Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns

Authors can never be lonely; when we have no one to keep us company, we create someone.

Victoria Seacress... Headstones

Chapter 1

"This is all simply routine, so don’t worry." Detective Chris Gallagher’s voice was soft yet serious. His eyes never left her. "Before we start, can I get you something? A drink, maybe?"

If it’s routine, why are we in this room and why is that little voice in the back of my head telling me to shut the hell up? "I’m fine, thanks," Victoria Seacress answered. Gallagher closed the door. There were just the two of them in the little room. He smells of oak moss and spice. Perhaps with a hint of leather? It might be yummy if he didn’t always have his head up his ass.

So what friggin detail did they find in my bedroom that turned a suicide into a murder investigation? And where the hell is Dave ‘the-hottest-cop-on-the-force’ Purvis? She ran her tongue across the length of her top lip. He was strictly Purvis the cop, not Dave the hot guy in the tight jeans. He and I were in my bedroom, together, at last. Yeah, right! That was a blast, wasn’t it? He was rather sweet, though, the way he picked me up and carried me out of there. He was so attentive, so why the hell isn’t he in here with me?

 

"Can you tell me about your day yesterday?" Gallagher sat down facing her. Only a small metal table separated them.

Oh, my god, look at his eyes! He thinks I did it? He thinks I killed Rod! Oh, shit! What the hell do I say? Do I need a lawyer or does asking for one make me look even more guilty? "I suppose, but there really isn’t a lot to tell. The day itself was pretty ordinary." It was ordinary till I got home last night – then things went to hell in a hand basket, didn’t they? "Jake picked me up like always. We went to the Tim Horton’s on Sixteenth to meet with Isabella Farleigh from the women’s shelter." Her words were clipped, the delivery abrupt. I have to chill a bit. If he thinks I have attitude, it could come back to bite me in the ass. He can’t think I have attitude. "We went back to my house to get some papers I had forgotten then met with Detective Purvis about the Terrill story. After that, we went to the shelter to do some interviews and get some video footage. We took that back to the station and did some editing. I was there until Dave… Detective Purvis… asked to meet me in front of the building. When I went back to work, we did more editing, I worked on some of my files then I went home."

Gallagher let silence consume the room.

Will you say something, jerk… please? I hate this.

"You went back home… to find your fiancé dead in the middle of your bedroom." Gallagher leaned back in his chair. "That’s quite a report, Miss Seacress, although I had hoped for something a bit more explicit. It would appear that your eye for detail is much more developed for your news reports, or when you’re shouting questions at me in a scrum. Surely you can do better than that."

What the hell do I say that doesn’t hurt me? How do I answer his questions without him spinning them around and throwing them back at me? It’s what cops do.

There was a knock at the door.

Thank god! A reprieve!

Detective Purvis stuck his head into the room. "Excuse me. Sorry for the interruption."

He winked at me. That cheeky Purvis winked at me. He knows I could never kill anyone. He’d never accuse me anything like that. Oh, Dave, please stay in here with me.

"It’s no problem, Dave. Miss Seacress, here, was just getting ready to put her star investigative-reporter hat on so she can understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, because it will make this easier for everyone once she does." Gallagher walked out of the room.

The door closed with a heavy thud. She was alone. I saw that patronizing look, asshole! Man, thank god for Dave. He came at the right time. I don’t know why they’ve brought out the heavy guns – Gallagher is mostly a desk jockey. Hopefully Dave will take over to get my statement then I can get the hell out of here.

Wow, so this is what it’s like to sit in ‘The Sauna’. Victoria examined her surroundings. The table was cold under her arms. She shivered. I wish I had a warmer shirt on. You would think they could turn up the damn heat. Looking at the bruises on her arms, realization set in. Oh, shit! Gallagher probably told Purvis to get me this shirt. Gallagher knew I needed clothes from my room, so this is what he told Dave to bring for me. They’ve already started with the games. The bare arms, the bruises; he wants those front and center. He wants them in my face to rattle me, to get me to say something about Rod hitting me. Humpft, he may want that, but I won’t give it to him. He can’t make me look at my arms. These marks aren’t from Rod hitting me anyway, so what does it matter? Okay, that may be strictly semantics, but it’s true. She turned around in her seat, examining the Spartan room once again. Looking for a way out? How the hell long has he been gone? Did he forget I’m sitting in here?

