Chapter Eight – Wound Catalogue
When Persey finally turned onto Jarod’s country road her cargo deck was loaded with groceries and farmer’s market flowers. The flowers were her gift to herself. Because, “I deserve to get something out of this.”
Roy didn’t appreciate flowers. Sometimes he criticized her purchases just to remind her who paid the bills. More than a single bouquet meant he was sure to ask, “Who died?”
According to Roy flowers en masse were funereal, ergo depressing; but now that Persey knew Bruce’s funeral for the sham it had been she felt a lot less apologetic. And if Roy didn’t know about it, then he should have.
Let him ask, “Who died?” Persey was ready with her answer: “Not Bruce, apparently.” Let him chew on that along with his steak.
It was her first visit back to Jarod’s house since the party. Already the place looked subtly different; shopworn; as if the excesses of last week had not really been cleaned up. Was it just her private knowledge that it was now a house of contention? But how could divorce with all its attendant appraisers and lawyers, make a home look so abandoned? She had tried calling Stormee on her cell, but Stormee wasn’t taking calls from Persey either. Her voicemail was full.
Persey parked in front of the barn and let Digger out. Untroubled by humans and their conflict, Digger inhaled zestfully, romped from plant to plant and left his mark on a straggling delphinium which rightfully should have been staked.
The house seemed shut tight; the barn door, usually open to disgorge cars, pulled and locked. Why was the newspaper box stuffed and overstuffed, ads spilling to the curb? The main building stared back at her blankly from its multipaned windows.
Persey felt the hiss of dread lift its tail and rustle within her again. That was three times in one day, it should be weak from over-use. Why be such a coward? If Stormee had decamped, all she had to do was leave a note. Any house without Stormee was a whole lot less scary than one with her in it. Reason it out; Stormee would never allow herself to be dumped; Stormee was the kind of woman who always had somebody – several somebodies probably – waiting in the wings. She was off with her lover touring Big Sur. Ha, ha on Jarod.
Persey comforted herself by conjuring up Detective McKick. He thought that she was brave, so she must be. Just look at her walking resolutely towards this spooky-looking barn.
Persey used all her strength to drag the barn door far enough along its runners so that she could look inside. But there was Stormee’s red Miata. OK, change of story. Stormee and the lover flew to the Caymans, after emptying Jarod’s bank accounts and selling all his furniture. Maybe.
She walked up to the house, stepping carefully between paving stones pushed up by questing roots of restless trees. The night of the party, these claws from down under threatened to fell her, but this afternoon they tripped in vain. Half naked, wearing four inch heels she was vulnerable; in sneaks and shorts the terrain was less threatening.
She peered through the front door’s mottled glass into a darkened front hall. Nobody. She knocked. She rang. Nothing.
Hadn’t Stormee threatened suicide? Stormee threatened lots of things. Anything to win purchase in an escalating argument. And then there was the ongoing problem of uppers, the downers, steroids and the sleeping pills, all washed down by rivers of alcohol. It would be just like Jarod to send his friend’s wife to find a body, the creep.
He couldn’t know she’d already proven herself in that department. He wasn’t brave, in spite of all his posturing. With a Glock on your shoulder and a knife in your belt anyone can seem brave. He was a fake, preferring appearance to reality because it took less work. She twisted the knob, braced for the noise of a security alarm. Fortunately she knew the code; that number that upside down spells “boobs”; Jarod thought it funny. If she had to, she could recall it. But even from here she could read the glowing red “disarmed” message.
The house was freezing cold. You could hear the noise of the air conditioner ceaselessly running, as if stuck on zero. Stormee was legendarily thoughtless in that regard. She regularly pissed Jarod off by using air conditioning with a fire in the fireplace. Priding herself on creative ways of getting even, she might find this amusing.
I can walk away, thought Persey. Jarod couldn’t force her to search his house. She’d phoned, she’d knocked, she’d rung the silly bell. She’d even stepped inside, calling. She shouted Stormee’s name, certain now that it wouldn’t be answered. It wasn’t. She could leave a note and flee.
