“When casting for truth, one does not throw ones net on the sand.” Charlie Chan
‘People are strange when you’re a stranger…faces come out of the rain’ The Doors
A fire, a charred corpse, missing maven, a trio of devious daemons, & a fat folder of suspects materialize, while 4 gens of family angst, a boudice ripping or two, & ancient myths & magic collide, revealing a mistold, twisted tale of retribution
The Detectives. The men assigned to investigate the garage fire and death of Perdea Brentain stepped into a world in which they had minimum exposure. Theo Armstrong was assisting first grade Detective Eam Able after it was learned the deceased was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. Theo arrived at Powhatan Estates late. Initially, he was more concerned about the gummy, pink, fire cooked substance sticking to his new Italian loafers, than to case details. Despite his surname, it was his stubby hands, not his arms that were strong enough to crush beer cans and bend bottle caps.
Last year, Theo had enjoyed a streak of good luck—and became spiritual, for a few months. The conversion occurred after being told by a wizened old bookie—whom he opted not to arrest—in exchange for receiving a hot race tip and a prediction that his life would be ‘blessed’ after finding lucky money in an unexpected place.
A week later, Theo found a shiny Susan B. Anthony two-dollar coin in a tweed jacket his wife bought at a consignment shop. That evening he left his server the coin as a tip after paying for a cup of java and two wedges of pie with a $20 bill. The pimply-faced clerk gave him $17 in change, which he kept. With that money, he bought three raffle tickets from his church. Theo won the raffle’s grand prize, a big screen TV and a plush recliner. His good luck didn’t end there. His aunt died and left him $10,000. He took his wife on a second honeymoon and in a moment of weakness, promised to regularly attend church with her and the kids.
His spirituality lasted as long as the live span of a fruit fly. It took just one miserable car ride home to sway him. The kids were fighting, his wife was complaining about Theo’s mother, and Sunday morning traffic was at a crawl due to local construction. Thereafter, he stopped attending church. His Sunday mornings were peaceful and stress free. While his wife drove the kids to church, he watched, from his plush recliner, sports and news on the big screen, while he slurped coffee and read the paper. He wondered how many future weekend would be undisturbed.
Eam, with whom he’d previously worked a few ho hum investigations—petty thefts, vandalism, and the unexplained death of a rare, 2 year old cockatoo—briefed Theo. Eam was attentive to details. Around the station, they playfully called him ‘Art’ Anal Retentive Twit. His partner’s meticulousness was OK by Theo. Eam could work on the minutiae; he’d concentrate on broad strokes. He volunteered to interview the Lorries, and later in the week, some of the dead woman’s rich relatives. That way, he could be home by 7 and catch a game on his big screen.
Eam Able grew up race diverse; his mother, Dawn, was Irish & Cherokee; his father, Spector Able, was part Creole and part African Gold Coast Ashanti. His parents had met at a Rodeo Benefit for disabled children, held at a politician’s posh farm in Fauquier County, Virginia. His mother was attending a local veterinarian school, and had volunteered her services that day. Her firm, gentle manner with children, animals, and politicians charmed Eam’s father. They were married six weeks after their first date. Eam was born a year later, and his sister, Cara, a few years after that. Eam had attended private school in Washington DC. His classmates were the sons and daughters of diplomats. The family spent most weekends at their small farm near Leesburg, Virginia.
Spector Able was a political advisor; he urged his son towards a career in law; his mother, Dawn Leaping Shadow (Cherokee name) hoped Eam would become a doctor and help people. Police work seemed to be a logical compromise. Growing up, he enjoyed reading about famous cold cases and developing lists of suspects and alternative theories. He created murder books for cases that included the Lindberg kidnapping, the assassination of President Kennedy, and Jack the Ripper murders. As of today, he had one more mystery to add to his list.
* * * * *
Mired in the midst of dark magical landscapes, the obvious can be difficult to spot. When logic, predictability, & limits of science and religion is preferred to the vast, wild uncertainty of the occult, people tend to ignore what should be questioned, investigated, and marveled at. Within the darkest forests the richest treasures lie.
The Lorries. Frieda and Charley Lorrie were Dea’s nearest neighbors. Powhatan Estates consisted of 23 mini-mansions and high end weekend escape cottages on ½ acre or or five-acre lots that bordered Government owned park land. The houses were grouped around four cul de sacs. Chief Powhatan’s ancestors had once hunted the fields, woods, marshes, and tidelands stretching from Northern to Southern Virginia. His more famous daughter, Matoaka (Pocahontas), dubbed a civilized savage, allegedly saved the life of John Smith. Her first husband, Kocoum, was killed by colonialists. She became a war casualty, forced to convert to Christianity and marry tobacco planter John Rolfe. They had one child, a son. She died, aged 21, of an unknown illness. Chief Powhatan’s mantle (deerskin w shells) >>>
Dea’s house was perched on a 5 acre wooded lot. Frieda and Charley’s 1/2-acre lot and cottage was modest in comparison, in fact, it was the smallest house in the development. They had owned it outright several times, but business setbacks forced them to mortgage the house left them by Charley’s parents. They owed nearly $30,000 on their present mortgage, and were always hard pressed to scrap up next month’s mortgage payment. Charley had taken an early retirement due to his bad back and an old hip injury. Some of his investments weren’t doing well. Frieda worked part-time at the local mall.
