Looking in my Rearview Mirror, I found this manuscript which began as a short short story…the first chapter..for a contest requiring a story set on Halloween. I won $100…the MOST I have ever made from my writing. You have got to wonder, why then does she keep right on writing.
Most people who have read my writing found the short story a gigantic shift from my usual stuff. Actually, so did I, but it seemed to beg for more story. I let the odds and ends of life interfer, so this is all there is.
My question to anyone who reads this….IS IT WORTH FINISHING? Suggestions, critiques, appreciated. AND NOW,
Dead people don’t talk.
Nor do they grimace, smile, blink or sneeze. Aside from pallor or rigor mortis, and the inability to change positions without assistance—all in all—they make perfect models for portraits. After thirty years photographing corpses, I should know.
My macabre career began shortly after my fifteenth birthday with a job at Harroldson’s Funeral Home taking tasteful shots of the dearly departed—sometimes with their loved ones gathered around the casket for one last family portrait with dear old dad or whoever. From Harroldson’s I moved into criminology, still photographing dead bodies. Only difference being the stiffs I now photograph haven’t benefited from Kyle Harroldson’s cosmetic expertise.
In all the time I have worked in this field only a handful of photo shoots haunt me. Not that I am callous, indeed, I believe it is my empathy with those whose lives have been ripped from them that makes me a good crime scene photographer, but frankly few crime scenes are original. Once in a while, like with love and hate, the line of separation blurs between destruction and creation.
My father refers to my fascination with the dead as my “morgue phase” but even he acknowledges that my job at Harroldson’s paid my way through college.
As a crime scene photographer for the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department, the camera lens provides just the right distance between reality and me. Hard to believe, but true, I tremble at the thought of touching the dead. As photographer those times when I must touch the deceased—blood, guts, or any other body fluids—are rare. For this I remain thankful.
I enter each scene and do what I am called to do. Point, frame, click and move to repeat the sequence. In most situations the camera provides a shield that keeps me from emotional involvement.
Unfortunately today, October 31, that detachment failed.
Even four hours later, I cannot shake the scene from my mind. Even scarier to me is my fascination with a mind twisted enough to create it. My eyes refuse to leave the grisly photographs and my fixation frightens me.
Scanning the images I cringe. From the starburst of blood radiating from the swollen corpse to the blue butterflies emerging from the fissure that extends from clavicle notch to pubic bone, to the rotor blades of the ceiling fans, the horror compels my eyes to look even as it repulses me.
The magnetism of the photographs sucks me into its vortex. I relive stepping from the October dusk into the Primm greenhouse. Again, the heat and humidity that embraced me descends. I remember.
Not a ripple of air moved. The room was ablaze with light. Looking up I noticed the ceiling fans were silent. Shredded damp fabric of some sort hung from the blades. Perspiration seeped from my pores. A sweet rancid odor raised the hair on my arms and unthinking, I sucked air into my lungs only to gasp, turn, and stumble through the door to retch on the grass.
Someone thrust a wet cloth into my hand. Mumbling “thank you”, I wiped my face and exhaled—pushing the foulness out until none lingered in my chest. Lungs emptied and burning, the memory of the nausea fresh, I struggled against inhaling. I could not hold out. Succumbing to my body’s cry for breath, I drew air—fresh, crisp, and untainted night air—stood up and steeled my resolve.
With one hand grasping the camera and the other pressing the cloth over my mouth and nose, I re-entered the greenhouse. Something terrible had happened here and it fell to me to record it.
I surveyed the whole area—up, down, and on every side. Relying on my eyes alone, I swept the greenhouse. The room was awash of green and red. Scarlet droplets—blood—pooled on the foliage, forming tiny rivers along the veins of leaves—ping, ping, ping—the blood trickled from leaf to leaf merging in puddles on the floor.
Shallow breaths failed to reduce the cooper aroma of blood and the fragrance of decomposition. I pulled out tissues from my pocket and shoved them into my nostrils, more to remind me to breathe through my mouth than to keep the foulness out. I raised my camera and began. Point, frame, click and move to repeat the sequence.
Through the lens with the splattered foliage forming a frame, I focused on the center of attention—the late Mrs. Margaret Primm.
Back at the sheriff’s office, I finger that photograph.
