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Vest of Rocks
My dad was out on a kayak trip testing to see if the boats floated before we did a full day trip. After about two hours, he had yet to return leaving my imagination to soar. Props to my mother for coming up with the title.
It is the middle of the night for sure, thought Skip. The inky-black water tugged gently at his uniform as he walked along the shoreline. The starless sky made anything impossible to see. In fact, if it weren’t for the flashlight clenched between his fingers, he wouldn’t have been able to see his own hand. This is ridiculous. If we haven’t found him already, what makes us think we can find him now? Skip continued forward when he felt something slimy brush up against his shin. He swallowed hard before shining his light in the water. A fish? Too shallow. A snake, perhaps. The light sliced through the ripples. To his dismay, it was no water dweller. A hand, swollen from extensive water absorption, was lifelessly grabbing at his leg.
Skip Arcos had always had one dream. Just one. He wanted to be on the police force. With all that authority, a pair of shiny handcuffs, high speed chases, and all while making the world a safer place, Skip couldn’t think of one reason not to. Now, he had one.
He pulled the rest of the figure out onto the sand and willed himself not to lose his lunch. Shakily, the man radioed in to his partner, Marina. Almost instantly, she rowed the small boat over to where he was. Marina looked over the disfigured body before pulling out a black bag. Without hesitation, the body was placed inside and loaded up into the back of the car.
“Nice work, Skip.” She started the engine and handed him a brown bag. “This is your first finding, ain’t it?”
“Yes.” He peaked into the bag. “Empty?”
“You’re a little green.”
The man felt the fear in his throat still along with some other things, but he couldn’t toss in front of his partner. She didn’t need to know how weak he was. As it was, Skip was already teased for being the youngest on the force at twenty-two. Marina was in second at twenty-five, but, unlike himself, nothing seemed to bother her. “How do we know it’s him?”
“Water usually disfigures them and with the hungry fish…” She stopped and looked at her partner who was turning greener every second. Yet, he was refusing to use the bag. “We’ll do DNA testing, fingerprint matching, all that fun stuff.” Marina turned left onto Lincoln Boulevard before squeezing his shoulder. “You’re tougher than we all thought, kid.”
He felt like his was swimming. No, anything but swimming. Flying. It was the first compliment he had gotten in the three months he had been working there. Except while Skip was absorbing the praise, he completely forgot what he was preventing. And soon, the brown bag became full.
“Or not,” Marina put the car in park and opened the trunk.
It was well past midnight when the doorbell rang. Susan sleepily put on her bathrobe and a pair of slippers. She climbed down the stairs and opened the door.
“Yes.” Her heart was pounding when she realized her late night guests were armed and in uniform. “May I help you?”
“Marina Focas of the Pinewood Police Department. This is my partner, Skip Arcos. May we come inside?”
Susan stepped aside and let them in. She walked to the kitchen and started boiling water for coffee. The woman came back with three cups. Skip drank his gratefully, but stopped when he noticed Marina hadn’t even touched hers. “I apologize for the mess.”
“That’s okay. We-” Marina was cut off by thudding on the stairs. A little girl with two curly blonde pigtails sleepily rubbed her big blue eyes. Under one arm was a ragged teddy bear.
“Is Daddy home?”
Skip could count on one hand how many times he’d seen his partner’s strong frame melt away. Susan excused herself and brought the child back upstairs to bed.
“Sorry about that. Isabel doesn’t fall asleep as well without a bedtime story from her father.”
Marina swallowed and tried again. No words. So, Skip took over. “We found your husband.”
Her face lit up. “That’s great.”
“He’s in our custody at the moment,” the man continued.
“When will he back home?”
“Umm...he won’t be coming back home.” Skip’s voice was barely audible.
Susan bursted into tears. Obviously, she heard him.
Marina found some inner strength and continued with the second part of the meeting. “We found him a ten thirty in the lake. His life vest was filled with rocks suggesting foul play. Do you know anything about it?”
“You think I killed my husband?” The sobs became louder and louder. “Are you insane?!”
“Shhh...you might wake Isabel up.” Marina’s voice was calmer than anyone in the room was feeling. “We are not saying you killed him. We are wondering if you know of anyone that might have wanted to do that.”
“Get. Out. Of. My. House.”
Skip stood on command, but his partner remained seated. Eventually, she stood. “If you think of anything.” The red-haired officer placed an index card on the coffee table.
“You find anything?” Skip had been working alongside Marina the past three hours researching everything and anything they could on Jim Smith.