The Lorries’ (specifically Frieda) twice sued Dea and twice had lost in court. On the first occasion, Frieda accused Dea of poisoning their flowers and vegetable garden, causing all but the weeds to die. The following year, they again tried to sue their neighbor and the company she worked for, claiming the anonymous couple Dea wrote about in an Eyes on Everyone expose was modeled on them, and was defaming. The depiction of the nameless couple as ‘cheap, conniving old farts’ was condescending and libelous, they stated in their suit. When Frieda and Charley lost again, they were obligated to pay all legal fees. The law, they concluded, was only for those who could afford the better attorney.
Over the years, they avidly watched Dea’s lovers, spouses, friends, and the occasional family member enter and leave the large stone mansion that made their faded grey brick and barn board one story rancher look shabby in comparison. They approved of only one of their neighbor’s many residents and visitors—her daughter Langley. Frieda and Charley had watched her grow from a petite child to a stunning young woman. Before the lawsuits, Dea, had paid the Lorries handsomely to watch Langley. She even invited Frieda and Charley to several of her parties. They were mildly obnoxious, but tolerable. Moreover, they provided Dea’s friends hours of amusement—trying to figure out what the Lorries next prying question might be. When Dea discovered Frieda was trying to fill Langley’s head with her prejudices and unsolicited opinions, she cut off all contact. There were already enough people attempting to convince Langley their values were more righteous; the inept Frieda was one person too many.
Dea was sure Frieda, over the years, had sent hate mail to her office and home. Frieda wasn’t the only person that despised her. Dea hinted to her daughter that if she continued to visit the Lorries, something unpleasant was bound to occur. Shortly thereafter, the Lorries much fussed over spring garden failed to thrive. At first, the couple implied Dea’s dog Terroir had trampled and territorially sprayed their plants with his urine. She assured them they were wrong and they had no evidence. Besides, Terroir was a French word, which loosely translated, meant a sense of place, an affinity for the land and terrain. Dea advised them to tend to their own affairs. Animal Control determined a deer was responsible for the damage.
Frieda always suspected her Charley was smitten with Dea, indeed, they might even be having an affair. The suspicion grew over the years from a vague feeling to certain fact. That suspicion was what propelled Frieda to occasionally spy on her nearest neighbor, and risk being caught trespassing or peeking through a partially open window.
Frieda knew Dea had at least one visitor the day of the fire. She worked in the food court at the mall from 8 am until 1 pm six days a week and usually came right home. Frieda told Theo someone arrived mid-afternoon in a long, sleek maroon town car. Frieda guessed it was a co-worker, however, the tall wall of trees and curve of the driveway prevented her from seeing who emerged from the car. Car and driver departed about a ½ hour later. Frieda knew this because she was looking out the kitchen window again while shoving last night’s dirty dishes in the dishwasher next to other chipped plates, bowls, and cups. The car peeled away and made a hard right exiting the stone wall flanked driveway and tree lined cul de sac.
Frieda realized Charley hadn’t appeared to eat the sandwiches and chips she’d prepared for him. A quick search confirmed he wasn’t in the house or doing yard work out back. His rust bucket of a car languished in the driveway. Charley sometimes took his walking stick and binoculars and went bird watching. At least, that’s what he said he did. Frieda knew better. This time, she would catch them in the act─in the unspeakable act of—fornication. She filled a tall glass with fruit punch and a generous measure of vodka, and sucked half of it down while she mulled over what to do next.
The sun was lazily gliding behind clouds and a hillside of tall pine trees were waving goodbye to sherbet-streaked banners of sky. The stillness and vivid canvas often indicated an abrupt change in the weather. Frieda slipped on her jacket, ambled across the yard, and wiggled through a gap between Dea’s stately Lombardy and blue-green spruce trees, and the waist high boxwood hedges that divided their properties. In the growing gloom, she half darted, half wobbled across the wide expanse of landscaped lawn careful to not spill her drink.
Seeing no one moving through the opaque sheers that framed the front windows, she grew bolder. Frieda crept round the far side of the house and peered in other windows. Although her view was somewhat obscured by heavy drapes and sheers or plantation blinds that had been pulled across the windows, she determined no one was inside. Chagrined, she turned to leave. Charley had recently helped Dea change some lubricating fluid in a leaf-blowing machine; perhaps they were in the garage.
