For this issue, we thought we would try something new for Roundtable. We bring you a work written from the various points of view of the characters in the story. We enlisted the talents of several BWG members to bring this story together. We hope you enjoy it!
To see the bios of our authors, visit the Bethlehem Writers Group's website at: https://sites.google.com/site/bethlehemwritersgroup/members
Carol L. Wright
Hi. I’m Agatha, and I’m a domestic violence survivor.
No—I’m not in a twelve-step program, and I’m not looking for your sympathy. I am just doing an exercise from my therapist who has helped me get to a place where I can acknowledge what has been going on in my marriage for . . . well almost since the start.
Everything seemed fine for a while. We were an up-and-coming young couple living in the DC area—him a newly-minted Army officer, me a grad student in English Lit at Georgetown. We went to a lot of parties at the fort, and I think William enjoyed showing me off. He schooled me in how to help his career by saying the right things to the right people. I tried to please him, but I always got an earful of criticism on the ride home. He has a quick temper when under stress, and being in the Army during wartime is sort of the definition of stress. I suppose my being gone so much between work as a barista and grad school, didn’t help. I hate to say it, but it was almost a relief when he went for his first deployment. At least I didn’t have to walk on eggshells for a while.
When he got back, I tried to help him ease back into life stateside. We even had a baby. (Billy is the sweetest little boy ever born.) I hoped things would get back to normal, but then I saw the tension building in him, higher and faster than before. The only way I knew to help him was to relieve as much stress as possible. That meant following his rules, and he had a lot of them—like how to make his meals, just how to make the bed, how to do his laundry, and what I could or couldn’t wear. I guess it comes from being in the military where everything has to be just so. I tried to keep things running as smoothly as possible at home, but sometimes babies cry, no matter how attentive you are. Oh--but please don’t think I’m blaming Billy.
William started going out at night saying he couldn’t stand the racket with a kid at home. Then he’d come home smelling of alcohol and sometimes another woman’s perfume. (I can’t remember the last time I wore perfume.) The later he got home, the angrier he was. He’d accuse me of cheating on him when he was deployed, or talking about him behind his back, or some other imagined betrayal. He even said he was sure Billy wasn’t his. He knew better. His yelling would wake the baby, and I know he disturbed the neighbors. Fortunately, William insisted that we live off-Post, so the MPs never got wind of it.
The more I tried to calm him, the madder he got. I can still remember the first time he hit me. I think he was as shocked as I was. He punched me in the face. He was so apologetic afterward, and begged me to forgive him. He swore he loved me and that it would never happen again. I forgave him, of course. I was sure the worst was behind us.
I had such a shiner that I couldn’t go out of the house for several days. He had to take Billy to the “Parent’s Morning Out” for two-year-old's at the Post pre-school. He had to pick him up, too. He didn’t like that one bit.
He was so sweet and attentive for a while, but he couldn’t keep it up. After a few weeks, I felt the tension building again. I’d suggest we go for a fun night out, but he would claim we couldn’t afford a sitter. So he’d go out on his own and come home wasted. Soon the verbal abuse started up again. The next time he hit me, neither of us was shocked. But he’d learned from before. This time, all my bruises didn’t show under the modest clothes he insisted I wear.
He was sorry, of course, but the honeymoon period that followed was shorter. The cycle became routine, and each time the beatings got worse.
He told me it was all my fault. I tried so hard to make his home life calm and peaceful, but I felt I wasn’t the wife he deserved. If only I could keep him from drinking; we might have been able to deal with it all. But I couldn’t figure out a way to help him quit. Even the mention of AA threw him into a rage.
And it wasn’t his fault. Lots of soldiers had trouble when they returned from war. I knew he was struggling, and confrontation wouldn’t make it better.
I suggested we get counseling once, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said it would ruin his military career. He couldn’t risk people finding out. Any domestic violence complaint would hurt his career. I knew I couldn’t call the cops either. Any conviction for domestic violence, even if it was just a misdemeanor, would get him “Lautenberged,” he said. That meant he couldn’t own a firearm, and what is a soldier who can’t carry a firearm? His career would be over. Then where would we be?
By that time, I had quit working at William’s insistence. It’s not like I was making much. Even a Master’s degree when it’s in English literature, doesn’t bring in enough money to cover DC area day care. Actually, I was glad to be home with Billy. Those hours together were the most peaceful of the day. Things with William seemed to settle down a bit, too, for a while.
Then I got pregnant again, just before William was to go overseas a second time. He didn’t seem happy about it. He’d get drunk and call me a whore and asked who the father was of this little bastard. I knew he was going to blow soon, but I held onto the hope that he’d save the worst of it for Al Qaeda. A few nights before he was to report though, he lost it. He punched and kicked me in the belly, so many times. He didn’t stop, even after I started bleeding—which I think is what he wanted. He made me go to a civilian hospital, so the military wouldn’t find out how it happened. I didn’t even tell my family that I’d lost the baby until William had been gone a couple of weeks. I didn’t want them to know how bad things were. I still cry for that child.
My little sister, Eleanor, came from New York to stay with me and Billy during William’s second deployment. I thought she might be able to help with Billy, and give me someone to talk to. But when I picked her up at the bus station, I could see instantly that she was in worse shape than I was. I’m not sure what drugs she was using, but she looked awful. I knew right then I shouldn’t bother her with my complaints. She was never much for talking anyway; she prefers action. Besides, she’s never been married, so she just doesn’t get it. Commitment—you know. So, as the big sister, I decided I should shield her from my problems and try to help her with hers. I wasn’t very successful at either I’m afraid.
For some reason, William didn’t like that Eleanor was there, and as soon as his tour was up, he made me send her back to New York. Unfortunately, she couldn’t avoid seeing my bruises after that discussion, but she helped me cover them with make-up. I felt worse for her than for myself. She had been so happy to have William return, and I think she wanted to spend some time with him. They always got on so well. Maybe they would have been good for each other. I guess we’ll never know now.
But I do know that her going back to New York wasn’t good for anyone. She ended up in jail on drug charges, I think. Meanwhile, William sent me to the ER more than once. After one beating, they had to do a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding, so Billy is an only child. Well, my only child, at least.
Next thing I knew, we were packing up. William was transferred to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. I hoped we could make a fresh start. Maybe being in New York would be easier on William’s nerves than being in DC.
For some reason, soon after we moved there, William came home late one night in the foulest temper I’d ever seen. I’m not sure what I did wrong. He wasn’t making any sense. He called me all the usual names, and said he was going to kick me out on the street like the whore I was, and I’d never see Billy again. He even insulted Eleanor.
Then the beating started. He pushed, shoved, kicked, and punched me worse than he ever had. Then he stormed out. Thank God I'd taught Billy how to call 911. They took me to the hospital, and took temporary custody of Billy. I guess it was touch and go for me for a while. I had a skull fracture, a broken jaw, a broken collar bone, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and other internal injuries. I was hospitalized for over three weeks. At least I knew Billy was safe.
While I was in the hospital, I got a psych referral and a social worker came by every day. They tried to have me get the Army involved. I wouldn’t file a complaint. I was convinced it would only make things worse. Without me, they couldn’t prove it was William who had beaten me.
The therapist told me that I can’t just stick around believing I can make things right. I’m just not that powerful. William might be able to do something about his rages, but he has to be the one to do it. There are no guarantees that he’ll ever try. And if I don’t do something to protect myself, the next time he will probably kill me. Then what would happen to Billy?
I was afraid they would try to take Billy away. I got the impression that they'd only let him come back home to me if William was out of the picture.
The social worker told me about a women’s shelter where they’d keep Billy and me safe, and help me find a decent job. Then some volunteers who had been through what I was going through came to visit me. Their stories were a lot like mine. But they broke free.
Then they brought in a lawyer from legal aid. She told me I should get a protective order. It would be easy with the hospital records of what he did to me. She wasn’t sure though, whether that would cause problems with the Army.
After I got out of the hospital, I petitioned the Office of Children and Family Services to get Billy back. Billy's caseworker seems really nice--like she really cared about him and wants to help me.
Since I got out, Eleanor has been really concerned, too—as if she didn’t have enough problems of her own. She keeps calling to see how I am doing. So sweet of her. I didn’t tell her my plans. She doesn’t need to deal with this when she has so many problems of her own.
