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Authors: Elisabeth Hyde

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BOOK: The Abortionist's Daughter
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Compounding the problem was the fact that her VW Bug had no defroster. Or rather, it had a defroster, but the defroster didn’t work; and although she kept wiping the glass with an old shop towel, the moisture from her breath quickly refroze on the glass. Soon the windshield was so frosty that she could no longer distinguish between road and curb, so Megan—who was a very cautious driver, especially when under the influence of any recreational drug—steered into the driveway of what turned out to be a neighborhood fire station. There she put the car in neutral and took a plastic scraper and started vigorously scraping at the ice on the inside of the windshield, sending out little showers of frost dust.

Having cleared a ragged hole, she was about to put the car in gear when she noticed a man standing outside a little house just behind the fire station. He was watching her. Despite the frigid temperature he wore no jacket, just a white T-shirt. One of the firemen? Just a guy? She couldn’t tell.

Shit! He was walking toward her. She didn’t want to talk to anyone! She was high! Her mother was dead! Shit! Fuck! She would have rolled her window up, but it was impossible for her to do so in any quick manner, because the threads inside the roller were worn, and to get the window up she’d have had to crank with one hand and force it up with the other, which would have taken too long. She let out the clutch. The car stalled.

The man peered down to her level.

“You okay?” The shadow of a beard, a tiny gold hoop in his left earlobe. “Car trouble?”

Megan quickly averted her eyes. She wanted to say, No, I’m fine, or, No, it’s just my windshield, but she seemed to have lost her voice. She wished she’d brought along a water bottle.

She restarted the engine, only to find Saran Wrap forming on the windshield. Trying not to appear jumpy, she took the towel and began rubbing the glass, which only served to smear everything into a blurry mess.

“Got any de-icer?” he asked.

Megan paused. She could smell the man; he smelled like laundry detergent, or too much deodorant—she couldn’t put her finger on it. She resumed her polishing.

“Sorry?” he pressed.

He’s fucking with you, Megan told herself. Answer him and he’ll go away. With great effort she managed to shake her head—meaning to communicate three things: one, that she didn’t have any de-icer; two, that she was fine and didn’t need his help; and three, that she was onto the fact that he was fucking with her.

But the man seemed bent on a mission. “I can go check,” he said. “I might have some.” But then he paused, watching her, as though waiting for permission. She stole a quick glance at him, and jesus his face was moony in the light of the snow and how did he get that scar on his chin? It suddenly occurred to her that here she was, talking to a strange man in an empty parking lot at nine in the evening, someone who might
not
just be fucking with her. Her heart took a little riff. This town was not the safe little place people thought it was. Had the cops gotten that man who was sneaking into women’s bedrooms? She tried to remember the sketch she’d seen in the local section of the newspaper—hadn’t the guy been wearing an earring?

Megan popped the clutch. The car lurched forward, and the man gave a clumsy little hop off to one side. She didn’t care. She pulled out onto the road. Maybe now she would have to keep poking her head out the window to see where she was going, but at least she wasn’t hanging around like a sitting duck, asking to get mugged.

Conscientiously watching her speed, Megan managed to navigate up the main street and turn at the light. To make up for lost time, she decided to take the shortcut to their house, even if it did go up and then down a steep hill. When she stuck her head out the window, icy needles spat against her face. All you have to do is get home, she reminded herself. There’s just this last hill. She floored the accelerator, but as she neared the crest, her wheels began to spin. She took her foot off the gas with the intention of simply coasting back down to get another start but instead found herself gliding quietly off the road and down into a little ditch, finally coming to rest against a sprawling juniper bush.

It was as soft a landing as any car could possibly make, but when Megan tried to open the driver’s door, the boughs of the juniper bush elbowed back. She would have climbed out through the passenger door, but it had been jammed shut since last summer, when Bill kicked it in.

She was stuck.

She’d forgotten her cell phone, and the horn didn’t work because she’d disconnected it last summer when it started honking continuously. All she could do was wait until someone drove by. And so in this sheltered ditch, with her windshield frosted over and the snow falling gently and the juniper boughs pressing up against the window, Megan sat. And waited. And tried not to think about the last words she had said to her mother.