Feeling confident, she chugged the remainder of her drink and slid it into a side pocket. She moved quickly along the back of the house, and snuck past the half completed expansion of the summer porch. Frieda edged towards the covered slate and flagstone passageway separating the house from the detached garage. She could definitely hear a motor running. Oh, she’d let them have it─those cheaters. She placed her hand on the knob, but froze. What if Dea was in there with one of her men friends? She couldn’t just barge in─not until she was sure. Well, someone was in there, and maybe, just maybe it was her Charley.
Frieda summoned her nerve and crept to the front of the garage to peek through the glass panes set high into the garage door. The pudgy shaped woman jumped up several times, but wasn’t quite tall enough to see through the high window. A galvanized bucket sat nearby, filled with dark, loamy mulch. Frieda emptied it and stood cautiously on the overturned bucket. It gave her just enough height to be able to peer through the window. Odd, there was nothing but grey fog, or was that smoke? It must be coming from the car’s muffler. That was odd; everybody knew you didn’t leave a car motor running in a close, confined area. There didn’t seem to be any movement. What if her Charley was inside, breathing toxic fumes? Or what if the smoke was a cover up so Frieda couldn’t see what they were doing?
It was more curiosity than courage that motivated her to rush back to the side garage door. It was locked. There was another door at the back of the house; it was probably locked too. Frustrated, she stooped down and examined the square doggy door covered by two flaps of heavy rubber. Could her rotund body fit through? On hands and knees, she stuck her head and shoulders through the dog door. A dense fog of carbon-monoxide fumes immediately engulfed her. She tried to pull herself back through the door. No luck, her fleshy shoulders wouldn’t budge. She yelled for help and choked on the fumes. Frieda had no choice but to force her body through the doggy door─into the garage and suffocating smoke.
Staggering to her feet, the frightened woman knocked against a car, which was cold. She felt her way around its front, and turning, bumped her head on a pole. The fumes made her eyes water, her throat burn, and her head ache. “Charley,” she croaked, “you here Charley?” Speaking made the burning in her throat worse, and set off a fit of coughing. She began to feel nauseous and groggy. Keep walking, she admonished herself aloud. Gotta find the back door. Charley’s not here. She butted into another car. It was hot, humming—the source of the spewing clouds of smoke making the air toxic.
She gingerly felt her way across the front of the garage, barely connecting with the hot metal of the vibrating car, and edged towards the driver’s door. Weakly, she called again, “Charley? Dea? Help!” Speaking brought on a paroxysm of coughing; she rubbed her stinging eyes. Through the driver’s side window, she could barely make out a figure slumped over the steering wheel. Her eyes burned and she was close to passing out. Is that a man or a woman? The car door was locked. The handle was hot. Whoever it was had hair; Charley didn’t.
Frieda pulled her shirt up over her nose, and staggered backwards, towards of the source of the fumes. She was so tired. Gotta get air, rest for just a few secs. Her arms and legs felt like she’d just stepped off an amusement park ride, the one that flattened your body against cage walls. There was something red and yellow flickering in the far corner of the garage—a light, a poor, scared cat, or flames? She stumbled and knocked over a pole or broom and several cans. That should have hurt more. I’m so tired. Some primordial old brain reflex wouldn’t allow her to lie down and give up. Frieda kept shuffling, sliding her feet forward, weaving like a fighter about to hit the mat.
A whimper escaped from her dry lips when she connected with the back door knob. She wasted precious seconds feeling for and turning the lock. It was so hard to make her hands work. She stumbled outside, and woodenly, spastically ran a dozen yards, then fell face forward onto Dea’s cool lawn, gasping and retching. She lost the contents of her partially digested lunch of egg salad on white bread, two kosher dill spears, chips, four oreo cookies, and the glass of fruit punch chased with 4 shots of vodka. She wiped her mouth, then rolled onto her back, flailing and grabbing blades of grass as if it was a life line. The world spun recklessly. There was a booming, exploding sound, and bright lights flared. Frieda smiled. The sky and a few dazzling stars erupted around her. Then all went dark.
* * * * *
At first, from Charley’s perch in an old walnut tree, it looked like someone was burning a big pile of leaves. But then there was a boom and the flames leaped higher; a fire was raging. From the direction of the smoke and flames, it was possible it was his house, or a neighbor’s house in the cul de sac. The other houses, except for Dea’s, should be empty this time of year. It took him several minutes to climb down, and ten additional minutes to reach the perimeter of his yard. He fell to his knees—grateful his house was safe. It was the Brentain house or perhaps just the garage burning, casting an eerie twilight glow. He ran inside, shouting for Frieda. In the kitchen, he dialed 911.
His wife wasn’t anywhere in the house. Charley was hyperventilating. He briefly entertained the thought that Dea and Frieda had gotten into a real fight, or Frieda in a fit, had tried to set the neighbor’s house on fire. After they lost the last lawsuit, she promised him she would stay away from the Brentain house.
