It was while Bethanne was constructing the timeline for the homicide detective that she declared everything happening that morning stemmed from an innocuous invitation the year before.
“I should have known then, that we were here on borrowed time,” she said.
“Known when?” asked Detective Simpson.
“Right after we moved into the complex. Our neighbors, the Rileys came to introduce themselves. They said we’d have to come over for a night of cards sometime. I should have known right then and there that no good would come of it. Not that I could have stopped it, of course. Saying the words “cards” to Dick was like saying “cheesecake” to someone on a diet. Once it got into his head, he’d become obsessive about it.”
“Liked to play, did he?” asked the policeman. “For money, or just simple enjoyment?”
“Both,” responded Bethanne. “Although I don’t think his enjoyment was simple,in any sense. It was more . . . primordial might be the only way to describe it, or maybe primal. You see, he simply had to win.”
“Sore loser, then?” Detective Simpson scribbled into his notebook and added an asterisk and underlined the sentence.
Bethanne shook her head wryly. “That doesn’t even come close to describing it, Detective. If he lost, it could only be through sinister forces in the universe working against him or maybe a cheating opponent. He would actually throw the cards on the floor, like a four year old. It was the most embarrassing thing you could possibly imagine. If only I had listened to my mother. Oh well.” She frowned and began scraping at a spot on her apron.
“Your mother didn’t like him?” asked Detective Simpson.
“Oh no, she never met him” answered Bethanne. “But he failed her boyfriend test. Before she died she told me it was fail-safe and to never get involved with any man who tanked on both parts.”
The female officer who was sitting in on the interview, Officer Lucas, who until now had been sitting silently making her own notes during the conversation, suddenly perked up and leaned in to ask her a question.
“What is this ‘boyfriend test’ of your mother’s? Professional interest only” she added when Simpson slightly snickered.
“Oh, when I was about sixteen she told me that all you needed to know about whether someone was good boyfriend or even husband material, was to give him two tests as early as possible, so as not to waste time”.
“And these were, what?” asked Lucas.
“ Should I leave the room?” interrupted Detective Simpson. “You’ll tell me but then have to kill me, violation of the sisterhood sort of thing?”
Bethanne looked at him and smiled. “You’ll think they’re very silly. But it’s as accurate as a Geiger counter and radioactivity”.
“Please, don’t keep us waiting.” Officer Lucas looked like she was going to snap her pencil in suppressed impatience.
“Number 1 — ask him in a very public and crowded place to hold your purse while you go to the ladies room. If he refuses, strike one. Very, very serious strike.”
Detective Simpson shifted uncomfortably. “So what’s the big deal if he doesn’t want to hold your purse?”
“Insecure in his masculinity” replied Bethanne. “He doesn’t know anyone there, what does he care if a bunch of anonymous strangers see him holding a purse for a couple of minutes? If he’s that insecure, warning, warning,red alert, abandon ship. Probably in constant need to be domineering and in control of his docile female partner at all times. At least according to my mom.”
“Seems pretty flimsy to me,” Detective Simpson snorted. “Baby /bathwater thing. Hardly a firing offense.”
“Test 2?” Officer Lucas was determined that they not be diverted.
“Test 2 is to play a game with them and see how they handle both winning and losing. Someone who has to always win has no sense of priorities or possibly even compassion or empathy. It’s fine to enjoy winning, but it’s a matter of degree, do you see?” Bethanne stared intently at Officer Lucas, totally ignoring Detective Simpson.
Simpson took the opportunity to go over to the pot and refresh his coffee. He recognized that Lucas had achieved one of her famous ‘bonding moments’ with the subject and he had no desire to impede the process.
“Oh, I see completely. My ex-husband enjoyed nothing more than bankrupting everyone else in Monopoly. Even the kids when they were little! I like your mom’s test. I can think of a few people to share it with.” Officer Lucas tapped some quick notes into her personal phone before closing it and picking up her official notebook again.
“I think we’ve strayed from the subject at hand,” said Detective Simpson, returning to the table. “Let’s get back to the card party at the Riley’s. That was when — last October? What happened then?”
Bethanne sighed. “Everything that I would have expected to happen. Dick started off okay, but as the night wore on and he had more than a few drinks, the real Dick made his appearance. He ridiculed people for their plays, insisted on showing them how they could have managed their hand better, disparaged the food, and won a great deal of money. Detective, have you ever heard anyone chortle?”
“Chortle? You mean like laugh? That’s Advanced Placement English to me. Who chortles except in Victorian novels?” Detective Simpson looked at his watch and sighed. Would this interview ever end? He’d had enough of maternal character tests and vocabulary quizzes. Get on with it, lady!
“Why is this relevant?” Officer Lucas, ever diligent, thought Bethanne in her own meandering way, was leading them down the road to the all important motive responsible for the corpse in the dining room.
