It was early May during my second year as a New Yorker when I first saw her. My colleague, Tom had joined me for a quick bite after a long session of reviewing and revising legal briefs. Tom was married and his wife was not thrilled about his late nights at the office. I could see in his eyes that he possessed the passion for the profession that I lacked. His marriage would eventually be nothing more than collateral damage in his pursuit for success.
She was standing in the doorway of the pub. She had long dark hair that flowed around the frame of her face before layers began cascading over her shoulders, and I couldn’t stop staring at her. Fortunately for me, she was engrossed in reading words from a spiral notebook, the kind you can buy in any drugstore clearance bin for a buck. I was intrigued by her countenance, her focus, and the apparent obliviousness that I, and others, had been shamelessly admiring her loveliness. Maybe it was that indifference I found most attractive.
New York is famous for their neighborhood pubs and this place fit every description of a stereotypical Irish tavern. It had a long wooden L-shaped bar facing stools that exposed their white underbelly through torn faux leather seat covers. The faint distinct smell of cigarette smoke wafted past the unheeded “no-smoking” sign hanging on the wall outside the restroom as it blended with the stale spring breeze making its way through an open corridor. At the end of the hall, the back doors leading into the chain link “patio” area were propped open with a large rock. The landscaping consisted of weeds making their journey around concrete stones, the foundation for a rusted metal table and three chairs. I remember thinking even then: she doesn’t belong here.
We walked past her, further into the restaurant toward the back. We sat and placed our drink orders as Tom began a review of everything we had just completed and left across the street. Realizing he was simply repeating what had already been determined, I pretended to be interested. I almost envied his passion for the law. If only there was something in my life that could consume my thoughts with such intensity. That’s when I saw her walk toward the bar clutching the spiral notebook that apparently held some sort of important meaning for her. She sat down at the corner of the “L” and I found myself glancing in her direction more than once. It was as though her presence was made of steel and my eyes were magnets, drawn to watch her by no force of my own. I was trying to figure out her reason for being there. Was she an employee, or perhaps a wife or a girlfriend? There were no signs of a significant other nearby, nor any glimpse of light radiating from a band around her ring finger. Still, why was she here? I had to know.
Our drinks arrived as I began searching for an excuse to walk to the bar. The waitress brought me a Jack and Coke and Tom was served his usual, whiskey, neat. As is not an unfamiliar occurrence in a bar, suddenly a loud argument erupted between two young men seated at a small cocktail table behind the woman. Every customer immediately threw a fearful glance in the direction of the commotion, where my eyes had already been fixated. The woman acting quickly, grabbed her notebook and her purse to seek safety on the other side of the bar, and fortunately for me, near our table. I cannot ever recall feeling lucky before that day. I’d never won a lottery ticket, my number was never chosen for a raffle and it never rained when I happened to have my umbrella handy. But lady luck had made all that up to me in a ten-second moment.
I had never fallen in love. Oh, I had dated in Oak Bluffs, but with law school and then running the practice, I’d never really sought more than a pretty face to accompany me to an occasional banquet, or to fill some random lonely nights. I never believed there existed a connection between two people strong enough to make them want to stay together forever -- “want” being the operative word.
“Rough day, I know,” Tom said after he watched me tilt my head back and pour my drink down my throat. “Huh? Oh yeah. Where is that waitress anyway?” I asked, as part of my ruse to have a reason to walk to the bar. Adding, as I stood, “Get you anything, Tom?” Confused, he glanced down at his untouched whiskey, “Uh, no thanks.” Approaching the bar, both my mind and my glass were suddenly empty. Standing near her, I motioned for the bartender who was busy serving other patrons. Another stroke of luck. I would simply have to wait my turn.
Turning my head to the left, I noticed she had her head down, her hair blocking her face as she wrote in her notebook. Though I was never the type of man women fawned over, I had confidence enough in my appeal to begin a conversation and accept rejection should that be the response. My 6’ frame crooked to be on level with her 5’6” stature. “Seems like they solved their differences,” I said, with a motion to the table that had the ruckus. She lifted her head and agreed with a smile. Her smile. Have you ever heard of anyone feeling a smile? Because I felt the warmth of her smile travel throughout my entire body as I stood immobilized. The bravado and confidence I had planned to rely upon had vanished. At that moment, her smile erased every untruth that may have spoken, every leading question that may have been asked and any thought of filling just a lonely random night.
Never believing in soul mates or love at first sight, I did believe the universe will pull together certain circumstances. It is up to us to recognize and act upon what we are being offered. At those times, we rely on almost a sixth sense, a sensation in our psyche that many refer to as intuition. Whatever it was that day, I felt it. I knew it.
