Free subscriptions to Moondance

Fiction

Victim No More

          Debbie stopped herself from ringing the doorbell to Cindy’s house again since obviously her sister was not home. She started to turn away, forcing down a shiver from the cold night air, but she had been in such a hurry when she had fled from Billy, that she had not even closed the apartment door behind her, much less worried about bringing a coat. Coming had been a bad idea, she decided. She knew what her sister would say, and it wouldn’t help. But as she turned to go, a ray of light flashed out briefly from a peep-hole and then she heard a chain-lock being loosened in a hurry and the door was yanked open.

          “My God, Debbie! What happened to you?” Cindy was staring out at her sister, her face revealing shock and anger, as she quickly refastened a small clip-on ruby earring. “I’m sorry it took so long to answer, but I was on the phone. Jesus! Look at you! Did he –”

          “No, I walked into a door again.” Debbie tried weakly to make a joke out of it, but smiling hurt too much. A familiar coppery taste filled her mouth, as fresh blood crept out from the scabs on her lip. “A real big door this time.” Suddenly the tough facade she had put on crumbled and she couldn’t stop the flooding tears that she had kept back. Debbie reached out for Cindy and clung to her, sobbing. All the betrayal, fear and pain poured out of her as she let herself be drawn into the house and to the living-room couch, still in her sister’s protecting arms.

          Even at thirty – her sister just a year older – Debbie always felt so young around Cindy.  Her sister had a small business of her own that was doing well, a house, a new car – all the signs of success, while she herself still rented an apartment, drove an old wreck, worked as a clerk in a law office, and went to school part-time.

          Like always, sharing the pain helped. As the tears ran dry she looked up, knowing her makeup had to be a washed out disaster, and she let go of Cindy. She felt a little embarrassed about losing control like that and looked for a tissue. But Cindy was already holding out a bunch.

          “Here, blow,” her sister commanded. “Then tell me what the hell that bastard did to you.”

          “It was my fault,” she protested. “I was late home from work and I had a bunch of studying to do. And I forgot that I had promised Billy I’d go out with him –”


          “And that gives him the right to beat the living shit out of you?” Cindy interrupted and glared. “Take a look at yourself.” She grabbed Debbie by the arm and pulled her up and over to the long mirror that hung on the wall in the foyer. Then she turned on the overhead light — a bright, unforgiving light.

         Debbie stared at her reflection and cringed.

          Her hair, normally a fluffy cloud of dark blond curls, was matted and flat from the light drizzle that had started as she got halfway to Cindy’s, and her make-up was streaked and clumped around her eyes from crying. She looked like a raccoon!

          Her eyes unfocused and she stared numbly into the mirror for a moment, until she noticed Cindy’s scowling reflection behind her and forced herself to confront her own bruised and puffy face. A trickle of blood snaked down from the corner of her mouth and the right cheek, which was already red, blue and yellow with bruising, was swollen like a misplaced case of mumps. And there was a cut over her eye, too. It had scabbed, but dried blood stained the side of her face.

          Fleeing her face, her eyes dropped to her light-pink blouse which was ripped at the shoulder. One bra-strap had snapped when he had tried to rip her top off. He would have raped her, she realized, if she had not run away. And the short pleated navy skirt she had made was torn, too. Probably from when Billy had knocked her down onto the coffee table. It must have been the ears of the small marble horse she had landed on. She pulled up the skirt and saw a pair of angry bruises on her thigh.

          Suddenly a strong flash of memory overwhelmed her: the feel of the cool smoothness of the statuette when she had pulled it out from under her. She had actually been worried she might have broken it. But she couldn’t remember anything else after that. She had hit her head, she knew — when she had rolled off the table onto the floor. Maybe that was why she couldn’t remember?

          All at once she was aware of the contrast she saw in the mirror. Cindy and she looked a lot alike — though her sister had always been prettier — and they had often been taken for twins with streaks of individuality. But at the moment there was no resemblance between them at all. Cindy stood there looking beautiful while she herself looked like a derelict: dirty, ragged, and bruised.

