Saturday, March 28, 2015
"After a young girl gets involved in a sexual confrontation, she is followed by an unknown force." -IMDB
**SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!**
I can't possibly review this movie without spoiling it because otherwise you might just think I'm a hater.
And in this case, you may be close to right.
I have not hated a movie this much since Teeth. You know, where the girl had teeth in her vagina? This movie's high rating and praise is as big a miracle as the immaculate conception. Maybe there were ten of us in the afternoon showing. The consensus as the credits rolled was, "What the hell did we just watch?" Oh, and, "Can we get our $18.00 back?"
The movie starts with a girl running from something. She's scared, and the movie delivers the setup that whatever "follows," means business. Sort of. The girl makes an apologetic, emotional call to her parents and we see her next ala Grudge 2: weird face, broken leg, unlikely position for a murder victim, but whatever.
Pan to a young dating couple deciding to have sex for the first time. Afterwards, the guy knocks the gal out with some kind of chloroform or something, ties her to a wheelchair in an abandoned building, and tells her this story: someone gave it to me, and now I'm giving it to you. What is it? Apparently, it is a shape-shifting "follower" that if it touches you, kills you (and then proceeds backwards down the list like some STD Final Destination). The girl sees a half-naked woman walking toward her, and the boy who cursed her delivers her home sometime after.
It Follows was about as exciting as watching paint dry. Mostly we're watching the girl waiting for someone to come, and wondering alongside her who she's going to screw next to get the voodoo off of herself. No, I'm not kidding.
How this movie earned an "R" rating is beyond me. Truly. There's a little frontal nudity, but I've seen dirtier sex scenes on TLC. There's almost no gore. There's actually almost no point. No, wait. There IS no point. Of course there's the close male friend who would suffer the fate of a thousand followers to get in "the pretty girl's" pants. After she screws their only other guy friend and he gets murdered (screwed to death, literally), then she decides to give it up to the nice boy. The boy she shared her first kiss with. He gladly accepts this (why?) and the movie ends with them walking off hand-in-hand, WITH SOMEONE FOLLOWING THEM?!?!
The acting was meh, the plot was nearly non-existent, there was NO HORROR in this horror film, and to boot, it seemed time-period confused. Mostly, it looked like the 80's but with a modern day Intex pool, and some reading contraption that looked like the nerdy gal was reading on her birth control pills. Don't ask. I don't know. And I've wasted too much time on this movie already. I'm sure this is going to be one of those cult following flicks that is totally lost on me. I don't get it. I was bored to tears, like the movie Drive where we watched Ryan Gosling looking at nothing for long periods at a time. The following thing is NEVER explained. There's no origin story, no action, and barely a hint of a morality tale. If you're into boring, I recommend it, but there are better options: root canal sans Novocaine, catching crabs, or self-immolation. I'd do all those things in sequence before watching this movie again. It Follows, for sure. It also SUCKS.
Friday, March 27, 2015
There's no such thing as bad publicity, right?
No one knows this better right now than Clean Reader, an app designed to sanitize content. Chuck Wendig took aim at the app in the poignant, no-nonsense way that he does in this article on consent. Crass, maybe, and I could have chosen to read CNet's far more politically correct article on the same topic, but the point in all this is that I have a choice.
Wendig carpet F-bombs because he's an in-your-face writer. I support his right to do that, and for me to read his content as he intends for it to be read.
When an app such as Clean Reader begins taking words from your work and making them their own (be it vulgarities or otherwise), they're infringing on your rights as an author. Readers, you don't get to write our novels for us. Sorry, but you don't. What is vulgar, or offensive? Clean Reader released a list, and it's a bit biblical. Enter religious sensibilities. Free speech. Free religion. This is the US. It's a slippery slope, and one I don't support. Copyright and intellectual property laws exist for a reason. If you, without my consent, alter work protected by law, you are performing an illegal act, plain and simple. Clean Reader defends their position in the following statement according to CNet:
"The Clean Reader team is adamant, however that the app is not only not doing anything wrong -- it is, they claim, perfectly legal, since they app does not change the epub source file, but merely how it is displayed on the screen -- but that authors who are unhappy with the alteration of their work should defer to anyone who spends money on that book, comparing the app to the optional profanity beeping on NPR podcasts."
Talk about your technicalities. Authors took aim at the app, and as of twenty-one hours ago, Clean Reader issued the following statement on Facebook:
"Over the last several days we have been asking for and receiving significant feedback from authors. We have read as much of the feedback as we could. A common theme in all of it is that many authors do not want their books being sold in connection with Clean Reader. We have therefore taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue. Any books our users have already purchased will still be available in their in-app library within Clean Reader. In connection with this decision there will be several changes made to the app and an update will be released in the near future. These changes will also be in response to the feedback we have received from many authors and users. Thanks for your patience as we work quickly to develop the next release.
It seems even they don't believe their own defense.
In other news, Inktera released a tweet stating that they will no longer support the Clean Reader bookstore. Bravo, though I expect this was the effect of being beat over the head with the hammer of free speech, censorship, and the collective authorial powers-that-be. Maybe they expected no one would ever know this was out there other than people who intend to use such a program? Maybe they didn't see their product as the hot button item it really is? I have no idea.
Inktera, a subsidiary of Page Foundry, was backing the three-month old Clean Reader program until the backlash hit. They were responsible for development and support of the app owned by Jared and Kirsten Maughan.
How does one's work get on Page Foundry? Smashwords, for starters (also D2D, and others). But Smashwords seems to be a big one. Smashwords, who normally takes a strong anti-censorship position distributes to Page Foundry, a site seeking to censor. Perhaps they should reexamine their misaligned values. Am I calling for indies to reexamine their distribution? It depends on how strongly you feel about your work being edited by someone who is not giving you a choice in the matter. I have never distributed to Page Foundry via Smashwords, nor have I distributed to those I'm not familiar with. If you are looking to opt out, log into your Smashwords account and under Marketing and Distribution Tools click on Channel Manager. From there, you can opt out of Page Foundry if you desire to do so. They won't be distributing to Clean Reader, but the fact that this censorship function didn't come into question before the masses took up torches and pitchforks makes this all a little too little, a little too late, doesn't it?
What this whole debate comes down to for me is that replacing one word with another less offensive word doesn't change the context. I am an author who uses profanity, and I consider every instance before releasing the novel. I write horror and dark stories. My use of the occasion swear is probably the least offensive thing about my work. Take every instance of "s%$t" or "f#*k" (self-censored for public consumption) out of Afterbirth and you'd still have undead babies eating their way out of their mothers. I'm sorry, Clean Reader, but your "poop" word replacement doesn't change that fact. There is killing, dying, screwing, and screwing people over. I don't think my work is for the Clean Reader folks, and the blood on the covers ought to indicate that. You want puritanical, support other authors. That's cool, no hard feelings. But damn it, leave my work alone.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The scene was like something out of a Hollywood movie. Northeast Trust and Holding’s annual holiday party grew in extravagance by the year. The Summit View resort—a four hundred dollar per night palace situated high in the Adirondack Mountains—provided the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable night of opulence.