The flames were arching to the right, in the direction of their house, though an expanse of lawn, a thick line of trees, and a hedge lay between the burning building and Charley’s house. He ran towards the end of his driveway and squeezed through a break in the trees, then hobbled along the line of trees towards the garage. Staying wide of the now intensely burning garage he managed to reach the back of the house. He took note the screened porch was being expanded. He found the hose and aimed it at the raging fire. Good pressure, he told himself, but the single stream of water aimed at this roaring bonfire had the same effect as spit in the desert. If the fire company doesn’t get here soon, the whole damn place will burn to the ground. He kept the hose aimed at the back and side of the garage nearest to the house, and fed out more hose. Charley began edging forward. His objective was to thoroughly soak the wall, trees, and shrubs that bordered his property.
He nearly tripped over Frieda, prostate on the ground. She moaned softly. While still directing the hose at his target, he bent over to check on Frieda, and catch her ramblings. She grabbed his shirt, and jerked him from side to side. He tried to check her for burns or blood. She seemed to be all right except for sooty smudges on her face, hands, and clothes. He told her he had called the fire department, and repeatedly asked his dazed wife if she had set the fire.
Through her slowly receding fog, Frieda began to understand what her husband had been saying. She hauled her hand back and slapped her husband of nearly 40 years soundly on the slide of his head. “Are you senile old man? I just risked my life inside that─inferno. I thought you were in there with her, you old fool. Where were you? It was god awful, but the lord’s finally seen fit to punish that brazen harridan.”
Sobbing, Frieda clung to Charley’s flannel shirt and placed her hand on the same spot that a moment before she had slapped. His scrawny arms wrapped around the trembling woman as sirens peeled in the distance and the hose watered the grass. Gyrating lights cast alien shadows against the trees lining the road.
By the time Charley had helped Frieda hobble over to their house, grabbed his flashlight, and headed back to the fire, the massive hoses held by the firemen were pumping a wide arc of water into the center of the greedy fire. Another truck was spraying white foam through a gaping hole. Their number one job was to prevent the fire from spreading to the house, located to the left of the garage. They used the hose Charley had abandoned to soak the trees, which ran the length of the property and linked to park land. The right side of the garage was already beginning to lean inwards.
When the police, accompanied by the Lorries and a fire marshal entered the house about an hour later, they were amazed to find only minor smoke damage inside. Though the weather had been mild for March, all the windows had been shut. Dea’s dog, Terroir, was lying prone on the floor in her study at the opposite end of the house. It was later determined the dog had been drugged. A quick search of the house assured the police no one was present.
The Lorries provided the police with information about next of kin, and Frieda, though still feeling ill from the carbon monoxide she’d inhaled, decided she was strong enough to snoop through a few of Dea’s’s cupboards and drawers. When would she get another chance, she reasoned? She didn’t get to open more than a few drawers in her neighbor’s immaculately appointed kitchen before she was personally escorted out by Detective Eam Able. He instructed Charley to take Frieda home after a medic checked her out. An officer would be over to question them later.
* * * * *
Boys & friends. He’d been called both rascal and rogue. Where ever he put his carpenter’s workbox of tools and canvas duffle bag of possessions was home. Dea was fond of big, brawny guys with artistic temperaments. Langley thought her mother just liked men who behaved autistically. Although some of these men seemed to have the emotional IQ of a seven year old, the physical connection was strong and satisfying. Perhaps that was all she wanted.
Mickey had been staying at Dea’s since late January. Officially, he was repairing and enlarging her summer porch. Unofficially, he was her spring project. Earlier in the week, he hitched a ride to the big easy to enjoy some cool jazz with his buddies. But the social misfits he’d once hung tight with now had families and demanding obligations. He was eager to return to Dea’s to finish the porch and spend more time with the woman who had picked him up in a D.C. bar, brought him home, and pried details from him he would never have dared to tell the guys.
His ride dropped him off about a mile from Dea’s. His heavy duffle bag knocked against his shoulder; his emerging hard on made him quicken his pace. This would be his night. Dea would…He watched the sun dip behind the rounded hills, but barely noticed the orange and grey tinged sky. Mickey had been south of the law a few times, but never did any time for his minor infractions. So when he saw the fire trucks and police cars lining Dea’s driveway, he had no reason to turn around. Besides, his lifeline—his cherry red toolbox—was in the garage.
Detective Armstrong had finished scraping the last of the bubble gum off his Italian loafers and was leaning against the front porch column as Mickey approached. “Hey, we’re conducting an official police investigation here. State your business or start walking the way you came in.”
“I’m Mickey Rydell. I live here, errr, I’m staying here. Where’s Dea?” Mickey’s eyes widened as he surveyed the smoldering ruin of the garage, which had collapsed in upon itself. “Man, who torched the garage? What a pisser. Damn! My tools are in there. I need those tools.” He took a step forward, with fists clenched at his side. “What the fuck?”
“So you’re Mickey. We’ve been looking for you. We thought you could tell us what happened—was it a lover’s quarrel?” Theo sized up the husky man sporting a light stubble and brown shaggy hair. “She wouldn’t give you milk and cookies money?”