William went out of town for a couple days early this week, and I finally gave the lawyer the go-ahead. I wanted to give William a chance to save his career. If he’d let me and Billy go and agree to end our marriage, I wouldn’t file an abuse complaint.
When William returned I met him at Penn Station and we walked over to check into the New Yorker Hotel for what he thought was a weekend getaway—a fresh start. Little did he know I had other plans. I was going to present my demands over dinner—in a nice public place, with plenty of witnesses so he couldn’t do too much damage. He thought the canvas bag with the divorce papers was my overnight bag, but when I wouldn’t let him take it up to the room, he started in on me before we hit the hotel elevator. I told him I would wait in the lobby until he deposited his suitcase in the room and changed out of uniform. Then we would talk. He was already furious when he got back to the lobby. I started walking toward the revolving doors, but he followed me yelling foul names and making threats. So much for a fresh start.
I realize now my plan was hopeless. He would never let me have a divorce. He would rather just kill me.
I am a couple yards ahead of him, and I know what I have to do. Find a cab and go to the cops to file a complaint before he could stop me. I run out into the street, looking downtown on Thirty-fifth Street to hail a Yellow Cab. But Thirty-fifth is one way, and the traffic comes from uptown. As I turn my head, I hear the gunning of an engine and look uptown just in time to see an old car heading straight at us. What the heck . . .?
Jerome W. McFadden
I did it. And I will admit I did. If they ever catch me. But I had to protect her from him. He was cheating on her, abusing her, making her look like a weak, defenseless fool. I couldn’t let that go on any longer.
It did not start that way. In the beginning they were a beautiful couple. She was the valedictorian at Vassar and he the first in his class, the Brigade Commander, at West Point. My older sister, so bright, so lovely, so talented, married to the First Captain at the Academy, walking out of the chapel under an arch of swords. At that moment, I loved him too, maybe as much as she did, though I never told anyone.
Walking down the stairs to drive off for their honeymoon, He laughed when he saw me and kissed me on the cheek, almost on my lips, and said quietly, just to me, “Maybe I married the wrong sister.” He was so handsome in his uniform with all those bright buttons and ribbons and stiff collar and rakish shoulder patches, I almost fainted.
I remembered that kiss the rest of my life. The warmth, the tenderness, so close to my lips. And the words.
They started so well after that. The Army shuttled William off to Fort Benning and then a bunch of other schools, while Agatha went for her Masters at Georgetown.
I did not start that well. I flunked out of NYU. Living on Adderall, then living for Adderall. At first, it kept me focused, until I could focus only on Adderall. But I couldn’t go home, too embarrassed. I didn’t tell our parents. Agatha did not tell them either. I stayed in New York, waiting tables, selling perfumes and make-up in department stores, pushing lattes at Starbucks, cleaning hotel rooms. Getting by. Just getting by, as long as I could fool another doctor to write me a prescription.
William volunteered for Iraq and Agatha got an internship in D.C., and I ran out of sources for my scripts. My workmates knew who I was (or should I say, what I was?) and introduced me to better things, cheaper than Adderall, without a script.
William came back after his tour to work in the Pentagon and Agatha had a baby boy, Billy, and they were so happy. Agatha sent me photos from her phone. I lost my dingy apartment in New York and found a squat uptown. William went back to Iraq.
I moved in with Joe. He dealt. I lost my jobs. But I kept Joe happy.
Agatha was pregnant again, but lost this baby and asked me to come down to D.C. to live with her while William was gone. But I didn’t know if I could because I didn’t know anybody in D.C. and I had never been honest with Agatha about my feelings for William. But Joe told me I was a freaking skank and he didn’t want me around anymore, so I caught a bus to D.C.
Agatha was horrified when she met me at the station, I could see it in her face. But she pretended everything was all right and I moved into their spare room and never told Agatha where I went when I left the apartment. And she didn’t ask. We both waited for William to come home, each in our own way.
He came back. And wasn’t happy that I was there. But he was always polite, coldly polite, around me. Then one night I heard them arguing through the walls about me. Agatha told him to be quiet or he would wake the baby, and he said he didn’t give a shit who he woke. Then I heard him hit her. She fell to the floor. I heard it. I felt the vibration. He left.
I wanted to call 911, but Agatha wouldn’t let me. It would hurt his career if there was a police report. So we put an ice pack on her eye and pretended it didn’t happen, and he came home and apologized and they both cried, then made loud love. I put my hand on my cheek and felt that long ago kiss so close to my lips. In the morning I taught her how to cover the bruise with make-up, something I learned in those department stores in New York.
I left the apartment later that morning. Back to the streets. I found my man and he said I could have all the shit I wanted, but I was going to have to earn my keep. So I started hooking.
I would phone Agatha, now and then, just to hear how she was doing. William redeployed, for Afghanistan this time. She wanted me to come back, but I said no.
I got busted. Six months in county jail. I barely made it through. Cold turkey. And nobody cared. But my man was waiting for me when I came out. Back on the streets, now on the needle. Life is good.
Agatha had to go to the hospital for an operation and the doc said she could never have a baby again and she said she was afraid to tell William. I said he was a tough guy; he could live with it.
He beat her again. Bad this time. She phoned, asked me to come to the hospital. I told her I would hurt him if he ever did this to her again. Nobody had the right to do this to my older sister. Not even William. But she calmed me down. We reported it as an accident at home. The doctor didn’t believe us, but who gave a shit. We didn’t want it to show up on William’s record.
I couldn’t stay in D.C. after that. I knew he would beat her again. They always do. And I would hurt him. I knew I would. I was a mean-edged skank and hooker, who didn’t take shit from anyone.
My first night back in New York I’m back in the slammer. No pimp, no money, no protection, no score. I was easy game for the undercover narc who cheated by flashing a wad of bills at me. Again cold turkey in a putrid, nine by twelve cell, surrounded by assholes that didn’t care.
Agatha told me over the jail house phone that they were being transferred to New York, to some military base in Brooklyn, Fort Hamilton. Like, wow, I’m happy for them.
My cell mates introduced me to JayCee when I got out. Back in business. But smarter, better protection, steady supply of whatever shit I need, turning tricks on the street, earning my keep, so to speak.
Midnight. On the East Side. William rolled down the street in a nice car. He coasted up to me, the window down, looked right at me and started talking, asking me “How you doing, girl? Looking good. Nice boots,” not recognizing me. My heart sank. I knew him, instantly. Same beautiful guy. But harder. Lines around his eyes. Gaunt. A smile with no warmth. I got in.
We went down the block, not talking. Parked in the alley behind the 42nd street terminal. I started with my hand, warming him up. Then I leaned over and kissed him on the lips. A real no-no. Every john know it’s a no-no. They don’t expect it. But William took it with enthusiasm, pushing his tongue into my mouth. pulling me closer, hands all over me. It felt….good.
The words came out before I could stop them, “Oh, William.”
He stopped with the hands. Backed off, looking at me. “Y-You know me?”
“Oh, Shit, it’s you.”
“Yeah, asshole, it’s-“ I did not see the punch coming. I’d been hit a lot to times, but this was the hardest slam I ever met. No pain. Just a kaleidoscope of colors and flashes of light, and a desperation to hold on to consciousness. I was bunched against the door, being pounded. I found my straight razor and swung it hard. Any other man would be wearing a ugly scar across his cheek for the rest of his life, but William caught my wrist and took it away from like he was playing with a two- year-old. Go Army.
I thought he was going to use it to cut me. But he leaned over to open the door to push me out into the dirty filthy littered street. Then drove off. He yelled something, but I was too incoherent to understand. Or to care. I lay curled up on the street until a squad car drifted past. The pig got out laughing, “Wooweee, some john got his money worth tonight.”
I used my one call to ask Agatha for help. It hurt to the bottom of my soul to make that call, but I had no one else to reach out to. There was no answer on the land line. I finally reached her on her cell phone. She was just taken to the hospital. She didn’t want to talk about it, but finally confessed sobbing, that William came home in a rage and beat Agatha nearly to death. She was going to be all right. Really. We would talk later. When she felt better.
It was a week before I could get Agatha back on the phone. Great conversation: I was in the joint on the house phone and she was using the phone next to her hospital bed.
“You gotta leave him, Agatha. You gotta. Divorce the bastard and walk away.”
Silence. Both sides.
“I-I still love him.”
