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Depraved Heart: a crime novel

Chapter Eighteen – Misbegotten

Trevor appeared in the doorway to the bathroom wearing a pair of Jake’s silk boxers. Shaving. Ah, the homey morning scenes of winter.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” he said. “We’ve got to do laundry today.”

I reached out and grabbed his leg. It was hard and strong, pumping with blood. So alive. My leg. The part of myself that was male. Accessible any time.

He patted my head like I was his pet.

“You all right?”

It was all coming back to me.

“I had a horrible nightmare,” I said, shuddering. For once I wanted no retrospect. I just wanted to be rid of it.

“I noticed. What was it about?”

I almost didn’t want to tell him. Sharing it gave it more life. But if I didn’t try to give it away, it might stick to me forever.

“I dreamed about my mother. She was really there. She looked right at me. She tried…she tried to speak to me.” My own voice trembled as I spoke. Could there be any moment more fearful than when the dead rise and accuse us? Isn’t every horror based on that? Trevor detached his leg gently and wandered back into the bathroom to wash his face.

“Well, you know what Jung says about dreams,” he threw over his shoulder.

I crawled deeper into the bed. It was too cold in the world. Maybe I wasn’t ready for the quotations of Great One.

“No, what does Jung say?” No comfort to be had in our cave of sex. He was right about the inevitability of laundry. Everything stank of sweat and blood. His sweat, my blood.

“Jung says you’re everyone in your dream. So it was you, yourself, that you dreamed about.”
Trevor isn’t often wrong but I knew he was wrong this time. Funny that he who formally pays homage every Sunday to the power of the spirit could be so dismissive of my Big Moment. I spoke to the dead. This time Aunt Shea was right: my mother was trying to open up an avenue of communication. But what was she trying to say? I, who was notoriously bad at languages, needed to learn hers.

I threw back the covers. The butterfly bloodstain on the bed was a Rorschach to the one on my own thighs. Bloody scenes of winter. What if my period lasted the whole trial, my body weeping in sympathy to the spatter evidence?

In court today the state was putting on the crime scene expert, to walk us through the “slaughterhouse” our swimming pool had become. Every day was blood-day. Trevor might think a visit to the laundry room would fix things; I knew better. I could defer my dreams like the rest of them; no Olympic fencing school for Jake, no college for Shelley, no job for Trevor and no writing for me, or I could stand up for myself. Take charge of my own life.

“I’m not going,” I said.

“What’s that?”

Trevor appeared in the doorway, his face glittering with the freezing cold water Oz always recommended as the final step of a gentleman’s toilet.

“I’m not going to court,” I said. “I’m never going again. I think he’s guilty as sin.”

He lifted me out of bed with such force I thought he was going to launch me out the window but instead he threw me over his lap and spanked me. I had never been spanked before, not by anybody, though Oz had often threatened and even as I heard the loud, openhanded smacks and felt the sting on my flesh I couldn’t believe it was happening. On my bare skin it hurt like hell. I didn’t make it easy for him. Rocking, kicking and thrashing, I ultimately slid back down to the floor and looked up at him.

His face was filled with blood, his eyes glowed electric blue.

“That’s what happens to spoiled brats. After all he’s done for you. Don’t you ever say that again, to anybody.”

Volcanic rage sprang me to my feet as I flung myself at the door. How dare he! He was a monster, sanctimoniously disguising his hunger the better to eat me alive. Even if he was prisoner of his moods, I didn’t need to join him. I fumbled for the lock but he caught me easily.

“You haven’t even heard the defense,” he asserted, exactly as if what had just happened was a debate instead of a beating.

“Don’t touch me,” I spat at him, “Don’t look at me, don’t speak to me. Ever again.” I was fighting to get out.

His face crumpled. Behind the mask of fury the little boy peeked out. He had come to save me from the bully but the bully was himself. He fell to his knees embracing my hips, kissing my sore rear. He buried his face in my stomach. I tried kicking him away.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I’ll never do it again. Do you want me to cut my hand off? I’ll cut my hand off now.”