She sat in a rattan swing, as if serving afternoon tea. A wire wrapped around her neck and suspended from the ceiling held her head upright; vacant eyes stared forward and she was—smiling. A close-up of her face causes me to grimace as I study that shot. The killer used staples to hold her mouth in upward tilt.
The core of the murder was not her head and face but the canyon that once held Margaret’s internal organs. Blue butterflies—hundreds of them—emerged from the hole as if breaking loose from a shared cocoon.
Point, frame, click and move to repeat the sequence.
I had never seen butterflies like these. I supposed them to be artificial, until I stood directly over the body. Then I saw, they, too, had once lived.
I leaned closer to the split torso, snapping pictures.
Now I study those shots, but I cannot touch them. The photographs show Margaret Primm’s ribs had been yanked so violently that the ribcage detached from backbone. Her insides had been scraped clean and filled with the butterflies.
I shudder recalling with horror the realization I experienced as I considered what had happened to the organs. My eyes move along the sequential photographs and I remember tipping my camera toward the silent fans with a grisly certainty. Pieces of organic tissue clung to the blades.
The body has been transferred to the medical examiner’s office, but the scene seems to breathe through the photographs. The butterflies—Holly Blues, native to Great Britain—have been deposited into evidence bags. Other investigators continue to work the scene, but my job is complete.
I could go home, but I wouldn’t sleep. My gaze returns to the pictures. Finally, I pick them up, deposit them in an envelope, unlock my desk and just as I start to drop them in, a flicker catches my eye. A Monarch butterfly in the corner of the drawer attempts to rise only to fall. The fluttering ceases. I pick it up. Dead. Without thinking, I pull a sack from my camera pouch and deposit it inside.
Priscilla tied a large burgundy bow on top of the last of the perforated white boxes and stacked it onto the tray. Ready, she thought for the elaborate finale to the Myerson/Banks wedding. The release was scheduled at sunset as the bride and groom swept past the assembled guests. The lids of the boxes would be lifted and hundreds of Phoebus Parnassians—Priscilla called them Phoebe’s—would soar above them, a cloud of jeweled wings clinging together then diverging in all directions as they tasted the freedom of the wind. While the bride, groom, guests and her clients, John and Margaret Myerson gasped, enraptured by the creatures in flight, Priscilla would watch ready to redirect the audience attention. What no one at the reception could be allowed to know was how quickly the demise of the breed chosen occurred. Before the departing couple drove away and the dwindling celebrants sought warmth indoors, bodies would be dropping.
Priscilla detested searching for the carcasses, so Quill took care of that. He combed the grounds after every event, finding some with still fluttering wings, trying to lift their bodies to ride on the wind. She had seen Quill reach into human garbage cans to recover a fallen star. Rarely did he leave one behind, counting carefully as he placed each one into the same white boxes she now carried to the van. She had no idea what he did with the carnage and didn’t ask. Enduring observations of his search and recover depleted her interest, but she watched nevertheless in the interest of keeping Quill in the chrysalis house.
While he retrieved the corpses, Priscilla ran interference. Where he lacked showmanship, she delighted in performing. As the butterflies scattered, she would step into the crowd with an invitation for the guests to follow her. As they gathered around her she presented each with a bookmark that described the species used in the release and shared an old Native American folk tale, which she slanted to suit whatever the occasion of the butterfly release be it wedding, bar mitzvah, funeral. Her story telling developed to keep eyes off Quill and his dashing to and fro picking up the butterflies, but soon Priscilla found she enjoyed the embellishment of a good tale and since it was akin to deception, it served to hone her self/twin preservation skills.
From childhood Quill exhibited a lack of social interaction. Priscilla became his voice, his advocate, first defending him from their mother and later from a long queue of bullies. His full name was Aquilla—something from the Bible—their mother told them in one of her dramatic performances that masqueraded as family communication. Marissa dangled that tidbit of information like a carrot supplying no other clues as to her reasoning. Even when Priscilla was a child Marissa’s choice of names for her twins bewildered her, since to her knowledge their mother did not own a Bible. They never attended church or spoke of God in their family, unless expletives counted.
Priscilla’s curiosity about the names found relief when she was eleven. A girl who sat next to her in Language Arts brought a Bible to school. Really, what 6th grader brings a big old fat Bible to school. As odd as that appeared to Priscilla, Macy, Stacy—whatever her name—carried it with her everywhere even to the cafeteria where she’d open it and read as she ate. Finding an opportune moment to examine the book for clues about the names demanded Priscilla’s alert surveillance of her classmate. Finally, her patient observation paid off.
