I was sitting at my desk with a cool northern breeze at my back. The breeze was natures way of loosening its grip on one of the seasons most intense heat waves. I also had in my hand a glass of Irish Whiskey and an accompanying bottle on my desk that was half full. They both were reminding me of the worst week Ive known in a long a time. The sun was coming up and I was beginning to feel its rays biting at the back of my neck. It felt warm and soothing on the outside while the whiskey worked miracles on the inside. I sat the glass down only to pick it up again after it was refilled. For a brief instance I could feel her presence, smell her perfume and just as quickly as it came, it went.
The radio blared music that was interrupted by frequent and senseless commercials. I had just finished spring-cleaning and set another record. Finishing the spring cleaning before August is always cause to celebrate. I retrieved a beer from the small refrigerator in the corner of my office and drank half of it in one gulp. My blue T-shirt had large areas where perspiration had collected and soaked the shirt. It was no cause for alarm. I always keep extras and decided, since I was done cleaning, to change. Luckily for me I did. Within minutes, a young girl knocked on the open door. She was definitely not a strain on the retinas and I tried not to let it show. Her petite body took a seat in one of the two chairs that are in front of my desk and shifted until it was comfortable. She hiked her loose fitting skirt up over her knee and crossed and recrossed her legs then let the skirt droop down and hang at her ankles. Sitting at my desk, I reached over and shut off the radio. She folded her hands on her lap and began.
"Im sorry to come unannounced, today being Sunday and all, but I really need your help." Her brown eyes were set back in her narrow head and they had a hint of melancholy as she continued her well-rehearsed speech. "I want to hire you. Im not really sure how to go about doing it, but I think I want to hire you."
"First, start by telling me your name and then we can work on tougher ones, like your problem."
She blushed slightly adding desperately needed color to her white cheeks. The cheeks seemed to hold the color nicely. "My name is Jennifer Myers."
"As in Myers Industries down by the pier on Penns Landing?"
"Yes." She said with embarrassment. "Reginald Myers is my father." Her monotone voice hid her age and somehow didnt fit her well-curved body.
"Now, with the problem."
"I want you to find out who I am?" She said.
"You mean you dont know?"
She became irritated. "Of course I know who I am!"
"I dont follow."
"I was adopted and I dont know who my real parents are. So in a sense, I really dont know who I am. Do you know what I mean?"
I was beginning to realize where this was going. "How old are you?"
"I am twenty one years old. Old enough to find out who my real parents are."
"You dont need a detective for that. Youre legally entitled to know. If you know where you were born or which adoption agency your adopted parents used, you should be able to find out who your natural parents are. Adoption agencies keep detailed records in the event someone, like yourself, wishes to find out who their birth parents are. If you hired me, I would just be taking your money and in a sense, taking advantage of you."
"I realize that. However, Ive been trying for the last three years to track them down. Every time I ask, my father brushes me off or says that he will find out for me. He keeps giving me the run around. I just want to find out. You have no idea what its like not to know who brought you into this world, who gave you life."
She must have been reading my mind or gauging the reactions on my face because she began to cry. Not a bellowing cry but a petite sob that matched her personality. Refined and sophisticated. She had probably spent a lot of time in either a boarding or a private school.
I opened the bottom drawer of my desk and handed her a box of tissues. Her manicured fingers took a tissue and dabbed at her eyes so that her mascara wouldnt smear.
"I have plenty of money." She said between sobs. "And wouldnt consider your help as a way of taking advantage of me, like you said. Ive tried all other avenues and have reached dead ends. No one is willing to tell me anything. They treat me like a child and hope by rejecting my questions, I will give up my search. I wont settle for not knowing. Ive been wandering this planet in search of an identity. I am hopeless and as lost as Moses in the desert."
She said the latter half like she was reenacting a scene in a Shakespearean tragedy. She even clenched her dress above her heart for the added effect. If I had flowers on my desk, which I never do, I would have thrown them at her and asked for an encore.
I conceded. Partly. Her performance wasnt that good. "Ill give it one day. Ill dig around and point you in the right direction."
"Thank you." She opened her bag and began writing a check.
Over the years many people have written me checks to buy my services and I seldom think or watch when the act is done. Im usually already deep in thought about the impending case but today, for the first time, I watched. Her movements were automatic and unfeeling. She couldve been writing a check to the cashier at a grocery store.
"I wont accept your money. As I said, I will only point you in the right direction. Ill make a few calls and ask a few questions. Its not enough work to warrant a fee."
She wasnt used to people turning down her money. I had the feeling it wasnt her money anyway.
"Now, you might as well start at the beginning." I checked my watch. "According to me you have twenty three hours and fifteen seconds left."
She handed me a picture whose edges barely stuck out past my palm. It was faded and in bad shape. The middle of the picture had been ruined by exposure to water. The rest had been ruined by exposure to sun or either bad developing. The picture was of a man in a baseball uniform. It was hard to see the face because of the rainbow like colors and the team name had been smeared and tiny bubbles, caused by the water, replaced it.
"That is my real father. I know its in bad shape but its the only one I have."
"How do you know its your father?"
"I dont know but I have a feeling. A strong feeling. I cant describe it and I wont try. Besides, how else would you explain the circumstances of that picture hidden in my fathers desk?"
I nodded and turned it over to read the inscription.
I hope you enjoy this action photo. Ha, ha. It doesnt seem fair that our families wont except our love or the product of that love. Our only hope is to leave and start over. Make a clean break. I know our love is strong enough to survive anything, even this.
"It was in your fathers desk, huh?" I said.
"Yes. I was going through it when I found a file wedged between two others. The picture was the only thing in the file and there were no words or anything on the outside or inside of the file. I didnt have time to check anywhere else because someone came home. My dad, I think. He never leaves his desk unlocked but I guess that time he forgot. I went back to check a couple days later, but it was locked again."
"Does he know you have it?"
"If he does, he never said anything to me about it."
"By the sounds of it youve done some snooping on your own. So why dont you tell me what you know and then we can start from there. Okay."
She nodded. "I was born April 17, 1975 at Jefferson Memorial Hospital. I called the hospital and asked someone to check my birth date against the babies that were born on that day and year. Some nurse gave me some bull story about a fire in their basement that destroyed most of their records. Dead end. There were only two adoption agencies in the phone book and neither of them could help me without, at the very least, the last name of the natural parents. I gave them my parents last name and hoped they could trace it in reverse process but they couldnt. Another dead end. See, I told you something strange was going on."
"I doubt it. Maybe they didnt use an agency in the area or they used aliases. There could be a hundred or a thousand reasons. It could take months to track down the adoption agency they used. Besides, maybe you should keep trying with your parents. They are sure to know and I wouldnt think anyone would want to keep that kind of information out of the hands of someone like you."
