The beautiful peach coffee mug with “WIFE NO.1” written in bold black letters draw my attention towards the trophy placed right beside it. The writing on this one is “COP NO.1”. In any other situation, looking at the large golden cup awarded to me two weeks ago would fill me with happiness and pride. But right now, all it fills me with is teeth clenching rage. And I was stupid enough to think gifting and placing that coffee mug would help me calm down –even accept – those words every time I looked that way. It did the opposite.
Being a cop for 5 years now, I know that this is best and worst job in the world. There are no comparisons of the feelings that fill your insides when you contribute in saving an innocent and bringing a monster to justice. There are, also, no words to describe the vein pounding rage when those monsters manage to evade you, and an innocent is sacrificed in the process.
“Thinking about it again, aren’t you?” says a soft voice on a sigh, pulling me away from my mind churning thoughts. Ella sits across from me, wearing a kind, sad expression on her face. Holding my gaze, she continues, “Your trophy is something to be proud of Justin. Something you have worked your ass off to earn. Not to make you fly into rage every time you look at it. And remember, my cup is right beside it, so I might get all offended with your look of hatred towards it.” She says the last part teasingly.
I give her half smile before confessing, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. It’s just that day again.”
All teasing leaves her face as I remind her what day it is today. A sad sigh leaves her as she says, “Right now, the only thing I don’t like about your job is that it is messing our 1st anniversary.”
Guilt stabs me, because it is completely true. In 1 year since our wedding and 6 months of dating before that, Ella has never once complained about my demanding job. Never got upset over last minute cancellations and never complained about missing important events. Ella was a strong and understanding woman and I was ruining our very 1st anniversary. No, not me. That sick f##king psycho. Another reason to hate him. The kind, almost loving expression on her face tells me though, that she doesn’t hold me in contempt. She knew the reason of course. Whole city did.
Six months ago, the lawyer who was titled the best among the whole city was poisoned and killed in her house on 1st July, last year. Exactly a month after that, again the most experienced and best judge was poisoned and murdered in his apartment parking lot. Since then, there has been a series of murders of people somehow connected to law, all declared best, or rather “No.1” in their area of expertise in law. Till now, there has been six murders in six months with no trace of killer, what so ever. So far, all police department could establish is that it is a psycho killer with his obsession to the words “No.1” because all the victims had their pointer finger broken by the murderer and an accessory of any kind marking them “No.1” laying by their feet with those words marked and rounded in red.
Two weeks ago, I was awarded with a “Cop No.1” trophy that now decorates my mantle, by a charity NGO. For two weeks now, we, at the department are convinced that I am going to be the next target on his radar. So the last two weeks were spent in portraying me like a super cop to the world. Number one. I don’t feel like a super cop right now, of course. Might feel that way when I get my hands on this psycho monster. Knowing the significance of today, if I managed to catch the sick f##k and the tragedy if I don’t, I gifted the “Wife No.1” coffee mug to Ella last night at the stroke of midnight as our anniversary gift. I specifically chose those inscriptions, because like she said, my trophy was something to be proud of. Thinking that relating her to those words in some way might help me distinguish the significance of those words from sick red rounded and highlighted words of fallen victims.
Finishing my coffee, I rise from table, only then noticing that Ella is still in her night robe and not dressed in her usual sharp business suit. Frowning I ask, “why aren’t you dressed for work yet? Isn’t this usually the time when you are dashing across the house to get to your office on time?”
It was a regular occurrence. She would usually run behind the schedule because she was adamant about spending quality time with me first thing in the morning. Being a cop’s wife, she had this notion to be with me in the mornings for as much time as possible because there was no saying what the evenings will bring. Today however, she is in her robe, taking her own time over breakfast. For just a moment, a thought enters my mind that she is home because she knew I was the red dot on sick psycho’s radar and she wanted to spend our anniversary morning – probably my last morning with her – without rushing through it. But I dismiss the thought as soon as it enters my mind. Knowing her, she would want to spend this morning just like every other morning to not jinx it as I return home safe every day. She is superstitious like that.
