A Short Story by
John W. Dennehy
rang followed by a
hurried knock. Claire gathered herself and headed to answer. Traversing
hardwood floors and oriental rugs, she nervously went to the front door of her
out the sidelights,
policemen stood impatiently on the brick portico. They weren’t quite what she
was expecting. She took a deep breath and then opened the door. Brisk New
England air rushed inside.
bald man in his
mid-forties stood before her, wearing a trench coat that draped to the ground.
Flanked by a young officer in uniform and a slick detective, the bald man
seemed even shorter. The uniformed officer had a buzz cut and black leather
jacket, while the detective wore a trim overcoat.
Detective Sergeant, Timothy
Simms,” the bald man said.
sighed heavily shaking
his hand. “That was faster than I thought.” She forced a smile.
here as soon as we could.”
Simms pointed to the slick cop. “This is Detective Chalmers. And with us is
looked her over
suspiciously, while O’Brien flashed a boyish smile. She nodded to them. Running
her hands down the sides of her Ann Taylor jacket and skirt, she
idiosyncratically straightened the outfit.
her heels, turning.
further comment, and closed the door, shutting out the frigid elements. Claire
marched down the hall, with the officers trailing after her. “I was expecting
the state police,” she said.
look into matters before
calling the Staties,” Simms replied.
“Westin is such an upscale town.” She glanced over a shoulder. “You must not
see things like this very often.”
we aren’t even sure what
we’re dealing with yet,” Chalmers interrupted, sounding annoyed.
glimpsed Simms motioning
Chalmers to back off.
to the end of the
hallway. A gourmet kitchen was on the left with granite countertops, stainless
steel appliances, and a gas range. An island sat in the center with comfortable
stools neatly pushed underneath.
gazed upon the room in
awe. To the right, a short hallway, lined with cubbies for coats and boots, led
to a door.
is our little mud room.”
Claire stepped into the immaculate side hall, then paused and breathed in
deeply. “Right through there is the garage where I found him.”
stood quietly as
though waiting. She could feel air leaving the room; panic raced through her
veins. Claire shook her head: “I can’t bear to look at it again.”
shoulder. “We’ll take it from here.” He motioned for Chalmers to open the door.
detective swung the
door open before Claire could turn away. A naked man dangled upside down from
an electrical cord. The cord was tied to his feet, and hooked into the ceiling.
His skin was grey, ashen. A slit ran from groin to throat. He was tall with a
runner’s build. And his privates had been hacked off and shoved into his mouth,
with a recycling bin placed beneath him.
for claret smatterings on
the concrete, and a small pool of blood in the recycle bin, there wasn’t much
from the scene to reflect exsanguinations. Another recycle bin was tipped over
near a utility sink. The garage was cold, causing their breath to form billowy
clouds. She shivered from a brisk draft. A window overlooking the backyard was
a hand over her
mouth. “I can’t stand to see Richard this way.” Claire turned away.
raced down the hallway
with Simms treading after her. “Contact the Captain,” he called back to
Chalmers. “Advise we need the State Police crime scene unit.”
through a set of
on a sofa, she buried
her head into her hands. Simms quietly took a seat across from her. Shock
slipped away, replaced by the dawning reality of her situation.
can’t believe this is really
happening.” She sobbed.
patiently, as if
waiting for the moment to subside.
then tried to catch
her breath. “Sorry.” Claire reached for a tissue.
is just so shocking. Do
situations are very distressing,”
Simms assured her. “Which makes my job all that harder. We need to move on this
fast, if we’re going to figure out what happened.”
going to have to get a
warrant to search your house, computers and bank accounts. And I’m going to
have to ask you some questions. This may seem difficult, even intrusive, but we
have to do it.”
looked at Simms sternly.
“You don’t have to get a warrant. I’ve nothing to hide, and need
to find out who did this.”
consent to search would sure
speed things up… but you should know that you have your rights.”
back, she sighed and
tried to catch her breath. The entire ordeal was surreal. Claire couldn’t
believe how everything suddenly felt trivial. Frivolous. The upkeep for a large
home, professional demands, all of it seemed trite.
“I know my rights Detective.” Claire sobbed.
correct,” Simms said.
