Chapter 22 – A Sad State of Affairs

After dinner we just sit around and talk.  Rob tells us how he became a police scientist and Josh speaks eloquently of his carpentry.  He is very impressed with the work that we have had done in our house and makes some suggestions that I suspect we will see accomplished.

It’s a pleasant evening, forging new friendships and sharing Zeke’s wonderful cooking.  We have to cut it shorter than any of us would like but Josh and I both keep fading out…and our lovers do not want to have to carry us to bed.  Even though mine has the better chance of doing it successfully, we send them home at a relatively early time—and I go from the door to my pillow with barely a stop in between.

I sleep like the dead until morning.  Zeke fixes another humongous meal and I eat it all.  We go over some of the paperwork for the shop for a couple of hours but by lunch time, I can hardly hold my head up.  I’m not even hungry, so I crawl back into bed for a nap.

When I wake up, dusk is falling and I can hear Zeke shuffling pots around in the kitchen again.  There is the most fabulous smell which I follow out to him and the stove.

“Whatcha cooking?”

“Cream of crab soup.  Want some?”

Do I want some?  Do bears…never mind.  Zeke’s cream of crab soup is only slightly below making love to Zeke on my list of favorite things.  I scramble to find the largest bowl I can…which is a mixing bowl.

He laughs at me and hands me a soup bowl.  I would throw it back at him but he’s already put soup in it.  Oh well.  I eat it.

“I thought we might go out for dinner tonight.  How do you feel?”  He leans on the counter and watches me going into fits of ecstasy over the crab.

“Mmmm.”  I swallow.  “I could do that.  Where?”

“Italian?”

My answer never comes because the phone, that damned piece of technology that no one can live without anymore, rings.

He answers it.  “Hello.  Yeah.  Okay, we’re on our way.”

I watch him hang up the phone.  “Who, what, where?”

“That was Paul.  He is on his way to the hospital, where the ambulance has just brought in Rhyssa Jordan.”

“Oh no, what happened?”

“Attempted suicide.  He wants us to meet him there, since we are the closest things to family she has.  We are listed as her emergency contacts, remember?”

Dear gods.  What has possessed Rhyssa?  I gulp the last bit of soup and head for the bedroom for shoes.

We get to the hospital and ask for her.  The nurse points to the uniformed policeman in front of a closed door and we walk over to him.

“We’re here to see Rhyssa Jordan.”  Zeke tells him.

“Is your name Zeke Taylor?”

“Yes it is.”

“Detective Dobson said to send you right in, sir.”  He pulls the door open and we walk in.

Paul is standing there, his trusty notebook in his hand and Rhyssa is talking to him, with tears running down her face.  She looks pale and drawn… and old.  I know that she is a little bit older than I am, but she looks ancient.  I can tell just from the way it looks from here that this is going to be bad.

When she sees us, the tears increase.  “Oh Mattie!  I didn’t kill him, I swear it.  I just…I just…I…I didn’t kill him!”

I am confused.  Then Paul speaks up.

“Rhyssa was just telling me that she was at John Robert’s office the night he was killed.”  Oh.

He steps back so that we can come up to her bedside.  She gulps and manages to get herself back under control.  She reaches out and clutches my hand.

“Mattie, he was already dead when I got there.  He was all grey and cold.  I was so angry when I went up to see him, but I tell you, he was already dead.  I could have killed him, but I didn’t. “

The images flash through my mind.  John Robert, laying facedown with the athame out his back.  The athame.  John Robert’s face, with its staring eyes.  Mistletoe.  The athame again and now it’s being plunged into his…dead…chest.

I glance at Zeke, who slightly leans his head in question.  “Mattie?”

I ignore him for the moment.  “Rhyssa, tell me what happened.”

Her eyes dart between me and the two men.  She licks her lips and takes a deep breath.

“Jane told me on Sunday that she had been having an affair with him.  I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking about them.  I was drinking, I admit it.  I planned a thousand ways to make them pay.  But I drank until I was shit-faced and then I finally passed out about dawn.

“I especially wanted him to hurt, like he hurt me.  I woke up late in the afternoon, about four.  I was on my way out of the house when Mike Johnson called me.  He was furious, he kept screaming at me about Shelly sleeping with…him.”

“John Robert?”  I ask.

“Yes.  I just can’t call him…’lord’ any more.  He doesn’t deserve it.”  She wipes the tears away.  “Mike just kept going on and on about ‘the whore’ and that ‘son of a bitch lying bastard’. “

I can only agree that those words pretty much describe the dead man.

Rhyssa gives a sharp, pained laugh.  “Apparently Mike got a taste of the same medicine as … John… Robert…had when he walked in on Sara and Eric.”

“Oh?”  I suspect where this is going and she goes straight there.

