Authors: Duffy Prendergast
Copyright © 2013 by Martin Prendergast. All rights reserved.
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2. Fiction / Literary
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”
Mathew VI, 22
“How did you do it?” whispered the detective into my ear as if he were prying a secret from an intimate friend.
The paper cup of water slipped from my hand and splattered my shoes. Up to that point I thought our conversation was informal; an effort to fill in some details before putting Catherine’s case to bed. I knew that I hadn’t been there for long, but it had seemed like forever. Never before had someone so close to me died, so the whole process was new to me. I looked around the room. Mirrored walls. A long table with four plastic tan chairs. Empty brown paper coffee cups on the table.
“Do what?” I answered.
“You know. How did you do it?”
I felt the muscles in my face clench in anger, “What’s wrong with you?” My voice trembled as my mouth dried up and seemed to fill with sand. I stepped back a half pace and found the backs of my legs pressed against my chair. The taller detective half-smiled and half- sneered at me as he sat me, no, forced me, into the chair, pressing a powerful hand upon my shoulder. His frame was thick. He had blue eyes which he squinted together. His hair was full and short and neat and parted about the middle of his head. Sprigs of grey flecked the sides of his head above his ears. He wore a paper-thin white button-down dress shirt, and I saw the pink of his flesh right through it.
“You think that I killed my wife?” I felt my jaw slacken and my wrinkled brow un-furl, “She died in her sleep.”
I searched his eyes for a clue but his eyes were dark and vacant. “How did she die…?” I choked on the word “die” and tears filled my eyes as the memory of Catherine’s face appeared in my mind. Auburn hair. Thick dark eyebrows and long full eyelashes. Dark blue irises. And an adorable faint birthmark on the bottom of her right cheek that she was so self-conscious of. She always wore cover up to hide it. “The cause of death…what did she die of?”
The cop heeled his palm on the Formica table between us and collapsed into a tan plastic chair across from me. My eyes darted about the room as I assembled the scattered pieces of that puzzling day into a panoramic collage. Catherine was Beautiful even in death as she lay on the bed next to me. Her skin was sun-basted, but the remnants of her summer tan were fading. She was slowly turning blue. I vaguely remember my daughter sobbing with me, and trying desperately to pull me from Catherine’s body, begging me to get up. I remember paramedics arriving, and a gurney being wheeled into our bedroom; a white sheet pulled over Catherine’s face and then a warm firm hand clasping my shoulder. And I remember some consoling words being whispered to me by a female neighbor. I could think of nothing that would have pointed to murder.
The interrogation room was dead silent outside of our breathing.
It hadn’t sunk in, until that moment, but these cops were serious. I was being interrogated. I was a suspect in the death of my wife.
“What was the cause of my wife’s death?” I heard my voice growl in an unfamiliar intonation.
He didn’t respond. He just stared at me as though he were trying to read me. Was he waiting for me to say something?
“How did she die?” Adrenaline filled my veins. I stood and pounded my fist on the table with so much force that a few empty paper-cups toppled and rolled off the table.
The cop showed no emotion. He didn’t even flinch. He stood and circled the table until he was right in front of me. He placed his face in front of mine, his nose to my nose. I backed up slightly, confused by his invasion of my personal space, but he pursued me and came within a fraction of brushing his eyelashes against my own.
“How old is your daughter?”
“Seven.” I tried to steady my breathing to ease my anger.
“Kind of late in life to start a family, no?”
“Yeah, I suppose…”
He turned away from me and took a few steps before turning around, “Was your wife happy about raising a child so late in life?” “Catherine loved Sarah.” I raised my voice, and then drew a breath to calm myself, “We tried to have children for years but we gave up a long time ago…and then….”
“So your wife wasn’t suicidal.”
“No.” I shook my head, “Catherine didn’t kill herself. That’s not the least bit possible. Catherine was happy. We…” I swallowed hard, “We made love just the night before she…” I raised my hand and shook my finger at him, “She was happy.”
“How do you suppose your wife got pregnant after all those years of trying?”
“What are you driving at? First you ask me how I did it, and then you ask me if she might have killed herself. What do you want me to say?”