"You sound just like all of them. Pushing me off onto someone else. Nobody cares. Nobody!"
Her fingers drummed the arm of the chair. She seemed to be trapped in inner thought or inner torment. I couldnt figure out which. Her thick eyebrows came together and were stopped by a crease of skin in the middle of her forehead. She pursed her lips and then looked up like she just found the pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow.
"Maybe you could talk to them. Put pressure on them."
"Youve been watching too many movies. If they arent going to tell you, they sure as Hell wont tell me. Its less my business than yours."
"But you promised me one day. All youve done so far is to push me away and on to someone else. You havent even made an attempt!"
My head began to ache. I didnt want to get in the middle of a family situation. Also, I didnt particularly care for the girl. She was a spoiled child who was used to getting what she wanted and when she didnt, she would either insult you, pout, or cry. She had done all three marvelously. But I couldnt help feeling a little sorry for her. I kept telling myself I didnt want the case and did so during the entire drive out to her home.
Since it was Sunday, the traffic in the city was light. We got on the exit for the interstate and after she cut off two drivers, we were beginning to make good time. She didnt utter a syllable during our drive but had plenty to say when we got there. The off ramp to New Haven was on the right hand side of the road and she decided to make it from the left lane. Blaring horns followed us along with some more hand gestures from irate drivers. We made a left on Middletown Road and wound up the spiraling street. Her street bisected the town into two classes; the families that will always have money and the families who never will. As her tires squeaked into the driveway, she said,
"Now, what you have to do is be strong with them. I know them better than you do so dont use any tact just go for the juggler-"
"If youre driving is any indication about how you handle the relations between people, Ill take my chances with my own instincts. Ive done this more than you ever will. I didnt tell you how to drive so dont tell me how to do my job. Understood?"
Jen grunted something and got out of the car. I followed her up the gentle slope of the brick walkway and onto the porch. As she walked, she reached into her handbag and fumbled for a set of keys. She unlocked the door and escorted me through a large foyer with an expensive chandelier hanging down from the ceiling and down the hall to the second door on the right. I opened the door of the study and took a seat on the leather chair that faced the bay window. In the backyard, there were two bird feeders, one that looked to resemble the house, and another off by the pool. Several fountains that acted as baths were scattered around the yard and a blue jay in the nearest, maybe ten feet away, saw me watching and darted for the branches of a maple tree. It probably thought I was some sort peeping Tom. To the left, by the pool, an older woman was sitting in a lounge chair. Her feet were a couple of inches from the waters edge. With her back to the setting sun, an angelic glow surrounded her. The door opened behind me and interrupted my thoughts.
A lanky man introduced himself as Jens father. We shook hands and he offered me a drink from the wet bar that ran along the back wall. I had seen him several times in the newspaper shaking hands with the mayor or the governor but this time, with the knot in his tie hanging loosely around his wrinkled shirt and without the false smile he usually wore, he looked like a man who spent his life building an empire and never sat down long enough to enjoy it.
"Jen tells me youre a detective. I cant tell you how embarrassing this is for all of us. I never thought shed go to such extreme measures."
He ran his fingers through his graying hair. His hands werent the kind that were used to labor. The biggest physical obstacle he faced was keeping his food from staining his tie at a country club lunch.
"Jen didnt actually hire me. Im on a twenty four-hour loan. Her problem really isnt the kind that Im used to handling but she made it seem excessively urgent."
"Thats Jen all right." He sighed. "Shes been sneaking around this house for three years trying to find out. I practically have to lock everything up before I leave. I dont know why she would be interested anyway. Weve given her more than her real parents ever could."
"They gave her life. Which is something you didnt. Its her right to know and holding it back is a crime. She couldve hired a lawyer today. And instead of telling her here, alone, youd have to tell a courtroom full of people. Either way, youll have to tell her sooner or later. Im sure you and your family would prefer the former."
"Yes, of course." He tried to produce one of his best false smiles but it failed. "I have been dreading this day for a long time. You see, its rather complicated and embarrassing at the same time." He paused to finish his drink. "The adoption of Jennifer wasnt exactly legal. We used what most people commonly refer to as the Black Market."
He went back to the bar for a second helping. When working, I dont like to drink. It interrupts the natural deductive process and today even though I was celebrating a victory over cleaning, I was glad I didnt give in to the temptation. I rattled the ice cubes around in the glass to help their ability to melt and dilute the cognac. Mr. Myers took this as an indication that I wanted more but I declined. He walked back over to the bay window and with his back facing me said,
"Twenty five years ago my first wife, Catherine, and I met at college. Along the way she told me about a car accident she was involved in when she was a teenager. She was thrown from the car and into the shrubbery that grows along the interstate. Some of the branches were strong enough to penetrate her skin and some of those branches went into her abdomen leaving her unable to conceive a child. The details of the incident arent important. After we got married, we desperately wanted children. We tried some of the local adoption agencies and we found we couldnt afford it. All of our money was used to start the business. We heard, through someone, about another way to obtain a child. We new it was illegal but it was our only way. We were also guaranteed that the baby was healthy and that the parents definitely wanted to give it up for adoption but for reasons that prevented them from going through regular channels. So we agreed."
"What were the parents name?"
" I have no idea. We never met. I dont even know what they look like. Ive tried to guess based on Jens features." He stopped his thought and finished his second drink. When around company, two must be his limit because he didnt go to the bar for another refill. His hand fell down to his side.
"What about the person you-" I paused. If I said the word bought or purchased, it would only degrade the human condition. People arent bought and sold.
"Bought her from." He said somberly. "I know it sounds rough. I dont think Ive ever gotten used to it." He turned and faced me. The skin under his eyes began to sag and wrinkle. "It was handled through a middleman whose name I was never told and whose face I never saw."
"When was the first time you saw Jennifer?" It was a lot better than, so when was she delivered or where did you pick her up.
"The last time they phoned, they told us to meet them in the parking lot of the mall downtown. We waited nearly two hours and finally gave up with the feeling of being swindled. When we came home, she was waiting on our doorstep in a small basket with a note that said heres you new daughter"
"Do you still have the letter?"
"I threw it out years ago."
I took another sip of the diluted cognac. Myers put his empty glass on his desk and went back to staring out the window at the golden brown figure by the pool.
"The worst part about it is that she doesnt know."
"I dont mean Jennifer. My wife, Brenda, was never told about Jennifer not being my real daughter. Let alone the extraordinary means that I went through to get her. I have a lot of thinking to do Mr. Grant."
On that note I left.
