Abby

 

ABIGAIL BENNETT WONDERED IF, just maybe, her cursing was becoming a problem. She could explain it, having been raised in a sanitized home with quasi-puritanical strictures informally placed on what was spoken, watched, even read. So she was compensating; that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that her six-year- old Nicholas had already heard a few too many indelicate phrases and her subsequent admonitions about using them himself. Eventually the child was bound to slip up—no doubt in the most embarrassing situation—and tell some teacher or parent of a friend that it’s okay because I heard Mommy say that. Then again, years from now the no-longer-six-year-old would learn how perfect the vernacular was for a situation like this—trying to get past Boston on 93 the Friday evening before Christmas with snow in the forecast and construction signs warning of trouble ahead. Nobody could endure that shit without filling the air, at least the air inside the car, with an f-bomb or two, especially since she had slipped out of work early to avoid these sorts of muddles. Worse still, she had yet to reach the Mass Pike and the Drayton Mall exit, where even without the Christmas insanity, traffic invariably backed up well onto the turnpike and a skein of last-second lane changes with their resultant accidents and near-misses frazzled everyone. But here she was stopped dead on 93 with orange construction cones squeezing her into a different lane. She reached for her cell and called home.

“Honey I know you’re not there yet…Nicholas has a play date at the Tremonts’ and you can pick him up or call them and see if he’s staying for dinner. I was supposed to get him by five”—her voice grew shrill as she squeezed the cell tighter— “and they’re saying snow so I’m not going out with my friends after all…not that I could anyway…’cause I’m stuck in fucking traffic because some MassDOT assholes decided road construction was a good idea on a Friday afternoon. Fucking morons!”

The crescendo having been reached, she exhaled loudly, then took a breath.

“Sorry, hon, you’re just the messenger. Don’t play this if Nicholas is around. Love you.”

She clicked off, then realized with some embarrassed amusement that, actually, she was the messenger. She thought about calling back to clarify—God knows she had the time—but Andrew would understand and probably have a good laugh while she…well now she was being squeezed left again. What if, she thought, what if the lanes kept disappearing until finally there were none and everyone came to a complete and permanent standstill. Maybe that’s how the world would end—merging traffic winding up at a DOT barrier. Wouldn’t that make a good story—mankind erased not by a zombie apocalypse or a rogue asteroid but a massive traffic jam. She would have to share that thought with Andrew when she got home. It would be even funnier after a glass or two of wine and after this particular annoyance was a slightly more distant memory.

She flipped on her signal light and immediately some holiday-spirited soul in a cobalt-blue pickup allowed her into the lane, offering a perfunctory wave. But when she waved a thank you in return, he didn’t acknowledge. “He didn’t see me wave,” she thought. “Now he’s pissed off that he let me in but I didn’t thank him…even though I did. Asshole!” she screamed at the rearview mirror, but moved her lips only slightly. People these days could read lips, and too many drivers casually tossed guns into their glove compartments, waiting to shoot ingrates like Abigail Bennett who willingly accepted little kindnesses and offered nothing in return.

She lost track of the blue pickup long before arriving at the construction site—not a site at all but merely an orange dump truck with a flashing arrow and more cones. No heavy machinery. No workers. Just orange cones and an idling dump truck, idling with the gasoline she paid for with her fucking taxes. She drifted to the left a bit and felt the thump of thick rubber under her tire—that was one cone they’d have to refurbish. She entertained the thought of knocking over a few more, but if a cop saw her—well, one errant maneuver might be a mistake, but the second would look like a DUI. She pulled to the right and moments later, once again traveling at highway speed, noticed the first traces of snow begin to slant past her low beams.

A white Christmas. Or whitish, anyway. Nicholas’s skepticism about Santa Claus had not taken hold just yet, and if the old guy was going to show up somehow, a covering of snow would lend credibility to the arrival.

For Abigail herself, snow meant a virtual lockdown. She didn’t drive in the stuff—didn’t even consider it. In college she had spun out on a slippery road and wound up facing the wrong way on a street devoid of traffic. She had hit nothing or no one, but as for her mental state when she finally spun to a stop, she might just as well have forced a busload of children off a bridge. She called her father. He called AAA. A tow truck arrived. The driver, accommodating to a fault, turned her car around for her so that it faced the right direction, but he could not tow a non-disabled vehicle without police authorization (often the upshot of a DUI arrest) and finally convinced her to drive home, promised to follow and make sure she arrived safely. Abigail was sure he’d been laughing all the way, but she didn’t care. The decade since that incident had not emboldened her at all: at the first mention of snow in the forecast, she had abandoned plans to meet friends for drinks after work.