“He just got promoted to head logger.”
“Where?” Marina gazed over the top of the monitor.
“Umm...Minnesota Logging Company.”
Marina nodded and made a couple more clicks on her own screen. “And military experience?”
Skip jumped back a page. “Two years stationed in Persian Gulf with US Navy.”
Marina nodded and continued to scan the page.
“You already knew that, didn’t you?”
“Get back to work, Arcos.”
“Hold on. You were checking how I was doing. You do care!”
Her face remained straight. “We have a potential homicide case and you’re blabbing about my research.”
He tilted the chair back and peeked at the corner of the screen. “You’re supposed to work with me.”
“I work solo. They just threw you in the department with me.”
The words were like a slap in the face to Skip. He had been told that his tests proved his detective skills to be higher than average. And he truly thought Marina enjoyed having him as a partner.
“Now you gonna cry or continue searching for the cause of this poor man’s death?”
Skip nodded and spun a pencil through his fingers. “Why would he sink if he had all that background from the Navy?”
When she refused to answer, he threw out the only answer he could think of. “PTSD?”
“Not with the way that little girl needed him.”
“Training would have kicked in.”
“Exactly,” Marina smiled and checked her watch.
They continued reading through the files in silence. Marina held one up. “The day prior the incident, a neighbor called in to report a very loud verbal fight.”
“Which means Susan might have sabotaged the rocks in the vest…”
Another officer came in with the DNA scanning of the rocks. Skip took it and his face dropped. His partner already knew.
“Let me guess…”
Susan heard the doorbell ring again. She picked herself up off the couch and wiped her face. Once again, the same two officers were standing there. “Go away.”
Marina caught sight of Isabel dancing in her ballet shoes and instantly froze. Skip nudged her before starting the speech they practiced in the car. “Mrs. Smith, we have done some research and have found your DNA on the rocks placed within the vest. We need you to come down to the station and answer a few questions.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to get my daughter to ballet practice. You and your stupid questions can wait.”
Isabel was smiling as she twirled from toe to toe. Clearly she didn’t know her father was dead yet. Her tiny eyes met with Marina’s. Skip watched as both the females softened.
Marina turned to Skip and adjusted the collar of her vest. “Yes?”
Susan slammed the door behind Skip leaving them to privacy. He looked at his partner. “Bring the girl to ballet.”
“What? That’s unorthodox.”
“It’s the only way we can get information from Susan down at the station.”
She shook her head. “I have a loaded pistol in my holster and you want me to bring a six year old to ballet class?”
“Come on, Marina.”
“Fine,” Skip threw his hands in the air. “Listen, Officer Focas, either you woman up and drive that kid to ballet or we lose this entire case.”
Marina shook her head. “Why can’t you?”
“Because you’re a female. Females relate better with kids. And in general.” He tucked his sunglasses back into his pocket. “Please. We’re gonna lose this one if you don’t.”
Marina was interrupted by the minivan peeling out at the end of the drive. Susan flipped them the bird as she drove past. “I’d say we already have.”
Skip and Marina had a very quiet drive back to the station.
“What do we tell-”
“Nothing,” she cut him off. “We say nothing.”
And so they did. Skip wandered to his desk and began pulling up files. Marina went down to target practice. No one asked them questions. Skip had eventually found himself asleep against the folders and drooling just slightly.
“Hey, don’t ruin those!”
He jumped up and lingered his hand over his pistol as Marina pushed him aside and pulled the soggy folders.
“No sleeping on the files. If you’re that tired, get the hell out of here and become a librarian!”
He rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. It’s just this case has been getting to me at night.”
“Yeah, you found your first dead guy. Get over it.”
She snatched the files and stormed away. He followed her with his eyes until she disappeared behind the stacks of files on the desk. He watched carefully as Marina fidgeted with the pistol before putting it on the stack. His eyes noticed something for the first time, the glittering stone perched on Marina’s left hand.
“Hey, Officer Focas?”
“Shut up and get to work.”
Skip stood and walked over to the desk. “You never told me you were married.”
Her nose twitched slightly. “You never told me you drooled in your sleep.”
He pulled up a chair. “So someone was able to conquer you?”
“Alright.” He sat there silently before pulling in a large breath. “But here’s the thing.”
Her eyes were murderous as she looked up. “Would you care to investigate your own death?”
“You’re married. You know the way women act in love, or not.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying you can connect with Susan Smith better than I can. Become her friend, not an officer on duty. Get all up in the feels of things.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that.”
