Last week, I listened to a diversity panel made up of a judge and three attorneys discuss social justice within the judicial system in Utah. The discussion gave me an idea for a story based on domestic violence, and how men always seem to get away with their crimes against women. This started as a short story, but has now morphed into a novel, and this is the first chapter I have written for it. For some reason, I was thinking my story was due 3-28-13, I have no idea why I thought that, but sadly I did, and had not even started to write yet. When Dr. Ramirez straightened me out on Thursday, I had no choice, but to go home and write. This is the product of one day of writing, and it is definitely a work in progress.
Points I’m Working Through
· Point of View-I choose to write in third person, but has also thought about writing in first person from the perspective of Detective Hall.
· Setting-I am interested in the setting. I choose Utah, because I like to write about what I know. I made up the town name and other facts, to keep the story fictional, but I did use some familiar elements to make the story have more power. I also like details, and I feel that they are needed elements in any crime story.
· Characterization-This story will definitely have lots of opportunity for strong and interesting characters, so it is important that I start building them as quickly as possible and to use them to keep the story moving.
A Slow Day Changes into a Slow Night
The woman had disappeared without a trace, as if a hurricane had dropped from the sky and carried her away. However, her car was still at home where she left it, along with the purse she always carried. Also, at the home were her keys, cell phone, favorite winter jacket and the flat shoes she wore every day. The woman lived in a close knit neighborhood, where everyone knew each other, but none of her neighbors had seen, or heard anything out of the ordinary the afternoon she vanished.
The rest of the mid-size municipality was a relatively friendly assortment of the local breed of big gutted people, and there had never been any major crimes, not that anyone could remember anyways. Except for the rowdy low income district, which on any given Saturday night had its domestic disturbances between sweaty men and foul mouthed women, and its drunken brawls of red neck cowboys and Spanish home boys, it was actually an uneventful sleeper community located in Western American suburbia.
The blonde complexioned Elizabeth Hall was one of the few women on the mostly white male force, and the head detective of violent crimes, when the disappearance of Carmen Weber was first reported by the unnerved husband to the police. Carmen had only been missing a few hours he said, and normally the police would had done nothing until the required twenty-four hours passed, but Geoff Weber insisted the police needed to start looking for her immediately.
“Carmen is a good wife, and she is always home at night to cook dinner for me and the boys,” Geoff Weber said.
“I understand that you’re upset, Mr. Weber. But, the fact is the majority of missing persons are found or voluntarily return home within forty-eight to seventy-two hours after being reported,” Detective Hall reassured him.
“There are gangs in this city. You see them everywhere. There are Mexican gangs, Indian gangs, Arab gangs, white punk gangs, black gangs and Nazi gangs,” he told the detective in a voice that boomed over the phone. “There’s a lot of tension building in this city with all of these gangs. I hear about the things they do every day to women in parts of this country. Who’s to say they haven’t done something horrible to my Carmen? What are you doing to find her? The longer you stall. The more time you give the gangs to cover their tracks, and the harder it’s going to be to locate her,” he said, and then he wept loudly in the phone, and as he cried, the whole of his hefty body shook uncontrollably from the horrible visions his mind conjured of his red headed wife sexually tortured by the villainous gang members he accused of kidnapping her.
Within less than fifteen minutes of the disturbing phone call, Detective Hall and her lanky, dark haired partner, Detective Ed Bishop, had pulled their black unmarked police car into the driveway of the Weber’s two story tract home. It was December, and in the home there was a sparse tree trimmed with a few homemade ornaments and tacky glass bulbs, one string of those flashing little white lights, and a forlorn plastic angel that sat on top. But, there were no gifts. Not one sat under the tree.
The detectives wanted to question Geoff about the disappearance of Carmen, since it seemed unusual that she would’ve left home without the purse and cell phone she always carried with her. While they were in the home, they noticed splatters of blood on the floor, and a large wet spot on the carpet which looked like someone had recently tried to clean up some sizable spill.
“When was the last time you or the boys seen Carmen?” Detective Hall asked during the questioning. She combed the face of the man in the trucker hat with her eyes, using her inner will power as if to somehow magically pull the truth from him. He was unemployed, and in this city, it meant the family faced financial problems and certain poverty. She could smell the cheap vodka he drank before the detectives arrived. Detective Hall began to sum up the trouble the family faced, the reality of the daily prison they lived in, one created by an unemployed husband with an alcohol habit.
“Last time we saw her was late last night, right before me and boys went on a camping trip. We asked her if she wanted to come, but she said she had a headache, and just wanted to stay home and rest. So, the boys and I went without her,” Geoff said in steady and calm voice, but his eyes jumped about and avoided Detective Hall’s face, as he nervously tugged at the red suspenders he wore.