“It’s my fault. I-I make him do it. He says I make him do it. M-Maybe I do. I don’t know. Maybe I do. H-He’a been different since he returned from Afghanistan. But we’re working on it. W-We are. The Army…”
I hung up. There was nothing more to say. I went to sleep that night in my cell staring at the ceiling, Remembering the kisses. The first kiss, on the cheek, close to my lips. Then the kisses in the car, his hands on me. My hand…on him.
We’d never be free of him if I didn’t do something. There had to be an end to all of this. I realized what I had to do. We had to be away from him.
The plan: I would keep close contact with Agatha, pretending to be concerned about her recovery. Know where they were going, what they were doing. Biding my time until the opportunity came.
Agatha bought it, pleased that I was taking such an interest in them. She wanted me to visit, to see her and little Billy, when William was away on business. But I pushed that away. She wouldn’t want to see me as I was: A street hooker, a skank, a smackhead, living from needle to needle. And William definitely would not want to see me again. The voice on the phone was enough. She saw me as she used to remember me. That was enough.
The opportunity came. William was coming back to New York on the train. Agatha was to meet him at Penn Station at four PM on Friday night. They were going to stay the weekend in the city. How sweet.
I ‘jacked the car on the upper east side, in front of a brownstone. Idiot driver left the motor running while he delivered a pizza. I grabbed the PIZZA PIZZA Delivery sign off the roof, threw it on the passenger seat, and took off. An old battered blue Taurus. Cops wouldn’t blink an eye unless I screwed up with a traffic violation.
I parked on the side street on the corner, so I could see the front of the hotel. They'd be coming out for dinner. Just a matter of waiting, and luck. I put the pizza sign back on top, hoping people wouldn’t bother me for waiting too long in one spot.
Seven-thirty PM. They come out. They been arguing again. You can see it from their body language. They separated when they crossed the street; she running away from him. I can’t believe my luck. just enough space between them for a clean hit.
I gun the Taurus with a screech of tires. They actually stop in their tracks to see what is going on.
The body actually spins off my hood in a cartwheel, then scuds along the street like a rag doll, no bones, no stiff joints, flop, flop. flop. It stops. I deliberately run over, just to sure. Bump, bump.
I watch out the rear view window as I speed off. William is kneeling over Agatha’s dead body. But we’re both free of him now. Forever. I can no longer feel that soft kiss on my cheek, so close to the lips.
Christopher D. Ochs
Yuri, a mountain of a bald Russian, leaned on the grafitti'd wall next to me. A patient smirk on his face gave me permission to continue my rant.
“No one beats up on my girls. No one. 'Cept me.
“Some peckerhead john thinks he can pound the crap outta my best moneymaker and dump her in the trash? Can't let the deed stand, or he'll do it again. Either Ellie or another of my girls.
“Trouble is, my enforcer is out of commission. That bonehead Razz got caught trying to jack up an undercover drug sting. Sent to the orange-suit hotel for busting a detective's jaw. Then the Aryan brotherhood nailed his butt in the can after arraignment. Had to be payback for Razz slicing up some of their men on the outside.”
Yuri always was quiet. Just stood there, nodding his head with that irritating “seen-it-all” grin. A man of few words, he let his fists end the conversation if you got on his bad side. Or worse, let his goons wrap it up.
“So now it's up to me to open a can o' whoop-ass on this douche, whoever he is.” I jammed my hands in my pockets. “Dammit!”
Yuri's head cocked to one side, as the clicking of heels approached the corner. “Must go. Stop by my place soon.” For a guy that size, he sure moves fast.
“He-e-ey JC, I'm back,” said Tanya, as she slinked down my alley. She used to be a looker of a Russian mail-order bride, but after hubby kicked her to the curb and the Bratva wiseguys sold her to me, her three-bag-a-day habit thinned her down a bit.
“About time. I was beginning to think you bolted after they tossed you outta the joint.” I held my hand out, and she pulled a roll of twenties and Grants from her Gucci knock-off. I counted my cut, then handed her a twenty crumpled around a couple of stamp bags for the night.
“Run? Never on you, lubovnik.” She cocked her bony hips, and had a juicy smile on her painted face. “Guess who I ran into in dere?”
“Ellie. Your main squeeze.” I caught a poison edge in her voice. She didn't hide her jealousy well. “Heard her talking on da joint phone, in da cube next to mine.”
“When's she getting' out?”
“One more week. But here's da news. I know who put da hurt on her.” Tanya held out her hand. “Give me another two shots, and he's all yours.”
I clamped on her wrist, and bent it. Not too hard, or I'd break her pencil bones. Just enough to make that raspberry red smile disappear. “You'll tell me now, pizda.” Her eyes flared with fear and confusion – she never heard me cuss at her in Russian before. She must've been really given the once over by the Russky mob. “And I'm not your lover, lubovnik.”
“Okay, okay,” she whined like a whipped puppy. “She was yelling at her sister Agatha. Heard her through da wall. Later I heard through da grapevine it was some guy named Villiam who did her.”
“A name tells me nothin', dipshit.” I squeezed harder. Cartilage shifted below her thumb, and she grimaced.
“Her brother-in-law. He's Army – crew cut, da works.” She squirmed around my fist and rattled off a quick description between whimpers.
“Why should I believe you, sweet cheeks?” I know Katya – she'd say anything to con another stamp bag.
“I talked wit' Ellie my last day in the yard. Villiam wailed on her after he recognized her.” She winced under my stare. “I convinced Ellie to tell me wot he look like, so I could steer clear of him.”
Yeah, that sounds real. He must've stomped on Ellie to keep her quiet.
I released Katya, throwing her arm down. She exhaled through a frown and rubbed her wrist. With a nod of satisfaction I tossed her a single bag, and it fell at her feet. She bent and scooped it up in one quick loop.
“Good girl. Have a blast.” Gotta toss 'em a bone now and then – can't get too soft, though, or they'll rob you blind.
She was about to trot back down the alley, but I planted my arm on the brick wall, blocking her way. “Spread his description to the other bitches. There's another one free for anyone who gives 'Villiam' a scrump. I wanna know if he's a regular – his wheres, whens, and his wheels.”
Tanya shot me a weird smile. I could hear the gears turning – working out how she could do what I said, yet finagle the smack for herself.
“You got it, lubov . . . boss.” She crammed her three bags of rock into her purse, and I watched her leather-clad butt as her stiletto heels clacked down the alley. She lost a bit of meat, but man, she could still swing it like a Kardashian.
It took two weeks and shelling out five hits of blow and rock – mostly to Katya – until I pieced together the dork's pattern. But it wasn't much. This army jackhole was cagey. There were a few streets he preferred prowling, but nothing regular. And a different rent-a-wreck each time. Shit.
Ellie finally got outta the klink. The joint's sick ward pieced her together good, eased her down from withdrawal, put some color back in her cheeks and meat on her bones. Only one thing the nurses couldn't give her – legally. But one day after she's out and she's rarin' to go, back on the dragon and back on the street. That's my girl.
I caught up with her on the East side in one of her hangouts, the floor above a gutted storefront. Creepy place, crammed with naked mannequins. There she was, crosslegged on a mattress on the floor, rocking back and forth on sheets that still had package creases on them.
An arm's length away stood two stools. The closer one with her burner cell, a lighter, a crusty spoon and a syringe with half a hit still inside – the other with a mannequin posed on it. I snickered at the stainless steel fork shoved into its crotch. Her eyes were closed as she rocked – rubbing her cheek, with a weird-ass half-smile half-kiss on her face.
“Hey Ellie. You look none the worse for wear.” I stood in front of her, with her head a foot away from my hardening crotch. “Any sign of lover-boy William tonight?”
The smile disappeared lightning quick. “No, I didn't see him tonight,” she almost screamed at me. “If I did, I'd slice his balls off. I never want to see that bastard again.”
Man, hell hath no fury like a woman punched. She reached into her bra and threw her night's income at me, wrapped up tight with a rubber band. She stuck a thumb at the mannequin's fork. “And the asswipe took my knife.”
Reaching for the needle with one hand, she spread her toes with the other. I stepped between her and the stool, and grabbed her wrist. “Leave it. You can have that after.” I was already busting at the seams, and I went down on her. She resisted at first, but she knows the rules. She gave me what I wanted. Thank God for fresh sheets.
