It was loud in the house; the mourners clomping around the hardwood floors created a cacophony that set Evan’s head to pounding. He sat at one end of the couch in the living room, only looking up to make brief eye contact with the few people who walked up to him and began conversations of their own accord, because what could he possibly say to anyone? He’d just buried an empty coffin, empty but for Hannah’s pristine wedding dress, because somewhere out in the world her body either lay or moved, undiscovered.
A little girl skipped up to the couch and plopped herself down at the other end. Her hands, Evan could see, were sticky with frosting from one of the cupcakes that had been laid out on his dining room table. The girl scooted toward him, smearing pink frosting on the couch Hannah had always made sure was perfectly clean. She would never have let anyone eat in this room. She would be having a fit if she were there to see this girl messing up her couch.
“Is this your house?” The little girl asked him, her eyes wide and curious. She was maybe four or five years old, and Evan had no idea who the girl belonged to.
“No,” he answered. “I’m just visiting. Hey, want to do me a favor?”
“Sure!” The little girl said, an excited smile spreading across her face.
“Go get me one of those little cupcakes over there? They sure look good.”
“They are good,” the girl said, holding up three fingers. “I’ve had two already.”
Evan smiled as the girl scampered back to the dining room, and got up from the couch quickly. He kept his head down and didn’t make eye contact with anyone he passed as he moved through his house and went out the back door that opened onto the stone patio.
“Oh, God,” Evan said under his breath. There was only one person sitting on the patio and it was the one person Evan had no interest in talking to, but he knew he was trapped.
“No God here,” Detective Belarus replied as he exhaled a lungful of smoke. “God’s away on business. Stuck with me.”
Evan collapsed into a patio chair opposite Belarus, reaching across the small patio table and nodding towards the detective’s shirt pocket that bulged with a cigarette pack. Belarus passed one to Evan, then slid a lighter across the table. After Evan had lit up and passed the lighter back, Belarus spoke again.
“Quite a turn out.”
“My wife was a nice woman. She was a well-respected writer. No reason there shouldn’t be a lot of people attending her memorial.”
“Just didn’t expect you’d have such a big reception afterwards.”
“I didn’t want to, trust me, all this is thanks to her sister.”
“Bet you just want to kick everyone out of your house and get back to life.”
“Hannah’s been gone three months. I’ve already gotten back to life. I wish we hadn’t done this.”
“Interesting choice of words there, Mulraney. Hannah’s been gone, you say. Not Hannah’s been dead.”
“Well, show me proof that she’s dead and maybe I’ll change my words, but you and your people haven’t been able to come up with much of anything, have you?”
There was so much more Evan wanted to say to Don Belarus, who was the lead detective on his wife’s disappearance, but he bit his tongue. He had already been through the wringer with Belarus more than a few times in as many months – apparently when a person disappears, the spouse is always the first one questioned, the first one suspected of any wrongdoing.
Heavy silence hung between them. The men smoked and put out their cigarettes in the ashtray on the table. Time passed without them talking, and Belarus lit up again, passing the pack and lighter back to Evan. He took another cigarette gratefully. He had stopped smoking years ago, before he and Hannah had married, but he’d picked up the habit again recently, figuring he had nothing else to lose.
“What’s that like, burying an empty coffin?”
Evan almost choked. “Are you fucking serious? What the hell is wrong with you?”
Belarus laughed. He had always been a mean one, had suspected right from the beginning that Evan had done something to Hannah – killed her and hid her body, hired a contract killer, scared her off – something. He had never given Evan the benefit of the the doubt, and it looked like he wasn’t about to start now.
“Just curious, just curious. Doesn’t happen every day; I might not get the chance to ask anyone again.”
“Well you know what, Belarus? I hope you get to ask Hannah one day. I hope you get to ask her ‘What’s it like knowing your husband buried your empty coffin?’ Maybe one day I’ll finally get you off my back so you can start doing your job and find out what really happened to her.”
Belarus leaned toward Evan and spit on the patio. “I’m workin’ on it.” The detective’s voice was low and gruff. Evan could see that he was angry at himself for having so little to go on and it gave Evan a warm pulse of pleasure, quickening his heart.
Belarus sat back and then turned his head sharply to the backyard. Evan followed his gaze and saw a flock of wild turkeys making its way across his lawn and towards the bit of woods separating his yard from his neighbor’s.
“You ever think that’s how she did it?” Belarus asked, and Evan looked at him. “You think she just got up out of that car and walked into the woods on her own accord?”
Evan didn’t say anything, so Belarus continued.
“Sometimes I wonder whether that’s what she did. I think about her sometimes, Hannah. Sometimes when I shouldn’t be thinking about her, like when I’m eating breakfast with the wife or when I’m driving my boy home from school. Not on the job, you know? Sometimes I think of reasons she might’ve done it. Like you were beatin’ on her, or maybe she had some secret lover that she was running off to meet and maybe she got eaten by a bear or something. Sometimes I think we’re going to find a pile of her bones in the woods with teeth marks on them.”
Evan narrowed his eyes at Belarus, and then turned to look back at the turkeys disappearing one by one into the trees. Belarus wouldn’t stop talking for anything, and really, Evan didn’t mind all that much. At least Belarus had the balls to say what he knew everyone else was thinking. They didn’t find her body – what can anyone do but speculate, often and imaginatively?
“I think about the shoes sometimes,” Belarus said matter-of-factly. “But lately I’ve took to thinking that they are just an anomaly in the case. She could have had other shoes with her, right? Those were just beat up old Cons, and there was snow on the ground. She could have had other shoes, snow boots, stashed in the trunk.”
“All of her shoes were in the house except for the Converse she was wearing when she left. I’ve told you that a hundred times.”
“What, Mulraney? You expect me to believe everything you say?” Belarus shook his head and gave a throaty chuckle. “That’s cute. But really, you can’t expect to believe everything your wife said either, right? How are you to know whether she didn’t just buy some other shoes, paid cash and walked out of the store with them an hour after she left the house? You don’t know about the shoes, because there’s nothing to know about the shoes. The shoes don’t matter.”
“How could they not matter?” Evan asked. He was exasperated and growing tired of this chat with the detective, but on the other hand, this was the first time Belarus had ever really opened up to Evan outside of the station. He had expected Belarus to be cruel, but he had never thought him to be cunning. There had to be something about the shoes that mattered. Besides that stupid book, the shoes were the only things Hannah had left behind.
Belarus shrugged. “So maybe they do matter. Don’t know the how or the why of it yet, that’s all.”
They watched the last of the turkeys disappear into the woods. Voices from the house carried out from the house – “Where’s Evan?” They heard someone ask, and Evan looked over his shoulder nervously, praying no one came out to find him.
“Some people, I think, just don’t want to be found,” Belarus said, and Evan stood up. “And sometimes, things just disappear. That’s it. Poof – they’re gone, and you can’t ever find them.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Evan said, walking out into the yard, leaving Belarus and the mourners behind him.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Grace O’Malley challenged me with “God’s away on business” and I challenged Sir with “I want the operation, but she doesn’t. We are at an impasse. Being conjoined gets old, you know?”