Read 1 The Question of the Missing Head Online

Authors: E. J. Copperman

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1 The Question of the Missing Head (24 page)

BOOK: 1 The Question of the Missing Head


I did not see
Ms. Washburn again for three days, and then it was only to help complete the Yankee Stadium answer and, she was very clear, to conclude our business together.

Mother, who had taken to coming into the office for part of each day “just to get out of the house” (but probably to make sure that I was not taking on any further dangerous questions), was quietly knitting in the rear of the storefront, near where the pizzeria kitchen once operated. She had greeted Ms. Washburn with an enthusiastic embrace when she had arrived, and smiled more as she knitted than I had seen her smile in quite some time.

“Here, we can extend this swing by just a frame or two, and the follow-through will appear to generate more power than it did before,” Ms. Washburn pointed out. “That will make the idea of a home run into the stands more natural-looking. I can put Mark Teixiera’s face over yours if you like.”

“I am not sure that would look natural,” I told her. “I do not have an athlete’s physique.”

I enjoyed working with her again. After the marathon ordeal at Garden State Cryonics Institute, I had missed having Ms. Washburn explain where I might have misunderstood a facial expression or misinterpreted a turn of phrase that I found unusual or illogical. I had become dependent on her very quickly, which was strange, and had found her absence oddly disturbing.

We completed the work in less time than I probably would have liked, and after I paid Ms. Washburn for her work, we started to discuss the GSCI question and its aftermath. I told Ms. Washburn that Lapides had called after we both had been thoroughly questioned by the police, to indicate that the prosecutor would bring homicide charges against Rita Masters-Powell alone, but extortion charges against Rita, Marshall Ackerman, and Arthur Masters. Rita and Ackerman would also face attempted homicide charges for their actions against Mrs. Ackerman, Ms. Washburn, Mother, and me.

The prosecutor had, as I expected, failed to charge Commander Alvin Johnson with any crime, but “had given it a lot of thought,” Lapides reported, sounding disappointed. Instead, the commander and his wife had agreed to testify against Ackerman, Masters, and Masters-Powell.

He also said the medical examiner, now alerted to check for succinylcholine in Dr. Springer’s system, had found the drug that had caused her to asphyxiate, and the injection site on her right hip as well.

Miles Monroe had finally called Lapides from his vacation in Australia. He confirmed that he had been discharged from GSCI without a sufficient explanation, and that there had never been any insinuations of maltreatment by the staff of any of the institute’s guests. “I was wondering what that was all about,” Lapides said he had remarked. “Now I know why I got the golden parachute.”

“The whole thing seems like it was a long time ago,” Ms. Washburn said as I handed her a bottle of green tea from the vending machine. I was drinking from a bottle of spring water. “It’s almost like it happened to someone else, and I just heard about it or watched a report about it on TV.”

“It happened,” I assured her. “And you played no small part in it. Without you, I doubt the questions would have been answered completely.”

Ms. Washburn raised an eyebrow in a gentle warning. “Don’t butter me up, Samuel,” she said. That raised a disturbing image in my mind, but I did not comment. “I promised my husband that I wouldn’t come back to work here because it’s too dangerous. And even though our marriage isn’t necessarily in the best place right now, I’m going to stick to my promise.”

“I would not want to cause any undue stress in your marriage or otherwise,” I told her honestly. “I am merely trying to thank you for helping out so ably in the work you’ve already done.”

She frowned, and that did not make sense to me. “That’s it?” she asked. “You’re not going to try to convince me?”

Mother’s eyes looked up, but she did not stop her work.

“I do not understand,” I told her. “I was under the impression you did not want me to try to convince you to stay.”

“Samuel,” she said, shaking her head, “you have a great deal to learn about women.”

“You can say that again,” Mother chimed in. She had warned me once again before Ms. Washburn had arrived that she was a married woman, to which I had replied that the reminder was unnecessary.

“None of this makes any sense,” I said, my mind receiving more information than I could process at once. “So you
want me to talk you into working here again? Because I would very much like you to come back.”

Ms. Washburn let out a long, slow laugh and sat back in her chair. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I really will have to decide. I do want to work here, Samuel, but I don’t want to complicate my marriage any further. Give me a few days to think about it.”

“You may have as long as you like,” I said. “The invitation remains open.”

She nodded and took a sip of the green tea. “If I do come back—and remember I said
—you’re going to have to get some diet soda in that machine,” she said. “But Samuel, there’s one thing I wanted to ask you.”

That triggered something in the back of my mind, but I stayed on topic, keeping Ms. Washburn’s conversational desire in mind. I nodded.

favorite Beatles song?” she asked.

I did not hesitate. “ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ ” I said. “Although it is one of many.”

“Why that one?”

“Because no one else is in my tree.” At her blank expression, I quoted the exact lines to her.

Ms. Washburn smiled. “I think there might be more people in your tree than you realize,” she said quietly.

We sat for a while and drank our beverages. The silence was quite comfortable. But then, I returned to the point I’d just recalled. Ms. Washburn had not said anything for thirteen seconds, so I could assume a new topic would be acceptable.

“There is something about which I have been remiss,” I said. “Ms. Washburn, when you came here that first morning, you had a question you wanted answered, and I never considered it. What was it that brought you here that day?”

Ms. Washburn blushed and waved a hand. “It’s not important,” she said. “It was just something silly that morning.”

“Please,” I urged her. “I would feel I had cheated you.”

She moved her head from one side to another, looking around as if trying to find a spot to focus upon so she would not have to face Mother or me. “It was just … I was doing the
crossword puzzle, and I got stuck on a clue.”

I smiled. “And you wanted me to answer it for you. But you can look those up on the Internet, or call a number the
prints next to the puzzle every day. Why didn’t you do those things?”

Ms. Washburn still did not look at me. “That would be cheating,” she said.

I decided not to point out that asking me was just as dishonest. “Very well. What was the clue?”

It took three minutes of persuasion, but Ms. Washburn was finally convinced that this would settle the business between us to everyone’s satisfaction. “Fine,” she said with a resigned tone. “It was an eleven-letter word, and the clue was, ‘Those which prevail.’ ”

“Did you have any of the cross letters?” Mother asked.

“Yes. They were—”

“No need,” I said, standing. I must have been smiling very broadly, because both Mother and Ms. Washburn grinned at me with identical looks of expectation.

“What?” they said at virtually the same moment.

“The answer. To ‘those which prevail.’ It’s very apropos.” I believe I might have chuckled.

“What is it?” Ms. Washburn demanded.


the end

about the author

E. J. Copperman is the author of the Haunted Guesthouse series (Berkley Prime Crime) with more than 100,000 copies sold. Jeff Cohen has published two nonfiction books on Asperger’s Syndrome, including
The Asperger Parent

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