Monday morning I was pulling up to the entrance of the parking lot at Jefferson Memorial. I handed a sleepy eyed girl with a hickey on her neck two dollars and in return she hit a button that raised the wooden barricade. I found the only parking place left, which happened to be the furthest away from the entrance, and walked to the automatic sliding doors. A warm southerly breeze was blowing and it was already extremely humid for nine thirty. A thin haze was beginning to suffocate the city.
The first floor of the hospital contained a long wooden desk with strategically placed receptionists fielding questions from several concerned family members. I looked to the wall next to the elevators and checked the directory. I knew the name and office number would be there and I also knew how to get there. I rode up the elevator with a family whose loved one was in a car accident. At least I think that is what I overheard. An elderly couple was holding the equivalent of a greenhouse full of flowers in their hands while two young boys clung to the legs of their father. They got out on five, which only meant one thing, and it wasnt good. All patients that were in critical condition were put on one of two floors. The patients that needed life support were placed on five. As I rode up to seven, the smell of the flowers lingered in the elevator. I got out of the elevator and took my usual route to suite 716. A familiar face greeted me at the counter.
"Well, well. If it isnt our old friend Grant. Need another check up do you? Either you have the hots for our doctor or youre a really sick man."
"Every time I think of her, my heart flutters and skips a beat."
"All the heart doctors are on two."
"I didnt say I didnt enjoy it."
She laughed a polite laugh and walked around the counter and into one of the rooms off to the side. She emerged in two minutes to tell me to have a seat in Joans office and that she would be through with her first patient in about ten minutes. I thanked her and did as I was told. Its never polite to ignore the advice of a doctor.
Ten minutes turned into twenty and quickly into a half an hour. I was beginning to feel neglected when she finally came in and said, "It took me eight years to attain a seat youve seen fit to occupy in ten minutes."
She came over and gave me a warm kiss then sat in my lap. Her one hundred and fifteen pounds fit nicely into her small frame. She removed her glasses and tossed them on the desk.
"Shouldnt you remove your stethoscope?" I asked.
"I cant do that. Not while Im duty." She said exposing her white teeth with a smile.
"A Cardinal Sin?"
"Oh, yes. Thats the first thing you learn in orientation. Never take it off while on duty."
"How would you explain last week?"
She blushed and threw her head back in a mock gesture of distinguishment. "That was different. Anyway, I only have fifteen minutes until my next patient. I wouldnt have that except my ten thirty canceled."
I told her about my new client and the conversation she had with the hospital.
"Oh, they could have looked it up in the computer. Those records were only in case of emergency. They had all been converted to disk and several copies were made. They were there in case someone in the file was missed. Unless your client was rude, she probably spoke to a lazy nurse. God knows we are over staffed with those. Give me the date of birth and Ill get what you want. In the meantime, your fifteen minutes are up."
"The usual place?" I asked.
"Of course. For Gods sake, Im a lady."
And she was.
So there we were seven hours later eating dinner at the dinning room table instead of at the kitchenette and having the same argument about where dinner should be eaten. Men could care less. They could eat in the doghouse as long as the dog was allowed to eat with them. As a matter of fact, the dog is perfect company. If you drop something, it picks up after you and in any argument, youre always right. Joan, on the other hand, had to eat in the dinning room with the table set and the lights dimmed. The table must be completely set: table cloth, at least four place settings, appropriate silverware...etc. Ive known her two years and after a year of setting the table for two nonexistent people, Ive worn her down to matching the number of places that would be set to the number of people that were actually going to eat.
"You dont understand." She said to support her one-sided argument. "Thats whats wrong with todays family structure. Families dont sit around the dinner table talking about the days events, bonding with their children. Theyre in too much of a hurry to even stop to talk. Or the familys scattered throughout the house eating in separate rooms."
I wish I had a dog.
"Did you find anything on that date I gave you?" I said.
"Yes and no. There were 70 babies born on April 17, 1975. Twenty were female and none were born to anyone named Jimmy or Shelly. And dont think I didnt notice you changing the subject either."
"You win." I said lifting my fork in defeat. "Could they have used false names?"
"No. Especially if they used insurance. Theres also the possibility they paid by cash. But considering the cost of hospital care, its highly unlikely."
"What if they didnt have insurance."
"They would have to go to the clinic. But it would have been hard to escape the fact of their names in either case. Out of the 70 only five were born under the care of a doctor in a clinic. And none of those five were female."
I began rubbing my chin and then looked at my watch. My verbal agreement expired three hours ago.
"You know." She said breaking the silence. "I hate to bring this up but when you said that her parents used an adoption agency it made me think of something that happened at the hospital four years ago, and now that her parents name didnt appear on the list, I might as well tell you."
She took another bite of her steak and washed it down with the remaining red wine in her glass. I went into the kitchen and opened another bottle of wine and refilled our glasses.
"Karen Watkins, an OB/GYN, was taking patients that didnt have insurance and wanted to give their babies up for adoption. She would make them sign, in advance, that she didnt force the parents into the adoption and that it was of their own free will that they participated. Karen was never much for the clinic. She thought that the care at that level was poor because doctors werent making as much money as they could and so they had no real motive or incentive to work hard or effectively. The clinics help and their standards are rising but its slow and frustrating. Anyway, Karen would arrange it so that she would take on these couples and to cover the fee, she would arrange for a buyer. The money would cover not only the cost of the delivery and obligation to the hospital but would put some extra money in all those pockets concerned."
"One of her patients backed out and said she wanted to keep her baby. She threatened to go to the hospital about it. Karen reminded her of the letter, which was more of a scare since it couldnt be used, but she went to the hospital anyway."
"How did the hospital prove it was illegal?"
"Without the letters, they couldnt. Karen wasnt stupid. The money she received was cash. It meant the transaction was untraceable and it enabled Karen to arrange it so the patients names were aliases. Which is what she did. The police tried to track down all of her patients in the last year of her practice. It turned out some were legitimate. Insurance, the works. The others, whose names and addresses were fake, paid by cash. The police couldnt prove anything. She claimed ignorance by saying that she had never had reason to check." She took another bite of her potato. "The hospital asked her to resign and she did."
"I wonder if she would remember Jens parents?"
"I doubt it. The day Karen quietly resigned, she went back to her apartment, fixed herself dinner, and fatally poisoned herself."
"You wouldnt happen to remember the name of the patient?"
"Hmm. Lillian Henkel. Or was it Hendricks. Ill find out."
She got up and walked into the kitchen and grabbed the phone off the wall. She dialed and waited. Patiently tapping her foot she said, "Dont those people ever answer."
As she was talking, I finished my dinner. She brought the portable back with her to the table and laid it next to her plate.