“You’re an attorney. I recall you were a Prosecutor awhile back.”
long time ago. I’ve been
doing civil litigation for twelve years.” Claire breathed heavily, trying to
abate the sobbing. She gathered herself. “I worked in the District Attorney’s
office, out of law school, for a couple years. Mostly small cases.”
don’t pretend to have
experience in matters like this. So, I’ll have to take your guidance.”
and O’Brien appeared in
me.” Simms stepped away.
hallway, she heard
Simms giving instructions. He told Chalmers to call the State Police, and
instructed the patrolman to get paperwork from a cruiser. Chalmers reached for
his cell phone and stepped outside with O’Brien on his heel.
glanced around the room,
taking in the trappings of a successful life. Custom millwork surrounded the
room and fine curtains draped from the windows. Expensive artwork hung on the
walls, and each piece of furniture was costly and meticulously selected. She
considered the acquisitions of a lifetime, and wondered how things could have
gone so terribly wrong.
pulling a notepad
from his coat pocket. As he sat down, she scrutinized him closely. “I would
have thought the Westin Police had iPads by now.”
if he was just
playing good cop. He acted nice, but seemed to be studying her, like sizing up
a suspect. “What’s next?” Claire asked meekly.
waiting for Officer
O’Brien to return with some forms. We have to do formal paperwork before moving
sure you’re familiar with
paperwork… being an attorney and all.”
door swung open; a
chill whipped throughout the house. O’Brien stepped into the living room and
nervously handed a stack of paperwork to Simms.
the forms on a mahogany
coffee table, Simms checked them over. Then, he carefully tapped the stack on
the table, straightening the pile.
Ms. Kirkwood.” Simms
sounded official. “We came to the house because you called the station
reporting a death.”
looked Simms over. He
appeared stern, then she glanced over to O’Brien lingering in the doorway. The
discussion with Simms was obviously meant to lay the groundwork for something
serious. “What’s going on here?” Claire finally snapped. “Something happened to
my husband. And you seem more interested in filling out paperwork, than
investigating who’s responsible.”
up, straightening the
stack of forms on the coffee table.
picked up on the delicate
situation. If handled incorrectly, it could mean the end of his career. He had
a nice position with the police force in an upscale community. The entire time
he’d been at her house was spent in a balancing act. Simms was caught between
not making a mistake, one that could get her off on a technicality, and
treating an innocent person like a criminal, especially a prominent Boston
“Ma’am, we’re just taking things one step at a
time,” Simms reassured. “Just want to get things handled correctly.”
husband has been killed, and
you’re worried about formalities.” Claire shook her head. She sat up, adjusting
stood nervously in the
doorway, trying to avoid looking at her. And Simms squirmed on the sofa,
unaccustomed to not having control.
move this along quickly,”
Simms said. “Detective Chalmers is calling for the State Police crime scene
unit. Like I was saying, you invited us into the house, and we saw what appears
to be a homicide. There are grounds for probable cause to support a search
warrant, but you advised that one is not necessary.”
is correct Detective
I’ll just need you to sign
this form, consenting to a search.” He slid the form across the coffee table
along with a pen. “The officers can get started once you sign.”
perused the form quickly,
and then signed it. She slid it back to Simms, but held onto the pen, clicking
it repeatedly. He shoved another form across the table. The heading read:
Voluntary Witness Statement.
at the form
we need to speak with
you about your husband. Knowing his background will help investigate this case.
At present, you are not a suspect. We are merely seeking to take a witness
statement from you.”
looked at him
suspiciously and nodded.
at any time that status
should change,” Simms continued, “we are obligated to inform you the discussion
has become a custodial interrogation. At which time, you would be read your
rights and afforded the opportunity for an attorney.”
signed the form and slid
it back to him. He took it and put the form aside. She saw a blank form in the
pile for her written statement.
I’m going to ask some
difficult questions. Many are standard for this sort of situation. I don’t mean
to imply anything untoward. They’re just standard questions… being thorough.”
Richard have any enemies?
Anyone that would want to hurt him?”
shook her head. “Everyone
didn’t have any real enemies. Not the kind that you
people deal with. Situations where someone would act out violently.”
your husband have any
girlfriends, or romantic interests?”
not.” Claire was
adamant. “He kept to a regular routine and was perfectly satisfied with our
her closely, as
though trying to see if there was anything more. O’Brien perked up at the
questioning. Claire grew indignant from the accusation. Her heart raced, but
she knew they had to ask these questions.
