I never got along with his ex, but I didn’t know that murder was on the agenda
It all started when my friend, Reagan Dunlap, showed me the two bullets. The brass casings seemed to be staring at me, daring me to pick them up. An icy chill still runs through me when I think about it. I remember every word as if it were tape-recorded.
At the time I didn’t think Reagan and I were serious . . . definitely not ready-to-get-married serious. We had good times together, though. He would think of offbeat things for us to do. At noon, he would pick me up from work with a bucket of chicken and we would go to the park for lunch. On weekends, we would go to outdoor flea markets or walk on the overpass and watch the traffic down below. It was exciting to see the cars speeding past, sort of like watching a train, wondering where everyone was going.
We didn’t do anything terribly abnormal or expensive, but different from the usual bar scene that I was used to. I don’t want anyone to think I hung around nightclubs, getting drunk and picking up men. But at my age, I had been around.
Sometimes he would take me to his house and we would sit outside in the shade, drinking lemonade and talking. We had some really interesting conversations; he knows an incredible amount of trivia. I would tease him about going on a quiz show. He would shake his head and grin. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight,” he would say.
Reagan—I still don’t know if he was named after the president or not—never wants any recognition, although he does have the personality of a diplomat. Reagan isn’t what you would call handsome or rich, but he was a lot of fun to be with. Sometimes that means more than money. Tall, dark, and handsome is overrated; it doesn’t make any difference if you’re not a good person. He’s always kind and usually very jovial. He could take a joke with the best of them, but never played a cruel prank on anyone—none that I know of, anyway.
On a Saturday afternoon, the phone rang. “Hello?” I answered.
“Can you come over? We need to talk,” Reagan said.
“Is something wrong?”
“I’d rather tell you in person.” The line went dead.
All sorts of things ran through my head as I tied my shoes. I was reasonably sure he didn’t plan on proposing, but that left a wide range of options open. He didn’t appear to be sick the last time I saw him, so that was out.
Fortunately he only lived a few blocks away, so the time to worry was short. I parked across the street and knocked on the front door.
He jerked it open and pulled me inside. “Did anyone see you? Were you followed?”
“What are you talking about? What does it matter who saw me?” I responded.
“Okay, have you noticed anything different around your apartment?” He was grim.
“No, nothing to be alarmed about, anyway. I live in a secure building and it’s really a pretty safe neighborhood.”
“I’m not so sure how safe it is. Have you seen a blue car following you when you go some place—any place? Have you been getting any calls and when you answer, no one is there?”
“Well, there always are a lot of hang-ups, but I don’t know if there’s been any more than usual. And now that you mention it, there has been a dark blue car in the alley across from my place. You know, when I look out that picture window, I can see it. I thought it was a strange place to park, but people do weird things. Once I thought I caught a glimpse of something shining, as if someone was watching through binoculars or signaling with a mirror, but that was such a bizarre idea that I thought no more about it. Why? What’s going on?”
“Do you remember the other day when we went to the park and there was a car parked across the street when we left? Was it the same car you saw?” He looked worried.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember that car at the park and I’ve never gotten a good look at the car in the alley. Now tell me what’s going on!” I was getting irate at all the secrecy.
He took a deep breath. “Do you remember me telling you about Vickie, the girl I used to go out with?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I don’t care about your old girlfriends. You don’t ask me about my past, and I won’t ask you. What you did in the past is your business. Isn’t that what we agreed on?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s what we agreed on, but things have taken a turn for the worse. Vickie came over this morning.”
“And the problem is—?”
He took two cartridges out of his pocket. “Do you know what these are?”
“Bullets for a gun of some kind.”
“They’re cartridges for a .45 caliber handgun. That’s a real heavy-duty gun; you could put a horse down with a gun that big. Vickie came over this morning and laid these on the table. She said, ‘One is for you and the other one is for her. I’ve been watching her apartment and I know every time you take her out. It was me across the driveway from the park that day. If you want to live, and more importantly, if you want her to live, you’ll stop seeing her.’”
He stood the bullets on their ends on the table. “You know she meant you, don’t you? So I guess it’s your call. What do you want to do?”
The two bullets sat on the table, the brass shell cases looking ominous, threatening deadly accomplishments—pretty menacing for inanimate objects, if you ask me. One toppled, fell, and rolled a short distance, coming to rest against the saltshaker. I watched, transfixed, trying desperately to still my erratic pulse.
He could have told me seven things and this wouldn’t be what I would have expected. I sat there staring at the bullets, tongue-tied, blank—and I admit, very shaken. I was too stunned to speak. Dark fear, stark and vivid, surged through me, as if it had a will of its own.
When I could catch my breath I asked, “What do you have in mind? What do you want to do?”