“But, it’s a flawless plan.”
Marina sighed. “Fine. I’ll give you that much credit.”
Skip jumped up from his seat. “So you’ll do it?”
“I’ll do it.”
“I look stupid.” Those were Marina’s first words as she stepped out of the dressing room in a knee length velvety-red dress. Her hair had been curled down past her shoulders and she even put on a little makeup.
Skip slowly rose from the plush chair. He had no words. “Officer Focas…”
“I. Look. Stupid.”
He smiled. “You look like a woman.”
“I find that offensive.” Marina stumbled away in the four inch heels.
He raced after her, though it wasn’t all that hard. “How? You are a woman.”
“Women aren’t head of the forensics force, Detective.”
He stared at her. “But this is the tw-”
“Look around you, Skip. Use your eyes. What do you see?”
“A bunch of bras and panties?”
She shook her head, trying to hide a smile. “There are no strong women here, Detective, if I should even call you that.”
Skip let out a deep sigh and proceeded to the cash register, where he dug out his wallet and slapped the change into the worker’s hand. Marina continued to the car, still in the dressy clothes.
“Let’s just get this mission over and call it a day, shall we?”
He rolled his eyes and popped open the squad car door. He shoved a piece of gum between his teeth. “That’s all this is to you? A mission?”
“You’re not enjoying this even a little bit?”
She threw her eyes in his direction. They dug deep into his soul.
“Okay. Fine.” He waved his hands in the air and ignited the beast within the engine. “I owe you a lunch then.”
“Hey hotshot, I’m married.”
“It was a friendly suggestion.”
Marina nodded, not entirely convinced, and turned to look out the window. “Let me out here.”
The brakes squealed with vigor as Skip pounded all his weight on the pedal. Marina tugged on the handle and, with a curt nod, stumbled down the sidewalk looking more like a drunkard rather than a model wife. Skip shook his head and turned back the other direction.
Susan answered the door once more. Laying her eyes on Marina’s face, her weary eyes ignited. “What the hell do you want?”
“Search me if you will, but I am not here on police duty.”
Her eyes lowered. Tongue running against her bottom teeth. “Why are you here?”
“Listen, I...I knew Jim. Very well, actually.”
“We went to school together.”
“He never men-”
“It was a tough break for him when I left to…” She c***ed her head drilling for any thought. “When I left to…”
“No, you see. College wasn’t really my forte. I went to the police academy straight from graduation. Literally, they sent me on a plane still in my robes.”
“Easy, Focas,” her partner warned through the earpiece that she regretted wearing.
Marina made a subtle itch in her ear, pulling out the device and crushing it beneath the heel.
“What was that?”
“A tick. Hate those blood-thirsty bastards.” The officer looked up at the woman and smiled. “May I come inside?”
Susan was speechless. She glared at the woman for quite some time before opening the door wider. “Sure.”
Marina stepped inside and looked around. “Nice place you got.”
“You know, I wish my hubby would step up to the plate once and awhile and get us a place like this. Our bedroom is literally three feet from the toilet and two from the door. Cozy in the winter, but cutthroat in the summer.”
“Yeah. But I gotta love him.”
Susan looked down at her hands. “Can I get you anything? Milk? Water? Tea? Beer?”
Marina shook her head, but followed Susan to the kitchen, where she pulled out a high stool. “I don’t drink. You?”
“Not since we had Isabel.”
“Oh, how’s she taking the news?”
“I...I haven’t told her yet.” The woman looked around again before taking a seat. “Can I tell you something?”
Marina’s eyes came as close as they ever would to dazzling. “Sure.”
“I’m scared to tell her. I’ve read that this kind of thing leads to major psychological conditions and lack of trust. Would you tell her if you were me?”
“Um...that’s...that’s a hard question. What are you telling her now?”
“He’s working double since I’m out of work.”
Marina tapped her fingers against the counter. “Out of work?”
“That sucks, but at least you get to spend time with Isabel.”
She smiled faintly. “Yeah, she’s a dear.” Her eyes wandered around until they looked at the clock. “I have one more secret: I killed my husband.”
Marina’s jaw dropped. “You what?”
She laughed. “Nah, I’m just messing with ya. Why would I kill the man of our children?”
The officer let out a disappointed, yet relieved, sigh. “Wait a second, children?”
Susan wrung her hands together. “I found out two months ago. The day he went missing, I was going to tell him.”
Marina felt a smile come to her face. “Congrats. Is Isabel happy to have a-”
“She doesn’t exactly know.”
