Garret Stalling trudged through snowbanks of sidewalk slush, effectively ruining his suede shoes. The expensive leather squeaked indignantly as the snow infiltrated his socks. Garret had a particular fetish for fine leather, though he never would admit it to anyone. Not even Tracy Stalling, his attractive, all-adoring, always faithful – okay, mostly faithful – wife. But that was to be expected in a marriage based purely on benefits. Or, to be more specific, the benefit of Garret winning the city’s next election.
Garret approached Figueroa’s Pharmacy, his suede shoes protesting all the way. The small, quiet store was made loud by his large presence.
“Ah, Mr. Stalling,” Shawn Figueroa tried to look pleased but only managed a pained smile.
Garret scowled. “Figgs, your glasses are slipping.”
Shawn hastily repositioned them, but they kept sliding down his hooked nose. Giving up, he attempted some light conversation. “How’s the wife? I hear you’ve got a new penthouse that-”
“I want my prescription, Figgs. Now.” Garret strode over to one of the shop windows, making sure that the street outside was empty.
“Of course, of course.” Shawn ducked out from behind the counter, banging his head on his way to the back room. “Same as usual, I presume?” he called, re-emerging with a pill bottle in his hands.
Garret grunted, took the container, and set it on the counter. He reached inside his jacket – leather, of course – for his wallet. “The price hasn’t changed?”
Shawn absently pushed at his glasses, eyeing the cash. “No, sir.” He hummed to himself as he punched the sale into the register. “So, the condition hasn’t improved?” An uneasy silence followed.
Restraining himself, Garret picked up his purchase, his knuckles white. He tucked it away and turned to Shawn. “Do you want to keep your job?”
Shawn Figueroa nodded, his throat suddenly dry. His customer left, the door swinging shut behind him. “Have a good day,” he called.
• • •
Tracy Stalling perched on the couch’s arm, displaying fishnetted legs. She readjusted her top, a low-cut shirt not quite reaching her waist. Smiling at her husband, she stood, wobbling in her dangerously high heels – her “man-killers,” as she affectionately called them.
Garret took one look at her and retreated, heading for the kitchen. “You look absolutely terrifying, darling. Why the ostentatious get-up?”
Tracy pouted. “Just trying something new. No harm in that.” She caught her reflection in one of the penthouse’s mirrors and smirked. “I find it refreshing.”
He emerged from the kitchen, brandishing a mug and newspaper. “Ridiculous. If you went into public like that, the press would have a field day.”
She considered herself in the mirror again, pursing her brightly lipsticked lips. “Hmm. Maybe you’re right. How was your walk?”
Tracy tittered, her laughter irritatingly breathy. “You’re so clever, Garret.”
Garret opened the newspaper, unaffected. “I meant the weather, dear.”
She nodded seriously. “I think I’m going to change now …” Tracy spun with a flourish, then headed for the staircase. She managed three steps before deciding to just take the elevator. “What should I wear for the interview?” she called.
“Something classy and a little less scary.” Garret tiredly turned a page.
“I have just the pearl earrings for that,” she muttered, the elevator doors closing with a ping.
Alone in the elevator, Tracy smiled. A full year of marriage, and he still didn’t suspect a thing.
The interview took place in the lounge, cameramen filing into the penthouse. “I think we should have it over here,” Tracy said, her arms out like a little girl presenting a prized toy.
“Well, actually, Mrs. Stalling …” The reporter licked his lips anxiously, expecting a tantrum at his boldness to correct her. When he saw no signs of danger, he continued. “… the lighting is better near the windows, so let’s just pull this sofa over here.”
An hour later, they were ready. Tracy sat poised next to Garret, looking the part of a loving wife. As promised, she wore the pearls.
“How do I look, darling?” she asked through clenched teeth. She smiled and tilted her head as Jerry – the reporter with anxiety issues – requested, her eyes slightly blinded by the camera flash.
“Much less scary,” Garret replied through equally clenched teeth. “Now, during the interview, let me do all the talking.”
“Of course.” Tracy’s eyes flashed. “I’d just end up embarrassing myself, wouldn’t I?”
“Precisely.” Her sarcasm was lost on Garret.
