The Torture of Knowing

Prompt Day #65: A character is missing a sense of smell. Write a scene in which that character is tortured because of it.

I wanted to try conveying emotional torture rather than describing a physical torture. I decided that learning that my husband is a serial rapist/sadist/arsonist is about as bad as emotional torture could get. But wouldn’t you feel really guilty too, like how did you not realize that? Well, maybe I couldn’t smell the gasoline on him, and I never put two and two together. But then I asked myself, what might I do if I did finally realize he was a killer and what he’d done….


“Thank you for coming, Mrs. Gilbert” Detective Lane Brooks led Bonnie into his office. “I know it took a lot of courage and we appreciate it and so do the families of the victims.” He said pulling out a chair for her.

“If it weren’t for me and my handicap, there wouldn’t be that many victims. I feel responsible. I should have known.” She said, her voice trembling.

“With all due respect, Ma’am, we don’t know that your husband had anything to do with this case. He certainly hasn’t been on our radar and until we hear what you have to say, I don’t know that you should be taking on so much of this blame.” He said. “Can I get you some coffee or water? Anything?” She shook her head.

“I’d just as soon get this over with, if you don’t mind.” She said. Detective Brooks nodded and took a tape recorder out of the drawer.

“Ok, let’s go ahead and get started. Why don’t you tell me when you began to suspect your husband was the arsonist?” He said and pressed record.

“Well, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t begin to suspect anything until last week. I’m so stupid. I mean, I thought he was having an affair. He started picking up shifts all of a sudden. He told me he wanted to start putting some real money away for the future. I believed him for so long, and see, the thing is, he’s a paramedic, so if he comes home with blood on him, it’s normal, if he’s dirty, again, not a big deal. But the extra shifts, it started out only once in a while, every couple weeks or so but then, lately it’s been once or twice a week. I started thinking who’s calling off that much that he keeps getting all these extra hours? You know? And honestly, he was spending a lot more time in the basement on the computer; I started thinking he was messing around. So, last week, when he was in the shower, I took his cell phone and looked through it. And you know what I found?” Detective Brooks shook his head. “Nothing. And a lot of it. No calls or texts from work, nothing from anyone. Don’t you think that’s weird for someone who is supposedly picking up all this extra work? I mean, someone must be calling him, right?”

“I don’t know, Ma’am, is that how they usually do it? Maybe they have a board up at work with shifts up for grabs or something like that?” The Detective offered.

“No, they used to call his cell all the time. That’s when I got to thinking; he hasn’t been getting any calls from work when he’s around home. And trust me, Detective, my hearing is superb. I would have heard it even in the basement.”

“Did you confront him? I mean, cheating on your marriage is pretty despicable, but it’s not a crime.” The detective leaned back and relaxed. He realized he’d been sitting up on the edge of his seat waiting for her to tell him something that would close the case. He needed to stop this bastard. This guy was a sicko. Of the few victims whose bodies weren’t burned to char, the medical examiner was able to determine they’d been sexually tortured and burned with irons and hot pokers before setting fire to their home and leaving them to die. Every lead had fizzled out and right now, they were desperate. The body count was up to six. The last two were a mother and her twelve year old daughter. They needed to catch this guy. When Bonnie Gilbert had called yesterday and said she thought she knew who the killer was, he was on the phone with her immediately. She said she had proof. But now, it seemed more likely she was out for revenge on a cheating husband. He was already bored. It was time to wrap this up.

“I did not immediately confront him, no. I wanted to get more information, proof that he couldn’t deny. So I called his station, asked for him. They were surprised. They said they had seen him since he’d gone on medical leave! I was shocked. I asked them what exactly he was on medical leave for and they said it was for me and my recent diagnosis!” Her chin quivered.

“What diagnosis? Have you been recently diagnosed with an illness?” He asked.

“Yes. I have a small brain tumor.” She said and before he could stop her, she went on. “So, now I knew he wasn’t going to work. So, I waited for him to get home, thinking it was time to confront him. There was a special on TV about the arsonist, I watched it. The things they were saying this man did were unspeakable. But you know how CNN just beats a dead horse when there is some new, horrific crime? So, they put up this time line, and that’s when it hit me that all of his extra shifts coincided with the dates and times of the fires.” The detective leaned forward again. Bonnie began sobbing. “Detective, don’t you see, if I had called you all then, half of those women would still be alive including that precious little girl! I didn’t say anything because my husband is a lot of things, but not a killer. Well, I didn’t think so anyways. I mean, he has been a paramedic his whole adult life, he helps people. And Dr. Drew on CNN, He said the guy was a sadist, a sexual sadist not an arsonist really because he is only using arson to cover up his crimes. The real crime is how he likes to torture and watch women suffer. That he gets off on it. But see, that’s what held me back, because my Craig, see well, he always had a problem getting an erection. Sometimes he could on his own for a little bit but most of the time; he had to use Viagra or something. So, I said to myself you’re just being paranoid. I figured he probably was having an affair, and I was just avoiding the issue. But what I was really avoiding was facing the facts that my husband is a sick, sexual predator. It’s my fault that little girl is dead.” Lane took a deep breath; he needed to keep her on track. She might have something, she might not. He was having a hard time believing that this man was coming home dirty and bloody but not stinking of gasoline and smoke. She had to be mistaken.

