An acquired sophistication conceals a pedestrian pedigree and an ugly, all too common crime.
Jimi Hendrix was his favorite. Being that he was a child of the Grunge era, he was proud of that. But another favorite thing, the Quarter Pounder with cheese...Not so proud. Still, he had two of them.
His surroundings belied casual comfort; the accouterments, on the other hand, shouted pure wealth. Even his sweatpants were Hugo Boss, no label of course.
He had the game on. His Alma Mater against Kentucky and, by some miracle, his boys were winning. The television (he had fought her tooth and nail over this one, a 78" curved screen LED with the latest color enhanceing technology; it was his den after all) was muted, the sound replaced by Ozzy's Boneyard, a Sirius Radio program.
At forty-five he had the physique of a thirty year old athlete--except for a mild case of love handles and, damn it, he was working on those. All in all, he should have been very happy. But he wasn't. Jimi Hendrix ruined it for him.
His usual station didn't play Hendrix much, and there wasn't any on his Spotify, and that was just fine and dandy. Even though he had one of the biggest Hendrix record collections in college--and we're talkin' "records," not CD's--and the most books and gear, he just couldn't stomach ole Jimi anymore. Hadn't been able to for about the last twenty-five years.
For the most part he'd been able to avoid it, which--all things considered--surprised him, but now here it was. Just when he was settled down, beginning to enjoy himself, there was that unmistakable distortion; those savant perfect chords. That deceptively gentle riff. The haunting, whispering melody. Of all the Hendrix songs--and there were a lot of them despite a relatively short career interrupted by a stupid, fatal drug overdose--it had to be that one.
*You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
The footprints dressed in red
He reached for the remote. Where was it? His groping fingers searched frantically. He just had it. Okay, not on the table...
The sofa cushions hit the carpet. His teeth clenched. The vein in his temple--the one that stood out when he was mad--throbbed.
There it was. Sleek and black. Ergonomically contoured to fit the hand.
Now The Cranberries, or some garbage, were in his speakers. Normally he would have gone to Spotify. This time he didn't care. He snatched his phone off the coffee table and dialed.
"Hey it's me...Yeah?.. Well whatever dude. We need to talk...No. That doesn't work for me...So grow some balls and tell her you'll have to reschedule...I don't give a flyin'...Oh yeah?...Not my problem. It is what it...Dude...You got pussy you know that?...No...NO...What part of ...Shit!... You're a real piece of work...Okay dick wad. Tuesday it is...Yeah that little park that used to be a lock and dam...One o'clock...You better not stand me up either...Yeah?...Likewise asshole."
He tossed the phone on the table. Now the remote was back in his hand. He turned off the TV. The stereo too. Still it was there. No, not the Jimi Hendrix tune.
Instead it was something that detective had said. He winced. Just how had the jerk put it? Something like..."If we get one of them, we get them all."
She'd been home over and hour and already had dinner when she decided to go downstairs. Even then she debated about it. He'd be watching the game of course.
Lately it had got to the point where they barley said hello to one another. Everybody knew they were on the skids. Her own mother had asked if they were still sleeping together.
Absolutely mortified. That's how she felt; like she was twelve again, watching Dressed To Kill with her mom. (That part where Angie Freakin' Dickinson and that guy from the museum started going at it in the taxi, when he took her panties off--all that squirming and panting going on--well, she wanted to sink into the sticky theater floor. Spilled her popcorn and everything.)
That was the last straw though. That's when she had to put her foot down.
"That is none of your business mother," she had said. Simply. Evenly. With pinpoint diction. "And Dad better not say anything to Russ either. If I hear another word we are pulling out of Thanksgiving this year. Christmas too." And That was that.
But about the sleeping together...Most of her friends said that's the first thing to go. Not with them it wasn't. Not with her and Russ.
It wasn't like it used to be; back when they'd make love two, maybe three times a day. (How did she make time for it with medical school? It was a priority, that's how. A fabulous freakin' priority.) Nope it was not like that at all--not by a long shot. (And he did sleep in his den a lot, especially lately.)