A recent snowstorm had come through, blanketing Eugene County in the kind of fluffy snow that clung to the tree branches and made every inch of the outside world look pure and untouched through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Glitter covered the tables and floor of the grand ballroom. The light from the crystal chandelier danced across the vibrant red, green, and gold. Helium balloons masked the ceiling, the long strings hanging down like party streamers. Champagne flowed, music played, and everyone joked, laughed, and danced more with each empty glass.
A group of young analysts gathered around the bar, knocking back free drinks as fast as the bartender could pour them and caterwauling along to Don McLean’s “American Pie”.
Lena Garza watched from a table at the far side of the room, sipping a Chardonnay with Molly Hawkins, the newly promoted Vice President who had transformed from awkward to eye-catching over the past year.
The extreme makeover did little to help with how people perceived her.
Molly was dedicated, intimidatingly smart, but as socially awkward as they come—a trait that conveyed her as unapproachable. Between her lack of personality and the rumor Lena had started about her, no one talked to Molly all night. Lena hadn’t meant for things to get so out of hand, and though Molly seemed to have no idea what was being said behind her back, Lena couldn’t help feeling guilty. She had been trying to make it up to Molly, even if that meant being her only friend, outcast by proxy.
“Tonight’s the night, right?” Lena threw her full, dark hair over her shoulder, her dark eyes wide with anticipation. In contrast to Molly, Lena had a hummingbird’s metabolism and a fitness instructor’s physique—hot yoga being her vice.
“I don’t know.” Molly shook her head. “Maybe it’s too soon.” She glanced in Walter’s direction and turned away when he looked back.
Molly had her eye on Walter Logan, Director of Northeast Trust, for as long as Lena could remember. Word had leaked that Walter was in the process of a nasty divorce and Molly kicked into high gear, trading her cheeseburgers for weight loss shakes and desk lunches for daily walks. Molly shrunk from a size twelve to a slim five. She exchanged flats for heels, and her hemline went up by inches. Heads turned when Molly walked into the ballroom, her breasts high in the plunging neckline of a red sequined gown, though she didn’t seem to notice.
“I can feel the tension between the two of you from here.” Lena waved when Walter looked back a second time. “He’s all but begging you to talk to him. New year, new look, new job. It’s a whole new you, Molly. Go for it.”
Walter sat alone at a high top to the right of the bar where the action was happening, but apart from it. Under other circumstances, Lena wouldn’t have given him a second glance. He wasn’t unattractive, but he wasn’t her type. For one, he was older than she preferred, early-fifties if she had to guess. He had a youthful face for someone that age, but no real pizzazz. Lena wanted the eye of the man commanding the room, and that definitely wasn’t Walter. He dressed in the requisite classic blue suit and white button down that had become like a uniform. His red and gold tie was a bold addition to his otherwise stuffy corporate image.
“What if I go over there and embarrass him?” Molly said. “What if … I don’t know … what if he was looking over here at you? Then I’d be embarrassing myself.”
“There’s no way he’s interested in me, but I know a way to find out. I’m going to get us another round from the bar. If he keeps an eye on me, you’re off the hook. I won’t bother you about him for the rest of the night. If not, well, the next drink is your problem and I expect you to at least say hello to him. Deal?”
Molly held out her hand for a shake. “Deal.”
Lena polished off the rest of her wine and pushed her chair back from the table. She straightened her strapless blue satin dress and verified she wasn’t about to have a wardrobe malfunction. Flashing Walter a nipple might not have been playing fair.
“I’ll be right back.” Lena took their empty glasses and headed for the bar, toward the hooting and hollering analysts and Walter, whom she didn’t so much as glance at. She wasn’t about to encourage him to notice her. She nudged her way through the inebriated pack and slapped her hand on the lacquered bar to catch the bartender’s attention. “Two Chardonnays,” she said. “And not the short glasses, either. Fill them up, please.” The bartender nodded, set two near-full glasses of white wine in front of her, and shook his head when she walked away without leaving a tip in the half-full glass of fives and tens. She would get him next time, she thought, not realizing people were being so generous. She headed back to the table and set one of the glasses in front of Molly, who was clearly distracted.
“How did I do?” Lena asked. Molly said nothing. “Hello? Earth to Molly.” Lena nudged Molly’s shoulder, worried that the rumor had finally landed in the few minutes she had gone to the bar. “Mol—what’s wrong?”
“Hmm? Nothing.” Molly picked up the wine glass by its stem and took a sip, staring across the dance floor at the power couple of the evening: Managing Director Damon Brooks and his stunning wife, Gwen.
Gwen Brooks looked striking, if not entirely out of place for a party heralding in 2015. Her hair, styled in a loose, red wave looked like something out of a post World War II pin-up poster. She wore a black satin dress with a halter neckline, matching gloves pulled up to her elbows, and sparkling silver or platinum jewelry that blinded Lena from across the room.
“Well, did he look at me?” she said.
Molly kept staring at Gwen. “Did who look at you?”
“Walter,” Lena said. “What the hell did I walk over there for?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mol—you’re freaking me out. What’s with you all of a sudden?”
“Am I nuts,” Molly said, “or does Damon’s wife keep looking over here?”
“She’s whose attention you’re focused on?” Lena glanced over at the gorgeous couple chatting up a handful of attentive associates.
Molly shrugged. “Seems odd is all. Why would someone like her be staring at me?”
Lena nudged Molly playfully and smiled. “Because you’re a knock-out is why. Can we get back to Walter, please?”
Molly took a long sip of wine. “Can I be honest with you?”
“I hope so,” Lena said.
“I paid zero attention to whether or not Walter was checking you out.”
Lena figured as much. “Then I declare myself the winner. As penance, you’re getting the next two refills and saying hello to Walter.” Lena regretted asking for full glasses, but the music was playing, people were having a good time, and the moment struck her. She knew she’d pay for it, but she lifted the wine glass to her lips and finished the whole thing in one long drink. “And you’re up,” she said. “Another Chardonnay, please.”
“Ah, what the hell.” Molly followed suit.
* * * * *
Walking across the dance floor, associates and analysts dancing the Electric Slide behind her, Molly couldn’t help thinking she should have stayed home. She kept her eyes on the wine glasses in her hands, unable to even look in Walter’s direction.
After weeks of prodding, she should have known Lena would push the issue.
The fact of the matter was Lena had always been beautiful. She ate what she wanted, drank with abandon, and never gained an ounce. She had perfect hair, straight teeth, and the kind of evenly-spaced features that could have landed her a modeling career if she wanted one. Molly had worked hard to get where she was, still nowhere near as thin or pretty as Lena. Dieting, fitness, and a salon makeover earned her compliments, but it didn’t change the doubting, self-conscious person she was on the inside. Her reflection in the mirror looked, to her, much the same.
Molly approached the four-deep crowd around the bar, unsure how to get close enough to order.
“Excuse me,” she said meekly. She might as well have been invisible. “Excuse me,” she said again, this time louder.
Still no movement.
“Excuse us,” a man’s voice boomed behind her. Walter cleared a path through the inebriated twenty-somethings, turned to Molly, and smiled.