“Bast… Where’s Dea? Who the hell─”
Detective Able poked his head out the door and cleared his throat. “Theo, would you go next door and get the Lorries statements. Mrs. Lorrie discovered the body, and I understand her husband, Charley, was the person who called in the alarm. It’s Frieda you want to concentrate on; she initially identified the body in the car as Dea Brentain, the owner. I’ll talk to this man. Thanks Theo.”
“Right.” Theo glanced at Mickey, then he headed down the driveway, and murmured “punk” under his breath.
Mickey paced; it took Eam several minutes to undo the careless cop approach Theo employed. Eam told Mickey about the body in the Lexus in the garage and asked him when he’d last seen or talked with Dea. Specifically, he wanted to know about their ‘arrangement.’ He casually ran through a list of questions. After spending ten minutes jotting answers, Eam asked a police officer to drop Mickey at a friend’s apartment in Arlington. He cautioned Mickey to let the police know if he planned on any change of address. He gave Mickey his card, and asked the somewhat bewildered man to contact him if he remembered anything that might be of interest to the ongoing investigation. Eam promised to return his toolbox once the investigation was over—if it was salvageable. Mickey was shaken and before he accepted a ride in the unmarked police car, he found Langley and expressed his sympathy, adding if only he had been here, the fire might not have occurred.
Langley reluctantly contacted her aunt and uncle, who would notify other family members, then drive from their home north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Langley’s the following morning. The tense young woman, possibly now an orphan, explained a bit of her family history to Theo Armstrong. And she told both detectives her mother used the name Dea. Only a few people called her Perdea. Langley’s grandmother died when Dea was ten years old; her grandfather remarried a French woman less than a year later. As a result, Dea had a half-sister, Chantelle. Dea’s father, Mitchell Brentain, had recently suffered a stroke and was recuperating at the Brentain estate outside Philadelphia. Her mother’s brother Martin and his wife Geneva would arrive tomorrow.
Langley attempted to describe how her mother had once been close to her grandmother, Deandra O’Hennessy, Langley’s Great Grandmother. There had been several estrangements between the two strong willed women over the years. Grandee─as Langley had always called her─was unfortunately attending a museum dedication in England with her Great Grandfather Sebastian O’Hennessy and couldn’t be reached. Dea’s closest friends were Vivien and Whitaker ‘Governor’ Jones. They were the ones Langley wanted by her side, but they were abroad on vacation. Langley thought they were returning late Sunday from South America.
The forensics team had left long ago. Preliminary findings of the medical examiner were at best ambiguous, and only confounded the mystery. The medical examiner, a man with more than 15 years of pathology experience, was no longer sure about the identity of the body in the garage. Yes, it was a woman. She appeared to be in her mid 40’s to early 50’s. From what remained, it could possibly be the remains of the woman who owned the house. The basic description matched, that of a woman about 5’ 8” tall, with long, reddish blond hair—and a set of perfect teeth. The charred corpse sported partially melted jewelry matching a description of jewelry Dea had insured.
There were also inconsistencies, which didn’t match initial crime scene findings. The upper part of the face was burned beyond recognition. The brain had been fried, as had most of the internal organs. Other parts of the body were only moderately burned. Perhaps an accelerant had been used or splashed on some parts of the body, especially the face, hands, and feet? No prints could be lifted from the badly charred hands. It didn’t make sense, unless someone was covering up a murder─or the real identity of the body. Eam would have to be patient. Lab results would tell him more. The examiner couldn’t tell him the exact time or even the cause of death. He was taking the body to the northern district office to run tests and perform an autopsy. He advised Eam to categorize the death as ‘suspicious,’ and authorize a full -scale homicide investigation.
After the police teams, fire trucks, and coroner wagon had finished and rumbled away in their assorted vehicles, Eam and Langley turned out the house lights and locked the doors. Neither of them had eaten dinner, so Eam offered to buy Langley a sandwich and a bowl of soup in town. It was strange that he felt protective of this potential suspect. She’d shown spunk and poise not often evident in a 20 something young woman. He doubted she’d have an appetite for anything more complicated than toast and tea.
“Actually,” Langley replied, “I had my mind set on sushi. Want to join me? I have questions for you also, Detective. It’s only fair I get a chance to have my questions answered. Or, you can just drop me off at my condo so I can get my car.” Langley was careful not to reveal the turmoil she was really feeling. One thing she knew was she couldn’t endure being alone right now.
“Sushi, ah—that’s fine.” Eam raked his memory, trying to recall if he’d ever had sushi. The name didn’t sound wonderful. “What’s open after 11 p.m, besides a burger joint or a bar?”
Over several courses of steamed dumplings, five types of sushi, including one he swore had moving tentacles, warm plum wine and green tea, Langley queried him, asked how he believed the fire was started. They discussed origins and causes and incendiary devices. She asked how were the police going to identify a body without dental records, and at what point─however many days or weeks down the road─would everyone agree with Langley that if it was her mother’s body in the garage, she’d been murdered. Someone was guilty and retribution should be swift. The O’Hennessy’s would see to it.
