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EXCERPT FROM PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH
by Joanna Campbell Slan
Author’s Note: Kiki and her daughter Anya were at an event to teach kids how to scrapbook when a policeman arrives and asks Kiki to come with him to the police station. When she arrives, she’s greeted by this horrifying news.
“My husband is dead? Are you sure? Sure it’s George? I mean, you could have made a mistake. Right?” I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard.
Detective Chad Detweiler of the St. Louis County Police Department shook his head solemnly. “No, Mrs. Lowenstein. I’m sorry. There’s no mistake. A housekeeper found his body in a room at the Regal Chalet. We’re sure it is — was — your husband. His clothes were hanging over a chair, and his wallet was in his pants pocket.”
I swallowed hard. I’d managed to keep calm on the ride to the police station. I kept reassuring my daughter there must have been a misunderstanding. Now I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. I couldn’t focus. I kept repeating, “Dead? My husband is dead? There must be some mistake.”
“I sincerely doubt it.”
The room swam and turned flips. I tried to process what the detective told me. In my struggle, I focused on the trivial. It seemed more manageable than the big picture. “I, uh, don’t understand. Why were his clothes over a chair? You mean he … he didn’t have them on? Did he … uh … have on any of his clothes?”
The detective shook his head, his eyes never leaving my face. He seemed to be taking my measure, sizing me up.
The large mirror on the adjacent wall of the interview room bounced my image back to me. My hair was always curly, but today it had turned into ringlets. My skin looked blotchy from the cold. And I’d chewed my lips until I could taste the blood in my mouth.
I took tiny sips from the glass of water the detective had offered and swallowed repeatedly to dislodge the lump in my throat. I tried to focus on a far-off object, as I blinked back tears. There were so many questions. Part of me didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to know. But a voice inside reasoned it was better to hear the worst of it here, from an impartial officer of the law, than in a public place from a “friend.” I thought about the mothers I’d left at the scrapbook store and shuddered.
Detweiler sat across from me patiently, silently.
Obviously, someone had made a mistake. That was all there was to it. This man couldn’t be talking about George. Not my George.
“How can you be so sure? I mean … don’t you need someone to identify the body? You probably just think it’s George. As soon as he answers my call, we’ll get this straightened out.” I reached for my cell phone and punched in his number one more time.
The phone rang and rang.
Suddenly, my whole body grew heavy, and I was incredibly tired. All I wanted was to go home and sleep for a million years.
Maybe this had all been a bad dream.
Detweiler sighed. “We got hold of your husband’s business partner, Mr. Ballard. I was there when he made the ID. If you’d like to see the body …”
I shook my head vehemently.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lowenstein.” He didn’t press the issue. He could tell I was queasy. Or maybe he worried I’d make a scene.
Poor Bill. A part of me felt guilty that I hadn’t been the one to take on this intimate and final task of marital life. It seemed, in some way, the least I could have done for George. And Bill had done it for him. For me. For us. It seemed wrong. It felt like one more failure. I put a hand to my stomach and pressed hard to control the revolt within.
A strand of chestnut hair fell over Detweiler’s eyebrow, a dark accent mark to his unwavering gaze. “There’ll have to be an autopsy. The law requires one in these circumstances.” Detweiler took a sip of his coffee and set the mug down gently on the battered Formica tabletop. A circle of brown indicated the depleted level of the liquid. It reminded me of George’s wedding ring.
I fingered my own gold band. I was trying desperately to take in what the detective was saying. George. Was. Dead. What was I going to tell Sheila, my mother-in-law?
“Does George’s mother know?”
I did not want to be the one to tell Sheila her son was dead.
“Mr. Lowenstein’s mother has been notified.” The detective cleared his throat. “Evidently our police chief is an old friend.”
Thank God, I thought. She didn’t have to hear the news from a stranger.
“A woman at your house,” he turned to a page in his steno pad, “Mert Chambers told us where to find you.”
A thought flittered across the tickertape of my mind and fell on the floor in a pile of other ideas. How could we have Thanksgiving? George always carved the turkey. And what about Hanukkah? He loved shopping for his daughter. How would Anya learn about her Jewish heritage? Who would teach her golf? Take her to Cardinal baseball games? Help her cheer on the Rams on Monday Night Football?
An endless stream of problems presented themselves.
“You brought us here? Rather than talking to me at home? Why?”
“We have a few questions.”
I was afraid to guess what that might mean. Time stood still. I was at the top of the roller coaster looking down, suspended, waiting.
In my peripheral vision, I saw Detweiler rub his mouth. He was struggling, trying to decide what to say. I did not look up. I was bracing myself for what was to come.
But I got it wrong.
“Mrs. Lowenstein, did your husband’s partner tell you money was missing from the business?”
My head snapped up. “What?” Stars danced in my field of vision.
Saliva flooded my mouth. I struggled not to bolt from my seat. I looked around desperately for the nearest trash can. Any second now, I’d heave my guts all over the floor. Where was the ladies’ restroom? I swallowed hard.
“Money? Missing? How much?”
“A half a million dollars.”
I jumped up and ran, praying I’d make it to the john.
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