Ellie definitely knows how to perform. If she could keep off the smack, she could charge triple what she gets. But then she wouldn't be mine. Gotta love my job's perks.
I zipped myself back up, while she draped her blouse over her shoulders. I tossed her a stamp bag. “Good to see you back in action.” I rolled her bankroll between my fingers, then lobbed half of it on the mattress. “That's for a new knife.”
“You mean, you want me to go after William?” She sat crosslegged again, her snatch breathing free and her tits staring at me through the unbuttoned blouse.
“No, just protecting my investments.”
She smiled like a wolf ready to tear into a fresh kill and shot up the remaining half hit. It wouldn't be half-bad if I let Ellie take care of my unresolved business with William. But a man's gotta do whatta man's gotta do.
Katya was waiting outside when I left the building – leaning against the doorjamb, and smoking one of her cruddy black Russian cigarettes. “Hey, boss.”
“What're you doing here?” I said.
“I party here sometimes wit' Ellie. Thought I'd give you a little privacy, first.” There's that touch of jealousy again. She sauntered past me and climbed up the first few stairs, when a thought pushed the need to watch that delicious butt right outta my head..
“Keep an eye on Ellie. Make sure she doesn't do anything stupid.”
“Whatever you say, boss.” she winked and tossed her hair. Yeah, Katya knew what I was staring at. I was surprised she didn't ask for another hit.
I headed to Yuri's bar, one of my regular depots for business and fun. Thought I'd grab a few drinks, hustle a little pool, and see what goods were available. But a queasy feeling in my stomach told me to make a side trip to my pad first. I picked up my Saturday night special and crammed it in the back of my belt.
I was on my third game. I was winning big, and the Russkies were taking it stonefaced. They tried to distract me with a blond piece fresh from Vladivostok. No dice – they'd have to get me royally shitfaced for that ploy to work. If I took this game, I'd ask for her instead of the roll they were about to lose. While Yuri's kid brother was lining up a bankshot, my phone rang.
Katya was on the other end.
“Ellie's on da phone with her sister,” she whispered. “Villiam's in da city tonight.” She sped through the details about dickhead's arrival and the hotel where he was staying.
Crap. So now I gotta take care of this tonight. No way I'm gonna do him at Penn Station, but his hotel might be another story.
I looked at my phone's clock after I hung up. I got time, but not as much as I liked. Maybe I'll ask Yuri for a favor, have one of his boys take care of William instead of making off with the babushka.
But I had to rush, and that did what Miss Vladivostok and vodka couldn't – it threw me off my game. Out the window went my chance for either Bratva muscle or the blond pizda. At least I still came out a few bucks ahead overall. Though his kid brother lost, Yuri still seemed happy, mainly because I was pissed off.
Seven o'clock and I'm holding up the brick wall in an alley across from the hotel. A couple of gangbangers size me up as they pass by, then shuffle away after they recognize me. I was on my third cigarette, some bitch tears out of the hotel with the mook of the hour on her tail trying to grab at her.
She might've been a cinch for Broadway if it weren't for her walk. She had a hitch in her step that telegraphed she was afraid of the crew-cut grunt, and that he probably worked her over worse than Razz ever would've. Yup, she flinched like she was nursing a fresh liver punch. This bozo is definitely the guy I need to double tap.
I took one step out of the shadow, but faded back as soon as I heard the engine gun and the tires squeal.
Some things ya can't look away from. Train wrecks. Big explosions. A fine ass.
Just can't not look.
Add to that list a hit going down.
Some blue rustbucket with a pizza sign zoomed right past me, and I caught a clear shot of the driver. It was Ellie. Dammit – she's gonna screw it up.
Only she didn't.
She plowed right into that girl, just missing the john. I thought for sure she was going to mow down the dickweed who sent her to the hospital. But she swerved at the last second, nailing the eye-candy as she crossed the street in front of him.
Don't know who that broad was – just as long as she wasn't one of mine. Or one of the Bratva's.
Maybe Ellie wanted to send a message. Or maybe she just wants to watch that brother-in-law of hers squirm before it's his turn to be ground into a bloody stain.
Whatever she was doing, I saw that weird-ass smile on Ellie's face again – that strange half-kiss half-smirk when she looked over her shoulder as she backed up over the chick again.
Man, Ellie is stone cold. I just might have to make that bitch my new enforcer.
The sound of the car registered with William. He started to run reaching for Agatha’s coat. She kept on walking at a fast pace ignoring everything around her. He reached out for her, his anger held in check for a moment. You’re not going to get away from me. You need to be punished long and soundly.
Suddenly the thump thump of something being run over penetrated the haze that had been building in him. Once again his wife had disappointed him.
Looking toward the sound he spotted her lying in the center of the street. Walking over he knelt down beside the bloodied body.
Now look what you’ve done. You went and got yourself killed by some driver. I saw you run out into the street. This will cost me to fix his car. I can’t even sue because like everything else it was your fault. Why did I ever marry a stupid bitch like you?
I told you that you needed to do as I said. Why couldn’t you just listen when I spoke? As my wife you promised to love honor and obey me. Especially obey me. Since you couldn’t be obedient as you were required to do, by your marriage vows. I naturally had to punish you. You brought that sister of yours into my home, without asking. You know you needed my permission to bring her into my house. That was not a decision that you as my wife were entitled to make. All you ever needed to do was to obey me. Bear my children; raise them in a way that is fit for a wife to do. You didn’t even do all my laundry, I can’t remember a time that you ironed my underwear. You were a lousy cook; couldn’t even make a decent dinner. The food in a dive of a diner is better than any slop you ever cooked.
Oh oh. People are starting to gather around. I need to act like a grieving husband.
“The car just came out of nowhere. She didn’t have time to run. She never had a chance. What am I going to do? How will I tell our child mommy’s not coming home?”
I think they’re buying this.
I’ll have to find someone who can replace you. Only she will need to be obedient, like a proper wife. Captain Thomas has a new X.O. She’s a good looking woman. A lot better than you. And since she’s military she knows how to listen. Not like you or that whore you call a sister. She can resign her commission. I’m handsome and a prize that any woman will want. The kid might pose a hard sell, but she’ll come around.
And Agatha, did I tell you I found your precious sister whoring. I beat the shit out of her, not as bad as you, but now she knows her place. That slut can keep on using drugs and turning tricks. Don’t know if anyone will pay more than a couple of bucks for that sleaze. Probably disease riddled.
Quickly looking at the gathering bystanders, he continued to pretend his love and devotion for Agatha. He gently cradled the corpse.
I need to figure out a good story for when the cops get here. And then I’m off to get that cutie feeling a lot of sympathy for me. Then I’ll train her properly, I saw how they did it while in Afghanistan.
With a properly trained wife, I know I’ll get a promotion to major soon. She’ll help me, not hinder me like you did.
Remember when the colonel came over for that barbecue? He comes looking like a proper officer and what does he see? You changing a dirty diaper. I will put money that that cost me a promotion.
Need to see if I can get some tears. People expect that. They wouldn’t if they knew you.
Looking down at the crushed and torn body of his wife, William let out a chocked wail. “Agy, why? Why you?” His arms wrapped around the blood soaked body that had been his wife.
Staring at his Armani suit, spying blood staining it, he nearly screamed his rage. It’s a good thing that you are already dead. Do you have any idea what this suit cost? I should have worn some old thing since this supposed dinner was only for you. Still he held on and cried, refusing to let go as an ambulance crew tried to comfort him, and dislodge him from a wife he was grieving so much over. They had to remove him for the medic and the coroner.
The crowd who had gathered watched and shook their heads at the tragedy they were witnessing. A few took out their cell phones and started taking pictures. Some took video knowing that this would be salable to local news stations.
All the while, William kept his face buried in the bloody collar of Agatha’s coat. It made a perfect cover to hide his smile.
So I was delivering a pizza on the upper east side, on 89th, close to the park, near the Guggenheim. Thin crust, large three toppings (sausage, green peppers, and onions). I remember, ‘cause I like that combo. Great smell. I left the car running, double parked. ‘Sposed to be a quick in an out. Then the guy stiffs me.
He opens the door, I hand him the box. He closes the door in my face. WTF? Where’s the money? I ring the bell and pound on the door. He opens it again. “What?” he says, as if he’s the offended one.
“You forgot to pay me.”