Panic struck her to her core. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. The bass of the music pounded in time with her hammering heart.
“You wanted a refill, right?” Walter held out his hands to take the glasses.
Molly handed them over with a nod.
“Bartender, two …” Walter glanced at Molly for her order.
“Chardonnays, please,” Molly said loud enough for Walter to hear.
“Two Chardonnays, please, and a Jameson neat.”
“Thank you. I didn’t think I would ever get through.”
Walter looked at his gold Cartier watch and nodded. “Two hours until the New Year, but you need something to toast with, right?” He handed her the refilled glasses, brushing her fingertips with his. “Are you ringing it in with Lena?”
“Not with her, but yes, with her. We’re both stag.” Molly didn’t want to read too much into things, but it seemed Walter was striking up a conversation about her relationship status.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Walter said, a blush of embarrassment painting his cheeks. “Rather, I didn’t mean it the way it came out.”
Molly found his being tongue-tied charming. “It’s okay,” she said, glancing at the table where she and Lena had been sitting to find Lena gone, out on the dance floor cutting a rug with Blaine Hoff, a junior analyst at least fifteen years younger than she was. “I knew what you meant.” Lena nodded in Molly’s direction, her expression saying Go for it. “Looks like I’ve been traded in.”
The bartender handed Walter his whiskey, and Walter left a ten dollar bill in the tip jar. “If you don’t want to drink alone you could always sit with me.”
Opportunity didn’t just knock, it was pounding.
“I’d like that,” Molly said, following Walter back to his table. She pulled out the chair at the high top and took a seat, tugging her dress—which suddenly seemed far too short—down toward her knees.
“You look really nice tonight.” Walter sipped his drink, eyeing her over his glass.
“Thank you,” she said, too nervous to drink her wine. “I was sorry to hear about your divorce.”
“Uh, thank you?”
It was Molly’s turn to put her foot in her mouth. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that.” She buried her face in her hands and shook her head.
Walter pulled one of her hands away and smirked. “Consider us even.”
“I’m terrible at this,” Molly said.
“Small talk. Whatever you call it.”
“Would it help you to know I haven’t been on a date in over twenty years?” Walter looked down at the table. “Not that this is a date, but I’m no good at breaking the ice, either.”
Molly raised her glass. “To awkward firsts.”
Walter touched his glass to hers in toast. “Amen to that.”
No sooner had they taken a sip than the ballroom door flung open. A staggering mess of an overweight woman stumbled through it, her eyes locked on Molly.
Molly had only seen Walter’s ex-wife a handful of times, but she recognized her immediately. A portly woman with a round face, chronically red cheeks, and stiff, wig-like hair, Helen Logan stood out. She wore a wool coat and a green sweat suit with a reindeer on the shirt.
“Walter Logan, you piece of shit!”
Everyone stared as Helen made her way across the room, her gloved hands clenched into fists.
Walter stood, but Helen was on them before he took more than a single step. “Helen, what are you doing here?”
Helen bore down on Molly, her breath reeking of alcohol and her pupils dilated. There was hate in her beady eyes.
Molly held her wine glass, frozen in place and geographically cornered by another table and a decorative white pillar.
“Molly, come here.” Walter held out his hand to help her around Helen, but Molly couldn’t bring herself to take it.
“What are you doing with my husband?” Helen said, shoving Molly and spilling wine on her dress.
“I—um—I …” Molly looked between Helen and Walter and back again, at a loss for words.
“We’re divorced, Helen. I’m not your husband anymore,” Walter said.
“I’ll deal with you later.”
“Please, I’m sorry,” Molly said. She and Walter had been having a good time, or the start of one. She wasn’t sure that required an apology, but she offered one anyway.
“What could you possibly be sorry for, homewrecker?” Helen closed her meaty hands around Molly’s thin neck and squeezed.
Molly tried to get free of Helen’s grip, peeling away her sausage-like fingers only long enough to draw a partial breath as Helen wrestled her to the ground.
Walter sprang into action, doing what he could to physically subdue his ex-wife who had a significant weight advantage. “Get off of her. Someone help!”
The drunken analysts who had been watching the fight from the sidelines jumped in to aid the rescue, laughing and mocking Helen the entire time.
“Sooie,” one of the young men called out.
“Bet you can’t ride the full fifteen seconds,” said another.
The two were in hysterics.
The laughter made Helen that much meaner. She squeezed harder and shook Molly who had gone nearly limp by this point, unable to fight back.
“Stop this! Stop it right now!” Walter tugged Helen’s coat sleeves, allowing Molly a few sporadic breaths before Helen bore down on her again.
Two young men grabbed Helen under each of her flabby arms and on the count of three, hauled her off of Molly. The analysts cheered, Walter looked mortified, and someone shouted for security.
Molly coughed and wheezed, her vision foggy as oxygen rushed into her lungs. She rolled onto her side and then got to her knees, past caring at that point how short her dress was or that someone might have seen her underwear. Helen had nearly killed her, and would have if she hadn’t been stopped. Molly liked Walter, but he wasn’t worth dying for. She gasped, struggling to regulate her uneven breath.
“Molly!” Lena forced her way through the dense crowd.
Walter helped Molly to her feet, but she pushed him away, not wanting to incite Helen further.
“I’m fine,” she whispered, all she could manage at the moment.
“Molly, I’m so sorry,” said Walter.
“M-o-l-l-y, I’m s-o-r-r-y.” Helen threw back her head with laughter. “He’s sorry, all right.”
Damon and Gwen Brooks made their way to Molly.
“Everything okay here?” Damon said.
“I’m so sorry.” Walter looked mortified. “I don’t know why she’s here.”
“It’s the goddamned holidays,” Helen slurred. “Isn’t this a party?”
“Not for you,” Gwen said, holding out her hand. “Molly, why don’t you come with me? We’ll get you cleaned up.” She held a bejeweled black clutch under one arm and took Molly’s arm under the other.
Walter grabbed Helen by the arm and steered her through the crowd toward the lobby and two approaching security guards.
“Molly, are you all right?” Lena said.
“I think so.”
“Let me help you.” Lena went to take Molly’s arm from Gwen, but Gwen refused to let go.
“Really, it’s our party,” Gwen said.
“She’s my friend.”
Molly felt like a wishbone between them. “It’s okay,” she said to Lena. “Gwen has me. I’ll be right back. Go. Have fun.” She didn’t mention Blaine by name, but could see that Lena didn’t need her to.
“Are you’re sure?” Lena said.
Molly nodded. “You’ve been with me all night.”
Lena disappeared into the crowd.
Gwen helped Molly to the ladies’ room.
“Thank you for getting me out of there.”
“It’s the least I could do after what you went through,” Gwen said. “I’m sorry about that. Some girls really can’t stand competition.”
Molly chuckled, but it hurt to laugh. “Apparently not.”
