“We finished the wine?” Rose asked as she held the bottle above my glass.
She stepped closer to me and unzipped my zipper. She then unbuckled my pants. She unbuttoned buttons. She helped me with my sports coat, then my shirt, then my shoes, and pants fell on top of the shoes. She obviously had a plan.
She turned on the water, the mirror steamed up. While I sat in warm soapy water, Rose stripped off her garments, dropping them in a heap on a bathroom floor.
She blew out a few of the candles and joined me in the water.
“So help me, Hanna, for next thirty minutes I forgot about burned bodies, bodies in the river, and all that money hidden in Pueblo.”
Morning came without warning, sunlight streaming into the room. I slid out from under Rose, and left her sleeping in the plush comfort of our marriage bed. The woman of my dreams had stolen my heart away, again… But I had work to do.
“I wonder if I…” the thought crossed my mind that I might not have locked the door, but I was midway up the concourse about to board a plane.
I found my seat, stowed the briefcase overhead and dug my phone from the inner pocket of my leather sports jacket. Rose was probably awake, I hoped. I called.
“Hello?” Her sleepy voice told me I’d awakened her.
“Rosie, baby, I’m not sure if I locked the door when I left. I’ll be back in fourteen hours, ready to go. Pack it up?” I whispered as if I were talking directly into her ear.
“I’ll check it. I’ll be ready,” her voice trailed off and the phone disconnected.
After a bumpy take off, we soared over the Rockies and what seemed like minutes later, landed at Seattle. I grabbed my briefcase and rushed off the plane, out of the airport and grabbed the first Uber, a young woman wearing orange geometric patterned leggings, and gray t-shirt style tunic with a long tail on one side, bunched into a black clip on the other. She was wearing black ballet slippers and her dark curly hair was pulled up into a sloppy bun. I felt an intriguing sense of duty to notice everything about her, including the delicate hint of makeup that brightened her face. She smiled, the deep kind of intense smile that lit up her eyes, and laughter seemed to trail her.
She asked my name as I slid into the back seat, and flipped on the turn signal.
“A detective, here on assignment… Investigating the cop killing on the north side?” She asked as she glided the SUV smoothly into traffic.
“No, but maybe close…” I nodded, grinning at her glance in the mirror.
“Married? Kids?” She obviously wanted to talk.
“Happily. Three, all grown. Two grands,” I responded to her desire. “What about you?”
“Happily. Four, all preteen,” She answered.
“What’s it like to drive Uber?” I asked, sincerely interested in her job. “Why choose this job?”
“Between careers. I was seriously ready for a change. I love people and thought it might be nice to meet some one on one, without having to know them longer than the drive from one point to the next. No messy relationships?” She shrugged.
“Any weirdos?” I asked.
“Not until you?” She answered, grinning.
“Well, that makes me feel better,” I nodded. “What’s your next career?”
“I’m writing a book in my spare time.”
She hesitated only a moment at the red light, flipped on the right blinker and turned into traffic. Within moments, she’d bypassed a gridlock and we were back into regular motion, taking a left turn onto another highway, leading us toward the water. She pointed out the bay in the distance, barely discernible in the vague difference in blues.
“Our skies are rarely this blue. Gray skies are more appropriate here, and we’d never be able to see this much water on the horizon. But it’s nice to see, occasionally.” She took the exit and meandered through the traffic like a professional, pulling up to a stop near the entrance to the legal offices of the investigator I’d come to meet. “Do you want a ride back to the airport?”
“Actually, I do,” I nodded. “I should be here about an hour, if you want to pick up some lunch and bring something back for me?” I handed her a hundred dollar bill, and disappeared up the stairs into the office.
I realized some time later that I hadn’t really waited for her to answer, I was laughing at myself when the investigator showed up in the outer office.
Donohue was tall and thin, looked like he was wearing his daddy’s suit and over-long tie, the white shirt had long since come untucked and his belt was barely buckled. I looked him up and down before I shook his hand. The hat he wore had seen better days, perhaps even a few other heads, and his hair stuck out from under it, as if he’d forgotten where to find his barber. And perhaps… misplaced his comb.