“I did? I thought I paid you?”
“Then why am I still standing here?”
“How the hell do I know?”
“$16.42. The cost of the pizza.”
He steps away from the door to talk to someone. Comes back. “You got change for $100?”
“For a $16.42? You think I carry that kind of cash around out on the streets? Gimme me a twenty and I’ll give you a dollar back. That’d cover the tip.”
“An 18% tip for delivering a pizza?”
The sonofabitch knows his math. I’m proud of him. He steps away from the door again. He comes back. Hands me $16.42. Closes the door. I’m standing there like a smuck selling Girl Scout cookies. I’m about to knock on the door again but then think to hell with it, I got four more deliveries in the car. Gotta move on.
Except the car is gone. WTF again? How’d that happen? Yeah, I left it idling. But I didn’t hear anybody drive it away. I was too busy arguing with the stiff at the door for a three dollar tip. 18% he says. I walk out into the street to see if maybe I forgot I parked a couple cars up, or back, but it ain’t out there.
Who in the hell wants to steal a ’06 beat up blue Taurus with a pizza sign on the roof? The damn car has more dents on it than a bumper car at the fairgrounds. They want the four pizzas in the back seat? Somebody’d steal a car for four pizzas?
So I call the office to tell them I lost my car and four pizzas. They tell me to get my ass back to the shop. I owe them for the four pizzas ($65.68), the four warming pads that protected the pizzas ($84), and for the pizza delivery sign that magnetically attaches to the roof of the car (cost not yet determined). Plus, I’m fired, or at least on furlough until I get new wheels
I report the stolen vehicle to the cops. Their lack of interest is impressive. I hear the man yawning on the phone.
“Am I keeping you up?” I ask.
“Just give me the details.”
“Not one of your high priorities, huh,?”
“Just give me the details.”
“Tell you what, you can keep the pizzas if you find it. I already paid for them. Maybe that’ll inspire you. But maybe I should be driving for Dunkin’ Donuts, huh?”
“The freaking details, man,” he repeats in an aggravated voice. We both know that my beloved old Taurus is already in a chop shop being dissected by mechanical cannibals and I’m never gonna see it again. But at least I reported it.
Two days later, the cops are banging on my door, yelling OPEN UP, - YOU’RE UNDER ARREST. Apparently I knocked over some broad crossing the street in mid-town (with mischievous intent) and then backed up and did wheelies on her (definitely mischievous intent), and now they’re booking me for first degree murder and threatening to send me out to Rikers Island for the rest of my life. Of course, I am yelling I TOLD YOU TWO DAYS AGO THAT THE CAR WAS STOLEN - AND FOUR PIZZAS, TOO.
Do I have an alibi? Sure. I was sitting in my closet apartment playing Angry Birds, surviving on a box of Cheerios, and looking at want ads for a new employment echelon that did not include surviving on gratuities. Do I have a witness for this alibi? How many people can you squeeze into a room that holds a mattress, one chair, and a large cardboard box filled with my clothes?
They have not found the car (nor the four pizzas) yet but (amazingly) they do find that I reported the theft of the Taurus several days ago, so I may be off the hook. But I am still here in prison, the first three days in solitary so they can check me out for TB or aids or some other shit, before they move me into general population - just routine they say - but the jokes on them, I am taking all of this as a vacation: I’m getting fed three squares a day, have a nice cot to sleep on, and a toilet right here in my cell (I don’t have to tromp down a hallway to pee).
And I got news for these folks - I would not deliberately run over some some broad I don’t know standing on the crosswalk in mid-town. I am saving that for the dickhead up on 89th Street. Got change for $100, my ass!
Okay, so I was just hanging out in the lobby of the hotel. The New Yorker. I do that. I people watch. No, it’s not a creepy thing. It’s research.
I’m no sociologist. Well, maybe in a way. No, I’m a writer. I write murder mysteries. What better place to do research than the City, you know? [laughter]
No. I live in Hoboken. I just come in to pick up details for my characters. You know, clothing, body language, that sort of thing. Like that night. I wondered who goes to a midtown hotel? Business people? Sure. Families? Sometimes. Lovers? Definitely.
Tourists. That’s who interests me because they bring their style and customs from home with them. Some are as loud and brash as their hairstyles. Some are quiet, but happy, you know?
But these two—they didn’t act like anyone I’d seen there before. They caught my attention as soon as they came through the doors. They came as a couple. He had a green overnight duffle kind of thing, and a suit bag. He was in uniform. Army. Some kind of officer I think. She had on a knock off of a fashionable dress from maybe four or five years ago. Hey, you people watch, and you catch on to what’s in style. Anyway, she was carrying like a shoulder bag. I guess she was using it as a purse kind of. But it was big, so maybe she had a change of clothes in there. I couldn’t tell.
So she’s all quiet, and has her head bent down as they come in while he strides in like he’s some sort of bigwig. He registers at the desk, then they walk to the elevator. I hear him say he wants to get out of uniform, so he gets on the elevator. But then this mousy woman balks. I can’t hear what she says, but she kind of grabs her shoulder bag and doesn’t get on the elevator. I don’t know why. Maybe she was using that bag as just a purse. Or maybe she changed her mind about him. Hard to tell. But he gets really angry and yanks her onto the elevator, but she gets off just as the doors close. She starts running towards the door. But here’s the weird thing. She stops. She waits by the door. I’m thinking, get outta here, lady.
She opens her bag a couple of times, worried looking. Then I see her looking at the ceiling—not to admire it, even though it's really pretty. More like to seek answers. Weird chick. It’s obvious she doesn’t want to be there.
I expect the dude to return right away to keep her from leaving, but he’s gone a few minutes. When he gets out of the elevator, he’s in sharp-looking civvies, and looks real mad. Not a bit surprised she’s still there. I was, though. What was wrong with her that she’d wait for this angry dude to return?
So he walks towards her, and I figure he wants to convince her to go up to the room and have a drink or two. Maybe do some drugs. Hard to tell. Army and all.
But he’s yelling at her. The desk clerk picks up a phone—probably calling security. Before he reaches her, she turns and starts to walk out the door. Then he jogs up, trying to catch her, and says, “You won’t live to regret this,” or something like that. I get up to follow. I want to know how this turns out. Can he, like, convince her to stay? And how does he do it? Both these characters are different, so I want to see how it turns out.
So I’m about to push through the door, but I can see through the glass. They’re both outside. He’s on the sidewalk, and she’s starting to cross the street. I hear this car engine roaring just as he’s about to catch her. She’s looking the wrong way, but he sees the car.
He reaches out like he’s going to pull her back from the car’s path, but then, next thing I know, she’s stumbling into the street, right in front of the car. Pow! I’m pretty sure he pushed her in front of it.
How sure? Probably ninety-nine percent. Yeah.
It went so fast, I wasn’t looking at the car. I just saw the woman go flying. After that, the driver kind of slowed down, backing up, like to see if she was okay. Then I could see it was a dark sedan. An older model. Maybe a Ford? It had a PIZZA PIZZA delivery sign on top. I pay attention to details.
I couldn’t see the driver. He must have panicked, because he took off, but ended up running over the lady again. It was probably some kid just trying to make a living. Poor kid. That’s got to be kinda traumatic. No wonder he ran scared. Don’t be too hard on the kid, though. For my money, it was basically the guy she was with who killed her.
So I called you guys. I knew you’d want my statement, and frankly, being a witness is great research, too. Mind if I tag along and see how you handle the case? It would be cool if I could testify in court.
My name is Cindy – Cynthia – Morton. My husband, Craig, and I are from Wichita, Kansas. Gosh, this is the first time I’ve ever given a witness statement to the police. Craig and I are law-abiding citizens. We go to church every Sunday at St. James Episcopal on Douglas, and I sing in the choir. I tried to talk Craig into singing with me—I think he has a lovely bass voice—but he doesn’t read music and said he felt stupid trying to keep up with the other men in his section.
But you don’t need those details, do you? I just wanted you to know that I’m not an experienced witness to crimes, so if I’m not giving you the information you need, just let me know.
So, Craig and I have been married for thirty-five years this year, and we wanted to celebrate in a special way. We’re both retired teachers and we’ve saved a bit of money. We’d been to New York City several times before, and thought it would be great to fly out here again to see a Broadway show or two. I love musicals—remember, I sing in the choir. Craig isn’t as big a fan, but when I told him we could see MOMA too, he was all for it. You know—that's the Museum of Modern Art. Craig taught art appreciation at the high school, and loves contemporary art.
