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John W. Dennehy
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reprisal.jpg
Art by Patty Mulligan 2017

Reprisal


A Short Story by


John W. Dennehy


 


The doorbell 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 spacious colonial.


Looking 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.


A stubby 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.


“I’m Detective Sergeant, Timothy Simms,” the bald man said.


Claire sighed heavily shaking his hand. “That was faster than I thought.” She forced a smile.


“Got here as soon as we could.” Simms pointed to the slick cop. “This is Detective Chalmers. And with us is Officer O’Brien.”


Chalmers 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.


She clicked her heels, turning. “Follow me.”


They stepped inside without 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.


“We look into matters before calling the Staties,” Simms replied.


Claire nodded understanding. “Westin is such an upscale town.” She glanced over a shoulder. “You must not see things like this very often.”


“Ma’am, we aren’t even sure what we’re dealing with yet,” Chalmers interrupted, sounding annoyed.


Claire glimpsed Simms motioning Chalmers to back off.


They came 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.


Chalmers gazed upon the room in awe. To the right, a short hallway, lined with cubbies for coats and boots, led to a door.


“This 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.”


The policemen 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.”


Simms gently patted her shoulder. “We’ll take it from here.” He motioned for Chalmers to open the door.


The young 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.


Except 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 open.


She cupped a hand over her mouth. “I can’t stand to see Richard this way.” Claire turned away.


Claire 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.”


She stepped through a set of French doors.


Collapsing 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.


“I can’t believe this is really happening.” She sobbed.


Simms sat patiently, as if waiting for the moment to subside.


She cried, then tried to catch her breath. “Sorry.” Claire reached for a tissue.


“That’s perfectly fine.”


“This is just so shocking. Do you understand?”


“These 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.”


Claire nodded, sniffling.


“We’re 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.”


Claire 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.”


“A consent to search would sure speed things up… but you should know that you have your rights.”


Sitting 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.


“That’s correct,” Simms said. “You’re an attorney. I recall you were a Prosecutor awhile back.”


“A 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.”


Simms nodded.


“I don’t pretend to have experience in matters like this. So, I’ll have to take your guidance.”


Chalmers and O’Brien appeared in the doorway.


“Excuse me.” Simms stepped away.


From the 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.


****


Claire 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.


Simms returned, 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.”


Simms shrugged. “I’m old school.”


She wondered 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.


“Just waiting for Officer O’Brien to return with some forms. We have to do formal paperwork before moving things along.”


“That’s perfectly fine.”


“I’m sure you’re familiar with paperwork… being an attorney and all.”


The front 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.


Placing the forms on a mahogany coffee table, Simms checked them over. Then, he carefully tapped the stack on the table, straightening the pile.


“Okay, Ms. Kirkwood.” Simms sounded official. “We came to the house because you called the station reporting a death.”


Claire 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.”


Simms sat up, straightening the stack of forms on the coffee table.


Claire 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 attorney.


 “Ma’am, we’re just taking things one step at a time,” Simms reassured. “Just want to get things handled correctly.”


“My husband has been killed, and you’re worried about formalities.” Claire shook her head. She sat up, adjusting her skirt.


O’Brien stood nervously in the doorway, trying to avoid looking at her. And Simms squirmed on the sofa, unaccustomed to not having control.


“We’ll 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.”


“That is correct Detective Simms.”


“So, 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.”


Claire 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.


She glanced at the form curiously.


“Ma’am, 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.”


Claire looked at him suspiciously and nodded.


“If 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.”


“That’s perfectly fine.”


Claire 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.


“Okay, 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.”


Claire nodded, understanding.


“Did Richard have any enemies? Anyone that would want to hurt him?”


Claire shook her head. “Everyone loved Richard.”


“No business disputes?”


“Richard didn’t have any real enemies. Not the kind that you people deal with. Situations where someone would act out violently.”


“Did your husband have any girlfriends, or romantic interests?”


“Certainly not.” Claire was adamant. “He kept to a regular routine and was perfectly satisfied with our domestic life.”


Simms watched 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?”


“No. 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.”


“There 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.”


“What kind of business did your husband run?”


“Well, it’s a startup company. They develop software for action video games. Joel is the technical guy, and Richard handled sales.”


“What was the dispute about?”


“They owned a private corporation. Joel wanted to go public, maybe cash in his shares. Richard wasn’t ready to make a change.”


“How serious was the dispute?”


“It had gotten heated. There is a prospective buyer willing to pay double the assessed book value of the company.”


“What is the assessed value of the company?”


“About three and a half million.”


“So, there was a buyer willing to pay approximately seven million dollars for the company?”


Claire nodded. “That sounds about right.”


“How many people own shares in the company?”


“Richard and Joel are the majority shareholders. They own ninety percent of the shares. There are a few others with minor interests.”


“Do you own any shares in the company?”


“About three percent. But I don’t get involved with the company.” She didn’t mention the malfeasance clause.


“Do you know where Joel was this afternoon?”


“Not 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.”


