Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fractured (beginning)

Dee woke up with a jolt, sitting straight up with her eyes wide open and her hands automatically cradling her slightly rounded belly. It took just a moment for her to see that she was safe, and then she let out a heavy sigh of relief.

“I heard you cry out,” her husband said as he rushed into the bedroom. “Are you okay?”

Dee moved her hands to rub her arms from her elbows to the edge of the capped sleeves on her nightgown.

“I’m fine,” she told him, but the faint trace of fear in her voice was still there. She moved her hands to hold her belly once again.

“Was it the nightmare again?”

She nodded slowly. Always the same horrid nightmare with each pregnancy. She wished it wouldn’t happen, but with each baby, it seemed to get worse.

The bed dipped slightly as her husband climbed next to her and wrapped his arms around her.

“Do you want to tell me about it,” he asked quietly.

“No. Not tonight,” she whispered. He knew what it was. It was always so painfully similar—being trapped, a horrid attacker, no escape.

His arms were a soothing comfort. She felt herself relax against him, and he kissed her cheek. He held her close, but she knew she couldn’t relax enough to go back to sleep.

“I’m fine,” she reassured him.

He leaned back and brushed a stray lock of hair from the side of her face.

“I’ll make you a midnight snack,” he smiled.

She smiled back. He knew how to make her forget the horrible nightmare whenever it cropped up.

“Will it be a snack involving chocolate?”

“Has it ever not been?” he laughed.

Her smile grew. “Let me check on the girls, then I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

“You’ve got it!” He popped up ahead of her and left her to check on the two sweet daughters tucked into their beds.

The Prodigal Daughter

      The entrance to the church was raised so that one had to step over it in order to pass through the door. It was a small, stone structure, barely more than twelve or fourteen feet wide, irregularly shaped and windowless. It dated back to the eleventh century, though it was impossible to be more specific. In addition to a simple altar there were narrow wooden benches, clearly more modern additions, and little else. To the casual observer it would have looked abandoned, but a closer look revealed it was still in use. In the corner, the only adornment besides the cross was what must have at some point been a statue, but which was now worn down to a smooth mound of gray stone. Looking closer still, one might be able to distinguish a head and body draped in robes, perhaps even a sense that it was -- or at least had been -- a statue of a woman. At her feet was a tray of candles burned to the wick, save for one that struggled on defiantly. The wax on either side of it was fresh though, evidence that prayers had been said recently.

      "Why do you sneak so quietly, sister?" asked a voice in the doorway.

      She turned around from her lost reverie. She hadn't even noticed she had put her hand on the statue where the shoulders had once been.

      "I am not a nun, father," she answered promptly, taking her hand from the stone.

      "And I am not a priest," the man said, stepping into the church.

      She turned her back against the wall as he did, as if she was positioning herself defensively. It was automatic, not because he looked in any way threatening.

      "Tell me then, child," continued the man, bending one knee and crossing himself before rising again. "What brings you to this remote place?"

      "I may not be a nun, but I was raised by them," she answered. "I grew up at the convent no more than two miles from here."

      "Ah, an orphan."

      "On the contrary," she said, lifting her chin. "I was blessed with a hundred mothers."

      The man nodded, but otherwise did not acknowledge her correction. "Raised by nuns and yet you did not take the veil yourself?"

      "You don't know that I did not." His unintentional insult did not dispose her to be any more forthcoming.

      "So you did then. And yet you are not a nun now?"

      Until that point they had both remained standing, but he sat down on one of the benches. He looked at her expectantly when she was silent. At length she answered:

      "Yes. As soon as my mothers would allow it, I took my vows. I was eighteen, but if they had let me I would have done it when I was sixteen. Fourteen, even."

      She remembered her younger days. As a child, she had been wild and full of mischief. The mother superior would call her a godless child of godless parents. Who her parents were or where she'd come from remained a mystery save for those chastising words. Godless or not, she had been given treats of toast with fresh butter and fresh jam though the sisters of the house ate much more simply. She remembered the jam in particular. A dark currant. Thick and sweet.