The officer felt a slight buzz in her new purse. No doubt Skip. “Well, why don’t you go tell her.”
“Shoot. I was supposed to pick her up twenty minutes ago.”
Marina smiled once more and headed to the door. “Have fun.”
“Hey, do you want to go out for a girls’ night sometime?”
“Sure, why not.” Marina began walking down the street with a smug smile on her face. She had no idea why, but she was pleased that Susan wasn’t actually the murderer.
“Susan Smith’s DNA is on everything. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s the killer.” Skip looked across the board room, meeting his nervous eyes with each and every other officer in the room. “The reports claimed that there was a dispute there the night before thus giving her a motive. Her DNA was on the rocks, the vest, and even the man himself. All signs point straight to-”
“What are you doing?” Marina barged in on her partner.
“Is that lipstick, Officer Focas?” Someone called out.
Skip look straight at her. The panic was clear on her face. “While you were having a bit too much fun bonding with the woman, we did what detectives were supposed to and used concrete evidence, aka DNA samples, and found the killer of Jim Smith.”
She almost grabbed him by the collar of his jacket. The stare of the chief was the only thing saving Skip’s neck in that moment. “You say one more word and you’re dead, Skip Arcos. Dead.” Her warm breath blew across his face.
Skip slowly backed away fixing the collar of his jacket. “Hey, Officer Focas? Is that...lipstick right there?”
She clenched and unclenched her fists before storming out of the board room.
“As I was saying, Susan Smith is our killer. We must find her and give no mercy. She is a psychotic killer.”
The sentence seem to stir the room. The chief came forward and slapped Skip on the back a couple times before leaving to his own office. The other officers all began loading their pistols, readying their tasers, and adjusting their scanners. They were ready.
“Dead.” Marina stepped away from the coroner and faced the swirl of blue lights. The breeze blew back the hair she gave no attention to that morning. In fact, the call had come in at 2:56 that morning. She remembered precisely because she answered a crying little girl. Isabel. And now Isabel was nowhere to be found.
She looked up from her feet and saw the smug grin plastered on Skip’s face. A little lower sat a shiny new badge. “Head detective, I see.”
“You never answered me.”
She brushed her hair back. “I don’t cry, Detective.”
“Really? Even with your best friend in the whole wide world lying in a body bag ten feet away?”
Marina placed her cold hands on either side of his neck. “I don’t know what made you such an arrogant asshole all of a sudden, but tone it down, boy.”
“I’m just doing what you taught me: working solo.”
“Yeah, which is the exact reason why this woman is dead. Because you were so busy trying to be the top dog for once in your life that you forgot about one thing. DNA samples can be framed. Fingerprints, not so much. You only have what? A couple strands of hair and a little blood and you want to go and arrest the woman with a whole army of SWAT officers? Had you done what you always did and stayed in the background and observe, maybe then you’d realize that this woman had absolutely no reason to kill her husband. None.”
“You want an applause of something, not-so-tough-girl?”
She pushed him backwards into a roll of caution tape. “You want to save the day? Go for it. But, I’m going to go find Isabel before anything happens to her.”
As she stormed off, Skip placed his hands where hers sat moments earlier. They were cold and raw and missing one thing. Her wedding ring.
He spun and looked over his shoulder. “Yes, chief.”
“I think you might want to look at this.”
Skip tried his hardest not to run over to the front door. There was a tiny pool of blood and in it were two objects he’d been too familiar with. A pistol. And a wedding ring looped within the trigger.
Marina searched high and low for Isabel all over town. And then it hit her. She hijacked a bicycle and pedaled as hard as she possibly could across town to the Minnesota Logging Company. Sure enough, Isabel was sitting there with a handful of change clenched in her left fist and a teddy bear in the other.
“There you are.”
“I’m waiting for Daddy to get out.” She rubbed her sleepy eyes with the teddy bear. Her nightgown was draped over her thin body. Her feet were bare.
Marina took a seat on the bench beside her. “How long you been here?”
“I left after I called you.” The girl rested her head against the officer. “Is Mommy alright?”
She squeezed her arm tight. “What happened, honey? Do you know?”
“I know. I was waiting for Daddy to come and read me a story.”
“Well, how bout we tell a story right now? Let’s start with dinner and then go to this morning.”
“Are you going to start it?” Her big brown eyes shined with the rising sun.
“Alright, alright. Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She loved to dance and she’d dance all around the house.”
