“I think you killed him.”
The two young women look up at him and then at each other but remained silent.
“Just tell me what happened.”
“We have.” Lauren said calmly.
“I don’t believe you.”
She stared back at him and shrugged.
Carl leaned over their kitchen table so that his eyes were level with Emily’s and said, “You were the one having the affair with him. Did he tell you he would leave his wife and then change his mind? Were you angry about that? Is that why you killed him?”
“I loved him.” He could see that her emotions were close to betraying her. Good, he thought.
“People in love kill each other all the time.” He said hoping to intimidate her further. “And you.” He found it hard to look at Lauren directly and even harder to keep his voice steady and strong. “What did you do? Are you covering for her? Did you help kill him?
“Don’t be silly.”
“Silly!” He exploded. “Christ, don’t you know I’m trying to help you? But a man’s dead.”
He pulled the five crime scene photographs slowly from their folder and lined each one up on the table directly in front of the girls scrutinizing their faces, gauging their reactions. The mangled body looked like a discarded rag doll that had been tossed away, thrown onto the rocky sea shore from the cliffs up above, arms and legs twisted into implausible positions, face almost obliterated, a concave hollow on the left temple, eyes still open indifferently staring into the camera, skin a mottle of purple and gray, hair matted with blood.
Lauren looked directly at the photographs and he thought he saw a faint look of satisfaction pass over her face.
Emily gave a short strangled gasp and quickly looked away. When she turned back, tears had filled her eyes. He said to her, “Look, I already know he wasn’t a nice person. I know he coerced lots of female students into having a relationship with him. You weren’t the first one, you know.” Smoothing his hair back with his left hand he couldn’t help but think, but you’ll be the last.
As he sat down across the table from them, he turned to Lauren, “You know how I feel about you. These past months have been just incredible.” His voice cracked and he gently covered her hands with his. Searching her eyes, he said “I’m here because the police will come soon. Just tell me what happened and I’ll do everything in my power to…”
“To what? Keep us out of jail, off death row? You’re a cop, in case you’ve forgotten.” She pulled her hands away and looked at Emily as if to embolden her. “We haven’t forgotten and we can’t.
“Well, you’re right about one thing. He wasn’t a nice man. He was a real prick and he got what he deserved.
“Oh Lauren, please stop it.” The blood seemed to drain from Emily’s face. She covered her stomach with her hands and then looked away from them.
“But, we didn’t kill him. Maybe his wife just got tired of all the sleeping around and decided to stop it once and for all. Maybe it was some other student who got mad when he moved on to Emily. Maybe it was one of his research assistants whose work he took credit for one too many times or maybe, one of his investors realized that all the money they’d plowed into Michael’s research had gone into his pockets. Gee, take your pick. Lots of people hated the guy. In fact, I’m surprised someone didn’t knock him off years ago.” Lauren’s voice sounded cutting and harsh.
“This whole thing is making me sick. Excuse me,” Emily bolted for the bathroom. When she returned, she looked shaky but sat back down folding her hands on the table in front of her.
“Emily, did you two fight over something? Were you afraid he would hurt you? He was a lot bigger than you are. If this was self defense, then it would change things. I’m asking because there was evidence of a struggle on the cliffs above where his body was found. The vegetation next to the pathway was pretty well mangled. It looks like someone fell down there and there were lots of muddy footprints too. Some of them are Michael’s. Some of them are smaller, must have been made by a woman.”
She looked up, and slowly opened her mouth to speak. Here it comes, he thought. He had seen it dozens of times, the point at which the killer decides to confess. There’s a kind of resignation in them, even if they are defiant. He recognized the anguish too, something a sensitive person like her would feel as real physical pain.
Lauren struck the table top with both fists. “Oh, give it a rest. After that torrential rainstorm, you can’t possibly have enough to know anything.”
“Don’t interrupt!” He shot her a warning glance and then returned his gaze to Emily and waited.
He’d used the self-defense scenario as a technique to get a suspect to admit that they were at the scene of the murder many times in the past and with the lack of evidence in this case, a confession was essential. The DA and a jury could sort out her motive later. His thoughts drifted to the horrible, sad, poignant, sometimes sickening stories he had heard over the years and because he knew these girls, had real feelings for one of them, felt an irrational impulse to tell them to stay quiet and then just get the hell out of there.
“I don’t… there isn’t anything…I can’t help you because I don’t know anything. Lauren and I were together here that night. We didn’t go anywhere. It was raining too hard.” Emily’s voice was gaining conviction and confidence. “You remember how bad the storm was. We lost power for hours that night. We just sat in the front room and drank wine and talked until after 3:00 when the power came back on.”
He felt himself losing his grip on her. Christ. He thought she’d buckle. Now he would have to use Lauren to manipulate her. If she thought Lauren would become a suspect and in danger of being arrested, she might crack. But it would also mean he would lose Lauren. He felt the pressure of the situation down deep in his gut. His chair scraped the floor as he pushed it back from the table and stood up. Maybe he could let it go. He ran his left hand through his hair, smoothing it down, wrestling with the idea. There was virtually no physical evidence at the scene and not a witness in sight owing to the isolated location of the marine lab and the miserable weather that night. The guy was certainly no angel and had plenty of enemies with motives that just kept coming. He’d never believed in the perfect crime and looking at these two felt that, at worst, it had probably been an accident or maybe self defense. But, he was a third generation cop. It was all he knew and before Lauren, all he thought he was. Lauren. In all his 37 years, she had been the only one he’d been able to open up to, to feel secure with. For the first time in his life he felt completely comfortable in his own skin. He had the feeling of belonging now, of coming home. And now this unholy mess.
“I can’t leave this alone.” He said miserably and sat back down.