I gripped my shoe so tightly the buckle dug into my palm. I ignored the pain and focused on the lunatic in front of me.
As I stared at the barrel of her gun catching the moonlight, pieces fell into places with sudden clarity. I'd spent so much time looking at the fake Mrs. Waterston, that I'd never considered the real one.
"You couldn't just be as dumb as you look, could you?" Waterston's tone was raspy, deep, with an undertone of anger bubbling just beneath the surface.
I paused. The key ingredient to staying alive in a hostage situation, at least according to television, was to keep the person with the gun talking instead of shooting.
"I look dumb?" I asked, clearly not caring what she thought, but hoping to stall her.
She grinned, showing off a row of veneers. "A bleached blonde playing private eye?"
Hey! I took offense to that. My hair color was all my own, thank you very much.
"So, that's why you chose me. You thought the dumb blonde would be easy to frame?"
She waved me off. "Don't flatter yourself. You were a random name in the PI section of Yelp. A means to an end."
"The end being killing your husband," I said slowly, watching her reaction.
But if she felt anything, she hid it well. Her face remained relaxed and impassive, as if she were discussing a ladies' luncheon instead of her husband's murder. "I'd had enough. I was finished with him."
"Enough what?" I asked, trying to keep her talking, as I scanned the area behind her. She'd left the door open. A means of escape. If I could catch her off guard, there was a chance I could slip past her to freedom.
Her eyes narrowed. "You know very well, enough what."
"Women?" I asked, hazarding a very educated guess.
She grinned again, a flat thing that held no actual humor. "Well, he certainly wasn't giving a lesson on court proceedings to the bimbo on the video, now was he?"
No, he wasn't. And the fact that she knew that, meant she had seen the video.
"Alexa White," I said.
The wife nodded, the gun bobbing up and down in her hand as well. "Just the latest in a long line of bimbos over the years."
"How did you get the video?" I asked, genuinely curious this time.
"It's what I'd call a fortunate accident," she informed me. "His niece, Dakota, was putting a strain on our finances. Always calling, looking for money. I told my husband not to give in to her outrageous demands, but he spoiled her. Even to the point of turning a blind eye to her less than legal activities."
"I suspected she was using drugs."
"But my husband wouldn't believe it," she continued. "So I had someone set up cameras around her apartment. I figured if I caught her in the act, my husband couldn't ignore her shortcomings any longer, and he'd cut off her money supply."
"But you didn't catch Dakota," I prompted, remembering the floral sheets in the judge's homemade porn.
Her mouth drew into a tight line, her eyes darkening. Here was the emotion I'd been expecting earlier. Betrayal, hurt, and pure anger.
"No. I caught him using Dakota's apartment as his personal love nest. How dare he betray me! How dare he humiliate me like that. It was one thing to suspect what he was really doing all of those late nights he spent on 'committees,'" she said, doing air-quotes with her fingers. Which, incidentally took the gun off of me for a second. I paused, feeling a chance for escape in my future. The more she talked about her late cheating husband, the less she focused on her current captive.
"But it was another thing entirely," she went on, "to watch it myself."
"You must have been so angry," I said.
"Of course I was angry!" she shouted, bubbles of spittle forming at the corners of her mouth, making her resemble a rabid dog.
"So you had to do something."
"Exactly. I couldn't let him get away with that. Not with rubbing it in my face like that."
"Why not just divorce him?" I asked. "You had solid evidence."
She laughed, her eyes blazing. "I was humiliated enough. I was not going to give him the satisfaction of publicly humiliating me by raking my name through his sleazy affairs. Playing out a public divorce in the press was out of the question."
"So you decided to kill him."
She didn't answer, her eyes just looking past me, into some moment I couldn't see. Possibly the one where she'd shot the life out of her husband.
I took a small step to the left, my eye on the open door. But the movement snapped the woman back to reality, the gun going straighter in her hand.
"And that's where I came in," I said, trying to steer back to friendly conversation as I eyed her trigger finger. It was scary tense.
She nodded. "Yes. I needed to make sure I had a perfect scapegoat."
"But why me?"
"You make a living off of adulterers like my husband," she said, very matter-of-factly. "I found that ironically satisfying."
I didn't point out that I made my living catching cheating men to benefit women like her.
"So you hired Donna to impersonate you?”
She nodded. “I couldn’t have any real connection between us now, could I?”
"While she was at your office, I was at a luncheon for the Rose Society committee,” the real Mrs. Waterston said.
How clever. An alibi too.
"How did you convince her?" I asked, moving to the left just another inch.
"It wasn't hard," she bragged. "I found the letters she'd written to my husband, urging him to overturn his ruling in her husband's case, at first. Later they blamed him for the man's death. She hated my husband as much as I did, and I'd dare say she loved money almost as much. She was happy to play a role for me without asking too many questions."
"So, you had her hire me, giving yourself an alibi and planting evidence against me."
Those veneers made an appearance again as a smile stretched across her wrinkled cheeks. "You have to admit, it was rather clever of me. I had Donna wear oiled gloves during your first meeting, remember? When you shook her hand, your fingerprints were transferred onto them. Then it was a simple job of applying them to the murder weapon. Coupled with the surveillance video you gave Donna, it was a perfect setup."
I had to agree. It was ideal.
"So why kill Donna?" I asked,
She gave me a hard look. "You think years of being a criminal court justice's wife has taught me nothing? I had to tie up lose ends."
"So you stole your niece's pills?"
"Stole? She lied to us to pay for those. She stole that money from me."
An interesting take on it, but I let it go.
"You thought of everything," I said, throwing a compliment her way instead.
She nodded. "Yes. I did." Then a frown creased her forehead. "But you had to get in the way. You couldn't just play along like the little puppet you were. No. First, you find Donna, then you finally get arrested and do what? Escape." She threw the word out with disgust.
"Guess I'm not so blonde now after all, huh?" I couldn't help pointing out.
Which, in hindsight might not have been the smartest move.
Her eyes narrowed. "Oh, we'll see about that," she promised, taking a step closer to me, closing any distance I'd put between us, gun pointed right at her target.
The gun still remained steady. I'd no doubt that if she killed her husband and an innocent actress in cold blood, shooting me would be easy.
My throat felt like I'd drunk a cup of sand. I swallowed hard, but it didn't do much good.
"How will you explain my body?" I asked, almost choking on the word body as a self-reference.
She grinned. "Actually, this is the best of all plans, and it fell right into my lap. You lied your way into my home, which several witnesses saw. You were snooping around my late husband's personal belongings, likely looking for the sex video he made with you."
"He never made a—" I started, then realized it didn't matter. Who were the police going to believe? The grieving widow who did, indeed, have a sex video of her husband and another woman, or my prone corpse?
"I walked in and caught you, you attacked me, and I shot you in self-defense."
She was right. That story was great.
"Now, let's take a walk back to my husband's den where this tragic accident all takes place," she suggested.
As much as I was yearning to walk through that door behind her, I knew if I did it with her, I was a dead woman. I was out of time, out of options, and acting on pure instinct.
"No," I protested.
She paused, her eyebrows drawing together in a frown again. "Excuse me, but you're not in a position to argue."
"You're overlooking something," I told her, feeling adrenalin surge in my belly.
She raised the gun to eye level. "What's that?"
I stepped to the left then the right, in jerking movements. "You're directly in the moonlight."
I lifted my arm and chucked the shoe in my hand, pulling a muscle in my shoulder from the force.
It spun through the air, creating a whoosh sound. The heel whacked her in the forehead then clanked on the floor.
She yelped. One hand flew to her face.
And I took off.