Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month to begin a story with the phrase, “As the policeman pulled back the sheet, she knew immediately that….” This week’s contribution comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Give Cathy’s new Facebook page, “Granny MacKenzie’s Children’s Books,” a “like” and a comment perhaps?
The Charred Body
by Cathy MacKenzie
As the policeman pulled back the sheet, she knew immediately they had hauled her into the morgue for no reason.
“It’s not my husband,” Jennifer said. “It’s not Paul.”
“How can you be sure?” The officer asked.
Jennifer glanced at the mortician and then the officer. “It doesn’t look like him, for one reason.”
“How can you tell? The body’s been burned beyond recognition.” He scanned her face. “And what’s the second reason?”
“You said the first reason it wasn’t him was because it didn’t look like him. So what’s the second reason?”
The young woman’s face flushed. “Did I say that? It’s just an expression.”
Despite the horrendous sight of the gory mass before her, Jennifer couldn’t stop herself from looking again. She knew why she didn’t flinch at the sight: because it wasn’t Paul; she breathed a thankful sigh. She wouldn’t want anyone to suffer such a tragic fate.
“It’s definitely not him. That person, or whatever it is, is too big to be Paul. And wouldn’t burning shrink a body?”
As if they hadn’t heard her, neither man answered her question. Or were they ignoring her, waiting for her to stumble?
“Paul’s only slightly bigger than I am. It can’t be him. That’s my second reason. Can I go now? The sight is a bit disturbing.” Jennifer turned and then asked, “Have you made any other headway—other than this?”
“Nothing else.” The officer grasped her arm to lead her out. Jennifer heard the tray slide into the metal wall compartment, just like on TV except the sound was hollower in person. The noise echoed through the room and she shivered.
“We’ll be in touch,” Officer McAdams said.
“Yes, let me know when you have something new,” Jennifer said, besides charred bodies to snare me with. She smiled and could almost see the huge question mark spread across Officer McAdam’s face. But couldn’t she smile? Surely, if the officer was honest, he would agree he’d tried to trap her into an unwitting confession.
It had been almost six weeks since Paul had disappeared. Despite what the police said, they didn’t know whether he was dead or alive.
She was glad to breath in the fresh fall air without being hounded. When she had been at the precinct the first time, she remembered telling the two officers, “Paul likely went off for some space. We haven’t been getting along too well lately.” She had wanted to get those words out before they asked her about “problems in the marriage.” When one spouse was murdered or disappeared, everyone knew the culprit was the other spouse. For effect, a tear had dribbled down her cheek. “He’s gone off before without telling me.”
“Why did you wait two weeks to report him missing?” she’d been asked.
“I told you I didn’t know he was missing. We had a fight. I though he went to his brother’s.” At the quizzical look on the officer’s face, she had said, “I couldn’t call. I didn’t want his family to know we were fighting.” After a few seconds of silence, she said, “I am worried. This is the longest he’s been gone.” She had searched in her purse for a tissue and blew her nose. “I hope you find him soon.”
Jennifer returned home. When the door closed behind her, she allowed herself a real smile, not that small, inconsequential smile she had given the officer. Then she chuckled, certain she was free. She had gotten away with murder! The body would never be found.
The police didn’t bother her again for several weeks. When they did, they didn’t telephone to politely ask her to come to the station. That time, two blue-clothed officers rang the bell, handcuffed her, and shoved her into the police car—after reading her the standard rights, of course.
Jennifer blubbered, “You don’t have a body. How can you arrest me?”
“Anything you say can and will be used against you….”
At the station, Office McAdams joined Jennifer in the room. He read her the same spiel, “Anything you say can and will be used against you….”
And she discovered the police had a body.
“No, you don’t have him.” She stared the officer in the eyes while she clenched her moist hands.
“The body burned beyond recognition, the one you said definitively wasn’t your husband? That was your husband.”
“No!” Jennifer stood and flailed her arms. “No, that wasn’t him. He wasn’t burned. I—”
Jennifer fell back to the seat.
“Ma’am, what are you saying?”
“Nothing. It wasn’t him, the body I saw. I told you, that body was too big. And the head and facial features—what was left of them—didn’t resemble Paul at all. I want a lawyer.”
“You killed him, then left him in the old outhouse on the Ingram property, didn’t you?”
Jennifer’s face turned white.
“You never thought anyone would look there, did you?”
Jennifer coughed and took a deep breath. “No, because he’s not dead. He disappeared, I told you. And you said he was burned beyond recognition, so how do you know that’s him?”
Officer McAdams’ face remained expressionless. “We matched DNA with his brother. It’s conclusively Paul.”
“No, it’s not. Paul isn’t burnt up like that…that charred mess of flesh.” Real tears slid down her cheeks.
“Vandals, Ma’am. Likely we would never have found him had vandals—kids, most likely—not set fire to the building.”
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
RC Bonitz: http://www.rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Deborah Marie Dera: www.deborahdera.com