“Did Richard have any gambling debts?”
Not that I know about… He really
wasn’t much of a gambler.”
“This doesn’t seem like a random act of
violence. Tell me about any disputes he might have had recently.”
weren’t any disputes,” Claire snapped. “He may have
had a disagreement with his business partner, Joel Lange. But Joel is a
wonderful person, and they were like brothers.”
kind of business did your
it’s a startup company.
They develop software for action video games. Joel is the technical guy, and
Richard handled sales.”
was the dispute about?”
owned a private
corporation. Joel wanted to go public, maybe cash in his shares. Richard wasn’t
ready to make a change.”
serious was the dispute?”
had gotten heated. There is
a prospective buyer willing to pay double the assessed book value of the
is the assessed value of
three and a half
there was a buyer willing
to pay approximately seven million dollars for the company?”
nodded. “That sounds
many people own shares in
and Joel are the
majority shareholders. They own ninety percent of the shares. There are a few
others with minor interests.”
you own any shares in the
three percent. But I
don’t get involved with the company.” She didn’t mention the malfeasance
you know where Joel was this
precisely,” Claire said,
considering. “He often works from home. Joel is a divorced beatnik type. Lives
in a condominium loft nearby. When he’s not working at home, he’s either in the
office, or a local bar picking up girls.”
else?” Simms pressed.
I’ve told you
everything I know. If Richard kept anything from me, it would likely be on his
up. “Do you know
confident that I can narrow
Chalmers into the
the laptop and
headed into the kitchen, and then set the computer on the counter. Within a few
tries, she had the password figured out. Chalmers slid the computer away and
plugged away at the email inbox.
for her to head
back into the living room.
in a side chair, Claire
crossed her legs and glanced at Simms.
notepad, apprehensive about what to say next. “Can you tell me your activities chronologically,”
Simms finally said, “beginning with yesterday afternoon?”
me think a moment.” Claire
shrugged. “I was at the office in Boston until about six-thirty. Traffic was
light, so I got home a little after seven.”
Simms nodded, following along.
got home and Richard…” She
paused, gathering herself. “Richard was making dinner, Italian with red wine.”
you know when he got home?”
you have children?”
have a daughter that boards
in Connecticut, and a son away at college. Neither knows about this yet, so I
would appreciate having the opportunity to contact them before any press
releases go out.”
will do our best,” Simms
said. “But you know they find things out even if we don’t provide any
I’ll need to call them as
soon as we get done.”
and then looked
at his notepad.
that was about it. We had
dinner and cleaned up a little after eight. He watched the news and I did some
work. We both went to bed by ten.”
he receive any calls?”
don’t think so. But we
weren’t together the entire time. I worked in the study, and he was in the
he on his computer?”
that I saw. But I would
expect he used his laptop. That would have been his custom. Again, he was in
another room most of the time.”
you have separate
each have a laptop. And
there is a desktop in the study.”
rattled the front door.
Chalmers walked down the hall, then led crime scene officers into the house.
Wearing dark fatigues and combat boots, the officers gave off a militaristic
presence. Barreling inside, they carried bags and equipment. A few trampled to
the garage, and some hustled upstairs; others went down into the basement.
can be a little
unsettling, I’m sure,” Simms said. “Everything will be lined up in the hallway
before we remove it. We’ll take a detailed inventory and provide you with a
took a deep breath. The
sight of her husband’s body dangling in the garage came to mind. The reality of
the situation sank in. He was dead; her husband would never come back. And this
would be all over the news. Her children would be put through hell, and there
would be media hype from now through a trial.
she leaned forward,
putting her hands to her face. Claire started crying. She tried to force
herself to stop, but it was hard to breath, and she couldn’t stop crying.