 

Her mouth went dry. Goosebumps crept from her nap, down her arms. I had already broken up with that asshole, anyway. Rod was gone. I wasn’t planning on ever seeing him again, so why would I feel the need to kill him? He was out of my life. I can make that argument. She nodded her head as she considered her current predicament. It’s true. I never killed him. So, how do I make Gallagher believe me when I say that? Probably everyone who sits in this damn room does so with the intention of pleading their innocence, despite the fact they may be guilty as hell. Dave knows me. He won’t accuse me of anything. He knows I couldn’t possibly have killed anyone.

The door opened again. Please be Dave! Please be Dave! Shit!

"Sorry for the interruption, Miss Seacress." Gallagher returned to his seat.

No wonder I feel like I’m being hunted. He moves like a cat, a big, hungry cougar that stalks his prey, stalks me, from behind a rock or perched high in a tree, totally camouflaged and waiting for me to make just one mistake that he can pounce on.

"Okay, where were we?" he asked.

Asshole! You know! You know exactly where we were, so quit pissing around with me. "I had just told you where I was all day."

He nodded. "Right. So, what did you do for lunch? You never mentioned any lunch."

Okay, so he misses nothing, does he? He will pick apart my every word. "I didn’t stop for lunch. I didn’t even think about it."

"That’s normal for you?"

You, sir, are starting to get up my nose. "Unless I have a meeting over lunch, I rarely take the time to stop."

"No supper either yesterday?"

"No."

There was another knock. Gallagher left.

Here I sit again, while they play their little game. This sucks. I wish they would just get to the point. Holy shit, speaking of sucks, this room really sucks. Surely they could have put some color somewhere in it. Victoria looked around her again, at the bare walls, the sparse furniture. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing in here. It’s like the quintessential black hole.

Victoria had been tapping her nails on the table. She straightened her fingers and examined them. Damn! I need a manicure. She twisted her face in disgust. I never thought to get Purvis to grab my nail kit when he picked up my stuff at the house. I’ve got to get them fixed before I file my next report. This chipped nail will show up the same way a giant zit on my face would, once the camera is turned on. No one understands the details we have to watch for. Well, Purvis might understand. She rolled her eyes as she conceded the point. He lives for details.

The doorknob clicked open and Purvis beamed in at her from around the edge of the door.

Amen, sweet Lord! Ask and ye shall receive.

"Ah, yes, I can see the wheels turning up there, Vic. How you doing? Everything okay in here?" He did not enter the room.

It is now, baby! "I’m fine, but Dave, seriously, how long is this going to take?"

He shrugged. "Chris should only be a couple of minutes. I can get you something to drink, if you like. You want some tea?"

"No, I’m fine." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Now, get in here and tell me what the hell is going on? What burr got up Gallagher’s ass today?" Oh, baby, don’t give me that weak grin. I hate that grin, Dave. Get your ass in here or get me the hell out of here.

"Sorry, Vic, but I gotta run. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t need anything."

"Where’s Jake…?" She let her voice trail off. Purvis was already gone. The door closed again. Oh god, what a hollow, depressing sound that is. Why the hell didn’t he stay? We’re friends. I know we are. He should have stayed. He likes me.

He told me once that he liked me in lavender because it brought out the color of my eyes. Maybe that’s why he chose this outfit. She looked down then tugged at the hem of her shirt. That’s it. It was nothing sinister or underhanded on his part. He just wanted me to feel good about myself. He has to know I would never kill or hurt anyone. He has to know that. How the hell much longer will that asshole be? I don’t have all day!

There’s no way they can think it was me. Dave was there right away. He saw my reaction, didn’t he? She shifted in her chair. The bare metal seat was uncomfortable. Everything is such a blur. I can’t remember him coming into the bedroom at all. He can’t think I made up my reaction? How could anyone pretend to react in a believable way after finding some guy’s brains splattered all over the ceiling? Shit, that wasn’t ‘some guy’. That was Rod. She frowned and bit on her bottom lip in an attempt to keep it from trembling. How the hell did we go from him in my bed with me one night, to this, to me sitting in this god-forsaken police interview room and Gallagher being ready to accuse me of killing him?

Oh my god, that was really Rod? It can’t have been him. It wasn’t him, was it? How can they know for sure it was him, though? She taxed her memory, trying to conjure up the image she saw in her mirror. There was no head on that person. It could have been anyone. His face was gone. Her stomach was starting to wretch, twisting and knotting as she forced herself to remember what she had seen.

 

 

 

God damn it! I was there. I was in the room. Why can’t I remember what I saw? Gallagher is going to ask me and I can’t remember. But how is it possible to forget something that horrific?

