Read Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie Online

Authors: Merry Jones

Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - Paranormal - Philadelphia

Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie (5 page)

BOOK: Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
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“But we’re not talking about statistics.” Becky sat straight, sounded indignant. “We’re talking about Elle. She’s a second grade teacher, for God’s sakes, not some Jack—Jill the Ripper.”

“And, face it, Charlie was a bastard. Elle couldn’t have been the only one with a motive to kill him.” Jen jammed banana bread into her mouth. She weighed nothing, but ate incessantly, even more when she was emotional. Never gained a pound.

“Guys, the cops are just doing their job.” Susan’s voice was flat. Authoritative. “They have to look at Elle, if only to rule her out.”

Good, I thought. They were just ruling me out.

Becky sighed. “But Jen’s right. Tons of people must have had issues with Charlie. Not just Elle.”

“Yeah.” Jen chewed. “Like what’s his name? That douche bag he worked with?”

“Derek Morris.” Becky offered.

“I bet he had issues with Charlie, right? Partners probably off each other as much as spouses, right?”

Did they? I pictured Derek Morris. Charlie’s business partner was smooth shaven, looked great in suits. His eyes were a tad too close together, his bottom teeth crooked. But his fingers were long and elegant. Could fingers like that shove a knife into someone’s flesh?

“Or maybe it was an unhappy client.” Becky was saying it might not have been Derek. “Some investor who was angry about his money—money’s the motive in lots of crimes.”

“Or it could have been a woman.” Jen rubbed her forehead with diamond-laden French manicured nails. “Someone he dumped.”

Susan raised an eyebrow. “Doubt it. True, stabbings can indicate passion, but they also imitate the male sexual act—”

“Oh, come on—”

“Stabbing is penetration, Jen. Often it’s an impotent man—”

“Cut the crap, Susan. Women don’t have dicks, but we can get pissed off enough to screw someone, too. Look. The guy was out there, single again. Who knows who he was messing around with?”

I winced, wondering.

“So say the babe stalks him, sees him visiting his ex-wife, and gets jealous, so bam, she sticks him.”

“Jen, you realize you’re basing this on nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. It’s based on knowing Charlie. He had SA.” Sex Appeal. “He liked the babes. Don’t tell me he never flirted with you? Squeezed you a little too long and tight when saying good night?”

Really? Charlie squeezed Jen? I wanted to kill him.

“No, I’m betting it was an obsessed woman.”

“Or maybe it wasn’t a woman but about a woman,” Becky pitched in. “Maybe a jealous husband.”

“Right. Chances are he was cheating on Elle even before they separated.”

Really? I’d never said a word about him cheating.

“And that Elle isn’t the only POS.”

“Jen, good God!” Susan erupted.

“Pissed Off Spouse.” Jen translated.

But Susan was fuming. The oldest of us by three years, a senior in high school when we were freshmen, Susan was as usual the big sister, the mother hen. “Elle is sitting right there. She’s not deaf. Don’t you think she can hear you? It’s one thing to make things up, but you don’t have to say stuff that will make her feel even worse.”

“Shit, Susan. I’m just saying—”

“Well, stop saying. We can theorize all we want. But we can also give the cops a chance to do their jobs, can’t we? It’s possible that they might actually know what they’re doing.”

“The hell they do, Susan. Get real.”

“If they knew what they were doing,” Becky agreed, “they wouldn’t have kept Elle at the station all night.”

“I’ve already explained. They had to talk to her. The body was in her house. She was the one who found him. It was her knife. And coincidentally, she had a knife wound on her hand.”

I sipped tea. Thought about the police, their questions. Detective Swenson, broad shouldered, ample bellied, maybe forty. And Detective Stiles, a little older, disarmingly handsome, even with a scarred face. The walls had been pickle green, without windows. The furniture, a dirty bolted-down table and some straight-backed chairs. A camera on the ceiling. “How’d you hurt your hand, Mrs. Harrison?” Swenson asked the questions. Stiles just watched.

“What was your husband doing in your home? Did you invite him over? You know, you two going through a divorce and all, maybe you wanted to settle things privately, without the lawyers. So you talked, and things started out fine, but before
you knew it, there was an argument. Things got out of hand. Maybe he got rough with you and you had to defend yourself. That’s understandable. Was that how it went?”

I’d paid close attention to the questions and answered them, determined to sound rational, composed, and straightforward, not mentioning the tickle of a kiss on my neck or the voice calling my name. Not referring to the traveling rose. Not revealing my inability to accept the idea that Charlie, my Charlie, was, in fact, dead. Instead, I’d concentrated on acting normal, even though I had lost all sense of what that word meant.

But they’d kept at it for hours. Began changing subjects quickly, asking random questions. Did I work out? Was my health good? Had I been drinking? How often, how much did I drink? Was I seeing anyone romantically? What bar had I been to earlier? Did my husband drive a car? Did I? How long had we been married? Why were we getting divorced? What business was he in? Who were his clients? When had I last seen him? How much money did he make?

The questions had begun politely, but Swenson’s tone had suddenly changed. “Your husband was a good-looking guy, Mrs. Harrison. Just because you were separated didn’t mean you two weren’t still, you know, attracted to each other.” I’d felt my face get hot. Pictured Charlie naked; could almost feel his kiss. “It’s understandable. Were you still getting it on? Is that why he was there?” My neck had gotten hot, too. Blotchy. I saw them notice.

“But your husband still had keys, you said. Odd, because we found no keys on his body. Neither to your place nor to his. Do you know where his keys are? Did he come over for sex? How often did he stop by? Was he involved with anyone else? Another woman? A man, maybe? You said your husband was a venture capitalist, right? What exactly is that? How were you involved in his business? Tell me again how you found him? What time was it? And how much had you been drinking,
again? How much life insurance did he have? Are you the beneficiary? How did his blood get all over your clothes?”