During a fire drill, Lacy, Macy, whoever left it on her desk. Without a qualm, Priscilla snatched it and dropped it into her book bag. She needed it more than Stacy. When the victim of Priscilla’s theft noticed her Bible missing, she went directly to the teacher and everyone helped look for it, Priscilla included. In fact, she suggested numerous possible places the Bible could have gone. Emboldened by her own cleverness, Priscilla put her arm around Stacy and comforted her. That feigned empathy cost her. Stacy panted at her heels like a lost puppy for the remainder of the year.
Still, in that moment Priscilla discovered a wonderful talent she’d not used before. While physically present, arm over Stacy’s shoulder, she stepped back mentally and studied her classmate’s distress. The sobbing creature disgusted her in a way that caused Priscilla to decide the pitiful girl deserved to lose the Bible.
With no familiarity with scripture, language or layout, it took her the better part of the evening to find the concordance in the helps section at the back of the book. They had talked about using the indexes of books in class the previous term, but she found no chapters titled Priscilla or Aquilla; clinching her jaw, she pressed on and flipped to the back where she discovered the names. Her finger on her name, she tried to decipher the location code, irritated that simple page numbers were not used. When she discovered them in the book of Acts and elsewhere, it amused her to the point that she giggled to the point of getting the hiccups. A married couple, how typical of her mother’s sense of humor, she mused. Ripping out all the pages that chronicled information about Priscilla and Aquilla, she read them aloud to her brother.
Quill sat near her, folding paper and making origami swans. To someone who did not know, which would be the whole world, Quill might have appeared oblivious to the information Priscilla’s search had unearthed. She knew better; however, despite the lack of engagement, his biorhythms matched hers. It had always been that way; her boldness flowed in sync with his timidity. From infancy their psyches flexed and extended in harmony. They were an oddity in the realm of fraternal twins. Knowing what she had learned only the year before only confirmed what she had known even at eleven; Quill didn’t walk in her shadow, he was her shadow.
In business together since their mother’s death, Priscilla appreciated her twin’s dysfunctional social skills, letting him stay in the butterfly nursery and keep birthing those babies. He shrunk from crowds. Cleaning up after every event brought him out of the butterfly gardens for short periods of time. Priscilla embraced the responsibilities of the business and clientele, never once berating her brother for his lack of involvement.
The success of Butterfly Galaxy rested on production of a plethora of butterfly breeds and set their business apart from those who offered the ordinary Monarchs and Painted Ladies. Of course, they raised ordinary butterflies, too, but it was the ability to find just the perfect butterfly for any occasion that brought the quality of clients and their bank rolls to the Galaxy.
Quill’s ability to provide the perfect environment for the caterpillars and cocoons of butterflies produced colors and wing spans as various as their diverse origins. What Butterfly Galaxy offered appealed to the natural covetousness of the elite who lived in a world where flashy cars, homes, jewelry failed to make their friends, colleagues, rivals, salivate like Pavlov’s dogs. Into that world a butterfly release organized and conducted by Butterfly Galaxies brought salvia from even the satiated.
Photographs of butterfly releases adorned Priscilla’s office, along with those of the rich and famous, who patronized their services. Only Butterfly Galaxies offered releases on any day of the year, which was why Priscilla had agreed to do the Myerson/Banks wedding on November 1st. The predicted temperature at the time of the release was fifty degrees, ten degrees short of the lowest recommended for butterfly flight. It required special preparation of the insects and quick clean up of the fallen before guests found the fragile corpses frozen in flight position atop their hats or crushed under their shoes. Success required both Priscilla and Quill’s expertise. Priscilla closed the van door with a satisfied snort—fiascos happened to other people. She went to search out her brother.
The short drive home, normally a sprint felt like a marathon. Driving the streets by rote, my earlier thought that I would not be able to sleep after viewing the horrific crime scene dissipated when I nodded off at a red light only to be awakened when the light turned green by the horn of the car behind me. Aware of my danger to others and self, I raced the demon sandman home using every compensatory strategy I could think of in my diminished capacity state.