“Oh yes.  Mike walked in to his own bedroom and there was his wife and his High Priest in his bed, enacting the Great Rite with great passion.  He told John Robert (the name comes easier this time) that he would kill him if he came near him again.  He also told Shelly to pack her stuff and get the hell out of his house and his life.  There was apparently a whole lot more to their argument.  He kept going on and on.  I could tell that he was really drunk.”

“What time did he say that all of this happened?”  Paul asks her.  She is startled, having forgotten that he is standing here…taking notes to beat the band.

“Oh!”  She moves restlessly.  “Just after noon, I think.  He said something about getting off work early and planning on having lunch with Shelly.  As a surprise.”  She begins to giggle.

We watch her, all of us a little uneasy at the tone in it.  When she doesn’t stop, Paul reaches out and gives her a little shake.  She stares up into his face and gulps air, then changes over to crying again.

I let her weep for a few minutes, then I take both of her hands and make her look up at me.  “Rhyssa.  Stop, honey.”

She manages to get herself back under control.  “I’m sorry.  It was just so funny.  He wanted to surprise her but she ended up surprising him instead.”

“Right, but I want you to tell me about going to John Robert’s office.”

She nods.  “So after I finally got off the phone with Mike, I took a shower and changed my clothes.  I had slept in them and felt…funky.  By the time I had cleaned up, had another drink…maybe two…I decided I would go to the office.

“The damned car wouldn’t start.  It was so…there I was, all ready to go do battle with that…and the car wouldn’t start.  I had to call the triple A and it took them about two hours to finally come out and jump it.”  She pulls a tissue out of the box on her bedside table and blows her nose.

“I got in it and headed for the office.  I parked at the bar on the corner, so that it would look like I was in there, not at…John Robert’s office.  I even went in and had a drink, so that I would have an alibi if anyone asked me.  I could say in all truth that I had been in the bar.”

I get the flicker of an image that includes more than one drink but I don’t push it with her.  “So after your drink, did you go to the office?”

“Yes.  I walked down and the door was already open.”  She frowns with confusion.  “I didn’t know why it would be, but I figured that it meant he was there.  I walked in, hollering for him.  It was so quiet.  I went into the office and at first, I didn’t see him.  Then I stepped over to his desk and there he was, on the ground.

“He was on his face and Eric’s athame was sticking out of him.  All I could think was, ‘Oh god, Eric has committed murder to be High Priest’ and I was glad that he was dead.  Then it was like, something took over me.  I pulled the athame out to roll him over.  I wanted to look him in the face.  And his eyes…”

She stops and I can tell that she is fighting the tears again.

We wait until she can calm herself.  Then she begins speaking again, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, as if getting it all out quickly will make it go away.

“I thought, he’s dead and he liked to screw with women, so it would be just so appropriate to strip him naked and let him be found like that, so everyone would know what a pig he was.  I took his clothes off.  I had to cut some of them so that they would come off.  I used the athame for that, which was wrong.  It should never be used for cutting.”

She looks around at us and we nod.  “But it was all I had, so it had to work.  I laid him out, like he was tied to a bed.  I wanted him to be degraded, like he degraded every woman he was with.  I was on my way out of the office when I saw the mistletoe hanging on the door.  I just thought it would be funny to put it on his…dick.  It would be his ornament and everyone could kiss his…”  She laughs again, that same almost hysterical sound.  “I guess Zeke was right all the time, he was Lord Kiss My Ass!”

She keeps laughing and crying, all mixed up together and we can’t get her to stop.  Paul steps to the doorway and motions to the nurse who comes in.

“Miz Jordan, you need to stop that!”  She shakes her but Rhyssa just keeps laughing and laughing.  The nurse runs out and the next thing we know, there is a whole band of medical people in the room.  One of them gives her a shot and she hiccups a few more giggles and lays her head back on the pillow, finally silent.

“I’m sure I have broken a few laws about des-des-desuh-desecrating a dead body, but I swear to you, he was already…already dead…when…I… got …there.”  Her voice trails off.

“Rhyssa, we know that.  Thank you for telling us about that night.  I know that it was not a pleasant thing.”  Paul watches her face.  It wrinkles up like she’s going to cry again, then she shudders and sighs.

“Pleasant.  Not the word I would use.”  The sedative is working and her words are slurred.  “Not pleasant at all.  He was already dead…very…dead.”

The nurse checks her pulse and shoos us out of the room.  I look back as we walk out and see her eyes are closed…but the tears are still trickling down her cheeks.

We end up eating in the hospital’s cafeteria.  Paul decides that it’s public enough that he will join us but he spends more time writing than eating.  I let the two men talk about what Rhyssa has told us while I try to sort all the images I got off of her while she was talking.

I am deep in thought when Zeke nudges me.  “Hey lover, join us in the real world?”

I jump and come back to earth.

He puts his hand on my arm.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.  We were just talking about Rhyssa and what she said.”