"Theyre checking." She said irritated. "I really would like to know who screens our applicants." She began shaking her head from side to side. "They are the laziest bunch of people Ive ever met."
Before she finished her thought, the phone rang.
"I was right after all." She got up, with the phone in her hand, and replaced it on the wall. From the kitchen she said, "Lillian Hendrel. She lives or lived over on 35th and Pine."
She returned with a second helping of steak with freshly chopped mushrooms and fried onions. It was the only article of dinner allowed to be left in the kitchen. The steak was kept in the oven on a low setting. The rest of the dinner had been brought in and placed on the table.
"Do you really think she can help?" She asked.
"I dont know but it is a place to start."
"So youre taking the case." She smiled sarcastically.
My head was beginning to ache again.
Lillian Hendrel still lived on 35th and Pine. The wooden shutters hung from a single hinge and the brown paint had faded. There were two porch lights on either side of the front door that were lacking bulbs and the metal screen door had a dent in it the size of a basketball. I knocked on the door and waited. I wouldve tried the doorbell but it probably didnt work.
Lillian was no prize catch. She was five three and weighed near two hundred. Maybe two fifty. Slabs of meat hung off her short arms and the dress, all one half acre of it, was stained and ripped. Some rips revealed things that would have made the most hardened man loose his breakfast.
"What do you want?" She also lacked several teeth.
I must have been transfixed at the few remaining teeth that survived the war against oral hygiene because she cocked her head and said,
"I dont have all day, mister. Well?"
"Im sorry maam. I was wondering if I could talk to you about Karen Watkins."
"That all depends. You a cop?"
She said it in a tone that could have made the answer go either way. Impersonating a policeman is a criminal offense but if no one knows, its not really a crime. However, she looked like she had her fill with the cops. When in doubt, try the truth. So I told her. She listened patiently and even waited until I finished before slamming the door in my face. So much for the truth.
I did an about-face and began walking down the steps when her rough voice called out,
"Wait a minute mister."
I turned back and approached the door. "Yes."
"I guess if it would help her. If it was my daughter and someone could help, I hope they would. Come on in and get out of this heat."
She held the screen door and we walked into the air-conditioned living room. Out of the side window a single air conditioner pumped out cold air. The television, sitting on a broken stand, was telling the story of another gripping soap opera. There were a couple of pictures on the wall near the door but because all the shades were drawn, it was too dim to get a good look at them. I sat down on the threadbare couch and watched my hostess fix two glasses of iced tea. She brought them back and handed me one.
"Day like today, you got to drink plenty of liquids. This is the real stuff. Brewed it myself. I never did care for that instant stuff."
I cautiously took a sip. It tasted like how my sock would smell like after a baseball game.
"Its good." I said trying not to wince. "Do you use lemon."
"Hell no. Thats natural. No sugar, no lemon. Just tea. Now what do you need to know about Ms. Watkins?"
"Start from the beginning."
"Well, I guess it was about five years ago. Billy and I got into a little trouble, if you know what I mean, and not wanting to take on the responsibility of a child, we decided to put it up for adoption. We had no insurance or money, so we went down to the clinic. One day, we were waiting for some test or something and this Karen Watkins came to see us in the room. She said she heard about our thoughts for adoption and told us how she didnt care for clinics too much. She took us on as her patients in return for giving up my daughter for adoption."
"How did she do that?"
"We signed a piece of paper. You know like a promissory note. It said that we were aware of what we were doing and she wasnt putting any pressure on us"
"Did you get a copy."
She chuckled. "Hell no. It was in case we had any ideas of changing our minds. A little insurance."
"But you changed it anyway?"
"Yeah. I just couldnt go through with it. We had it out in her office and she reminded me of the agreement. I told her what she could do with her agreement."
"Did she say where she kept those letters?"
"She only said they were close by and she could get them at a moments notice. Anyway, I didnt trust her any, so I went straight to the hospital."
"You dont look like the squealing type, Lillian."
"What do you mean?"
"You conned her into thinking you wanted to give your daughter up for adoption so you would have hospital type care at clinics prices."
She began smiling, or rather gumming. "That so."
"Yeah. For starters, you dont have any pictures of your daughter. The lights are dim but not dim enough to see the figures in those pictures. Five pictures. None are of a child. Families usually have walls full of collages displaying their children. You dont even have a wallet-sized photo. You had the baby knowing you were going to give it up. Why split the money when you can have it all to yourself."
"I think Ive given you enough of my time."
"I think youre right."
I took the only useful piece of information from my encounter to Karens home. The For Sale sign stood defiantly in the tall brown grass. Someone, probably from the real estate agency, had mowed the grass before since there were a few clumps of dead grass in long, evenly spaced rows sporadically throughout the yard. The exterior was in good shape considering it had been abandoned for four years. Broken windows had plywood placed over them, the front porch needed paint badly, and the vinyl siding needed to be power washed. I pulled into the driveway and stopped in front of the detached garage whose exterior siding and colors matched the house. The back yard had the same fate as the front, except the back porch had never been painted. I peeked into the window of the back door. Dust and cobwebs roamed freely. I walked back around and climbed into a freshly broken window that led into the dining room.
There had been quite a party. Cans and bottles littered the floors and some of the covers had been removed from the furniture. There was still a lingering smell of marijuana in the air. I went to the front door, unlocked and opened it, which served two purposes. To clear out the stench and if anyone happened along, I was just an interested buyer who, wanting to take a look, found the door unlocked.
I knew it was a long shot since the police had probably been over every square inch of the place but if Karen could reach them at a moments notice, she probably kept them here or at her office. By now, her office was sure to be occupied by someone else and it was by chance that her house wasnt. Then again people are squeamish about buying a house someone died in.
After two hours of searching a few obvious places and many obscure ones, I sat down on one of the sofas, whose protective sheet had been removed, and sat on a beer cap. It had been bent in half and its point jabbed me in the backside. As I removed the cap, I noticed the seam of the cushion had been re-sewn using a different color thread than the rest of the cushions. I never carry a pocketknife and since there were no knives in the drawers, I used the cap to saw at the stitching. I pulled out the Styrofoam padding and using the same sawing motion cut the stitches in the padding and removed a plain envelope. Before I had the chance to open it, I saw two cars pull in the driveway. A police car and a blue two door sedan.
The policeman, tall with a crew cut, came in first. "Can I help you, sir?"
"Actually, I was hoping to catch the agent whos representing the place."
"That would be me."
I heard the voice but didnt see the cops lips move. I said to him, "Do that again."
He frowned disapprovingly and a short balding man stepped out from behind him. He had the look of a worried man and the site of the place didnt help any.
"Oh, good." I said. "I saw this place in the paper and it would be just the place for my family and I to get settled. It needs a little work but it could do. The door was open when I arrived, I hope you dont mind." I just hoped the house was advertised in the paper.