      Her patient mothers had indulged her youth and as she aged, she became more like them. The unruly child who could not be made to sit on the wooden benches in that very church for more than ten minutes at a time would eventually kneel for hours on the cold stone floor as testament of her devotion. Every afternoon, and all day on Sundays, the sisters would walk the dirt lane two-by-two to the chapel for prayers and reflection. Their black habits -- gray in the summer -- were like ink spills against the green and brown parchment of the hills. At the end of the line, hand-in-hand with the mother superior, the child grew into a girl and later a woman. When the mother superior had finally gone to meet her God, the girl had cried for days in the arms of her other mothers. She had wished that the rest of them would never leave her so that she would not have to know that pain again. And yet time does not stand still, nor does the hand of God.

      "So what happened?" asked the man.

      She clasped her hands behind her back. "I was a faithful servant of Christ for four very blessed years."

      She wished the story might end there, but the man quickly prompted, "And?"

      "And then I met a man who I loved more than my God." That could not be the end of the story either. "And I prayed conflicting prayers that I not be led into temptation, but that he might be. Only one of those prayers was answered though. I married him one year later."

      "And do you regret it?"

      She stared at the floor, the dirt in between the cracks in the stone. She had not looked at the man since he had entered, but she did then. She looked at his young-ish face, the lines around his mouth, his hands set flat against the seat of the bench he sat on.

      "No." It might have been a whisper had the stone not echoed and enlarged it. "No, I do not regret it."

      Several more moments of silence passed before the man again spoke. "So then what happened?"

      She shrugged. "We moved far away from here. We had three children. Our lives were full and happy."

      "And now?"

      "Now the children are grown."

      "And did you never come back?"

      "I never did until today. I was too ashamed of having broken my promise -- as much a promise made to my mothers as it was made to God."

      "But you are back now." It was an observation, not a question.

      "Yes. They are going to close the convent, you know. Or you would know, if you were from this region."

      "And what will happen to your mothers?"

      "Nothing."

      The man looked puzzled, but she moved toward the door calmly.

      "Nothing?" he insisted. "You have just come for one final goodbye then?"

      "No. I have bought the convent. They will continue on as they always have. And I have finally come home."


Monday, June 27, 2011

Untitled 1: Part 15

Dennis Cox sat across from Eileen and Ryan with his arms folded tightly across his chest, his mouth set in a grim line. Ryan kept a steady gaze on the older gentleman’s face. “Tell me again how it was that you found Karen.”

Dennis groaned. “I’ve already told you. I told you the day you and your partner came over when I found Karen. And I’ve told you three more times just since you brought me here. Which, by the way, I don’t appreciate. You and me could’ve had a plenty nice talk at my house. Instead, you two had to go and make a big spectacle by coming over and telling me I needed to come down here. Pointing your incompetent detectives’ fingers at me don’t change anything. My story isn’t changing because there’s nothing to change. I already told you mister and miss detective, I don’t know nothing about what happened to Karen.”

“Of course not,” said Ryan, a wry smile twisting the corners of his mouth. “You don’t know anything at all about Karen.” He slid a gruesome close-up of Karen’s dead face to the stoic man. “Or Justine.” Another photo. “Or Denise.” Ryan paused before slapping the close-up of the dead girl’s slashed throat on the table in front of Dennis, who took a cursory glance and shrugged.

“Mister detective, if you think those pictures are going to bother me, you’re pretty mistaken. I’ve seen more dead bodies than you have, trust me. And they weren’t pretty bodies dressed up in some morgue, all nice and clean. I walked through the trenches of hell in Nam, felt the blood of my friends and enemies, saw heads blown open, tripped with my own two feet on the intestines of some poor bastard who’d been digesting his dinner not a minute before. I’ve heard grown men screaming for their mommas, screaming to live, screaming to die. What you’re doing here is nothing.”

Eileen chewed on the inside of her cheek, barely noticing the taste of blood in her mouth where she bit a little too deep. It seemed impossible that Cox could be so unaffected, so completely unperturbed by the grisly photos, no matter what he had seen in battle. Unless he really was a complete sociopath. Or unless…unless he really didn’t know anything. She shook away the thought. No. They had the right guy. They did. All the signs and clues pointed to one person, and he was sitting across from her right now.