The cancellation bothered her. Such occasions seemed to present themselves less and less often, and the friends with whom she had grown up—many of them still single—had stopped calling, perhaps having heard enough excuses about a husband working late, or a child with the sniffles, or some studies and recommendations that needed to be examined by morning. At times she missed those occasions with “the girls,” but as the focus of her life centered more and more on her expanded family and thoughts of having another child began to play on her mind—and Andrew’s—she had trouble summoning any real regret. Now she had some new friends, career- if not family-oriented, and they understood that a night spent sloshing Margaritas at some trendy bar meant a bad day of work ahead.

Friends like Brianna Cooper from the paper. Not much of a paper—the Courier—a weekly that often wound up going directly from people’s driveways to their trash cans, but it had been a local custom for so long that some read it almost out of respect. And Brianna herself was pleasant enough company. Maybe she talked a bit too much about her fucked-up family life, but people’s conversations always gravitated toward what upset them the most. The woman had no real interest in being set up with anybody, male or female—though if even a small portion of Brianna Cooper’s confessed Friday-night exploits bore any truth—it wasn’t females she was interested in.

At any rate, canceling had been a good decision. By the time Abby reached her driveway—several miles from the warm and well-traveled pavement of the Interstate —she could discern specks of white on mailboxes and bushes. She reached up, touching a button that sent the double garage door on its upward motion, and drove inside. No car in the adjoining space—despite the bottleneck, she was home first. She picked up her laptop from off the passenger side floor, then popped the trunk to retrieve the abundance of financial detritus she had volunteered to wade through over the weekend. The paperless society had not reached her.

Standing in the garage with the door still raised, she could actually hear the snow. All those poems about silent flakes—they weren’t true, especially when they struck the scattering of oak leaves that had stubbornly survived a spate of November windstorms. She slammed the trunk closed and turned to retrieve the day’s mail. Several feet away a large figure stood.

“You’re Abigail Bennett.”

She gasped.

“Jesus Christ! What the hell?”

“I had some questions for you.”

“You can’t be here—you can’t come to my home.”

“You turned me down. I made a convincing presentation, a logical request, and you turned me down.”

“I…listen, the bank has rules. You can’t just bop over here…”

“…And you bend them. I know that. I’ve seen it plenty of times.”

“I don’t have that authority. If you’d like to set up another appointment with a bank officer, maybe Monday….”

“You could have fixed this hours ago. You chose not to. You were the deciding vote.”

“I know that. I didn’t think the request was appropriate, given all the factors.”

“You don’t know the factors,” he said, his voice nearly a shriek. “You don’t know a goddamn thing. You sit behind that desk all day and ruin people’s lives. You don’t even know my name.”

That much was true. She’d been called in to help with the decision, had scanned everything briefly, had seen enough red flags to engender a denial. No, she didn’t remember his name, but she made her decisions based on data, not emotion.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I looked at the papers.”

“Well you should have looked at me,” he said, then took a step closer.

She reached into her purse to find her cell, to end this, but he grabbed her arm. “Leave it alone.”

She pulled away, began rummaging again.

And then she was on the ground, sheets of paper surrounding her, the phone from her purse several feet away. He stood over her.

“I didn’t want much, did I? Couple hundred thou? I know your assets—that’s a small loan for you people. It would have been like just another mortgage.”

“Your previous loan,” she said the details returning. There had been a default, or a delay, or something that made him a bit too much of a risk. Reminding him of those considerations would only make things worse.

“I was paying it off.”

“Yes, that’s true,” she said. She searched for his name, couldn’t remember. Maybe if he had been more demanding or angry when he was denied that loan—but he had been docile, polite, had thanked them for their time, wished them a happy holiday, and left.

“Listen,” she said, “let me bring it up again on Monday.”

She pushed herself to her feet and took a step toward the cell, now dampened by melting snow.

He held her arm again.