So why did she push onward, into a dark and frozen house? The Headless Woman, that disgusting tavern side Jarod knew she loathed, lay waiting breathless in the shadows. She felt the fear and let it go. Persey Royall, Fearless Cadaver Hunter. Wouldn’t Ned be proud?
She climbed the stairs. If Stormee had taken off, her bedroom would show it. And if she toured the upstairs first maybe she could avoid going past that damned sign. Logic. Stormee needed pounds of unguents, pills, jewelry and appliances. All of them were who Stormee was. That was her identity.
Persey’s teeth were chattering now. She should have turned off the goddam thermostat; she should have draped herself in the hall rug. But she kept going.
The place was like a meat locker. This was beyond “get even.” Nobody could tolerate this. Unless…
She found a beige sweater on the newel post and donned it hastily. Right there at her feet she saw the first overtly scary thing. A used condom. Nasty. Stepping over that was the bravest thing she’d done so far.
Could she really keep going? She was unstoppable. Stormee’s bedroom door swung at her command. There she was. Stormee was home, or at least part of her was, the part she’d tended so feverishly, so faithfully. Red hair flowed over her face to her hips. Persey couldn’t tell where extensions ended and entrails began. Her chest, those hard high breasts of which she was so proud, were a mass of sticky red. She lay naked, splayed on the bed with a black shotgun pushed up between her legs, wearing only red high heels. The room was a mess, tossed with bits of paper – Monopoly money? —confetti’d everywhere like snow.
Backing frantically out the door Persey almost fell down the stairs. Outside the sun still shone but that didn’t stop her shivering. Digger, waiting patiently by the car door, regarded her with his look of fuzzball concern. She remembered Ned’s cell number but hadn’t stored it in phone memory and she had a hell of a time dialing it with her shaking fingers. Finally she sat in the front seat of her car, turned the heat on and when it was blasting, she was able to get the connection. Digger licked her neck sympathetically.
“Yes?” His voice. Thank you, God.
“It’s me. Persey. I found another body. Stormee’s dead. I think she committed suicide.”
There was a moment’s pause. She wished her teeth would stop chattering. It made her jaw hurt. She didn’t want to have to repeat herself.
“Where are you?” he asked finally. She gave thanks that he was intelligent and real.
“At Jarod Gunver’s house. I found Stormee. She’s definitely dead. All over the place. And there’s a gun.”
“Who else have you called?” “Only you.”
“Is there anyone else in the house?”
What a horrible idea. She honestly didn’t know. “I don’t think so. But I didn’t
look. I found her right away.”
“Are you outside? Get out of the house.”
“I’m in my car.” Now he was panicking her. That wasn’t nice. He was
supposed to offer comfort; instead he implied a universe pulsating with armed killers. She locked the car doors. “The blood was dry, and the place is freezing. I think I’m alone. I don’t think anyone alive could stand that cold.”
“Can you wait for me?”
Where would she go? “That was the idea.”
“Then stay put. Lock your car doors and leave the engine running. I’ll be right there.”
She was finally able to turn off the heat but it had made her dizzy and she had to put her head between her legs. How to forget the things she’d seen? Think of it as a special on Animal Planet: “When the lions have eaten their fill the vultures arrive.” Wasn’t that was how the Bird Lady stayed sane for all those years?
After twenty minutes Ned drove up in a battered green Toyota. Wearing a checked shirt and faded jeans he morphed back into the man she had met at the party; the man she mistook for a hastily summoned plumber, looking for a leak. But his face was gray.
Persey jumped out of the car to meet him, Digger following. Ned opened the back of his own car and Digger jumped in like he owned the place. She tried to apologize but her teeth were still chattering. At least she wasn’t crying. To her surprise he enfolded her in a warm embrace. His heat was more comforting than the sun.
“Hey. Calm down. You didn’t do it, did you?” She shook her head.
