The crime scene photo

Posted: 2011 in Post 2.4
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 22, 9:21 p.m.

The time has come to look at the final picture: the very last photo ever taken of his wife. Jack shudders.

“It’s a horrible photo,” he says. “But I want you to see it. Nobody’s ever seen it but the cops and the lawyers. And me.”

I’m not sure I want to see it. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see it, actually.

Jack’s hands are shaking. He rubs them over his face.

“Today was so bad. I haven’t been at a murder scene in years. Twelve years. My old editor never made me go after what happened. It was the same today—the smell, the chaos.”

I expect him to add, “The corpse,” but he doesn’t.

“Maybe you shouldn’t show me,” I say. “Maybe you shouldn’t look either. Why not put the pictures away and I’ll call you a cab so you can go home to bed?”

Jack uncovers his face and gives me the basilisk gaze that I find so intimidating.

“Fall asleep, forget, and back into the mindless routine for another year? Right?” he inquires in a tone that seeks to entrap me. I know better than to answer. He wants me to argue so he can attack me, releasing his pent up anger on my uninvolved self.

After I remain silent a full ninety seconds, he scrapes his nearly nail-less fingers over his scalp.

“That was what got her killed. A mindless routine. Every Sunday, we went to the same store at the same time to buy the same stale bread to feed to the ducks. She and Lucy always went in while I waited in the car. I’d been writing about the murders for months. He was escalating. That’s what the police kept telling me whenever a new body surfaced. He was about to be caught, and they thought he knew it. He was getting careless. I know exactly how it happened when he took her, even though I wasn’t there.”

“Maybe we should call it a night,” I say. “Let me take you home. I’ve got a very cool press car. You’ve had a lot to drink. Where do you live?”

“I’d gotten so in tune with his methodology—the dump sites, the choice of victims, the things he liked to do to them. I should have been smarter. I was so stupid.”

Jack picks up the last photo. He doesn’t look at it. He closes his eyes.

“We were all set to go on our Sunday picnic that morning. I’d been putting in fourteen hour days for weeks. No time off, not even weekends. I told my editor I wasn’t coming in that Sunday. We were in the kitchen getting ready to go. Lucy was begging for a donut to feed to the ducks. She really wanted to eat it herself. She was three—thought she was so crafty.”

Jack’s face smoothes out, though his eyes remain closed. The crime scene photo is in his hand, turned away from me. I do not want him to show it to me.

“My wife told me she’d seen a crib on sale at the consignment shop up the street. We weren’t really broke financially. But emotionally…in our relationship, we were almost broke. It was all my fault and we both knew it. It was my job. My ego. But we were trying.”

I say, “Jack—”

And he says, “Let me tell you. Please.”

So I shut up and listen.

His eyes are still closed. It’s more unnerving than his poisonous stare.

“So many late nights, so many weekends spent writing about this guy. One day off sounded so wonderful. One day to sit in the toasty car with my family, singing old Elvis and Beach Boys songs, squeezed close, drinking hot soup. Lucy telling me all her silly stories from preschool, and my wife whispering that if we worked real, real hard, she could buy that crib before the sale ended.”

“God, Jack, are you sure you’re not ready to go home?” I say. “I’ll take you. Your daughter’s probably worried about you.”

“Then my beeper went off. And my cell phone rang. And my home phone rang. And everything went wrong.”

Jack bites the inside of his cheek hard, making a concavity on the left side.

“My wife picked up the land line. She lost that…that lightness. Turned all brittle. She said, ‘Jack, it’s work.’

“I said, ‘Look, tell them it’s Sunday. I’ll call them back tonight.’

“She said, ‘I already did. They say it’s urgent.’

“She looked at me, holding the phone halfway between me and the cradle where she could hang it up. God, I thought all I wanted was to relax and spend the day with Lucy and my wife. But I what really wanted was to take that call. Because I knew, I knew that it was big.”

Now it’s his turn to go silent for a full ninety seconds.

“You took the call?” I ask.

He nods.

“I remember the exact thought that I had: What can it hurt?

He ought to laugh cynically. He ought to shake his head or slam his fist on the tabletop. He does nothing. He is so still that I get scared.

“Jack? Jack? I think we should go. It’s a work night—”

“I told her to have fun with Lucy. I went to work. Why the hell did I do that? Why didn’t I know what would happen? I knew him. I knew how he operated. Better than the cops did. I should have known…”

He opens his eyes at last. They hurt me so bad when they meet mine.

“The last thing I said to her was, ‘Honey…’ And the last thing she said to me was, ‘Jack. Just go. We’ll see you at dinner. Maybe.’”

He’s wounding me mortally with his eyes.

“Are you married?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“Any kids?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Do you do stuff like that?” he asks.

I don’t answer. I’m here, in a bar located over an hour from my house, at ten at night on a Thursday, interviewing a strange man.

Jack slowly reaches across the impassable space between us. His hand shakes as it snakes between the empty highball glasses in pursuit of mine, which are clenched together in a knot on the sticky tabletop. He knocks a glass to the carpeted floor where it bounces, rolls and does not break. He withdraws his hand, leaving mine unsqueezed.

“Don’t,” he says. “Just don’t.”

 

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