Swallowing the rest of her coffee, she answers, “It is. But I called in sick today. Don’t know why, but I don’t feel like going to work today. So I thought, maybe I could catch up on some laundering, grocery shopping and other few things I need to do around the house.”
Confused and a little concerned I ask, “Are you feeling well? Do you need me to stay a little longer?”
Shaking her head and rising from table she answers, “No, honey. I am completely fine. Just don’t feel like getting dragged to work and designing a bunch of questions to ask someone that has probably already been answered tons of times.” She smiles and assures, “Don’t worry about me, love. Go on to work. I really do have a couple of things to finish here, and you staying home will only tempt me away from them.”
Chuckling, I ask, “and what will you do all day after that?”
Her flirty tone gone, she replies me seriously, “I’ll wait for you to come home to me.”
Hearing that, my heart reaches out to this wonderful woman I married, this woman that I love more than anything, even if I don’t really say it as often as I should. Rounding the table, I take her in my arms and kiss her with everything in me. I don’t know what will happen today, but I pour every one of my feelings for her in that kiss. Things I never say and things I might never will. And she replies in kind, her kiss just as passionate and consuming as mine. One that both of us usually reserve for the confines of our bedroom.
Pulling back, I press my forehead to hers and breathlessly promise, ‘’you won’t have to wait for long then, babe. We have our anniversary to celebrate after all.” Pressing another kiss on her lips, I pull back and grab my wallet, phone, gun and cruiser keys all placed in order on the counter.
“Are you sure you feeling ok?” I ask her. “I really can go in late owing to the fact that it’s our anniversary”, I say the last part with a wink, to diffuse the tightness in my chest because of oncoming stress of the day and the strong feelings still coursing through me after that kiss.
Her only response to that is a smile and a gentle shove on my shoulder towards the door.
I barely manage to enter the station when I am asked to report to my boss and chief of police, Andrew Grant. Sighing, I knock on his door and enter when I hear him grunt which is always assumed as a permission to enter. I know what is to come. And the look the big brute of a man that is my boss gives me confirms his intentions. Looking at me he says, “So you did turn up, just like I expected of you”.
He has a teasing accusation in his voice which tells me he wants to keep it light. Shrugging I reply, “Well, why wouldn’t I? It’s not like I am the best cop of the department – with you in competition at that – because I make the habit of skipping work.”
This was a regular banter between us, none of us getting offended by jabs. “Ok, switching road then. Officer Justin Hunter, I order you to go home and spend your anniversary with your beautiful wife. Consider it a thank-you gift from me to her.” He adds with a wink.
Narrowing my eyes I say, “You don’t have to thank her for something she has no idea she did. She wouldn’t even have done it if she knew you wanted to offer her husband up as bait to a psycho killer”.
Even though Ella knew most details of this case, she didn’t know the most important one. All the victims had appeared on a show called Law & Order, a talk show for people connected to law and government. Ella was the executive head of the show and didn’t do the interviews personally. But a week after I received my award, my boss got the idea to dangle me as a bait in front of the monster and pulled some strings to put me on the show at last minute.
Surprisingly, that day Ella had to step in front of the camera because her star reporter was apparently having a bad skin day. I would never forget the shock on her face when she saw me on walk out on the stage. The same shock I felt when I found out she was supposed to interview me. Luckily, she has no clue about our trap or she would have blown a gasket. Her understanding nature ended when I would purposely put myself at risk.
“An anniversary gift, then.” Chief winks again before getting serious. “Look hunter,” chief starts grimly. “I know your drive to get this f##ker before he takes another innocent life. And I know you hate the idea of hiding at your house like a coward. But I am worried about Ella. We know this psycho is thorough in his work. And he could be ANYBODY. Mailman, plumber or God knows what else. He obviously knows it’s your anniversary today and would expect you to be with your wife at home. Won’t it be better if he not find her alone and defenceless?”
He knew he has me the second he mentioned Ella. My face is probably white as a ghost at the thought of having Ella in danger, because he starts using his deep, assuring voice that he normally reserves for crime survivors or persuading someone to vomit all his secrets.
