The Passenger - Lisa Lutz

Chapter 1

* * *

WHEN I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body. I pumped his barrel chest and blew into his purple lips. It was the first time in years that our lips had touched and I didn’t recoil.

I gave up after ten minutes. Frank Dubois was gone. Lying there all peaceful and quiet, he almost looked in slumber, but Frank was noisier asleep than he was awake. Honestly, if I had known what kind of snorer he was going to turn into, I never would have married him. If I could do it all over again, I never would have married him even if he slept like an angel. If I could do it all over again, there are so many things I would do differently. But looking at Frank then, so still and not talking, I didn’t mind him so much. It seemed like a good time to say good-bye. I poured a shot of Frank’s special bourbon, sat down on Frank’s faux-suede La-Z-Boy, and had a drink to honor the dead.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I was taking a shower when Frank died. As far as I could tell, he fell down the staircase all on his own. He had been suffering from vertigo lately. Convenient, I know. And I doubt he mentioned it to anyone. If I had waited for the police and told them the truth, maybe life could have continued as normal. Minus Frank.

I poured another drink and contemplated my options. My first thought was to dispose of the body. Then I’d tell the authorities that Frank left me for another woman. Or was running from a loan shark. It was well-known that he had a love for cards but no talent for it.

I decided to test my strength to see if it was even possible. I tugged on Frank’s bloated and callused feet, feet that I had come to loathe—why do you have to tell a grown man to clip his toenails? I dragged the body about a foot from his landing site before I gave up. Frank had put on weight in the past year, but even if he were svelte I couldn’t see depositing him anyplace where he’d never be found. And now there was a suspicious trail of blood in the shape of a question mark just above his head. I might be able to explain it away if I called the police and stayed put. But then they’d start looking at me real carefully and I didn’t like people looking at me all that much.

I tried to imagine my trial. Me, scrubbed clean, hair pulled back in a schoolmarm bun, wearing an innocent flowered sundress with a Peter Pan collar, trying to look not guilty, with my hard-edged poker face dry as the desert. I couldn’t imagine how I’d summon tears or sell that shattered look of loss. I can’t show much emotion anymore. That was something Frank always liked about me. There was a time I used to cry, but that was another lifetime ago. My heart was broken just once. But completely.

As I sat in Frank’s chair, nursing my drink, I pretended to be weighing my options. But there was only one.

Frank kept his gambling stash in his toolbox. A little over twelve hundred dollars. I packed for a short trip and loaded the suitcase into the back of Frank’s Chevy pickup.

I was only leaving two people behind, if you don’t count Frank: Carol from the bar and Dr. Mike.

Dr. Mike was the top chiropractor in Waterloo, Wisconsin. There were only two, so it wasn’t much of a competition. He’d taken over the practice three years ago, when Dr. Bill retired. Ever since the accident, my back hasn’t been right. Dr. Bill used to fix me up once or twice a month. I saw Dr. Mike more frequently. The first time he put his hands on me, I felt an electric jolt, like I had woken up for the first time in years. I came back the next week and it was the exact same thing. I came back the week after that. I missed a week and Dr. Mike dropped by the bar to see how I was doing. Frank was on a fishing trip