“And tell me again, how did you cut your hand?”

Hours had piled onto hours. At some point, I’d stopped caring about being present and composed or rational or straightforward or mentioning the disembodied kiss and voice. I’d struggled simply not to poke my eyes out or smash my skull against the green, windowless walls. Finally, Susan had been able to get me out of there and, since my house was still a crime scene, to take me to her house near Rittenhouse Square where she turned both our phones off to avoid calls from the press, and I sat drinking tea with my best friends.

Susan told the others not to worry about the police. One of the detectives—the good-looking one, Stiles, was married to her friend, Zoe. I’d met Zoe a few times, found her intense and demanding. But still, if Detective Stiles was married to Susan’s friend, it might help somehow.

“Look at the paper.” Susan pointed to the article. “He’s quoted as saying the investigation is open and Elle is not a suspect.”

“At this time,” Becky corrected. “It says they’ve talked to Elle but are making no arrests ‘at this time.’”

I looked at the newspaper.

A picture of my Fairmount row house graced a double column on the lower right of the front page. With an inset of Charlie. A headline announced his murder: Prominent Investor Fatally Stabbed. I stared at the page. Read that the weather was warm, high seventy-five. That gas prices were up again. And that it was Thursday, October fifth.

Wait—Thursday? A school day?

“Oh God—” I was on my feet, looking for my bag. “Where’s my phone?”

Six eyes blinked at me.

“I—I have to call. School.” Why didn’t they see the problem? “To get a substitute.”

Still, they gawked. Dumbstruck.

Slowly, Susan grinned. “Welcome back, Elle.” She put down her rolling pin, came around the table, and hugged me. Her eyes were sad.

“Elle! You’re talking?” Jen actually clapped her hands.

“Don’t worry,” Becky embraced me as soon as Susan let me go. “I called and got subs for us both. I said we had the flu. But it’s in the news. By now, everyone knows the truth.”

The truth. I sat again, released a breath, wondered what the truth actually was.

The three of them still watched me. Warily.

“I’m okay. Really.” As if to prove it, I took another sip of tea. “You can stop worrying. I swear. I’m fine.”

They looked away, but nobody said anything. No point. Everyone knew it was a lie.

We sipped tea. Jen devoured more banana bread.

We sat in silence. We had been friends forever, didn’t need to talk. Susan kept moving, opening cabinet doors, putting away shortening and flour.

Becky stared out the window. I followed her gaze, saw a blue sky dotted with clouds. A single oak in the tiny backyard. A sparrow or two flitting around. A brick patio with two Adirondack chairs, potted plants. A small patch of grass. Hedges lining the wooden fence. Peace.

Finally, Becky broke the silence. “No matter how he died or who did it, the hardest part is that he was one of us. Charlie’s, like, the first to go.”

“No, he’s not.” Susan dismissed the comment, checking the oven temperature. “We’ve all lost people—Jen’s dad died, and my mom. And we’ve all lost our grandparents. That guy from our class—George Evans—he OD’d, remember? Christy Morrison—in Honor Society? She died of breast cancer. And I’ve dealt with tons of—”

“But no one so close,” Becky argued. “Not from our own private circle. Charlie was Elle’s husband—and poof. He’s dead. Gone. Just like that.”

“Unless you believe in hell.” Jen chewed. “He’s probably doing push-ups down there—”

“Jen, stop—” I began, God knows why, to defend him, but Susan cut me off.

“Look. Dead is dead.” Susan lifted the crust and plopped it into a tin. “Hell or no hell, Charlie’s gone. It’s just that simple.”

“Actually, I’m not so sure it is.” I swallowed tea, stopping myself. Not certain I wanted to tell them. They wouldn’t believe me. Hell, I almost didn’t believe me.

“What do you mean?”

“Huh?”

They watched me warily, triplets with identical expressions of pity and concern.

“You’ll think I’m crazy—”

“We already think you’re crazy.” Susan opened the refrigerator, took out Tupperware filled with blueberries. Another food that she said would make us healthy.

I looked out the window, then into my teacup, and decided, what the hell. There was no risk in telling them. I might feel better if they knew. These were my closest friends. We knew each other’s worst flaws and most embarrassing secrets. I could trust them. Still, I hesitated. Took a deep breath. Another. Saw Susan put down the container of berries, fold her arms. Saw Jen’s lashes flap, Becky lean so far forward that her breasts rested on the tabletop. They were all waiting, watching me.

“Let me be clear.” I paused. “I don’t believe in ghosts or paranormal stuff. And I’m not delirious, even though I might be a little in shock. What I’m about to tell you is the God’s honest absolute truth, and I want you to promise to believe me.”

Three sincere nods. Three voices promising.

I took one more deep breath. Closed my eyes, opened them
again. Okay. “Charlie isn’t gone. He’s still there. He’s still in the house.”

“Elle? What kind of pills did that doctor give you?” Susan picked up her Tupperware, shaking her head.

Becky and Jen said nothing. Becky looked away.

“No. Susan. I swear.” I went on, hearing how loopy I sounded. “I smelled his Old Spice. He kissed me on the neck. Talked to me. He said my name.”

An audible sigh from Becky. Susan dumped the berries into a pot. Jen stuffed her mouth with a huge wad of banana bread.

“You don’t believe me.”

A pause.

“I do.” Becky reached out, touched my arm. “I believe you, Elle. Things like that—I believe they happen. But you have to be careful—”

“Christ. You’re both delusional.” Susan pushed a floury hand through her hair, left a streak.

BOOK: Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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