“Until her mother called her to the table for dinner. It was broccoli and chicken, something the girl hated. But the little dancer was hungry and ate it all up. Then, feeling tired. The girl turned into a scuba diver and explore the rough waters of the bathtub. Her boat sang when the phone rang, but all the dolphins went and brought it back up to-.”
“Wait a second, did you say the phone rang?”
“Yeah. Anyway, the dolphins brought it up to the-”
“Don’t know, but he made Mommy mad.” The girl danced around her teddy bear. “So the dolphins brought the boat back up just as it was bedtime. Mommy tried reading a story when the phone rang again. She kept reading to the little girl and then kissed her forehead lightly before tucking in the girl beneath a lot of blankets. But the little dancer waited and waited and waited and waited for her Daddy to come in. So when the doorbell rang, the girl got all excited and-”
“And what?” Marina looked down at the child, who was drifting off on her lap.
“And then this...this man...walked in with his….big...clunky…”
Marina stared at Isabel for quite some time, but she was out cold. She reached over to her radio. “Chief, I think I have a breakthrough.”
“And I think I do too.” Skip closed the door of the police car and walked over, jingling the handcuffs in his hands.
“Isabel knows who the killer is.”
He shook his head and tucked his sunglasses in his jacket. “I thought she would.” The metal bit into her wrists. “Marina Focas, you are under arrest for the murder of Susan Smith, the murder of Jim Smith, and the attempted murder of Isabel Smith.”
Marina was sitting on a cold metal chair with her bound wrists atop the table. For the past hour she’d been there. The metal bindings feeding on the skin. And the general lack of excitement fed on her thoughts. Why was she here? Why was she under arrest of all people?
“Miss Focas,” Skip walked in removing his obnoxiously large sunglasses and pulled a seat out across from her.
“Who’s up there?” She gestured the mirror over her left shoulder.
“None of your business, pedestrian.”
“I’m your partner!”
“Actually, you were fired yesterday. We don’t take murderers on our side to protect the city. Especially when they misuse the weaponry.”
“What the hell are-”
“Don't try to play me, Marina. It won't work this time.”
“I'm innocent, Skip.”
“I have no DNA samples to prove that.”
“Do you have any more to prove that I am?”
Skip pulled a plastic bag from behind him. Within it sat a tiny metal band topped with a blood soaked diamond.
Marina gasped, “My ring.”
“Thought you'd recognize it.”
“Where did you find it?”
He tucked it back in his pocket. “I thought you'd know.”
She drew her hands back to her chest. Her head lowered by Skip’s ear. “Who’s up in that window?”
He stared at her. “People. People that trusted you.”
“That’s obviously why you’re down here then.” Marina spun towards the window. “Hey, geniuses, not sure if you noticed, but I was at the office during the death of Jim Smith. Chief, you can testify to that. And I was in bed during the murder of Susan Smith. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to kill that little girl.”
Skip cleared his throat. “Marina.”
“Ex-officer Focas,” he corrected. “Please, just calm down and tell us what you know.”
“I know that you’re an asshole.”
“And I know that everything that you need to know is with Isabel. But apparently, you already have all the proof you need through DNA that you don’t even need testimonies or alibis thrown in there.” She crossed her arms to the best of her ability and stared at him, her mouth not budging.
“Fine.” He rose from his seat and headed towards the door. “Two can play at this game.”
“That was the most distasteful flirting I had ever witnessed in my life,” an officer later told Skip while they were sitting back at their desks shooting the breeze with bread-wrapped salami.
“Flirting?” Skip nearly choked on his sandwich.
“Come on, you got the hots for Marina Focas.” The other officer took a bite of his sandwich and, while chewing, added, “And I sure as hell don’t blame you.”
“What are you even talking about?”
“Officer….er...ex-officer Focas, is the hot ticket in this place. That’s half the reason I think she got married.”
“I thought she had fallen in love.”
“Marina? Love? In the same sentence? You’re real funny, Skip.”
“So...so why did they get married then?” His interest was more in the words spilling from the officer’s mouth than the salami tucked in the corner of his mouth.
“Beats me. But have you seen the guy?”
Skip shook his head.
“Huge. I think he’s a logger or something. We used to joke around saying that Marina only married him because he was thick-skinned enough to put up with her.”
“Not even the thickest skin can do that, Pete.”
Pete laughed. “Give her some slack sometimes, Skip. She’s the only woman in a building full of armed men 24/7. It’s how she holds her own.”
