‘I can’t do it,’ Zach insisted.
‘Look, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to,’ Pete said. ‘I’m desperate, you know?’
Zach turned in his seat and looked at Pete, who was staring at the road in front of them. ‘How desperate?’
‘You don’t want to hear my tale of woe.’
‘I mean, I want to help,’ Zach went on. ‘We’ve been friends for a long time. But this – I don’t know. Katie’s a human being. I just can’t do it.’
Pete nodded, not taking his eyes off the road. It had taken him twenty minutes of aimless driving around to work up the courage to tell Zach what he wanted. He’d figured his friend wouldn’t go for it, but, as Pete saw it, there wasn’t much choice. ‘I really need your help,’ he finally said. ‘The drugs, the drinking. She’s emptied our bank account. She even tried to sell my car. She would have, too, except I found out in time. I’m going to go down the tubes because of her. We’ve been fighting about it for a while. And the worst thing is, she won’t give me a divorce. I’m her meal ticket, so she’s contesting it, and I can’t afford a lawyer. This is my only chance.’
After a minute or two of silence, Zach started to shake his head. Then he slowly turned to Pete again. ‘You’re really stuck, aren’t you?’
‘Yeah, I am.’
‘I don’t want to hurt her.’
‘You won’t have to. Promise. She’ll be drugged. I’ll take care of that. She won’t feel anything, and it won’t be your fault. All you’ll have to do is drive the car.’
‘Just drive the car?’
‘Yeah, I mean it. Just drive the car.’
Zach stared out his window. ‘OK,’ he finally said.
Pete’s shoulders sagged with relief. ‘Thanks. I won’t forget it. Anything you ever need, you ask.’
Over the next two weeks, they put together the details, always being careful to talk about it only in Pete’s car or sitting on a bus stop bench if no-one was there. On the evening they’d chosen, Pete came back from work like he always did. Then he invited his brother over to watch the game and have some beer. That would clear him. Katie left for The Watering Hole down the street, like she did most nights. Pete knew she scored her drugs there, and probably her share of men, too, but that wasn’t going to be his problem any more. And he’d get her life insurance money.
At eight, Zach pulled up at the mini-market next to The Watering Hole. He idled the motor as he watched the street. She’d be coming by any minute. Pete had said she walked to the bar, so Zach paid close attention. About ten minutes later, he saw her. She wasn’t walking, she was staggering. To anyone else, it would look like she’d already started drinking, but Zach guessed it was the pills Pete had promised to give her. She stopped a minute, shook her head, and started moving again. All of sudden, she stumbled and fell in the street. This was the time, just like Pete had told him.
Zach took two deep breaths and headed out of the parking lot, right towards Katie. He would never forget the thump as the car went over her body. Well, he’d done it. Now all he had to do was let Pete know. His hands shook as he drove away, trying not to go fast enough to attract attention. He didn’t think anyone had noticed his car, but still, he wanted to be careful. On the way home, he drove through a car wash, just to be sure. This had better all work out.
Two nights later, Zach got a meet me text from Pete. Twenty minutes later they were sitting in Pete’s car in a Taco Bell parking lot. Pete swallowed a bite of his burrito and said, ‘So I heard from the police. They’re waiting for the coroner’s report, but for now they’re calling it accidental overdose. I mean, she was a known drug user, and had meds at home. Couldn’t have worked out better. I owe you big.’
‘OK. That’s good.’
‘Nothing. It’s just, well, now I could use your help. I owe some people some money.’
‘Are you blackmailing me?’
‘Call it quid pro quo if you want. I need to get something out of this. You did say anything I needed.’
‘I don’t have anything right now. I will when the insurance comes through.’
Zach smiled a little. ‘That won’t take long. And meantime, I’ll be in close touch, just so you don’t forget about me.’
Pete swallowed hard. ‘Yeah, sure, of course.’
A few days later, Pete was sitting on his sofa, channel-surfing. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he didn’t hear the knock at the door the first time. Then there was a second, louder knock, and this time, Pete got up to see who was there. It was probably some door-to-door seller or a pollster or something. He took a breath and opened the door.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked.
‘You’re Peter Barclay?’
‘Yes, that’s me.’
‘I’m James Raglan, an investigator with Whitland Insurance.’
‘Come in, please,’ Pete smiled and opened the door.
‘Thank you,’ Raglan said.
After they’d settled in Pete’s living room, he asked, ‘How can I help you?’
‘Well, I’m afraid there’s a problem with your life insurance claim.’
‘What sort of problem,’ Pete’s face paled as he spoke.
‘It’s about this,’ Raglan said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled a letter out and handed it to Pete. ‘This is why I stopped by instead of just calling. We received it two days ago.’ Pete opened the letter:
To Whom it May Concern:
If you’re reading this, it’s because I’ve killed myself. I know that’s a crazy thing to do, but I can’t take it any more. It’s all too much for me. I’ve made nothing but bad choices, including my marriage, and the pills will be my escape. I don’t want that cheap bastard Pete to get a penny of my life insurance, so I’m sending you this to make sure he won’t. I know my policy has a suicide clause, and I’m using it.
‘Is that your wife’s signature on this letter?’ Raglan asked. Pete opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted when his telephone buzzed. He picked it up – a text from Zach.
Just thought I’d drop by today so we can take care of everything.
Pete buried his head in his hands.