I had to find a way to catch and hold her glance because I was certain if that would happen, she would feel the same feelings I was experiencing. Recognizing the circumstances that the universe had provided, and not wanting to miss my chance, I leaned down to peer through her hanging hair and asked, “Anybody in there?” Not expecting positive results because a woman like her must be approached with regularity, I was still hoping she would detect that this was different. This wasn’t your average come-on from a guy at the bar. This attempted introduction wasn’t founded on sexual expectations. I remember thinking to myself, if this is as “meant to be” as I believe it is, she will know it, too.
She lifted her head and smiled again. Her face, the room, the world, seemed to light up with that smile. Her eyes met mine and I focused on the connection with every fiber of my being. It was as though two unspoken questions had uncovered one answer. I could feel that she experienced it, too. “I’m Karina,” were the words I hear over and over in my mind to this day, the minute I open my eyes to acknowledge every morning.
Hours passed, but they felt like minutes. By this time Tom had long since gone home sensing that a goodbye would only interrupt the moment. We talked, we laughed, we flirted without the need to employ tactics of seduction. We both knew that time would come, but it wasn’t tonight. We felt a stronger desire to link intellectually, spiritually, internally.
Rachel’s father had gifted her the fire-engine red Viper for her birthday, which she vowed to drive to work only on Fridays as her usual mode of transportation was the LIRR to Penn Station
where she would catch the Number 2 train. This particular Friday fell before a three-day weekend and she had made plans with her boyfriend, Rusty to fly to St. Thomas for a quick getaway. He had offered this weekend escape as a belated birthday gift after forgetting her special day again. A guilt trip, she called it.
Nevertheless, she took off work early to pick up her dry cleaning, and follow up with a massage and mani/pedi. She had a reputation of always appearing coiffed and stylish, mostly because Rachel cared about one thing above all else, Rachel.
She hung her dry cleaning on a back hook and ignored the parking citation that had been strategically positioned on her windshield. She knew she would turn the windshield wipers on and watch it fly away to join the other discarded trash congregating on the side of the curbs. As she started the car, her Bluetooth synced automatically and began blaring her favorite Beyoncé tune: “Naughty Girl.” She’d driven about ten minutes into her journey on the way to meet Rusty at LaGuardia. The traffic was light due to the holiday weekend and she could feel the power of the V-10 engine beckoning from beneath the hood of the Viper. She hadn’t had a chance to open it up on the highway since removing the ridiculously enormous matching bow and ribbon her father had paid someone to wrap around the entire vehicle.
She pressed the gas pedal and whirred past the speed limit signs. The speedometer reached 65,
75 and 85 before she began to take note of her surroundings and calm her heavy foot. She hadn’t
had time to familiarize herself with the controls of the vehicle and was unaccustomed to the way the car handled. She’d been driving a convertible prior to receiving this outlandish gift and the brakes on that vehicle were not as sensitive. She pressed her foot to the Viper’s brake pedal with the same amount of pressure she’d been used to applying to her convertible.
The car began to veer. She panicked and overcorrected the wheel. Before she could gain control,the Viper had spun and was headed west in the eastbound lane. Cars swerved, tires screeched and horns blared out their warnings.
Karina had just picked Katie up from school and was driving our Highlander to meet me at our beach house in Sag Harbor. I had purchased the house for her on our third anniversary as a place where she could be near the ocean, be one with her thoughts and find the solitude she needed to create her poetry. It was only about a four-hour drive for us so we would spend long weekends and holidays there together as a family. Katie and I spent countless hours collecting shells and watching the incoming tide slowly engulf our sandcastles while Karina worked quietly in what she dubbed her “Inspiration Room.” The room was situated in the corner of the house with a full view of the ocean and access to a small personal balcony off to one side.
Though I wasn’t there to witness the tragedy, the details have replayed a thousand times in my mind in the years since. I imagine Karina’s expression as the Viper suddenly materialized through her windshield, thrust at high speed until only the impact of the Highlander stopped its progression. I still envision her reaching back as if her petite arm could somehow protect little Katie from the powerful force of the oncoming steel. A repeated scenario plays in my mind where Karina experiences minutes of the agonizing torture that would have accompanied the
realization of what had just happened to her baby girl. Selfish as it may seem, I can’t help wondering if she had time to think of me during those last moments, if indeed she had any.
