Warped Tales – be warned.
As a child I read piles of books filled with short stories – the complete works of Poe, stories from the Twilight Zone, collections from Hitchcock, etc.
As an adult, thrillers rule.
This is that kind of story, in six parts.
The medics arrived first and, following Anne’s instructions to avoid unnecessary contamination of the scene, determined that she was indeed right. John Davenport was dead. They’d barely returned to the kitchen when the police arrived.
Officer Hendricks reminded Anne of her son when he left for boot camp – head shaved nearly bald, posture erect, proud yet nervous. Detective Grant, on the other hand, was more like her husband. He was gruff, numbed to the horrors of the job even in this small mountain community.
When they moved to the bedroom, she followed, but positioned herself in the hallway so she would not have to see John’s face again.
“Did you recognize the gun, Ma’am?” Officer Hendricks asked from the doorway.
“Yes. It’s his. He kept it loaded, on the bedside table,” she said.
“A Colt?” questioned Grant.
“He got it when we moved here. Liked the way it looks. His Glock is in a drawer in the kitchen. He was a detective with Schenectady PD. He’s had a hard time adjusting to retirement.”
“The gun is in his hand,” Hendricks said softly.
“Until the coroner gives us his findings, we can’t make assumptions,” said Grant.
“Hendricks, go call in and let them know we need a lab team out here. We may want to work with DPS.”
Hendricks passed Anne, then turned and asked, “Were you in the gun safety class?”
“John insisted I should know how to shoot.”
“I remember,” said Hendricks. He looked at Grant as he explained, “It was too much gun for her. Nearly tore her arm off. She quit after her first shot.”
“I hate guns,” Anne said. “I told him not to bother getting a smaller one for me.”
Grant ushered Anne out of the house behind Hendricks.
“Any sign of forced entry?” he asked. He didn’t believe it was a suicide.
“No. But the side door wasn’t locked. I must have forgotten. I was running late when I left. He’d already laid down for a nap.”
“He’d gotten into the habit of doing that after a big meal. We ate about five and I left at five-forty-five.” She inhaled deeply and pulled up her shoulders and allowed her eyes to glisten. “If it was murder, it’s probably my fault he’s dead.” She let her chin quiver slightly.
Grant paused a few moments, then said, “You shouldn’t blame yourself for leaving that door unlocked. Most folks here don’t bother with that unless they’re leaving the place empty.”
They sat on the front deck. Hendricks closed the police car door and came over.
“There’s a team on the way,” he said.
Grant nodded, then asked Anne, “Was there a particular reason you would have locked up, if you’d remembered?”
“After thirty-five years as a cop, twenty of them in homicide, my husband insisted on keeping the doors locked, even when we were both home, even when I was working in the yard.”
“You do the yard work?”
“John loved the fact there was no lawn to mow. He liked the tall pines.”
“Are those tomato plants in that raised bed?”
Anne was surprised. Grant didn’t seem like the kind of man who would care about anything other than his work, and dead tomato plants were not readily recognizable from a distance. “They were. I haven’t got the knack of gardening here yet. It’s so different.”
“You’re from New York?”
“Yes. Schenectady. I always had a wonderful garden. I don’t know how anyone can grow anything here.”
“So your husband was asleep when you left?” Grant asked.
“Yes.” She needed to stay focused. This wasn’t the time to complain about anything.
“Where did you go?”
“The assisted living center. I play cards every Wednesday with some of the residents, six until seven. That’s as long as most of them can last.”
Detective Grant wrote that on his pad. “Do you have a friend we could call for you?”
“No. No one I’d want to bother at a time like this. We’ve only been here a year, almost a year, actually; not long enough to make that kind of friend.”
“We can drive you to a motel,” he offered.
“Thank you. I’d like that.”
“We have to wait for the lab people to check your hands and clothing for residue, though.”
“Of course,” she said.
“It’s standard procedure,” Hendricks assured her. Then he got her talking about John while they waited for the specialists and watched the sun slide down to the horizon.
Grant listened. It wasn’t a suicide. The Colt would have kicked the man’s hand back, or flown right out of it. Most murders were personal. The victim hadn’t known anyone here. It was unlikely some low-life had tracked him down this far for revenge, which left the woman. The spouse was the most likely candidate in any homicide.
When the lab specialist got there, Grant watched as Anne pulled clean clothes out of the dryer, then he left her alone to remove the clothing that would have to be tested.
“Don’t run any water, though,” he warned.
“I won’t, but I’m sure I washed my hands after playing cards.”
Grant knew they wouldn’t find anything on her, but procedure demanded she be checked. He’d also make sure they did a toxicology screen on her husband. Women traditionally used poison. She could conceivably have shot her husband while he was comatose from something he ate. But, being a homicide detective’s wife, she’d know that would be suspected, so the tests would probably be a waste of money.
When the lab people were done with her, Hendricks drove Anne to a motel in the Mustang while Grant followed – and watched as the car ahead of him passed under the street lights on Main.
At the motel, Hendricks walked the woman into the office, then slid into the passenger seat. “She’ll probably end up selling the place, if anyone will have it, and moving back to New York.”
“She said that?” Grant asked.
“I asked again if she had a friend we could call to come be with her.”
On the way back to the crime scene, Grant pulled around behind Safeway and parked with the headlights on the dumpster. He pulled on a pair of disposable gloves as Hendricks watched, puzzled.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Grant ignored the question. He got out and lifted the heavy lid. There was a neatly tied black yard bag tucked under some cardboard that should have gone into the recycle bin, but on top of the other trash. He yanked the bag out and opened it as Hendricks joined him.
Grant pulled out the plastic rain gear with duct tape still sticking plastic bags to the cuffs. There was a shower cap with a clear veil of plastic taped to it as well.
“What made you check here?” Hendricks asked.
“She looked toward Safeway when you drove by, while she was rubbing her shoulder. I expect it’ll be her DNA on the inside of this and we’ll probably find his on the outside.”
When they went back to the motel to pick her up, Anne saw the bag and nodded.
“He killed me first,” she said. “I was a gardener. He killed me.”