(One of the writers I’m meeting with every month has written a murder mystery, and so her topic of choice for our last meeting was “murder”. I didn’t quite know what to write for that at first. I had a vague notion of doing something with cute talking animals like the white rabbit but then I found that I wanted to do something totally different:)
“I couldn’t harm a fly! What do you want from me?”
I was looking at her through the observation window, the window that was a mirror on the other side.
Her husband had been found by a neighbor coming over to borrow the dethatcher for his garden. The neighbor came in through the back, and found him sprawled on the kitchen floor. Nothing had been looking out of the ordinary, just a guy laying on the floor. There had been groceries sitting on the counter in a bag. He probably was about to put them away.
I was called to the house just before lunch break. There were police cars already there, and Gonzales my partner was already talking to the neighbor. A nice neighborhood, small houses, each with a lawn in front and a garage attached to it, neat mailboxes standing next to the sidewalk. A lot of people were standing in the street. They weren’t used to see police cars here.
Everything in the house was tidy and neat and clean. Just as you would expect in the house of a middle aged couple. There were only the two of them living there. No children apparently which was a bit unusual. Otherwise everything looked normal.
Somebody had knocked the deceased on the head. Just one blow, and that was it. There was no sign of struggle, no fingerprints, no nothing. Just a man on the floor. He looked as if he had just keeled over.
When the wife came home later she was shocked by the presence of police cars. When they told her about her husband she couldn’t believe it at first. Then she went numb. Of course we had to bring her in and question her. She was the person who could help us best with this, she would be the one knowing her husband. And of course she was also a suspect. They always were in cases like this.
Until now it had been Gonzales talking to her but we all thought it might be time for a little woman on woman chat. People assume that you’re nice and sympathetic because you’re female. Of course that’s bullshit. Gonzales is much nicer than me. Women working in the police don’t stay nice even if they start out that way. You either get hard or you quit. And if you quit you can have a nice little life in a nice little suburb with your nice little kids, just like that woman sitting there on a chair in a police station. Of course her life wasn’t that nice now, with her husband killed.
In TV series there’s often this moment when they tell somebody about the death of a person they love. There’s a very brief pause, and then there’s the wailing. It doesn’t really happen this way in real life. Usually people take much longer to understand what’s happened. Most people stay numb for quite some time. They act as if nothing had happened, they keep on doing the things they always do, and only later, quite a bit later does it hit them. And even that is not the time when the wailing starts. That comes later.
Except when someone is guilty. When somebody already knew that the person was dead. Then they often act as in TV. They don’t know better. That’s often a giveaway, people wailing like that. You want to watch out for that.
I go into the interrogation room, and sit down on a chair opposite her.
“Hello, Mrs. Harris.” I say, “I’m sorry to keep you but you’re the one who can help us to find your husband’s murderer.”
“So it was murder? But that’s ridiculous. Who would want him dead, he is perfectly harmless. And it’s Ms. Harris, not Mrs.” Then she remembered. “Was, I mean.” She played with the wedding band on her left hand, turning it round and round on her finger. “Your partner there, Mr. Gonzales, I think that he thinks that I did it.” Suddenly she sat up straight, looking me directly in the eye. “That’s ridiculous, I love him, and I never would have wished him harm.”
That made me smile a bit. “Never, eh? Not even when he didn’t screw the top of the toothpaste back on? Not even when he forgot your birthday? Never?”
“He didn’t do that. He’d never forget my birthday.” She paused, “Of course he never did any housework.” Twisting her ring, “Or picked up his clothes. I have told him over and over again, day in and day out to please put his clothes in the hamper but no, he always threw them on the floor. Every single day. And every day a clean shirt. Every single day, even on weekends. And I had to iron them. Pick them up from the floor, empty his pockets, put everything in the laundry, wash it, hang it up, iron it, fold it, put it away. Every single day. Oh, and his shoes. He never polished them, ever. But he needed a clean and polished pair every single day. Do you know how many pairs of black shoes this man owns?”
I tried to look sympathetic.
“Ten pairs. Ten pairs! Of black dress shoes. For work. And guess who has to polish them?”
“That would be you.”
“You’re right. And he never puts anything away, ever. Not even his tools. You know he has this workshop in the basement with all his tools. And every time he uses something he puts it on top of the workbench. He never puts anything away. The pile on that workbench just gets higher and higher. The other day I wanted some pliers to unscrew the faucet, and I couldn’t find anything in there. He does have this set of drawers for his tools, everything has a place, it could be beautiful, and easy to find everything but I had to dig through that pile on the workbench to find a measly pair of pliers. Mind you, when I straightened them all up he was mad at me.”
“Did you have a fight about that?”
“We don’t exactly fight. We’re always nice and polite to each other.” Twisting her ring again. “Though I think sometimes I’m nagging him a bit.”
I just leaned back and let her talk.
“I know, he is working much more than me. I should be able to do all the housework but it does seem a bit unfair that he never lifts a finger.”
“He could just, I don’t know, sometimes he could just put away the groceries or go shopping once in a while, or just pick up his damn socks from the floor.” Her voice had gotten louder and quite tense by now.
“Wait a minute. There are groceries in your kitchen right now.”
“Oh yes, I forgot all about them. I should have put them away.”
“Did you go grocery shopping earlier?”
“Yes, of course, I always do. I left them on the counter, and asked him to put them away for once because I had to get back to fetch some potatoes. – He doesn’t like pasta or rice so I always have to cook him potatoes. And I hadn’t gotten enough, and so I asked him to please at least put the milk in the fridge.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said I could do it. But I had to go back to the store before they were closing.”
“I said he could either put the groceries away or go to the store to get more potatoes.”
“And then he said that I could do both, and that it was my fault because I had forgotten the potatoes, and how muddle-headed I always was, and that it wasn’t his job to always help me out, and that made me really mad.” She looked down on her hands playing with her ring. “I got so mad at him, I could have killed him.”