“I didn’t come here to hurt you. I just wanted to know why.”

“Perhaps another lending institution could help?”

“Tried them all. Begged them all. What’s next, a loan shark? Thirty-five percent interest. Is that my option, because I already have that option.”

“As I said, I can try….”

“No you won’t.”

He let go of her arm, looked defeated. So he had threatened her and intimidated her but she had held fast. Now he was ready to give up, go home, leave her.

“I shouldn’t have come,” he said. “I didn’t think this through.”

“Sometimes we make mistakes,” she said, sounding conciliatory, utilizing her workplace demeanor. Finally it was about to end. This was the way he had been in the office—just a quiet supplicant being turned down. It was never pleasant, but it did happen.

Then, without warning, he struck her full across the face. Her right hand went to her ear where an earring seemed to drive itself into her brain. She yelled in pain. He struck her again in the same spot.

“If I had thought this through,” he said, then stopped, struck her again, this time catching the tip of her nose as she pulled back. She could taste blood.

“I’m bleeding.”

“Shut up. Just shut up. Don’t say anything else. Nothing. I have to think.”

The pain radiated out from the side of her head, the metallic taste sickened her.

Instinctively she darted toward the open garage—but only a step or two before he caught her, wrapped an arm around her neck, pulled her back. She stumbled, fell again.

“I told you,” he said. “I told you.”

She sat in silence, sat in the wet and cold. He would leave soon enough—then a hot shower and a trip to the dry cleaners would fix everything. But now her head ached—the dull pain coming on suddenly—and she began to feel nauseated, her eyes were losing focus.

“Can you call my husband at work,” she said to him. Apparently she had misplaced her cell. “Andrew Bennett. His extension….”

All those numbers she could repeat in her sleep now sounded strange and jumbled. She tried again, produced nothing intelligible, like a roll of the dice, or a spin of a roulette wheel, or a draw from a card deck—nothing but random digits that she could not fit into their proper order. What good was this guy’s cell phone? What good was hers? And where was hers?

The scene around her raced ahead, frame after frame in rapid succession like some old black and white movie speeded up to amuse the audience. With all the effort she could, she slowed the stream, tried to focus on individual panels, turned the movie into a leisurely slide show clicking from frame to frame.

Andrew behind the wheel. (Click)
    Andrew turning into their street. (Click)
    The car in the driveway. (Click)
    Headlights off. (Click)
    Door opening. (Click)
    Walking toward the house. (Click)

She paused the pictures—held them right there and, under control again, waved furiously.

So her husband had seen her after all—maybe he’d been there all the time. Had the other man left? Run off? Been frightened by the approaching headlights?

Just to be sure she tried to move to the next slide, the next frame, but the mechanism no longer worked. Her husband seemed locked and frozen into that last slide somewhere. He was probably taking in the scene for a while, smiling at the minor misfortune—that had to be it. Soon he’d help her into the house and open that new Cabernet they’d been meaning to try. They’d laugh at the stupidity of it all—slipping and falling in the driveway—a child’s accident. Maybe they would even make love—Nicholas would not be home for a while and they’d have the house to themselves…and the wine…and that snow falling outside. Perfect.

But on top of everything else, Jesus, she had wet herself like some old lady in a rest home. The urge took her by complete surprise, but she felt the urine spreading, soaking through her underwear, her skirt, even her coat. No one wants to make love to a woman who pees her pants. She’d have to get in there first, clean up.

Then there were no more slides. There was no Andrew. No fireplace. No wine. Her head had become a slow-motion muddle of snow and phone numbers and stinging pain and embarrassment and the smell of urine permeating everything. She lay back—her legs splayed weirdly like a discarded doll’s. She forced open her eyes and saw a shadow and a movement, saw another assault but felt nothing. Asleep but restless, she yelled dreamcurses at the driver of that flashing DOT truck on the highway—the one that made her late—the one that made her so tired that she needed to rest. Dreamcurses. Were they becoming a problem too?

And in that chaotic and disjointed muddle, she remembered his name.

At some distant reaches of her senses she felt another blow to her neck, and when yet another opened her skull, exposing the unprotected thoughts to the winter sky— all conscious and unconscious thought, curses and dreamcurses, numbers and cell phones, husbands and sons and familiar voices—ended together in a place where nobody moved anymore…with barricades, flashing lights, nothing.

