Murder: It's All in Your Head

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Chapter 3 - 2018: Cassie & Randy

After a minute of uncontrollable sobbing, Cassie withdrew her face from her hands. The water was now farther into the hallway. She stood, water dripping from the bottom of her pants. The sound of the bathtub running brought her back to reality. With a noise somewhere between a groan and a growl, she darted into the bathroom, kept her eyes on the faucet, and yanked the knob to the right. The water stopped.

She stepped back from the tub, unable to ignore the pink water and the pale leg hanging over the side near the faucet.

Just don’t look at her. Don’t look at her.

She looked. The once-beautiful woman’s vacant eyes seemed to see right through her. Cassie placed her hand over her mouth and gagged. She returned to the hallway and rubbed her hand over her face. The second her fingers made contact with the beard, she laughed, a hollow, crazed sound.

“This is a dream,” she whispered. “It’s gotta be. What do they say to do when you’re dreaming? Pinch yourself?”

She pinched herself. Hard. Right on the cheek, where that impossible beard persisted. She pinched until she drew blood. Until her manly screams shook the house.

Her head spun. The need to do something, anything, took hold as she tried to rationalize the absurdity of the situation. Cassie took a step and lost her footing, falling hard. With a groan, she pushed herself to standing, hating the large feet. She managed a step, then another. When she was sure she wouldn’t fall, she ran downstairs and found the kitchen. She scrubbed at hands that weren’t hers. She threw off the ruined suit coat and shirt, stripped down to boxers. She tried to ignore the foreign body, but the bump between her legs made her want to vomit all over again. Cassie hoped any moment she would wake from this nightmare.

When her hands were as clean as she could get them, she ran from room to room, hoping to find clean clothes. As she stepped into a walk-in closet that was bigger than her parents’ bedroom and her eyes landed on the racks upon racks of women’s clothing, sirens echoed in the distance. She tried pulling on a pair of skinny jeans, but they got stuck halfway up her thighs.

“Damn it!”

The sirens grew louder. Realization hit Cassie. There was no escaping this. Blood was everywhere, her handprints all over this house. Handprints that weren’t hers. A dead woman lay in an overflowing tub of her own blood a room away.

Cassie fell to the floor and cried. The sirens screamed now, then stopped. For a moment, hope blossomed that she was safe.

Then the bang of the front door being kicked in and a voice shouted: “Randall Davis, this is the police! Come out. We have the house surrounded!”

Cassie crawled to the bottom rack of clothes and hid behind a row of long skirts. Every breath seemed the blare of a tornado, so she covered her ears. The sound didn’t stop. The heavy footsteps boomed through the house, the opening and closing of doors, the frantic search for a killer.

She willed her large body to stay still, but the tremors were like an earthquake. She was sure she would be given away by the shaking skirts she hid in the moment a cop opened the door to the closet.

“Found her,” came a deep voice.

What? Then she realized the cop meant the dead woman.

More doors opening. She jumped and cried into her hands, tensing as the bedroom door banged open. Two sets of footsteps thudded across the floor.

“Maybe he ran,” one of the cops said.

“Think he had enough time?” the other asked.

“Hell if I know. The maid called, saying she heard a scream. Said it was the missus of the house. Then she heard Davis himself yell something like, ‘I won’t let you ruin me anymore.’ Then nothing. She heard the struggle while she was cleaning a room away.”

“Explains what we found in the bathtub,” the second cop said with a heavy sigh. “That Davis guy--”

“Hey, rookies! You wanna shut the hell up and do your damn job?” an older man’s voice asked.

“Sorry, sir.”

“Yes, Serge.”

Cassie held her hands over her mouth, trying to conceal her fear. She bit down on one beefy finger and cried out. Hot tears coursed down her grizzled cheeks as she trembled.

“Did you hear something?” the sergeant asked.

The cops went quiet. The soft shuffle of feet over the carpet came at Cassie like a gentle shush, but the last thing it did was comfort her. The closet door creaked open. A stream of light caught Cassie in the eye as she peered between skirts.

The sergeant jerked his head toward the inside of the closet. The younger officers entered and searched through the racks of clothes, their guns out.

Cassie wished she could disappear into the wall. She drew herself back and in as tight as possible, but her quivering body was her enemy, more so than the police.

