Authors: Cathrina Constantine
I lowered into a chair, my sight riveted to what was left of my cell phone.
“This was recently found on the railroad tracks behind Hallow Saints Cemetery.” Detective Dyl shoved around the pieces with his finger. “The train ran it over. It was effortless to trace the owner of the cell that made the call from that location. I was disappointed to discover the call was made by you, or someone used your phone. I’ve been waiting for you to come forward.” He hesitated. “Leo, did you make the call?”
“I know how traumatized you’ve been this past year. We believe your mother and these murders are somehow related.”
“What do you mean related?” Dad’s eyes narrowed. “How?”
“Purely speculation right now, Mr. Nelson.” The detective appeared professional as his hand clipped the lapel of his trench coat. “I can’t disclose any information, at least not at this time. We’d like to take Leo in for questioning.”
“That’s not possible. Those guys were drug dealers.” I templed my hands over my nose and mouth. “What does Mom have anything to do with them?”
“We don’t know for sure, but we intend to find out.” He then looked at my father. “Mr. Nelson, would you like to call a lawyer?”
“Why does she need a lawyer?” Dad interjected. “Are you convicting her of murder?”
The detective pursed his lips prior to responding. “Not yet. A lawyer is for Leo’s protection. She’s a minor.”
“I don’t need a lawyer,” I cried. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Mr. Nelson, you’ll have to come with us.”
The Detective figured Dad wasn’t in any condition to drive so we rode in the backseat of his unmarked police car. As we passed Henry’s house a dark form hovered in the shadows. Then looking over my shoulder, the form moved into a scrap of moonlight—Henry.
The municipal building consisted of the clerk’s office, a court room, licensing department, and police headquarters. Since Mom’s murder, I’d become acquainted with headquarters. The unit consisted of four desks and two offices. “Leo,” Detective Dyl instructed, “sit here with Officer Simmons while I speak with your father for a moment?”
A woman in a navy police uniform smiled. I sat in the chair that adjoined her metal desk while Detective Dyl led my father into one of the offices.
“How you doing, Leocadia?” Officer Simmons’s wheeled her chair in front of me. Our knees touched. “You remember me?”
“Yes.” She comforted me on several occasions at the beginning of Mom’s investigation.
Heads craned in the direction of the detective’s office as trampling voices rode through the room. Dad’s voice bellowed, but I couldn’t make out the words and then all quieted.
“Don’t look so worried, honey.” She patted my knee. “We know you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Then why am I here?”
“We have these two boys that were murdered and you called us. Now we need to know what you saw. That’s all.”
“I…I didn’t actually see anything. It was too dark.”
“The coroner said the murders took place around midnight or so? Is that right, honey?”
“’Bout that time,” I answered. “I was on the railroad tracks.”
“Leo,” she said in a protective tone, “what we’re you doing on the tracks at that time of night?”
“I went for a walk.” I wasn’t going to implicate Henry. “It was a nice night, and…and I wanted to visit my mom.”
“You always visit the cemetery by way of the tracks?” Officer Simmons questioned, peering dubious. “That’s a dangerous route to make. Isn’t it kind of dark there?”
“When I was in the cemetery I heard talking and got scared, so I ran toward the tracks.”
“Then what happened?”
“I made out dark shapes. Three…no, two figures.” I flubbed, not wanting Henry involved.
“Honey, was it two or three people?”
“It was hard to tell with all the headstones and fog.”
“They walked away and I lost sight of them.”
“Is that when you called us?”
“No—it was…” — breathe— “it was after a scream.”
“Okay, honey, calm down.” I hadn’t realized I was shaking uncontrollably. Officer Simmons’s took me into her arms. “You poor baby, going through this again.” She rubbed my back. A few minutes passed with her solacing. “Let me get your father.”
My legs fidgeted as Officer Simmons’s headed to Detective Dyl’s office. Knuckling the door, she walked in. A second later the three of them exited and Dad’s body language spoke volumes: flushed face and hair spiked like a porcupine.
