Chapter 1

This story takes place in December, 2006

It was early December and cold. Though it was Friday I'd stayed home from the office – I can go out in the cold if I have to, but I really don't like to, and I'd just finished up a case which had sent me out in the weather enough for a while. Last night, before I'd gone to bed, I'd left a message on the office answering machine for Marla if she came in that day, and now I was being lazy.

I was sprawled out on the sofa reading Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy, which I've loved since I was in high school. I had Count Basie on the CD player, and my family was out in the weight shed doing their daily workout – or almost daily, for very occasionally Cecelia or Darlia or both might decide to leave the weights alone for a day. I had on a pair of jeans that were too worn out for even me to wear around in public – the knees were gone, and the cuffs in back where my boot heels step on them were ragged, and they were faded almost white, and the front pockets had so many patches that Cecelia had given up trying to fix holes. For once I had no shirt on – I usually wear one even in the house – and the permanent tan on my hands and lower forearms contrasted with the white elsewhere. I'm half Indian, but I look all white; my brother Memphis looks like a full blood.

It would be Christmas before we knew it. I already had Cecelia and Darlia's presents hidden at the office – not that they'd snoop around in my study, but except for Darlia's school none of our schedules is in stone, and I didn't want to have 'em walk in on me unexpectedly. I planned to do the wrapping Monday – it would still be two weeks before Christmas, but I'd be ready. Some people wait till the last minute, but I don't like to. I don't necessarily have to have everything always ready two weeks early, but I certainly hate waiting till time to leave, or time to wrap presents, or time to get dressed, or whatever, and then rushing around. Maybe it's because I'm from California, though not everyone out there fits the laid back stereotype, but I hate having to go at Mach 25 just 'cause I didn't want to do it earlier.

The phone rang. I got up and walked over to where it sat on Cecelia's desk. Normally I just let it ring, but sometimes I'll check the caller ID – not every call is junk. This one wasn't; it showed APD. That could be anything – one of the area commands, a guy from headquarters downtown, the Osuna substation, or whatever. But it was probably official – I couldn't remember the last time I'd gotten a call with APD in the caller ID.

I grabbed the phone off the charger and said, "Hello."

"Is this Darvin Carpenter?"

"Yeah, mate – who did you think?" I was smiling, for I thought I recognized the voice.

With the next words over the phone my smile disappeared. "Mr. Carpenter, this is Sergeant Miles of the Albuquerque Police Department." I did recognize the voice, but the formality was out of character. "Do you know an individual named Larry Entragian?"

The natural impulse in such a situation is to bombard the cop with questions. But I'd been a cop, and I've been working in crime since 1986; I know that you're not going to get answers till the cop's done what he needs to do. And anyway the cops don't clear cases by telling everyone everything on demand. I just said, "Yes."

"I wonder if you could come over to Mr. Entragian's apartment."

"I can, Jerry—" that being Miles' first name "—but I would like to know why. I'm spending the day with my family and I'm not running all over town just 'cause you want me to."

"Mr. Carpenter, it appears that Mr. Entragian has committed suicide. However, we've been unable to positively identify the body and we hope you can do so."

I forced myself past the mental block that wanted to keep me from saying anything. "Give me a bit. I've got to get dressed and tell my wife." I knew I was in shock by the way I didn't slur my words into "gimme" and "gotta." I hung up without saying anything else.

If I was going to tell Cecelia I had to get dressed; with the cold, going out to the shed shirtless and shoeless wouldn't be fun. I headed for the bedroom. I found one of my winter shirts, made out of a heavier fabric than usual, in a pattern that reminded me of a Scottish tartan. My mother had some sort of Scottish connection, but I'm only moderately interested in Scottish stuff. I know more or less what a tartan looks like, but not which is which. Once I had the shirt on I changed jeans to a presentable pair, and put on socks. My boots were by the living room door. I went into our bathroom and brushed my teeth. I looked at my hair; it was neat enough that I didn't bother combing it. There are advantages to having slightly wavy hair, instead of straight and limp.

Back out in the living room I got my boots and sat down on the sofa to put them on. I paused then. I had no doubt that Larry was dead, even if the police were having trouble with a positive formal ID. My insides clenched up and hurt. I couldn't cry, not just then, because I needed to get out and about the business of the ID, but I knew I would later. Whoever decided that men don't cry was an idiot. We have emotions and if we don't let 'em out, it tears us up inside. It felt right now like the tearing up was literal.

I got my boots on and grabbed my hat from the rack by the door. The hat rack had been the first Christmas present Cecelia had ever given me. I looked at it for a moment, my bleak mood and the bleak weather combining to make me nostalgic. I'd been living in the house less than a year when Cecelia gave me the rack, and now I'd been there for going on 12 years. I wanted to kick the rack, in a perverse way. It hadn't killed Larry, and his death wasn't Cecelia's fault, but sometimes when we're all torn up we lash out at those who are handiest – and the handiest people are almost always the ones we love.

I jerked myself away and headed for the back door. As I passed through the door onto the patio I realized I'd not grabbed a coat, but I let it pass. The shed was by the back fence, just off the patio – which hadn't been quite so large when we'd put the shed in – and it was a short walk. I opened the door and went in. It was a bit chilly in the shed, but Cecelia was sweating so that she looked oiled under the lights. She was on the bench press machine, her thin arms coiling and releasing as she moved the handles up and down. From the repetitions I knew she was using light weights, though she can bench considerably more than her own weight.

Over in Darlia's corner was a set of free weights – those that Cecelia lets her use, anyway. Darlia's just a kid, so Cecelia is very judicious in what she allows our daughter to do. I remembered the last time I'd seen Darlia with her weights, doing curls, her arms not coiling, since she's stocky rather than thin, but her biceps bulging as she worked the weight up and down.

I walked over to Cecelia and squatted down beside her. She looked at me, lowered the handles, and sat up. Her face showed concern; probably my own face wasn't as empty of feeling as I thought. "What is it, Darvin?" she asked.

"I just got a call from APD. Larry's dead – suicide, they say. I gotta go ID the body for 'em." At least I was speaking normally again – normally for me, that is.

"Haven't they identified him already?" she asked, one hand on my arm.

"They're pretty sure, but for some reason they can't get a positive once-for-all ID. I'll go and be back as soon as I can."

"Would you like me to drive you?"

I thought about it. Larry had been my friend rather than Cecelia's – married though we are, we still have somewhat independent lives – and she'd just known him to speak to. "No, I'll take the Blazer." Later I knew I'd hold her tight and cry. For now I needed to be alone.

"Very well, Darvin." Her hand rose and gently touched my cheek. "Return to me as speedily as you can." And she used the beautiful line we'd learned from Star Trek: "I grieve with thee."

I reached out and gave her a hug, feeling the wetness of her sweatshirt where she'd sweated through it. "Te amo, Cecelia," I said in Spanish.

"Te amo, mi esposo," she replied. "I'll explain this to Darlia." I stood up before I broke down completely, and then I turned and went.

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Story tagged with:
Crime / Detective /