Kill, Sleep, Repeat – Britney King

T PROLOGUE he first time it happened, I did not think it was funny. It wasn’t funny the second time, either. By that point, saving her ass had become a full-time job. With mandatory overtime. By then, I’d realized something profound—what didn’t kill me only made me want her more. Maybe it would have helped if she’d wanted it. Who’s to say? She may not have wanted to be saved, but God did she need it. And anyhow, what was I supposed to do? Once you’ve committed to a person on that level, how can you not see it through? You could say that’s what I’m doing now. Seeing it through. The worst thing would be if this was all for nothing. And since I have your attention, this is important, so listen up— what you have here is a story about how everything went south. Not literally south, but what you would call the opposite of right. Upside down. Topsy-turvy. You probably catch my drift.

This thing you’re listening to, the flight recorder, well, I bet the boys at the NTSB had a blast fishing it out of the frigid depths of the Pacific. The black box, it’s called. In reality, it’s orange. Probably my first big point: most things aren’t what they seem. Anyway, on the inside of the black box is the record of all that is left. What you’ve found is just that. A story about how things went from bad to worse. Except for one—two, if you count me, which most people don’t—the passengers are fine. They deplaned in Dallas, on schedule. Then it was just the two of us.

Exactly as it should be. You really have no idea what it takes to get her alone. The pilots are with her too. Although, they don’t count. They’re dead. So, it’s just me up here in the cockpit. Well, me and a dispensary of half-empty pill bottles. Xanax, Valium, codeine, Adderall—pretty much anything you could want— I have it all lined up in a neat little row on top of the instrument panel. Maybe it’s worth mentioning, I’m not usually this laid back. I don’t typically fly while under the influence, but this is what you could call a special circumstance.

Up here, where the air is thin, there’s just us trying to stay above the weather. Well, at least one of us is trying. The other one is all sad-eyed and what you could call emotional. Could be the zip ties. It’s not the first time I’ve been accused of taking things too far. That and well…she doesn’t particularly care for the term “hostage.” Obviously, this is more than that—if anyone has been the captive in this whole ordeal, it’s me. Could be, too, that she’s thinking about her children. They’ll be fine. I did my best to reassure her.

They’re old enough to make their own food, tie their own shoes. They have a spare parent. Not everyone is so lucky, I said. Not everyone gets to have two. She didn’t seem comforted by this, but then, she’s always had a bit of a poker face. I’ll do my best not to bore you with the details, but we’re on autopilot up here until we eat through the fuel. Flame out being the technical term. I won’t waste your precious time, or mine, for that matter, by giving you a crash course on the fuel consumption specs of two Rolls Royce jet engines, full throttle at forty thousand feet, or how long it takes a sixty thousand pound glider to harpoon the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully, I can enjoy the ride down hands free. The autopilot will perform its best dead-stick descent.

What a relief. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have. All I’ve known since she walked into my life has worked out exactly the opposite. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. For now, the sky expands forever out in front of us. I’m on cloud nine. We have never been more together. Together, headed toward the Pacific, headed toward disaster, toward the end of our life stories, hers and mine, and I suppose all roads really do lead west. For the record, I have never felt more fantastic. At this speed and altitude, we have two, maybe three hours left.

Which means I’ll have to make this quick. No one wants to die in the middle of their life story. Earlier, as I carefully positioned the dead captain and copilot in their final, seated, upright positions, next to her, she demanded to know why I’m doing this. Believe me, I asked myself the same thing. It took a lot of work getting them into those seats. In the end, it was worth the effort. It seemed like she had a lot to talk about, and I didn’t want her to be lonely. Still, I didn’t answer her, at least not right away, because we both know why. When this thing crash-dives into the Pacific and breaks into a bazillion tiny bits of fiery jet, the black box will survive. Sooner or later, people will find it.