I bought the tickets about two weeks before we left. The Book of Mormon and Matilda. The reviews were really good for both, and Amanda in my book group had seen The Book of Mormon with her husband, George, earlier this year. She warned me about the language, but said we shouldn’t miss it. I found us a place to stay at an AirBnB near Central Park on the East Side. That’s a nice part of New York. There is a tiny deli around the corner from where we’re staying. They have the best bagels—you can’t get good bagels in Wichita, at least, not where I shop.
We saw Matilda on Wednesday, the first day Craig and I were here. I loved it. I read the book to my fifth graders every year; Roald Dahl is so much fun. We are supposed to see The Book of Mormon tomorrow, and then leave on Saturday morning. Today we were at MOMA in the morning, took a break for lunch and walked around some of Central Park and then over to Rockefeller Center. You see such interesting people on the streets here! There was a guy in a bear suit selling souvenir mugs. And another fellow playing show tunes on his accordion for tips. I gave him a dollar. A few people made snide remarks about Craig’s Jayhawks jacket—we drive up to Lawrence for all the games—but you just have to expect that. Some folks are just rude.
After our walk, we went back to MOMA to make sure we’d hit all of the exhibits. Craig is such a stickler. Once he’s committed to something he stays with it until he’s done, even if he’s exhausted. I like art, but after an hour or two, I’m on sensory overload. Not Craig.
Then he saw on his phone that Helen Mirren was in town staying at the New Yorker Hotel, so we took a cab over here on the outside chance we would see her coming or going. The building is beautiful. Craig says it’s in the Art Deco style, and I love the red neon sign. We must have stood here for about a half hour, maybe longer, just watching the people and the hotel. I was about to suggest that we go find a place for dinner when this whole thing happened.
We saw a couple exit the hotel. They were arguing. The guy seemed quite angry and the woman looked like she’d had enough of him. I think we’d seen them go into the hotel a few minutes earlier. Remember, we’d been looking for Helen. The guy was wearing an Army uniform when he went in, but wasn’t when they came back out.
There had been a lot of traffic—it’s New York. There are always so many cabs! But at that moment, when the couple came back out, the road was fairly quiet. The guy was reaching out for her, but she was definitely ahead of him, and then the pizza car hit her. No car and then a car—it was that quick. The driver stopped and then backed up over her!
At that point, I started taking video of the scene on my phone because Craig and I thought it was a movie set and they were actors. On another trip we had seen them filming The Royal Tanenbaums. It was so exciting. Now people were shouting, the guy was moaning on the curb in grief, other people were using their phones. It was so realistic.
We looked around for the camera crew, but saw only the flashing lights of a police cruiser coming down the street. The woman who had been hit just lay there in the guy’s arms. She didn’t move, and finally Craig and I realized we had just seen a real hit and run.
The city builds underground stores, they close off the streets for tourism, but the people, they don’t change. After thirty-seven years on the force, the reasons for killing haven’t either. Take your pick—jealousy, greed, revenge, drugs, ego.
“Arnold Deluca, how ‘bout one more before retirement? A hit ‘n run. Lots of witnesses. A slam-dunk,” says the Captain.
Hell, this is Manhattan. I’m sure a couple more murders will rack up between now and Thursday, but he’s right. A hit ‘n run with witnesses beats a stabbing in Central Park with only a squirrel for a witness, or a junkie so squirrely I’d wish he were a squirrel. There’s nothing ever easy about murder.
“Sure, Cap’n. What’s the address?”
I stick the bubble on the unmarked Chevy. When the siren whoops, and I honk the horn, the sea of traffic parts like mud. I detour down an alley. If cabs took my shortcuts instead of sticking to running up their meters, people wouldn’t be calling Uber for rides. I skirt the Upper East Side, past Central Park and head into Midtown to the New Yorker Hotel.
When the sun sets and the neon glows, the city thrives. Only a couple blocks divide the renovated district from the other side of chic. Tourists see the lights and bustle of Times Square. I see the homeless huddled deep in the alleys, the hookers skimming the streets for johns, then scoring another bag to make them forget why they’re there.
The kids are the victims. They hide in the shadows. They didn’t pick this life. I hadn’t. I couldn’t save my mom or my sister. Hell, I was only a kid myself.
Traffic comes to a halt. Not a New York City crawl, the block around the incident is a effin’ parking lot. A crowd surrounds the intersection. No one’s moving. Horns blare, cabbies are hollering out their windows. Hand gestures aren’t throwing peace signs.
I add in the siren for one final push to get closer to the scene. Nothin’. I’m hoofing it the last block.
The best witnesses are the people who hide in plain sight. The panhandlers, the corner hustlers, the hawkers, like me they see everything. For the right price, they’ll spill. They recognize my car and melt into the background.
By the time I reach the crime scene, the party had started without me. Some uniforms already held the restricted perimeter. Others blues were canvasing everyone in the crowd with a smartphone. The red and blue lights reflecting off the hotel’s glass and polished brass added to the carnival atmosphere.
A news station set up at the perimeter. I’ll need their footage to scan the crowd for a perp reveling in his handiwork.
A witness is leaning against the wall near the entrance sipping a cone of water. He’s pale and visibly shaken by the death. Normal for someone who just witnessed a person plowed over unlike these morons seeking their fifteen seconds of fame in the background of an evening news special report.
I walk over, pull out the small spiral pad from my inside coat pocket, note to read his full statement at the precinct, and copy details worth considering. I listen to him spill. The guy’s name is Zack Thorne, a writer. He’s yammerin’ on about characters. I’m about ready to leave when he says something interesting.
“He said you won’t live to regret this, then ran after her. He reached out to grab her, but then she’s stumbling into the street. I’m pretty sure he pushed her.”
Opportunity. Now we need motive.
The Crime Scene Investigators are gauging distance from tire tracks on both sides of the victim. Either the driver wasn’t sure he hit someone or he wanted to finish the job. There were heavy tire marks on each side of the victim. I scan for the best surveillance camera angle and note the pole numbers.
The Medical Examiner arrived before me. She’s beside the victim. Jules did the usual—rig test, temp. “Cause of death, Agatha Kirk got run over by a car. Twice.”
Jules readjusts the well-worn designer clothing on the disheveled victim. As she pulls the shirt down over the dead woman’s stomach, I notice the yellowed bruise marks from ten feet away. An easy hit n’ run my ass.
A man with a high and tight buzz cut stands within the perimeter. Military. Recent combat by the way his eyes keep sweeping the crowd. His clothes, bloodstained with pressed creases. New, Armani if I had to guess, and holding a purse. He’s chatting up the female attendant.
“That’s the husband over there,” says Jules. Her head nodded towards the guy. “For all the trouble the EMS said he gave them to move away from the victim, he recovered fast.”
Maybe too fast. I watch him. Shoulders back, self-assured smirk. Devoted husband my ass. He’s flirting with her.
The crowd pushes against the police tape and barricades to get selfies with the dead body as the reporter rolls tape. What the hell.
I stand all 5’10” and 200 pounds of me, ready to cuff anyone who doesn’t comply. “Have some respect. Back up or you’re under arrest for impeding an investigation.” The human mass took two steps back. The threat works every time.
“Arney, I’m taking the body in for more observation.” Jules and I make that knowing look. She gives the go ahead to move the body.
I walk through the crowd listening to conversations. Two women are cooing over a cell pic.
“That’s true love. He didn’t want to let her go.”
“Excuse me ladies, can I see that?” I take the phone as the question spills out. It’s a photo of the deceased post mortem and the husband has her bundled to him, hiding his face. I swipe to the next photo. Is he smiling? I zoom in. Son of a bitch, he is.
I call a uniform to handle the hysterics when she realizes her phone is going into evidence. People go nuts over their phones. They shouldn’t take pics of things they have no business taking. Not my problem.
A young couple walks towards me. “Today is our anniversary. We were looking at the hotel’s architecture and took video. You might want to see this,” said the wife. I call over another blue to take their information and the evidence.
I walk over to buzz to give my condolences. I lead by handing him my business card. “Sargent Arnold Deluca, lead detective. And your name?”
