ROCK BOTTOM ANONYMOUS - SANDRA SEAMANS
I was sitting in the darkness of my empty kitchen, the barrel of my service revolver staring me in the face, when the phone rang. I tried to ignore it, but the incessant ringing kept gnawing into my grief until I answered.
"This is Sister Mary. From Saint Rose's Hospital."
"I'm off the clock, Sister, call the station, they'll send someone over."
"I don't need someone else, Oliver Matthew Giles, I need you. I know you buried Marilee today, but that doesn't keep the living from needing your help."
I've known Sister Mary since my days as an altar boy so when she uses my given name instead of detective I tend to pay attention.
"For you, I'll come, but don't expect me to have any sympathy for that pack of no-backbone women you're playing nursemaid to."
I hung up before she could start preaching about the weak and downtrodden. I didn't want to hear it, because deep down, in my cop's gut, I knew it was their fault my wife was dead.
St. Rosey's is always full up on a Saturday night with the victims of the After Two-Bar's closed-Our Team Won syndrome. A room full of bruises and blood, stitches and casts and excuses. I know he still loves me. It was all my fault. No cops, please. It was just an accident, he didn't mean to hurt me. An emergency room full of blank anonymous faces that everyone knows on sight, but pretends not to.
This was my wife's beat. Marilee worked for the Women's Resource Center, she knew every face, every scar and every story in the room. None of these women were anonymous to her. She cared for each one of these wounded women and worked hard to keep them safe from their husbands and boyfriends. Me, I was the enemy, that lethal combination of man and cop, they didn't want me here any more than I wanted to be here.
Sister Mary greeted me with a firm handshake as the sliding glass doors swooshed open and I stepped into that silent room full of muzzled tears. "Thanks for coming, Detective."
"You're not welcome, Sister."
"You can drop the attitude, Oliver, those two women over there need your help."
"And if I don't want to help them?"
"This is something Marilee would have wanted you to do."
"Don't throw Marilee at me, Sister."
"You're right, I shouldn't have done that. But, please, talk to them."
The women were huddled in the farthest corner of the room using each other as life rafts while they waited to see the doctor. The younger of the two was a quiet wisp of a woman with flyaway blond hair and a painful-looking pair of black eyes that were rainbowing into hues of purple and yellow. The older woman had a bag of ice pressed against her forehead to freeze up the blood flow from the gash above her eyebrow, bruised knuckles and a split lip pointed to the fact that at least she'd put up a fight.
"Ladies, this is Detective Giles, Marilee's husband. You remember her talking about him, don't you?" said Sister Mary as she shoved a molded plastic chair into the back of my knees, forcing me to sit down. "Detective, this is Sylvie Marsh and her friend, Birdie Muldoon."
I nodded, waited for one of them to speak, then plunged into the conversation myself. "That's a lot of blood on your dress, Mrs. Marsh. He must have hurt you pretty bad."
Sylvie looked up, her eyes sliding away from my face. "It's not my blood."
"Who's blood is it?"
"Are the doctors stitching him up?"
"No, he's dead."
Sylvie started to cry, pressing her face deep into Birdie's ample chest.
Typical battered woman, crying for the son of a bitch who beat the crap out of her. I pulled out my cop facade to keep myself from screaming at her. "Can you tell me what happened?"
Birdie hugged Sylvie tighter. "You've got to tell him, honey, he has a right to know."
"Jack, my husband, killed her."
"Your husband killed someone?"
"It was all my fault, I shouldn't have let her talk me into leaving. She told me she could keep me safe, but she didn't know Jack, didn't know how he was. How could she?"
"Who are you talking about?"
"Your wife, Marilee, it was my husband who killed her."
I felt my heart slam into the floor. I didn't want to hear this, not from her, but I needed to know what happened. "Go on," I said, surprised that I could even squeak out the words.
"After Marilee picked me up, I made her stop at Birdie's house. I knew Jack would beat her half to death if he couldn't find me. I couldn't just run off and let him do that to my best friend, could I?"
She was staring at me, expecting me to say something, but all I could see was Marilee's broken body laying on the coroner's table, our unborn child on the table beside her. I choked back the memory and the angry words that were on the tip of my tongue. I saw a shiver ripple over her body. She was afraid of me, of what I might do. "Then what happened?"