          Debbie’s eyes started burning again and she turned away from the mirror. “Can I borrow your shower, and a nightgown?”

          Cindy jumped forward. “Sure, sis! Come on. You know where the bathroom is. Just give me your clothes and I’ll toss them in the washer. I’ve got a needle and thread and I’ll fix the blouse when it’s dry.”

          “Please, let me, in the morning,” Debbie interrupted, wincing as a sharp pain stabbed at her side while she was easing out of her blouse. “You might hurt yourself.” Cindy’s lack of skill with a needle was legendary. Then she gasped as pain shot through her again when she reached back to unhook her bra.

          From then on she was in a dream.

          She was only mildly aware, or interested, in taking off the rest of her clothes and getting under the hot shower. She roused briefly as she scrubbed angrily to get rid of all thoughts of Billy touching her, hurting her. But then she drifted back into a daze as she dried herself off, staining the big beach-towel with blood from freshly opened cuts. She was only vaguely aware of Cindy putting on antiseptics and dressings. And then of the delicious cool feel of a silk night-gown caressing her, as she was led to bed and tucked in snugly under a down comforter and left in silent, solitary darkness.

          Billy really hadn’t meant it, she decided. In the morning, she’d go home and apologize for running away.

* * *

          “I’m sorry honey! I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Billy cried as he leaned down to help her to her feet. The side of her face stung where he had slapped her, and her side was sore from hitting the bedpost when she had fallen back from the blow.

          He kissed her gently. “It’s just that my boss really got on my case today,” he explained. “Someone’s been stealing some of the stock and he’s blaming me. Can’t prove anything though and it’s pissing him off.” He stroked her hair. “I love you honey, I don’t want to hurt you…”

          The dream image from another day lingered as she roused briefly to go to the bathroom, never fully waking up. She realized dimly that Cindy must have left the living-room light on when going to bed so that Debbie could find her way down the hall to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

          She had no sooner returned to bed and fallen halfway asleep when another image overwhelmed her as she hovered between slumber and arousal.  

          “You dumb bitch! I told you never to tell anyone!” His face was twisted with rage, eyes as hard as the clenched jaw that stretched the lips back over his teeth in a silent snarl. “I told you to tell anyone who called that you didn’t know where I was. Can’t you remember anything?” His hands were twisted in the material of her blouse and she could hear the seam tearing even as the material dug painfully into her skin…

          Mercifully, the image faded into darkness as sleep reclaimed her.

* * *

          The sound of deep male voices woke her.

          She couldn’t understand what they were saying — the thick walls muffled the words — but there was more than one person speaking. And she heard Cindy’s voice, raised in angry protest: “…bastard… …all night… …asleep…” filter through.

          She threw back the comforter and got up, feeling groggy. She glanced at the combination telephone/­radio/­alarm clock on the end-table and saw that it was almost noon. It had been a little after eight when she had run from Billy, and it had taken about forty-five minutes to get to Cindy’s. Then it had probably taken a couple of hours before she had been in bed, so she had probably slept over thirteen hours. No wonder she felt groggy!

          She felt naked in the revealing night gown and glanced around to find her skirt, bra and panties neatly folded on the night table, and her shoes lying next to the bed. Her blouse was hanging on the bed post.

          She picked it up and smiled when she saw the lumpy seam where Cindy had done her best to mend it. She slipped into her clothes quickly — hating the fact that there wasn’t time for a shower — and glancing in the mirror, she ran her fingers through her hair for a minute to try to put the tangled mess into some kind of order. But it was a wasted effort. Not that anyone would care. She grimaced as she saw her face, because she looked like she’d been hit by a truck. Overnight, her bruises had blossomed into a full-blown spectacle.

          Suddenly, she was overwhelmed with doubt as she touched her face gingerly. Billy had done this to her. How could he, if he loved her? Her eyes started burning and her stomach churned as she stood staring at the blurred image in the mirror.

          But then the voices in the other room intruded again.