I waited for the detective to call me in, but he never even looked my way. He said to Officer Simmon’s, “Drive them home.” And then to Dad he said, “I’ll be in touch.”
Didn’t Detective Dyl want to interrogate me
“Leo, thank you for cooperating,” Office Simmons said as she pulled into our driveway. “Now don’t you worry about a thing, try and get some sleep.”
Once inside the house, I asked, “What did the detective ask you?” Dad strong-armed the countertop, his body shook.
“Same questions…after Lily—”
“I kind of forgot. What were they?” I felt horrible for giving him the third degree, but inquiring, idiotic minds wanted more.
Weak-kneed, his face drained of color and looked like he was going to pass out.
“Sit down, Dad.” I shoved a chair from the table for him. “Forget I asked. We can talk in the morning, if that’d be better.”
“I’m okay, Leo.” He brushed fingers over his forehead and wiped them on his trousers. “Dyl’s a bastard, trying to trap me into something I didn’t do.”
“You were at work, right?”
“Yes, when the police called. I was in shock and couldn’t drive, a friend drove me home, remember? The police were already at the house…and…” Fatigued eyes sought mine.
I nodded, but didn’t remember a thing. “What does this have to do with Skipper and Dave?”
“I don’t know. The police are grasping for leads that aren’t there.”
Swinging open the cupboard, I took out two glasses, filled them with water and handed one to Dad. After glugging the water, I asked, “Why didn’t the detective take me into his office to ask me his questions?”
“You talked to Officer Simmons’s, didn’t you?”
“I think Detective Dyl knew you’d open up to her.” Rapid color suffused his face, beet-red and snapped like a whip. “I specifically asked you if you were near Tarpon Hill that night.” He blasted off the chair, ringing my arms with his fingers. “Why did you lie to me?”
“I…I didn’t want to—”
“You’re buying drugs?” His eyes flamed.
“No, I’m not, no.”
“It’s that new kid, Henry. He’s getting you hooked again, isn’t he?” He shoved me hard. My back thumped the cupboard. “He was with you that night—in the graveyard, wasn’t he? I ordered you not to see that boy ever again.”
“Stop it—no.” I held back the tears. “I’m not using anymore.”
“Leo…” He fell to his knees. “I can’t let anything happen to you. I don’t want to lose you, too.” He wrapped his arms around my waist and planted his head on my stomach.
“You’re not going to lose me.”
“I have to go to bed. I’m losing it.” I helped him climb up. He trudged like the weight of the world was weighing him down.
When I switched on my bedroom light, I was not surprised to hear rapping on the windowsill. I lifted the frame for Henry. “My father just went to bed so be quiet.”
“I’m not coming in.” He slipped his fingers under his glasses and wiped his eyes. “I just want to know what you told the police.”
I knelt on the floor and crossed my arms onto the sill looking at him through the screen. “Henry, I’m tired.”
“I need to know what you said. Will they be at my door any minute?”
“I didn’t tell them you were with me.” Sounding feeble. “I said I went for a walk to visit my mom, alone.”
He seemed satisfied and shoved off without a word.
A vein of frigid thoughts flowed into my cranium as I peeled out of my clothes. Was Detective Dyl still pursuing Dad as Mom’s killer? Am I a suspect?
I couldn’t believe I’d slept till noon. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling, willing myself not to think. When my cell rang, I kicked off my blankets. Becket.
“You sound groggy. Are you still sleeping?”
“I just got up,” I replied. “I didn’t sleep well.”
“Is everything alright?” Not snoopy, his tone considerate.
I enlightened him about the events at the graveyard, my ruined cell, and my conversation with Officer Simmons, omitting Henry’s presence.
“Henry was with you that night in the graveyard wasn’t he?” he’d surmised on his own.
“What makes you say that?”
“Easy to figure out.” He breathed into the cell. “Last night at Earl’s he’d mentioned the two of you were scavenging in the Lucien mansion. It was that night—wasn’t it?”
“Becket, I…I just woke up,” I said, unsure of myself and him and who to trust. “Can we talk later?”