"Yeah, its a good place. Weve been running the ad every week for the last four years. With the cost of the ad, we couldve bought it ourselves." He let out a nervous giggle.
"Well, I guess Im no longer needed," said the cop. He turned to the agent. "Unless you want me to fill out a report for the damages."
"No, its okay. Its those damn kids again. Theres only a few more windows they could break and then that should do it."
The cop turned back to me and went to say something. He looked at my hand. "Whats that?" I was glad it took him a while to notice the envelope. It gave me a chance to think of something plausible.
"Its my wifes idea of divide and conquer. Weve seen about a dozen houses in the paper. I got six and she got six. If I like the house, well both come back later to make the decision together. And vice versa."
He didnt like my story but he had no choice. "Next time, see the agent first before walking in." He turned around and was gone.
The real estate agent walked over and picked up some of the cans. "Damn kids," he muttered then looked up. "So what do you think of the house?"
"Its nice. Hard to believe its unoccupied."
"Yeah. Family was here about four years ago. Wifes father lived in the area. When he died, they packed up and moved."
His eyes were desperately trying not to lie but they gave him away. I took his card and told him I would be in touch trying not to let my eyes get the better of me.
It was around noon and the traffic in the city was backed up because of construction. I later found as I passed the site, there were more red cones than people. As a matter of fact there were no people or cars, just cones. I parked in the loading zone in front of my building and walked up to my office. A pile of mail greeted me inside the door along with a wall of heat. I opened the window and stuck my head out to see the digital display on the post in front of the bank that shows the time and temperature. Ninety-four degrees and it was only twelve thirty. I turned on the radio and opened the envelope. Inside were thirty form letters signed by three people: Karen Watkins, the mother, and the father of the baby. I sorted through them until I found the one I was looking for and read the names. Shelly Winston and Jimmy Ramsey. Id heard of their names before but still couldnt connect them. I leaned back and tried to remember. The only thing I could concentrate on were the sounds of the traffic filtering up through the window, however, I did have a hunch. Luck was running in my direction so I thought Id play it out. I reached for the phone and dialed the citys finest.
"Lt. McGreggors office."
"Lou, tell me where Ive heard the names Shelly Winston and Jimmy Ramsey."
"They were killed in a car accident six years ago. Ran their car off the bridge." He hung up.
I retrieved a beer from the refrigerator and opened the door hoping to create a cross breeze that would help break the heat. The only breeze I could create was if I blew out really hard and after a couple of minutes of that I felt like passing out. I was contemplating whether or not I should drive into Jersey and go to the track when Jennifer walked in. She sat down in the chair. I offered her a drink but she declined.
"Did you find anything?" She asked.
I didnt want to lie but I really didnt want to tell her that her parents were dead. Even though she had a right to know.
"I got some leads but I didnt find out anything definite. Im still waiting on a few things." The best lie was between two truths. Besides, they might not be dead, I only had the word of a police Lieutenant.
"But you promised-"
" I promised twenty four hours. Im well beyond that. I havent asked for anything and I dont intend to. Before I tell you, I want to make sure, thats all. Todays Tuesday. I should know definitely by tomorrow afternoon, evening the latest."
"Youre just checking to make sure they really are my parents?" She said it to reassure herself.
"Yes." A barefaced lie. There was no point in dressing it up.
"I look forward to hearing from you." She almost leaped out of the chair with excitement as a hollow pain began to fill my stomach.
As she went to the door, she said "hello" to someone. I looked up and saw Lou had stepped out of the way to let her pass and then checked her out as she walked down the hall.
"If you leave the door open, anything is liable to stray in." I said.
"New client." His head motioned to the door.
"I should go private. The only women I get down at the station are either old or fat."
"You shouldnt be so hard on your wife. I wouldnt call her fat. Big boned maybe. But not fat. Besides, shed got a great personality."
"Piss off." He said with a laugh and threw a bag on the desk. "Roast beef or turkey?"
He helped himself to a beer and potato chips while I helped my self to a sub.
"So what do you want?" I said suspiciously.
"Yes. You never buy me lunch. You stick me with the check but you never pay. Incidentally, thanks for hanging up on me."
"Sorry. What have you got."
"All right. I came to you." He said surrendering and removed the plastic from his sub, opened the bag of chips, and mashed some into the sub. He took a couple of bites and said,
"Shelly Winston and Jimmy Ramsey drove their car off the bridge at about three in the morning. His blood-alcohol was a full point over the legal limit. He probably fell asleep because there were no skid marks. He must have been going pretty fast to go through the metal beams of the bridge." He took a few more bites.
"What about the girl?"
"Im getting to that. We had an eyewitness, a truck driver that passed the car just before it got on the bridge. He said that a woman was driving the car and that the passenger was hunched over, leaning against the door. He said he got a pretty good look because, with the construction, the bridge was reduced to twenty-five. Even though the crews werent there, it remains in effect. Anyway, when we retrieved the car from the drink, there were no bodies in the car. Which is okay. Considering impact and all." He took a few more bites and washed it down with the beer. "This was our problem." He said while mashing more chips into the sub. "The driver of the car went through the windshield, however, the passenger didnt."
"No bodies in the car?" I said and he confirmed with a nod since his mouth was occupied with the sub. "Doors and other windows were closed and intact?" Another nod. "One person in the car when it went over."
He was done chewing. "Yes and no."
"So either the passenger was thrown out on impact at the bridge and the door was closed on impact in the water or there was only one person in the car. And since you bought me lunch, the answer is probably B. One person in the car."
"We drug one body out. He was definitely the driver when that car went over. Cuts and abrasions caused by glass and broken ribs caused by the steering wheel. The tide was dead low and after we got one out and found out there was two, the tide changed twice. We didnt find her."
"Suspicious." I continued working on lunch.
"It gets better. Jimmy Ramsey was from this city. I grew up with him and we used to hang out on the playground or played football. You know, kids stuff. In his senior year, he met some girl. Unfortunately, we grew apart around the time we entered high school and I didnt know who, then. After graduation, he split. Not to college, or even the Army. Just split. Rumor had it that he got a girl pregnant and they took off together. Romance never dies. It just moves from city to city. Anyway, no body had seen or heard from him in almost fifteen years. Then suddenly his car takes a header off the bridge."
"What about the girl?!"
"Jimmys mother, Kate, told me her name. Thats all she knew since Jimmy never talked to her about his new girlfriend. Kate had a hard time remembering because he only mentioned her name a couple of times. So we checked. There was never a Shelly Winston born in this city. Closest we came was Shelly Winslow. We searched as far west as Ohio, south to Florida, and north to Maine and found plenty of Shelly Winstons. Too many. It would take us months to investigate every name to see if it was the girl Jimmy ran away with. Another thing is that if she used an alias, then that exhaustive search would be useless. So you see why I bought you lunch."