“We—or I should say, you—could go to the police, I suppose.” He sighed.
“She hasn’t done anything to me. She hasn’t even spoken to me, so how could that be considered a threat? She hasn’t even done anything to you. She could say it was a joke—a tasteless prank, but nevertheless a prank. All she has done is make a bizarre warning that no one, no law enforcement agency, will take seriously,” I said. I took a deep breath; I was beginning to feel a little better. Looking at the problem from an outsider’s viewpoint, I was able to calm myself.
“Maybe I should go try to talk to her,” I said. I looked at him; there was something in his eyes I couldn’t read. Is it fear?
“I don’t think that would be a good idea. You don’t know what she’s capable of. I don’t know what she’s capable of. I never thought she would do something like this.” He picked up the bullets, juggling them from hand to hand.
“Well, then why did you call me over here? Are you trying to scare me or something?” I was getting mad, now that the initial shock was over.
“I wanted to warn you. I thought you should be aware of what’s going on. This way you can take certain precautions,” he said.
“Such as? What measures do you think I should take? Keep a lookout over my shoulder? Hire a bodyguard? I’m not going to hide huddled in the fetal position in the corner of the couch and be paranoid all the time. You keep saying you don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to do about a crazed woman? You think I should go to the police, but I don’t have anything to go to the police about. You’re holding some bullets, but all I have is your word. They won’t believe that. It’s not enough!” I was fuming at this point.
“Hey, don’t take it out on me! I’m trying to help you, warn you,” Reagan said.
“What in the world did you do to the girl? Did you promise to marry her, and then take her to Mexico and back out? What? How serious were you two?” I asked.
“Well, yeah—I did ask her to get married, but I realized in time that it would have been a mistake and I thought she agreed it would be wrong. I thought she understood. We weren’t really right for each other. I need my freedom and she needs to be smothered—and I mean with a big, fluffy pillow.” He smiled at the thought. Then he asked, “That’s not a good reason to threaten someone, is it?”
“Don’t ask me what a good reason is. I can’t think of a good enough excuse to try to kill or hurt another person. Boy, I sound like a regular do-gooder, don’t I?” I simpered, “Please, Miss Vickie, don’t hurt me,” as I danced around the room, waving my arms. I was trying to bring some levity to the situation. “And this Vickie girl only had two bullets; she must think she has an expert shot,” I said.
“The kitchen is fifteen feet across. She doesn’t have to be too terribly good. She could close her eyes and hit one or both of us at that distance,” Reagan answered.
“She would have to get us in the room at the same time.”
“I told you she was watching you. She probably knows you’re here right now.” Reagan looked around, as if she was peeking in the window.
I couldn’t help myself; I looked over my shoulder. “I think we have to confront her. Call her and have her meet us some place. Pick out a neutral spot, where we can all be comfortable. Then you’ll tell her it’s time to move on. Get a job. Get a life of her own and stop trying to live someone else’s. I feel reasonably sure that we can reason with her, make her understand. I don’t want to live in fear that some crazy woman is going to jump out from behind a bush and attack. How old is she, anyway?” I asked.
“What does her age matter? You can be out of your mind at any age,” he said rather brusquely.
“I don’t know if it makes any difference at all, but if she is going through some kind of life change, it might explain it,” I said.
“She’s a little younger, but she always said age is just a number. What mattered to me then was how old we were in life experience, and I bought into that. It made me feel good to be with a younger woman. People looked at me as if I was ‘the man’ because such a young, pretty woman was interested in me. So part of this is my fault. I found out later that what she was interested in was what I could do for her.” He shook his head.
“She’s young and pretty and evidently crazy about you. So what are you doing with me?” I didn’t mean to sound resentful, but that’s the way it came out of my mouth.
“Don’t start that now. Yes, she’s younger, yes, she’s prettier, yes, she’s thinner—but no, she is not as smart or funny or as much fun to be with as you are. She has the personality of a doorknob and now I believe, she’s about fourteen cents short of a dollar. I don’t think she has ever read a book all the way through. She’s only interested in clothes and shopping and stuff like that. It’s hard to carry on an intelligent conversation with her. When I found that out, I decided not to see her anymore. Now are you satisfied?” He was shouting by then.
“It sounds like you’re the one who’s crazy. Why would you give up a woman like that? She’s what every man wants, isn’t she?” I asked.
“I thought so for a while, but I swear, there is nothing for someone like you to be jealous over. The best part about you is that I believe you to be sane. Now don’t prove me wrong.” He smiled.
I took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s get to the problem at hand. Make that call.”
“Now? You want me to make the call now?”
“Sure, why not? Let’s get it over with. Then we can all get on with our lives.” I was feeling smug.