          She decided that she had better find out what the noise was all about. Bracing herself, she opened the bedroom door and headed down the hall towards the voices, tongue brushing around in her mouth gingerly as she wished that she could at least brush her teeth first.

          The living-room was suddenly crowded.

          Two uniformed policemen and a plain-clothed detective stood arguing with Cindy. Her sister was still refusing to wake her and she smiled gratefully. She wondered how long Cindy had been holding them at bay.

          As she came up behind her sister, the expressions of uneasy surprise on the policemen’s faces warned her sister that she was there and Cindy spun to face her, looking concerned.

          “How are you… oooh,” Cindy reached out tentatively to touch Debbie’s face. “You look like shit! How are you feeling?”

          Debbie shrugged. “Groggy, I slept too long. And I feel like I look.” She noticed Cindy had on the same beige dress as the night before and realized her sister must have been keeping watch over her. Or, it had taken all night to fix the blouse after washing her clothes. Knowing Cindy, it was probably the latter. She surveyed their visitors. “But what’s with all this?”

          “Billy’s dead,” Cindy burst out, ignoring the detective’s frown.

          Debbie stared. “Dead? How?”

          The tall detective came towards her and held out his hand. “Detective Morrison, miss. Homicide.”

          “Murdered?” Debbie cut in with disbelief.

          “That’s right,” Morrison answered. “In your apartment. We got your sister’s name from the neighbors, and found that you were here. And before we go any further, I am afraid I have to read you your rights.”

          Debbie dropped onto the couch limply as she heard the familiar words recited in a dull monotone. Familiar words she had never imagined she would hear this way.

          One of the uniformed officers approached with a set of hand-cuffs but Morrison waved him away with a frown. “I don’t think they’ll be necessary.”

          “I can’t believe you’re arresting her,” Cindy broke in. “I keep telling you, she came straight here and hasn’t moved from the spare bedroom since I put her to bed. My God, look at her! Do you think she’s in any shape to go running around bashing people over the head?”

          Morrison sighed. “We’re not charging her. We’re just bringing her in for questioning.”

          Debbie was just numb.

          “Debbie!” She realized Cindy was shaking her. “Come on. I’ll get a hold of a lawyer.” A weak smile touched Cindy’s mouth. “Too bad this didn’t happen a few years from now. Then you could have been your own attorney.”

          Cindy’s attempt to put her at ease woke Debbie up and she reached for her sister’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank’s Cyn, but it’ll be a while before I’ll be ready to go for the bar. Besides, haven’t you heard the old saying that a lawyer who represents himself, or herself, has a fool for a client and an idiot for a lawyer?” She forced a painful smile. “I’ll be fine. Call Tanya Weber.” She reached for a pad and a pen by the phone on the end table and jotted down a number. “You can get her there. Just tell her that she owes me for the Samuelson deposition and I’m calling in a favor.” They can’t hold me, she realized dimly.

* * *

          Several hours later, Debbie sat in a small office Morrison had borrowed, looking around the small room curiously. She couldn’t believe it, but here she was, a murder suspect, and she was bored!

          She had been parked there while they waited for her lawyer. Morrison was being quite considerate, which Debbie appreciated, but she still couldn’t wait for Tanya to come and get her away from there.

          Morrison sat across from her behind a desk, sorting through some objects he had poured out of a large manila envelope. Debbie froze as one of them caught her eye: a single ruby earring.

          “Do you recognize it?” Morrison saw the direction of her stare. “We found it on the floor in your apartment.”

          Debbie remembered Cindy clipping back on just such an earring as she had answered the door the previous evening. Her head started swimming and she heard herself lie: “Yes, it’s one of mine.”

          “Where is the other one?” Morrison’s eyes narrowed.

          “I don’t know. I haven’t worn them in weeks. In my jewelry box, I guess.” She felt her stomach fluttering.

          Morrison shook his head. “No, I remember seeing it at your sister’s this morning, lying on one of the end tables.”

          “Oh, I must have taken it off the last time I was there,” she answered weakly.

          “Perhaps last night.” Morrison put in, face carefully neutral. For several long seconds they locked eyes, until an angry voice interrupted from the doorway.

          “Debbie, don’t answer any questions until we have talked!” The towering figure of a frowning Tanya Weber loomed in the doorway — all six feet and two hundred and twenty imposing pounds of her.

          Debbie suddenly felt better. She was grateful that Tanya had been able to rearrange her busy schedule. She was one of the best criminal attorneys at Foster, Michaels and Glassman, and one whose name would soon be added to the firm’s.

          Morrison obviously recognized the African-American lawyer and he swallowed as he looked over at Debbie. “You have very handy acquaintances, Mrs. Miller.” Debbie cringed at the married name she had never changed after her divorce two years earlier.

          As Tanya settled into the only other chair, Morrison quickly went on to explain to the lawyer exactly what had happened; especially why Debbie had been taken into custody.

          Tanya scribbled quick shorthand notes on a pad and nodded after a while and cut him off. “Yes, yes, Cindy told me the rest. Now what were you talking about when I came in?”

          Morrison outlined his brief conversation with Debbie. Then, as he wrapped it up, Tanya put away her steno pad and leaned back. “Are you formally charging her?”

          Morrison shook his head. “No, but–”

          “Then cut her loose,” Tanya stopped him. “You’ve Mirandized her and she still volunteered information, so I can’t do anything about what she has already said, but the next time she talks to you, I’ll be with her. Now, either charge her or release her.” Tanya got to her feet with surprising grace and stared down at Morrison.

          The detective shrugged. “I don’t have quite enough to charge her, yet, but we need to ask her some questions. And in a few hours when…”

          “I don’t care about later,” Tanya cut him off. “I’m talking about now.”

        Debbie reached up and touched Tanya’s arm. “Please, Tanya. I want to help.”

          Tanya studied her face and then sighed as she settled back down in her chair. She speared Morrison with her eyes. “Go ahead, but,” she turned sharply to Debbie, “don’t respond unless I give you a nod.”

          Debbie bobbed her head.

          “As I said,” Morrison began, looking at Tanya, “I’m not charging her until the lab team finishes sweeping the apartment, because there were signs of a forced entry. But there is some question whether that was planted or not. I’m reserving judgment for now. But, since nothing seems to be missing in terms of major stuff like stereo, TV or VCR, I have to ask you if you have any small valuables, like jewelry?”

          Debbie saw Tanya nod and answered. “My mother’s jewelry.” When she died last year of cancer, Cindy and I each got half of her jewelry. There were some pretty valuable pieces there.”

          Morrison nodded reluctantly. “Well, that makes a stronger case for a burglar killing him. We found no jewelry box; unless you keep it hidden?” Debbie shook her head. “That helps a little. Makes it more important for any burglar to eliminate witnesses. And it is true that you don’t live in the best neighborhood or building. Did you know that there have been three burglaries in that building in the past year alone?” Debbie nodded mutely as Morrison went on:

          “…and Robbery seems to think it’s someone who lives there. In each case the apartment doors were forced, but the front door to the building wasn’t touched.” He chewed on his pen a second. “We’ll put out a description to pawn shops in town on the jewelry if you can give us a rundown on the pieces.” He looked unhappy. “But I’m afraid I still have a problem with that because of the way we found the body.”

          “How?” Debbie asked. Tanya glared at her, even as the lawyer pulled out her pad again.

          “The neighbors reported hearing your argument with the decedent,” Morrison answered, “and not the first, either. That was between seven and eight.”

          Debbie suddenly had a flash of memory…

          Billy was raging, screaming at her… then she was falling… pain… then a swirling fog, until she found herself running down the hall… a neighbor’s door opening and curious eyes staring out from darkness behind a security chain…

          Then the images were gone as suddenly as they had come. She realized Morrison was still talking.

          “…then nothing until at two-oh-six a.m., when we got an anonymous call about a prowler in the building. The caller contacted the police district itself, so there was no way of telling where the call originated from. If he or she — the voice was disguised, and it could have been a man or a woman — had called 911, we would have known where the call came from, But the caller dialed direct.” He stopped, and seemed to be studying her.

          “You’re studying to be a lawyer, aren’t you?” he asked after a moment. “Which I would think would mean that you’ve been around police stations and are familiar with their procedures.”

          “Don’t say anything,” Tanya cut him off as she turned to Debbie.

          “Well, I’m going to assume you are,” Morrison sighed as he went on. “Which strengthens the case against you, I’m afraid. You see, you have motive, means and opportunity. And as you well know, they’re the cornerstones in any murder investigation.” He checked some notes on the desk and then went on. “The time of death was somewhere between 7 and midnight. We can’t pin it any closer than that because the apartment was warm and liver temp can’t help enough. So, your sister is no alibi because you could have killed Billy before going over there. Then you could have made the prowler-call while your sister thought you were asleep.”

          Suddenly his tone changed and he looked a touch regretful. “I’m not saying that Ms. Weber here won’t be able to make a good case for you.” He glanced at Tanya. “Did I mention we had her thoroughly checked out before we brought her here?” Tanya nodded and Morrison continued. “The medical records from the emergency room and additional pictures we took here that you were the victim of serious abuse. And there’s your ex-husband, too. I thought your name sounded familiar, and I checked through our files and I saw why: your ex-husband was arrested twice for beating you up in the past. So there is a past history of abuse that will work in your favor.”

          Debbie realized dimly that Morrison was actually trying to help, and in a corner of her mind, appreciated it. But she also saw that the detective really thought she had killed Billy. He was assuming it.

          But she couldn’t have done it! She loved Billy — had loved him, she corrected herself. And he had loved her. He had only hit her when she had done something stupid or he had had a bad day at work. She had not made it easy for him, she knew. She was always screwing something up. He had never meant it when he hurt her. Most of the time he had been wonderful.

          Suddenly she cringed. Wonderful?

          He had beaten or screamed at her several times a week — just like her first ex-husband!

          All at once the nagging doubts blossomed as spectacularly as her bruises had, and she realized she was free. For the first time, she was able to step back and try to analyze her relationship with Billy, and she wondered why she had never told him to get out. It was her apartment. He had helped with the rent and such, but the furniture was hers and the lease was in her name. So why hadn’t she told him to leave?

          It was difficult to face, but she gradually allowed herself to accept the reason. It was for the same reason she had not tried to flee her husband until he had almost killed her that one night: because the idea had always terrified her. She had always been afraid to try to tell him — and her ex-husband before that — because she had been afraid for her life. And below that, she finally admitted to herself, had always been her fear about what she would do if he would leave without arguing. Because that would have meant that she would have been left alone again.

          Alone.

          That had always scared her more than the worst of Billy’s rages. She had been a basket-case after her first divorce. Until she had met Billy. And she had clung to Billy, because without him, who else would love her? That had been her real fear, she realized. She was a screwed up, insecure mess, and she wasn’t terribly pretty or sexy. And being “smart with a good personality” was a deadly combination.

          But now Billy was gone and she would be alone again.

          So what? she asked herself. She was a murder suspect! What was a little loneliness compared to that?

          Her head spun as she looked back and forth from Tanya to Morrison. Then she took a breath and faced Morrison. “Could you give us a few minutes alone please?”

          Morrison got up and nodded respectfully to both of them. “Sure. You can use this office till you’re ready. I’ll be out in the squad room.”

          As the door closed behind him, Tanya turned to Debbie with a look of concern. Are you okay?”

          Debbie nodded weakly. “I’ll be okay. It just suddenly hit me, I guess. He’s really dead!” She didn’t go into what else she was thinking.

          Tanya chewed on her lower lip a moment, and then laid a gentle hand over Debbie’s. “I’m sorry, but I have to know: did you do it?” Debbie started to protest but Tanya cut her off. “Look, I don’t care. It would be wrong for me to have any opinion. My job is to defend you. Your guilt or innocence is irrelevant. But I have to know so I can be on guard for any surprise evidence.”