Skip nodded slowly. His sandwich swirled around in his stomach. Since college, Marina had absolutely no ‘woman bonding’ and there he was criticizing her for enjoying one day of it.
Pete looked up, topping of his sandwich. “Where you going? We have a case to examine!”
“Just a second and I’ll be right back. Just...one…”
He plowed directly into a boulder of a man.
“What the hell are you doing, kid?” The man’s eyes narrowed. “You’re the one that I want.”
“Ooo...ooo...ooo?” He laughed nervously and wiped his hands against his pant legs. “No? Not a Grease fan? Alright. I’ll just be-”
The man wrapped a meaty arm around his wrist. The heat of it alone seared into Skip’s skin.
“You the one that took my wife away?”
He stared at the man before letting it all sink in. Huge. Logger type of build. Wife. It was either Jim Smith or Marina’s husband. And he had pulled Jim’s lifeless corpse from the water several days ago. He swallowed hard.
“Yes, I...I arrested your wife….Mr...Mr Focas.”
Mr Focas nodded and gripped tighter. “You gonna let me see her?”
“I….I guess so.”
Skip led him down to the interrogation rooms, upon where Marina sat, still shackled, tense in the metal chair. He closed the door and headed to the viewing area. Instantly, the man’s ruggedness transformed into that of a baby rabbit. His eyes softened. His tone dropped to a whisper. And his hands. They rubbed against the tops of Marina’s ever so slightly. Skip felt something rise up in his throat.
She stayed with her eyes down on the floor and her hands under his.
“Come on, baby. We’ll get through this.”
Her eyes slowly lifted up to meet his. Instead of kissing, as Skip had originally thought they would, Marina moved her face close to his and then pushed him backwards against the wall. Her cuffed hands pounded against his chest. The man just stood there trying to reason.
“Baby, I know you’re stressed, but-”
Another couple of punches.
Two officers came in. One pulled back the estranged Marina. The other removed her husband. Skip continued to watch until his former partner cooled down, which was only a matter of seconds after her husband’s departure.
“Detective Arcos?” Pete peeked his head through the door.
“Um...yeah. I’ll be right there.” Peering one last glance over at Marina, Skip turned and reached for the door. Only then did he notice the purples coating his wrist where the man’s grip once was. Similar shades of purples that he had remembered seeing on Susan Smith before her death.
She raised her head. Her eyes were bloodshot and standing above large purple bags.
She rose to her feet and slowly walked out into the hallway. It was a process she had been doing quite frequently the past few hours. Crucial hours. Her heart was no longer into protesting the questioning. Her mind no longer had answers. Marina was imprisoned. Imprisoned by the fact that she had knowledge to solve the crime. Imprisoned by her own ways. Imprisoned by the blur of events and the smile upon Isabel’s tiny face. Her emotions swirled around within her to the point that they were all jumbled. Happiness was sadness, which was anger and fear. Everything was wrong. Everything was gone.
It never even came back as Skip sat down in front of her with a pen and a small slip of paper. He smiled. She sat down. Straight-faced. Emotionless. The Marina Focas he once worked with was gone.
“Can you tell me exactly what happened the day of Susan Smith’s murder?”
She sighed. “I can’t.”
“I wasn’t there.”
“Well, what were you doing then?”
“Being stood up.”
“At a restaurant?”
“My husband.” Her hands clenched into fists. “My no good, lying, cheating-”
She stopped and lowered her head. Skip lifted the pen and smiled weakly. “Tell me more.”
“Because I myself am not entirely sure.”
“Well, tell me where I can find Isabel.”
Marina knew the address like the back of her hand. “Belmonte Boulevard. 4819. She’s with a grandmother. Jim’s mom.”
“Whatever.” As Skip walked to the door, she mumbled. “It was him.”
He spun. “What? What...did you say?”
Her eyes lit up. “It was him. He did that to your arm.”
Skip looked down at his sleeve covered wrist. He slowly rolled it up revealing the intensity of the black bruise. “How-”
“I was the best in the business, Detective.”
Skip smiled and walked back to the door. Under his breath, he mumbled, “And you will be again.”
Isabel couldn’t sit still. There were thousands of places, the doctor and dentist included, where she would much rather have been. But no, she was sitting there on the thatched chair across from Detective Skip Arcos as he scribbled everything down on the pad.
“So, Iz, did your parents fight a lot?”
He too was fidgeting. Never was he comfortable around children, nevermind young ones while trying to investigate a murder. Technically, two.
“Okay, what did they do?”