—————

When Frank answered the door and saw Detective Huck Berlin standing on his porch in the pale glow of the streetlight, he cringed inwardly. Not that Detective Berlin wasn’t top notch. He was one of the best, even if he was relatively young. But Frank had exchanged heated words with Detective Berlin back when they had decided not to go forward in the Templeton case. Berlin was pissed. Frank didn’t blame him. The guy had done a lot of good work. But since that time, whenever he had had to deal with Detective Berlin—when Berlin presented him with a positive ID in a rape case, for example—Frank sensed a naked skepticism on the younger man’s part, as though he would have gone into shock if Frank had followed through.

And of course, Berlin was accompanied by Detective Vogel. Frank had always suspected that it was Ernie Vogel who was responsible for the chain-of-custody fuckup in the Templeton case, and he wished Ernie would have admitted as much. Vogel had responsibility issues, in Frank’s view. Plus he could just be a real asshole. His older daughter had played on Megan’s soccer team, and Frank had never much appreciated the way Ernie stalked the sidelines, huffing and yelling at the ref every chance he got. Some parents got way too worked up over these games, and Ernie was one of them: he was an embarrassment to the team.

The two detectives exchanged glances, then wiped their feet on the mat and stepped into the house. Detective Berlin wore a gray hooded sweatshirt and stood in the hallway with his hands stuffed into the kangaroo pockets. His nose was red, his eyes bleary and moist. Detective Vogel followed—quiet for once. (Though why wouldn’t he be? There was no ref to yell at.)

“I’m sure sorry about this,” said Detective Berlin.

Frank merely blinked. All manner of graciousness, all manner of protocol had suddenly escaped him. He had no idea what to do next.

“Maybe you could show us the pool,” Huck offered, and Frank dutifully led them down the hall to the solarium, where the patrol officer and the paramedics were kneeling over Diana’s body. They all looked up.

“Hey, Jen,” said Huck.

“Huck,” said the patrol officer. “Ernie.”

“What happened? If I may ask,” said Ernie.

Frank said, “She drowned.”

“She
hit her head
and drowned,” Jen corrected him. “Frank, I asked you to sit over there. Please sit over there. Please don’t go wandering around. Come take a look,” she told the two detectives.

Huck and Ernie squatted by the body and looked at the area where the paramedics splayed Diana’s hair.

“Yowsers,” said Ernie.

“Did you call the coroner?” asked Huck.

“Piper’s on her way,” said Jen.

“When did backup get here?”

“About half an hour ago. They’re outside,” said Jen.

Huck stood up and surveyed the room. “Any signs of forced entry?”

“Not that I can tell.”

“Any struggle?”

“Just the bruise. A few scratch marks.”

“Was your wife on any medication?” Ernie asked Frank. “Any chance she’d been drinking?”

Frank snorted.

“It might be a simple explanation,” said Ernie, shrugging. “Maybe she fell.”

“She wasn’t drunk,” said Frank.

Ernie walked over to the pool. He leaned down and swished his hand through the water. “How do these things work?”

“You swim against the current,” said Frank.

“And how fast does it go?”

“You set the speed. As fast as you want.”

“What, like two miles an hour? Five?”

“I don’t know,” Frank said, growing irritated. “It’s got a dial.”

Just then two other police officers arrived, and Huck sent them back outside to start taping off the house. “Make sure you get the entire yard,” he said. “Plus the garage. Does anybody have a key?” he asked Frank. “Housekeepers? Workers?”

“Just my daughter,” said Frank. Which reminded him. He checked his watch. It was ten past ten. Where was Megan?

“Anyone come in to feed the pets?”

Frank shook his head, although now that he thought of it, it was certainly possible that Diana had given a key to the housecleaner. Though whoever that was, Frank didn’t know. Diana went through housekeepers like paper towels.

But before he had a chance to correct himself, a small athletic woman came striding into the room. Piper McMahon was the county coroner. Her son Brian had been a classmate of Megan’s. During his sophomore year Brian had gotten heavily into hallucinogenics, and instead of graduating he went off to live on a commune in the Arctic Circle. Piper hadn’t had it easy, Frank thought.

Though neither have you, he reminded himself, flashing on Ben. Amazing, how parenting could age a person beyond his wildest expectations.

