Friday, October 7, 2011
FICTION FRIDAY: Chapter 23A
Late in the afternoon the following day Paul finally got a call from the Sheriff’s Office. It was Lieutenant Jones.
“Hello, Lieutenant. What did you find out? Was it Sarah’s car under the bridge?”
“Yes, it was, and we’d like to thank you for your, uh, detective work. We’d like to come out to your house and talk to you about it.”
“Sure, come ahead. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Good. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
True to his word, two officers arrived within five minutes. Paul offered a cup of coffee, but Jones shook his head.
“We want you to come with us to headquarters.”
Paul started. He thought if he actually found the car, they would quit thinking he had done away with his wife, but now it sounded like they were arresting him.
“Yeah, I guess, but would you tell me why?”
“The car is your wife’s, but she wasn’t in it. We’d like to talk to you about that.”
“Are you kidding me? She always used her seat belt.” Stupid, Paul. They wouldn’t be kidding about this. Still, if she wasn’t in the car, maybe she did get out.
“No, sir, we are not kidding,” Lieutenant Jones sounded as if his politeness was being stretched to the breaking point. “Please come with us.” He took Paul’s arm none too gently and headed for the car. The other officer accompanied Paul on his other side, although he didn’t take Paul’s arm. Paul shook the officer’s hand off his arm, but followed them peacefully. He wasn’t sure if he was angry or scared or both, but his heart was thumping like a hovering helicopter.
They made the long ride in silence, Paul in the back seat separated from the front seat by a closed window.
When they got to the downtown Phoenix office, the walk into the building was also silent. Paul walked through the metal detector twice, forgetting the first time to remove the spare change and keys from his pocket. The officers led him to an interrogation room and sat down. The second officer, who introduced himself as Sergeant Marklet, went after coffee.
Paul broke the silence between himself and Lieutenant Jones. “I don’t understand what’s going on. I thought if I could find the car for you maybe I’d be out from under suspicion, but it appears the opposite is true. I don’t understand either where Sarah would be. She always wore her seat belt. Would you tell me if you found any trace of her at all?”
“The only thing we found was her purse, inside the console. Both doors had been torn off. The car was pretty banged up. I’m amazed you could see it under the bridge, because most of the car was still underwater or covered with mud and brush. How did you know it was there, Mr. Johnson?”
Paul noticed that he was now “Mr. Johnson” again. He guessed Lieutenant Jones didn’t fee so friendly toward him any more. “I didn’t know it was there. I just thought maybe the Agua Fria would be the most likely place where her car could be hidden from the highway. It was running pretty full at the time she disappeared. I hiked downstream for maybe two or three miles and came back. I was nearly back to the highway when I saw what looked like the sun shining off a mirror. The river was still running too high to wade into it, though, so I called your office.”
“Doesn’t it sound to you as though it was a little convenient that you knew just where to look? Because I’ve got to tell you, that’s what it sounds like to me,” Lieutenant Jones said, taking a cup of coffee from Sergeant Marklet.
Sergeant Marklet handed a second cup to Paul, who took a sip, cringing at the old coffee bitter taste.
“Man, how many days has it been since this stuff was made?” he asked, pushing the cup away. “I think I’ll pass on the coffee.
“I’m so sorry, sir, we don’t have a Starbucks here,” Marklet said, his voice sarcastic. He dumped the refused coffee into a trash can.
“Sorry, Sergeant, I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful,” Paul said. He turned to Lieutenant Jones. “Lieutenant Jones, as I said before, I didn’t know. I just. Only thing is, I thought it would be downstream from the road, not under the bridge. She must have gone off on the left side of the road.”
“Yes, she did. There are no skid marks, although we did find where she went off the road quite a ways back from the river. It was obvious she didn’t use her breaks, and there’s no apparent reason the car would go off the road there. It just makes me suspect she was already dead.”
“She had been taking sleeping pills—Ambien, I think—most nights since our little girl died. If she got up early enough, I suppose they could still affect her enough that she went to sleep on the road. I didn’t hear her leave, so I don’t know what time that was.”
“You didn’t hear her get up, get dressed, open the garage door, nothing?” Jones sounded skeptical.
“I took a sleeping pill, too.”
“Well, here’s what I think happened, Mr. Johnson. I think you took her for a ride. Or maybe you followed her and nudged her car off the road. I think your wife was getting in your way. You had a bit of a “thing” going with that cute redheaded professor, didn’t you?”
“No. I think maybe Maureen would like to have had a thing going, but it never happened. It hasn’t happened since, either, except on Maureen’s side. I think she’s given up, now. I hope so. I’d never deliberately harm Sarah or anyone else for that matter.”
“The way I figure, you nudged your wife’s car off the road with your car. Don’t think I don’t remember that dent in your bumper. Maybe you already killed her, then just pushed her car off the road with yours. We haven’t figured that one out yet, but you can bet when we do, spend some time in Arpaio’s tent city, maybe even in one of the State pens. As for this Maureen you say is chasing you, she tells a different story.”
“I don’t know how to convince you otherwise, Lieutenant. You will think what you want to, no matter what I say,” Paul said, shoulders slumping.
“Mrs. Johnson’s friends seem to think that the two of you were having problems. You can see how we might be thinking less than positive thoughts about you.”
Paul stared at the table. “Yes, sir. I’m afraid the best description of our relationship would be ‘distant.’ There isn’t any animosity. We just can’t carry on a conversation any more, and truthfully, I guess we just stopped trying. It’s not something I’m proud of. I wish we could go back and do the whole thing over.”
“Sure you do,” Jones said. They continued to question him about his activities around the date of her disappearance for about a couple of hours, going over and over the same things from every angle.
“Sergeant Marklet will take you back home now, but don’t go anywhere other than to work. Meanwhile, we will be dragging the river downstream of the car. Perhaps you’d better hope we find her body. It might not go well with you if we don’t. In fact, it might not go so well for you even if we do.”
After he got home, Paul noticed an unfamiliar car parked across the street, and two people sat in the car looking toward his house. Hmm, I’ll bet that’s a stakeout. They could get pretty bored watching my life.
Monday morning when Paul left for work, a different car pulled out and followed him. They didn’t make any secret out of the fact they were tailing him. They followed him all the way to the campus, and an officer followed him wherever he went by foot. They followed him to his classes, followed him to lunch, and followed him back home again. Other than being embarrassed, Paul wasn’t inconvenienced. His coworkers gave him the fisheye, and even Maureen avoided him. The only one who didn’t avoid now him was Evelyn, the secretary.