So eventually I told her the truth: I’m recording this so our story will live on forever. T C HA P T E R O NE Charlotte Three weeks earlier he Uber driver drops me three blocks from my destination. Even though it’s a balmy twenty-seven degrees Fahrenheit, I’m more than happy to walk the remainder of the way. My phone chimes as I step off the curb, a reminder I’d better chuck it. Glancing at the screen, I see a notification asking me to leave a rating on my experience with the driver. Considering his incessant attempts at making small talk are half the reason I’m walking several blocks in five-inch heels, against the bitter cold, I have a few things to say. I power the phone off, watching as it falls to the pavement, where I channel my frustration into smashing it into bits and pieces with my left foot. No point in shitting on a person’s livelihood because I’ve had a bad day. Once I’ve buttoned my coat, I shuffle the broken phone toward the gutter with the toe of my black pump. One small kick and it’s a goner, and then I’m on my way.

My mind is, as usual, already two steps ahead, welcoming the time to regroup. It’s imperative I’m in the right headspace for what I’m about to walk into. There are three rules. More than that, but three main ones: Stay focused. Remain in character. Don’t get murdered. Head down, I walk briskly toward my destination, my hands in my pockets, the rest of me shivering against the icy breeze, trying to keep the cold air at bay. Pushed back from the road, the house is conveniently situated at the end of a long drive, gated and hidden among trees, away from inquisitive eyes. It’s dark now, but I don’t need daylight to know the expansive front lawn is well tended, that there are eight steps to the front door, or that the drive has recently been repaved. Nor am I surprised to see the walk is well-lit or that the smaller yard up close to the house is littered with toys, tricycles, and various sporting equipment.

My host has people for this, so my sense is he’s trying to send a message. He wants me to feel safe here. But I know better. I know that would be a mistake. It could be this—or it could be that he really doesn’t care one way or the other. Maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe it doesn’t matter. With the exception of a small bench, I know that the porch is empty. To the left of the bench are two pairs of gardening clogs—one adult size, one child size—and next to them, a potted rose bush and a bag of fresh soil. As I pass the first camera, positioned appropriately along the walk, I smile.

Watching is a fetish of his. There are others, but voyeurism makes him feel big and powerful. It makes him feel safe and in control. Funny, a security system, no matter how sophisticated, isn’t going to save him tonight. My heels click purposefully against the porch steps as I make my way toward the front door. I see that the curtains have been left open, a flickering bluish glow emanating from the large front window. As I approach the entryway, I hear a pundit’s voice coming from the television inside. It’s late, but he’s expecting me, and I know he’ll have waited up. I raise a gloved hand, take a solid breath, and allow my fist to rap against the door. I knock three times, the sound dampened by thick leather.

Eventually, I hear footsteps, and the door opens. He leans out, holding the door half-closed to keep the cold out, and I have to admit he looks exactly as I pictured him. Handsome. Charming, even. Like someone I could fall in love with, if I didn’t know so much about him. If I were capable of such things. He looks at me, partly confused, partly perturbed. The TV is louder now, one of those urgent, the sky is falling news reports playing on a seemingly endless loop. His eyes are tired, but he hasn’t changed out of his work attire. His tie is only slightly loosened.

Slowly, he relaxes his grip on the door. “I didn’t think you were going to show.” We stand there for a second, staring at each other. I’m thinking he’s a good lover. His kind usually are. There’s a hunger in his expression I recognize, one I know will tighten its grip unless satisfied. After several beats, he opens the door wider, beckoning me in. I follow him into the foyer, which screams the usual look-at-me, look-how-much-money-I-have rhetoric, only with too much white space. I change my mind. I bet he’s selfish in the sack.

When I see that the living room isn’t much different, it’s practically confirmed. If given the opportunity to look around, I know what I’d find. Nine bedrooms, eleven bathrooms, three stories, with two boat slips down at the dock. Sure as shit, the rich know how to live: jewelry, guns, clothes, pills of all kinds, loads of money, and plenty of food. But that’s not what gets me off. It’s always their fetishes I find most interesting. He doesn’t ask for my coat or make a move to remove it, so I take it upon myself. As I lay it over the sofa, I am reminded why I am here. I have two main goals. The most important is to walk out the door alive.