 

Chapter 1

 

When I was twenty—far too young to be evaluating my life—I made a list of things I didn’t like about myself. I avoided the superficial—my nose was a bit crooked, my voice had people offering me lozenges, my hair was pretty much brown but not as auburn as I would have liked, I was small-breasted and short-necked, I had two slightly over-prominent front teeth. There was probably more, but I’d have to go back to my old journals and check…which I can’t do while I’m driving to work.

The point is I ignored those superficial weaknesses, concentrating instead on my oversensitivity to criticism, my tendency to go my own way and ignore advice, my antagonism toward my family, and my willingness to size up people before they had a chance to prove themselves. That last weakness does, however, frequently turn out to be less bothersome than the rest.

That was seven years ago. In the interim no nose job, or speech therapy, one or two expensive (but ultimately useless) colorists, no breast implants, or major dental work. And if there’s such a thing as neck elongation, I haven’t had that either. I’m the same. Just older. But in those other areas, the non-superficial ones, unfortunately I’m also the same. And what worries me is that when I’m forty, fifty, however long life expectancies are supposed to be for a 27-year-old single woman with a college degree and a full-time job and a second-hand Subaru—what worries me is the list won’t change— neither the “to-do” side nor the “completed” side. For all the talk about taking charge of our lives, I’m afraid our lives take charge of us. And though we may look for and talk about and genuinely seek growth, change, development, etc., I wonder if any of those items is attainable. I wonder if there’ll be a Saturday morning in 2040 when I’m driving to work and, for instance, finally give up and decide to have my teeth fixed.

••••

Most of Friday night’s meager snowfall has melted by morning. Maybe because I’m from Maine where the roads are slippery from October to May, I don’t pay that much attention to bullshit weather warnings. But others do, and so the prospects of some pre-holiday bitching and moaning with friends dissolved into an evening at home alone sending out résumés. It’s what I do.

The traffic on Rte. 9 is unusually light—just the usual coffee crowd spilling out of the Dunkin’ drive-thrus every half mile or so. And things will stay that way until the weekend shoppers remember they’ve got four days to settle Christmas and race off in a new panic. In an hour or so this road will look a lot less appealing.

Saturdays are pretty light days at the Courier and I don’t mind working weekends. Besides, I used to waste Saturdays gulping down aspirin at 6:00 a.m. while trying to convince some naked guy in my bed that just because I was willing to fool around drunk at midnight didn’t mean I was ready for a sober, morning-after encore—though he usually got one anyway, especially if the original performance had been satisfactory. But since I began working Saturdays, I’m a little more careful about my Friday night encounters—in several ways. As a result, only once in the past year have I fallen asleep at my desk.

That “date” wasn’t worth it either, but never do you want to fall asleep at my desk. The joke is, and it’s not much of a joke, that the desk once belonged to a Steven Resnick, a reporter who spent most of his adult life laboring obscurely for this weekly before slumping over and dying one afternoon at the age of sixty. Aside from a few poofs of Lysol after the “event,” I doubt if anyone made an effort to remove the stigma, imaginary or otherwise.

Steven Resnick had been somewhat of an institution at the Courier. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but the title probably isn’t as prestigious as it sounds. People here in Drayton, like everyone else in the Northeast, read the Globe if they can pry themselves away from their tablets and smartphones long enough to read any newsprint at all. Faneuil Hall, Fenway, the Common—they’re all less than a half hour from here, and when I’m traveling somewhere outside Massachusetts, I tell people I’m from Boston. It’s only when I’m actually here that I differentiate, you know, like “I had dinner in the North End then drove over to Jamaica Plain to meet some friends from Allston.” My point is—and it took me too long to get there, something which Grumman, my boss, is always harping about—if you want the news and you don’t want to gather it wirelessly or have it diluted or candy-coated by some pretty young thing on television, you’re not going to race out for a Courier, not if there’s a Globe nearby.

Even up in Maine where we had the Press Herald delivered daily like everyone else in Portland, my Dad would pick up a Globe on the way to work. I’m not sucking up for a job there—they have my résumé just like every other paper in the western hemisphere—they don’t need me, not when they can lure the grads who’ve excelled at Northwestern and Syracuse while I was eking out decent grades at best from various community colleges in southern Maine before finally finding enough ambition to achieve an actual degree. My type of underachiever winds up on the Drayton Courier covering scout meetings, interviewing octogenarians, and navigating corn mazes every fall.

