found out and got mad. Not because she claimed any ownership over me but because the woman in question was damn near 35 years my junior. I’m 57 but like Sandra I look a lot younger. That’s what people tell me anyway.
I’m retired. I was a professor (English literature) at Colombia for 25 years but three years ago gave it up when I got a sizable inheritance. My wife Edna had died a year earlier from cancer and my heart wasn’t in teaching anymore and with money no longer a concern I just decided to take it easy for once in my life. I’d worked myself pretty hard, not only teaching but writing. I’ve had a lot of book reviews published as well as scholarly papers on various writers and such. People ask me why I haven’t written a novel but the truth is I just don’t have it in me. You’ve got to know your limitations.
Mostly in those day I just liked to go to the gym, the theater, movies, museums and sip coffee at Sandra’s.
Anyway all of this so far has been preamble to my main story which is about how I killed a guy. The murder took place about three months ago and the police have no leads so it’s highly likely I’ll ever be suspected let alone indicted.
It’s really a simple story. Logan Ellsworth was Sandra’s lover back when she lived upstate before moving to New York city and opening her cafe. This is all after her divorce. The fling with Logan was one of those rebound relationships for both of them him, Logan having just broken up with his long time girlfriend. As Sandra tells it they were pretty hot and heavy for a couple of months but Sandra cooled off because other than sex they had zero in common and he seemed to be falling for her. The break up was amicable enough at the time and all seemed forgotten when Sandra took her divorce settlement and moved to the big city.
It was years later that Ellsworth called her out of the blue and said he’d moved to New York and suggested they get together for all times’s sake. Sandra figured why not and invited him to her cafe. According to Sandra they had a nice chat about their few mutual friends and the berg they’d lived in but when it was time for good-bye-nice-catching-up-with-ya, Ellsworth asked if she’d like to go to dinner and the theater some night. Sandra told him point blank that she wasn’t interested. “I enjoyed our time together but it’s pretty clear we’re not meant to be together,” she told him. Logan looked crestfallen, she said, but he said he understood, gave her a peck on the cheek and left. That seemed that.
A couple of days later Ellsworth called and asked if she’d changed her mind. Sandra thought this odd, not to mention annoying, and told him that no she hadn’t and was busy and hung up. He called again two days later and asked Sandra if she’s checked her mail. No and what the hell was he asking for? Just take a look at the envelope from me and call me at the number on the slip of paper. Sandra hung up thinking Logan Ellsworth had gone off his rocker. A few hours later the mail comes and she ripped into this big manilla envelope that just had Logan Ellsworth for the return address. Inside there was the slip of paper with a phone number on it and several pictures of Sandra in the nude.
Sandra was beside herself, for one thing she didn’t ever remember the pictures being taken nor any pictures of her naked ever being taken. After calming down she called Logan and angrily asked him where the photos came from and what he wanted. Logan reminded her of a time they had been drinking margaritas and they woke up the next morning with hellacious hangovers and little memory of the night before. Well, he told her, “I wasn’t nearly as smashed as you were and I decided a photo session was in order. There’s also video of me having my way with you.”
“So what do you want?” Sandra asked.
“The question is,” he replied, “what do you want? Do you want to start up with me again like we were before or do you want me to send the photos and videos around or do you want to give me $5,000? Three choices, not bad.”
Sandra was stunned. She was living an idyllic life and it had been shattered by this bastard who had taken advantage of her. One night of excessive drinking was all it had taken. All of Ellsworth’s choices were unacceptable. The very idea of so much as touching him made her nauseous. Friends and family seeing the type of pictures he had was beyond humiliating. The $5,000 was doable but it would hurt her bank account a little and her pride a lot. Plus what guarantee did she have he wouldn’t come back later for more money?
“I need to think about this for a bit, Logan,” Sandra finally said.
“Understandable. I’ll check back with you in 48 hours but I’ll want an answer then. And if you don’t mind I’d like to suggest that rekindling our affair is your best option.”