Which is why when he asks me if I want a drink, I don’t answer. My attention is on the couch. It’s the ugliest I’ve ever seen, rich people or no. He walks over to the bar and fills a glass with whiskey. Once he tops off a second glass, he turns to me and says, “The dress I like. But what’s with the gloves?” “It’s cold out.” “This should warm you up.” He forces the tumbler in my direction. When I neither respond nor move to take it from him, he turns toward the TV. I clock him with a left hook.

He drops the glass, the caramel colored liquid soaking into the kind of plush white carpet no one with kids should ever own. Blood seeps from his bottom lip as he lunges forward. He swings as hard as he can but I dart aside, coming back with a knee to the chin that has him on the floor before he knows what’s happening. He spits blood as he tries to rise, but I can see in his eyes there isn’t a lot to give. In a single beat, I’m on top of him, straddling his chest. As I reach for my knife, the tips of my fingers grazing it, he shifts his weight, which causes me to side-swipe my hip with the blade. Suddenly, his hands are on my thighs. He squeezes hard. Our eyes meet and I see it then. He thinks this is a game.

He thinks it’s part of the act. “So you like it rough,” he says. It’s not a question. Something that is quickly apparent in the way he bucks me off and backhands me, once he’s succeeded. Using the back of the horrid sofa, he manages to pull himself upright. He lands another blow. This time it’s a fist to my head. I’m slumped forward, propped up by my forearms, when his elbow comes down between my shoulder blades, forcing me all the way down. It knocks the wind out of me, but ignites a fire somewhere deep within. “Why is it the best whores,” he says smugly, “always put up a little fight?” I feel him moving behind me and then he’s close.

His weight presses me into the plush white carpet. “Look what you’ve done,” he says, kissing my ear, his erection pushing against my back. I shift, trying to get the knife in a position that won’t be useless. With his weight pinning me, it’s impossible. I reach around and jab my finger into his eye. He rears backward long enough to allow me to turn onto my back. We roll several times as he gets a few hits in. Finally, he pulls me up by my hair, and that’s when he learns that even the best of wigs don’t stay put under that kind of stress. “Not even a redhead,” he says, shaking his head. I take two steps backward, defeat in my eyes.

He tosses the wig aside and then leans forward, resting his hands on his knees. He tries to catch his breath. Blood drips from my nose, and I stagger a little as I attempt to regain my footing. The heels don’t help. He sighs heavily, surveying the mess. He motions at my injuries. “Is that enough for you—or should I keep going?” I don’t have time to answer. Suddenly, he’s standing in front of me. Suddenly, he’s forcing me to my knees, my hair twisted around his fist. With his free hand, he unzips his pants.

I’m aware that I’m in a bad position, but my mind is clear and my hands are steady. He removes his shirt, slowly, button by button. Using my mouth, I snake my way up his torso. I pause and take him in. “Where are the girls?” “The who?” “The girls.” He takes my head in his hands and tilts it from side to side as he studies my face. He could easily snap my neck at any moment and I think he just might. “How the fuck should I know?” Shaking my head loose, I lean forward and nuzzle his stomach. “He said I should talk to you. If I was interested.

” “Me? No. You’ll have to ask Dunsmore.” “Dunsmore,” I repeat, cupping his balls. I stroke the length of him, first with my hand, and then with the tip of my tongue. Eventually his head lolls back and his eyes close. He’s in the zone now, the place where expectancy and ecstasy meet in the dark, like a swirling tide, leaving him exposed. His blood splatters beautifully against the white space, the cut to his throat clean and precise. With a confused look in his eye, he staggers forward. I smile, knowing he’ll bleed out in seconds. That the job is done.

The thrumming sound of my pulse beating between my ears picks up pace as I watch him fall to the floor and then take his last breath. Kneeling down next to him, I lift the knife to his chest, stopping and hovering just above his rib cage. Using the tip, I trace the word liar into the tanned, taut skin above his heart. Then I plunge the blade deep into his chest, erasing everything. I stab again and again, until I hit bone, until I feel nothing, until I’m slumped over him, breathless. A familiar sensation washes over me, and I sigh, once again reminded that this is what it feels like. Bliss. Sweet, fleeting bliss. When my breath steadies, I stand and compose myself, tucking the knife inside my dress. Then I make my way into the kitchen, where I locate the computer monitor that displays the footage from the cameras.