Witnesses said the sound of the impact was like an explosion. First responders confirmed that everyone died on impact, except the driver of the Viper who was transported unconscious to Mt. Sinai Hospital. Death upon impact -- that has never really brought me any comfort, though maybe if I would allow it to, it would. But, I keep saying to myself, “How do they know for certain?” How do they know my wife and child, the reason and meaning for my own life, didn’t
suffer?” They don’t.
Parking my car in a dark corner lot to wait, I felt the pounding of my heart’s pulsations throughout my entire body. I performed a mental assessment of the contents inside my duffel bag. The gloves packed were very thin to ensure full function of all fingers with nothing hindering my grasp. I had packed black clothing, a black ski mask, even the vile was black that held the 120 mgs. of ketamine to be injected via an intramuscular method…because muscles have a large supply of blood to help ensure the body will absorb the medication quickly. I chose the upper arm, near the shoulder. I certainly wouldn’t be using the method I’d read about regarding administering this injection using an alcohol wipe, sterile gauze, cotton balls and bandages. None of that would be necessary. All I needed was this needle, this syringe and a 90-degree angle. It’s amazing how easily the Internet provides information on performing nefarious acts. However, if not done right, the injection carries a high risk of death by overdose. I wasn’t worried…I always do things right. Not that killing her instantly would entirely disappoint me, but things needed to occur before that step. Of course, I had thoroughly scrutinized the medication dosage calculating her size and weight. I would have 30 minutes.
I had considered chloroform, but my research proved the Hollywood movies “rag over the mouth” strategy is not based on reality. A person would need to be restrained or willing to be induced into anesthesia to breathe the chemical for a solid five minutes. But with my plan, she would be choked unconscious first, which would only take about 5 to 10 seconds, thereby granting me a 30-40 second window of complete incapacitation on her part. 30 seconds was
enough time for an accurate intramuscular injection.
There was a poorly lit alleyway that ran parallel to the side exit of the coffee shop. In the middle of this backstreet stood a brick stairway with metal railings that connected the side door exit of the shop. That door opened into a hallway leading straight into the kitchen, after bypassing the restrooms one by one. My previous inspections of the premises had uncovered a barely noticeable door to the right, just before reaching the restrooms. Behind it, a set of stairs leading directly to an old storage area and office space upstairs. It couldn’t have been designed any better to fit my plan.
Knowing where the security cameras were positioned, I knew exactly what to show them. I had
bought a very unique watch using the credit card Brian was issued on my Amex account and had
gifted it to him, wishing him well the first day of his new job. It was a Rolex Submariner -- gold, black and unmistakable that I’d found pre-owned for about $15K, and tonight I made sure to wear the matching one I owned…for the cameras.
Just before sunset, posing as a patron needing to use the facilities, I slipped through the side door
unobserved and quietly climbed the staircase, my duffle bag in tow. The stairs creaked during my ascent, so I paused, waiting for any reaction from downstairs. All was quiet, so I continued climbing until reaching the dark office space. It was there, I dressed in my black attire for the evening’s events. I knew the coffee shop closed at 11PM on Friday nights, along with every other detail about the close-up procedures, most importantly that Rachel was always the last to leave. My mind wandered as I waited, sensing the irony of when I used to dress in all black – in expensive tuxes to attend meaningless events. To me, this was the event to surpass them all.
Staring at my watch without blinking, I waited for 10:58 PM before slowly descending the stairway, avoiding the side of the steps that made sound. It was about to happen. So much planning, so many hours spent arranging and rearranging details until my schematic was perfect.
This was it. Waiting in the dark behind the door entering back into the hallway, I heard the voices growing closer as they walked toward the side exit. Then, the sound of other staff members leaving and the door closing, followed by the sound of keys jingling -- the keys she always used to lock the shop’s door behind them. She walked back inside to file away the night’s receipts and lock up the bank bags. I knew every step she was about to make.
Finally, the sound of rattling keys again as she approached the door to leave for the night. I opened the door quickly and grabbed her before her key reached the door. With a force I never knew I possessed, I threw my right arm around her neck and used the other to squeeze them together so tightly that pressure was exerted to both sides.
As she struggled, it empowered me even more. My strength seemed suddenly herculean, as I held tighter to immobilize her. She opened her mouth wide to scream but was only capable of producing one small inaudible gurgle before she was silenced. I waited as she kicked and contorted her body in an attempt to escape, until she fell limp in my arms. The struggle stirred my insides so much, I found myself wishing she’d held out longer before succumbing.
I quickly pulled her jacket off to expose her sleeved arm and carefully injected the ketamine into the muscle. Ketamine was the perfect choice for this vitally important part of the schematic, though it would require more booster shots before we reached our destination, the beach house at Sag Harbor, in the wee hours of the morning.