Bethanne twisted her wedding ring and looked at Simpson. “You’re right, Detective. Most people have never heard an actual chortle in real life. It’s the sound of triumph, glee, greed and victory all wrapped up together in one sound. That was Dick’s only laugh. His single enjoyment was when he had reduced someone else to rubble. Anyway, that night all he did was chortle. He made everyone feel like imbeciles and poor cooks. I saw the looks and I knew that we would never be invited to another social gathering at Meadows of Runnymeade as long as we lived here. Same old story.”
She started to sniffle and accepted the tissue offered by Officer Lucas before continuing her narrative.
“Officers, we have moved every other year for as long as I can remember. He didn’t mind being a social pariah, but I did. I got lonely, you see. All I ever wanted was to have people over to dinner and play cards and have shopping outings with girlfriends like other people but Dick always spoiled it. He always says that this time it will be different, he’ll keep it in check, be everyone’s best bud, but he never does. Show him the deck of cards and he has to be Master of the Universe. So we’re looking at new complexes now that our lease expires next month. I really really liked it here. I wanted to stay, but Dick says who wants to live surrounded by village idiots.” A single lonely tear traced it’s way down Bethanne’s cheek.
“Tell us what happened this morning, Mrs. Morrow. There must be a reason for what you did.” Officer Lucas spoke softly and kindly to the drab little woman who sat across from her at the table and tried not to notice the numerous speckles of blood that covered her apron.
“I was making breakfast for Dick and listening to my morning show on the radio. He had gone out to get the mail and had just come back in. I had my solitaire game laid out on the table so I could get back to it after Dick ate and I had done the dishes. I had just learned this game a little while ago- double decks and quite complicated. I never win, maybe one in fifty. I was about to have a win, I could just feel it. All the kings were covered. But breakfast has to be right at nine, or else, so I had to break away. So Dick comes in with the mail,takes a look at my game, picks up the cards and plays out the hand in about two minutes. I didn’t even know he knew this game! Anyway, after winning, he pushed all the cards together, both decks (!), so sorting them will take forever, and then says “Bethanne, why do you waste your time on that rubbish? Surely there’s something more exciting for you to do aside from endless solitaire. I think your brain is rotting from inactivity. And this garbage on the radio!” and then he turned off my show.
I served him his breakfast and we ate in total silence. I felt very strange, like there was a big weight sitting inside of me that was bursting to get out. I kept quiet and took deep breaths and thought of nice things, just like my daughter showed me. She’s a beautiful girl, lives in Seattle now so we never get to see her. And then I did the dishes.
Dick went through the mail and there was something there from our property manager. We own a few rental properties, Dick buys them at tax sales. They’re all really run down and I’m embarrassed to even own them. Anyway, we had this one tenant, a really nice woman who’s lived there for five years but lately the rent has been slow because she got sick, poor thing. I asked if we couldn’t give her a break as all the other rents were coming in just fine and we had a surplus in the account but Dick said that while one old cow feeling sorry for another old cow was touching, business was business and it was no concern of his if someone got sick, that was their problem.
Dick insisted on reading the letter from the property manager out loud, even though I said he didn’t need to. But he just had to share his victory. It said that our “issue” on River Street had been resolved, the eviction was successful and we would get to keep the entire security deposit. And then he did it. I was drying my old heavy cast iron skillet and I had it right in my hands when he did it. I had a kind of flash and I thought my brain had actually exploded. I don’t really remember what happened next, but when I came out of it, he was lying there and I still had the skillet in my hand and it had blood all over it. So did my apron and the tablecloth and the rug. I can’t believe that I did that. If only he hadn’t done it, maybe he would still be alive and we could move again and get a fresh start.” Bethanne finally lost her composure and slumped over the table, her body wracked by giant heaving sobs.
“Mrs. Morrow, I’m missing something. What exactly did your husband do that upset you so much? Did he try to hit you or abuse you in anyway? Was it self defense?” Detective Simpson waited for the answer that he knew would determine this woman’s future — whether charges would be pressed, a trial held, prison time or not, the whole ball of wax.
“He. . . he . . . CHORTLED! And I knew it couldn’t go on. I couldn’t go on and he couldn’t go on, so I just tried to make it stop.”
Later, after booking was complete and all the reports filed, Detective Simpson and Officer Lucas headed out to the Central Marketplace and Food Court to catch a bite to eat after a long and arduous day. They were waiting in line for the latest craze, Hong Kong bubble wrap waffles with short ribs, when Detective Simpson felt something shoved into his hands.
“Hold this, while I catch the Ladies Room. I won’t be a sec,” Officer Lucas dashed off and melted into the throngs of consumers.
Detective Ernie Simpson looked down and saw that he was now custodian of Officer Eleanor Lucas’ handbag.
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© 2018 Valerie Kittell