But sometimes they still did it. And sometimes, when they did, it was still good.
She took a deep breath and proceeded down the stairs. He was sitting on the sectional--she had suggested a tufted leather couch with aluminum accents--hunched over, elbows on knees, head in hands. The television was off.
"What happened to the game?"
He didn't bother to look up. "We're losing...As usual," he said in the dullest possible monotone.
"Too bad. I thought we were supposed to be better this year."
"We just have more black guys on the team. That's all. We're not any better." He rubbed his temples.
"What are you doing down here? Slumming?"
She bit the inside of her cheek, trying think of a snappy comeback, waiting for him to look up. He didn't.
"Yeah, I'd better be careful. I might catch something," she said.
"Awww you'll be all right," he drawled. "You're a doctor--remember? You sure don't let us forget it."
She stood there. Now he was looking at her. There were so many things she could say. Hard things. True things. But she didn't. Instead she turned her back to him and started up the stairs.
"...Brooke," he called after her.
She ignored him.
"Brooke, come on. Wait a minute."
It was the way he said her name that made her pause. She was mad at him--had been mad at him for a long time (and every time they got into it, he'd dump all over her greatest achievement)--but there was a catch in his voice, a vulnerability that sounded like their son Ian did when he was scared but trying to play brave. She came back down and stood in front of him with her arms crossed defiantly. Defensively.
"What?" she asked.
"Don't get all dramatic. I've just got a bad headache."
"Well, it must be pretty serious. You've had it for years."
She smirked triumphantly waiting for his retort. There wasn't any. Boy it must a bad one, she thought. When it came to snap backs, he had her in spades.
"Have you taken anything?" she asked.
"Just some Advil."
"When did you take them?"
He shrugged. "About an hour ago."
She frowned. "That should've done it." She touched his forehead. "Of course you don't have fever. You just took four Advil."
He grabbed her hand when she started to remove it and looked up at her. Sometimes his hard, black eyes could be so...fatigued. Watery. Probably Asthenopia.
"Have you been on the computer a lot today?" she asked.
He pulled her gently down onto the couch.
"Can we skip the diagnosis this time?"
She stiffened reflexively. Okay, here he goes again...
"Would you just sit here with me for a minute?" he asked softly.
Now she was really worried. "Russ, what's wrong?"
"I told you. I don't feel good," he insisted, a touch of irritation creeping back into his voice. "It's just like you said--I was on the computer all day. Inventory."
"...Okay," she said.
But she didn't believe him. And he knew it. She started to get up...
"A detective came by the office," he blurted out.
She eased back down. "Today?"
"No. Last week."
"No. Vassbinder retired. Three, four years ago. We talked about it. Don't you remember?"
She sat straight and crossed her long, sleek legs. "That's right. You told me."
"It was this other guy. Shaffer. Some hot shot from Los Angeles."
"Los Angeles, huh?'
"That's what he said."
He watched her intently. She wore that still, expressionless face that he hated; the one that gave him cottonmouth and a boner.
"What's he doing here?" she asked.
"Investigating me. What does it look like?" he snapped. "...Well?" he prodded when she didn't respond. "Earth to Brooke..."
"How old is he?"
He shrugged incredulously. "I don't know...About my age I guess. A little older. Fifty-five...Sixty tops."
She smiled. Just barely. If he didn't know her so well, he would have missed it.
"What did he say?"
"That Metro's got this new Cold Case Division and he's in charge. That he's got blah, blah closure rate and that he's putting fresh eyes on the case. Personally."
"Well?" he asked. "What do you think?"
She could see fear in his eyes, that, and her reflection.
"He has skeletons in his closet. I would bet money on it," she said simply. Evenly. With pinpoint diction.
He swallowed hard. She watched his Adam's apple bob.
Oh brother, she thought, he's gulping air again. In ten to fifteen minutes he'll think he's having a heart attack.