Jesus, was that really Rod? Was it? I loved him. I still love him. A tear brimmed over her eyelid and started a slow course down her right cheek. She did not want others to follow. What the hell happened in there? He wouldn’t kill himself, would he? But why would anyone else kill him? That makes no sense. Despite her efforts, a tear from her left eye raced to catch up with its mate on the other side of her nose. Why in the hell do they just leave me in here?

Turning over her hands, she stared at the black shading still on her fingertips. She had been printed before being put into the room. Oh my god, they really think I did it. They believe that I killed the man I love; the man I hoped and prayed would love me more than anything else in the world. She started to rock back and forth on her seat. I wouldn’t kill him. He would have understood eventually that he can’t steamroll over my professional life. He would have changed, maybe even mellowed a bit. So we had a spat. He would have come back to me and we would have worked it out. I would set down the guidelines and he would remember them. He would have come back to me. He was going to. Oh my god, he did come back to me. That’s why he was in my bedroom, and now he’s dead. He’s really dead.

Seeing the whole picture was a direct blow to her solar plexus. She began to gasp for air. The room was closing in, and she was trapped. Where the hell is Jake? What have they done with him? I need Jake. I need help. Someone, please? Anyone? Why are they leaving me in here alone for so long? This is crazy. I have to get out of here. I have to find out what happened. Oh my god, Rod’s dead.

Victoria dropped her head onto the cool table. She felt dizzy. The sterility of her surroundings made her feel abandoned and desperate.

The door opened. She jumped, snapping to the sound. She jumped, snapping her head off the table. A wet spot on the metal surface betrayed her fear and her tears. Am I being saved? Is Jake coming to get me out of here, or maybe Dave? As she looked at the face in the doorway, what was left of her heart plummeted to the floor, waiting to be stomped on, destroyed by the grinding of her lavender stiletto.

"Sorry, again. That should be our last interruption." Gallagher was back in his seat. "Could you please write out a detailed description of your day for me? Include the times as best you can remember."

Am I in high school again or something? I do news assignments, not this crap. "Yeah, sure. Right now?"

Gallagher leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He looked relaxed, except for his eyes.

Don’t look at me with those eyes. I hate those green eyes. They’re cat’s eyes. They sparkle. They’re dangerous.

"Yeah, right now, before you leave. But first, it’s probably important that I clear up a few things with you. I find it rather curious that you didn’t mention Rod at all in your explanation of your day. Didn’t you see him at all? All day? The man you live with, work with, and were supposed to be marrying in two weeks? The man you found dead in your home only hours ago?"

Oh, god, here it comes. "Rod and I shared my home, most of the time. He was there in the morning when I woke up. We had coffee together. He went to work before I left with Jake. I ran into him a couple of times through the course of the day, but I’m usually out in the field or in editing and he’s in the studio doing lighting, so we don’t cross paths often under normal circumstances."

"You weren’t annoyed with him? I’d be annoyed if someone tried to railroad my career. That would be a pretty big deal to me." Neither Gallagher’s face, nor his tone of voice, changed from the moment he had walked in the room.

Bastard! If you already know the answer… "Yeah, we had a fight and I asked him to leave my house, to get his stuff out. Couples do that."

"You two fight a lot?"

For god’s sake, change your tone of voice once in a while, would you. "No, we didn’t. That was our first real fight." Maybe that’s what our problem was; we just never fought.

Gallagher deliberately looked at her arms. His expression became resigned, lips pursed, eyes sad.

Well, so now we know those face muscles can move at least a little bit. Too bad it’s not for the better.

"Miss Seacress, it may surprise you to know that I am not out to hurt you nor to accuse you of anything. There are procedures and protocols that we follow for every case. Talking to the person who found the body is one of those procedures, as is talking to the spouse and/or partner."

And/or? Who the hell talks like that... besides an up-your-ass cop?

"In fact, we ensure we protect you and your rights that way, because you don’t want the shadow of doubt marring your reputation, and we want to make sure we capture and convict the right person. That’s why Detective Purvis is not in here."

Yeah, remind me to kill him for not being here when I need him. Jake too, for that matter.

"He knows you personally and so whatever he says could later come under scrutiny." He leaned closer. "Here’s what we know so far, so pay attention because a lot rides on how you react in the next few minutes. Rod Peters is dead. He died in your bedroom. Someone shot half his head off, and wanted us to believe it was a suicide. We know you had a fight with him prior to that, and I have no doubt we can prove that he was responsible for those bruises on your arms, because we have more than enough witnesses who will swear to what went on at the studio, so why can’t you be honest with me about what happened? I need the unedited version of your day, and instead you try to serve me up some shit on a shingle."