One of the officers, a guy who didn’t look much older than a high schooler, poked his gun into the clothes near her. She barged out of the skirts, tearing them down from the rack in her haste, and charged past the closest cop. He fell back on his haunches, his gun firing into the ceiling. The bang startled the second cop, giving Cassie the perfect opportunity to dart past him. He fumbled with his gun.

“You fools!” the sergeant shouted.

Cassie made to run past the sergeant, but he blocked the exit, the years of experience evident in his lined face as he tackled her.

“Gotcha!”

She cried out and hated herself and the body she inhabited.

“Thought you were so smart, Davis? Thought your reputation and money would save you?” The sergeant leered at Cassie and slapped handcuffs on her wrists.

Tears leaked from her eyes. She tried to shake her head, but her naked body, save for the boxers, gave up and slumped to the floor. “I-I’m not him.”

“Sure look like him.” The sergeant frowned. “Boys, take him outta here,” he said to the younger cops.

“But p-please...I’m not who you think I am. My n-name’s Cassie, Cassie Meadows. I’m an eighteen-year-old student here in Hurston. I’m supposed to be at s-school.” Her words quavered with every utterance as tears continued to fall.

The sergeant shook his head and forced Cassie upright. The rookies grabbed her on either side. She drooped in their grip.

“You ain’t in Hurston. You’re in South Liberty, but I think you already know that. As for this young girl you mentioned, she another one of those women rumor has it you been sleepin’ around with? Too busy playin’ with your dick to keep your company up and running like the good old days, eh? That why you killed your poor wife? If I were you, I’d start working on my insanity plea.”

“Sir, maybe it’d be best if--” one of the other cops started to say.

The sergeant silenced him with a hand up. “All right, enough’s enough. Just hate lookin’ at scum like him who think they’re better than the rest of us.” The sergeant recited Cassie’s, or Mr. Davis’s, rights, and the two other police escorted her out of the house.

Upon stepping outside, Cassie struggled in their arms, hoping the man’s body would be strong enough. “Please, you gotta believe me!”

“Shut up and get in the car.”

Cassie gave up. She felt like a five-year-old being forced to do something she didn’t want as the cop shoved her in the back of the patrol car and slammed the door. The boom of the door held such finality that Cassie wondered how she would ever know anything other than fear again.

* * *

“Can I trust you to behave yourself, James?” Dr. Winslow’s nasal voice queried.

Randy lay on the bed in the restraint room, his arms and legs cuffed, a belt around his waist. He came to, drowsy from an antipsychotic medication and sedative. He wanted to thrash like a fish on land.

He stared at the flickering dim fluorescent light and wondered why they didn’t replace the bulb. In a way, the pattern was a comfort. It was something to focus on. Randy tracked a watermark that had been on the ceiling since he arrived two years ago.

He nodded, his eyes still gazing up. Anything to avoid the psychiatrist.

“Remove the restraints.” Dr. Winslow left.

Two orderlies released him. Randy sat up and rubbed at his wrists. The marks from the cuffs would remain a while. The men escorted him to his room and walked away.

“What the hell? Why do I even bother?” He ran his hand over his scruffy face.

Randy ambled down the hall to the community area. Several patients gathered around the TV. Some stood, their arms crossed over their chests, or talked among themselves. Others sat. Some of them seemed like regular guys going about their day, but others roamed the room, moaning, screaming, and yelling, gesticulating with their hands and twitching their heads.

Randy made his way to the couch. The six o’clock news was on. He only half-listened most evenings, not concerning himself with what was happening in a world he had no part in. Tonight, impossible words caught his attention as a reporter’s face appeared on the screen.

“Hey, turn that up,” Randy said to the guy standing closest to the outdated TV.

The guy shrugged and turned the knob.

The newcaster’s voice seemed to come through a tunnel: “Local millionaire Randall Davis, founder and CEO of Randall P. Davis Innovations, is under arrest for the suspected murder of his wife. Danielle Davis’s body was found in the bathtub in the Davis’s home here in--”

Randy bit down hard on his fingers, then screamed. He shot to his feet and charged at the TV Several patients jumped out of the way.

“Whoa, watch it!”

“What the hell d’you think you’re doin’?”

“Just crazy old Jimmy at it again!”

