A Song of the Past: Twenty-three

Table of Contents

Pick up your china doll;
It’s only fractured—
Just a little nervous from the fall.
-- Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, “China Doll”

Thursday, Oct. 23, 8:30 PM
As her day already seemed to have embraced far more activities and distinctive clusters of events than was its proper allotment, Deirdre decided to avoid adding to that excess with a lengthy bus journey, instead splurging for a more straightforward cab-ride home from the New Haven station. The crisp fall winds that had invigorated the city that morning had been vanquished by a less nimble but far more massive body of warm, humid air, whose low, scudding clouds, with underbellies painted russet by the rusty glow of street lights, now dominated the sky.
She half-dozed through the ride, so that when the cab stopped at the curb in front of her house, it seemed to her that the trip had passed in an instant. As Deirdre fished in her purse for her wallet, she glanced out the car window up towards her apartment, and was puzzled to see that light shone through the gauzy living-room curtains facing the street—could she possibly have left a lamp on when she had left home that morning? Despite the warmth of the night, she experienced a brief chill while walking down the concrete path leading across the lawn to the front door of the building. Standing on the porch, she fumbled nervously with her keys for several seconds before she was able to overcome their skittishness and steer the proper pair of the menagerie into the proper pair of locks to open the door. She hurriedly re-secured the entrance behind her, and then raced up the stairs to the second floor, vaulting two steps with each stride. She was certain that she had engaged both the bolt and the handle lock of her apartment’s entryway as she had left that morning—she was, indeed, somewhat obsessive about verifying that she had performed that ritual practically every time she went out—but she found that now only the handle lock was set. She disengaged it and flung open the door.
As soon as her frantic scan of the front room reached the ceiling, she crumpled helplessly in the presence of the vast gulf dividing her eye’s demand that she acknowledge the tableaux that they revealed and her mind’s desperate dismissal of their reported findings. She swooned on the precipice of an abyss, in danger of vanishing from reality to plummet through its lightless depths. But a howling wind arose and swept her back from the chasm’s edge, swept her down the stairs, and dropped her on the front porch, where she sank to her knees, gasping for breath. Once she could form a coherent thought, she dug through her bag for her cell phone, and somehow managed to call police headquarters before she fled into a sanctuary of insensibility, where she would be sheltered from all thoughts and emotions.
But after only a few minutes, or so it seemed to her in retrospect, she was flushed from her retreat by the arrival of the first squad car. Headquarters had sent a mixed-sex team: Officer Murphy, a giant black man, and Officer Ramirez, a stocky Hispanic woman. Deirdre dimly appreciated the thought behind the choice, and surrendered to the arm that Ramirez draped over her shoulder as it guided her once more up the stairs leading to the second floor.
Re-entering apartment extinguished the irrational hope that she only had been caught up in a nightmare. Ariel had not stopped circling overhead, just as she had been when Deirdre had entered a few minutes earlier. The electrical cord that had been used to strangle her was looped up over a blade of the ceiling fan, which was slowly rotating, so that Deirdre’s precious darling swung like some satanic censer casting maledictions into a foul wind. Deirdre broke down again, and Ramirez led her over to the couch and held her until the worst of the sobbing ceased.
Murphy reached up to the chain dangling from the fixture and turned off the fan. He slipped on a pair of gloves, separated a white rectangle from Ariel’s chest, and brought his find over to where Deirdre huddled with her comforter.
“Detective, the sick bastard who did this pinned a note to your cat.”
He held up a piece of paper. It said, “Stay away from us!” in letters cut from various magazines, and beneath that there was a crude drawing of the symbol she had met before on the tie tack, and on the bridge buttress. She felt steel bands tighten in her chest. If they thought this would weaken her resolve, they had sorely misjudged her. She looked from Murphy to Ramirez and back again, and then she spoke.
“I hope this fucker resists arrest when I catch him.”
The forensic team showed up soon thereafter. After minimal investigation, they noted that gaining entry to the apartment would not have proved difficult for the perpetrator—Deirdre had left her living room window, which overlooked the porch roof, unlocked. Any reasonably athletic person could have climbed the red maple in the front yard, and then clambered along one of the maple’s stout lateral branches onto the porch roof. Having thus added to the stock of ammunition that Deirdre might use to blame herself for Ariel’s fate, they proceeded to dust for prints, take photographs, and search for other physical evidence like hairs, blood, or cloth that the executor might have left behind. They soon discovered how the “sick bastard” had gained the cat’s trust: an open can of tuna rested, only partially eaten, on the kitchen floor. As they were finishing their work Lieutenant Muller arrived.
When he saw Deirdre he said, with a pronounced stutter, “Detective, I only wish I could think of something to say that could make things even a little bit better, but I’m afraid I’m not up to the task.” He held open his arms and Deirdre, surprised but desperate for any possible shelter, however temporary, gave herself up to their bear-like embrace. He patted her on the back, and then moved her gently away from him while keeping a hold on her shoulders. He would allow her emotions just a moment of release before he was again her boss, and she a professional with a job to do. “Do you want me to assign someone else to your case?”
She glared at him through her tears. “Lieutenant, I’d quit if you tried.”
His whole attitude altered in an instant, from sympathetic to authoritative. “O’Reilly, don’t you ever threaten me.” His eyes met hers, and he held her gaze until she could not face him and instead looked at the floor.
Only then did his attitude soften and once again display sympathy. “OK. You’re still on the case if you want to be, but I will expect strictly professional police work from you, and not the pursuit of a vendetta. Do you understand me?”
Deirdre nodded her head. “Lieutenant, I’ll catch him and bring him in, by the book.”
Deirdre’s efforts to coherently engage with Muller exhausted all that remained of her resistance to the Siren song of urging her to surrender to grief. She stumbled to the couch and collapsed onto one arm, from where she barely noticed the departure of her visitors. When she finally was alone, she fixed herself a tall drink, downed it swiftly, and then slept fitfully for a few hours.

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