Guilty, Not Guilty (Part 1)
"A body?" The words were straight out of my mouth.
I’ve never forgotten her; it’s been eight years now. She must have changed, aged, perhaps even wrinkled. I can only remember the youthfulness of her face; the dimple on her right cheek when she smiled and her cat-like winged eyeliner. A woman that I declared was ‘the one.’
I didn’t handle her disappearance well. Countless one-night stands, hotel rooms, and endless evenings spent drinking until her face became a blur in my mind, but her memory tormented me. It’s not the life I expected to be living in my early 40s.
She was 26. She was married. She had a five year old son. But I knew that I wanted her as soon as I saw her. Selfish of me, I know. She seemed happy with her life, and why I wanted to take that away from her I don’t know. I guess I thought I could make it better. I hadn’t found anyone since moving to the UK from my family home in Rome, and I was approaching my mid-30s. I don’t want to discuss why I had to get away from Italy, but it was all about leaving my past behind. It was a fresh start and I took the chance with her. I swept her off her feet, as the cliched saying goes, and I found out that her marriage wasn’t as good as it appeared. So I promised her a better life. For her and her son, Logan.
Now she’s been gone for too long now. A cold case. That’s what she’s become. They’ve stopped looking. They’ve given up. No one knows what happened. But someone does. Someone knows what happened to Christine Stevenson.
8 Years Ago
The police were all too eager to interview me after her disappearance. Even Christine’s mother was suspicious. She’s never liked me. After the disappearance she came and took Logan. I haven’t seen him since. There were too many questions from her about my background that I was too hesitant to answer. I know it doesn’t look good, but she’d already formed a perceived misconception about me.
"We don’t know anything about his background," I overheard her saying to Christine. "Don’t you think it’s strange that he doesn’t want to talk about it?"
Christine came to my defence, as usual.
"So Mr. De Santis, when was the last time you saw Christine?"
The officer in front of me had a breadcrumb in his dark beard and it really bothered me. Little things angered me for no apparent reason. I was filled with such hatred and loss that nothing appeared to matter to me, and yet everything did matter.
The room looked hazy, as if a fog had slowly crept into the room. It reminded me of that night. So peaceful, yet eerie. It was as if something bad was destined to happen.
It was Christine’s father who had told me she was missing. He’d called me up, probably thinking she was with me. She was always with me. I never wanted to let her go.
"I saw her on the Friday. We went out for dinner," I responded.
"Where did you go?"
"To a steakhouse in Richmond. Buenos Aires."
"And what about the Saturday? The day before she went missing?"
"I picked my dog up from the groomers and then went home."
"At what time? Can anyone verify that?"
"It was around 1:30. I wasn’t with anyone, but if you ask in the groomers they’d tell you I was there."
There was a pause, a moment of contemplation. My leg was bouncing up and down; the floor cushioning what would have been loud stamps due to my nerves. The officer didn’t take his eyes off me, apart from the occasional moment to jot something down in his notepad.
"How was yours and Christine’s relationship?" he asked.
I thought about it. There had been so many good times. The date nights every Friday; taking Logan swimming after school on a Wednesday; cooking each other dinner and watching our favourite TV series. It had been normal, like any other relationship. Like all the relationships I had had in the past. Then I thought about the argument. Christine slapping me across the cheek; our voices murderous in tone as we chucked insult after insult at each other; her walking away, and me going after her. Never seeing her again. I didn’t want to think about what had started the argument.
"It was good," I replied. "Normal."
"That’s a very brief answer," said the officer. He took a sip of his drink.
I didn’t know what to say back. Would I look guilty if I said nothing? Or would trying to justify my 'good' relationship only add more suspicion?
"Christine and I argued like any other couple if that’s what you want to know."
"Not all arguments lead to disappearances." His comeback was sharp.
I’m not normally one to get emotional but I felt the surprise prick of tears in the corners of my eyes.
"What happened that night?"
"All I know is that she disappeared." My head fell into my hands.
"We have reasons to believe there was a struggle."
I soon composed myself. How dare they assume something like that?
"Things got knocked over in anger," I said. "There was no struggle."
The officer paused. I knew he was going to hit me with something. A bombshell.
"Mr. De Santis, why do you have a flight booked to Bulgaria?"
He was trying to catch me out.
"I was going to take Christine on holiday."
"With one plane ticket?" The officer leaned forward over the desk and his forehead creased.
"As I said, I was going to."
I’d never felt so targeted before. What did the police want from me? Why weren’t they trying to find Christine?
"Seems a little strange to me that you would leave her behind and go by yourself, given the circumstances," said the officer.
"It was a pre-booked holiday. It was going to be my chance to have some space and relax."
"So it wasn’t booked as part of some runaway?"
My hand slammed down on the table, and the tears burst from my eyes.
"Do you really think I’d be sitting here if I was planning to run away? I loved Christine. Now she’s gone! She’s gone and I don’t know if she’s coming back."
The same thought kept ticking over in my head. They’re going to think that I was involved. Everyone would believe it. Especially if they discovered my past.
I found myself sitting in a cafe, dishevelled. I’d caught sight of my reflection earlier in a bus window as it drove past. I looked homeless. I hadn’t shaved in God knows how long. Either I had become lazy or I’d lost all motivation.
The fry up breakfast that sat in front of me was half eaten and now cold. My coffee hadn’t been drunk out of choice. I’d taken one sip and the bitterness had left my mouth dry. It wasn’t worth the £3.25 I’d paid.
Staring out of the café window I saw a brunette that looked like Christine, only this woman’s hair was longer. Christine had short, choppy hair that rested just above her shoulders. I’d lost enough sleep over the years thinking about what could have happened to her that I’d started to think she was everywhere. Her face was in my bathroom mirror when I brushed my teeth. Her smile beamed at me from a bus stop across the street. Her fingers reached out to grab my plate.
"Sir, are you finished with this?"
I looked up to see the pretty waitress, also brunette, balancing the plate in her hand waiting for my confirmation to whisk it away. I nodded and turned around to grab my coat from the back of the chair. As I was shrugging it over my shoulders a shrill ringtone rang out and my left pocket began to vibrate. I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone. Then the feeling came. An uneasy sense that the person on the other end of the phone, whoever it may be, was going to tell me some bad news. I took out the phone. The number flashing on the screen was one I hadn’t seen in a long time. After some brief hesitation I answered. My voice came out in a croak and I had to clear my voice with a hefty cough before I could hear anything.
"Mr. De Santis, this is Officer Waterman. We’ve found something regarding the case on Christine Stevenson."
"A body?" The words were straight out of my mouth.
"I think you better come into the station."
Part 2 Coming Soon...