“Thanks for the tip, Logan,” Sandra answered sarcastically and then hung up.
That night I was alone in the cafe with Sandra at closing time helping her clean up when she dropped a bowl. It crashed on the floor and shattered and Sandra broke into tears.
“Goodness me, Sandra, it’s just a bowl,” I said light heartedly. But Sandra continued weeping. I sat her down and she told me the about Logan. She was being blackmailed so I suggested contacting the police. “I can’t do that. Logan promised that if got so much as a whiff of the cops, let alone was arrested his brother would sent out the pictures and video.
That night I tossed and turned for a good two hours, too angry at the scumbag to sleep. Eventually I did doze off and slept deeply for six hours. When I woke up I decided that the only course of action was to kill Logan Ellsworth.
It was easy enough to justify. This was a horrible man who was ruining the life of a sweet, loving woman. It was entirely probable that he was similarly ruining other lives, or would if given the chance. The world would be improved just a bit by his death and would be the worse for his continued existence. Besides, I realized I was falling in love with Sandra. I doubted anything would come from it but I’d do anything for her. Mind you, I'd killed once before, in Vietnam but had never imagined a scenario, other than self defense, that would prompt me to do it again. Love is a pretty powerful drug. With drugs you've got to know your limitations, I knew mine.
Over breakfast I concocted a plan. I had a gun that my brother gave me years ago. I’d taken it reluctantly and it had been in the back of a closet ever since. Now it was going to be put to use. I’d break into his apartment, shoot the bastard and make it look like like a robbery. I wouldn’t be a suspect because there was no connection between us. All I’d need was for Sandra to get his address which of course meant that she’d have to agree to the plan. I wasn’t sure if she would.
To my mild surprise Sandra was enthusiastic about me killing Ellsworth. “It’ll be easy, I’ll tell Logan that I’ve decided that I'll have sex with him again. Then I’ll suggest we rendezvous at his place and he’ll give me his address. Simple.”
I said that she’d have to make the first “date” a few days off so I could, as they say in the movies, “case the joint.” I wanted to do the deed before Sandra was forced to follow through on her promise.
“Are you sure you can go through with this? You don’t exactly strike me as the criminal type.”
“No I guess I’m not but the way I feel about this jerk will help me overcome any second thoughts. I’d do anything for you, Sandra. I've killed before, albeit in war time, but I can do it again -- for you.”
“Goodness, you’re not falling in love with me, are you?”
I couldn’t tell if she was teasing, or concerned, or hopeful.
To be safe I replied, “I love you Sandra, as I do many others, falling in love is a purely romantic notion and I…” Here my voice trailed off and I could only look at Sandra helplessly.
“You don’t have to say anything more. You didn’t have to say anything in the first place. We’re in a good enough place together without putting labels on it.”
I was never so nervous in my life as I was the night I killed a man in cold blood. The plan was simple. Around the time Sandra was to pay Logan his first visit I’d knock on his apartment door. When he answered I’d stick the gun in his face and tell him to back into the apartment. Once he was in I’d shoot him in the chest. The noise would have been a problem but the apartments were new and Ellsworth was the first tenant on his floor. After doing the deed I’d ransack the place to make it look like it had been a robbery.
Everything went as planned. Ellsworth opened, I pointed the gun, he walked backwards into the apartment and I got ready to pull the trigger. “What the hell man, there’s no need to shoot me, take whatever you want!” The poor guy was in tears and shaking like a leaf on a windy day. “This is for what you’re trying to do to Sandra!” I said loudly and theatrically. There was a second before I pulled the trigger and Ellsworth had a quizzical look on his face. “My why —” he managed to get out before I shot him. Then I gave the place a good going over.
I was exhilarated. I’d taken a man’s life but it had been a bad man and I’d killed him for a good reason. Love for Sandra surged through my body. I did wonder what he was starting to say. “My” for sure, then either “why” or the beginning of a word like “white” or “wine” or “wife.” None of them made sense. I struggled with not caring what he was going to say and being oddly curious. What did it matter what the bastard was going to say? But I couldn’t help but wonder….