“I asked you how your wife got pregnant…after all those years?”
“I don’t know, Sarah just sort of came to us.”
“After all those years of trying?”
“Yeah. Our little surprise.” I pictured Catherine holding our swaddled newborn, Sarah, in her arms as she lay on the hospital bed.
“Did you ever get tested to see if it was you or your wife that had the problem?”
I wiped my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt, “No.” I lied. It was too personal a question.
“Come on! Never asked your doc? Not the least bit curious?”
I decided at that moment that I had nothing else to say to him. I was innocent. He stared hard at me. I could hear my heart beating. My mouth was dry again, my palms sweaty. I tried not to swallow, thinking that my dry choking gulp would convey guilt.
“Who is Amber?” A wry smile curled the sides of his mouth as he continued to stare me down. The man was amazing. He never blinked.
“Who?” I said, knowing exactly who he meant.
“Amber.” His eyes squinted at me as he feigned confusion. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know any Amber.” I pretended to search my mind. “Unless… do you mean…” I paused deliberately, “Amber Havisham?”
“You tell me?”
I waited a moment. She was the only Amber I knew. “She’s a client.” I shook my head in disbelief, though I knew that I was telling only a half truth.
There was a long uncomfortable silence. The cop seemed to like to use silence like a sharp tool, digging and prodding at my wounds for a tell. I tried to hold my expression; to keep from flinching or relaxing or blinking, but he outlasted me and I dropped my eyes.
“You spent an awful lot of time on the telephone with her.”
“I spend a lot of time on the telephone with a lot of my clients,” I snapped back.
“Your cell phone?” “Yes, my cell phone!”
“At eleven o’clock at night?” The wry smile returned. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a yellow piece of legal paper. “Until one o’clock in the morning… just a few nights before your wife was murdered?” He shoved the crumpled legal paper into his trouser pocket and removed a cigarette from inside his shirt pocket, (Marlboro, I could see through the fabric) and lit it with a silver lighter.
“Yes.” I heard my voice squelch.
Of course I knew who Amber was, but she lived in Wichita.
“God-damn-it!” I slammed my fist down onto the table again. “I did not kill my wife!” I stood abruptly, forcing my chair to fly backwards slamming it into the wall and toppling it onto its side, “and I am not having an affair. My client lives in Kansas!”
He paused again, looking up at the ceiling as if in deep thought. “What if I told you that she was in Cleveland last night?”
His words sucked the saliva from my mouth. This was news to me, and it imposed a long heavy silence. “Why would she?”
“I don’t know. Why would she?”
“What are you talking about? She’s a middle class housewife in Kansas! What the hell would she be doing in Cleveland?”
“You tell me.”
What could I say? What could I
him? I had no idea whether what he had said was true or false. To tell you the truth I wasn’t sure that he was lying. But why would she come to Cleveland? Did she come here to kill my wife? “I want a lawyer.” I heard myself say.
He looked at me thoughtfully, studying my face as he did so. This pause was not for effect. I had surprised
“You want a lawyer? What for?” He took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke toward me before dropping it into the remains of his cold coffee. “You’re not under arrest, Mr. Derrick.”
All I had wanted to do from the moment of his accusation was to escape the suffocating air of the room. The room appeared to be shrinking with every passing second and I felt the onset of panic tremor through my body. I stood and took a few unsteady steps toward the door.
“This Amber Havisham,” I stopped and looked back at him, “Have you ever met her in person, Mr. Derrick, or can I call you Matt?”
“You can call me, Mr. Derrick.” I glared at the man with true hatred, “And no, I have never met her.” I stepped behind him and walked to the end of the room and opened the door.
“Would you like to?” he said.
I froze. I turned back toward him with caution, “Like to what?”
“Meet her.” He pointed behind himself with his thumb toward a door that I hadn’t even noticed until then. “What if I told you that she was in the next room?”
I paused, “That isn’t funny.” My head was spinning. I felt as though I were going to be sick.