“The important thing is that you are here now. If you help us catch him, at least you can give that little girl’s family some closure. What I need though is proof: more than just the coincidence that your husband was out on the same nights as the murders.” He said.

“So, I let it go for a few days, but then, last Monday, he called me to say he had picked up an extra shift and wouldn’t be home til after midnight.” Lane leaned into her. This was interesting because that was the date of the last two murders, Jillian and Sarah Johnston. “I decided to do some snooping, I went downstairs and logged on to his computer, there was a file on it that was password protected. I tried every one I knew but none of them worked. So, I started going through the drawers of the desk and I found a bunch of pornography, some of it was awful, terrible stuff. The women in it were being tortured, stuck with pins and needles all over their bodies. Some were being burned and hit. And honestly, detective, I know so much of it is fake, but these ones, well those girls’ faces, I will never get out of my mind. They looked terrified. I went back to the computer and I tried using some of the names of the magazines for the password and it worked. And what I saw, the videos, Oh, God. I knew I knew it then what my husband really is. He is a monster. He killed those women and as I looked at all those awful things, he was killing that little girl and her mother, and I still didn’t call you. I still didn’t, Detective. You should arrest me. I have to live with that knowledge the rest of my life; I’ll never be free of it. It was just too easy to say maybe my husband is sick and maybe he has a lot of sexual perversity, but that still doesn’t make him a killer. That’s when I decided to confront him. I waited up for him. I had the magazines all laid out on the kitchen table. He came home around 2 am, he was dirty, sooty now that I think about it, and he had scratches all over his arms.”

“Could you smell smoke or gasoline on him? On his clothes?” Lane asked her, impatient. What she was telling him was a lot of good but circumstantial evidence. He needed clothes with gasoline or smoke on them, he needed pictures of the victims on the guy’s computer. He needed a victim who somehow survived.

“Detective, I thought I told you, I have a brain tumor. I have no sense of smell. He could have taken a bath in gasoline for all I knew. I always attributed his dirt and blood to his job and nothing more.” She said. The detective leaped up out of his chair. And began pacing the room. This changed things. She couldn’t smell anything and of course her husband knew it. How easy would it be to come home every time in the clothes you killed in and just wash up like nothing ever happened? He wanted to get someone out to their house right away.

“Where is your husband right now? Where does he think you are?” He asked her. She looked at him for a moment and dropped her eyes back to her hands which were currently wringing each other on the table.

“So, he came home and he saw me sitting there with those magazines and he stopped. He asked me what I was doing with them and what I’d been doing with his things. I said I would be the one asking the questions. I asked him if he killed those women, and where he’d been that night. His faced changed then, he got this evil look and he hit me. He hit me so hard, he knocked me out. When I woke up, I was tied up and he was standing there staring down at me. He had a curling iron in his hand.” She started crying now, hyperventilating. The detective called out for assistance, a female.

“Bonnie, where is your husband? We will get him and he will never be able to hurt you or anyone else again.” He said to her, trying to calm her down.

“Was the medical examiner able to tell if the insides of their vaginas were burned with something before the fire started? What about their breasts? Were their nipples missing?” She began to unbutton her shirt. He grabbed her hand and pulled it away from her chest. He didn’t want to see because he already knew what they looked like, the breasts ended in a flattened plateau where the areola and nipple had once been. It was the same on every corpse. He caught a whiff of gasoline as he pulled her hand towards him. He pulled it up and sniffed. She let him. He looked up at her, his eyes widened in surprise.

“Mrs. Gilbert, I’m going to ask you one more time, where is your husband?” He accentuated each word in a clear staccato.

“After he was done with me, he got in the shower and I managed to get free. I don’t think he tied the ropes very tight, I think he thought I would be subdued by…everything…everything he did to me. But I had to stop him. I had to make sure he never hurt anyone else ever again. I had to make it up to all those women.” She wasn’t even looking at him anymore. She was staring at a vision only she could see.

“Bonnie, we need to go to your house now. Where do you live? Can I get your address or is it here in your purse? Bonnie, is it ok if I look in your purse?” He was already rummaging through it. The female detective had arrived, Melissa Jessop, her name was. He had Bonnie’s driver’s license in his hand and pushed passed her. And then, as a parting thought he yelled back at Melissa “just keep an eye on her. Don’t let her go anywhere!” Melissa looked back at the woman in the seat. She was pale and expressionless. She’d seen that same expression so many times when she needed to give family the news of a loved one’s untimely death. The woman didn’t even seem to notice that Detective Brooks had left, she was still talking. Melissa sat down in Lane’s chair and listened.

“I hit him over the head with a baseball bat while he was in the shower. I was too weak to drag him anywhere, so I dumped the gasoline on him right there and then I lit him on fire.” She said. “I suppose someone’s called the fire department by now.”