I was finishing up when I decided that to make it look good I should take any money in his wallet. He had a big thick wallet with a fair amount of cash, I grabbed all of it. Then I looked at his identification and credit cards. Much to my shock they all had the same name: Peter Lescher.
Lescher was Sandra’s last name.
All the adrenaline that had been coursing through me stopped cold. I felt devoid of blood, of life, of meaning. I felt like an empty vessel with sorrow and despair flowing through.
“My wife…” was clearly what the man — who was no longer Ellsworth, if there was ever such a person — was starting to say when I took his life.
Maybe Peter Lescher was the worst human being on the planet, a man who deserved death. But maybe he was a perfectly innocent victim, a man who’d never harmed a fly. I’d been used.
Gradually the shock was joined by anger and that anger was directed squarely at Sandra. She’d set me up to kill. But why? I aimed to find out.
I walked the ten blocks to Sandra’s apartment. I pounded on the door and when there was no answer shouted her name. Then I went down to the cafe to see if she was hanging our there but it was closed up tight.
I never saw Sandra again.
The next month was a nightmare. I was in a constant state of depression. A depression that throbbed like a migraine. I ate little, showered rarely, went nowhere and saw no one. There had been a story in the papers about the murder. The victim was Peter Lescher from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who’d been in town on business. He was subletting the apartment for a month. Lescher was survived by his wife Sandra and their three children. Three children! The story mentioned that he was separated from his wife but said nothing of divorce and certainly nothing about her being in New York and not a word about her setting up some poor sap to kill her husband. I did a google search and found that Lescher was an upstanding citizen involved in various civic enterprises and that in addition to his work as a financial consultant he invested in real estate. Lescher was also his sons’ little league coach and active in the PTA. This is the man I shot in the chest.
Suicide seemed a reasonable out. I’d lost a lover and she’d turned out to be as far removed from the person I knew as is imaginable. I’d killed a man. A good man. It’s true that Sandra had set me up, but I’d pulled the trigger. Even if he had been Logan Ellsworth and done everything Sandra described I had no right to be his executioner. What the hell was I thinking? I could never again sleep soundly, I could never go a day without thinking about Peter Lescher. I could never not think of myself as a murderer.
I could have turned myself in and a certain justice would be done but I was miserable enough as a “free man” I didn’t need prison bars when I was imprisoned in my own hell.
The depression has never left but it did finally ease up enough that my anger toward Sandra came bubbling to the surface. I became obsessed with her real story and so hired the best private investigator I could find, a man by the name of Seth Dervish. I told him the whole story, omitting my part in the murder, suggesting that she’d done the deed or perhaps had a confederate.
A months later Dervish reported back to me. Sandra Lescher (nee Hopkins) had been married to Peter for 15 seemingly happy years when she suddenly skipped town a few years ago. Sandra had done some work for her husband and before leaving pilfered about $200,000 in investor money. She also raided their savings account. Sandra came to New York and opened her cafe. It took awhile before Peter tracked her down and when he did he offered to take her back with no repercussions for her thievery. When her husband was killed, Sandra went back to Milwaukee and stayed with her family long enough to collect on Peter’s life insurance policy. Then she cleaned out more of the family money and — without the slightest regard for her three children — took off again. Dervish tracked her to San Francisco but believed that once there she bought a new identity.
Today I'm packing a bag and catching a flight for San Francisco. Once there I aim to track down Sarah. When I do I'll kill again but this time I'll know for a fact that the person whose life I'm taking deserves to die. Yes, I feel like I'm in a 1940s film noir and I probably won't get away with this murder and I'll probably spend the rest of my days behind bars, but the only way I can square killing Peter Lescher is by taking out the real cause of his death. You've got to know your limitations and I'm just getting acquainted with mine.