He stepped toward the door and started to open it stopping short after cracking the door just a few inches. He was baiting me, and I knew it, and I didn’t want to feed into his little game. If I had shown any interest, any curiosity at all, he would have thought that I was in bed with Amber, so to speak. And I knew that there was no one behind that door.
“Yeah, right.” I said, and then I turned and walked out, closing the door behind me.
If she had been behind the door I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe that she would kill my wife. I sure didn’t want to see her if she
killed my wife. I took out my cell phone and I dialed her number. I waited for her to answer but all I got was a recorded message: “Sorry, this phone number has been temporarily disconnected.”
Like a claustrophobic escaping from a closet I pushed the twin glass front doors of the police station open with a burst. I felt that, for the first time in hours, I could draw air into my deflated lungs. I wondered how long I had been cooped up inside the police station. The sun was fading down past the sparsely leaved trees.
The reality of Catherine’s death hit me hard once I was out of the building as it had so often for the past week. I put my hands to my face and I tried to hold back my emotions but I started to sob aloud. I know this was selfish and horrible of me, but I was suddenly consumed by an emptiness I had not felt before, like I was the only living person on a sunless planet, and I had plenty of food and water…enough to last me a lifetime…only I no longer had a reason to be. Catherine was the only woman I had ever loved. I felt vacant inside and so very lonely. I actually grew angry at Catherine for stranding me. I wished it were me that was dead. That would have been easier.
I looked to the twilight sky and let out a silent scream of anger toward the god who supposedly watched over me.
It would be dark soon.
Cars sped past the station, their head- lights bright and their engines muffled by the foliage which towered around me. The parking-lot was spattered with black-and-white police cars mixed among a variety of colorful civilian cars.
car was nowhere to be seen. I realized then that I had not driven my car to the station. I had been driven in the back seat of a police cruiser. This revelation did nothing to boost my spirits.
I surveyed the sun while I rubbed the chill from my arms with my hands. I tried to estimate the time it would take for the sun to fade from sight and compared it to the distance I had to travel. Perhaps ten minutes of daylight, I thought, maybe a little longer.
This might not have been a problem for your average adult male…but it so happened that I was deathly afraid of the dark. Clinically afraid of being alone in the dark.
On foot my trip would take twenty minutes easily. I felt for my wallet and opened it. Three bucks. Not enough for cab fare. I could have asked a cop for a ride, but I had had enough of them to satisfy a lifetime of curiosity.
I suppressed my fear as best as I could and I began the long walk to my house heading north toward-and then east down-Lakeshore Boulevard. The air was dry and cool and smelled of dead leaves. Dead leaves crumpled under my feet. I was
tired. Death seemed to be the theme of the day.
I walked swiftly. I hated time alone. I had too much time to think. What would I do? How could I raise Sarah on my own? How could I survive? I hadn’t cooked or cleaned or laundered a shirt in twenty-five years. I began to cry again, only this time quietly, at the thought of Catherine being gone forever; at the finality of her death. I must have looked a sight with my uncombed mussed hair, my unshaven face and my wrinkled clothes. I must have smelled (the pits of my shirt soaked through) much worse than I looked. I lifted my head to the darkened grey sky and I begged the God that I had moments ago cursed to help me through that moment in time but it seemed to me that there was no one there to hear me pray.
I surveyed the sky again. The trees around me seemed to be swallowing up the little bit of light that remained. I picked up my pace and slowly worked up to an ever increasing panicked trot.
I turned south onto Erie Road and I slowed my trot to a light jog as I climbed up the first of several hills which were divided by long valleys and guarded by towering almost leafless oak and maple trees. My weary feet stumbled on the crumbling asphalt pavement. Leaves covered the street (there was no side- walk). Each stride seemed like an unbearable burden. I was tired. I hadn’t eaten in twenty- four hours. I was completely out of shape. I had had only coffee; and the empty energy that the caffeine had sustained in me was wearing off.
But I had to get back to Sarah. She was only seven and she became hysterical when the police picked me up at home. She had clung to me like ivy ever since Catherine’s…murder. Would she be at home? Catherine’s mother, Rita, came over to watch her so that I could go to the police station for the…interrogation. But I had been gone for so long that Rita might have taken her home.