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Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Belated Fiction Friday: One More Time, Chapter 14


See previous Fridays for previous chapters. Ahem. Except for yesterday when I forgot what day it was. *Blushing furiously*

CHAPTER 14 - MAY, 2008 CE - QUESTIONS

It had been a month now since Sarah’s disappearance. The police made daily contact with Paul, but the reports were all the same. Nothing. He showed up every day at the campus, kept himself busy. The constant expressions of concern from coworkers and students depressed him, a too-often reminder that Sarah hadn’t been found. Maureen offered to console him more times than he could count. If he saw her before she saw him, he'd duck into the men’s room or once even into a nearby broom closet to hide.

He strode toward his 1 pm class when his cell rang. He glanced at the LCD—Sergeant Willis.

“Hello, Sergeant. Any news today?”

“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson. Would you have time to drop by the station today?”

Hm. She’d been calling him Paul. What now? “Sure. I have a class beginning in fifteen minutes, so I can come by at about 4 pm. Would that be acceptable?”

Sergeant Willis spoke to someone else in the background, and then came back to the telephone. “Yes, sir, that would be acceptable.”

“Sure, see you then.” Paul broke the connection, frowning at the phone.

After class, he retrieved his car from the faculty parking lot and proceeded to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department Office on First Avenue and Washington. I don’t know why I feel this sense of trepidation. I’m not guilty of anything. He mentally shook himself and pulled into the only shady parking spot he could find.

He asked at the information desk for Sergeant Jones, and the receptionist called her. Within a minute, she appeared from around the corner of the hallway. She looked at lot like he had pictured—a tall, attractive black lady, maybe 30 years old. Paul guessed she came pretty close to his height. She glided effortlessly down the hall with the grace of a dancer.

“Hi—you must be Paul. Please come with me.” She led him to a room that he guessed was for interrogations, and it had the proverbial one-way mirror on one wall.

Uh-oh. This doesn’t look good.

Beulah smiled at his discomforture, 32 small white teeth promising good intentions.

“Relax, Paul, we just need to ask a few more questions. We’ve also been talking to Sarah’s friends and relations, your mother, and her therapist, all of whom agree that Sarah was—is— very depressed. Under those conditions, it’s possible that a person might actually choose to run away to hide from the world. Was there a particularly favorite vacation spot that she liked?”

“She loves the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, The Arches, Monument Valley—places like that. But she doesn’t carry much cash, so she’d need to use a credit or debit card. I think Lieutenant Jones took our credit card numbers to see if she was using them anywhere.”

“There's no record of her credit or debit cards being used—only yours. You withdrew $500 yesterday with your debit card, isn’t that right?”

“Yes, ma’am. We’ve done that for years. Whenever we run low on cash, we get $500 out of the money machines and put all but what we want to carry into our safe at home. We were out, so I got some more.

“Your next question is probably could Sarah have taken the cash in the safe, and yes, she could, but I took the last $100 out of the safe last week. She hasn’t taken any of it. She probably had a little cash on her, but it wouldn’t have been more than maybe $50 or $60. She used it for lunches and minor purchases. Gas went on the card. And we haven’t been anywhere like out for dinner or a movie or the theater since Tamara, our daughter, died. Nor have we gone on any vacations. Both of us used up most of our vacation time while Tamara was so sick.”

“We know about your daughter—we have Tamara’s illness and death in our records. I’m very sorry for your loss. Do you have passports?”

“Yes, we do. We went to Paris four years ago, sort of a delayed honeymoon.” Paul thought about how great a time they had in Paris, and his eyes stung. He kept his feelings under control with difficulty.

“I need to ask you to give the passport to us, Paul. Just until Mrs. Johnson is found, you understand.”

Paul hesitated, then sighed and reached for his briefcase. “I’ve been carrying it for some time—occasionally I need a second form of identification, and this works. I guess this means I’m officially under suspicion.”

“Yes, sir, to be honest. You understand it’s just procedure. We have to do this. And I have to ask you not to leave town, or at least, don’t leave this part of Arizona. In particular, just restrict your travels to between home and work. I realize you live in Wickenburg and work in Tempe.” Beulah looked uncomfortable, as if she’d rather be anywhere but here doing this, but it was her job.

“We will also need to check your car and home more thoroughly. I realize I could get a search warrant, but I’m hoping you will consent to the search without. It looks much better on your record.”

“Okay. The only thing I ask is that your people won’t tear the house to pieces and leave me with a huge mess to clean up. Come to think of it, though, maybe cleaning up the mess would give me something to do with my time to keep me from thinking.”

“I’ll ask our crew to be considerate. They'll be there this evening.”

“I guess I’d better find a lawyer, too.”

“That is your right, sir.”

“I’d like to go home now, if it’s okay with you, Sergeant. I mean, if I’m not under arrest or anything.”

“No, you’re not under arrest. I hope it won’t come to that, Paul. I do have a few more questions, though. One is in regard to your relationship with your wife.”

“I wish I could tell you we were close, but over the past year or so, we have just drifted apart, and it’s been worse since Tamara died. We used to be close. I wish we still were, if that counts for anything.”

“I’m glad you told me that, because that’s the same thing we have heard from others. If you tried to tell me otherwise, I’d be more suspicious. The other question is in regard to one of your coworkers, Maureen O’Malley. What is your relationship with her?”

“There is no relationship, other than coworker. I admit I thought she was attractive, but nothing ever developed from it.”

“She appears to feel otherwise. She said you’ve been making advances toward her.”

“Just the opposite. She has been for some time been very—well, for lack of a nicer term, flirtatious toward me. Before Sarah went missing, I was flirting back, but only at work. I never went with her anywhere. Now for the past month she has been offering to console me about every hour on the hour. Our secretary could probably verify that for you.”

“It must be flattering to have a lady that attractive throwing herself at you.”

“It was flattering for about a week, but it didn’t take long before it became embarrassing. I see you’re wearing a wedding ring, Beulah. Would it feel flattering to you if one of your coworkers threw himself at you day after day?”

Beulah laughed. “Don’t think that hasn’t happened, Paul, just between you and me. Okay, that’s all I need. Go home. I'm sorry that we have to do this. I hope you sleep well tonight.”

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