He stands at ease, holding his wife’s purse with his fingertips. “Captain William Kirk, US Army Infantry.”
“I’m going to ask you a few questions, Will.”
The husband’s teeth grind at the use of his shortened name and lack of title. “That is Captain—William—Kirk, Sergeant.”
I wait until his face goes from fire engine red back to ruddy. “How are you related to the deceased?” I ask.
Will works up a few tears. It’s hard to tell if they’re real. When he answers, it’s on a sob. “She was my wife.”
Past tense. Interesting. I wait for him to compose himself. “Where can I contact you?”
He looks up with red-rimmed eyes, “At Fort Hamilton Post Headquarters.”
“And why are you in town?”
He takes a moment to answer. “My wife wanted to rekindle the magic of our marriage.”
I shut the notebook and return it to my pocket. “First, I’ll take your wife’s handbag in for evidence.”
His fingers clench around the handle and his feet reposition into a broader stance.
This guy is looking for a fight. I smile, and say, “Its standard operation to place a victim’s personal items into evidence.”
“She’s not a victim, she’s a klutz. She fell into the street and got hit by a car. She’s always falling and stumbling into things.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, but until the case closes, her belongings go into evidence.” A uniform flanks my right. Will releases the handle.
I turn to the officer, “Tag this into evidence.”
A true patriot we have here. There’s more to this incident than what’s left on the pavement. The husband might not have driven the car, but something stinks about this case. A slam-dunk my ass.
The attendants remove the vic off the street. The husband stares in mild curiosity as they scrape bits of her off the macadam.
“Make sure you stay in town, Captain. It wouldn’t look good for you to have MP’s hauling your ass into the precinct.”
A look of disgust swipes across his face before returning to a blank canvas. “Are we done here, Sergeant?”
“I’ll need a number to reach you.” He hands me a business card and leaves without a backwards glance at his wife.
I scout through the crowd for more witnesses, but no one else has an original story. The news van leaves and presto, the crowd disperses.
The block walk lets me process what evidence there is on the case. So far, a witness hears the husband threaten the wife. The witness swears he pushed her. That was opportunity. That won’t lock this guy up.
My car is still sitting where I double-parked it, holding up traffic. There’s got to be more evidence. I call in a few favors. Can’t be on the force this long without people owing me, and time’s running out to call in the favor. The trip back to the precinct doesn’t move any faster than the drive out.
By the time I got to the office, the surveillance camera footage was ready to view, and the evidence box was on my desk. The cameras don’t prove he pushed her, but they don’t show he didn’t. He ran to her. She turned. His hand came in contact with her shoulder and kept her more off balance. If he wanted to save her, he would have grabbed her arm.
I gather the box and take over an interrogation room. After putting on gloves, I lay each piece of her clothes and her purse on the table—divorce papers, a protection order petition, a paper with a number and no name, a card from Child Protective Services, a psychiatrist’s business card, comb, lipstick, a cell phone. The wallet has ID and no cash, no credit cards, a boy’s school photo, a doctor’s appointment card.
The CPS card poses a problem. Now there’s a kid involved. From the looks of the deceased’s stomach, this kid’s seen too much violence already. Kids shouldn’t live in fear. Time to hear Jules’ findings.
The morgue hasn’t changed much in all the years I’ve been on the force. The same metal doors, tables, lockers; the only improvement is Jules. She gives a voice to the dead. Nothing gets by her.
“Jules, I’m liking the husband for this one, but we need some help. Talk to me.”
“This woman has years of broken bones healed wrong. Recent injuries show heavy trauma to her midsection. Internal organs are still enlarged, broken rib just healing, skull fracture, and a broken jaw for starters”
I piece it together, and can’t wait to get her medical records. “The husband said she was a klutz. These don’t look like injuries incurred by falling.”
“No. These injuries are consistent with severe physical abuse. I’ll see what else I can find out. Want you to go out on a win, Deluca.”
“Thanks, Jules.” I look at Agatha Kirk sliced open on the table. “This isn’t winning.”
I head back to the interrogation room. The dates are from last week. The protective order isn’t signed. I pick up the hand-written phone number. Agatha’s cell phone doesn’t have a lock enabled. It’s after midnight. I dial using her phone anyway.
“Agatha?” answers a woman. Her voice steady.
“This is Detective Arnold Deluca speaking. There’s been an accident. Agatha Kirk was killed today in a hit and run.”
“I’m looking for help to find her son, and any information you can provide on Agatha. Her husband wasn’t very forthcoming.”
“He killed her didn’t he.” It was a statement rather than a question. Whoever is on the line deals with this hardship.
“We have the case under investigation and I can’t divulge information, but I do need your help. Agatha needs your help.” It was a plea plain and simple.
“My telling you can’t hurt her now.” Her voice quavers. “She went to Manhattan to have him sign divorce papers.”
“Did he know about the divorce proceedings?” I ask.
“Not to my knowledge. She was going to threaten him by having the protective order signed if he didn’t sign. She said something about a Lautenberg amendment ending his career.” More silence. “Poor Agatha. She was almost safe.”
“Do you know where the child is located?”
“Child Services has him.”
I thank her and hope she can sleep after hearing the news. I scan the numbers on Agatha’s phone. There’s the child services number without a contact and another similar number without a name. I hit call. A recorder picks up the phone. I note the name and number, and don’t leave a message.
Early the next morning finds me in back the interrogation room reading all the witness accounts. Fingerprints on the papers from the vic’s bag are back. We got hubby’s prints from the military database, and Jules got the vic’s. The divorce papers had hers, some unidentified prints that are probably from the law office, and one partial print with blood. Just as I thought—it’s his. I could see his ego explode if he saw what she was about to throw down at him.
Husband’s criminal background check was clear, but we’re still waiting on his military records. Might be something there.
He had to know about the protective order. If she filed it, his career would tank. He’d be demoted, too.
I use Agatha’s phone again to call the woman from last night. The phone rings and no answer. This morning the trace applied to the number came back as a burner phone. This lead is dead.
We found the car and picked up the owner this morning. He claims someone stole the car. He kept saying something about breaking a $100.00 bill. We’re holding him for a psych evaluation.
I have to find the vic’s kid. I call the number similar to the Child Services number from Agatha’s phone.
“Dr. Louise Martin.”
I introduce myself and explain the reason for the call. “If you’ve been evaluating the boy, I’d like to speak with you. There’s a pattern of abuse on the deceased. I’d hate for the kid to end up living in that environment.” She gives the address and asks me to come to the office immediately.
I go to the Captain, give him the lowdown on the case. The kid. The late-night call and the Lautenberg amendment mentioned. My suspicions of the husband knowing about the protection order. Also, surveillance the video shows him not allowing her back onto the curb as the car barreled towards the wife. “He might not have pushed her into the car, but he kept her on the street. Someone tipped him off about the PFA.”
The Captain taps his fingers on the desk. “Call her lawyer. Bring in the person who prepared the documents. If Kirk’s fingerprint is on the paperwork, he saw them prior to the accident. We need this person to testify that William Kirk knew Agatha’s intentions prior to them meeting at the hotel. Bring in Kirk, too.”
“I want to see Kirk squirm in a cell.”
The General Prevention Program Center on 118th Street looks like an apartment building. Heavy block on the first floor and brick the other four stories, the entry has two cameras watching every action. I buzz in, the lock unlatches the metal door, and Dr. Martin greets me in the hallway. Thanks for coming. Because of the circumstances within the family dynamics, I have video of Billy from yesterday you should see.
The hour session plays out. The boy answered questions. He was quiet, but smiled when talking about his mom and baking cookies. Billy moved to the coloring table. When Dr. Martin confronted the boy about his father, Billy smashed the black crayon on the page in a rage.
“This boy has seen too much violence,” she says. “If he stays with his father, no rehabilitation can help him.”
“Yeah. I’m seeing that.” I remembered my rage. Mostly a scared kid not knowing how to help his mom. My mom.
“No doubt, the District Attorney will contact you. Thanks for filling me on the boy. Is there a relative he can go too?” I ask.
She hands me a letter with Billy’s information, and notes on the grandfather who came to visit. Also, his written plea to help Billy and his daughter.
“Agatha didn’t want her father put into any danger. She always thought if William left the military, they could have a normal life. Her father thought differently.”
“Her father was right.” There’s no helping this narcissistic monster.
