Crossing my arms, I think through my situation. Is everyone actually here?
While the investigators are combing through the crime scene, and as long as we have officers to contain everyone in the library, I decide to investigate the rest of the residence for anything, or anyone, out of place.
“Officer Hill, stay with these people.” I assign the closest police officer and head into the expansive house.
Judging from the outside, the home is symmetrical. The front door opened at the center, and the entryway ended at a corridor. I begin in the south corridor.
I discover the kitchen, empty.
The dining room, empty.
Nothing seems out of place, but with a dozen servants, you can leave your socks on the floor and they won’t stay there long.
I continue my survey and call Sophie. She picks up right away.
“How you doing, sweet-cakes?
Storage room, empty.
She draws a deep breath and I know her look. Sad eyes trying to smile. My heart aches at the thought.
“When are you coming back?”
“I’m sorry, precious, I have to work. Somebody got hurt and I have to make sure everything will be okay now.”
Doorway to a hallway. Maybe servants’ quarters. I’ll check here later.
“Can Mommy come?”
I grit my teeth. Oh, God. How can I tell her? It’s been so hard for me to deal with, let alone a sick girl. I should have said something right when it happened. But I didn’t. And now I’m knee-deep in a lie of sorts.
“No, Mommy can’t come, either.”
“Why not? Why doesn’t anyone want to be with me? I’m scared here, Daddy. I don’t want to be here.” She drops the phone and cries, and I hate my job. I hate this place. I hate death.
I open the next door and freeze. Something out of place. On the floor of a long hall-like laundry room is a fuzzy, long red piece of fabric. It looks like a bathrobe tie.
“Sophie? Sophie? Pick up the phone, honey!” I call into the phone.
Instead of my daughter, a nurse picks up. “I’ll help her, Mr. Reynolds. Don’t worry. We’ll see you when you get here.”
I hang up, loathing myself, then take a picture of the red tie.
Doing this to my daughter feels like the worst kind of betrayal. I clench my fingers around the phone, feeling torn between this death and my daughter’s sickness.
I weigh my options.
Should I leave this crime scene behind and go to the hospital to comfort Sophie?
Should I plug on and keep doing my job?
No. No. We’re not allowed to make those kinds of choices.
Justice requires self-sacrifice. I have to do my job, even when the one sacrificed and dying is my innocent six-year-old. I shrug off the theology, and my wife’s voice, reminding me she’s not innocent. Yes, I know. Original sin and all. But to me she is a sinner learning to know and love Jesus. And to me that makes her that innocent child Christ calls us to be like.
So why am I lying to her about her mother?
Sophie is the spitting image of her mother, Mercy. If I lose them both, then what is left of me?
I pull on the gloves in my pocket. I forgot to bring an evidence bag, and what I should do is go back and grab an investigator.
I step out of the laundry room and run right into William Black—wearing a red bathrobe that matches the tie I found. I shut the door behind me to block his eyes from the evidence.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Black?”
“I asked if I could change my clothes. It’s not proper to be in my bathrobe with all these people around.”
His robe has a tie around the waist.
My hand strokes my chin. “And they let you leave?”
He nods his head.
“No. I’m sorry, after we’re done here you can change. We must protect the crime scene. Come with me” I turn him down the corridor toward the entry, puzzled. I cannot fathom any officer letting someone away.
“May I at least go to the bathroom?” He motions to the open door next to us.
I nod. “I’ll be waiting right here.”
He ducks in and I wait, jotting down some things in my notebook. In thirty seconds he comes out, followed by a whiff of that sulfur smell. I hold my breath and motion for him to go down the hall in front of me. His bathrobe is untied. Not only is it untied, but it has no tie. More questions fill my head. I must interview these people before too long. I send him over toward Officer Hill and duck into the piano room.
“Thomas, I need you and your kit to come with me.”
The investigator grabs his evidence-collection box and steps out into the hall. I scan the group of residents.
Black has settled down, his arm around his wife on the couch at the far side of the library. There’s more tension in the room now, people fidgety and tensely quiet. I count heads. Fifteen?
“Hill? I thought I told you to keep everyone here.”
“I did. No one left.”
“Then why are two people missing? Plus, I found William Black wandering the halls.”
“No one left this room, sir.”
Anything to save your skin. I shake my head and write him up in my notebook, sorry it will have to be reported, but all cases depend on people doing their jobs. And crimes pivot on the smallest of clues or slightest witness statement. Smith will face consequences at the right time.
I walk Thomas to the laundry room, show him the evidence, and leave him to check the room for fingerprints and DNA. Then I pause.
I need to interview the people before anyone else leaves. Maybe I can find out which witnesses left and how they left. On the other hand, that red robe tie means there might be more evidence I can find before it gets trampled by daily life again.
I call the M.E. “Hey Maura, I’m still at the Black Mansion. I didn’t get to talk with you when you were here. Did you determine this a suicide? Or is it still suspicious circumstances?”
She tells me she’s still waiting for the lab work, so she cannot confirm suicide.
I thank her, then drop the phone in my pocket.
I still have the north hallway to check, plus the entire upstairs.
NEXT: Chapter 1 scene 3
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek