Unraveled Part II
Sheriff Eckhart had barely made it through the first inch of his inbox, stacked at least half a foot high with paperwork, when Janice rang his desk.
"911 just dispatched a car to your house, Sheriff. Neighbors called it in, said they heard screaming."
Eckhart dropped his pen and scrambled around the side of the desk, snatching his keys and hat as he went.
"Get Caleb, he should be just about to go out on patrol" He shouted going out the door.
The whole way he gunned the engine and cursed audibly. They had been alone barely an hour! He knew he should've put a detail on the house, but no, Laura had insisted "No one fools with the Sheriff's house". At one time that had been true, he thought, blowing through a red light. At one time even criminals were not quite as dangerous as they were now. In a better time, there had been some order to the chaos. The flash of red and blue in his rear-view caught Eckhart's eye as he swung a left a few blocks from his home. It was Caleb in hot pursuit, apparently for once Janice had just delivered the message and not chatted up the recipients for ten minutes.
When they rounded the corner there were already two squad cars and an ambulance. Eckhart and Joseph both threw their cars into park and ran to the house, leaving engines running and doors open. Marnie was sitting on the front porch, a blanket around her shoulders, weeping and looking as if someone had roughed her up. Caleb rushed to her side while the Sheriff pushed his way past two deputies blocking the front door, advising him to stay outside. The agonized wail the flowed from him as he entered the kitchen nearly drown out the sirens of more approaching emergency vehicles. The deputies inside attempted to hold him back from his wife's body, resulting in one broken nose and a dislocated shoulder. He was a spry old man, and stronger than he looked.
Upon hearing the scuffle, Caleb asked one of the paramedics to sit with Marnie and went in the house after Sheriff Eckhart. He found his fellow officers tending to their wounds as the Sheriff cradled his wife's body on the floor, muttering "No,No,No" over and over again.
"Sheriff" Caleb said gently, holding back his own tears for the woman he'd known most of his life.
Eckhart didn't acknowledge, didn't even look up.
"Joseph" Caleb put a hand on his shoulder.
Eckhart looked up then and gently laid his wife down, rose slowly from the floor, covered in blood from the jagged opening in Laura's throat. He looked at his bloodied hands, as if confused, then up at Caleb, tears streaking his lined, ruddy face. His mouth moved as if forming words, but there was no voice behind it. Caleb put an arm around the older man's shoulders and ushered him from the house, out of the way of the crime scene unit. He had never felt so helpless; Marnie still in tears and shaking under the blanket although the day was remarkably warm, the Sheriff nearly catatonic, and not a thing his size or strength or love for them both could do to help. Officer Delson, who'd served with the Sheriff since they were both in the Police Academy, took over when Caleb and Eckhart reached the front walk.
"I'll take him from here, Cal. Better tend to your wife, she's going to need to come to the station for questioning."
Cal took note of his choice of words. "Questioning? you mean to give a statement, a witness report, right?"
"Well, we don't know just yet, do we?" Delson said, an unusual chill in his tone.
He got Eckhart into his squad car without another word, leaving Caleb confused and worried. Marnie looked up at him with big, wet eyes when he came back at her.
"Oh Cal!" she threw her arms around him, sobbing. "It was so awful! so much blood!"
He took her by the shoulders and held her at arms length. "Marnz, we have to go to the station, you've got to give a statement, tell them what you saw."
Her face, besides the still flowing tears, seemed unconcerned, even nonchalant.
"Well, there's not much to tell. I didn't see anything, the last thing I remember is sitting at the table drinking tea.. and then nothing. Can't we just go back home, Cal? They've cleaned the place up, as long as you're right there with me I won't be frightened."
"I can't stay right there with you, though, Marnz, I have work to do-" he gestured toward the open front door "- and you can't just go home, you're our only witness, and you have to give a record of what you remember." He took a firm tone with her, which he seldom did, to let her know this was the end of the discussion.
Cal hardly noticed she'd stopped crying as they walked to his still-running squad car, he was too busy fielding her complaints.
"Cal please, just stay with me at the station."
"I can't, Marnie. I have to help with this, for godssake, it's Laura! She was my third grade teacher... she's like a mother to me. Since we've been married she's treated you like her own, don't you understand? I have to help with this one."
Caleb couldn't help but be frustrated with her, but tried hard to understand... she'd seen something awful, she was in shock, she just wasn't herself. At the station. Marnie was given coffee, a sandwich from the vending machine, and taken into an interrogation room with a female officer. Caleb did his best not to worry and went back to the crime scene to do whatever he could to help.
She'd been left alone to "get her thoughts together" and eat the miserable sandwich they brought her, she picked at it and pushed it aside. The coffee smelled of burnt rubber and tasted worse, she pushed it aside as well and sat, her hands folded in her lap, and waited for the officers to return. When they did, she'd begun to cry again and begged them for some tylenol and an ice pack for her bruised and swelling eye. They obliged and finally settled in to begin their line of questioning.
"Mrs. Donovan, can you tell us what happened?"
Through her sniffles, Marnie explained again that she hadn't seen her assailant.
"I was sitting with Mrs. Eckhart-" (a fresh batch of tears began) "- we...we were having tea, she was m-making meatballs..." the words became unintelligible as she buried her face in a tissue and sobbed again.