The air in the home smelled of apple pie and cinnamon as if someone had just been baking, or just sprayed a lot of cheap air freshener. The detective made a mental note of this, as the husband’s perfectly phrased statement winged her with the resonance of his voice. She had worked for years in the department, and knew about the long, tedious winters in the state, so she was taken aback with the statement about a camping trip.
A relentless buzzing in the room took her gaze to two small boys as they played with a noticeably brand new toy truck. To her right, Detective Bishop was taking notes, and glanced up momentary to meet his eyes with hers. In West Murfree, crime was handled by her department, and she and Ed were the city’s only homicide investigators. But why Carmen, a wife and mother of two little boys, who supported her family with a job at a local downtown bank?
The man of the house was probably mid-thirties, with heavy black beard stubble, under the red suspenders was a too tight t-shirt that rode up to expose his bloated stomach, and his ruddy facial features suggested a fondness for drink. The block letters of teal and purple on his black cap declared I love Utah, and the logo of the Utah Jazz replaced the standard heart symbol.
Detective Hall dropped to a squat and examined the blood splatters on the white tiled entryway. Up close the smell of decay was unmistakable to her trained nose, and she repositioned herself to get a better view of the splatters and how they aligned with the large wet spot of the carpet less than a yard away. She felt a wave of irritation, as she could distain an outline that suggested an almost recognizable human torso form. Rising, she suppressed her annoyance, and shifted her gaze again to the two boys, who still played with the one truck. On the floor behind them was a large cooler, and a rolled up sleeping bag. There also was a small khaki canvas backpack wedged between the cooler and the bag. She noticed that there were spots that looked like blood on both the sleeping bag, and backpack.
“What’s with that wet spot on the carpet over there and these here blood splatters, Mr. Weber?” she asked.
“Oh, that? The boys spilled some chocolate milk yesterday, and Carmen made it worse trying to clean it up. God Bless, I love her, you know, but she got some very serious mental issues, and it makes it hard for her to do things right. What blood? There’s blood? Where do you see blood?” Geoff asked the petite detective. He hesitated for a moment, and then looked uneasily at the brownish red marks on the tiles. “Gee, I didn’t notice that before. It must be from when I cut myself in the kitchen with a knife earlier right before you came. I was fixing something for us to eat. You know how it is. I’m the man of the house, and I just don’t know my way around the kitchen. Carmen is the one who normally takes care of feeding all of us. You understand, don’t you?” he chuckled uncomfortably, as he now addressed Detective Bishop, who stopping writing for a second to lock glazes with Geoff, and then returned his eyes to his scribe work as he continued to write down everything which was said on the small white pad palmed in his hand.
“Sir, can you tell me more about the mental issues you mentioned your wife has?” Detective Hall probed and noted that he did not have any bandages on his hands to cover a cut. She wore civilian clothing in lieu of a department uniform, and under her dark jacket, she was dressed in casual pants and a plain white shirt.
“If we know more about the problems,” she said to coax more information out of him. “It may make it easier for us to find her. Does your wife take any type of medication for her illness?”
“She’s been struggling with mental illness since she had Bobbie, our last boy,” he said in almost a whisper. He paused, looked at the boys, and made sure they weren’t listening before he continued. “She’s bipolar. She needs counseling and medication, but she refuses to get help. She made our lives hell on earth and we are always in constant turmoil with all the delusions she suffers. She talks about wanting to divorce me to run off with other men. She has trouble with reality, and believes she’s secretly married to Robert Redford. I figured out later, that’s why she wanted our last boy’s name to be Robert. She’s always kept secrets from me, and has friends I’ve never met. You don’t think she ran off with another man, do you?” The detectives watched Geoff’s cold blue eyes as they started to water up with tears.
“I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s illness, Mr. Weber,” Detective Hall said. “It’s not the first time we’ve heard of women thinking they’re married to Robert Redford. We’ll do all we can to help find your wife. Can you show me where you cut yourself in the kitchen, sir?”
“Yeah, sure, this way,” he said, as he wiped his eyes with the back of his pudgy hand and motioned for them to follow. He felt a lot calmer inside because of the understanding words the detective said.
The kitchen was unusually sparkling clean for a home with two small male children, and the strong smell of freshly used bleach and pine sol filled the air. The kitchen’s smell reminded Detective Hall of the scent of the downtown hospital’s morgue, where all the bodies of those who had passed in the hospital, and those from elsewhere which required autopsies were taken before their scheduled cremations or burials. The smell of the kitchen reeked the same way as that desolate place.
The man led the detectives over to a drawer in the far counter and pulled it open. “It was this one. I’m sure of it. It’s cut me more than once,” he said, as he picked up a huge French Chef’s knife from inside the drawer and set it on the counter. “It’s a great all-purpose knife. I think it’s called a butcher knife. It can cut up anything, you know, why it can even chop through bone,” he had a slight snicker in his voice, and a half grimace on his face.