* * * * *
“The victim’s name is Molly Hawkins, forty-six-year-old Vice President of Northeast Trust and Holding.” Dr. Meghan Stone, Eugene County Medical Examiner, stood at the head of the autopsy table wearing full protective gear. The white waterproof gown contrasted her olive complexion, emphasizing the bright blue gloves covering her hands. Her dark hair was pulled into a loose knot at the base of her head and she wore a pair of thin, wire-rimmed glasses, a recent addition she claimed had everything to do with turning forty.
Molly’s naked body lay covered beneath a white sheet pulled down to just below the ends of the Y-shaped autopsy incision, her arms out from underneath it. Silvery stretch marks of extreme weight loss glistened on her biceps and an unnatural pink hue to her skin gave the illusion of life.
“Consider this my inaugural New Year’s killing,” CSI September Hoskins said, adding holiday party poisoning to a line of firsts fifteen years in the making. Swabs of Molly’s hands confirmed the presence of sodium cyanide, a lethal powder when absorbed through the skin. September kept her distance, mindful of the results of trace.
“She’s been decontaminated,” Meghan said, “but I’d still be careful.”
Meghan turned Molly’s head to the side, swinging the overhead light so that it was centered on her face. “According to initial interviews, the victim was attacked shortly before time of death. A fight between her and a jealous ex-wife explains the fingerprint bruises on her neck.”
September shook her head. “Sounds like some party.”
Meghan nodded. “They’re rowdy for investment bankers, I’ll give you that. There are no signs of internal injury or asphyxia.” She pointed to a cut along Molly’s cheekbone close to her hairline. “But there’s this irregular shaped wound. The edges are rough, like something scalloped.”
“Scalloped, huh? I’ll have Evan and Saul take a look for anything at the hotel matching the pattern. They’re on-scene right now collecting evidence.”
“I swabbed the cut for trace and sent it to the lab, but notice the cherry red coloring?”
“Potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide react chemically with the hemoglobin in red blood cells, turning it to cyanohemoglobin, which is bright red.”
“How would the killer get the victim’s hands coated in cyanide without them knowing it?”
“Sodium cyanide is simple to mask. It’s an easily dissolvable white powder with a faint almond-like odor that not everyone can detect. The ability to smell cyanide is genetically determined. Only about sixty percent of the population can.” Meghan was always quick with obscure statistical facts. “Was there anything else on her hands?”
September hadn’t yet delivered the rest of the results. “Borax, aloe, and lanolin. Could have been hand soap or some kind of cosmetic.”
“Based on concentration levels in the blood, cyanide is the cause of death. The additional trace likely indicates delivery method. In addition to the cheek injury, there’s a slight contusion here on her forehead consistent with something curved.”
“Like a toilet seat?” September asked. “The victim was found in the ladies’ room.”
Meghan nodded. “Could be. The symptoms of cyanide poisoning come on fast. The victim would have shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting. It’s quite likely she went into a bathroom stall to be sick and died shortly thereafter. I estimate time of death to be around ten PM.”
“The victim wasn’t found until after midnight. What are the chances no one used the bathroom in those two hours?”
Meghan shrugged. “The victim would have been this pink color. In context, she might have looked passed out. Maybe she was mistaken for drunk?”
* * * * *
Detective Kurt Walker poured himself his third cup of coffee and headed toward interrogation room one with a manila folder tucked under his arm. He and his wife Rebecca had thrown a New Year’s party for family and friends in honor of their son Justin’s first holiday home from the Navy. Justin had turned twenty-one while on deployment to the Middle East and this was Kurt’s first opportunity to share a few drinks with him. Kurt, not being much of a drinker, was more than feeling the ill aftereffects.
He opened the door to find Walter Logan, a man of about his age, pacing. He wore khaki pants, a button down shirt, and sweater and he sighed every third breath.
“Good morning. My name is Detective Kurt Walker.” Kurt pulled out a chair, the sound of metal legs on tile doing nothing for his headache. “Mind having a seat?”
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” Walter said. “I already told the other officers what I know.”
“Mr. Logan, I have a few questions and then you’re free to go. Please, sit down.”
Walter reluctantly sat. “Is Molly really dead?”
Kurt opened the manila folder and pulled a pen from his pocket. “I’m afraid so.” He scanned the page. “It says here that you were talking to Molly around ten PM last night, correct?”
Walter nodded. “Almost exactly ten. I remember checking my watch.”
“According to Summit View’s security officer, there was an incident around then. Can you tell me about that?”
Walter lowered his head. Another sigh. “Helen attacked Molly, unprovoked.”
“And Helen is your ex-wife?”
A slight nod. “The divorce finalized last month.”
“Was the split amicable?” Kurt said.
“Helen fought it the entire way. We didn’t part on bad terms—at least, I had no hard feelings—but we wanted different things from life. We married young and grew into different people, I guess. Anyway, as I understand it from talking to her, she was home last night, had no one to celebrate the New Year with, and being alone threw her over the edge. She knew where the company party was, had been drinking and took a cab to Summit View to see if we could, I don’t know, make a fresh start.”
“New Year’s has a way of bringing that urge out in people.”
“Helen barely remembers what happened. She’s never been a drinker. I guess when she saw Molly and me together, she couldn’t restrain herself. One minute she’s coming through the door headed toward me, the next thing I knew she was on top of Molly, literally choking her. It took three of us to pull her off. I’ve never seen Helen like that. She’s never raised her voice to me, let alone her hand.”
“What happened to Molly?”
Walter shrugged. “She went to the ladies’ room to clean up. Helen had spilled wine on her dress.”
“I went with Helen and security. I promised to make sure Helen went home since Molly didn’t want to involve the police. Helen and I waited about ten minutes in the cab stand and I sent her on her way. Closed the taxi door myself.”
“Was she anywhere near Molly after that? Had she gone to the restroom before she left?”
“Absolutely not,” Walter said. “Other than the couple of minutes I was with security to give them our contact information, I was with Helen the entire time. They wanted to take our statements, but I told them it would have to wait.”
“And where was Helen while that was going on?”
Walter thought for a minute. “Waiting for the cab, I guess.”
“Do you happen to have the name of the cab company? I’d like to verify that Ms. Logan went directly home.”
“Absolutely. It was Yellow Cab. The company paid the bill for anyone not wanting to stay the night to have a safe ride home. I was staying, so I figured no harm in letting Helen use mine.”
Kurt jotted down the information. “Did Helen know Molly before last night? Were you and Molly dating?”
“Before last night, Molly and I had barely said three words to each other, not that I wasn’t attracted to her. She really came into her own recently. I’d have been a fool not to notice, but Helen had only ever seen her at past holiday parties. I’m not sure she even recognized her. There was no ill will between them. Honest.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me about last night? Any reason you would know someone might want to hurt Molly?”
“Hurt her?” Walter looked confused. “Most people acted like she didn’t exist, other than Lena Garza.”
* * * * *
Kurt had only seen Molly Hawkins briefly in the autopsy suite, but entering interrogation room two, where Helen Logan sat teary-eyed, the women appeared like night and day. Overweight, a bit disheveled, and unable to make eye contact, Helen Logan chewed a bit of candy bar, smearing chocolate on her lower lip. She choked the bite down and hid the wrapper.