He had successfully immobilized me.

“Don’t be disgusting.”

He wouldn’t let me go, carried me back to bed.

“It was the demon. Remember the demon that we talked about? If you don’t forgive me, Brontë, I’ll kill myself.”

“Just let me go,” I begged. He was too intense, I was too young, but suddenly he was making love to me all over again, pushing me backward with the power of his desire, licking the blood off of my thighs. It really was disgusting this time.

“Why would you want to run away from me?” he asked me. “Stay with me. Stay with me.”

I locked my legs and pushed him away.

“Stop,” I said. And he stopped. I turned my face away. I felt the tears on his face where he rested against my shoulder. Some people define love as loss of control, when aren’t yourself but are lifted up by something much more powerful. I had thought that before, but I didn’t like Trevor out of control. Did that mean I didn’t love him?

There was a knock on the door and Mina’s voice said, “Get a move on, you two.” She knew exactly where to find us.

Now Trevor was kissing my neck and hair, so tenderly, with the touching little butterfly kisses I used to find so irresistibly seductive. Was the old Trevor back?

“I give up,” he said. “Whatever you want. If you don’t want me anymore, then I’ll have to live with it.”

“I just don’t want to go to court any more, ever again. It’s like being flayed alive.”

“Except that.” He shook his head. “You have to go.”

He had me pushed right up to the door so I couldn’t move. I still refused to look at him.

“Then afterwards I want to go to the University of Arizona,” I said. “As soon as this is over.” It was the meanest thing I could think of to say. But I was finished playing house.

He was silent for a while, but I could feel his breathing. His eyelids quivered like an epileptic’s.
He said, “OK.” He didn’t move.

“I can’t get up until you forgive me,” he said.

“I forgive you.” Said coldly. Withholding.

He stood up and looked down at me.

“I’m really sorry,” he said. I didn’t like him looking at my naked body. I didn’t want to expose to him my burning bum.

“Hand me a robe.” Not a request. An order.

There was no robe. Everything was dirty. He stripped the sheet off the bed.

“And I’m wearing whatever the hell I want,” I said.

Jake was right, we were all in hell. If Vermillion hadn’t been haunted before, it was haunted now. In Colleen’s closet her ghost offered me her bright yellow Easter suit.

I soon regretted my choice, because the foetogs took extra pictures of me. Isn’t it maddening when someone you’re furious with turns out to be right? If I’d only dressed the way he told me to I could have had the cloak of invisibility I always claimed I was trying to achieve. Maybe I didn’t know myself as well as I thought.

Oh well, back to my day-job in hell. Now that it was no different from my night-job, what did it matter where I was? On the stand was the head crime scene tech, a gangly, loose-jointed bald man named Ditmer wearing someone else’s suit. A slight lisp made him a particularly annoying witness. Trevor and Jake took one look at him and mouthed to each other, “Hand job.”

Ditmer testified that he’d counted more than ten thousand separate drops of blood. He was one of a kind. I wondered how many little boys say to their mothers, “I’m going to count blood spatter when I grow up!” A character in a novel I haven’t read yet, I can tell you that.

And wouldn’t you know it, he had photographs. Lots and lots of huge color slides. The jury opened their collective mouth at the crazed-looking washes of dark red on the pale blue walls. After a moment, Shelley covered her eyes. I couldn’t look either.

Ditmer said he spent three days “stringing” the scene. I remembered that. I had seen him playing “Charlotte’s Web” out there.

“String theory,” said Trevor, and everyone smirked but me.
“What does that mean, exactly?” Fawna Fryssen asked him.

Stringing means he ran a string from each dot out into space, trying to figure out where it had come from. When he had enough strings he checked where they all crossed and voila, that was where the blood originated.

“In other words, where the first blow was struck?”

“Objection!” shouted Craig. “Putting words in the witness’ mouth!”

