three

Bernie left Ian’s place feeling even more slimy than usual. The man stench from his apartment lingered on her clothes, and she had the off-putting feeling that she was about to cross a line that she couldn’t step back over.

It killed her to discover that Ian had been right. The CEO of Adobe Petro had a wife who accompanied him to all of the important corporate elbow-rubbings around Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Elaine Bodetski wasn’t exactly a trophy wife, but she was tall, tan, leggy, and fifteen years his junior. She was soft-spoken, well bred, and impeccably groomed. Her golden-blond hair looked natural, but her long French tips did not.

Mrs. Bodetski was sporting a fresh manicure in every picture Bernie saw — once curled around Mr. Bodetski’s arm, once clutching the stem of a dainty wine glass, and once wrapped around a putter at some charity golf tournament for education.

“This is Elaine Bodetski,” said Bernie, her voice echoing off the bathroom fixtures. “I’m calling to confirm my appointment . . .”

She was using the restroom at Butch’s Pit Barbecue while she waited for them to free up a table for nine. It would be at least thirty or forty minutes before one became available, so she knew she had plenty of time to secure a prop for phase three of her mission before the hostess called her name.

“Bodetski,” Bernie repeated. “B as in boy. O-D-E-T-S-K-I.”

“Oh, no? I’m sure my assistant scheduled . . .” She let out a manufactured huff of annoyance. “Never mind. No, not right now. I’ll be in touch.”

Bernie touched the home button, and her Eey went dark.

“Call Color Me Pretty,” she said. It was next on her list of the ten nicest nail salons in Albuquerque. She couldn’t rule out the day spas, but she was hoping one of the nail places panned out.

“Bodetski,” she repeated for the fifth or sixth time. “B-O-D-E-T-S-K-I.”

When the woman on the other end of the line confirmed that she had an appointment scheduled for the following week, Bernie was so shocked that she nearly forgot the made-up narrative she’d rehearsed.

“Um . . . Could you remind me when that was?”

There was a long pause. She knew the woman thought it strange that Mrs. Bodetski didn’t know the time of her own appointment. She probably didn’t have any idea who Mrs. Bodetski was. She certainly didn’t know that the fictional version had a personal assistant who scheduled her entire life down to the minute.

“My assistant . . .” Bernie sighed to buy herself some time to conjure up the story she’d invented. “I had to let her go last week. It’s been a logistical nightmare. She keeps my date book, and she did not write down what time my appointment was. I have a very important event coming up, and —”

“You can?” Bernie let out a small sigh of relief. “Wonderful.”

As the girl talked, Bernie grabbed a “Take Back the Night” leaflet out of her purse and scribbled down the appointment time, as well as the nail technician’s name. By the time she thanked the girl and hung up, her heart was racing.

She’d just taken the first insane step toward her goal. It felt ugly, intoxicating, and invigorating — all at the same time. Was this how serial killers felt when they were on the trail of their next victim? Bernie felt slightly sickened by the whole thing, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop.

She now knew exactly where Mrs. Bodetski would be next Tuesday at two thirty, and that was her best chance to find out where she and her husband lived.

Finally, Bernie’s eyes locked on a New Mexico license plate that looked relatively new. The entire bathroom wall at Butch’s was covered in old plates and road signs, and she needed one that was not her own.

She listened intently to make sure that she was alone in the restroom and tugged. The thing was bolted to the wall, so Bernie pulled a hammer out of her purse and used the claw to pry the nails out of the fake wood paneling.

The license plate was slightly bent and dinged, but it would do. She stuffed it into her purse and let herself out of the restaurant, stopping briefly at the hostess’s station to tell the girl they would not be needing a table after all.

“Vegans,” she muttered, throwing up her hands in exasperation and striding out into the parking lot.

The sunlight was blinding and excruciatingly hot as she pulled open her car door and slumped into the front seat. She couldn’t believe she’d just stolen a license plate — or that she’d called all around town pretending to be the wife of some high-profile businessman. It felt like being trapped in a movie.

Still buzzing on her crime spree, Bernie drove downtown and parked two blocks from the costume store to purchase her disguise. She thought a fake mustache and a suit might be overkill, so she selected a straight black wig and a pair of glasses that didn’t look overly cartoonish.

She had to walk past El Taco Loco on her way back to her car. That wasn’t intentional. Her stomach did its familiar dance begging for a burrito, but when Bernie stopped just outside the door, her food fantasy evaporated at once.

She stared through the window at the little junk machine just inside the door. It was filled with toys and trinkets for kids, but one machine in particular had caught her eye. The machine was filled with a variety of semi-realistic tattoos — tramp stamps, butterflies, big tacky roses, and even a few Chinese characters. Digging around in her bag, Bernie snatched out her wallet and found some quarters.

She had to buy three tattoos before she got one that wasn’t overly hideous. It was a blue butterfly tinged with green. She tucked the tattoos into the side pocket of her purse and kept walking with a feeling of excitement simmering in her gut.

She was on a road to somewhere new. It wasn’t very pretty, but at least she had purpose. She wasn’t sure how she would feel when it was all said and done. All she knew was that it felt good to be doing something — even if that something could land her in jail.

***

Go to Chapter Four

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