Desperately, she wanted to regain control, and not let the situation, or these
officers, get the best of her.
stood and took a deep
breath, gasping for air, but not seeming to find any. It was like all the
oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Breathing heavily, it didn’t seem to
get any better. “I think…” She huffed. “I think
that I’m having an anxiety attack.”
you need a paramedic?”
swirled and she
inhaled. The room felt hot, void of oxygen. Claire stumbled, collapsing onto
the sofa. Then, she rolled off, hitting the wooden floor.
by commotion from the
hallway, Claire watched officers drag computer wires across the floor, and
clang a hard drive down in the entranceway.
slowly came back. An
EMT crouched on the floor beside her, and Simms held a glass of water. He
handed it to her without speaking. Sitting up on an elbow, she gladly took hold
of the glass. Claire gulped it down.
felt cooler and she
found it easier to breath. “Did you turn the thermostat down?”
Ma’am,” Simms replied.
“That’s just the guys going in and out. And you were likely in a bit of shock
from today’s events, causing your body temperature to get warmer.”
while sitting up.
You shouldn’t move too
soon.” The EMT grabbed her shoulder to help steady her.
okay.” Claire waved him
off. “I’m doing better now.”
Simms’ eyes. He looked
at her carefully, as though trying to determine whether the fainting had been
contrived. “We can pick this up later… if you want. You could come down to the
Simms, every minute
lost investigating this matter, my husband’s killer gets further away.”
surprised by her comment.
are you thinking?” she
“You said killer.”
Kirkwood, this appears to
be a professional hit. And they usually don’t do this sort of thing alone.”
not?” She canted her head
incredulously. “Richard was in great shape, but he wasn’t muscular or
not counting that out,”
Simms admitted. “But, it’s likely that two or more people did this.”
looked him over
carefully. This seemed to be a bit of gamesmanship. Focusing on one word,
killer, and then making her think they truly suspected more than one person. She
figured they actually suspected an individual. She shook her head in
frustration. “Well, I just don’t know.”
don’t we pick up with how
your day went. Beginning with this morning.”
her throat and took
another sip of water. “It was a typical day. Richard and I got up around six.
He made breakfast and I went for a short run. Then, we both got ready for
work.” She shrugged. “I left about seven-thirty.”
still eyeing her
carefully. He was obviously trying to get as much out of her without declaring
her a suspect. An admission would turn the discussion into a custodial
interrogation, and they knew that she would lawyer up. For now, Claire sensed
he was happy to play dumb, and let her think that she could outsmart them. This
would cause her to keep talking, make a mistake.
if they considered
anyone else a suspect.
was nothing unusual,” she
continued. “I worked until noon and had lunch at my desk. Then, I left for an
afternoon court hearing out in Worcester.”
time was that?”
hearing was at two in the
Land Court. I left after lunch in order to account for traffic.”
time did you leave court?”
Simms sat up, more interested.
was a cattle-call. We were
the last case called because it was complex.”
understand that judges herded the quicker cases through first, and reserved
hearing time for the afternoon. He jotted down more information on the notepad.
got called about three and
argued for close to an hour. I had a short discussion with opposing counsel,
and then walked a couple blocks back to my car. It was close to four-thirty by
the time I left.” She took another sip of water.
you park in a garage?”
when I got to
Worcester, I parked in an open-air lot.”
you have a receipt, with the
time that you left?”
have a receipt, but you pay
cool. “Did you
take the Mass Pike home?”
understood it to be a
loaded question. There would either be a Fast-Pass charge with the timing of each
toll, or a receipt for expenses. “Honestly, that would be my typical route
took Route 9 in order to do
his lip at the
response. Then, he glanced at O’Brien who looked back dolefully. “Okay, where
did you go shopping?”
a craft store out on
Route 9.” She spoke rapidly. “I go there occasionally on my way back from
central Massachusetts. It’s called Everything
did you purchase anything?”
went there to buy some dried
flowers for a wreath.”
there’s a receipt with the
time on it.” Simms seemed excited. “Or at least a purchase invoice at the
register I presume.”
no,” Claire replied,
innocently. “They didn’t have what I wanted.”
thought the name of the store
is Everything You Need,” Simms said,
derisively. He tossed the notepad down, and ran a hand over his balding head.
The pen rolled off the pad onto the table, and then clanked on the floor.
As he reached
for the pen, a
ding-ding echoed from the kitchen. “What the hell is that?” Simms said.
reminder that the dishwasher
is ready.” She spoke coolly, with an even tone. “Totally forgot about it. I had
loaded it when I got home, before I found Richard.”