“Well, she doesn’t say what caused the blows,” said the judge. “I assume the fact that Ms. White-Hawke died of blows and bleeding is uncontested. It’s what caused the blows that’s the subject of this inquiry. Objection overruled.”

“Why doesn’t he swear himself in so he can testify?” Craig muttered to Oz as he sat down.
“If you look at the conjunction, here,” Ditmer pointed at his proudly photographed knots of string, you can see the blood originated from a point in space.”

“You mean that Ms. White-Hawke’s head was in space when the blow was struck?”

“She hit – something hit her – that is no longer to be found. Several blows. Here, here and here.”
“So they didn’t originate from her striking her head against a surface?”

“No, that looks quite different. See, here’s a mark on the concrete floor where she hit her head. It’s more of a smudge.”

“How could blood come out of a head in space in the manner you describe?”
“Well, she must have been struck by something. Some object.”

Jake yawned. Shelley’s eyes were closed and she was slumped as if asleep. I wondered what she was thinking. As for me, my butt hurt too much for me to be thinking of anything. I had discovered why some people like being beaten. It certainly takes your mind off other things.

I stopped listening, staring instead at Ditmer’s back while he lurched around in front of the jury explicating his fossil record of pain. There was another string, this one hanging from the back of his suit coat. If you pulled it, would his case unravel?

As for Oz, his back was ramrod straight as he craned his neck to see. What was he thinking as he gazed at this handiwork? I knew him very well, so I must know what he was thinking. Survival of the fittest. “Might makes right.” Words that echoed through my childhood.

What had my mother called him? An anarchist? An absurdist?

How could we ever have suggested with a straight face that this in any way was accidental? The only amazing part was that he thought he could get away with it.

Maybe he didn’t think. In spite of his pose of constant, complex ratiocination, I recall times when Oz behaved blindly. Rage was usually attached. I could see them having some kind of drunken dispute about his checkbook or sex life. Poolside, alas.

My only question at this point was, did he kill my mother too? Or did her easy, unremarked expiration simply give him the idea?

“Your witness,” said Ms. Fryssen.

I snapped back to attention. Craig rose, swelling to his feet like a big dangerous fighter coming out of his corner.

“Would you like us to take down the slides?” Buford asked his rival courteously.

“You can leave them up,” said Craig as if they didn’t matter a damn. He eye-locked his quarry.

“Do you know that in 1996 your lab was the focus of a complaint filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation?”

“Objection!” cried Buford. “That was before this witness’ time. This witness is not bound by anything that might have occurred at a place where he was not employed in 1996.”

“He may not be, but his lab is,” said Craig.

“Well, the lab is not testifying. Next question, please,” said the judge. But now the jury was aware of it and that’s all Craig cared about.

Craig rowed his burly shoulders through the air, closer, closer to Mr. Ditmer like a shark sighting lunch.

“Are you aware of the work of Dr. Pring?”

“Everyone’s aware of the work of Dr. Pring,” responded Ditmer with hauteur. The lisp spoiled the effect somewhat.

“Are you aware that Dr. Pring recommends lasers because stringing is imperfect?”
The victim shook his head like a bobble-headed doll and gazed nervously in the direction of the jury.

“Different departments have different budgets. Stringing has always worked for us.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s always produced the results you wanted,” Craig said silkily, then, before Buford could object, inquired, “I believe you said something before about 10,000 drops of blood?”
The witness nodded mutely.

Now Craig’s arm included the crime scene slides.

“Isn’t it true that you treated the blood evidence with Luminol?”

“We did,” agreed the witness cautiously. “Some of the less visible portions. In order to bring out the—”

“But doesn’t squirting the liquid cause the blood to run? Aren’t these run-marks? Here? Here? And here? Please show the jury where you sprayed the Luminol?”

“I don’t know, because I didn’t spray it personally,” spluttered the witness.

Craig threw his arms into the air in disgust.

“I put it to you that you and your minions have dramatically altered this crime scene.”