"Well, that's where he caught up with us. At Birdie's house. He just kept beating on poor Marilee until she wasn't moving no more, then he dumped her in the back of his truck and drove off. That was a few days ago, the day before they found her body alongside the road out near Harmony Creek. I should've done something to help her, but I was too scared."
A wave of rage swept over me as the anger kicked up a notch, anger at this woman for not leaving her husband, for not saving my wife, for robbing me of the revenge that was rightfully mine. I wanted to leap out of my chair and strangle her. Instead my cop instincts kicked in and I asked, "Where's your husband's body?"
"We just left him there, at the house. What else could we do? Birdie needed stitches, I had to get her to the hospital. I guess we were hoping that Sister Mary would know what to do."
I watched as a gentle smile passed between the two women, their hands slipping together like old friends. "Why now?"
"Why'd you shoot him this time? Why not shoot him when he was attacking Marilee?"
"I didn't have a gun then. When he showed up this time, I grabbed the shotgun. I asked him to go away and leave us alone, but he said we were witnesses. Said that Marilee was a cop's wife and he couldn't leave no tracks tracing back to him. I knew then that he was going to kill us, just like he'd killed Marilee. When he tried to take the gun away from me, I pulled the trigger. There was a big hole in his chest and all that blood. I just wish I could've..."
She reached out, laying her hand on mine. "I'm so sorry."
I looked at that small hand and thought of Marilee, remembering something she'd told me about the women she helped. "Battered women are like alcoholics. They want to stop but, until they take that first step and find the strength inside themselves, all I can do is hold their hand and offer them a little hope. What's even more tragic is that even after they're in a safe place, they're still afraid to ask for help."
I patted Sylvie's hand. I wanted to hate this woman for taking Marilee away from me, but how do you hate someone for being too afraid to stand up for herself? I stared into her bruised face and felt the anger drain from my body, but the words of forgiveness she was seeking caught in my throat when Sylvie leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss on my cheek.
"Can you help us, please?" she whispered.
I pushed my chair away from her, knocking it over as I stood up. My head felt like it would explode with the anger that was racing through me as I headed for the door, ignoring Sister Mary's pleas for me to stop. She caught up with me in the parking lot as I was punching numbers into my cell phone.
"Oliver, you can't turn your back on them. They need your help."
"Need my help for what, Sister? To get away with murdering my wife?"
"Sylvie's husband killed your wife."
"No, Sylvie and her lover murdered Marilee. The pair of them are trying to frame her dead husband for the murder."
"Her lover? Birdie? No, I don't believe you. You just want to blame those women because Marilee cared about them. You're jealous."
"Jealous? Of them? Let me ask you something, Sister. How many times was Sylvie in the ER before she asked for help?"
"I don't know, once or twice."
"Doesn't that seem a little strange to you? Marilee told me that battered women are afraid to ask for help, even when they're in a safe place."
"But not Sylvie. She asked for help after only two incidents and, just now, she asked me to help them. Not her, them."
"But why would they kill Marilee?"
"I think Sylvie was setting up a reason to kill her husband. What better excuse than battered women's syndrome? That morning, before she left for work, Marilee asked me how I knew when someone was lying. You know what I said? I said everyone lies, because in my line of work that's what they do. She just laughed at me and said not everyone lied. She was too trusting, Sister, and that's what got her killed."
"You think she was wondering about Sylvie?"
"That's what I'm supposing, but the fact is Sylvie said she was holding the gun when her husband got there. If she was pointing a gun at him, how could he break open Birdie's skull? And those bruises on Birdie's knuckles and that split lip? They're already starting to heal, same as Sylvie's black eyes. I think Marilee figured out what they were planning and confronted them. Things got out of hand and they killed her. Maybe it was an accident, maybe not. However it happened, they decided to use her death as an excuse to kill Sylvie's husband, leaving them to walk away scot-free."
Sister Mary nodded at the phone. "Who were you calling?"
"The cops. I don't trust myself not to kill that pair of bitches. And don't tell me to watch my language, Sister."
"I won't, Oliver, not this time."
BIO: You can find Sandra's stories scattered around the internet in places like Spinetingler, PulpPusher, and The Thrilling Detective. Her scattered thoughts about writing can be found at My Little Corner.