He must’ve figured I was brushing him off and didn’t speak for a few seconds. “Alright.” Sounding firm. “I have football practice. I was just making sure you were alright.”
“Have a good day.” He cut the connection before I had a chance to say goodbye.
An overcast afternoon darkened my room and my disposition, and decided on baggy sweats and a knit sweater. It was a good day to vegetate and hit the books, exams were cropping up.
Later that day, I found Dad coffined into the seam of the couch watching football with one eye open. “Dad, how you doing?”
A half-empty bottle of bourbon was on the floor next to the couch. He’d be skunked by dinnertime. I walked away, then turned. “Dad, I’m going to visit Mom. Would you like to come along?”
“Umm…” he hedged, rearranging his shoulders deeper into the couch. “I can’t handle it.”
Hard to digest his expected comment, it irked me like homework on a Friday night. “Dad, you can’t handle it
.” Why’d I picked today to get pushy? “You haven’t been there since the funeral.”
Propping his elbows behind him on the couch, he tried to push up, but fell backwards. “Leo, not today.”
“Not today—not ever?” I griped with arms crossed. “Do you plan on drinking yourself into the spot next to her?”
“For crying out loud—Leave. Me. Alone.”
“You got it.” Trooping into my bedroom, I shagged my fleece jacket. As a precautionary measure I remembered the flashlight lying on my dresser, just where I’d left it. On my way out, I pilfered two cans of beer and an apple from the refrigerator.
Once on the sidewalk I tucked a can in each pocket and bit into the apple like a vampire in need of sustenance. My feet faltered and I peered across the street at Henry’s house. His car wasn’t in the driveway or on the street. Where could he be? Daily he called making a nuisance of himself, why not today?
The dismal weather sullied my brain into a stage of sorry-ass melancholy, that’s what I kept telling myself. The damp chill seeped into my bones, zippering my fleece I surveyed the thickening full bellied clouds. I forgot an umbrella, a very important item by the look of those clouds. It was too late to turn back now with Tarpon Hill just around the corner.
I’d kept a swift pace and reached the junction between Lucien Court and Tarpon. I stopped. The hour struck five and already murkiness cloaked the avenue. My toes pointed toward Lucien Court, and coming to my senses I travelled down Tarpon to the gated entrance of Hallow Saints Cemetery.
Since the murders of Skip and Dave, the yellow police tape cordoning off the perimeter had been removed. Plotting a course among the grave markers, my affinity to detour toward the monument that Henry and I had hid behind that inauspicious night was no different today: An angel garbed in armor and wielding a sword with a mushrooming wingspan. The inscription on the foundation read: ‘Saint Michael, the Archangel.’
“Hey, Mike. How’s it going up there? Not so great down here. But you probably know that. Why do we continue to have these one sided conversations? Tell Mom I’m coming.”
Alternating to the left, I memorized the names on the headstones, another neurosis. My destination was in sight and I noticed Nona with an umbrella standing at Mom’s gravesite. “Hi, Nona.”
“Hey, Leo. Thought I’d join you. Been a while.”
“You were smart and brought an umbrella.” She lifted it higher for me to enter its shelter.
“It’s barely a drizzle,” she said.
“How’d you know I was here?”
“When you didn’t answer your cell, I called the house.” She pushed the collar of her jacket up around her neck. “Your father said you were coming here. He sounded blitzed, by the way.”
I sat cross-legged on the moist ground. “He’s getting worse. I left my cell at home.” Nona followed me to the ground.
Digging the can of beer from my pocket, I corked the tab and handed it to her. I was glad she didn’t say a derogatory word about the brew. Then I withdrew the second can from my opposite pocket.
“Love you, Mom.” I saluted the beer toward her gravestone and Nona mimicked me.
After a cursory silence, she said, “I couldn’t sleep all night. I was so worried about you. How are you coping?”
“I’m coping.” I took a healthy swig and wiped my mouth. “I didn’t tell you what happened a few nights ago when Henry and I were here. I didn’t want to get you involved.”