Windows down, radio cranked full on, slapping my cheeks, shaking my head rapidly from side to side to keep from lolling forward, I drove. My self stimulation tactics lasted just long enough for me to pull into my driveway hit the garage door opener and come to a stop. Exhaustion overcame me and crossed the finish line. Thankfully, all that remained on the streets of the gremlins, witches and superheroes who had dashed from house to house seeking treats were candy wrappers blowing in the wind and an occasional can of shaving cream.
I punched the remote, closing the garage door behind me and switched the car off. As I did so, I slumped forward onto my hands still clutching the steering wheel. A whiff of my skin and clothing assaulted my nostrils. Ah, the unmistakable fragrance of death, tired or not, I could not ignore it. I staggered into the house grateful to be off the streets.
Stripping my clothing off, I deliberated whether or not to wait till I had slept to wash them or wash them now; another sniff and I packed them to the washer. Ignoring the finer points of sorting, I dumped them in with detergent, turned the water to hot and dragged my naked body into the house. Grabbing a bottle of lemon concentrate from among several on my kitchen shelf, I headed to the shower. Not even the hot water or the scrubbing with lemon juice revived me. Stumbling to bed, I crumbled onto it, pulling the comforter up and over me. Mercifully, I plunged into the black hole of sleep.
BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ! The insistent pulsation jarred me from toes to head. Before I regained minimal brain engagement, my hypercharged limbs struggled against the web of cover I had woven myself into while sleeping. I landed buttocks first on the carpet with my legs still entangled in the comforter. BUZZ! BUZZ!
“Hold on, I’m coming.” Who on earth? I thought. At this hour? Pulling on my sweats I glanced at the clock. Eleven am! I must have been more out of it than I realized. I had a one o’clock team meeting to go over the Primm case.
“COMING!” I shouted, reaching the door I yanked it open, half ready to chew out whoever was leaning against the button. The retort forming on my tongue died a quick death.
“What cat drug you in?” My Dad, ever the diplomat inquired.
“Tory, honey, are you sick?” Lois asked sweetly, then her nose crinkled as she tried to pinch her nostrils together by screwing up her mouth. Obviously, my lemon shower had not erased the odor from the Primm greenhouse.
“What is that smell?” she asked politely as she pulled a tissue from her purse and dabbed her nose and mouth.
Lois is my Dad’s lady friend—his words, not mine. I have known her virtually all my life. Sid and Lois Wiley with their two children, Berta, short for Alberta and Genie, short for Eugenia moved in next door to Harry and Myra, my parents, when I was five. We grew up in each other’s yards and houses. Our folks played cards every Friday night; we went to school, church, and on summer campouts together right up to high school, when we moved out of the neighborhood. The Wiley kids went to James Madison High School and I went to Rogers County High.
Sid died a year before my mom. Dad and Lois became reacquainted at Heritage Acres, a planned community for senior citizens. After two years of companionship, everyone, including me, thought of them as a couple. Neither of the two seemed interested in forming a more substantial union; both enjoyed their individual living arrangements with little desire to combine the few relics of two lifetimes in a common space. Their friendship while flirtatious rested on an unspoken understanding
After wiping her nose and mouth Lois sniffed the air. “Smells like rotting lemons.” With the smell classified she sprung into action, patted my shoulder and charged past me to the kitchen, “I will just take a little look see. You don’t want to keep bad fruit.”
“It’s not bad fruit,” I called to her retreating form, “It’s me.”
“Come on back, Lois.” Dad interjected, furrowing his brows in closer observation of me. “It’s Tory who stinks. Probably been messing with dead bodies again, haven’t you?” He cocked his head and raised one eyebrow, letting me know in his own way that his last question was not rhetorical. Harry Littlefield wanted to know more..
“Oh, dear! Well, I will just go on in the kitchen and make some coffee, while you two talk.” Lois twittered. The click clack of her heels beat a cadence to her rapid retreat from a conversation she wanted no part of.
“Come in.” I beckoned and we took seats opposite each other in my small living area. With my fingers, I attempted to reduce the damage produced by dropping into bed with uncombed wet hair. A couple of swipes at the disarray confirmed the futility of the effort as I encountered nests of tangles with no intention of being smoothed into place.
I relaxed against the cushions on the couch and smiled at my father. He returned the smile, positioning his body on the edge of the chair and leaning forward.