She told the detective, between bites of sushi and several warm demitasse shots of plum wine, she and Mickey had talked briefly. Although he didn’t remember the names of several of the drivers he’d hitched rides with, he did recall the last driver’s name. They rode together from Mississippi to Virginia. Eam confirmed that was the name Mickey had given him earlier. As for answers to the other questions, he had none.
“You know at first, I thought it could be Mickey that started the fire. I really wanted to blame him, if for nothing else, for not being there today. Tant Pis! Mickey’s been pretty OK with mother. He amused her, even though she called him a punk wuss. He taught me how to shoot craps, and tuned my car. Perry, however, was a different story.” Langley dipped another piece of sushi in the darker of the two sauces on the table.
“This Perry, he was before Mickey? He was your mother’s ex husband? Langley, you don’t mind if I record this conversation?” Eam watched Langley pop a moist wedge of salmon, rice and seaweed sushi in her mouth. She washed it down with another gulp of plum wine. He smiled, impressed with her appetite and enthusiasm for raw fish. He speared a pork dumpling, sipped green tea, and waited for her to continue.
“Sure, no problem—record away. Try your sushi Eam It’s good—and good for you.” She dangled another salmon sushi between her chopsticks. “Um, let’s see─Perry was before Mickey, but after Karl, Jergen, Corbert, Duncan, and Scanlon. They were married to Mother; she divorced all of them. Milt says mother is her own cottage industry. She’s certainly kept him busy over the years!”
“And Milt is—another boyfriend, or an ex-husband you forgot to─”
Langley’s brows furrowed, while her eyes crinkled merrily. A laugh, quite enchantingly musical, erupted from her lips. “It’s mind boggling, isn’t it? No, Milton Kiminski is mother’s lawyer. Actually, he was the family’s lawyer, but mostly just deals with mother’s business interests now. You’ll want to talk to him. Remind me to give you his card.”
“So, back to her men. I’ll have to check the dates mother divorced Carl and Corbert. I was pretty young way back then. I think she divorced Jergen seven or eight years ago. She was barely married to Duncan─it only lasted a few months. They were a volatile mix. Her last husband was Scanlon. He’s a psychiatrist. Ah, I think he and mother were married for about a year. He had potential, but ultimately we were relieved when she ditched his womanizing ass. If only she’d stayed married to Jergen. In total, Mother slept with more men than Liz and Zsa Zsa put together, but she only married five times, as best as I can remember. And no, Detective, none of them ever laid a finger on me.”
“She only married five times?” Eam found the dumpling in his mouth hard to swallow, or was it the details of Dea’s life? “And your father?”
“And my father wasn’t one of the above. When I was little, Grandee and Martin tried to pass Karl off as my dad. He wasn’t, and I’m glad. Karl isn’t the smartest folder in the briefcase, you know. He’s a lawyer, but I heard it took him two tries to pass the bar. His family has money─and connections—although years ago they had some difficulties. He and mother knew each other when they were kids.”
“Mother, double damn her. What do you think of a mother, detective, who wouldn’t tell her daughter who her father was? I got over it eventually. I stopped asking years ago.” Langley stabbed a sticky mound of rice and seaweed with the blunt end of her chopstick. Her eyes peered into Eam’s, daring him to offer her a sympathetic look. She rested the chopsticks on the edge of her plate. “What about your parents? You look, if I may say so, to be an interesting blend of—tropical isles meets Native American high desert nomad sort of person. Am I right?” Langley drummed her fingers on the table. “I meant to thank your mother for looking after Terroir. Uncle Martin or I will pick him up in a day or so. Mother just wouldn’t forgive me if anything happened to her overgrown canine baby. How’s your sushi?”
He cleared his throat, “Well, it’s been some time since I’ve had this—particular—raw treat. It’s healthy; you’re right about that—if you don’t count the mercury.” Eam switched off the recorder. “You want to know about me─fair enough? My mother’s Cherokee—and Irish. My father would tell you that he’s an American-African. In fact, he’s rather vocal about it. You know my mother’s a vet. My father’s a political consultant, and I have a sister who attends George Washington University. She thinks she wants to be a psychologist. They all live near by. I guess you could say we’re pretty tight.” He surprised himself by what he revealed, and resumed sipping tea and scooping plain rice into his mouth. Langley watched him eat.
“I need names, addresses, and phone numbers─if possible─for all your mother’s husbands, as well as her other─eh companions. You said your mother and Duncan didn’t get along. Can you elaborate?” Eam gave up pushing the delicately sculpted raw fish around his plate, and placed his napkin over it. He switched the recorder back on.
“Paramours. That’s the term Grandee uses to describe them. She calls me to ask who’s mother’s current paramour. Mother thought it was amusing, and she’d refer to her lovers as her paramour sometimes too. I don’t think they knew it was basically an insulting term. Perry was majorly irked when he found out. His massive ego was bruised. He should definitely be on your list. He charmed mother, at first. He wore an earring and rode a motorcycle. He sort of moved in with her, but when she found out he was married, had a six year old son AND a boring day job as an accountant, no less, she went ballistic.”