Order for one, preferably to go. She choked off her internal sarcasm as she felt his warm breath on her face. He had been drinking coffee. Please back off. I didn’t do this. You’re scaring me.

"You’re not very good at avoiding or lying, Victoria. Just so you know, though, shit in this room has only one future; it hits the fan and lands right back in your lap. So, you may want to take a few minutes to pull your head out of your ass, and tell me what I need to know. The sooner you do, the sooner we can throw a net over whoever did this, because Rod did not do it alone. You might find this hard to believe, but we aren’t interested in the quick arrest of the most convenient person. We want to make the right arrest, before anyone else gets hurt. Miss Seacress, your boyfriend was murdered in your bedroom. I would think that you, more than almost anyone else in the world, would want to know who was responsible for blowing his brains out in your house, no?" He dropped some photos of the scene on the table in front of her.

Damn it! Get rid of those! I don’t want to see that. Back off! "What the hell do you want me to say? I had a long day at work yesterday. I went home last night, after breaking up with my boyfriend, and I found some guy in my house with his brains all over my ceiling!" With a shaking hand, she pointed upward to emphasize her words. "I didn’t even know who the hell it was. I know I saw a billion bloody pieces all over the place. Maybe I should have tried to put the damned pieces back together so I would know who it was! Is that what you expect? For Christ sake, there was a dead man in my house! I didn’t think to look for ID."

She took a trembling breath. "We had a god damned argument. So what? I loved him. I wouldn’t hurt him. I sure as hell wouldn’t kill him in the middle of my bedroom." She was sobbing, her hands clenched tight. "I’ve lost my fiancé. I’ve got a house that I don’t ever want to go into again. I can’t even begin to imagine… to imagine… where the hell will I sleep? I can’t go back into that room. His brains were dripping off the ceiling and into my bed. His brains! Rod’s brains."

"Good. Be mad! Be mad at me or Dave or Rod or whoever. Be mad at the asshole who invaded your privacy and robbed you of everything. Be mad, but don’t be stupid. You can come in here and yell at me whenever you want. I’m a big boy. I can take it. Just be honest with me, because I can’t help you if you lie to me. One lie; that’s all it takes, then this whole mess heads off in a different direction again. Be mad, but be smart. Your life depends on this, Victoria. Be smart."

Gallagher returned to his seat and produced a notebook. "Tell us what we need to know so we can start the investigation. There’s nothing you can tell me that’ll shock me; I’ve pretty much heard it all before." His hand grabbed hers on top of the table, and squeezed gently. "Let me help you. I can walk you through this. Answer my questions, and let me answer yours, okay? We can do this together."

Victoria looked first at the paper, then at his hand, and finally looked him in the eye. Right, Sherlock. So riddle me this: why the hell, when I make a mental list of all that has happened in the last twenty-four hours, of all that I have lost, why is Rod not there at all? Why am I not grieving for him, or more distraught at losing him? Why do I feel just a little bit relieved that he’s gone? Hah! Those are the questions you wanted to ask, Captain Anal Probe; wouldn’t you love to hear my real answer. Lock me up and throw away the key, because I wanted him gone, and I didn’t care how. I guess I am guilty, even if I didn’t pull the frigging trigger.

She pulled the pad of paper closer. Looking at it, she ran both hands through her long hair, rubbing her scalp, holding her head in an attempt to make it stop pounding. It was hours ago but it’s a lifetime ago. It’s too surreal. If I am honest, my day yesterday started the night before, the last time we were in bed together. Shit, I wish I could forget the unforgettable.

 

 

Chapter 2

The night played out in Victoria’s mind as she sat in the little interrogation room, Chris Gallagher’s eyes never straying from her. Her last night with Rod returned with clarity.

#

Here we go again. Victoria stared at the wall, the shadows from moon shining through the branches of the birch tree created patterns that danced on the wall. He’s sprawled all over the damned bed, and I’m scrunched in a ball in the corner. I’m so close to the edge, if I freaking sneeze, I’ll land on my ass on the floor. Rod’s getting a good night’s sleep, though. I’m so glad one of us is!She tugged on the blanket, trying to get it over her shoulder. Why can’t he get it? I want someone to hold me, to cuddle me. Right at the moment, it sure isn’t Joe Asshole I want holding me, though. I know what would happen if he touched me; he would wake up and then we’d have to start all over again. Oh, woo me, you ignorant jerk. The stupid son of a bitch thinks I’m a damn cure for insomnia! ‘I can’t sleep. Take your clothes off.’ The first time, it was sort of comical. Now it’s insulting and vulgar. I’m nothing more than a blow-up doll to him, and the end result is always the same; like a rubber lover, I’m unsatisfied and deflated, but he really doesn’t give a damn. He’s content, proud of his great performance, so I should just shove off to the corner of the bed, roll over, and fall asleep.

