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Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Song of the Past: Twenty-five

Table of Contents

Friday, 1:00 PM
After checking in at the station, Deirdre decided she would go see Sarah Johnson, hoping to find her at the antique store that she had owned since the death of her former employer. But before doing so, she spent a few minutes on the Internet, searching for any information concerning Johnson. She found an announcement of her nuptials, as well as several mentions of the woman attending charity events, but there was nothing of any apparent significance to Deirdre’s case. Feeling satisfied that she had done enough homework, Deirdre signed out a car, reversed the course she had taken downtown that morning, and headed back to her own neighborhood.
When she arrived at Tyler Antiques, Sarah, whom she recognized from her published engagement photograph, was the only person working the shop. She was wearing a green-plaid skirt, black stockings, black, platform shoes, and a tan, cashmere sweater over which lay a string of iridescent-white pearls. Her dirty-blonde hair was tied back in a neat ponytail. She greeted Deirdre with a cheerful but wary New England reserve—she probably took Deirdre for a relatively impecunious customer, looking for a bargain that she would not be likely to find in this high-end establishment.

Deirdre deliberately put off speaking to Johnson by spending a few minutes surveying her surroundings. The shop was filled with antique clocks, oriental rugs, candelabra, spinning wheels, dressers, Shaker chairs, Oriental jewelry boxes, nineteenth-century Hudson-River-School paintings, diamond brooches, turn-of-the-century pill, candy, tea and coffee boxes, old Coke bottles, and other bric-a-brac from Yankees’ chosen memories of their past. The air of clutter in the shop, which might have been overwhelming otherwise, largely was masked by the aroma of quality wafting up from the shop’s contents. Deirdre wondered how many of these pieces had been acquired on the black market that Harrison Tyler had described.
Her survey finished, she walked to the counter and said, “Sarah Johnson, I presume?”
Sarah appeared mildly perplexed at the question—lost in the Congo, as it were.
Deirdre showed the woman her badge. “Detective O’Reilly, New Haven Police Department.”
Now Sarah was visibly shaken.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“A year ago, your partner, Evelyn Tyler, was murdered.”
Sarah looked puzzled, and, after a brief pause, said, somewhat sardonically, “Yes, I know that.”
“I assumed that you did. But I’m looking into the circumstances of her death, and I’d like to review your earlier testimony with you.”
“I spoke to your colleagues about the incident at great length. I can assure you I don’t know anything of any importance that I haven’t already told them.”
“Yes, I’ve looked over the case files, and I understand that you were completely cooperative. I’m just being thorough here. You know, at times something springs to mind well after the fact, some detail that didn’t seem important pops out at you…”
“But nothing has, or I would have come forward with it on my own.” She stared at Deirdre with increasing impatience. “You know, Detective, my life usually doesn’t bring me into contact with the police.”
Deirdre knew that to be true, from her recent research. Sarah Johnson was a scion of a New Haven family that could trace its roots in the town, in some branches, to the 1600s; a fair number of her relatives had sat on the Green Committee.
“And now I’ve been interrogated twice in one year.” Sarah seemed to regard her two police encounters within such a time span as similar to catching the plague twice in one year.
“Ms. Johnson…”
“Mrs., please.”
“Mrs. Johnson, I’m not here to ‘interrogate’ you. I want to solve your friend’s murder.” Deirdre looked directly into Sarah’s eyes, attempting to melt her reserve. Deirdre sensed that Sarah was wavering.
“There was nothing out of the ordinary at all, in the week, even in the month, before Evelyn was killed?”
Sarah spent a long time regarding one of the antique clocks sitting above and behind Deirdre’s head. “There were some phone calls.”
“What sort of phone calls?”
“Well, Evelyn would retreat to her office in the back, often closing the door. That was odd—she had almost never done that previously, at least the closing the door part, even for personal calls.”
“Do you have any idea what the calls were about?”
“It wasn’t my business to inquire.”
“But perhaps you overheard something?” Sensing that it was what would put Sarah most at ease, Deirdre tried to remain casually pleasant.
Sarah considered Deirdre’s question with distaste. “I didn’t listen in on her calls.”
Deirdre leaned forward across the glass counter, and although she spoke softly, her face was just inches from Sarah’s. “Look, Evelyn was murdered. Even if you overheard something that you consider private, which you wouldn’t normally reveal, those considerations are irrelevant now. She’s dead. The best thing you can do for her now is not to protect her privacy, but to help solve her murder.”
Sarah uncomfortably looked around the room. “Well, there was one thing…”
“Yes?”
“Several times, in the week before she died, I heard her mention ‘divorce’ during a phone call. It’s not that I was eavesdropping. But I had never heard her talk about that before, and she was agitated, almost shouting into the phone. That’s the only reason I was able to hear her. I was shocked. I knew she and Harrison weren’t like teenagers in love, but I until then I had not suspected that there was anything seriously wrong with their marriage.”
“Mrs. Johnson, thank you very much.” Deirdre held out her hand, and Sarah took it. “If anything else like that should occur to you, please call me.” Deirdre handed her a card.
She left the shop were her spirits somewhat improved. If she could find any evidence that supported the notion that Evelyn had been seeking a divorce, she would have discovered a motive for Harrison murdering his wife. His loveless marriage might have been tolerable, but would he have been so sanguine about giving up half of their joint estate? She doubted it.

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