“She boxed up his stuff and yeah, now that I think of it, she put that crap in the garage. The next time he came by, she told him pick up his paraphernalia and hit the highway. I was having dinner with her that night; she seemed embarrassed for a change about getting involved with someone like Perry. You have to realize, it takes heaps to embarrass mother.
They went outside and talked. I went into her study and started loading some new software, which was why I had come over really. Then I heard Perry shouting at mother. I grabbed my old baseball bat from a hall closet, and ran outside. I saw Perry push mother against the garage door. Lightning quick, she pushed him back. He literally flew backwards into the holly tree that stood—until today—at the corner of the garage. Mother told him to bring his yuppie mobile to pick up his boxes. Then we went back inside. Perry got on his on his cycle and left. I don’t think he ever came back. He’s definitely a suspect. I’ll give you his phone number and address tomorrow, along with all the others. Geez, there were so many damn men. I can’t remember half of them.”
“I didn’t say that mother and Duncan didn’t get along. I said they were a volatile mixture. You know─like nitro and glycerin, a molitov cocktail and a match. I’m guess I’m tired; I’m getting silly. They’re both passionate and damn opinionated. Personally, I think they wore each other out before they got married. If they’d stayed together, one of them would have─well incinerated. No, what I meant to say is─they enflamed each other. Merde, I’m not making any sense. Duncan wouldn’t have hurt mother, anymore than she would have harmed him.”
“I knew Scanlon least of all. He messes with people’s minds; I steered clear of him. Mother did enough mind manipulating during my formative years. The two of them did a lot of daredevil sorts of things. It makes more sense that mother would have wanted to do away with Scanlon than the other way around─I think. She was a─what’s the term─a serial monogamous. Scanlon wasn’t, from what I heard. Merde, what a mess. I don’t know anything really, except mother would never have offed herself Eam—never. You know why? Cause she was just too damn selfish.”
Langley stared off in the distance. She slumped back in her seat; her arms hung limp at her side. Eam was trained to observe body language and remove emotion from the equation. This young woman carried a heavy burden, one increased by a mother who seemed to have only cared about herself. A heavy feeling in his chest served as ample indication he was losing his objectivity. He fought the impulse to reach for her and draw her head to his chest.
“I’d better get you home. Are you sure you’ll be all right by yourself? The next few days are going to be difficult. You have my promise Langley, I’ll do my best to get to the truth, no matter what it takes.”
“No matter what . . . I like the sound of that Detective.”
* * ***
Spouses. The Loudoun County Police contacted Karl Moore, Dea’s first ex, Saturday afternoon at a hunting lodge in upper New York state. The story had not yet broken, thanks to the efforts of multimedia concerns Dea was once part of and family influence. Karl knew nothing about the body discovered in Dea’s garage. He had spoken infrequently with Dea since their divorce more than 20 years ago, though he sometimes handled legal matters for her. He was appalled to hear details of the fire. Karl provided police with a list of where he was and with whom during the last two days, and where he could be reached going forward. He asked if it was Langley who’d found the body. The officer told him a neighbor had discovered the body.
Corbert Vereneaux, Dea’s second husband, was located in Brussells, Belgium Saturday─at the apartment of a long time friend. He was initially appalled to learn his ex-wife might have taken her own life or was the victim of foul play. Corbert carefully articulated his regret and shock with a series of carefully chosen words. His near perfect English soon became interspersed with French and Flemish phrases, which the officer speculated might indicate the man’s level of discomfort. He reiterated he hadn’t spoken with Perdura in over a decade.
After hearing the presumed time of Dea’s death, Corbert released an audible sigh. Several short, pointed questions followed, making the officer briefly wonder who was conducting the interview. Were all foreigner’s so assertive?
“I wuz on a direct flight from New York to Belgium yesterday. It depart at 3 pm; I arrive in Brussels in za early morning hours, eh tout suit—after I make ze exit from Customs, I call Eugene. We drive to a brasserie where I have first civilized meal in months, eh puis, we go to his apartment. Eh voila.” Much relieved, Corbert then more cordially asked about the well being of Dea’s father and step-mother, Carrese, whom the officer learned was French. He said if he had any additional information, he’d contact the family or the Loudoun police.
When the officer asked where he would be for the next week, Corbert wasn’t pleased to be ‘pinned to the map of time.” He had no comments regarding who Dea might have been involved with recently, and reiterated he had not spoken to his ex in many years. He hoped the publicity would not affect the opening of his newest restaurant in Bruges in April.