"Ma'am, I understand this is difficult, but it's so important for us to get all the details right away. Please, when you're ready, continue.." The female officer, Dana Jenkins, prodded her.
Marnie smiled through her tears, nodded. "Of course, of course. OK... I was drinking tea, Laura; she got up to stir the meatballs and then-"
"What time was that?" Dana interrupted
Marnie paused thoughtfully "Oh, I don't know... we left the hotel around noon..."
"According to the Sheriff you had been there approximately an hour, so around 1:30, then?"
Marnie pursed her lips, staring across the table at the other woman. Dana continued to look down at her yellow legal pad, pencil poised, hovering over the paper.
She won't even look at me.
"Yes,Dana.-" Dana looked up abruptly.
"Mrs.Donovan, please, I understand we know each other outside of this situation, but I prefer to keep work professional. So, if you don't mind, I will address you as Mrs. Donovan and you will address me as Officer Jenkins." She forced a tight little smile and looked back down as her notepad.
"Yes, Officer Jenkins. I supposed 1:30 is about right, that is, if the Sheriff is certain about the time. I was in such a state from what happened this morning, I really couldn't be counted on to accurately tell you how long it was from the time Caleb left me there to the time..." She couldn't bring herself to say it
To the time the Sheriff's wife had her throat cut.
"To the time Mrs. Eckhart was murdered?"
"Yes" Marnie's voice was barely a whisper.
"Alright, so you were drinking tea, Mrs. Eckhart was cooking... then?"
"Then I heard something behind me, I was about to turn around and everything went black."
"Someone hit you from behind?"
"I would suppose so, yes."
"And then continued to beat you while you were unconscious?"
"Well, it's just, you're black eye didn't come from being struck from behind."
"Well then yes, I suppose so."
It went on that for a while longer until Dana had asked every question twice, to be certain she'd gotten everything she could.
"Well I suppose that's it for now, if you think of anything else, just call." she led Marnie out into the main room of the station, where Janice was perched behind her desk, chatting away on the phone with someone. She hopped up as soon as she saw Marnie, waving an orange stick note on the end of her finger.
"Marnie, dear! Caleb radio'd in a while ago, said he'd meet you at the Holiday Inn after work, he said don't wait up. We have a black-and-white outside already, Johnson and Wyse, they're a regular couple of watch-dogs, honey, don't you worry"
Marnie nodded, feeling like she might tear up again. She'd seen horrible things in the last 24 hours, first the bag delivered to the previous hotel room, now Laura's murder...not that she particularly liked the woman, but still. It was deeply unsettling and sad and frightening. She desperately longed for Caleb strong arms, broad chest and soothing voice as she climbed into the musty smelling cab.
Caleb had been there for hours. He was tired, hungry, and most of all, he missed Marnie and was worried sick. He'd checked in with Johnson and Wyse, sitting outside the hotel in their car, to make sure she was safe. He had resolved not to call Marnie until he was on his way to her, if he had called, heard her frightened, quavering voice, he would have rushed home hours ago. Wyse assured him over and over she was in the room and fine but with the events of the last two weeks, it was not enough. Finally he couldn't stand it anymore and was about to call it a night, sitting at his desk compiling the reports of what the neighbors had seen (or rather hadn't seen) and going over the notes from Dana's interview with Marnie. Nothing was making sense, no one a suspicious person in the area of the Eckhart home, much like no one had seen anything the night he and Marnie had come home to a bloodbath. He rubbed his eyes and slid back from the desk, a headache forming in his right temple.
He was just about out the door when he heard Janice's voice behind him.
"Cal, honey! The medical examiner just called, she'd like you to come down and see her before you leave. She says it's important."
Caleb sighed, resisted cursing loudly and turned back. Janice continued on as he walked towards the stairs leading down to the morgue.
"What do you think it could be? something about your house? maybe what happened to poor Laura?"
Caleb was in no mood to humor her chatter.
"Don't know, Jan." he practically growled, brushing past her and shoving the door open harder than he needed to.
The medical examiner was a tiny woman, even smaller than Marnie, Caleb barely saw her behind her desk piled high with books and paperwork.
"Here, Cal!" she waved her child-sized hand over her head, all too familiar with people not being able to find her behind things.
"What is it, Cara, I was just about to leave."
"I know, I'm sorry.. just thought you'd want to know I've identified the body from you're house."
"The teeth and fingers, they were hers, Cal. She was a retired social worker from Oklahoma. Rita Bennet."
"Don't know her."
"That's the thing, Cal, she's got no ties to the community here. I've been doing a little digging, from what I can tell, she's never set foot in this town before two weeks ago. I've notified the Sheriff also, well, I called Delson, he said he'd tell him and they'd look into it further."
Caleb thanked her and walked back down the long corridor to the stairs, mulling it over. Something about it unsettled him but he couldn't place why, which unsettled him further. All he wanted to do now was get back to Marnie and hold her close, thankful (though it made him feel guilty) that it had not been her they'd found on the floor of the Eckhart home earlier that day. As he sat at a red light, still thanking his lucky stars his wife was alive and safe, the nagging thought he'd been trying to ignore played through his mind like a scrolling marquis
Rita Bennet from Oklahoma....who are you?