I watch for movement. I see nothing. In the living room, the pundit on the TV is still rambling. I follow the sound back to my drink. I’m pleased to see the ice cubes haven’t watered it down. I take the glass and make my way over to the horrible couch, where I stand for a second, sipping the whiskey, taking it all in. I wonder what was going through their minds. Was it a fad purchase? Or a beloved piece carefully selected with this room in mind? Maybe a little of both. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I glance over at the lifeless body sprawled out on the floor, his pants pathetically around his ankles, and I smile.

Then I make myself comfortable. And I finish off my drink. T C HA P T E R TW O Charlotte he clock on his side of the bed reads 5:47 a.m. Predawn light filters ever so slightly through the tops of the blackout curtains. He is on top of me, pumping away. Our Wednesday ritual. Sex is important in any marriage, so when Michael suggested putting it on the calendar, I found no reason to object. Between my flight schedule, his commute, and two children pulling us in every direction but the same one, Wednesday, predawn, was the only available calendar slot. Seven minutes ago, when the alarm sounded, and he rolled over to my side of the bed, sweeping his hand across my thigh, I smiled.

Michael is nothing if not punctual. Sure, I’d prefer coffee over rigorous thrusting first thing, but I admit it’s not the worst thing I could be doing. Feeling him search for my hands in the dark, I offer up a soft moan. A distraction, so that the slight crook in the pinky finger on my left hand, and the nasty greenish-blue hue it has taken on, can remain safely tucked under the pillow. Eventually, he finds it, and as he does, he shifts his weight, which causes my breath to catch. He takes this as a sign to increase speed, and all of a sudden, I hate myself for breathing. “Flip over,” he huffs, pulling out. “I want you from the back.” Gritting my teeth, I methodically roll over. Michael has always loved my ass, it’s one of the few things time, gravity, and childbearing haven’t touched.

The dim light doesn’t hurt. He sees only what he wants to see. White-hot heat sears down my lower back when he grabs my left hip, flirting with the bruises that have bloomed across my thighs overnight, anchoring me into position. He sighs, his breath heavy and hot against my ear. “God, you feel good.” He doesn’t mean to hurt me. In the dark, it’s impossible to make out the telltale signs that adorn my body. In the dark, like other aspects of my life, this, too stays hidden. Liar. My mind flashes back to letters etched into a tan, hairless chest, spelling out a word I know well.

Gripping Michael’s forearm, I dig my nails in. Suddenly, he is not my husband. Suddenly, he is every man who has ever hurt me. Pain is equally intoxicating and suffocating in that way. The body doesn’t easily forget. “Jesus, Charlotte.” He slows and runs his fingers up my side, stopping at my face, where he uses them to pry my hand away. “That’s going to leave a mark.” His voice brings me back to the present. “Sorry.

” “Are you okay? It seems—” “I’m fine.” I’m not fine. Overnight the bruising that spans my torso has spread upward, snaking itself around my rib cage like vines climbing a trellis. Every breath is a reminder. “Maybe you’d feel better if you let me take this off,” he says, fisting the old T-shirt of his I’ve refused to remove. “It’s cold.” It’s the only thing keeping the laceration on my hip covered. His eyes dart toward the clock. “I’ll warm you up,” he says. And he does.

The pain comes cyclically, in waves with each thrust. It radiates angrily, building and subsiding, starting at the base of my forehead, traveling to the tips of my toes, and back again. My body, when pressed into the mattress, aches to let go, to give up, to give in to the pain, or the pleasure, or both. My mind, on the other hand, begs to tell him to slow down. So as not to prolong the session, I bite my tongue. The sweet-metallic taste of blood fills my mouth, keeping me in the here and now. As he picks up pace, it helps to imagine the faces of men long dead. Slack jaws, lifeless eyes, ridged extremities. It’s meant to serve as a distraction, and for a moment, I feel a familiar heat building within me. I think I might actually come.