Hmmm, if I bought him one, would he take the hint? Yeah, like that would happen. He would miss the point altogether, and jump at the opportunity to kink it up a bit in the bedroom. Just the thought of a threesome with Blow-Up Bambi gives me shivers! The porn is bad enough. He still doesn’t get how much I hate it. A shiver ran down her spine. Jesus, Vic, give your head a shake!

 

She tugged on the blankets one more, this time with more determination, but with no different result. She tried to wrap the corner of the sheet further around her while not moving any closer to Rod. I wish my nightshirt was longer so I could pull it over my knees for some warmth. He wonders why I don’t sleep in the raw! I’d freeze to death. The red glow of the numbers on the clock taunted her. She sighed then tried to pull her pillow over her eyes. I’m so tired. Sleep well, asshole, since you have all the blankets and most of the bloody bed, and you don’t even give a shit. How can you not feel me shivering over here? My teeth are chattering, for god’s sake. I can’t even get up to get more blankets because he’d wake up, and I don’t want that to happen! She reached for her robe on the chair beside the bedside table, wrapped it around her then pulled her knees up tight to her chest.

Holy shit, does he have to snore so damn loud! How the hell am I supposed to sleep? Please, I need to sleep. It’s going to take Jake forever to make me presentable in the morning. That damn camera can pick up the tiniest wrinkle and make it look like the frigging Grand Canyon. There will be bags under my eyes and black circles around them. Hiding this mess will take more than a minute or two.

More than a minute or two -- what I would give for more than a minute or two from Rod. She quietly snorted her disgust, slipping her arms under the pillow to warm them up. Mister Minute Man: one minute for the warm-up, one minute for the pitch, and one minute afterglow as the lights go down in the stadium. Forget knocking it out of the park. Forget first base. He’s a bunter for sure. I want more than two minutes. I need more than two minutes. Holy crap, it’s getting cold here. I need flannel jammies. That should make Rod happy. Nothing says ‘come here you sexy thing’ like flannel.

She sighed. The moon let in enough light for her to see Rod sleeping behind her reflected in the mirror. She watched him breathing for a moment. I don’t get it. He can be attentive to me one minute and oblivious the next. He’s capable of being amusing, gallant and chivalrous. I know it’s in there somewhere. He can be charming and funny despite what Jake says.

When he first showed up at work, he hounded me for weeks to go out with him, giving me roses, champagne, compliments like crazy – it drove Jake out of his mind but I’m glad I accepted that first date. We had a good time; good enough that we had the second and third dates. It seems so long ago. What the hell happened to that Rod? I want him back. I must have found something genuine in the man, but for the life of me, right now, in this bed, I have no idea what it might have been.

They’re growing pains. It’s natural to have doubts, fears, hang-ups in a relationship. Right? I love him. I still tell him I love him, but if he answers with, ‘that’s because I’m so loveable’ one more time, I swear to god I will rip him a new face. He just can’t say those three words to me. He never has. Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe I need to show him even more love, teach by example. Maybe then he’ll get it.

 

She carefully rolled over to face him. He lay on his back, face pointed towards the ceiling. So what if he’s not the greatest lover? He can’t be the worst. Have I made some colossal mistake? Is he the right guy and I’m screwing this up, or am I just starting to see the real Rod, the Rod who emerges when no one else is around?

I’m friggin freezing here, Rod-o. I wish I had bigger pillows for snuggling with. I wish Pajamas and Molly were here. Those silly kitties always made me feel better, always curled up next to me, appreciated me, kept me warm. They loved me. I’m not sure if it’s the new house or Rod they don’t like, but my money’s on Rod being the problem.

I wish there could be kisses without tongue, at least once in a while. I wish the price of a compliment wasn’t always a romp in the sheets. I want to be touched, hugged, caressed, even massaged once in a while – not groped every time he passes me… or maybe I just need some damn sleep.

#

Yeah, okay, the police don’t need to know any of that. Nothing screams ‘motive’ like an unsatisfied lover. She picked up the pen, pulled the pad of paper closer, without looking up at Detective Gallagher then started to write. ‘Rod Peters spent the night at my residence. In the morning, we had coffee then he left for work while I showered. At 7:30 a.m. Jake Kennard, arrived, did my make-up while we reviewed our appointments and assignments for the day then we left together for work as we normally do’.

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