But I’m still better off than I was two years ago when I spent my twenty-fifth birthday clerking at an outlet in Kittery, Maine, having lost my seasonal job at a Chamber of Commerce kiosk in Kennebunk a few miles north. Nobody was better than I at directing people to the spot where George Bush One spends his summers, while never letting on that the Secret Service allows no one to come within a mile of it anyway.

I’m also better off because I like to write. I must have been ten when I told my Aunt Christine I had written a story and she replied without the least uncertainty,

“Wonderful, now you can be an English teacher or a newspaper reporter.” In retrospect I’d have been happier if she had said, “Can I read it?” I’d also have been happier if I had checked the authenticity of her suggestion or even paid a modicum of attention to career counseling sessions. But she was my favorite aunt, and that statement of hers stuck—English teacher or newspaper reporter. Now I sure as hell wasn’t going to stand up in front of thirty students immersed in various stages of passivity, hostility, lust, or simple ennui: left with but one option, I took it. Aunt Christine is probably more pleased than I am.

Obviously, bitching about one’s job has supplanted baseball as the great American pastime, so let me list the good stuff about this one. First off, the Courier doesn’t have a police reporter, a social reporter, an education, political, or national reporter. There’s me. And I live fifteen minutes from the office and eighty miles from my mother. It’s the perfect amalgam of proximity and distance, especially with the holidays approaching.

And Grumman, the guy I mentioned before, that’s Dan Grumman. He’s a good man, but like my predecessor he’s going to die here. He won’t collapse in his chair in mid-afternoon—it won’t be that dramatic. He has lung cancer—was diagnosed about a year ago—and I don’t see how he can stay on that much longer. Even worse, if there’s an even worse after some doctor tells you you’re going to die, he’s watching the paper die with him. Despite his condition, he comes in early and leaves late. Usually, though, he’s sequestered in his office, the only proof of his existence the occasional coughing spasm. This morning I walk in and find him leaning against a jamb in his office doorway. His eyes are grim—those the-doctor-says-I-have-lung- cancer eyes that haven’t brightened much since the diagnosis. I glance around to find my only two colleagues transfixed by their computer screens. Something else is wrong—no story can be that riveting.

I position my stainless steel travel mug on the desk and unwrap my scarf, but before I can get out a good morning, Grumman motions me into his office.

“Come on,” he says, “you can bring your tea.”

“What’s going on?”

He doesn’t answer. I grab the mug and follow him. Inside his office he stands near the only natural light source, a narrow four-paned window practically opaque from the dust and exhaust from the adjoining parking lot. His body says nonchalance; his face says otherwise. I take a sip of the tea—it’s still boiling hot.

“Not much of a snowstorm after all, huh?”

I shake my head—Dan Grumman doesn’t do small talk. He doesn’t chat. Instead of trying more of it and failing further, he motions me into a chair before sinking behind his desk. Dan Grumman isn’t a big man, well under six feet, and his hours and his smoking kept him thin until the cancer accelerated the process. Now he looks frail at times, even more so in the poorly lit and shadowy office.

“Sir, you wanted to see me…about something?” “Yeah, Bree, I did.”

With Grumman it’s usually Coop when he’s casual and Bree when he’s avuncular, though he varies. Brianna is a difficult name to shorten, though I had once been seeing a guy who liked to call me Anna. One night I told him I preferred Brianna or Bree and an argument, all out of proportion to the subject, began and carried on sporadically for days. When it was over—when we were over—I wondered why I had endured the jerk for so long, and he probably wondered pretty much the same thing about me.

Grumman stretches his hands. I hear a knuckle crack.

“I wasn’t sure you’d be in,” he says.

“I was supposed to go out with friends last night, but that fell through. You knew I was coming in, didn’t you?”

“I thought…have you heard any news this morning?”

“I usually listen to music in the car…probably not a good idea for a reporter, but I….”

He holds up a hand to stop me, exhales loudly, picks up a pencil as if he’s going to write something, then lays it down.

“Look, Bree, there’s no easy way to say this.”