“Tucked me in, brought me to ballet, watched dancing movies, and read stories. Lots of stories.”
He sighed. Course the child would know nothing.
“But Daddy never came home. He went on a boat trip. Mommy and I were ‘posed to go too.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Mommy wasn’t feeling good.”
“Was she sick?”
“No. Just wasn’t feeling good.”
“Alright.” He scribbled down the notes. “Anything else?”
“Mommy planned this huge dinner and I got to wear a dress. A fancy one.”
“But he never came home.”
Isabel nodded. “Yeah.”
Skip tore out a piece of paper and handed it to the girl. “Can you draw what you saw the night your Mommy died?”
She reached her grubby hands in the direction of the box of crayons. Skip shook his head. How trustworthy could a six year old’s drawings be? But Isabel seemed determined to get it right. She picked brown first. Then green. Then black. A whole rainbow of darks spread across the page. When she held it up, Skip almost slipped off the chair.
It was childish. But it had what he needed. A pair of brown boots and pants. A green jacket. Camo. And a black pistol. None were connected into the ways of a person, stick figure or not. Skip felt his hands shaking.
She nodded. “I called him Boots.”
“Boots.” He looked down at the paper. It was time to make another visit with the wonderful Marina Focas.
“Boots?” Marina looked up from the drawing. “You’ve now switched your hunch from DNA and blood samples to kindergarten scribbles to prove me guilty.”
He held his breath. “Not guilty.”
She stared him down.
“If you can help me answer a couple more questions, I might be able to prove your innocence.”
“The innocence that you took away in the first place?”
“Alright, alright. Let’s not hash up the past.”
She looked back down at the drawing. “Who is this Boots?”
“I ask the questions around here,” he smiled and lifted up his notebook to cover his red face. Pete didn’t need to see that again. “Question one. What does your husband do for a living?”
He nodded. “Question two. What can you tell me about Susan Smith?”
“She was lonely.”
“I spent one afternoon with her and you want me to tell you about her whole life?”
He smirked. “What about injuries? Anything?”
“None that I could see.”
“Any motive to kill her husband?”
Marina took a deep breath. “None. She was a happy mother of two.”
Skip followed her eyes. They remained on his chin. “Alright. Question three.You claim to have been stood up the night of Susan Smith’s murder. Explain.”
Her eyes soften slightly. “That’s not a question.”
“Miss Focas, please.”
“Greg, my husband, and I...um...we don’t get to see each other much with both of us working all the time. He planned a date night and said he’d pick me up at six. I waited until eleven before I fell asleep. Three hours later I got a call from Isabel worrying about an intruder.”
“How did she have your number?”
“I gave it to her...in case she needed someone to talk to.”
Skip smiled. Marina wasn’t all that tough to him anymore. Or maybe he had just met her level. “Final question.”
“Do you plead innocence?”
She laughed. A whole hearted laugh. “Really? That’s your final question? What about the ring? Your key piece of evidence.”
He looked at her. “You never shoot left handed. That’s the only way the ring could have gotten jammed in there. Come on, you don’t think I didn’t pick up on that?”
She met his eyes. Slowly she was reviving her old self. “Detective.”
“Do you plead innocence?”
“Yes. I do.”
“We have the hair twined with the rocks in the vest. The ring stuck in the trigger. A small sample of blood. And both Susan’s and Marina’s fingerprints all over the crime scene.” Skip looked out into the crowd of news reporters, officers, and the occasional pedestrian. In the front row sat Marina, handcuffed to an officer, and Isabel, looking around with her giant eyes.
“Jim Smith, logger, was found in the nearby pond. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His life vest was filled with rocks. Susan Smith, unemployed, was found in her very household. She too was pronounced dead at the scene. Complications of bullet wound. These murders are not random. They were carefully planned.” He unintentionally looked down at Marina.
“And, upon the sketching of a little girl, their daughter, Isabel, we have been able to track down the killer.” Skip rubbed his palms against his pant legs and looked down at the child, who waved. He laughed and waved back. His face turned to all seriousness. “We have not apprehended the killer yet, however.”
The crowd went insane. Reporters loaded all the questions onto Skip. He just tapped the microphone.
“Excuse me. We have however surrounded the murderer.”
The cameras turned to Marina, despite the fact that she was handcuffed already. She looked up at Skip with pitiful eyes. He tilted his head and she nodded.
“The killer is...Greg Focas.”
“Boots,” Isabel gasped and tucked her face into the seat.