“Yes, I see. It’s a very sharp knife, Mr. Weber,” the detective answered. “Did you cut yourself here, or was it somewhere else in the kitchen?” she looked around for any signs of blood spray on the counters or floor, and noticed a smear of blood, as if something had been dragged, by the door that led out to the garage.
“If you don’t mind, ma’am. I can’t be answering a lot of questions right now. I need to check on my boys,” Geoff said, as he saw the smear himself, and noticed that the detective had also seen at almost the exact same moment. “Let’s go back to the living room before they get in any trouble. You know how boys are.”
“Of course I understand, Mr. Weber. But, would it be okay if Detective Bishop and I take a look around here for a minute? We would like to see if we can spot any clues about your wife’s disappearance.”
“I guess that will be fine,” he said with a crackle in his voice, and looked uneasy. “But, don’t be too long. It will only upset the boys.”
The two detectives watched him lope off towards the living room. Detective Bishop spoke to Detective Hall as they both stared at the blood smear on the floor, “What do you think?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Murder? Suicide? Accident?”
“That’s what we have to figure out. Can you get the camera and the kit from the car? We need to gather evidence before he comprises it anymore. I’ll go see if I can ask the older boy about where they went last night, and if the mother was with them.”
They head back to the living room, and were surprised to see Geoff and the two small boys still there waiting for them. The Detectives had betted that the father would grab the boys, and made a run for it. Detective Bishop didn’t stop however, but headed out the door, and to the car for the equipment. Detective Hall checked her watch, it was almost eight o’clock. She knew that it would be long night before it was over.
“How old are your sons, Mr. Weber?”
“Mark, the oldest is four, and Bobbie here is two,” he said, and gave each of them a quick armpit tickle that made them squirm as they giggled from their father’s playful touch.
“Do you mind if I ask Mark a couple of questions, Mr. Weber?”
“I’m not sure. What kind of questions? I don’t want the boys any more upset than their mother has already made them,” he said, as he raised his thick black caterpillar eyebrows high on his forehead. “Ain’t that right, boys? Mom has gone and messed things up again, didn’t she?” He wrapped his flabby hairy arms about the boys, and pulled their tiny frames tightly into his obese body.
“I just want to ask him a few things about last night. Do you mind then?”
He hesitated for a few moments, as he considered what the detective wanted before he agreed to Mark being questioned.
She crouched down to speak with the child, and noticed the cotton panel with a thin blue plastic lining that stuck out over the top of his pants, which meant that he still wore pull ups. “Mark,” she said to the boy in her kindest voice. “My name is Detective Elizabeth Hall, and I am here to help find your Mom. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”
The small blonde boy looked at the detective with his large blue eyes that had the longest lashes she had ever seen and which gave him a surreal doll-like appearance. After a moment, he said in a very young voice, “If it helps my Mommy.”
“Thank you, Mark. What did you do last night?”
“We went camping,” he said excitedly, and jumped up and down in place a few times.
“Was your Mommy with you, Mark?”
“Mommy went with me and Daddy and Bobbie. Mommy didn’t come back with us. Daddy said if Mommy loved us, she’d come back. Daddy said Mommy doesn’t love me. But, Daddy loves me,” he said, as he quickly changed his happy expression to a sad melancholy tone, and instantly stopped jumping.
“No, Mark don’t you remember Mommy stayed home with one of her headaches?” The father bent down and quietly whispered in the boy’s ear to correct him, but not quietly enough that Detective Hall didn’t catch what he said to the boy.
Geoff stood up straight, and then said to Detective Hall, “That’s all the questions for the boy, Detective,” as he placed both hands on the boy’s small shoulders. “He’s just a little boy, and he has no idea what he is saying. Shouldn’t you be looking for the gang that kidnapped my wife, or the man she ran off with? Why are wasting our time with all of these rude questions? Aren’t you going to find my boys’ mother and bring her back home? My boys need their mother, and I need my wife,” Geoff said and it now seemed as if he had grown even more enormous, like a large bear does when it is protecting his young from its natural enemies.
However, the detective had already noted that the boy’s story was different than the father’s. Detective Hall was not one to be easily thrown off the trail during an investigation. Although, Mark had collaborated the camping trip, the boy said Carmen went with them, but never came back. Geoff had told the detectives the woman had stayed home last night with a headache, and never went camping with them at all.
Just then, Detective Bishop came back in the living room from outside with the camera bag in his left hand, and the kit in his right hand. The intense moment now seemed to get more intense, and Geoff’s already deep frown seemed to grown even larger.
“Here you go, Detective Hill. I got the kit and the camera, and I called in for some backup to help, so we won’t be here all night. Where do you want me to start?” Detective Bishop said.
Detective Hill slid a glance at her partner, and said. “Let’s start in the kitchen, Detective.”