“Anything else?” Simms pressed. “Loans?”


“Honestly, I’ve told you everything I know. If Richard kept anything from me, it would likely be on his laptop.”


Simms perked up. “Do you know his password?”


“I’m confident that I can narrow it down.”


He called Chalmers into the living room.


They fetched 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.


Simms motioned for her to head back into the living room.


****


Sitting in a side chair, Claire crossed her legs and glanced at Simms.


He nervously reviewed his notepad, apprehensive about what to say next. “Can you tell me your activities chronologically,” Simms finally said, “beginning with yesterday afternoon?”


“Yesterday afternoon?”


“Yes.”


“Let 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.


“I got home and Richard…” She paused, gathering herself. “Richard was making dinner, Italian with red wine.”


“Do you know when he got home?”


“I’m not sure.”


“Do you have children?”


“We 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.”


“We will do our best,” Simms said. “But you know they find things out even if we don’t provide any information.”


“Well, I’ll need to call them as soon as we get done.”


Simms shrugged, and then looked at his notepad.


“So 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.”


“Did he receive any calls?”


“I don’t think so. But we weren’t together the entire time. I worked in the study, and he was in the family room.”


“Was he on his computer?”


“Not 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.”


“Do you have separate computers?”


“We each have a laptop. And there is a desktop in the study.”


A knock 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.


“This 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 copy.”


Claire 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.


Overwhelmed, 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.


Claire looked up.


Simms watched her closely.


Then, she 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.”


“Do you need a paramedic?”


Her head 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.


****


Awoken by commotion from the hallway, Claire watched officers drag computer wires across the floor, and clang a hard drive down in the entranceway.


Her senses 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.


The room felt cooler and she found it easier to breath. “Did you turn the thermostat down?”


“No, 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.”


She nodded, while sitting up.


“Easy. You shouldn’t move too soon.” The EMT grabbed her shoulder to help steady her.


“That’s okay.” Claire waved him off. “I’m doing better now.”


She met 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 station.”


“Detective Simms, every minute lost investigating this matter, my husband’s killer gets further away.”


Simms recoiled, seeming surprised by her comment.


“What are you thinking?” she asked.


He blanched. “You said killer.”


“So?”


“Ms. Kirkwood, this appears to be a professional hit. And they usually don’t do this sort of thing alone.”


“Why not?” She canted her head incredulously. “Richard was in great shape, but he wasn’t muscular or powerful.”


“We’re not counting that out,” Simms admitted. “But, it’s likely that two or more people did this.”


Claire 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.”


“Why don’t we pick up with how your day went. Beginning with this morning.”


She cleared 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.”


Simms was 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.


She wondered if they considered anyone else a suspect.


“There 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.”


“What time was that?”


“The hearing was at two in the Land Court. I left after lunch in order to account for traffic.”


“What time did you leave court?” Simms sat up, more interested.


“It was a cattle-call. We were the last case called because it was complex.”


Simms nodded, seeming to understand that judges herded the quicker cases through first, and reserved hearing time for the afternoon. He jotted down more information on the notepad.


“We 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.


“Did you park in a garage?”


“Actually, when I got to Worcester, I parked in an open-air lot.”


“Do you have a receipt, with the time that you left?”


“I have a receipt, but you pay going in.”


Simms remained cool. “Did you take the Mass Pike home?”


Claire 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 home. But—”


“But, what?”


“I took Route 9 in order to do some shopping.”


Simms bit his lip at the response. Then, he glanced at O’Brien who looked back dolefully. “Okay, where did you go shopping?”


“There’s 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 You Need.”


“And did you purchase anything?”


“I went there to buy some dried flowers for a wreath.”


“So, there’s a receipt with the time on it.” Simms seemed excited. “Or at least a purchase invoice at the register I presume.”


“Well, no,” Claire replied, innocently. “They didn’t have what I wanted.”


“I 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.


“A 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.”


“Ma’am, I am truly sorry about your situation. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask these questions.”


Claire 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.”


“Well, it’s all too convenient,” he snapped. “There’s no record of precisely where you were and what time you were there.”


“Detective, 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 whereabouts.”


“I’ll bet that she won’t be able to confirm the precise time.” 


Claire stared Simms coldly. “Am I a suspect, Detective?”


He looked 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.”


He didn’t 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.


She knew that prisons were full of innocent people.


Claire 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.”


“Ma’am, 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.”


Claire 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.”


“Do you want to call a lawyer?”


“Heavens no. I want you to investigate this productively.”


Chalmers hurried into the living room excited. Simms got up and walked to him. They whispered and went into the kitchen.


“I’ll be right back,” Simms said, stepping away.


Claire 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.


They mentioned Joel’s name and threatening emails. Panic subsided; her heart rate slowed.


Simms rushed 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.”


The officers 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.


****


Claire reviewed the police inventory. She’d signed more forms before they cleared out.


The house 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.


She opened 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.


She poured wine into the glass and took a sip.


Returning 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. 


Then, she 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.

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