We squared off in a type of dance familiar to only the two of us. Our eyes locked. I set my mouth in a firm line and narrowed my gaze to squint. His eyes on the other hand twinkled, his mouth opened slightly and his white, bushy eyebrows jumping up and down. At seventy-two years old, my dad looks like a beardless Santa Claus. Who can win a staring contest with Santa? Not, I. Still we follow the rules of engagement even though we both know the outcome.
Besides, Dad gave me my first good camera on my fifteenth birthday and that gift set me up in my first photography career. His intentions attached none to subtly to the gift included a Pulitzer Prize in photo journalism, which I will probably never achieve. Nevertheless, he didn’t let that disappointment diminish his interest in my work as a crime scene photographer. He does, however, refer to my work as my “morgue phase”.
All things considered, though, he likes the fact that I am a part of the criminal justice scene; in part his acceptance of my career choice fits with his value system. My father believes in right and wrong, crime and punishment and justice with mercy. He believes that good always triumphs over evil, even when it looks like anything but.
Dad fancies himself an amateur sleuth and claims some success, if you count figuring out who did it and why before Elizabeth George or P.D. James reveal it in their novels. With reluctance, when pressed, I, too, have benefited from some of his suggestions in past cases. Had he taken a different path in his life, he would have made a top notch detective. His uncanny take on people amazes me more now than when he used it on me when I was a teenager. I trust his discernment, because he is seldom wrong. My dad can read people.
When folks learn that Dad is a retired minister, some make comments like, “Wow, I should have picked up on that.” Others start treating me with a deference that borders on silly, apologizing for their language or becoming tongue tied in my presence unable to form a complete sentence without profanity.
While at thirty-six, I am still juggling my faith in God with the evil I see in the world, I respect my dad’s vocation, his calling; it came early in his life and he stayed the course. In that way and others, we are alike. However, it is not the first thing I tell, when I introduce him.
His open ended, elongated “So . . .?” exposed the true intent of this unannounced visit. The morning newspaper must have carried the story about Margaret Primm’s murder. The story fell short of facts so here Dad was fishing for the details concealed from and thus omitted by the media.
Over time I have learned what I can say and what I can’t when my Dad’s curiosity needs stroking. Fortunately, as curious as he is, he keeps things to himself. The absence of gossip in his make-up is probably due to his calling as a pastor. Dad is less likely to leak information than the majority of the people I know in law enforcement, including myself. But, with the Primm murder scene branded on the inside surface of my eyelids, I hesitate not wanting to verbalize any part of the incident.
The telephone rang punctuating the uneasy pause. Lois answered it in the kitchen.
“Tory is right here.” Lois said, “Just a minute.” She brought the cordless phone into the living room on the tray with three mugs of coffee. I grabbed the phone and one of the mugs, before she could put the tray down on the coffee table. Hearing Dave Washington’s voice bellowing at someone in the room with him, I rose and headed out of the room.
Grimacing, pointing to the phone with mug of coffee, I did my best to express my apologies to Dad and Lois. Dad’s expression dimmed. No one else would have noticed, but I saw it. Catching his eye before I disappeared down the hall, I mouthed “later”, holding out a promise, I wasn’t sure I could fulfill.
With the phone pressed against my ear, I listened to Dave as he carried on two or three conversations none of them with me. Just as he spoke directly into the receiver, “Tory, need you down here pronto!” I heard Dad yell back to me as they left by the front door, “See you at the wedding, Tory.”
“Down here on the double, you comprendé?”
“Be there right away.” I mumbled into the phone and punched the end button, before Dave could get another word in. My Dad’s parting words hung in my brain like a kernel of corn between a tooth.
Bonnie Franks waved me through the entry office grunting in response to my greeting. The title on her identification tag read Administrative Assistant, but unofficially she served as the Sheriff’s sentry. No one got past Bonnie. Her typical public face resembled a clenched fist with hair. Nothing about her hinted of warmth and welcome. A number of investigators and deputies called her “Bulldog”, but only in barely audible asides.
Two steps past her desk, I turned, dumbfounded.
“Bonnie, it’s Saturday.” Everyone knew Bonnie did not work weekends. Never!
She swiveled her chair around, arms crossed over her chest, eyes narrowed. Her glare settled on me before shifting to the closed door. Then without a word she pivoted back to her desk her eyes fixed on her computer screen. I reached for the knob and entered Dave Washington’s office trying to make as quiet an entrance as possible.