“Touch anything? Change anything?”
She tried to think. “I opened the front door. I opened the bedroom door.” Then she remembered the sweater. Suddenly she was fighting to take it off. It had become a straitjacket. Ned held her.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s her sweater, it’s her sweater!”
He helped her take it off.
“I found it on the stairs. It was…it’s so cold in there. The air conditioning’s
going full blast.” She tried to throw the sweater to the ground, but he took it away from her.
He opened his car trunk, and from among the kid’s toys, the Jaws of Life, the tire chains and the jack handles, he gave her a jacket that read “Police”.
She tried to joke, “Does this mean we’re going steady?”
He dampened her spirits by responding, “I hope not.” All business. “Did you take her pulse? How can you be sure she’s dead?”
“Of course I didn’t take her pulse! Her insides are hanging out!” Maybe she was angry about the “hope not” comment or maybe she was just angry at a universe that expected her to resuscitate a “Thing”. I find them, she thought. I don’t resuscitate them.
“Hey, relax. These are the questions we always ask. Didn’t I believe you this time? I even called it in. The crime scene van might come while I’m inside.”
“She used to threaten to off herself,” she said, feeling the illogic. Explanation made no sense; there had to be a shorthand version. “I only showed up to invite her to dinner.” Not exactly true. The shorthand version never is.
He let it go. “Sit in my car, OK? You going to be OK?”
“No.” She clutched him. No need to be brave any more. “Don’t leave me. Wait for the crime van.”
He seated her on his front passenger seat, folding her legs as if she was a mannequin. She kicked at the fast food wrappers littering the floor. “What a slob you are.”
“I was having lunch with my kids.”
He ate. He was a parent. He was real. She held his wrist through the car window.
“I’m sorry I took you away.” He was the law, why couldn’t he say the magic words and calm her? She tried to calm herself, explicating.
“Jarod set me up. He made me come. He said he couldn’t reach Stormee by phone and I couldn’t reach her either. He wanted me to check on her.”
A sob bubbled through her voice. He patted her shoulder reassuringly. He wasn’t scared by frightened people.
“I’ll be right back.”
“Leave me your gun.” Some lawman! Leaving her unarmed! Roy wanted her
to have a gun for the car. She should have accepted.
He smiled at her. “You don’t need a weapon. You’ve got me.”
Were these the magic words? She let him go.
“Three minutes. I promise.” He knew the furthest limits of what she could
tolerate; so he must be magic. He took off his watch and gave it to her. “Time me.”
She accepted the gift. “She’s upstairs,” she whispered.
The watch was distracting. She held it in two hands and studied it. Silver in color and almost as heavy as Roy’s Rolex. But probably cheaper. It was burdened with dials she didn’t presume to understand. Wind chill? Phases of the moon? She flipped it over. The inscription was so old it was almost worn away. Love? From Delphie? The metal was warm from his hand. He’s alive, I’m alive, and it’s a sunny day. Weren’t those the magic words?
He was back. He held her wrists to apologize for breaking their connection. “Sorry.” The pulled-down eyes of his sad clown face showed just how sorry he was.
She let her sadness leave her like a breath, watched it spiral upwards. Everything would be OK now. She smiled as she gave him back his watch.
“Why apologize? Did you do it?”
“No. But it is a nasty find.”
It began to rain, so there must be a rainbow somewhere. Ned jumped into the
driver’s seat and they watched the drops together.
Ned was talking on the radio. He mentioned her name. He couldn’t protect her this time. Maybe nobody could protect anyone from anything.
He joked, “I thought we agreed to stop meeting like this.”
“Never explain, never apologize. You gave me your card this morning.”
“You’re some kind of corpse magnet. It’s a hell of a coincidence.”
She dismissed the idea. “Ever heard of synchronicity?”
He was interested. It was like the sun turned on. “And what’s that?” She
could feel his distance melting.
“Things that happen at the same time are happening for an underlying reason
that may be invisible but is knowable.”