"Whats the status of the case."
"A new term we coined, Closed but Pending." He wiped his mouth with a napkin and got up. "If you need anything, let me know. In return, if you find anything, let me know." He turned to leave and I stopped him as he reached the door.
"What about the name of that truck driver."
"Ill call you with it."
The Wednesday morning special at the Truck Stop diner was a three-egg omelet, sausage, hash browns, toast, and coffee. I had the privilege of watching Bert Sampson eat it. Since he never chewed with his mouth closed, I was able to keep a steady eye on it while I ate mine.
It took four hours to reach him. First, going through his dispatcher. Then waiting for him to return the call to the dispatcher and finally, the dispatcher calling me. I agreed to meet him at the diner so that he could stay on his route and keep his delivery on time. I consented even though it was a two-hour drive.
"Its like I toldem, see." He said while chewing. "I was coming off the bridge and they was about to get on, see. I was going pretty slow cause of the construction and I was somewhat surprised to see anyone other than a trucker at that hour."
"And youre sure a woman was driving."
"Yep." He reached up and removed his dirty cap and scratched his head. Replaced the cap and continued. "I had a good couple of seconds to see. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, see. And she wasnt that big. You know how you can just tell its a woman rather than a man?"
"Did she see you?"
"Hmm." His worn hands rubbed the hair on his dark face. "I dont believe so. She mightve glanced but I doubt it."
"And the passenger?"
"Same thing. I could just tell it was a man, ya know. He was slumped over lying against the passenger side door. I only got a glimpse cause I could only see him through the windshield and with the streetlights there was a bit of a glare. Once I got up along side, I could only see her."
"Could it have not been a man but because you saw the woman driver, you assumed it was a man?"
He looked at me like he wanted to reach across the table and hit me in the mouth. Instead, he peered down at the table and thought. After a few seconds he looked up and said,
"I guess anythings possible. But Im pretty sure it was a man."
"I think youre right." I sopped up the last bit of egg yolk with my toast, dropped a twenty on the counter, and drove back to the city.
I was ten miles outside the citys limits when I heard the news. It was the top story on the local news channel and I had plenty of time to listen while I sat in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. The feminine voice did an excellent job reading from the paper. "Reginald Myers, owner of Myers Industries, was found dead this morning in his office. Apparently the victim of a self-inflicted gun shot wound. At this point, the police have no reason to suspect foul play. And in other news..." I turned it off.
Despite several protests and my better judgement, I escorted Jen to her fathers funeral. It was quite an impressive gathering of close family and friends and distinguished political and social figures. As the priest read three moving passages from the Bible, Jen, sitting in the front along side the bereaving wife, stared emptily at her fathers casket. I stood in the back, feeling uncomfortable, with some of Reginald Myers business associates who were more concerned with who was going to run the company then their dead partner. As Myers brother read a poem he wrote, I loosened my tie. It was the hottest day of the year and wearing a black suit didnt help it any. By the end of the poem, several sniffles could be heard and some mourners even wiped their face with a tissue. When the service was over and the condolences were given, Jen asked me to take her somewhere to eat. She wasnt particularly hungry but she didnt want to go back to the house. We settled on a quiet restaurant on the pier that overlooked the river. I tipped the maîtred enough money to keep the few surrounding tables unoccupied for the duration of our meal.
"I was always closer to my father than my mother." She said staring down at the empty cup of coffee. "Not that I didnt love her, because I did. She was always there for me and treated me like I was her own. But my dad-"
She didnt finish because a wave of sorrow came up and drug her down. She tried to hold back the tears but a few escaped the attempt. I wasnt a person comfortable with grief, especially with someone elses, so I reached across the table and, without saying anything, held the top of her hand. It wasnt sexual, it was just to let her know someone cared and was willing to listen. Apparently she got the hint. Her tear filled eyes looked up and a smile began to appear.
"I guess I never thanked you for this afternoon. I didnt have anyone to turn to."
"What about your fathers wife, Brenda?"
"I dont know her that well and I dont know, I feel, uncomfortable around her."
"They were only married a couple of years. But she tries to act like my mom. It was kind of flattering at first. But lately, its been overbearing. You see, she was my dads secretary before they were married. My mom was real sick and for him, it was someone to talk to. We talked too. But it was different for them. He said about a week before she died, that my mom didnt object to him and Brenda, you know-" I nodded. "But he said he wouldnt. That he was still married and loved her no matter what. He also reminded her of the vow he took. He loved her very much and was committed to her. After she died, my dad and Brenda dated, slowly at first, and then things accelerated. Since the marriage, she tries too hard to act like my mom. Its hard to explain because its less of what she says than how she acts."
"Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? They may be hard to answer, now may not be the best time."
"You sound like the cops. I told them that they were inconsiderate bastards for trying to interrogate me about my fathers death. But for you, anything." She laughed slightly and nibbled at her food. She had already eaten some rolls and soup and it seemed to increase her appetite and her sense of humor. I let go of her hand. It didnt seem to be needed. She was going to be fine.
"Why dont you start from about Tuesday night. Ill interrupt if I think of anything important."
She finished buttering another roll and took a few bites. "Well, I guess it was about four thirty. I was outside doing my usual laps in the pool when Brenda came out to tell me that my dad was staying late at work and that we should eat without him."
"She took the call?"
"I think. No, wait. Yeah, she wouldve had to since the housekeeper wouldve been gone by then. So, I finished my laps and went inside to the kitchen to peek at dinner. I did more than peek, I sampled." She laughed. "By the time I finished showering and came down for dinner, Brenda said that she had an errand to run and would eat later, with dad, if he was home. I asked her where and if she wanted some company but she said it was no big deal and for me to eat."
"What time did she get home?"
"I dont know. I had a date and stayed at my boyfriends." She added quickly, "I had too much to drink and didnt want to chance the drive."
"You dont have to explain. You said it yourself in my office, youre twenty one."
She became slightly embarrassed. "I guess youre right."
Our food arrived and the restaurant was beginning to become crowded. Since our late lunch was slowly running into dinner, I walked over to the maîtred and reminded him of our arrangement with a little more of an incentive. He took it graciously and reassured me that I wouldnt be disturbed. By the time I got back to my table, Jen had eaten a good portion of her meal. Id hate to see her when she was really hungry.
"One more question."
"Did your father own any guns?"
"Yes. He owned a thirty-eight. He kept it in the drawer of the nightstand by his bed. Hes shown me how to use it."