Unfortunately, the feeling dies just as quickly as it builds. Last night is still too fresh in my mind and clearly also in my body. I can’t get there. Wherever there is, it remains elusive, a place I know well but remains just out of reach. I can’t quite bring it into focus. Unable to remain in this position without suffocating or crying out, I shimmy back onto my side. “On your stomach,” he says. “Turn over. All the way.” It’s a half-hearted request, and thankfully, he does not stop to give me the chance to oblige.

His hand pushes my hip into the mattress. “Char—” Instinctively, I sink my teeth into his hand, an act of aggression that is met by one of his own. He twists my hair around his fist and pulls. It makes me smile. He wants to play. That side of him doesn’t usually come out this early. “I said turn over.” “No.” He tries to force me, which nicks an edge somewhere deep inside. The impulse to fight is there—the urge to reach for the knife, or the gun under the mattress, to make it stop.

But then he slips his hands between my legs, where his fingers begin a delicate dance, and logic prevails. “That feels good…” My fingers grip the sheets. “I’m almost there.” My lie has the intended effect. He speeds up. “Oh God.” He pushes my face into the pillow. “Oh fuck. Yes. Please.

Just—” “I’m going to come,” he grunts. “I’m—” In waves at first, and then all at once, his body is rigid, and then it goes slack. After several long seconds, he collapses onto me. “Did you get there?” “Of course,” I say. “Wasn’t it obvious?” “Just wanted to make sure.” There is pleasant relief when he lifts up and climbs off me, and I allow my eyes to close, just for a moment. I hear him towel off and then the room floods with purple light as he flings the curtain open. He walks back over to the bed and stands there for a second. When I open my eyes, his brows are knitted. After a second or two, he leans down and pats my ass.

“What a way to start the day.” As he makes his way across the bedroom and into the bath, I admire all the ways in which middle age has left him relatively unscathed. He’s still long and lean and fit, and aside from a few laugh lines and a smattering of crows’ feet, not much has changed since the day we met. “You got back late,” he says, glancing over his shoulder. “It’s no wonder you’re tired.” I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a dig about my performance or merely an observation. “Yeah, yesterday was a killer.” “And you’re flying again today?” Fishing my cell phone from the nightstand, I answer, “Another red eye, I’m afraid.” He doesn’t respond, probably because this is a conversation we’ve already had. “Nina is picking Sophie up from practice.

” He tosses a towel in my direction. “And Hayley?” Pretending not to have heard him, I stare at my screen. One less lie I’ll have to tell with a straight face. Scanning my email for the day’s itinerary, I tap on a subject line that reads: Dan and Jackie–Anniversary Dinner. The email contains three paragraphs of text. Attached are several photos of a dinner party. DEAR ONES, Thank you for coming out to share our anniversary. It was a magical night filled with all the people we love. What a blessing it was. Just a reminder, we’re hosting game night next Wednesday.

Should start around 7:30 and end around 9:15 or so. Hope to see you there! <3 Love to you all — Jackie P.S. Please update your contact list with Dan’s new email: [email protected] IGNORİNG THE WORDS, I extract the numbers and symbols which make up the password that enables me to access compressed data stored in the tedious photos. Back when I first learned how this worked, I thought it was a little risky, sending so much information in an email anyone could read. Covert communication is key, I was told. They could encrypt the messages, but even if they were unbreakable, they’d draw attention. It made sense. No one gives a crap about other people’s vacation photos, at least not to the extent to look too deeply into them.

“Charlotte?” Michael calls from the bathroom. “Have you gone back to sleep?” “No. Just making a grocery list.” “I asked about Hayley.” “Oh—” I scroll through another email before filing it away in a folder to be read later. “I thought you were picking her up.” “Me?” I don’t answer. Sometimes it is best to let people come to their own conclusions. Eventually, the shower turns on. I ease out of bed, roll my neck, and make a beeline for the closet in search of something sufficient enough to hide my injuries.

Michael peeks his head around the bathroom door. I’ve forgotten. He doesn’t like to argue on days I fly. “I’ll see if I can cut out early,” he says. “If not, I’ll ring the Terrys.” I hear his words. But they don’t register. My mind has already flung itself far into the future, into the data, to the job I have to do. Carpool is the least of my concerns. I have a murder to plan.


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