“You told me you went out with him. Does this have something to do with those two murders?”
“We were here. I saw it happen, kind of.” I paused hearing her gasp of breath. “I didn’t actually
the murder. More like I heard it.” For the umpteenth time, I expounded on the night in question. This time I included Henry’s association with Skipper and Dave. “That last part is for your ears alone.”
“Are you telling me—” Nona sounded peeved, “you didn’t tell the police the truth?”
“I told the truth, just omitted a little part.”
“So you told the police you were alone?”
“Aren’t you compounding the problem in a murder investigation?”
“Henry doesn’t know anything that’d help them. Why get him in trouble?”
Her brows pulled together in concentration. “I don’t like it.” Tipping the can to her lips, she sipped the cold beer.
“Just pretend I didn’t say anything. Keep it to yourself,” I implored. “And I’m begging you not to tell Reggie.”
“I’d never involve him.” She locked dark-brown eyes with mine. “I won’t perjure myself for that boy.”
“I’m not asking you to. Just don’t say a word.” In total silence and engrossed in thought, my best friend reached over and held my hand.
“C’mon, I’ll drive you home,” she whispered like we were in a church.
“I’d like to stay a little longer. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Mom.”
“Reggie’s coming over for dinner tonight.” Nona employed my shoulder as a hitching post and clambered to her feet. “He’s probably there watching football with my dad or I’d stay.”
“Not to be mean, but I need some alone time.”
“I understand. But it’s getting dark and I don’t want you here much longer, okay?”
“I’m good. Say hello to Reggie for me.” She loomed over me, not moving.
“I know I’m snooping…”
Here it comes
. “Did Becket call you today?”
I craned my neck to look at her. “When did you ever apologize for snooping into my business?”
“It’s this place.” She glimpsed around Hallow Saints while fingering her necklace. “Makes me reverent or something. Here take my umbrella, just in case it begins to rain.”
“Yes, he called this morning,” I said while taking hold of the umbrella.
“And, nothing. He wanted to know how I was. He said he had practice.”
“He didn’t ask to see you, or…ask you to Homecoming?”
Her hypothetical words sent me bounding to my feet. “What are you hatching? Please don’t, Nona.”
“I’m not hatching anything,” she said, looking disgruntled. “I just thought he might ask.”
“You don’t have Reggie putting ideas in Becket’s head, do you?”
“Not yet. But—”
I broke into her inveigling thoughts. “Don’t, please don’t.”
“I won’t say a word.” Her mouth drooped along with her shoulders.
“Thank you.” Assuaged, I trusted her. “I’ll bring your umbrella to school tomorrow.”
“Speaking of school, you want Reggie to pick you up tomorrow?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
“Hey, girl, after all that’s happened, you’re not riding with Henry are you?”
“I don’t know what I’m doing. Please, go home.”
Her face contorted in dissatisfaction, and twisting her arms over her chest she strode off.
Diverting my sight from Nona to Mom’s headstone, I read the epithet aloud. “Lillian Leocadia Nelson, Cherished Wife and Beloved Mother.” Sinking back to the earth, I stared at the sculpted letters for the billionth time. “Well, Mom, it’ll be a year. It feels like yesterday and at the same time it feels like forever.”
My eyes glided over the forlorn cemetery wondering if I should tone it down. “Looks like you’re the only one with company. I guess not too many people want to be here on a drab evening. Say hello to grandma for me. Tell her I promise to see grandpa during the holidays. I know how much she worries about him.”
I bent near her headstone and plucked the denuded bundle of daisies from the ground. “These are done. I’ll bring more next week.” The pitter-patter of rain drops sprinkled the umbrella’s canvas. “The rains coming. I’d better get home.” I pushed off the ground. “Mom, if it’s possible, could you help Dad? He’s not handling this well. And while you’re at it, maybe send a few prayers my way.”
Water cascaded over the umbrella as my foot sunk into a pothole. It would be a wet walk home from here. I looked toward the railroad tracks, knowing the cut-through the Lucien Estate would sever precious minutes.