"Did Brenda know how to use it?"
"Definitely. It was mainly for protection when my mom was alive. It was no secret that he worked late some nights and, on occasion, would stay over in his office. My mom was to the point that she couldnt get out of bed. The cancer had spread quickly and become too painful. She was too weak to defend herself, so he got a gun. Not that he had any intention of ever really needing it. It was just to ease my moms mind. She was kind of a worrier."
"Did you know when he took it to the office?"
"I had no idea it was at the office. The police told me they were sure it was the gun from the house because it was registered to him. They asked me to identify it, just for the record, but thats when I gave them an ear full. At some point I guess I have to go down there."
"When you do, if you need backup, let me know."
"Thanks. I may just do that."
I dropped Jennifer off at a friends and made it across town to the precinct. Jen hadnt mentioned the information I had about her parents and I didnt volunteer any. Since none of it would help her present situation. Knowing and not telling only made me feel worse since that was the reason she came to me in the first place. I parked illegally on Twenty First street and walked two blocks and up the concrete steps. I stopped and talked to a friendly sergeant who remembered me from a previous case. He held back some of the resentment and bitterness that had built up since our last encounter. Apparently, after solving the case before him, he didnt buy into my theory of cooperating as one universal crime fighting team. I checked my gun at the desk and walked up the stairs, then down a long hall to Lous office. He greeted me with a drink and invited me to sit down.
"Saw you at the funeral this morning." He said. "Didnt know you knew Reginald Myers."
"I only met him once. I went for the sake of his daughter. And you?"
"I went to school with him." He shook his head slowly. "Whew! It seems like a long time ago."
"What do you have on the shooting?"
"Ah! Down to business." He poured us another drink and reached for a file on his desk. "Appeared to be a self-inflicted wound until the coroner found a needle mark behind his left ear. The mark was recent, twenty-four hours before his death. Were pretty sure it was immediately preceding the gunshot. The traces of whatever were in that needle are unknown as of," he looked at his watch. "One, one thirty this afternoon. Once we saw the needle mark we went back over it. From a homicide perspective. Two things of interest: there was a red, irritated area on the back of his neck around the collar. First inspection, it looked to be caused from the shirt being too tight and from moving his neck, it caused a rash." I raised my eyebrow. "I know. I know. It was weak but everything pointed to suicide. It turned out he was hit in the back of the head just hard enough to knock him out but not hard enough to bruise. Second, there were two cigarette buts in the ashtray. Now, Myers didnt smoke. We interviewed the cleaning lady of the building. She had arranged to clean the offices early that day and night because she had somewhere to be. She was positive that she cleaned his office at four oclock that afternoon and that there were no ashes in the ashtray."
"So Myers had a visitor."
"One that didnt wear lipstick. Or we couldve narrowed our search down to only half the people in the U.S."
"Did you get the brand name?"
"Sure. Its right here in the file." He threw it at me. "Help yourself."
I read the file. "Could I get a copy of this statement?"
"Are you out of your mind?" He leaned forward resting his elbows on the edge of the desk. "You know thats against policy. I like being a Lt. and I plan to keep it that way."
"Just let me borrow it for the weekend. Ill give it back Monday morning. No one but you or I will know."
He sat staring for a minute. "All right, what the Hell." He got up and crossed the office and went out the door. I heard his footsteps down the hall and enter another room. He must have left the door open because I only heard it close and him lock it before his feet made their echoing return to the office. He handed me the copy. "Now give."
"Its probably nothing. I just want to check."
"Get out of my office," he snorted. "The next time I want to see you is Monday morning. With that report!"
I got up and grabbed the doorknob. Before I left, I turned and said, "What did Jimmy Ramsey look like?"
His face contorted slightly. "What the Hell-. Never mind, I dont want to know. He was my height, six two, blonde hair, brown eyes, and had a childhood scar below his chin from when we were on the playground."
Saturday morning traffic on the expressway was light, which cut the drive to New Haven almost in half. I made it to the Myers residence from memory, aside from a few wrong turns, and pulled up behind the familiar car that had driven me there several days ago. I strode up the brick walk and onto the front porch of the Victorian home. No one answered the doorbell so I tried the knocking approach. After about five minutes, Jen, in a pair of blue jeans and white T-shirt, answered. Her hair was wet and a red towel hung around her neck. There was also the smell of freshly applied perfume hanging in the air.
"Im sorry it took me so long. I was just getting out of the shower when I heard the door. Brenda must be out by the pool. Oh, where are my manners. Come inside. Would you like a drink?"
"No, thanks. So Brenda is here?"
"Yes. At least she was twenty minutes ago."
"Could you get her for me? Ill wait in the study."
Her voice dropped an octave. "Whats this about, anyway?"
"Its nothing, Jen. I just need to ask her a few questions."
"Okay. Im glad you came. I was going to drive into the city and contact you. I have some questions for you too. I havent forgotten what you told me in your office."
She smiled and walked me to the study. Her voice had gone back to normal with the thought of finding out who her parents were. After all the tragedy surrounding her fathers death, it seemed to be the silver lining in a very dark cloud. I walked to the large window in the study and saw Jen emerge from a sliding glass door along the side of the house. Her strides had bounce. She had gone back to drying her hair as she relayed the message. Brenda was in the same place she occupied the last time I saw her. She put her book down on the table next to the chair, swung her legs around, and lifted herself off the chair. She grabbed her robe that was draped over the table, then her sunglasses. Jen was already halfway to the house by the time Brenda got up from the chair.
It took nearly five minutes for Brenda to join me in the study. She looked older than she did from the distance to the pool. Her eyes had deep crows feet and her face began to sag slightly. Especially around the cheeks and under her eyes. She walked past me, without uttering a sound, and sat at the large desk. I walked over to the door and closed it. Waited a second and reopened the door just to make sure Jen didnt sneak back and position herself in eavesdropping range.
"Im glad you could see me on such short notice."
"I believe I ought to thank you. What you did for Jennifer was very generous. I know she appreciates it and so do I. But I dont see how I could be any help."
"I need you to clear up a few points."
I pointed to the desk. "How many people have keys to this desk?"
"Just my husband."
"Other than your husband, who had access to this desk."
"Without the key no one."
"Exactly. Brenda- Do you mind if I call you Shelly? That is your real name isnt it? Or at least another one from your list?"
"Im sure I have no idea what youre talking about."
"I think you do." I reached behind my back and pulled out a manila envelope that I hid when I got out of my car. I opened the envelope and removed the faded picture. "I thought it was funny that a picture of Jens father, her real father, would appear in Reginalds desk. When I asked your husband about having knowledge to the birth parents of Jen, he didnt. And rightfully so. Since he neither met the real parents nor the person responsible for the adoption. What was really disturbing was the realization that the picture isnt even of the real father because you didnt have one."