“I like it.” He cocked his head appreciatively. “How long have you known
“Since Jarod married her…I guess that’s three years now. We went to their
wedding. Roy was his best man.”
“What made you think suicide? Was she acting suicidal?”
Persey considered. “I guess because she and Jarod were splitting up, and that’s always hard. She told me once she had to stop taking cortisone because it’s a depressive.”
“Was she having any affairs that you knew about?” The word “affairs” hardly dignified Stormee’s hookups.
“Supposedly they had an open marriage. But there was lots of scorekeeping.”
He chuckled. “People can’t check their jealousy, not even at an open door. But you don’t know of anyone she was involved with specifically?”
She thought of Bish’s comment about the party. Hadn’t he said he turned her down? She would just move on to someone else.
“No,” she said shortly. “She had appalling taste in men.” She didn’t mention that it didn’t need to be a man, though Stormee found out pretty fast that another woman wasn’t much of a weapon against Jarod.
“So what are you doing here? Last I heard, you were going out to lunch with your husband.”
“I got held up. We changed it to dinner.” She gasped with a horrid realization. “Should I call Jarod?”
“It’s out of your hands. We’ll call him.” He looked straight ahead, into the rain. Did he think that if she couldn’t see his eyes she couldn’t read his thoughts?
“Was there a lot of violence in that marriage?”
Persey answered honestly. “I’d have to say yes, but Stormee gave as good as she got. She could bench press 250. Nobody went to the hospital, but they did leave marks on each other. I think most of the time they just smashed things and yelled.”
He nodded. “Did you recognize the shotgun? Was it one of theirs?’
He thought she stood there studying the gun!
“Jarod has a lot of guns. Lots and lots of guns.” She shivered, remembering
the black, streamlined barrel between the bare, bloodied legs. Roy and Jarod often bought the same new toy, or traded back and forth. God, she hoped it wasn’t Roy’s gun.
“You know it wasn’t suicide,” Ned said abruptly. So that was why he looked away. That was delicate of him. “You saw where she put the shotgun. Suicidal women don’t do that. If she triggered it with her toes, who put on her shoes?”
Who wanted to even think these thoughts? She guessed he did. This was his business. There must be something about it that appealed to him.
“Could it be your guy?”
He said, “I don’t think so,” and touched her hand. “Brace yourself. You’re about to go public,” and stepped out of the car.
Two police cars rolled up, escorting a white crime van. Doors slammed, engines quieted, large men heaved and postured in the road. She shrank down in her seat, nestling in the police jacket so only her eyes peeked out, willing herself to disappear. There was a way she could have avoided all this. By calling Jarod.
Jarod would have hustled her away. Instead, a silver haired man whose his long, skinny neck poked out of his gray plastic raincoat like a tortoise’s came over to take a peek at her. He walked stiffly, as if imprisoned in a back brace.
She could tell by the exaggerated way Ned moved his arms while speaking that this man was his superior. Then they both paused to look at her. Digger, who disliked men in groups, growled low in his throat. Persey gave him a restraining pat.
Uniformed police entered the house, guns drawn. One of them was a woman; Persey wished she could take her aside and warn her what she was about to see. Crime scene techs wearing Hazmat suits and carrying black plastic tubs hung back under golf umbrellas for permission to approach.
I’m inside the zone, thought Persey. I wandered too far. I need to get out of here. She quieted her panic by identifying the smells inside Ned’s car; cheeseburgers, leather, aftershave.
The medical examiner drove up in a state car with a chipped gold and red insignia. A geek-necked uni began laying out traffic cones and unwinding crime scene tape. Ned stepped back into the car and activated the wipers.
“I get to drive you home,” he said.
“Can’t we take my car?”
“Sorry. It’s part of the crime scene. You have to wait for them to clear it.” Wind was knocked out of her. “But that’s outrageous. What about my
groceries? My flowers?” Jarod wouldn’t allow this to happen to one of his friends.
“The flowers will be fine,” he said. “Forget the groceries.”