The reporter asked questions about Garret’s campaign and his upcoming role in the city’s finances. Garret answered confidently. Tracy watched with interest as her husband picked up his drink. Just as the glass touched his lips the interviewer asked another question. Garret put the drink down and resumed talking. A pity, Tracy mused.
By evening the interview was long over, and Tracy sat watching her husband play chess. She’d once admitted she had never played and asked him to explain the rules. He’d laughed in her face, of course, and continued playing against himself. Garret considered this clever. Tracy considered it stupid.
“Darling, may I ask you a question?”
Garret raised his head, barely looking at her. He already knew what she looked like. “You just did.”
Tracy forced a smile. “And so I did. Anyway, I was going to ask, what piece are you?”
Her husband looked at her blankly.
She sighed. “Are you a bishop? A castle? A pawn? A knight?” Tracy attempted a dreamy look. “A knight would be very romantic.”
Garret shook his head, amused by her antics. “I’d be a king, of course. Isn’t it obvious?”
Tracy’s smile thinned. “And what would I be?”
He looked nonplussed. “Why, my queen. What else?”
She nodded, getting the answer she expected. “I’m going to bed.” Garret didn’t ask why. He was too wrapped up in his game. She paused at the top of the stairs, her eyes sweeping the penthouse. She supposed he thought of it as their castle. But not for long.
Tucked away in the bedroom, she sprawled on the bed, her pink phone to one ear.
“Yes, Jerry, this is Tracy Stalling. You just interviewed my husband.”
A pause as the reporter on the other end replied.
“Well, I have an interesting fact to throw into the mix,” Tracy said. “You see, my husband has a heart condition, and I’m quite concerned that he won’t make it to the next election … Yes, he gets his heart medication at Figueroa’s Pharmacy weekly … I just thought the public had a right to know ….”
Tracy let out a little cry of distress. “Why, certainly not! I don’t want my name in this at all.”
Agreement on the other end of the line.
• • •
“I’m going to murder Shawn Figueroa!”
Tracy looked up at her husband, feigning surprise. “My darling, why?”
Garret grumbled something into his coffee cup.
She couldn’t control her smirk, despite the reaction it was likely to trigger. “You really should speak clearly if you want to be heard.”
“Women really oughtn’t speak to their husbands in such a way.” He glowered at her.
Tracy released a nervous titter. “How silly of me. I forgot my place.” She finished her drink and stood, planting a kiss on his cheek. “Excuse me, darling.”
“Not right,” he murmured into his mug of coffee. “Something’s not right about that woman.”
Alone in her room, Tracy capped the vial. She checked the time impatiently. Two more hours, and then Garret would call her down.
“Nice of you to finally show up,” Garret griped. He lounged on the chair, chessboard in front of him. “Is there a reason you took so long?”
Tracy smiled. “I must have lost track of time.”
“Tardiness. Not an admirable quality in a wife.” He scowled, reaching for the drink.
She stiffened, watching him expectantly.
Garret swallowed, a funny expression on his face. “Did you check the expiration date on the-” He made a choking noise, his hands going to his throat.
“Do you want to know something about me? I suppose you don’t – you never do – but I’m going to tell you anyway.” She smiled, sitting next to him.
He made a strangled sound, his face turning white.
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor. And you know what? I think I’d be pretty good.” She leaned closer, her hair spilling over her shoulders. “After all, I did pretend to love you for a whole year. The way you treated me, that’s a pretty impressive feat.”
Garret gasped. “Can’t … breathe.”
“Oh, and another thing.”
Garret fell to the floor, grabbing at the table.
“I think the chess piece you chose for me is wrong. You see, you’ve exploited your queen. She’s cornered by the bishop. But this one right here …” She plucked a pawn. “… this little guy had a clear shot at the king, and you didn’t even realize it.”
Her husband gurgled something unintelligible.
“Oh darling, don’t you see?” Her lips inches from his ear. “I’d rather be that pawn.”
Garret stopped breathing.
“There’s a word you say when you’ve beaten someone.” She looked at the ceiling as if she’d find the answer there. “Ah, yes. That’s the one.”
Garret no longer moved. She placed a kiss on his forehead, her lipstick leaving a red stain.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.