"I think you should leave." She went to stand but I barked, "Sit down!" She sat defiantly behind the desk.
"Im going to give you a theory, a hypothetical situation. It lacks hard evidence but it sure as Hell has enough circumstantial evidence to keep the cops occupied. Im only one man but they have hundreds of men eagerly awaiting new dirt to dig. You met Jimmy Ramsey, the hows and whys arent important, and you got pregnant. His mother wouldnt accept it so you both split. But before doing so you met up with Dr. Karen Watkins and arranged an illegal adoption. It had to be illegal because for some reason, which Ill leave to the police, you couldnt give them your name. I know its hypothetical but how do you like it so far."
I could feel her eyes and see the hatred building up. She pursed her lips but didnt say anything.
"Then about six years ago you decided to come back. Why?"
"And Jimmy passes out and thats when you get the big idea. You set it so that it appeared Jimmy fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the bridge. What you didnt count on was someone saw you driving the car moments before it went off the bridge. Since you werent well known, you dropped back in town and tried to find your daughter. You saw Karen Watkins, you had to, since she was the only one that would know. She keeps detailed records. On the back of the note you signed was the buyer for your daughter. It must have been a big shock to know that your daughter was sold to a very wealthy businessman. So you took a job with him and when you found out his wife was ill, you were conveniently there to lend a shoulder for him to cry on. You mustve thought it was Divine Intervention."
She crossed one leg over on the other and reached into her robe, pulled out a cigarette, and lit it.
"Thats where you must have gotten a little greedy. You found an old photo. Doctored it up enough so that it looked old enough, wrote some stuff on the back which made it obvious that the man in the picture must be Jens father. Unfortunately, your husband didnt find it, Jen did. But that didnt stop you. You went ahead with the plan anyway. The only bad break you had was smoking before you killed him. You didnt know the cleaning lady had already been there. Interesting brand by the way. I believe they found two at the crime scene."
"You have no proof other than some old photo."
"A photo with your handwriting on it."
She dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "I dont think so."
I reached into the envelope and stopped leaving my hand concealed in the envelope. "Heres your handwritten statement you gave to the police when you were too distraught to go downtown to give your statement. It doesnt take a handwriting expert to match the writing. Theres the truck driver that can identify you the night you killed Jimmy Ramsey." He probably couldnt but I was going for broke. "Youre smoking the same cigarettes that were found at the scene of the crime. And I have your signature on the consent form that you signed and gave to Karen Watkins that allowed the illegal sale of your baby. Im sure the handwriting is identical in all three cases."
She finally spoke. "You said it was only hypothetical. So, how much, hypothetically, would it take for you to disappear?"
"You dont have enough. Ive spent the better part of a week lying to someone who put their trust in me. There isnt enough money to erase that."
She slammed her hand down on the desk. "All right." She bit her lower lip. "I killed them. Jimmy was nothing more than a scared weasel who couldnt let go of his mothers umbilical cord. After I was pregnant, I wanted to stay but he insisted. I didnt want to give her up but I had no choice. Fortunately, he drank a lot, and one night we decided to go and find her. He was drunk and it was easy to talk him into it. We only moved into Maryland and it was a short drive. He fell asleep and by God, I pushed that abusing son of a bitch into the river." She was breathing fast and her sentences became rushed. "When I took the job for Reginald, I didnt know Jen was my daughter. But when I saw her for the first time, I could see the resemblance to Jimmy. I asked him about her but he didnt say she was adopted. But I just knew." She turned and faced the window. "You have no idea what it was like to hold your daughter and then have her taken just like that!" She turned and snapped her fingers. Tears had built up in her eyes and her face was red.
"You had a choice."
"No I didnt! I, like a fool, told Karen why I needed to keep my identity a secret. She held it over me the entire time. When I went back to see her, I had every intention of killing her. Slowly. I wanted to make up for the years of torture shed caused me. But when I got there, her practice and life were crumbling and I could see she was being tortured! It took her awhile to remember me but she finally did. She was worn down and willingly gave me the information. And I left her in her misery. As she did me."
Her thought was abruptly interrupted with the loud shot. I ran to the door and could smell her perfume. I made it to the foyer ahead of Shelly and dashed up the steps, two at a time. I didnt know where the bedroom was so I made a right at the steps and quickly checked rooms. Shellys shriek made me realize I had chosen the wrong direction. By the time I made it back, Shelly was on the floor sitting next to her. Jens bloody head was in her lap and Shelly was pushing Jens head hard against her abdomen as if to stop the blood. The pistol was still in Jens limp hand and I grabbed it before her mother got any more big ideas.
Lou was kind enough, for both of our sakes, to take the photocopy of the statement hed lent me. I kept my end of the bargain. I never showed it to Shelly, she only had my word that it was really in the envelope. I was allowed to drive my own car to the precinct and was escorted, without the use of cuffs or extra security, to Lous office. He gave me a cup of coffee and left. I had waited three hours before he returned. He walked into the office and closed the door behind him and walked around to his desk. I had rarely seen him out of suit and tie and the tan lines around his arms and his white legs made him look aloof in the small office. Like a kid who sits behind his fathers desk.
"Now youre going to give it to me straight or Ill lock your ass up right now. Understand?"
I did and recited what I knew, right down to illegally entering Karen Watkins house and finding the notes.
"That explains why you wanted the statement. Not that it will matter much. She confessed the whole thing. Her lawyer practically pulled his hair out. He kept telling her to shut up and she kept on answering like he wasnt even there. He even told her that she was wasting her attempt at pleading temporary insanity. Her answer to that was very simple, I was conscious of my actions the entire time. I was neither insane nor unaware that I committed a crime. She will probably get the chair. Also, her real name in Sandra Burroughs. Fingerprints matched those of another homicide in Jersey where she killed a man, who turned out to be her pimp. Warrant has been pending for twenty-two years. She must have gotten pregnant with Jim shortly after that which would explain her insistence on keeping her identity closed." He must have noticed that I wasnt paying him any attention. "Listen, why dont you go home. Ill get your statement Monday." He got up and left the office. I tossed the paper cup in the trash and followed.
I finished the glass of whiskey and looked at the half empty bottle. The sun began to take over, warming my body. I got up and faced the window, holding on to the wall for support. It was hard to focus on the few people in the street because they kept spinning in circles. I leaned my head against the window and got up the strength to walk to the door. I quickly peeked, just in case, but she wasnt there. I dont remember closing the door on the way out. The next thing I knew it was Tuesday and I was standing in the back row of another funeral.
Copyright © 1999 Edward D