Someone laughed. Another hooted in excitement. Randy ignored them and rammed into the TV, knocking it down.

“You fucking liar!” he screamed at the shattered screen.

Two orderlies grabbed him around the arms. Lights strobed. Sirens blared. Someone called the code. Staff escorted the other patients to their rooms.

“Calm down and come with us,” one of the orderlies said.

Randy fought and flailed, jerking his arms. He managed to yank one free and punch the guy who held his other arm. The second orderly grabbed his bloody nose, while the first one staggered, still reeling from Randy’s escape attempt. He meant to grab the old man, but Randy punched him in the gut. Randy ran at the exit. He had to escape, go to Danielle.

They’re lying. She’s fine. Fine. She’s got to be. Tears burned. “Dani!” His throat closed. “Da--”

Someone tackled him. The weight of the guy was enough to tell him it was the fat orderly whose name was David or Doug or something. Randy struggled, reaching out in front of him along the dirty floor.

“No,” he moaned. “Please...no…”

His uneven nails clutched at a tile that was missing a piece in one corner. A needle stick in his neck. The last thing he saw before he passed out was a black mark from someone’s shoe on the off-white linoleum.

Randy woke to darkness. His eyes adjusted until he could discern the door from the wall. Light filtered into the room through a small window in the door, guarded by an orderly. His arms ached. The dull pain traveled through the rest of his body. His stomach growled. He frowned at the position of his arms and moved them, only to feel the resistance of the bands holding them fast to the rails on either side of the bed. His legs were cuffed likewise.

“Damn it,” Randy muttered. Back in the restraint room. No belt this time. A small mercy.

Then his face--his real face topped with thick brown hair and covered with a beard--locked into his mind. He wondered if he’d seen his true self in a mirror recently, but no, it had been the TV. His mug had been on that old TV in the community room, the type where the picture froze in black and white and grew smaller when someone turned it off. Then a cluster of red, green, and blue dots faded as they separated--the type of TV his old man had watched while drinking beers and eating potato chips in his tattered recliner.

Both TVs were history now. Randy yanked at the restraints, moaning, his pleas growing as he tugged. Tears leaked out as he surrendered, his arms flopping back to the mattress.

“No, no,” he whispered. “Danielle, Danielle…Dani...”

He wanted to be Jimmy now, anyone but Randy, anyone but the man whose wife had been murdered.

“No, not Jimmy, not Jimmy. Jimmy’s a fucking murderer. That’s what he is. He did this. He killed her. He’s in my body. He’s got to be. My wife, oh, God! Dani!”

His screams alerted the orderly posted outside the door and the nurse who was stationed during the night shift. The light flipped on overhead. He winced.

“Now y’all settle down, Mr. Williams,” Nurse Nora said in a deep southern accent. She held her chubby arms up in front of her.

“You don’t understand! He killed her!”

“Who killed who, Mr. Williams?”

“Who do you think? Jimmy Williams killed Danielle, my wife! Doesn’t anybody listen around here? I saw the story on the news. You can’t trick me.”

“Mr. Williams--”

“Stop calling me that!” He thrashed until he grew weary, his breathing fast. The old man’s eyes darted around the room, spittle running down his chin.

The nurse shook her head. “We were hoping you’d be better by now.” She nodded toward the orderlies, who stood on either side of Randy. “I’ll be right back.”

“No, no...please, don’t do that. Don’t leave.” Randy’s voice was raw, tremulous.

The nurse stopped at the door and cast him a pitying look. “I am truly sorry, but those are the doctor’s orders.” She left.

Randy shook his head. He gazed up at one of the orderlies, a young guy who couldn’t be much older than Charles. “Hey, buddy.”

The orderly scowled. “What?”

“Can you take these off? My wrists are killing me.”

“Right, and let you attack me? I don’t think so.”

Randy sighed, all fight gone out of him.

The nurse returned with a syringe. “Okay, now, if y’all will just lie still--”

“You don’t have to do that. Look, I’m calm. I’m calm.”

The nurse hesitated, her puffy lips in a frown. “I don’t know. Mike, Albert,” she addressed the orderlies, “keep an eye on him for the next fifteen minutes. If he remains calm, we will take the restraints off.”

“Right, ma’am,” said the guy with the tag that read Mike, the younger of the two.