The way he walked, I figured he didn’t do much onsite investigation anymore, but he looked like he’d seen outside the box. I followed him into the office, past the secretary with the bright red lips and too much blonde hair, and the conference room where nobody had visited the dusty table in more than a few days.
“So, what do you have for me?” I asked.
He closed the door and found his way back to his desk, past three boxes of files and a stack of law books that appeared ready to topple over at any second. He sat down and heaved a sigh of relief.
“I’m happy to hand off this case, but you have to promise you’ll look past the first appearances.” His voice held a hint of remorse, “I have no ax to grind, and no bones to pick. Just the knowledge and experience of an old man to rely on.”
I nodded, and he handed me a stack of files about three inches thick. “This it?” I asked.
“No. There’s more.” He pulled a brown paper bag from the back of his desk, and set it on top. “I have gone through every file, duplicated everything I’m giving you, and there’s more on the computer.”
He pointed to the corner where he’d obviously been typing into an old off white Tandy with a score of files… I blinked, hesitating to consider the number of pages he might have typed that would have to be retyped onto something I could transfer.
“Did you ever hear of the Cranston Murders?” He asked. Suddenly his voice changed and he sounded like an investigator, hot on the trail of a case. I watched the old man behind the desk regurgitate facts like a pro, one after the other as if he’d stored them up on a hard drive connected to the back of his brain.
I nodded, the Cranston Murders had been the stuff law school was made of and the reason I became a detective instead of a lawyer.
“27 bodies found in a hollow behind the bay, each one more decayed than the other, and every single one of them wearing a pair of red high-top sneakers and nothing else. Mark Cranston, the high school basketball coach was found guilty of the murders, and went to the chambers. The last words he spoke were a request to the jailer to give me this note.”
Donohue handed me a worn piece of paper, I read, “Donohue, your grandson has my DNA.”
“That was five years ago.” Donohue nodded, as if the reveal was complete, “The murders stopped, and I made the assumption that the right man went to the chambers. I never told my daughter I knew about her son, and she never said a word. I was the investigator on the case. There had appeared to be a second person involved, but it never could be proven, and Cranston said he worked alone.”
I’d read through most of the top page of the first file. I didn’t have to ask where he was going with this discovery.
“What’s it been? Ten years?” I asked, remembering the case was continuing in the courts during my years in college, “Where’s your grandson now?”
“Last I knew, he graduated from the University of Denver, top of his class with a law degree.” Donohue’s attention drifted to the window, “I never saw him again after I sat in that court room the last time. My daughter had taken him and left before the hearing was over. I didn’t know why. I never understood it, until I got the message from Cranston, nearly five years later. Suddenly, it was like a light came on… The investigation, the murders. There was suddenly motive for the killing. And I started looking at the case again. All these files, just sitting in my office, duplicates in the courts, and there it was… Anyone else might have seen it. But I was blind. I was blinded by love for my daughter. I never knew.”
I stood and stared out the window. Across the bay, barely visible a hill rose up and I remembered, 27 bodies. I shook off the shock and looked back at the investigator, realizing that he’d probably been here in the office since the News broke early the week before.
“What were they wearing?”
“Only one was wearing red shoes. And they weren’t high-tops…” I answered.
“Take this,” He motioned to the paper bag. “She’s got all the files on a disc, at the front desk. I typed them all up, and copied them into the system. It’s everything from the Cranston Murders, including the new evidence I’ve pulled together since I got that note.” He leaned back in his chair, and I watched as he drifted off to sleep, he roused a moment later, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here waiting to hear from you.”
I nodded and carried the bag and files to the front desk.
Charlotte had red nails that matched her red lips, and wore a pair of shiny red high heels. Her dress was white.
“How old are you?” I asked her.
“Thirty six, just had my birthday,” she smiled and popped the bubble of pink gum she blew between her lips.