”Go home, hunter,” he says. “If it will make you feel better, I already have a few men posted around your house who are making sure your wife is safe. Discreetly, of course. They are supposed to report me every half hour. So far, I have had two reports – seeing as it has been a little more than an hour of leaving your house – of everything being normal and your wife being safe at home.”
Sighing, I stand, knowing my decision of going home is made. Turning at the doorway, I ask dryly, “was there any other reason you wanted to see me, other than kicking my ass back home?” to which he quips, “Oh yeah. To wish you Happy Anniversary, of course”
Shaking my head, I head out of station and into my PD cruiser again. I’m not exactly happy to be off duty today. Today, of all days for God’s sake. But as I near my house, that unhappiness turns into anticipation. I am not a very spontaneous person in my personal life. Having surprises at work on daily basis – usually bloody and nasty ones – I like my personal life to be as predictable and simple as it could get. And I am lucky to have a wife who shares my preference for quiet and unchanging.
Today though, I was going to break my own norm and surprise her. I imagine her standing in front of our closet to decide which clothes to wash with which. Or, in the laundry room. Or even in kitchen, her back turned to me as she hummed and cooked, one of her habits I find endearing. I imagine surprising her by suddenly grabbing her from behind and laughing my ass off when she would let her girly squeal out. Laughing at her scowling and blushing face. Then kissing her and spending rest of the day with her, doing anything she would want us to do. At this point, I can’t even bring myself to feel angry about the monster that will come after me. I know I will kill him before I let his sick claws be anywhere near the shadow of my wife.
Quietly inserting the key in the lock, I enter my house, closing the door noiselessly behind me so I don’t alert Ella of my presence. I tiptoe along the corridor, keeping an eye and ear on any sight and sound indicating her presence nearby. Finally, I hear the creak of the closet door inside the bedroom as I make to pass by it towards the laundry room. She has been asking me to fix that creak for a month now, but it is still un repaired and made a loud creaking noise when opened or closed.
Quietly, I open the bedroom door a crack and peek inside. I see her standing in front of the closet mirror with the door open. The closet is in the far corner of the room, on the opposite wall from the door, so I can see her face in the mirror but she can’t see me at the doorway, especially since I am still standing outside, with the door just a crack open. I vaguely notice that she’s still wearing her robe, as I plan to sneak into the room without her noticing me until I am almost behind her.
As I make to open the door a little wider though, a strange chill runs through me, making the hair on my neck stand. Something is wrong. Very wrong. I let my eyes sweep the room and steal a quick glance behind me but see nothing amiss. The feeling won’t go away though. As I let my gaze fall on Ella’s face reflected in the mirror once again, something roots me in my spot, and it takes me a second to realise the expression on her face is what has me so unsettled. She’s staring at herself with a blank – almost stone-like – expression, her dead eyes boring into her reflected ones.
As I try to make sense of what the hell is going on, she lifts her left hand, grabs her pointer finger with right, her eyes never leaving her face, and twists it in a weird angle. I flinch when I hear the sickening crunch of bones breaking, a bile rising in my throat. Before I could draw another breath, or even blink, I watch an ugly smile stretch across her face, before she falls like a stone on the spot where she just stood. The second she hits the ground and a thud sounds through the room, the binding spell on me breaks, making me gasp for the next breath as I throw open the door and sprint across the room within the millisecond of time.
Falling on my knees, I cradle my wife’s body in my arms, knowing she’s gone, the last six months running through my head in a muddle of thoughts. Law, twisted pointer finger, The Law and Order show. And thousands other words. I stare blankly at her face, feeling my mind shut down and notice blue tinges her lips and closed eyelids. Poisoned. Cop in me kicks up and instinctively, almost robotically, I check her nails for blue telltale sign of poison. And that is when I notice for the first time that she holds a red marker pen in her hand, and there, at her feet, lays the coffee mug I gifted her not 12 hours ago with red round, highlighting “WIFE NO. 1”