By the time I return, we got the hospital records and Kirk is in a holding cell. I scan the hospital records and find what I expected to see.
A blue comes and tells me there’s a woman in interrogations sipping a diet Pepsi. On my desk is her information. The law office, how long she’s worked there, single, 28 years old, no priors.
I close the interrogation room door and greet Dalilah Fisher. “I’m glad you can help us. I’m Detective Arnold Deluca.”
The entire time I spoke, she’s twirling the soda straw between her fingers.
“We’re investigating the death of Agatha Kirk.”
The straw halts in mid-twirl. “Agatha Kirk is dead? How?”
“A hit and run.”
Her shoulders relax. A smile plays over her lips. “Does William know?”
“How do you know William Kirk?”
The straw continues twirling. “He drops by the office now and then.”
“Was he in the office last week?”
“Perhaps,” she says.
“Perhaps while you were preparing the PFA against him for Agatha?” I say.
Her face blanches. “He couldn’t have seen it. I only left my desk for a minute to get a soda.”
“Could he have seen the PFA?”
“It wasn’t in the envelope. I was about to stuff it, but a call came through, and I got thirsty from talking. When I returned to the desk, he was there. Now that I think about it, the cover letter was upside down. I had the documents ready to mail. They were perfect,” she says.
“Is there surveillance in your office?”
She drops the straw. “Yes. Am I going to lose my job?”
Kirk is led into an interrogation room. They found him at the New Yorker with a prostitute. Devoted husband. I watch him through the mirror before entering the room. He’s relaxed, thinking he got away with murder.
No niceties today, I cut to the business end of the interview. When was your last tour?”
“A lifetime ago.” He waits a breath, then answers again. “Maybe a month or two.”
“It’s funny,” I say. “Your wife never had an accident while you were deployed. Her last fall down the stairs landed her in the hospital for three weeks. The ME is still logging all the fractures and contusions prior to the car hitting her.”
“She’s always been clumsy. You know, tripping while going down stairs, even up them. Slipping on dry pavement. She just had no real sense of balance.”
“Why was she running from you?”
“I told her I didn’t think there was much of a chance for us to reconnect. I guess it was too much for her to accept,” he says with a straight face. Not too smart.
I open the evidence box and remove the purse, then the thick envelope from the purse. I lay each copied document on the table and smooth the folds. “It says here, she filed for divorce and had filed to place a restraint on you.”
Kirk’s jaw clenched, his fists ball, and his shoulders roll as if to throw a punch. Somehow, he controlled his voice. “I told you she wanted to save our marriage. She called me.” He runs his hands through his hair, lets out a breath and talks in a softer voice. “I wasn’t chasing her to chase her. I wanted to explain.”
I stand and place my hands on the table, leaning towards him. My face six inches from his, and in a growl I say, “She wanted you gone. You forced her into traffic. You wanted to see her crushed on the street so she couldn’t file the PFA and Lautenberg your career.”
“NO,” he slams his fist on the table. I told you all I’m going to say. Talk to my lawyer.”
“We have you at the law office. You’re done.”
“William Kirk, You’re under the arrest for the murder of Agatha Kirk. What you say can and will be used against you . . .”
The Miranda rights never sounded so sweet. By Thursday, retirement sounded even better. We cut the pizza delivery guy lose. Surveillance had him walking through the neighborhood towards his apartment at the time of the murder. Dalilah Fisher was fired from her job. Charges are pending whether to charge her with conspiracy. A woman was found dead from a heroin overdose in an abandoned building in the Bowery. She had a picture of the deceased’s son in her possession. No other ties to the victim.
There’s nothing easy about murder. Follow the leads and hope they pan out. I’m going to miss this job. I closed the desk and walked out the door as a Detective of the NYPD for the last time.
She sat on the floor beside the boy. He sat with his feet under the coffee table, furiously coloring, drawing a stick figure of a boy standing on a chair at a counter. Beside the stick figure boy, he drew a stick figure woman mixing something in a bowl with a big spoon. Her smile was bigger than her round circle face. The stick figure boy had a smile on his face, too, only on top of the red smile the boy had scribbled brown.
She guessed, praying she was right, “Is the boy making brownies with his mom?”
Surprised, he glanced up, almost answering before he remembered that he didn’t want to talk to her. Quickly he returned to his furious coloring. He added an apron to the stick figure mom.
She placed a gentle hand on his back. “I used to bake with my mom.”
This time he didn’t look up. Instead, he colored more rapidly, adding a stove and floor tiles, lots and lots of tiles, and in his furiousness, the tiles got smaller on the right side of the page causing the whole of the kitchen to tilt like some cubist rendering, the boy Picasso, the world askew. “Hmmm . . .,” he said, and held up the sheet, pondering it with deep intensity.
He added hair to the stick figure boy, brown hair, curly. He paused again, careful not to look at her, scratching his chin and saying, “I wonder . . .”
He added a kitchen window, a sink, and multiple blue drips coming down from the spigot. He sneaked a peak at her not moving his head only his eyes, then added more drips, and more, until they spilled over onto the tiles running the wrong way up the tilted side of the kitchen. In the newly discovered river he drew a fish. “I might be a while,” he said, again he didn’t look at her. “Maybe you should talk to someone else.”
“I’d like to hear more about the brownies,” she whispered.
He whispered back, “She let me put in the eggs. It was okay if I got some of the shells in, because those you can get right out with a spoon. No problem at all.”
Suddenly he turned, his grin like the sun coming out. She pushed back the tears that threatened. He could still smile.
No, it’s too soon to hope.
But she did hope, because miraculously he spoke again, “We’d eat some of the brownie batter . . . raw.” He said the last word, ‘raw’, as if he wanted to gross her out.
She took the clue, and acted very grossed out. She opened her eyes wide with astonishment, “Raw?”
“Raw,” he insisted. “Even though there were EGGS in it, RAW eggs.”
She laughed, and he scrambled up from the floor to his feet. “We’d eat the batter and watch Avatar, the Last Airbender.” He Karate-chopped his way around the room. “I was always Aang . . . whoosh,” he brought down a pretend enemy with a blast of air. He stomped on the ground, pretending to earth-bend with his feet. “Aang can move air, water, fire and earth, because he’s the Avatar.” Like a five-year-old Bruce Lee he vanquished foe after foe. Breathless he turned towards her, “Mom liked to be Katara. She’s a water-bender.” He jumped onto the couch grabbing the afghan. “She used to pretend the blanket was the water she was bending.” Suddenly, he flicked the afghan into the air knocking his crayons and paper off the coffee table. “Once Mom accidentally knocked over a lamp when she was pretending to fight FireLord Ozai!”
His smile vanished. He stopped moving. Still on the couch, the afghan gripped in his hands, he stood like a statue staring into space, frozen by shock.
His pain tore at her and threatened her composure. It physically hurt her as if she’d been sucker punched in the gut. She struggled to breathe, to say the words she had to say calmly without emotion, “What did your father do about the lamp when he got home?”
The boy remained still and silent. She knew he was seeing it all again, the memory replaying in his mind.
She picked up the crayons and placed a clean piece of paper on the coffee table. “Show me? Please . . .”
He didn’t move so she placed a crayon in his hand, then . . .
“No, you’ll want the black one . . .”
He looked down at his hand as she took back the blue crayon and deliberately gave him a large black crayon, a little kid’s crayon, two times fatter than normal, without its paper wrapper, well used with scratches and dents in its shaft and a dull rounded tip.
He jumped off the couch and smashed the crayon down onto the paper. Again, he raised his arm and smashed the crayon onto the page. Over and over he smashed and scribbled and smashed, creating a monster’s face, with jagged teeth, and black eyes that stared right at you. The paper tore. He began to cry and she scooched behind him and hugged him. He fought her, but she wouldn’t let go. She saw the years stretch out before her and she didn’t care, she was all in and she wasn’t giving up. She was the child psychologist who’d seen too many troubled kids, who’d never wanted children. Now she decided to sign the adoption papers. It was the brownies and the smile that gave her courage. One memory she told herself, one memory was enough.
Another piece of paper, another picture, a man and a woman, black and red, so much red.
At last, he rested back against her, cried out, his hair damp and clinging to his forehead. She kissed his wet curls.
“Is Mom coming back?”
“She’s gone to live with God.”
“Can I go live with God, too?”