Wispy edges of blonde hair fell past her shoulders, and she moved like a graceful swan. I admired Donohue’s secretarial choice, and considered for a moment, why he might have hired her. She popped another bubble and stacked papers in neat and organized bunches on the counter, before she dug through the closet at the end of the hall. She found a file box, and carefully placed each file in the box before putting the lid on it, and closing it up for me to carry on the plane. The metal box had a place for a lock, but she didn’t have one. The thumb drives she gave me from a newer computer offered more current files, and she assured me there were transcripts of every hearing, every discussion, and every single bit of evidence on those files. I walked out of the office exactly one hour and ten minutes later to the Uber SUV waiting at the curb.
My driver handed me a to-go box with some of Seattle’s finest, and I asked if she could drive down by the water.
“What time does your plane leave?” She asked.
“4:45 PM.” I answered and dug into the food.
I was ravenous and the meal looked as if it had cost more than a ten spot. She drove past the market, stayed close to the water, and kept driving as near as we could get, until time to head for the airport. I hadn’t asked for more, and she appeared to understand my need for silence.
“I need a padlock,” I spoke as we worked our way back toward the airport. “Can we stop somewhere?”
“Unless this will do?” She pulled a padlock from the console with a key in the hole. “I just took it off the storage shed last week. If you want it, I’ll never use it.”
“Both keys?” I asked.
“Yes, there in the lock,” she nodded and I opened the lock, put it on the file box and stuck the keys in my inner pocket.
“That’ll do, thanks,” I nodded.
At the airport forty minutes before my flight, she pulled up to my gate and waited for me to exit the vehicle. I dropped another hundred in her hand, and a business card, “When you book is published, send me a link.”
I took a cab straight to the office.
He might have been innocent, I argued with myself as I opened the file box and sorted through the contents, stacking files by reference, and date, then closing the empty file box on the floor. My partner arrived about ten minutes later, standing in horror of what she saw.
“The proof?” She asked, “Everything but the absolute evidence?”
“I have the results of the DNA. We just have to match them,” I pointed to the top file, a bound spiral, plastic wrapped, and still in the envelop. “I’ve already called the DA. I’m sure they’ll be keeping him longer and there won’t be any bail.”
She shook her head, “I guess, I better call the hubs, I won’t be going home any time soon?”
I shook my head back at her, “I told Rosie it would probably be Monday. I don’t know what she’ll do with her 72 hour weekend. I’m betting she’s just about had it with me and this case.” I admitted.
“How much longer would he have continued, if not for the fire and the flood?” She started with the first stack of files, and sorted through documents.
We were well into the second stack of documents when the DA arrived, and brought with him an FBI agent, and crew. I continued sorting as did my partner, but we knew the case was bigger. We’d seen enough evidence to prove our killer had been connected by more than coincidence to the Cranston Murders.
And the latest body was more proof…
I sorted through the files, and gave the FBI agent my thoughts on the current data.
“You know, there’s just something about those shoes… ”
“What about them?” My partner asked, still sorting the files.
“Charlotte,” I looked up from the files. “Charlotte was wearing red high heels with a white dress.”
“We don’t have a Charlotte…” She stared at me, the FBI agent looked up and we all put down the papers.
Fred nodded, took his phone from the inside pocket of his jacket and made the call.
We all stared at the papers on the desk. I looked around the room waiting for someone to speak. When no one spoke, I sat down in the dark leather chair behind my desk and waited in abject silence. I could hear the drone of traffic on the highway outside.
Thirty minutes later, Fred’s phone rang.
The old man at the office was dead. Had been dead for a few hours. Charlotte was gone. No signs of foul play in the death of the old man. Notes on a memo indicated plane tickets purchased to Colorado. The plane would be arriving in just over two hours.
“Charles Donohue, who would have known?” Rosie met me at the door carrying a bottle of red wine, two crystal goblets, and wearing her red high heels.
Bill Clarke shares his essays here on his website, but publishes his books with ACE Writers. Learn more by clicking the banner above. Enjoy the wine!