What I expected—Dave shouting assignments and questions to a packed house of deputies and crime scene investigators like myself—failed to materialize. Rather than resembling a beehive of activity and noise, the gathered staff standing and sitting around the room made me wonder if someone had pressed the pause button on a remote.
“Shut the door, Tory,” Dave said without even looking up from the spread of photographs and paperwork on his desk. I obeyed and shifted my body away from the door and into the pack. I found a place to stand next to Ed Mercer, nudging his arm, to get him to look at me, I mouthed, “What’s up?” In spite of my voiceless question, Ed placed his index finger over his tight lips and shushed me. With the same finger he pointed to Alan Benefield, the medical examiner, who flanked the Sheriff to the left.
Dave looked up from the pile, stared straight at me, grunted a greeting before slumping back in his chair. Rubbing the bridge of his nose underneath his glasses, releasing a sigh that registered something more than simple exhaustion, he spoke.
“We located Margaret Primm’s husband this morning. Thomas Primm is in Bermuda on a business slash pleasure trip with his girlfriend slash fiance.” Dave paused.
Mouths opened slightly ready to bombard him with questions, but he waved us off and continued, “He says Margaret and he had separated and were filing for divorce, once they could come to an agreement about custody.” Dave paused again, giving some enough time to flip through their notebooks. Others raised their eyebrows, but it was Ginger, fresh out of college with a degree in Criminal Justice and the perkiest looking member of the staff, who exclaimed, “Custody of what? The Primms didn’t even own a goldfish as far as I can see. And they didn’t have children! House plants seemed to have been the only living organisms in their care.”
“From the sounds of it, I think it is indeed fortunate, they didn’t have children.” Mel Blackstone muttered, “A Dieffenbachia wetting the bed or getting body piercing because its folks split up hardly gets to me like a child caught in his parent’s battles”.
Dave shifted his weight and his eyes toward Alan Benefield.
Alan cleared his throat. ”Well, it appears Margaret Primm was pregnant at the time of her death.”
A sick feeling rose from my gut to my throat remembering the mutilation of her body. A quick look around the room identified the folks in the room who had been present in the greenhouse the evening before. They blanched before my eyes as I felt the blood drain from my face.
The paling of faces did not escape Dr. Benefield’s perception. He hurried on, “So far, the uh, multiple, uh, tissue specimens, appear to contain only biological substance from Mrs. Primm and the organ masses identified do not appear to contain uterine material. The entire set of tissue recovered has been taken to the State Laboratory for further analysis, including DNA; however, we,” He looked around the room, took a deep breath, and tried to look each of us in the eye. Once sure we were attentive and following his line of discourse, he continued, “after examining the body, uh, we have concluded that Margaret Primm’s uterus with fetus was removed either before her death or shortly afterwards.”
The click of Bonnie’s nails on the keyboard on the other side of the closed door penetrated the dead air. I had a hundred questions I wanted to ask, but like the others I didn’t want to be the first to speak. Finally, almost in unison, the gathered assembly made that utterance often observed when someone is trying to interrupt a conversation, that single staccato tone, an “uh” abbreviated in the throat, not quite reaching the parted lips. Everyone backed quickly into the dead air zone and waited. I had never seen this group so restrained.
“How do we know she was really pregnant?” Ed Mercer ventured after the choral false start. “Sometimes people make believe. She could have just faked it—maybe she was trying to keep her old man—or maybe she…”
Dr. Benefield interrupted, “We considered that when her husband told us, but she tested positive. Uh, also we talked to her obstetrician, who told us Margaret Primm was almost full term with a boy.”
“How old was Mrs. Primm?” I asked remembering the crime scene and her mutilated body. My guess at her age had been early fifties, but how accurate was that given this new information. Mutilation can age a person.
Dave answered before Dr. Benefield could respond, “She planned to deliver before her 48th birthday. A C-section had been scheduled for next week. Thomas Primm stated she was the most narcissistic human being on the face of the earth, because she did not want to chance having to share her birthday even with her own child. He wasn’t shedding many tears over her, but he seemed devastated over the loss of his son.”
Ginger popped in, “Do you think he might have hired someone to kill her?”
Dave shook his head slightly, a soft snort escaping his nose, “That’s an angle we need to check out, but somehow I don’t think so.”