Greg stood and nearly charged down Skip. “What the hell is this? First my wife and now me?”
The detective remained calm. “Jim Smith was your employee, but he was also the old flame of your wife. You became jealous knowing that they had been going out for lunches every now and then. So mad that you told his wife, Susan Smith, who claimed to know nothing of the sorts. She even said that her husband was devoted to her family as she was expecting their second child. So you confronted your wife, ending in a brutal fight. But she was stronger than you and won.
“Knowing that it continued, you began threatening a woman who already had psychological flaws from a boating accident as a teenager. She didn’t stop her husband from meeting with his friends. Until you realized that they were more than friends. So you stuffed his vest with rocks, that match with the ones from the logging site, unbeknownst that you had a piece of Susan’s hair on your sleeve. But that worked out for you, didn’t it? All you had to do was make sure you drugged him and then tipped the boat.
“Your wife was crushed when seeing that her boyfriend was dead. And you were the first one she confronted. It was only a matter of time before she had the entire thing solved, so you decided to kill Susan, someone who she had recently began spending time with, posed as her. You set up the date and everything. When she was asleep, you slipped off the ring and took the pistol. You killed Susan Smith to get your wife off the force.”
Greg stood and stared at him. His fists clenched and he turned to Marina. He lowered his face to hers, grabbing the collar of her white blouse. “What did you-”
Skip leaned in over the microphone. “Greg Focas, you are under arrest for the murders of Jim and Susan Smith. Anything you say can and will be held against you in court.” He nodded and Pete came over, clasping the cuffs on the man. He threw Skip a ring of keys on the way out.
“Oh...before you leave. I believe our chief has an announcement. Chief?”
The elderly man slowly climbed onto the stage. “There has been a lot of confusion in the past two weeks, but I can assure you there was only one mistake that was the biggest. Marina Focas, you are now back on the force. Head detective.”
The crowd clapped and began to file out. Skip began to free his old partner when she grabbed his non-bruised wrist. “You do this?”
He smiled. “Meet me outside.”
“Alright, spill the beans, hotshot.”
Skip smiled and pointed to the park. “Walk and talk?”
“More talk than walk.”
He smiled and crossed the street, avoiding all the flashing cameras. “First, I apologize for being a complete jerk and accusing you in the first place.”
“Accept the accusation. You were doing your job with the evidence.”
“And the jerk part?”
She slapped his back. “You were holding your own.”
“Is...is that a good thing?”
“It means you’re going far, Skip.” Marina looked around, taking deep breaths of the fresh air. “How did you find out all of that information?”
“Did some research. Detective work.”
“How’d you really do it?”
“I watched you. Not...not creepily. I observed you? Ah...forget it.”
Marina smiled at his red face. “You did good out there. Always trust your gut in these things.”
“My gut made me throw up a salami sandwich.”
They laughed and walked in silence for a while.
“You could have left out the affair part though. Really wrecked my reputation.”
She nudged his arm and continued to walk. Skip sided up to her. “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you marry Greg anyway?”
“Because...because I thought I knew what love was.”
“What about Jim? You love him still?”
She smiled. “Loving a dead guy seems a little too much.”
“What about what?”
Skip paled out and stuck his hands deep in his pocket. His bottom lip jutted out as he started at the ground.
Marina took a step closer. “What about a young detective with a lot to learn about women? Seems kinda iffy. You know, hard to hide the fact that I enjoy his company out here. Hard to find friends out on the force, especially this one.”
He looked up and smiled. “You knew?”
“You’re not the only detective in this world.”
“Alright, I’ll just say it. I love you, Officer Focas.”
She smiled and stuck out her hand. “Marina. And I’d love to be your friend.”
Skip shook it, slightly deflated. “Friend zone?”
“Population’s only one.”
They exchanged smiles and continued walking down the cobblestone park path with the light mist sticking to their hair and clothes.
“Detective Focas! There’s a hostage at the downtown bank, calling shots?”
Marina glanced over her shoulder over at Skip, who was enjoying a salami sandwich over the classified files. “Calling shots?”
He met her eyes and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “Shotgun.”
She spun back to the chief. “We’re on it.”
Marina placed her loaded pistol into her holster and turned to Skip, who was enjoying the last sliver of his sandwich. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”
“I hope so. Those hostages can’t just sit around for you all day.”
“You know you love me.”
“I’d say no, but you’d hook me to the lie detector,” she laughed and flew out the building. Skip adjusted his badge and put on his sunglasses following after his partner.