So why was she feeling that nagging doubt?

Dennis Cox had barely moved since they all sat down. Ryan was getting frustrated with their lack of progress and it was evident in his tone of voice. “Look Cox. You’re the only one who had easy access to Karen’s apartment. You knew she was going to be out of town and that nobody would be looking for her. Just tell us what happened. Were the two of you involved? Or maybe you wanted to be involved with her and she wasn’t interested? Maybe you were jealous that she was taking a trip and leaving you behind? Did you think she was seeing another man?”

The man’s gray eyebrows rose so high they were almost into his thinning hair. “You kidding me mister detective? Me and Karen?” He laughed and slapped his knee. “You police got nothing better to do than come up with crazy stories about old men and pretty girls. Karen was my tenant. My tenant. Was she pretty enough that I noticed? Yes. Did I ever do anything forward with her? No. Never. Not even once. She was quiet. She kept to herself and she paid her rent. That’s it. That’s all.” He sat back defiantly, crossing his arms again, keeping his expression neutral. He was unflappable.

Ryan stood. “Tell you what Mr. Cox. You sit back for a while, think again, think long and hard about what happened when you found Karen. Then think long and hard about what happened before you found Karen. My partner and I will be back shortly.”

“You sure will,” Dennis replied. “You’ll be back shortly and you’ll be letting me out of this room because you can’t keep holding me here. Face it, buddy. You had something to pin on me, you would’ve charged me already and you haven’t. You’re on a fishing expedition and we both know it. Trouble is, mister detective, you’re fishing in the wrong pond. I. Don’t. Know. What. Happened. To. Karen.”

Ryan stomped out of the room, Eileen following behind with butterflies in her stomach. Something wasn’t right. “Ryan, maybe he’s telling the truth.”

Ryan shook his head. “I don’t think so. Everything points to him. He’s the only one who had access to Karen’s body before we got there. I don’t see any other explanation at this point. It had to be someone who knew her, knew the layout of the place and knew her schedule. Karen didn’t have a boyfriend and no family to speak of. She was a loner. It made her an easy target."

“Okay,” said Eileen hesitantly. “I agree with you to a point. I mean, I’m the one who put all that together to start with, but even if he did kill Karen, what about the others? We haven’t been able to find any kind of connection.”

“Maybe not,” Ryan concurred. “But that doesn’t mean there’s not a connection there.”

“I still don’t know, Ryan. Even if he did kill Karen in a fit of rage or a lover’s spat or something, it doesn’t explain the others. What could his reasoning possibly be?”

“Do wackos have to have a reason? Do they ever? Let’s be real, Lee-Lee. Sometimes, people are nasty and evil just because. But let’s say he wanted Karen in a really bad way. Pretty young thing, nothing tying her down, he’s older, single, lonely. It would have been an ideal situation if she’d been the least bit interested. Hell, maybe she was interested. Maybe they tried to get it on, but he couldn’t get it up and she laughed at him, so he killed her.”

Eileen chewed on a hangnail. “That’s plausible, I suppose. I mean, in each case, there was evidence of attempted rape. In Justine’s case, we got a nice sample right off her leg since whoever it was couldn’t hold it long enough. Maybe she didn’t laugh at him because he couldn’t get it up. Maybe she laughed at him because he couldn’t get it to stay up.”

“See? Now you’re speaking my language, Lee-Lee. We know this guy had something to do with it. Maybe he killed Karen, then tried to go out and hook up with someone else with the same results. Nobody likes being laughed at in the bedroom.”

Eileen’s mind quickly turned to Mike and his prowess in bed. There was nothing to laugh at there. She gave Ryan an impish grin. “I would agree. Bedrooms are not for laughing. But back to the topic at hand. What do we do next? Dear Mr. Cox is right. We can’t hold him much longer. We either need a confession, which I don’t think we’re going to get, or we need something more solid to go on and charge him with at least Karen’s death. If we can nail him on that one, maybe it’ll buy us enough time to nail him on the others.”

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