The police were unable to reach Dea’s third husband, Jergen Bellamy, a professor at a small, prestigious New England College. Eventually they discovered the previous fall he had hosted a “Wild and Wooly in the Woods” weekend in the foothills of Vermont—for men only. There were no phones─cell phones were forbidden. While out walking, Jergen had a heart attack, and was unable to summon help. His wooly men found his body later that evening, lying prone under a hawthorne tree. One hand was extended above him, as if he’d been reaching out. The other lay across his chest. No autopsy had been performed; his death was attributed to a massive heart attack. He’d never remarried after he and Dea divorced. His assets went to the college, and a scholarship fund had been set up in his name.
Duncan LaGrange, Dea’s fourth husband, was contacted at 6 am UK time Saturday morning as he warmed up at the barre in a long, narrow room off the master suite. He knew today’s grueling early morning practice would be followed by an even more exhausting afternoon choreography session west of London at a practice hall, and an evening impromptu performance at a West End Supper Club. After apprising Mr. LaGrange of the circumstances surrounding his ex-wife’s presumed death, there was absolute silence on the line, then a sharp, clanking sound. Initially, the officer thought the connection had been lost—until the silence was replaced by a primal, ear shattering shriek. Duncan bent over double, as if in extreme pain. He fell to his knees, rocked back and forth and moaned, arms outstretched, grabbing the air.
The disturbing noises brought other members of his family from their bedrooms. His wife picked up the receiver“Hullo. Who’s there? This is Pricilla LaGrange. What’s going on then? Hullo. Who’s this?”
The police officer identified himself and was informed Mr. LaGrange was unable to come to the phone. In a tone now curt, Pricilla confirmed for the officer Duncan had been in England during the last 48 hours. The officer asked her to have Duncan contact him later that day, and gave her his name and phone number.
It was mid-morning Saturday before Scanlon Cole, Dea’s fifth husband was informed of her death. He’d just arrived at his home in Great Falls, Maryland after spending the night with a female companion. He’d spent the previous evening dining and socializing at the Fenwood County Club. It had been another night of boozing, bragging, and broadizing, That’s how Dea described to her friend Viv Scanlon’s perchance for socializing with women.
Scanlon had a successful psychiatric practice in one of the wealthiest enclaves in the metro area. His clients were mostly rich, bored women, who found in him a sympathetic, attentive ear, and a face and physique that wasn’t hard to look at. He told the officer he and Dea met at a time when both were bored with their lives, and equally attracted to each other’s capacity for pushing the risk register. They enjoyed jumping from airplanes with only one parachute between them or skimming race boats atop the choppy waters of the Aegean. They raced souped up cars in the Mojave Desert, at speeds exceeding 150 mph and spelunked into bat infested, honeycombed caves in the Southwest.
After a drunken night, during which far too much Ouzo was consumed, and far too many boasts were made, a Greek sea captain married them because Scanlon lost a bet. The man who bragged no woman could ever drag him to the altar bet his bachelorhood because, as he put it, if someone did manage to catch him, nothing would change. So why bother? Dea agreed wholeheartedly, adding that all her husbands tried to change her. She was their remodeling project. None of them succeeded.
Someone asked him if he’d marry a woman who could beat him at poker. He promptly replied, “She doesn’t exist—so yes, I would.”
Dea accepted the challenge and twenty minutes, and many drachmas later, he lost his poker face. To her credit, she did initially decline her winnings citing her vast card shark experience, and less than sterling track record marrying. As he related, for one mad moment, two tipsy people, on a sun soaked boat, took a leap, and said, why not. It was the preferred choice to walking the plank.
They were both amused when they discovered days later the marriage was valid, vows had been spoken, the right papers had been signed and filed. They returned to the Washington metro area and to their separate houses. “For a few months I thought,” Scanlon related to the officer, “she’d make changes in my life, which I’d detest. I’d then have to let her know who was in charge, and the way the marriage was going to work. We’d make compromises, and both of us would be miserable. But she never tried to change me; we spent time together and apart for about a year. Then suddenly she stopped visiting, didn’t answer my calls.”
“We both had busy professional careers. After a few months of not talking, and avoiding places we once frequented, I confronted her. I asked her point blank what she wanted. Dea said she wanted nothing, zip, zero, rien, nado. I’m trained to decipher the human mind, but I was clueless about that woman.”
“We hooked up a few more times; no incompatibilities there. Over a breakfast of Bloody Mary’s and Eggs Benedict, I brought up the subject again. Did she want things to continue as they were? Did she want a divorce? I admit, I was surprised when she said yes, she wanted a divorce. In fact, she told me her lawyer was drawing up papers. She assured me again she wanted nothing, and hoped I’d lay no claims to her estate.”
“My last words to Dea Brentain were ‘as you wish.’ Several weeks later, it struck me─I’d been bested by a woman—twice.” Scanlon’s last words to the officer were “I should be glad she’s dead, instead I feel like someone has thrust a dirk into my gut.”
In P1/Chapter 3, interrogations continue and Dea’s meddlesome, mercurial, magically delicious family is introduced. The more revealed, the more you realize, little is what it appears to be. So much remains to be seen . . .