“Was this a planned pregnancy?” Jake May interjected from the back of the group. Dave looked at Dr. Benefield, who raised his shoulders slightly, his hands diving deeply into both of the pockets on his rumpled khaki trousers. He kept his head down. Other than the reflection off his bald spot, he resembled a kindergartener asked to recite in class. When he did lift his eyes, he focused on an invisible spot above all their heads. A few more shakes of the coins in his pocket and he addressed the spot.
“This was in fact a scientifically generated pregnancy. The Primms had been married almost 25 years, but had no children. For reasons yet unknown about three years ago, they began to seek medical counsel about having a baby of their own. They hopped from one fertility center to the next before they landed at “Sarah’s Cradle” a recent addition here in the county. I spoke briefly with the Medical Director, Dr. Melvin Herman, but he was not directly involved with the Primms and frankly didn’t want to share what he did know. I badgered him into giving me Mrs. Primm’s physician’s name.” Shuffling through a sheaf of papers in front of him, he drew one out and read, “Dr. Madelyn Yont.”
Maddie? The familiar name caught me off guard. I had heard she had gone to medical school, but I had no idea she had come back home to practice. How long had she been here? Evidently, according to the timeline, the clinic had been in business at least a year or more. So much for looking up old friends, but then Maddie had stepped away from the lot of us after our junior year in high school. The notion of connecting with people discarded before graduation probably never occurred to her. I was still struggling with recognition of the name and mixed memories, when Dave’s voice broke through the fog.
“Tory, we need everyone on this! Think you might join us!”
I blinked unaware that my eyes had glazed over.
“Of course.” I replied deciding not to apologize for the lapse of attention.
“Good, I want you to head out to Sarah’s Cradle and interview Dr. Yont.”
A protest rose in my throat, but hung there. Curiosity overcame my personal qualms about interviewing an old high school friend connected to a murder investigation.
Doubts pushed aside, I responded with more certainty than I felt, “Absolutely!”
Sarah’s Cradle was located on State Road 261 and did not keep Saturday hours except for emergencies. The recorded message gave phone numbers of the staff on call: an administrator named Sam Aquerro, a charge nurse, Nancy Ryan, and one of the doctors, Brett Windsor, not Madelyn Yont. I debated about who to call so that I could connect with Maddie, Dr. Yont. I repeated, Dr. Yont, Dr. Yont, over and over in my head wanting to convey professionalism not familiarity. Finally, I chose the administrator. Apparently, he had been forewarned He delivered the pertinent details in a tepid rehearsed monologue, pleasant enough but not inviting.
“Dr. Yont will be at the clinic at one thirty this afternoon to talk with you. We will cooperate as much as we can, but please keep in mind patient records are privacy protected.”
I thanked him, glad I had chosen to call from the Sheriff’s Department. Stepping past Bonnie’s desk, I entered Dave’s office without announcement. He was on the phone, but waved me to his desk. His side of the conversation, he was engaged in, amounted to little more than an occasional grunt. With his free hand, he waved a folded document at me. Taking it, I examined it and smiled. It was a court order for Margaret Primm’s medical records at Sarah’s Cradle and Mercy Medical Center.
I tapped the edge of the document on my temple in salute and exited the office to a multiple series of Dave’s grunts followed by the abrupt thumping of the receiver onto its receptacle.
Whatever image I conjured up of Sarah’s Cradle shattered as I pulled through the arbor of trees off 261 and followed the concrete driveway a full quarter mile to the front parking lot. The façade of the building consisted of a porch that wrapped around traveling at least a quarter of the way down both sides. Broad steps set centered in front and I could make out a wheel chair ramp at the end of the right side porch. Several white rocking chairs and two porch swings added to the picture. The windows in the double entry doors and the two bay windows on the front displayed curtains pulled to the sides to let in light and gave the frontage openness.
Seeing no other vehicles in the parking area—I had not arrived twenty minutes early to sit and do nothing—I decided to peruse the perimeter. Out of habit I packed my camera with me, snapping pictures instinctively.