I went in the next room so he could talk in private. I didn’t want to hear him sweet-talking her. I kept telling myself we were friends, but this situation put a new light on our relationship. I was feeling protective of him. I could hear his muted voice coming from the kitchen.
He came in the living room, where I was waiting. “She wants to meet in one hour. She said to be sure you came along. She wants to meet at the overpass. She said it’s out in the open and neutral ground and there usually isn’t very many people around. Does that sound right to you?” he asked.
“You took her there, too?”
“Stop it! It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“You’re right; I’m sorry. Come on, lets go. We sure don’t want to be late.” I picked up my purse, fumbling with the strap in my nervousness.
“It’s a ten-minute drive; there’s no hurry,” he said.
“Did she say anything else?” I asked.
“Like why she is doing this? Like why she is even meeting us? Like why she wants me there? Did she want you to bring the bullets or does she have more? And I’m sure she wants you there so she can use her womanly wiles to get you to like her again.” I know I sounded bitchy.
“No, she didn’t say any of those things.” He picked up his keys. “We might as well go get it over with.”
There was a blue car parked near the stairs when we got to the spot underneath the overpass. Looking up, I could see a figure leaning over the rail.
Reagan got out, and pulling up every bit of nerve I could manage, I followed him. The steps seemed to be miles high. With legs made of lead, I started the climb. The wind picked up as we got higher, blowing my hair in my eyes. I pulled my jacket around me tighter.
I could hear someone screaming. The words seemed to float away in the wind before they got to my ears. I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. Reagan was right behind me, with a determined look on his face.
When we got to the top he put his arm around me. With a straight face, he asked her, “What do you want, Vickie? Why are you doing these things? Can’t you leave us alone?”
She was standing there flawlessly groomed, as if she had stepped out of a fashion magazine. She was a tall, willowy brunette, nothing out of place, impervious to air currents—except her face was distorted with rage, perfectly-manicured nails extended in talons. “You know what I want. If I can’t have you—no one else will, either.” She reached in her handbag.
I caught the gleam of metal as she brought out her hand from the folds of her coat.
“Vickie, that’s not the way it works. You can’t make someone like you.” Reagan pushed me behind him and stepped toward her at the same time she reached for the gun.
She twisted away—and pulled the trigger.
The shot went wild, hitting one of the uprights of the bridge on the overpass, the sound ricocheting back to us.
“I’ve got plenty of bullets left! I loaded the clip before I came. I won’t miss the next time!” Vickie screamed, her features twisted in anger.
Cars were speeding along underneath us. The sound must not have traveled downward, as no one stopped, or as far as I could tell, even slowed down to look up.
She went into a crouch and turned toward me, her arms outstretched, her fingers forming claws. “It’s you! It’s all your fault! You don’t love him! I’ll fix you good! You won’t look so good when I’m through with you!” she screeched.
I was too stunned to speak. She was in no condition to reason with, anyway.
“You don’t mean that. You don’t know what you’re saying.” Reagan tried to placate her.
“Yes, I do. I know exactly what I’m saying. You think I’m crazy, don’t you? Well, I’ll show you how crazy I am.” She leveled the gun again, this time pointing it directly at me.
Reagan motioned for me to get behind him. “If you want to shoot her, you’ll have to shoot me first,” he said.
“If that’s the way you want it—then that’s the way it will be. I might as well shoot you, too,” she answered. She turned the gun toward him—and pulled the trigger.
I heard a grunt—and then Reagan fell to the ground. Blood oozed out of his shoulder, staining his jacket.
Vickie cried, “Oh, Reagan—I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean to. . . .”
That was when I made an ideal football tackle. I dove right into her midsection. There was a “whoof” sound as air left her body.
She teetered, trying to regain her balance, in the process dropping the gun, which fell in a perfect arc over the rail. She tried to reach for it, but lost her footing. As she righted herself and stood up, she was close to the railing. That’s when she leaned over and reeled. She grabbed at empty air, as if she was trying to catch a bird.
Then, completely losing her footing—she fell headfirst into the traffic below.
I do believe she jumped, but I can’t be sure.
I could hear cars screeching to a stop and a woman screaming her lungs out. It was several minutes before I realized that the maniacal sound was coming from me. Looking down, I saw her mangled body—and so, so much blood. Her clothes were torn and twisted, her bloodied legs tangled in her coat.
I turned away and got sick, leaning over the wrought iron rail. I didn’t care at that point if there was anyone standing underneath me.
When I was finished, I ran to Reagan to see if he was breathing. His pulse was faint, but there was nothing I could do until the medics got there. I could hear a siren in the distance, hoping it was for us, that someone called 911. I knelt beside him, crying uncontrollably.
The trial starts tomorrow; they waited until Reagan got out of the hospital. My only defense is that I never meant to hurt anyone.