The nurse left again, syringe in hand.

Randy closed his eyes, trying to block out the prison around him.

He heard the orderlies breathing as they stood beside him, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t like they were here to make pleasant conversation. Oh, how’s the weather today, fellas? he could ask. Yeah, right.

His thoughts gave way to dreams.

Danielle’s auburn hair and infectious smile danced in front of him. She giggled and reached for his hand.

When he looked down, Jimmy’s hand was gone. He was himself again--Randy. He felt the smile on his face, the muscles out of practice. “I’ve missed you,” he said. “Please tell me you’re okay.”

Danielle laughed and swung their clasped hands as they walked.

Wet sand squished between his toes. He looked down at the beach, then toward the water. The sun was setting. A breath caught in his throat, the taste of sea salt on his tongue. “This is where we went for our honeymoon. Maui.”

Danielle stopped and faced him. “We’re on our honeymoon, Randy. Why else would we be here?”

“But-but this isn’t…this isn’t real.” He swallowed thick saliva.

The breeze blew, the smell of salt water and sand wafting over his face. Overhead, palm branches rustled.

“Why wouldn’t it be real?” Her voice held a teasing undertone.

He kissed her pert, freckled nose and led her to a nearby hammock. They lay in it, side by side. He ran his fingers through her hair, down her shoulder and bare upper arm, kissed her on the lips. When he drew back, he said, “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to do that?”

“Randy-Bear, you kiss me all the time. You aren’t making any sense.” Danielle stared at him with concern in her eyes.

“This, right here, is the only thing that makes sense. I want to hold you forever. I need you back, Dani. Someone’s taken you from me, and I can’t--”

He began to cry. Danielle blurred and disappeared. The sun set and darkness claimed the world. He bellowed “Danielle!” Over and over again.

The hammock flipped and dumped him onto a firm mattress.

He opened his eyes to Nora’s plain face.

“Well, Mr. Williams, it looks like you’ve calmed down so much that you fell asleep.”

“I’m tired, so tired.”

“Well, that makes sense. It’s the middle of the night.”

“I mean, I’m tired of this. All of this.” He tried to lift his hand, but the cuff held him back.

The nurse straightened and gestured toward the orderlies. “You can release him.”

The men undid the restraints, then stepped aside.

“I’ll take it from here,” Nora said to the orderlies.

“You’re sure?” Mike cast an uneasy glance at Jimmy.

Nora placed a hand on Mike’s shoulder like he was her son. “You two boys run along.”

With one last glance at the matronly nurse, the orderlies left.

Nora crossed her arms over her ample bosom and regarded Randy. “I hope I made the right move. Can I trust you to behave, Mr. Williams?”

Randy groaned as he eased his legs over the edge of the bed. He gave her a small smile. “You’ve always been nice to me. Why would I hurt you?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Indeed. And why did you attack those poor orderlies this evening?” When he didn’t reply, she added, “I heard what happened.”

He gazed at Nora. “You remind me of my mother.”

She chuckled, waving him off. “Come on, now. Let’s go. Your mother would be, what, 100 years old?”

Randy frowned and followed her. “No, she died when I… Well, I was just a kid.”

When they reached the nurses’ station, Nora turned. Her eyes shone in the light from behind the glass, the barrier that usually separated the patients from the nurses. She lifted her hand like she was about to touch his arm but dropped it to her side. “You know, Jimmy, you seem like one of the good ones who just went the wrong way.” She shook her head. “Listen to me, getting all sentimental. Thing is, you work here long enough, you start to--”

To actually believe we aren’t all crazy? That we’re just people? He licked his lips, willing her to continue.

“Goodnight, Mr. Williams,” Nora said, entering the nurses’ station, the door between them closing, the boundary back in place.

Randy rubbed at his wrists and went to his room. In the dark, he couldn’t see the bruising, but he was sure he would have the marks to prove his disobedience for days to come. He would be teased by several of the other patients, including Charles.

“I’m Jimmy again,” he whispered. “That’s all I’ll ever be to them. No one will ever believe me, Danielle.”

He grew silent, listened to the darkness, as if expecting a reply. His sore, dry eyes slid shut as he lay back down. If it was only in his dreams that he could see her, could be himself, then he would go there.

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