“I have trouble with my blood sugar,” she said. “Please, excuse me.” She wiped at her mouth with the back of her thick hand. “Stress makes things so much worse.”
“I understand,” Kurt said. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. Do you need something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Helen said. “I’d rather get this over with.”
“Then I’ll do my best to speed things along. What can you tell me about your relationship to Molly Hawkins, Ms. Logan?”
“Who?” Helen didn’t appear to immediately recognize the name.
“The woman you interacted with last night.”
Helen shook her head, the wobble under her chin moving back and forth a split second after she had stopped. “I really didn’t know her at all.”
“Not from Walter’s work? From previous engagements?”
“The name rings a bell, but I didn’t recognize her. I can barely picture her now.” Helen kept her gaze on the tabletop. “I’m so embarrassed.”
Kurt had seen his share of acting. Helen’s remorse seemed genuine. He handed her a tissue from the box on the table. “How long were you and Walter married?”
“Thirty years,” Helen said. “We met freshman year in college. I was pretty then, thin like that woman from last night.”
Kurt searched his soul for an honest compliment, but feeling it would come off as solicited he continued his questioning. “Thirty years is a long time. Would you mind me asking the reason for the divorce?”
Helen dabbed at her eyes, now red and puffy. “It was my fault. I let myself go.”
Kurt thought the reasoning seemed particularly shallow for the man he had just met. “Is that what Walter told you?”
“No,” Helen said. “He told me we needed to do things, to see places, to focus more on life than the television schedule. He wanted to travel.”
“And you didn’t?”
Helen sniffled. “Honestly, I didn’t want to do any of the things he wanted to. I liked life at home, with him.”
“So the two of you grew apart?”
“Grew.” Helen scoffed at the word. “At least one of us did. I saw him with that woman last night and I lost it. I thought she would travel. She would look great in a bathing suit. She wouldn’t make Walter watch the same five shows every week. She was everything I am not. I couldn’t help being jealous.”
“Do you remember what you were doing while Walter gave security your contact information, Ms. Logan?”
“I barely remember anything before being put into a taxi like something to be hidden away. Walter was disgusted with me. He is disgusted with me, but I didn’t kill his girlfriend.”
* * * * *
The first floor ladies’ room at the Summit View Resort had been quarantined. CSIs Evan Ray and Saul Fuller worked to document details of the scene.
Bright red blood smeared the seat of the white toilet in the first stall.
Saul snapped several photos and swabbed the sample. Six-feet-two, with broad shoulders and a military haircut, Saul barely fit in the cramped space. “It is beyond me how women do what they need to do in here.”
“Which is what?” Twenty-five-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed Evan—the youngest on the team by almost a decade—smirked.
“You know, lady things,” Saul said. “Why am I the one in here anyway? You’re way smaller.”
“Lady things.” Evan laughed. “You’re squeamishness kills me. I don’t know how you can process a crime scene, but talk of someone’s period sends you heading for the hills.”
“It’s gross, that’s why. I’d tell you a story, but let’s just leave it at I had an incident with my high school girlfriend that scarred me for life.”
“Fair enough, but you know why you’re in there and I’m out here?” Evan said. “Take a look at the last two sets of crime scene photos. You are the worst digital photographer in history.”
“In fairness, cameras weren’t digital when I started out.”
Evan swabbed a handful of surfaces—sink handles, sinks, and soap dispensers—and dusted for fingerprints. He examined the edge of a potpourri dish, looking for the scalloping September had mentioned. The bowl’s edge was smooth and there were no signs of blood on it. “I can’t help noticing how much nicer this is than the men’s room.”
“You think? Take a look in stall three.”
Evan laughed. “Thanks, but no thanks. You’re on stall duty. Any decorative edging in there? Something the victim might have hit her head on?”
“Nope,” Saul said. “Everything’s smooth.”
Evan walked over to the recessed stainless steel garbage container. “It was housekeeping who found the victim, right?”
“Yes,” Saul said. “A little after midnight, why?”
“Because the trash has been emptied. Looks like the bathroom’s not the worst thing we’re going to deal with today. We need to find last night’s garbage.”
* * * * *
Lena Garza looked every bit the part of a starlet, dressed to the nines in a pair of leggings, a cowl neck sweater, and knee-high, high-heeled boots. Her jewelry sparkled under the interrogation room lights, shining almost as bright as her whitened teeth. A pair of oversized Jackie O glasses held her dark hair back from her face and if she was upset about Molly’s demise, it didn’t show.
“According to Walter Logan, Ms. Garza, you were one of the few people who spoke with Molly last night.”
“What can I say? I’m a sucker for the underdog.”
Kurt’s impression of Molly was that she was meek, sheltered, and operating outside of the company’s in-crowd. Lena seemed an unlikely ally. “Sucker for the underdog, huh?” The phrase rubbed Kurt wrong. “Then maybe you can explain why you didn’t notice Molly was missing for two hours after the fight between her and Helen Logan?”
“It isn’t that I didn’t notice, so much as that I couldn’t.”
Kurt leered. “And why is that?”
“His name is Blaine Hoff. He’s a junior analyst at the firm. Yes, I was with Molly part of the night, but only until she got up the courage to talk to Walter. I figured once the two of them connected, I could have my own fun.”
“So, you were playing matchmaker?”
“More or less.” Lena shrugged. “Molly had some self-esteem issues. She was working them out, but she wasn’t really the taking charge type.”
“Is there something wrong with a single woman enjoying a man’s company after a few drinks?”
“I suppose that depends on the circumstances.” Kurt added Blaine to the list of interviewees. “When did you last see Molly?”
“After the fight. I went to make sure Molly was okay, but Gwen swooped in. I guess being hostess made her feel obligated or something. I don’t know.”
“Gwen Brooks, Damon’s wife.”
“You gave your friend over to a stranger?”
“It wasn’t like that. Molly had seen Blaine and me together and she told me to go and have a good time. I think she felt guilty.”
“For monopolizing half my night.”
“Molly went with Gwen, and then what happened?”
“Blaine and I made a quick getaway to his room.”
“And if I were to ask Blaine about the two of you, he would tell me he was with you after ten PM last night?”
“I can’t guarantee he’ll admit that,” Lena said, “but it’s the truth. Had you caught me before my shower, I’d have had his DNA to prove it.”
* * * * *
“She said what?” Blaine Hoff was every bit as in denial about his carnal relations with Lena Garza as Kurt had expected. “I didn’t sleep with her.” His hands shook as he said it and he tucked them under the table.
Kurt saw no harm in bluffing, not after the details Lena intimated. “To put this delicately, Blaine, we collected DNA from Ms. Garza. If you’d like to offer up a sample for comparison we can put this behind us.”
The late-twenties man put his hands on the table and then back into his lap, his leg jumping up and down in a pair of expensive dress slacks that, if Kurt speculated, were outside Blaine’s means. Blaine wore a flashy gold watch, an angora blend sweater, and Italian loafers. Kurt knew from his wife’s fashion television habit the shoes alone cost at least a month’s salary. Instinct told Kurt Lena wasn’t Blaine’s only cougar.
