A PERFECT LOS ANGELES MORNING: A cloudless sky so devastatingly blue, you’d swear God had Photoshopped it; a hint of sea in the air that embraced you in a balmy hug; palm fronds waving laconically in a gentle breeze. Beautiful people strolled Santa Monica sidewalks and disappeared into polished storefronts that enticed capacious wallets to open wide.
It wasn’t the kind of morning that evoked thoughts of death in normal people. But Margaret Nolan wasn’t normal.
It’s surreal, Maggie, like your life gets split in half the minute you hear the news: before and after, that’s all there is. Part of me wishes I didn’t know, but it’s too late for that, there’s no going back. I have a killer inside and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Sophie had died of brain cancer five years ago, at the age of twenty-seven, and there was no going back—not for her, not for her family, not for the other people who’d loved her. These unbidden memories of a perfectly sunny, perfectly tragic day with her best friend slinked into Nolan’s mind as she drove down Montana Avenue toward Palisades Park and the ocean.
She wasn’t carrying a terminal diagnosis, but she understood before and after in a different context: before you killed somebody and after you killed somebody. Loss of innocence affected every human being on the planet at one point or another, in one way or another, but the details mattered.
Her interview with the department psychologist had been desultory and unhelpful—it was just something you did after a shooting so your superiors could feel good about your mental health before they put you back on the street. Her brother, Max, would have had something profound to say on the subject of taking human life, but those words had gone to the grave with him. She was on her own.
The killer inside. No going back.
Days off were the hardest, because they gave her time to think. The empty hours stretched out before her, leaving space in her mind for a continual instant replay loop of those last deadly seconds. It was critical to fill that malevolent space with other things, so she’d devised a regimen to stay thoughtless, busy, and disciplined. It rarely varied.
Mornings consisted of biking the Strand—number one on her agenda for today—or hiking Runyon Canyon. Afterward, she’d hit the gym for weight training and stop at Sprouts on the way home to buy expensive, organic food that would invariably end up rotting in her refrigerator. Then it was laundry, house cleaning, and organizing things that had been left in disarray throughout the week.
The reward for her diligence was a bottle of wine and a dinner-sized bowl of popcorn in front of the TV while baby artichokes and grass-fed lamb languished unprepared, unwanted. At midnight, she would slide beneath the covers and sleep fitfully. Notably absent from her new schedule were visits to the gun range.
This routine of avoidance was beginning to aggravate her. Not only was it unproductive and probably detrimental, it was frighteningly analogous to her mother’s recent behavior. The very behavior she loathed and railed against. Judge not lest you be judged.
The revelation was as distressing as it was motivational—today was going to be different, by God. She hadn’t fired a weapon since that night in Beverly Hills two months ago, and it was time to get back to the range. Kill a silhouette instead of a real person. Face it and move on. Sophie had, confronting far worse. Make her proud.
Copyright © 2022 by Traci Lambrecht