Someone’s dead. My first thought is my folks. They’re still pretty young, but who knows? And accidents never discriminate by age. But no, no matter how strained my family relationships are, I’d have found out before some news service picked up the story. So it’s the paper. Dailies are shutting down everywhere, and the Courier—hell, we’re just a weekly. That’s it then—we’re out of business and I’m out of work. But when I ask him, he shakes his head.

“Abigail Bennett. She’s your friend, right?”

“Abby? We were supposed to go out last night but we canceled. Why?”

He keeps hesitating and my mind keeps racing. Like a lot of people in the western suburbs, Abby commutes every day to the North Shore, always on the highways, roads filled with accidents. Factor in the lunacy of a Friday evening, add a little snow, maybe some drunk driver careening home from a holiday party. We were worried about slippery roads and now….

“No easy way to say this,” Grumman says…again. “Her husband found her dead last night.”

People gasp at times like that—if I did I don’t remember it. He gets up and closes the office door as I stare at that filthy window and let the words slowly take shape. Found her dead. Found? Jesus, she’s my age. Found her dead? Not an accident? My mouth feels dusty but I try to choke out a syllable or two.

“How? Where?”

Grumman goes to the water cooler, fills a small cup, brings it to me, and puts it down. I don’t want water.

“They think she was murdered,” he says. “They don’t know for sure.”

“They think she was murdered? How does that happen, I mean someone is murdered or she isn’t. You don’t think it.”

He waits. My last comment has undoubtedly been heard out in the main office. If they were uncomfortable before, I haven’t ameliorated the situation. Still he waits—he wants me to calm myself before I say anything else, but I can’t.

“Where did they—where did Andrew find her?”

“That’s her husband, right? Andrew? In their driveway, last night about 7:00. The police think when she got home from work that maybe someone was waiting for her. It might have been a robbery. It’s early on—they don’t know.”

Those stages of grief everyone talks about—I walk right up and grab the first one. “It has to be a mistake.”

He shakes his head.

“Was she shot?”

“No, it was pretty bad I guess.”

Pretty bad? Jesus, shot is pretty bad. This was somehow worse? My hands start to move toward my stomach which has seemingly come loose somehow, moving about on its own. Grumman looks lost: he may be the voice of maturity and experience, but he’s run out of hard information and doesn’t know what to do next.

“Was she raped?”

“No,” he says. “She was stabbed, cut with something.”

“Something?”

“A knife, most likely. They don’t know for sure.”

“God!” I can’t tell if I’m more sad or angry. Any loser can kill someone with a gun, but a knife takes force, intent, hatred. Then I wonder if there’s more. “What about her son?”

“No one else was hurt.”

“I don’t mean that. I mean, was he there? Did he have to see it?”

“Her husband found the body when he got home. She’d been dead awhile. I don’t know about their son.”

“And nobody called me? I had to wait to come in to work to find out?”

“I didn’t know,” he says. “I doubt if other friends knew. Police just started releasing information. There were even neighbors who didn’t know what was going on. The cops needed to make a positive ID, notify next of kin, that sort of thing.”

“What kind of bullshit is that? She was found by her next of kin.”

“I’m only telling you what I heard.”

“And it’s bullshit. This is on the cops for holding back.”

“Bree, listen. They wanted to notify her parents too.”

“They live on the North Shore. Cops could have walked there.”

“I don’t know the details.”

“Okay. Okay.” Some sort of inertia is stifling my movements. Then somehow I send a signal to my legs and they manage to receive it. I’m standing.

“I should get over there, do some interviews. I mean to the Globe, well it’s, you know, it’s just another murder, and the services and the Internet, it’s…we should be there.”

“Sit down.”

“The cops will be….”

“Sit. Now.”

I lean on the chair and he realizes that’s the best he’s going to get.
“It’s Saturday. There’s not much to do here, not really. Go home, get yourself together. Her family might want you to be there later but not as a reporter. You were good friends, right?”

“You met her once.”

“I remember,” he says. “She came to pick you up one day. You were going to lunch or something. She was pretty. She seemed nice.”

“She is nice!”

He looks apologetic and I feel stupid…as if changing the tense is going to alter the truth. Besides he’s been handed a death sentence—if anyone is past all the theoretical aspects of living and dying, it’s Grumman.