“I don’t think so.” Ditmer managed to raise his head and yet flinch at the same time.

“Don’t think? But don’t you need to know beyond a reasonable doubt? Have you any photographs of this crime scene before you interfered with it?”

“I didn’t take the photos,” said Ditmer. “I don’t know—”

“Your Honor,” said Craig, “Improper foundation. Move to strike the entire testimony of this witness. This witness cannot testify to these crime scene photos. He didn’t take them.”

“Your Honor,” protested Buford, pushing out from his corner, “The witness was testifying to a specific matter – connecting blood dots – and using the pictures to illustrate his work.”

“But how can he connect “dots” he – or others – have smeared?” said Craig, making sure the jury was getting an earful.

“He has a point, Mr. Buford,” said the judge. “You’ve got to lay your foundation. Introduce the photographer and then whoever sprayed the Luminol, then you can bring this witness back.”
“Your honor, we can’t get those two witnesses out here at such short notice. Can’t we just stipulate that the evidence is out of order for…for housekeeping reasons?”

“I’m not stipulating to anything,” said Craig. “A man’s life is at stake.”

“How about if I give you the afternoon off and you put them on tomorrow,” suggested the judge in his abrupt do-things-my-way-or-I’ll-have-you-all-executed voice.

See what court is like? Hurry up and wait. It must wreak hell with the digestion. Imagine what a terror this guy is at home. I’d be willing to bet he’s a screamer and a pill-popper.

“Your Honor,” said Buford, “Tomorrow we have the DNA expert in the Mary Elizabeth Barringer matter. He’s flying in. That’s the only day he can appear.”

“Then you’ll have to put your crime scene techs on after that,” said the judge. “Your scheduling is not my business. It’s your lack of scheduling that’s my business. Don’t disappoint me. Court reconvenes tomorrow at nine am.” He banged his gavel.

DNA results in the Mary Elizabeth Barringer case? What could that prove? It couldn’t prove she was not my mother. I had seen her face.

We were all starving and stopped for Chinese food at the Party Doll. It was only eleven o’clock so the place was empty. Our small group was glad to eat alone.

Wrapped in the ecstasy of General Tso chicken and Moo Goo Gai Pan I forgot all about the damn case, my aching bum, everything. I can see why people get fat. If love is uncontrolled, pleasure needs careful calibration. Otherwise you can’t feel anything.

Craig moaned with ecstasy over his bird’s nest soup. “That’s good enough to raise the dead,” was his comment.

An overstatement, alas.

After lunch Trevor went shopping for my laptop but I refused to go, choosing the grocery store with Shelley and Jake. If Trevor thought he could seduce me with a laptop he was very much mistaken. Craig and Mina drove up to D.C. to confront and threaten Dr. Pring.

When Spike dropped us off at home there was a FedEx guy waiting, trying to get a signature for a letter. It was for Trevor, from Oz, but it was really light. Oz likes explaining himself. Would a confession be so short?

I thought of ways to steam it open, but it had one of those pull strings so it seemed impossible to avoid detection. I’d just have to wait.

I was eating Trevor’s share of leftover Chinese food in the honeymoon suite when Trevor finally came home. Skylar’s fireplace may be gas, with fake logs, but the heat given off is real.

Maybe that was why I felt my face flushing as I demanded, “Where the hell have you been?”

“I have a lot of things to attend to,” he said. I noticed he was carrying a bottle of Arbois Pupillin les Terasses and made a mental note to soak off the label. A bottle of wine and two glasses. I was too proud to ask him if he’d purchased my laptop.

“I thought you never wanted to see me again,” he said, using the corkscrew from his Swiss Army knife.

“You got a letter from Oz,” I said, waving it.

He poured us each a glass. He took a sip from his and sighed.

“Go away so I can read it,” he challenged, holding out my glass.

I took the glass. I did not surrender the letter.

“I think it concerns me,” I told him. “Aren’t we in this together?”

I didn’t know how right I was.

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