Piper unzipped her puffy black parka and dropped it onto the floor and stepped forward to hug Frank. “The whole drive down I kept telling myself it wasn’t true,” she whispered. She knelt down beside Diana’s body. She pressed her fingers against Diana’s neck. She glanced up at Frank, then shifted her weight and pressed in another spot. Frowning, she smoothed back Diana’s thick curls and examined her head, turning it this way and that. She palpated the area around the bruise. She lifted Diana’s eyelids and shined a tiny light in her eyes. She rolled Diana to one side and examined her back, then rolled her back again and gently straightened her arms by her sides and brought the sheet up over her head.

“You’re right, we’re going to need a full autopsy,” she said. “What time did you find her?” she asked Frank.

“Eight-thirty.”

“In the pool?”

Frank nodded.

“And you dragged her out?”

Frank nodded again.

“Wish you hadn’t done that,” Ernie murmured.

“And when did anyone last see her?” asked Piper.

“I did,” said Frank.

“What time?”

“Five, five-thirty.”

“Well, we definitely need an autopsy,” Piper declared. “I can’t tell a damn thing here except she hit her head and drowned. Let’s get her over to the morgue,” she said, snapping off her gloves. “I’ll call John, and we’ll get started.”

“Tonight?” said Frank.

“No reason to wait,” said Piper.

Meanwhile Huck was over by the sliding doors, inspecting the doorjambs. “Did you say the door was unlocked?”

“The lock’s broken,” said Frank. “She was supposed to call someone.”

“You leave all your doors unlocked?” asked Ernie.

“No, we don’t, detective. I just told you. This one was broken.”

Huck bent to inspect the lock. “Broken indeed. Nice ficus,” he said, glancing around. “Hard to keep alive, aren’t they?”

“I don’t take care of the plants,” said Frank.

“Must be the moisture in here,” Huck remarked. He knelt down to examine something.

“What is it?” asked Ernie.

“Broken glass,” Huck said. Frank watched as Huck slipped on a pair of gloves and picked up the glass and placed it in a Ziploc bag and sealed it. He watched him put the bag in his pocket. He saw the two men exchange glances and suddenly put things together. They thought it was him! But of course! You always suspect the husband! He should have thought of that by now.

As though Ernie had read his mind, he now approached Frank’s side. “Listen, Frank,” he said in a low voice, “do you have somewhere to go tonight?”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s just that we have to treat this as a crime scene,” said Ernie, “and we need to preserve things.”

“I’m not going to tamper with anything,” said Frank, “if that’s what you’re saying.”

“I’m not saying that,” said Ernie. “But we’ve got to follow procedure. And I think you know that your staying here could cause problems later on.”

“You mean when you want to name me as a suspect?”

“I’m not saying that.”

“Good. Because I’m not leaving. I’m waiting here for my daughter.”

“Where is your daughter, by the way?” Huck asked.

“She’s on her way over here,” said Frank. “I called her. She should be here.” He looked at his watch again.

“Doesn’t she have a cell?” asked Ernie.

It hadn’t even occurred to him to call her cell. There was a phone on the wall by the door, and he picked it up and dialed Megan’s number. There was no answer.

“She drives a yellow Bug, doesn’t she?” asked Huck.

“Why?” said Frank.

“I think I saw her on her way over here,” Huck replied. “She was having trouble with her defroster. I’ll call Dispatch.” He left the room. Frank was left standing there alone with Ernie, who glanced at him and then jingled the change in his pocket.

“Look, Frank,” he finally said. “I’m very sorry about this.”

Frank wasn’t yet ready to start receiving sympathies. He cleared his throat and asked where Ernie’s older daughter was these days.

“Up north,” said Ernie.

“Is she still playing soccer?”

“No. How about Megan?”

Frank shook his head, and Ernie gave a sigh. “They were all going to get soccer scholarships,” he said. “Remember those days?”

Frank managed a smile.

“Mia wannabees,” said Ernie. “Everywhere you looked.”

His wife dead—and here they were talking about soccer! Frank started to pick up his wife’s robe, but Ernie stopped him. Frank dug his hands into his pockets.

“Our house was on the Home Tour, you know,” he told Ernie. “Somebody might have scoped it out.”

BOOK: The Abortionist's Daughter
9.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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