“Listen, Bree, are you all right to drive. I can have Arlene….”

“I’m not driving, I’m working. Could they have mistaken Abby for someone else?”

“You mean the murderer? Sure, anything is possible. Could have been a burglary gone bad. Like I said…listen, you know the cops. You know what they’ll ask. Was there anything going on that…maybe would have put her in danger?”

“Such as?”

“Something secret in her life.”

I’m still struggling between anger and sorrow, and for the moment, the anger wins out.

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“The kind any good cop will ask…and any good reporter.”

“There was nothing.”

“A drug problem? Alcohol? Gambling? An affair? Some one-night stand gone sour?”

“You don’t know her. That’s not Abby.”

“That’s not anybody until it is. Cops will ask,” he says, “and they’ll ask her friends, too. Be prepared.”

What’s equally true—and he knows it—is that I would not have been privy to anything a friend wanted to keep from me. The last time I had a good friend I told “everything” to, I was in seventh grade and she stole my boyfriend. We all become a little more secretive as we get older—Abby’s personal life seldom intersected with mine. It’s not unusual among friends.

“Anyway,” he says, “why don’t you call your Mom and have her come down. When she hears it on the news….”

“She has my cell number. Driving all the way down here will just screw up her Saturday morning.”

Grumman frowns. “Maybe at a time like this….”

I tell him no, that my mother is not interested in what happens to my friends when they’re alive, let alone after they’re dead. He isn’t comfortable with the irreverence, but he’s grown accustomed to it when it regards my family. At a time like this—it’s of absolutely no consequence.

I pick up the mug and he walks towards the door with me.

“I’m not sending you out there as a reporter,” he says.

“I know, but I think I need to be one.”

My laptop and purse are on the desk where I left them. Nobody else in the outer office says anything. I know they’re sad for me and there’s always that palpable discomfort being around grieving people. I try not to dwell on the fact that they’re lucky: they get to carry on with their lives, their work, their holiday plans. I have other responsibilities on this shitty December morning. Abby Bennett is dead.

I make a quiet departure and drive maybe a mile before I find myself weeping, shaking. I pull off the road into a convenience store parking lot and wait for the outburst to pass…for my eyes to clear and my focus to return. When did Abby and I last speak? A week ago? Longer? Of course she called a few nights before and I saw her name on the readout, but I was involved in something and let it go to voice mail, certain I’d get back to her. I never did. And our plans to meet for a drink last night —just a couple of texts back and forth. There were other girls going with us—I don’t even have their names or their cells. By now they probably know about the murder and, even if they wanted to, couldn’t reach me. Friends of a friend—nothing more. And for that matter, Abby and I weren’t that close, though there was a connection that would have grown over time. Sometimes you can tell.

I pound on the steering wheel, as if such a display of muted violence will somehow assuage my frustration, then I turn the key and continue on. An all-news station in Boston has picked up the story and some commentator who has to fill an hour with five minutes of facts drivels on about the lack of suspects and the tragedy of it. There aren’t enough events out there to keep an all-news station on the air, so after the initial summary, the human interest bullshit begins. And with a child left behind there’ll be enough psychologists to keep the story current for days, especially with Christmas so near. I resent it, of course, though I’m in the same crummy business and I’ve done the same crummy thing.

Grumman asked about gambling, drugs, lovers. Abby and I may not have been close, but I knew her well enough: if there were skeletons in her closet, they were pale and powdery. He didn’t ask the more obvious question: would Andrew Bennett have murdered his wife? We’ve read enough homicide reports to know the validity of the question, and some cop who wants a quick commendation will zero in on the easiest target and hope for that big payoff, the splashy headline, maybe a promotion. I need to talk with Andrew. I need to do it before someone like Karl Brandt does.

Most of the Drayton cops are good people. Then there’s Brandt. A case like this will end up on his desk and he’ll tend to it in his usual ham-handed manner—one that doesn’t interfere too much with his drinking and whoring. Grumman once joked that Karl Brandt represents law enforcement the same way Dr. Frankenstein represents the medical profession; but even so, the thought of a creep like that interrogating a friend makes me drive a little faster. I can’t rescue Andrew from his misery—it’s too late for a heroine—but at least I can warn him that, as awful as this day is, it can get even worse.