for Barbara Struncova
But I am not keeping secrets anymore.
Chapter Two, continued
There were traces of blood all over their bedroom. The police sprayed their mysterious spray across the floor, and there, beside the bed, a bright puddle began to glow, its center radiating like a dark, terrible sun. Small fluorescent smudges appeared. On the wall by the bed, an unmistakable hand print shone clear ghostly fingers.
“Whose hand…?” I asked, not wanting to know.
“We don’t know.” But there was more. “And in the closet— It looked clean in the daylight, but when the cops sprayed that stuff, it glowed. Bright. The whole closet.”
What the hell?
Maybe a worker hurt himself during construction. Terribly. Then he touched the wall. Maybe other renters once had a dog that lay there bleeding to death after a vicious fight. In the closet. A dog would like that.
“No, no,” the cops say. “Human blood.”
Is there a way they can be sure of that? What in God’s name happened in there? Is this fluorescent cop blood-spray even real?
I Google it. It’s real. Bleach activates it too, I read, and for a moment I feel better. Maybe it was just bleach. The cleaning lady spilled it.
Then I feel sick again. Who spills that much bleach in a closet? A floor mopped with bleach would have a uniform glow.
“The police think he kept her there for a day or more. They found one of Jim’s flip flops with blood on it and they took it to see if they can get a match from her family.”
Was it in a crime of passion? A fury out of control? Did he plan it?! Impossible.
Jim was as strong as an ox. He could have strangled any medium-sized adult with his bare hands, woman or man. He could have suffocated her with a pillow. Suffocation is quiet and, whatever happened, no one heard a sound.
But why the glow of so much blood? Or is it bleach? Does it make a difference? Even though Jim left with only a backpack, the pillows and bedding were gone from the room, and, in the bathroom, not one towel remained.
He made no secret of owning a gun but nothing suggested that shots had been fired. Did he stab her? Why, if he could so easily have suffocated her? Did her head crash against the cement wall or tile floor? Was she instantly unconscious? Why didn’t she scream?
Did he gag her first? Hold his hand over her mouth? No. He couldn’t have. He loved her.
And the saran wrap? The duct tape? Possibilities occur to me that are unmentionable. Maybe I watch too much TV.
What in God’s name happened to Barbara? Why?
The cops sprayed the blood spray through the common area and stood in stupefied silence as a glowing trail appeared, wide and solid, as if something heavy had been dragged out of their room, across the floor, around the pool, up the stair at the entrance, through the door and onto the front porch. Then it disappeared. The cops took their hats off, crossed themselves, and mumbled what sounded like, “Santa Maria.”
Just before the fading cover of that night gave way to dawn, the OIJ knocked on Randy’s door, demanding to examine his vehicle. Startled and stammering, he rummaged for the keys. They filled the old Trooper with spray, and there it was behind the last seat: the same eerie, nauseating glow.
Nobody’s dog died in Jim and Barbara’s closet. Whatever was in that closet slid out the front door of the house and disappeared forever from the trunk of that car.
And then, after that, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Jim was gone and there was no sign of Barbara anywhere. Ivan took away her things. No sign, ever, of the long board bag charged to the Czechs.
The police, having a crime with no criminal and no victim, turned their attention back to chasing thieves.
I tell myself the story a thousand ways, asking her silent ghost which version is true, begging her just to nod or twitch a finger when I get it right. I have tried everything. She is motionless.
Surely it must have begun with a fight. Truly.
Give me that much, Barbara.
He left the bar early—tired, bored, and annoyed that even though you all speak English, you kept slipping into Czech as if he wasn’t even there. Laughing hilariously, and him sitting there like stump.
You came home at 1:00 o’clock, early by Europe’s definition of a night out, late by Jim’s. But the Czechs came every year, and every year it was the same. Jim never seemed the least bit jealous.
I guess this time he waited up for you.
And what? Was he angry? Did he accuse you of cheating? Say you didn’t love him? Was he drunk? Were you? Did he ask you for money? Did you refuse? Say you’d had it with him? That you were sick of it? Did you tell him you couldn’t go one more day like this? But why would he kill you for that? Is there any way you are alive?
Did you know something about him and threaten to tell? Did you accuse him of something true and unspeakable? How did he become so terribly angry? Or was it anger at all?
Was he waiting for you in bed feigning sleep? Did you tiptoe in trying not to disturb, brush your teeth in the bathroom with the door closed and slip quietly into bed beside him, sliding a warm arm around his chest and kiss his ear? Did you think he would make love to you when he grabbed you by the throat?
Did he mean to kill you when you opened the door? Did you feel it in the air? Did you know something wasn’t right?
Did you know you were dying, Barbara?
What did he do to her, that beast? Press on her throat until she stopped thrashing? Hold a pillow on her face? Strike a deadly blow to her temple? Split her skull against the wall? Did he cut her with a knife, the animal? Why? What did she do to him but love him? What did he fear she would do?
Did he think we would believe him? And we might have believed him longer, if his lies had been less absurd, if he hadn’t told them just before her mother’s birthday, just before Christmas. When both came and went—and really, one was enough—everyone knew she was dead.
If he could have conjured up a sliver of concern, it would have helped. We might have thought for at least a minute that she really ran away, taking nothing, intending to return and perhaps somewhere in her adventures met with misfortune. We might have tried to believe he was innocent. He could have paced, called her sister, talked to the police, twisted his goatee, shed a tear. But nothing. Sneers, sardonic smirks and crazy bitch.
I think if he’d meant to do it, he wouldn’t have done it there. He would have taken her on a trip somewhere to a rented room. He would have taken her alone on a boat into the sea. He would have had the car and the board bag ready if he knew he was going to need them. He isn’t that stupid.
I make up a story to believe because I need one. In it, they become angry and say terrible things to each other. Wine makes her bold. And in a blind rage, he doesn’t care. For one second too long, he doesn’t care.
Then he smacks her face and waits for her to come to. And smacks her harder but nothing happens.
Bitch, wake up.
Now what has she done?
He shakes her and her body lolls. He presses his head to her chest where he can hear that her heart has stopped, and the flood of sorrow boils into pure rage at her pathetic weakness.
Now look what you have done to me. Got the last laugh. Died, you stupid bitch. Crazy bitch. Goddamn women, man.
Read the last section of the story
Barbara Struncova disappeared on December 5, 2010 and is still one of Costa Rica’s cold case missing persons. This is her story according to me, as close to the truth as I am able to tell it.
I call it fiction in a fading hope that it is.
Make no mistake: I will never stop hoping that everything I have supposed is wrong.
Everyone in this story is a friend I have lost.