“What’s said in here is between us, right?” Blaine said. “No one at work will hear about it?”
Kurt nodded. “It’s between me and you.”
Blaine blew out a long breath and made momentary eye contact. “Fine, you got me, I slept with Lena. I had way too much to drink and she was coming on strong, real strong. We went to my room after the thing with Molly.”
“Do you know about what time that was?”
“About ten o’clock,” Blaine said. “I remember looking at the clock when we got to the room, before … you know.”
“I do,” Kurt said.
“I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Booze, right?” Kurt smiled to put the young man at ease. “Who hasn’t made that mistake?”
“Right?” Blaine smiled back. “At least I have an excuse. If word gets out … oh, God. First Damon and then me. I’ll be the laughing stock.”
“Damon?” Kurt checked his notes from his previous interviews. “Would that be Damon Brooks?”
Blaine nodded. “Our managing director.”
“Are you implying Lena and Damon had some kind of relationship?”
“I’m not implying it,” Blaine said. “I’m flat out saying it. Everyone knows Lena goes for money, though why Damon would ever be with her when he has Gwen is beyond me. Lena’s … manipulative … which had to be why she was buddying up to Molly, right?”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Kurt said.
“No one told you about the rumor?”
“Rumor?” Kurt asked, chalking Blaine’s disjointed interview up to his nervousness.
“About six weeks ago, a rumor started circulating, around the time that Molly was promoted to VP. Molly was stand-offish, awkward, and kind of a wreck. I don’t know how to say that without coming across like an asshole. Jesus, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to curse. I’ve never dealt with the police like this.”
“Take a deep breath, Blaine. We’re only talking.”
“You bring up this stuff about DNA and I feel like I’m on an episode of CSI or something. It’s hard to relax.”
“So, this rumor?”
“Molly’s working extra hours, staying late with Damon who is pretty much always at work. She’s getting fit, changing her wardrobe, she starts putting in some effort, you know?”
“The promotion was a no-brainer,” Blaine said. “Molly worked harder and longer hours than anyone at the firm. She was smart but weird. Mostly people were jealous because all the big returns on investment lately came back to something she brokered.”
“When the promotion was announced, rumor said Molly got it for sleeping with Damon. I knew it was ridiculous because I knew how hard Molly worked. I’m so junior at the firm I’m one of the few other people keeping her hours. At the same time, Lena became chummy with Molly, like if she stayed close enough to her she could keep her from hearing what was being said. People knew about Lena and Damon. Lena didn’t think they did, but they did. I figured she had to have started the rumor about Molly to take the heat off herself.”
“Did anyone believe it?”
Blaine shrugged. “After what happened to Molly, it seemed someone might have, doesn’t it?”
* * * * *
Two CSIs, One Dumpster could have been the next viral video if anyone had a recorder going. Saul and Evan worked in tandem, sifting through the rotten remains of a drunken New Year’s party for clues.
“Saul, hand me that bag, would you?” Evan wore a whole body suit, gloves, and goggles and still felt ill-at-ease rifling through the dumpster that may or may not contain traces of cyanide.
Saul, dressed much the same, stood on the outside. He handed Evan a bag from the far side of the dumpster. “Next time you’ll think twice before suggesting a coin toss.”
“After squeezing you into the ladies’ room stall I probably deserve this.”
Saul shook his head, scanning the contents of a dripping wet plastic bag that, if smell was any indication, held something that had gone rancid. “No one deserves this, buddy.”
Evan sorted the bags by contents, creating two piles: bags full of white paper towels from the bathrooms, and everything else. He’d found six bathroom bags so far and wasn’t sure how many more were left. According to housekeeping, trash was due for pickup later that day, leaving them a week’s worth of garbage to sift through. The housekeeper who had found Molly narrowed the dumpsters down to one of three, but Evan had no idea how she could be sure. They all looked identical.
“Saul, why don’t you start on those over there? If we tear these apart, maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“New Year’s Day sifting through trash. What could be luckier than that?”
* * * * *
Kurt swallowed two ibuprofen with the ice cold remains of the morning’s coffee and prepared to interview Gwen Brooks, a woman he had heard was good looking, but the words didn’t do her justice. Walking into the interrogation room, head pounding and his stomach running on breakfast fumes, Kurt felt unsettled for the first time in a long time.
Gwen seemed cool, if not a bit sad, waiting with her hands folded. She wore a vintage dress with a deep V neckline, thigh highs, and stiletto heels, her feet crossed at the ankles.
“That’s a beautiful necklace,” Kurt said, commenting on the unique jewelry to let Gwen to know he wasn’t staring at her breasts. At least not only at her breasts.
“Thank you very much.” Gwen forced a red-lipped smile.
“I’m Detective Kurt Walker.” Kurt introduced himself with the shake of her hand, his palms a bit sweaty as he wondered how best to approach the topic of infidelity. Blaine had been right. Molly didn’t compare to Gwen. There was absolutely no reason for Damon to cheat, though that didn’t mean he hadn’t.
“Detective, I’m sorry I wasn’t available sooner,” Gwen said. “I heard what happened and I came as soon as I could.”
“I appreciate that.”
“They found Molly in the bathroom, is that right? I was there with her for a while. If I had known she was in trouble … I …” Gwen reached for a tissue from the box on the table and dabbed the corners of her eyes. “I would have stayed with her.”
“As I understand it, you helped Molly to the bathroom after what happened with Helen Logan. Is that correct?”
“I did, yes.” Gwen nodded. “Molly’s dress was soaked and I thought she should probably have someone with her while she cleaned up in case Helen returned. The look in that woman’s eyes, I can’t get it out of my head. I thought she was going to strangle Molly to death. She had to have had something to do with this, right?”
“I wouldn’t care to speculate at this point,” Kurt said. “Did you know Molly well?”
Gwen shook her head. “No one knew Molly well. I know what Damon told me, that Molly had been recently promoted and was one of his brightest, most dedicated employees.”
“You had conversations with your husband about her?”
“Not many. I try to get him to leave his work at the office. He spends so much time there as is.”
“Then why, if you didn’t know Molly, did you offer to help her?”
“That’s a bit complicated, I’m afraid. Every year my husband has these parties and the board warns him that things can get out of hand, that it’s a liability. Damon only wants the employees to have a good time. I felt obligated and a bit sorry for her after what happened to Molly. I only wanted to make sure she was all right.”
“And was she?”
“She absolutely was when I left her. She was drying her dress under the hand dryer. I told her I’d wait, but she insisted she was fine. She said she’d be right out.”
“When she didn’t come back to the party, why didn’t you check back in with her?” Kurt said.
“I assumed since both she and Lena were gone when I got back, that they went to their rooms, or that Molly had gone to change.”
“Got back from where?”
“I told Damon it was probably best that he let the board know what happened sooner than later. We were in the hotel conference room for a half hour or so.”
“Did Molly appear intoxicated, or mention not feeling well?”
“Not at all. She had been talking to Walter and seemed happy, all things considered.”
“According to Walter, he put Helen into a cab and sent her home. Had you seen her after the fight?”