The air of hominess dissipated at the side of the building. Near the end of the porch the clapboard exterior stopped, replaced by steel and concrete with institutional windows blinded and dark. The grounds, on the other hand, continued along the sides in the well groomed manner and style of the front yard. Miniature holly bushes were placed between each window, in beds that were well mulched and still bright with lingering mums. The facility was larger than the face indicated and as I rounded the back, I was startled to see a loading dock and warehouse sized door. Several men in white coveralls moved back and forth with dollies from an eighteen wheeler displaying the logo of Downs-Scofield Pharmaceutical to the interior area. Lifting the camera, I pointed and clicked a few distant frames and then zoomed in for a couple of close-ups.
“Excuse me! What do you think you are doing? This is private property!”
The voice sharp and resonate startled me. Catching my breath, I turned to face Dr. Madelyn Yont. It was her turn to startle and even though her surprise dissolved as quickly as it appeared in her eyes, I felt a sense of triumph. I hated being blindsided.
“Tory? Are you. . .?”
I reached into my bag and produced my badge and identification. She took folder and inspected them more closely than I expected.
“You‘re a cop?”
I bit my tongue to squelch the retort, “and you’re a doctor?” Replying, “I am actually a criminologist, but this case is tapping most of the investigative team so I doing some of the interviews, in my case, mainly background stuff.”
“A cop, imagine.” She flipped the folder closed, returned it to me and let out a half laugh that sounded like a snort. The snort did not fit her appearance in the least.
Madelyn Yont stood barely 5’ 5” in the three inch stiletto heels she was wearing. Her expensive taupe suit with black silk blouse set off her striking beauty, her hazel eyes captured the taupe of her suit exactly. Her black hair was cut in a simple shoulder length bob that framed her face. On Madelyn it looked anything but simple. So perfect was her look, I thought she might have had the scar on the right side of her face removed, but when she turned slightly studying me ever bit as much as I was studying her, I glimpsed the jagged ridge that fell along her hair line. She caught me looking and with a casual motion of her hand lifted the hair back over her ear, leaving the flaw exposed.
I chose not to mention it, remembering the horror surrounding its presence. Sticking to safer ground, I commented, “Do you always get so dressed up for police interviews? I am feeling a bit dowdy here.” I indicated my khaki pants and Rogers County Sheriff Department sweatshirt. Her robust laughter surprised me. For some reason it seemed out of place
“Actually, I’m usually found in scrubs and crocs, but I am going to a wedding.” Madelyn cocked her head to one side before continuing tentatively, “Lisa Banks and Gil Myerson? I am surprised you aren’t headed that way, too. Weren’t the older Myersons good friends with your parents and Catherine Holt, hum Banks, graduated with your brother, didn’t she?
Ah! They were. Although it amazed me that she would know anything about my parents’ friends. And she was right about my brother, too. Byron, five years older and a hundred years wiser and more sophisticated, had dated Catherine Holt. With that I recalled my father’s parting comment earlier. That wedding, right! A mental image of an off white card stock with silver engraving and a flimsy piece of tissue that fluttered every time I opened the refrigerator door flitted into my consciousness. Calculating the time needed to clean up properly and make it to the wedding, before the bride walked down the isle, I suggested to Madelyn sitting on the porch to talk.
Smiling slightly, she led the way.
Settled moments later into the ladder back rockers, I pulled my notebook and pen out. If she felt nervous, it didn’t show. While she didn’t relax completely, her posture suggested attentiveness if not eagerness. I decided not to mention the court order until I needed the records.
“You probably received a heads up from the administrator here that one of your patients, Margaret Primm, was found murdered in her greenhouse last evening.”
Madelyn nodded slightly and waited.
“According the medical examiner, she had been pregnant and other information indicates that she was one of your patients.”
A crease formed between Madelyn’s eyebrows and her lips parted as if she intended to speak, but instead she drew a sharp breath and nodded to me to continue.
My throat tightened, never very good in these interview situations, I struggled with what direction I should take. The Chief had said get background and while you are at it serve these papers for Margaret Primm’s medical records. Stick to the plan, the logical part of my brain screamed.
“Can you tell me a little about Sarah’s Cradle?”
Her eyebrows lifted as she tilted her head and shook it slightly puzzled if not downright surprised by the question.
Clearing her throat, she gave me what was clearly a rehearsed speech distinguishing Sarah’s Cradle from other OB/GYN practices even those specializing in human fertility issues. Although the information sounded canned, her feelings about what she was saying displayed a genuine passion for the work, the mission—she used that word more than once.