“How far away should I have parked to be outside this mess?”
He gave her a sidelong look. “You couldn’t have parked far enough away. I warned you already that the body-finder is a person of interest. But they won’t take long, not since the husband sent you. Believe me, they’re trying to rule you out. You don’t fit the profile.”
If I started shooting people, thought Persey, I wouldn’t begin with her. “Better get out of here before the satellite trucks arrive”, said Ned.
She assumed he was joking, but they passed WGBN setting up at the
highway turn. A police car moved allowing Ned to pass.
“They always follow the crime van,” Ned told her. “Vultures.”
He turned on the highway. From the sound of it, his muffler was on its last
”You could have cleared my car, I bet.” It still bothered her.
He looked over at her. “I don’t dare,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been right.” A lot of things weren’t right, she thought.
He was still speaking. “So, in answer to your question, it’s probably not the same guy.”
Did she want an answer to any question he’d had so long to think about? “It’s a personal, not an impersonal crime,” he said. “Indoor versus outdoor,
shotgun versus knife, fluids present versus fluids absent. No body dump.
Disorganized versus organized, unless it was staged. Probably someone known to the victim.”
“Maybe the disorganization. But I think the air-conditioning took reasoning.
What did the Monopoly money say to you? ”
“He was telling her she’s a fake.”
He seemed surprised by her answer. “Interesting,” was all he would say.
“Maybe you should have my job.”
The rest of the drive both were silent.
Two matching red monster trucks overwhelmed Persey’s driveway. Jarod
and Roy had matching trucks as well as matching tats. The only way you could tell their vehicles apart was by their bumper stickers; Jarod’s said, “The One Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins”; Roy’s “Protected by Smith & Wesson.”
Try to look on the bright side, thought Persey. I don’t have to make Jarod dinner.
“That’s Jarod’s truck,” She told Ned.
“Let me be the one to tell him,” said Ned. He parked at the curb.
Alerted by the racketing muffler, the front door opened and Roy peered out, caught in a motion-sensor glare. He wore a waffle-weave long-sleeved undershirt and low-rider jeans. Behind him the hall was dark.
To Persey he seemed different, as if her experience had changed him. He expected something terrible; she could see it in his eyes. Or was it just because his wife drove up in another man’s car?
Ned helped Persey out and she released Digger. She trailed the detective up the walk. He should do the taxpayer-paid-for heavy lifting. She held his jacket over her head against the rain. Roy would see her in another man’s jacket after all. It sure was strange the way things worked out. Just thinking about something seemed to have the power to birth it into the world.
She heard Ned clearing his throat as if practicing his announcement; but hadn’t he performed this task before? What would he say? Excuse me, sir, did you use to have a wife?
Roy opened the door at its widest. Over his shoulder Boz Scaggs sang out about the sad, sad truth. The dirty lowdown.
“Thank God,” he said, sweeping Persey into his arms, kissing her dizzy. “I’ve been so worried. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I left it in my car.” She was reassured; she’d got her old Roy back. She was like a ghost returning to her widower. Now she knew what he looked like when he worried about her. Old, pinched, broken, ashen skin graying, matching his pale hair. Babe was right; she should never make him worry again.
Blessedly immune to subtext, Digger kissed Roy with his nose before scramming for the kitchen. A toilet flushed and Jarod emerged, buckling his belt. His hawkish white face with its pointed receding hairline floated in the poor light. As he came closer he looked sharply groomed, as if he’d passed the day in the barber’s chair, getting ready for his close-up. Even his furry caterpillar brows were tamed, as if Ned had come to capture him for posterity. He was hardly overdressed, however; gangsta jeans and a “Class Slut” muscle shirt rolled up to show his “Loyal to Death” tat. One of those Special Forces things. Roy had the same one.
“’Sup, bro?” To Ned. “You looking for me, buddy?”
The duel was between them; Roy backed away. How short Ned looked compared to Roy. No one was as tall as Roy.