          “But I don’t know,” Debbie almost wailed in frustration. “For all I know, Cindy could have done it. I don’t remember anything from the time Billy knocked me down to when I got to Cindy’s.” She froze, an image flashing through her mind. She was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the living-room light was on, but Cindy was nowhere to be seen. What if Cindy hadn’t been in bed? she wondered. Could Cindy have? No, that was ridiculous.

          Then she realized Tanya was talking. “…and if you don’t know, that causes some problems. Assuming you’re being straight with me about not remembering…” she looked at Debbie closely. “No, you’re telling the truth. In that case we have a problem. You see, the police are sure that you did it. And we’ll have a tough time using passion and amnesia for a defense — no matter how much Morrison sympathizes — because of the apparently staged burglary, and the all too clever and convenient phone call. And then the fact that the statue was wiped clean.”

          “What statue?” Debbie interrupted, confused.

          “The marble horse, of course.” Tanya grimaced at the inadvertent rhyme. “That’s what he was killed with.”

          Debbie again remembered landing on it when Billy had knocked her onto the coffee table. She could almost feel the smooth coolness of the marble in her hand… of the heavy feel of the stone… of… Suddenly the sensations were gone and she heard Tanya’s calm voice again.

          “…coroner found marks that indicated he was hit twice over the head with the horse. The first would only have stunned him. It was the second blow that killed…” Tanya saw that Debbie was staring at her. “Morrison didn’t tell you how Billy was killed?”

          “Not when I was picked up, and I don’t think he did when we got here. I don’t remember,” Debbie shook her head. “I got distracted when he pulled out Cindy’s earrings… oh!” She clapped her hand to her mouth, realizing what she had let slip and what it might mean.

          Tanya jumped on it. “What aren’t you telling me?”

          Debbie was silent for a long while. She felt Tanya’s eyes digging into the back of her head as she faced the wall. She felt like crying. Finally she couldn’t hold it back. “I’m afraid maybe Cindy killed Billy… except she couldn’t do that!” She felt so ashamed about her suspicions.

          Tanya stared at her. “What on earth… where do you get that idea?”

          Debbie went on to tell Tanya about the police finding one of Cindy’s earrings in her apartment. And about Cindy still wearing the same dress in the morning, and of finding the living-room still lit, and maybe empty in the middle of the night. “…maybe she went back to tell Billy what she thought of him beating up on me,” she continued. “Cindy had been getting more and more pissed off every time it happened. You should have seen her last night. She was furious! Maybe they got into an argument about it and she picked up the horse and hit him to defend herself, I don’t know.” Her fingers twisted the top button of her blouse restlessly. “She wouldn’t go there and just kill him. I don’t care how angry she was. She wouldn’t do it!”

          “But she’s smart enough to wipe her prints afterwards if she did do it. And to try to make it look like a prowler did it.” Tanya looked thoughtful. “And she would know the safe way to phone in a report. I know she’s been along with you to police stations and such out of curiosity.” The lawyer straightened in her chair. “When we finish here, we’re going to have to sit down with your sister and do some straight talking.”

          There was a knock on the door and Morrison entered. He looked at Tanya. “Are you also representing Cindy Breyer?”

          “Yes, I suppose so,” Tanya answered, her face neutral. “Why?”

          “Because I am having her picked up for questioning.” The detective glanced at Debbie. “Your obvious lie about the earrings was bugging me. At first I thought you were covering yourself, but then I thought of something else. Back at your sister’s house, she was defending you, saying you would hardly go around beating people to death. But, how did she know how your boyfriend died? The cause of death hadn’t been released yet, pending a full autopsy report. He could have been shot, stabbed or strangled. But your sister knew that he had been beaten. How?”

          Debbie couldn’t help gasping, but Tanya’s face was an ebony mask as she took it in stride. “I take it Ms. Breyer has been properly Mirandized and will be brought here so I can talk to her?”

          Morrison nodded, but he was staring at Debbie and she knew that he could see right through her.

       

6 comments to Victim No More

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>