“She was in the lobby when I left Molly, alone.”
“Helen was alone, or Molly was?”
“Both. Walter was talking to security and Helen was by herself.”
“Is it possible Helen went into the ladies’ room after you left?”
“Anything’s possible.” Gwen picked up a brown bag from its place next to her feet and handed it across to him. “I received the request for my clothing from the party,” she said. “Nothing has been washed.”
“I’m sorry about the inconvenience,” Kurt said. “I appreciate you bringing these things in. I’ll try to get them back to you as soon as possible. This is everything?”
Gwen nodded. “I’m sure of it, and it’s no problem. I feel terrible for what happened to Molly. I want to do whatever I can to help.”
* * * * *
Kurt saved the salacious rumor for his interview with Damon, a man every bit as slick as Kurt expected him to be.
Damon Brooks sat at the interrogation table with his manicured hands folded, wearing a tailored charcoal suit and ostentatious diamond-studded cufflinks. He had piercing dark eyes and a salesman’s smile. There wasn’t a hint that he was nervous, or that he had reason to be.
Kurt sat across from him, nursing a bottle of water that made his stomach churn. “How familiar is Gwen with the people who work for you, Mr. Brooks?”
“Excuse me?” Clearly it wasn’t a question Damon was expecting.
“Does your wife know the people you work with well?”
“Well enough, I’d say. Gwen comes to the office one or two times a week for lunch, her schedule permitting. Why?”
“Schedule permitting. Does Gwen work?”
“What does she do?”
“Weren’t you just in with her?” Damon asked. “If you’re not finished questioning her, I’ll wait.”
Kurt crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re not going to want me to ask her about where this is headed, I promise you. What kind of work does your wife do, Mr. Brooks?”
“She’s an artist,” Damon said, his voice steady and calm. “She makes custom jewelry.”
“Was that so hard?”
Damon didn’t answer.
“When she’s not working, she comes to the office to have lunch with you. That’s nice. I’m lucky if my wife and I get lunch together on weekends.”
“Occupational hazard, right?”
Kurt nodded. “Gwen seems to take your work personally. She mentioned a phone call to the board after the incident with Helen.”
“I would have handled it the next day, but she was right in suggesting I not put that call off. We were in the conference room for about a half hour.”
“Good of her to be concerned. Would you say Gwen takes an interest in your day-to-day, maybe talks to your coworkers?”
“Would she be privy to water cooler gossip?”
“We drink bottled,” Damon said.
“Fair enough. I’ll cut to the chase, Mr. Brooks. Do you think it’s possible that Gwen overheard rumors about your office affairs?”
Damon shifted in his chair. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
The sweat glistening on his forehead and upper lip said otherwise. “The rumor about you and Molly Hawkins, maybe?”
Damon let out a nervous ha, not quite a laugh, but a noise that said the accusation was ridiculous. “You’re kidding me, right? Me and Molly?”
“I’m not kidding,” Kurt said. “Apparently, some people think that’s how Molly earned her promotion.”
Damon looked around the room, stood, and paced, stopping and staring at the two-way mirror on the far wall. “Is this some kind of joke? Am I being Punked? Who would believe something like that?”
“How about you and Lena Garza? Would someone have believed that?”
Damon shrugged. “That would be a little more believable, but I don’t think any of it is the kind of thing anyone would say to Gwen.”
“Not if they valued their job, right?”
“I’m not sure what you’re implying, but I don’t reward or punish based on anything outside of work.”
“Then tell me about Molly’s promotion.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I made an executive decision based on merit. Molly worked harder, longer hours, and with more fortitude than every other employee under her. She got the job because she was the best person for it. I’m sorry about what happened to her. I have no idea how it happened, but it’s a shame. Molly needed time and a little more confidence and she could have easily ended in the position I am now. Managing director,” he clarified.
“Was there anyone else up for the promotion when Molly received it?”
Damon nodded. “One person, but she wasn’t a good fit.”
“Mind telling me who it was?” Kurt said.
* * * * *
Saul and Evan sorted through more than half of the trash bags strewn from one side of the room to the other.
Evan was soaked with sweat from the bulky protective gear. “What else did September say was in the trace from the victim’s hands?”
“Borax, aloe, and lanolin,” Saul said.
Evan held up a torn garbage bag. “Bingo. I think I found it.” He climbed out from the mess he was squatting in, his knees stiff and his back aching. “My sister Jenny and her college roommate saw this news story about a girl who earned something like a quarter of a million dollars making her own cosmetics. I don’t remember the whole story, but the deal was that everything was natural. Makeup for women who don’t like makeup, right?”
Saul shrugged. “Okay.” A confirmed bachelor, Saul had little reason to know about these things.
“Sophomore year, money gets tight. The girls are living off-campus and they decide to invest what little money they had into making lotions. Face cream, hand cream, body cream …”
“Isn’t it all the same thing?” Saul said.
“More or less, but I thought it was interesting that something they were marketing as ‘all natural’ contained Borax. Borax, aloe, and lanolin.” Evan held up a purse-size bottle of hand cream. “Who throws out an almost full bottle of lotion?”
Saul shook his head.
“Cyanide is absorbed through the skin,” Evan said. “What if the killer mixed cyanide powder into the lotion?” It took everything he had in him not to make a Silence of the Lambs reference.
“It would explain delivery,” Saul said, “but how would the killer avoid poisoning themselves?”
Evan lifted a rubber glove out of the bag with a pair of long tweezers. “They were wearing gloves.”
“And the victim wouldn’t have noticed that?”
“Apparently not,” Evan said, though he had to admit it was the one flaw in his theory.
* * * * *
Kurt sat in the break room, forcing down a turkey sandwich and another two acetaminophens while reviewing his interview notes. He had multiple suspects, Helen Logan being the most obvious and also the least likely. He liked Lena Garza most for the killer, but she had an alibi. Unless she could be in two places at once, there was no way it was her. He needed a solid piece of evidence.
September Hoskins came through the break room door with the kind of ear-to-ear grin she always wore when she had a key piece of evidence. “Trace came back.” She was the Molly Hawkins of their group—brilliant, dedicated, and more apt than her peers. After her recent divorce, she became the job.
Kurt set down his sandwich, wiped his hands, and reached for the paperwork she held out to him.
“The swab from the wound on Molly Hawkins’ cheek contained a type of silver unique to electroplating. I took an impression of the injury because of its unusual shape. It looks to be the scalloped edge of a large piece of jewelry. I can’t find anything in the database to identify it, but if I had something for comparison ….”
“Jewelry, you said?” Kurt got up from his seat. “Something unusual, like maybe something custom made?”
“Sure, yeah. Why?”
“I have to run. Thanks, September. You’re a lifesaver.”
* * * * *
Gwen Brooks resumed her place in the interrogation room, hours later and without the costume that had Kurt initially enchanted. She wore no makeup, yoga pants, and an oversized t-shirt, her hair wet from the shower she had all but been pulled out of.
“What am I doing here? What’s going on?” she said.
“Mrs. Brooks, I need to ask you a few more questions.”