“Jarod Gunver? I’m Ned McKick, with the homicide unit. We met at your birthday party. I’m afraid I have very bad news for you.” He held out a hand. They touched knuckles ritualistically.
“Someone blow up the mother ship?”
He meant the new police services building. A black glass fortress, it had
always seemed alien in the lush countryside. Persey saw a vein bulge in Jarod’s forehead, and now that it was safe to look at him, noticed for the first time that one of his eyes was appreciably bigger than the other. Were Jarod’s frightful fantasies, regurgitated from his empty soul, festering inside him?
She wondered if Ned’s vision could be so clear. Would he overlook the bite mark on Jarod’s ear, the wrestling burn along his neck?
“Worse than that. I’m afraid it’s the worst news a person can get. Your wife has been assaulted at home. Persey found her.”
“Oh, my God,” said Jarod, and he did look appalled. Roy reacted more strongly, but Persey thought she knew why. He didn’t like this man using his wife’s first name; she was supposed to be “Mrs. Royall.” Just like Babe.
“I’m so sorry, Persey,” said Jarod. Yeah, right. Favor time.
“They took my car.”
“I’ll get it back for you,” growled Jarod, and Ned said at exactly the same
“You’d better come with me.”
A pause. Jarod stroked his jaw as if trying to recall his line.
“Man up, blood,” said Roy to his buddy. They thought it was so cool to act
like members of the same gang.
Jarod repeated hollowly, “Man up. Let’s go.”
Roy divested Persey of Ned’s parka and threw it to his friend. Then the pair of them were gone, phantoms in the rain. Roy slammed the door and the connection was broken. The Lady shivered, but the unicorn was smiling.
Roy overwhelmed her with his citrusy sweat. He and Jarod must have been roughhousing.
“Jesus, I was worried,” he groaned. “Thank God you’re safe. Poor baby.”
Suddenly she was the baby. The role was unfamiliar, but not unwelcome. Did he have a way to minister to her without sex? It would be pleasant to let him try.
“There’s no dinner, Roy,” she said. “I’m sorry, but the groceries are in the car.”
“Fuck dinner. You’ve been through hell. Let’s get right to bed.” He pulled off her clothes right there in the hall, smelling for her familiarity the way Digger reclaimed a toy, kissing the holy trinity of belly, breasts and armpits. Did he suspect she had been replaced by an evil twin? It was funny, in a way, knowing what she knew.
She hoped he wasn’t in the mood for sex. If so she would be too tired to join in.
Although his gaze was hungry, he was more generous than that.
“What can I get for you? What do you want?”
“Hot tub. Glass of wine.”
Here the music was louder. She surrendered to the delicious boiling water,
trying not to smell Jarod. He had been in this room. The music boiled her brain clean the way the hot water scourged her body.
“Lunatic fringe….I know you’re out there…
…hiding…I can hear you coming and I know what you’re after…”
She sank beneath the purifying foam, emerging only to claim her glass of wine. How the roles were reversed! I could get used to this, she thought. Roy didn’t offer to get in, but handed her a pill.
Persey could barely open her eyes. “What is this?”
“I mean this thing.”
Xanax! Just what the doctor recommended! He would be so pleased! “Shouldn’t I take just half?” She was so tiny; any drug had a big effect. “I’ll be
out like a light. ”
“Would that be bad?”
Maybe it wouldn’t. She took the pill and waited for the drug to slam into her
system. Without water the wine was strong, flooding her brain; but sometimes you had to just give in. Maybe overdose is the only possible reaction to overkill. She felt so powerful, so uplifted now. She was not afraid of Bruce. She could master all of them.
Roy lifted her up, dried her, carried her, dressed her in her favorite fleece pajamas; pink ones picturing bunnies that romped with lambs. She tried to speak, to thank him, but her voice was slurry.
He was gone now and she didn’t need to bother with him or with anyone, sinking gratefully beneath the duvet like a mermaid sliding back into her element, into the past where her dream self waited.