I am truly sorry about
your situation. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask these
shook her head. “I’m
afraid that I don’t quite understand your behavior Detective Simms. You asked
me for my schedule of events, and I’ve provided them to you. For some reason,
you seem upset with my responses.”
it’s all too convenient,”
he snapped. “There’s no record of precisely where you were and what time you
why I find it all
too inconvenient.” Claire sighed,
indignantly. “No one plans for something like this to happen.” She adjusted her
skirt. “Besides you have a very good outline of my schedule, and reasonable
driving times. I spoke to someone at the shop, so surely she can confirm my
bet that she won’t be able
to confirm the precise time.”
stared Simms coldly. “Am
I a suspect, Detective?”
her over carefully. It
was obvious that the discussion was revealing his line of thinking. “No, you’re
not a suspect.” Simms finally replied. “These are just routine questions.”
sound convincing. A
wave of panic swept over her as she considered how things might play out. The
police typically focus in on people that know the victim and latch on to the
best option. Often they are correct, but many times they’re not.
that prisons were full
of innocent people.
took a deep breath,
settling herself. “Detective Simms,” she finally said, “I am fully interested
in cooperating. I fail to see how my trip to a craft store has any bearing on
your investigation. So, if I’m a suspect, you are required to let me know.”
you’re not a suspect,”
Simms said meekly. “And you haven’t said anything incriminating that would
convert this witness investigation into a custodial interrogation.”
glanced at him
condescendingly. “That’s not true at all and you know it. Luckily, I didn’t
have anything to do with this. But if I had, then portions of my statement
would most certainly be used against me.”
you want to call a lawyer?”
no. I want you to
investigate this productively.”
hurried into the living
room excited. Simms got up and walked to him. They whispered and went into the
be right back,” Simms
said, stepping away.
heard muttering from down
the hall, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. Growing tense at the
dilemma, anxiety consumed her. The walls were closing in; it became difficult
to breathe again.
Joel’s name and
threatening emails. Panic subsided; her heart rate slowed.
back into the
living room smiling. “Looks like we caught a break. There were some hostile
emails from Joel Lange. And he actually came over here this afternoon. We’re
going to question him now.”
trickled out of the
house, first the detectives, then the coroner’s office took away the body, and
then the crime scene team finally left.
reviewed the police
inventory. She’d signed more forms before they cleared out.
was finally quiet. She
took a deep breath, feeling the worst of it might be over. Walking into the
kitchen, Claire sighed at the solitude of the vast empty home. All the years
with Richard, and now they wouldn’t see retirement together.
the dishwasher and
unloaded clean dishes. A wine glass on the top rack was wedged in tight. Wiggling
the glass loose, she placed it on the counter, and then fetched a half empty
bottle of Merlot from the refrigerator.
wine into the glass
and took a sip.
to the dishwasher, she
stacked the remaining plates and bowls on the counter. She reached in and
pulled out a strange chrome travel mug. The lipstick that she’d found on it
when she’d come home early from court had completely washed away.
thought about how
Richard dying, and Joel’s implication in the murder, would transform her into a
ninety-three percent owner of a seven million-dollar company.
John W. Dennehy is an author of Thrillers and
Suspense. His debut novel, Clockwork
Universe (Severed Press 2016), was met with exceptional reviews. He has
further novels planned for release, including Pacific Rising (Severed Press 2017),
Deepwater Drift (Severed Press 2017), and Jurassic
War (Severed Press 2018).
His short stories have appeared or accepted in Dual
Coast Magazine, Calliope, Typehouse
Literary Magazine, The
Stray Branch, SQ Mag, Voluted Dreams
Magazine, Disturbed Digest, Sanitarium
Magazine, Vols. 10 and 23, Beyond Science Fiction, The
Literary Hatchet, The J.J. Outre’
Review, Shotgun Honey, Micro Horror,
and anthologies SNAFU: Wolves at the Door,
Dark Monsters, Winter Shivers,
Bones III, The Haunted Traveler, Vols. 1
and 2, and Ghost Papers.
John graduated from Pinkerton Academy and
enlisted in the U.S. Marines. Following an Honorable Discharge, he obtained a
degree in Creative Writing/English from UNC Wilmington. He is a member of ITW,
MWA, and HWA and serves as Communications Director for the HWA. He is currently
at work on another novel, and resides in New England.