“Has someone called Damon?” Gwen said. “I’m going to need a ride home.”
“We tried reaching your husband. He isn’t answering his phone.”
Kurt expected he knew why, as much as he suspected Damon had lent an unwitting hand in the execution of Molly Hawkins. He may not have slept with her, but he had slept with someone and that was enough to send Gwen over the edge.
“Why couldn’t this wait?” she said. “What are those people doing at my house?”
“We have a search warrant, Mrs. Brooks. Probable cause.”
“What cause? What are you talking about?”
Kurt slid a sealed evidence bag into the center of the table. “Do you recognize this?”
“It’s a bottle of lotion,” Gwen said.
“Is it your bottle?”
“I’ve never seen it before in my life. Why?”
“We found fingerprints all over it. Molly’s fingerprints.”
“And?” Gwen twirled a strand of her wet hair.
“And one that didn’t belong to her. Do you want to guess whose that was?”
“I have no idea.”
“Yours,” Kurt said. Gwen had volunteered her prints in her earlier ostensible show of cooperation. She had surely believed that wearing gloves kept her from leaving prints. It was risky, considering, but she had clung to her innocence and continued to. “We found it suspicious that only Molly’s prints showed up. Bottles get passed around, put on shelves, sold, and publicly handled. The fact that this one showed no signs of that meant someone wiped it clean. Someone with something to hide, but you missed a spot on the cap.”
“I told you, I have never seen that bottle before.”
“You know, when I interviewed you the first time I was trying not to upset you. A rumor had surfaced about your husband. I asked him about it, and I asked him if he thought you might have heard it. He said that you’re in the office at least a couple of times a week, schedule permitting. You had to have known Molly better than you let on.”
“I told you I knew who Molly was, that’s it.”
“We found a wound on Molly’s cheek, an awkward shape with a scalloped edge. Like a piece of jewelry. I had asked your husband what you did for a living and he says you’re an artist, that you manufacture jewelry.”
“Do you know how many women wear jewelry?”
“That’s fair,” Kurt said, “but trace from the wound on Molly showed that the jewelry was electroplated. We took a look at your website, at the adjustable, plated, costume jewelry you make and sell. Someone who knows electroplating would know arsenic is used in commercial metal recovery, to extract gold or silver from its ore. That person might even have access to arsenic sold through a chemical supply company. That bottle of lotion was recovered from the hotel trash. It contained lethal levels of arsenic.”
Gwen looked down at the table.
“A pair of rubber gloves was also recovered and I got to thinking, how could the killer be wearing protective gloves and the victim not notice? You had given us the clothes you wore that night, including a pair of black to-the-elbow satin gloves. Molly never suspected a thing. You helped her to the bathroom after the fight with Helen, figuring you were in the clear. Helen made an easy scapegoat—motivated, blackout drunk—but she seemed too obvious a suspect after the public attack. You did hear the rumor that Damon and Molly were sleeping together, didn’t you? That’s why you killed her.”
“Do you know how embarrassing it is what he does?” Gwen said. “The women he sleeps with? Do you want to know why I go to his office twice a week? It isn’t because he’s such a fantastic husband and I can’t wait to see him. It’s because it is the only way I have to assert myself. It’s meant to warn the women he works with away from him. You want to know if I heard the rumor? Fine, I heard it. That doesn’t make me a killer.”
A knock came at the door.
“Excuse me for a minute, please.” Kurt went into the hallway to meet September who was holding yet another piece of key evidence, bagged and sealed.
“We have a match,” September said. “The scalloped edge of this ring matches the wound pattern. DNA in the detailing is a match to the victim.”
“Thank you,” Kurt said and went back into the interrogation room. He slid the ring next to the bottle on the table. “When I asked you if you had given me everything, you said you had. This ring was found at your home with DNA on it matching Molly Hawkins. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Gwen tightened her lips into a thin line.
“The evidence is enough, Gwen, but I’d like to know what happened. Did you hit Molly? How did she get that cut on her face?”
“That was an accident,” Gwen said after a long silence. “After the fight with Helen, Molly was soaked. I did take her to the bathroom to clean up, and I had heard she was sleeping with Damon. I overheard a group of junior analysts talking and laughing one day.”
“About the affair?”
“About me,” Gwen said. “They couldn’t believe how stupid I was. They wondered what had Damon so desperate that Molly looked like a good alternative. One of them said, ‘at least Molly got a promotion out of it.’ I couldn’t believe it. Every night I’d ask Damon who he was working with. Every night he’d say Molly, as if he wasn’t even ashamed of it. I was a joke to him, too. I watched and waited, saw how Molly was changing, and it all made sense. She was making herself look better for him. When Helen attacked her, I prayed she would choke her out and that I wouldn’t have to do what I had been planning on doing for weeks, but it wouldn’t have sent the same message.”
“That my husband wasn’t there for the taking. First Lena, then Molly. There were others, too.”
“You knew about Lena Garza?”
“Everyone knew about Lena and about how pissed she was that she was passed over for the promotion. Rumors spread fast.”
“Isn’t that the truth? You figured you’d make an example out of Molly, that the rumor mill would keep the other women away from Damon when word got out that you had something to do with what happened to her?”
“You’re giving me too much credit. The suspicion would have been enough. Everyone knew I was with Molly that night.”
“You played the part of the concerned benefactor the whole way, right?”
Gwen nodded. “She dried her dress, washed her hands, and I offered her the lotion.”
“She didn’t suspect anything and you weren’t worried because you had protective gloves on under the satin ones. You knew to be careful.”
“She covered her hands with it, even commenting on how good it smelled, like almonds. I had a second thought, but it was too late. Molly started breathing fast, clutching her chest. She came at me for help in a panic and when I put my hands out to hold her off, she got cut on my ring. She stumbled into the bathroom stall, saying she was going to be sick. She hit her head and she was out. I threw everything in the trash and covered it with paper towels figuring the cleaning staff would have it out of there in no time. That no one would ever find it.”
“But someone did,” Kurt said. “Did you ever wonder why Molly had gotten the promotion over Lena if the determining factor was sex with your husband?”
“Apparently Molly had something Lena didn’t.”
“A work ethic,” Kurt said matter-of-factly. “Molly wasn’t sleeping with Damon. Lena was, and she knew how to work the rumor mill. Spreading lies about Molly was a way of getting the attention off of herself, of deflecting and dealing with the anger of losing the promotion she hadn’t earned, if I had to guess. Who knows, eventually Molly might have gotten wind of things, been embarrassed into finding another job and Lena could get another chance. Molly wasn’t privy to the office gossip and likely had no idea what people were saying about her. The few who really knew her knew the accusations were ridiculous. Not everyone believes office gossip, Gwen.”
A tear rolled down her pale cheek. “Unfortunately, some people do.”
New Year’s Restitutions
Copyright © 2014 Belinda Frisch
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
If you have enjoyed New Year's Restitutions, try Fatal Reaction, the first in the Anneliese Ashmore medical thriller/mystery series for only $2.99. Re-releasing through Thomas & Mercer in June 2015. Available now as an independently published novel.