“Mattie, was she telling the truth?  Did you…see…anything while she was talking?”  Paul peers at me and I wish he wouldn’t treat me like I’m the Amazing Mattie, Who Will See Your Future—for a small fee, of course.  It doesn’t help that I do get images…so that I can spout prognostications and visions for him upon request—like I’m about to do.

“For starters, yes.  She was telling the truth.  She left out the obvious fact that she was drunk by the time she got to the office that night.  I suppose you all could add a DUI to the other charges you can bring against her.  But John Robert was dead as a doorpost by the time she walked into that room.

“She told me on Friday that she had talked to Jane on Sunday, so I guess if she’s lying about that, she is at least consistent.  I don’t think she has enough… presence of mind to fabricate this stuff.  I also got the impression that the athame was plunged into his back after he was dead, so we’ve got two pissed off people coming along and finding the body.  And neither of them reported it.”

“Yeah, well.  We know that Eric Adamson did it.”

“But my point is, neither of them called the police that night to report the death.  Both of them revered John Robert.  Right or wrong, he was the coven’s High Priest so why did they not notify the authorities that he was dead?  If the two of them had not been angry enough to push that piece of metal into him, would the cops have thought it was murder when they showed up?”

Paul looks thoughtful.  “Actually, that’s a good point.  I suppose we would have eventually found the atropine, but the initial impression would have been a fat, overindulgent man having a heart attack and dying.  If there had been no reason to investigate further…”

“If the family was content with the idea that his abused system finally gave out…”  Zeke adds.

“We probably would have released the body for burial and that, as they say, would have been that.”  He sighs, a grim frown on his face.

“Rhyssa was so angry with him, so disillusioned, that her desire to have him humiliated, even posthumously, was greater than her sense of public duty.  She was telling the absolute truth when she said that she wanted him to be debased like he had debased her.”  It’s my turn to sigh.  “I would suggest that Eric had similar motives.  And while what they did was not…right, it was a big help for the police.”

“We are not rewarding them for stabbing a dead man.”  We all flicker a smile at the thought.

“So what happens to them now?”  Zeke takes a sip of his coffee and then thinks better of it.  I am drinking water, knowing the hospital cafeteria’s institutional brew would not be pleasant on our admittedly spoiled palates.

Paul shakes his head.  “I don’t know.  We haven’t charged Adamson with anything yet, although he’s been warned not to leave town.  We have no evidence to charge him with the murder, so that’s where we’re stuck with him.  As far as Rhyssa Jordan…she’s not going anywhere today or tomorrow, so I may pass this one back up to my boss and let him make the call of bringing charges against her.

“But again, there is no evidence to link her to the murder.  She doesn’t really have an alibi for the actual time of ingestion, but there is nothing to link her to the deadly dessert.  And that irks me.  We can’t find out who made that trifle.  Dorie Schmidt has to be the most vague person I have ever met.  It’s like talking to…to…”

“A wisp of smoke?”  I offer the choice.  He nods.

“So let me see if I can sum this up so far.”  Zeke begins to tick points off on his fingers as he talks.  “John Robert is dead on purpose.  Someone gave him atropine, which killed him and Eric and Rhyssa stabbed him.  Mike Johnson is dead because of an accident, which doesn’t make him any less dead.  We know that John Junior beat him up and that Laurie pushed him against the rock that actually killed him, but we have no hard evidence to be able to charge either of them.

“We have Dorie who was poisoned, but we think that was actually meant for her husband.”  We both look at him and wait.  He continues.

“So here are some questions that we need to answer.  Obviously, who made the belladonna trifle?  Who made the chocolate cake with mistletoe oil in it and if it was Sara, how do we prove that?  Why would she do it?  Since there was no will, Dorie will inherit the entire estate. How much is it worth?”

Paul interrupts him at this point.  “Oh we checked that out.  He was actually worth a fair amount, with family assets—real estate in the form of several homes, a collection of art that while not priceless has some monetary value, both of them have plenty of good quality jewelry.  He had a generous amount of life insurance, bought years ago and payments kept scrupulously up to date.

“His business is worth a healthy chunk.  I don’t have the exact numbers with me, but let’s just say that to call John Robert a multi-millionaire would be quite true.  Anyway, it all boils down to the fact that Dorie will never have to work for a living—and her standard of living will not be low.  But in all honesty, their children benefit by association.  For what it’s worth, we know that John Junior has been into trouble before.”

“Does he have a police record?”  Zeke decides not to finish his coffee which is a wise choice since it has an oil slick I can see from across the table.

“If he had a juvenile record, it’s been sealed and I can’t find out.”  Paul sounds peeved.   He thumbs back several pages.  “We have talked to his friends and people who knew him at school.  He has a certain reputation for being a troublemaker and is generally known to have a bad temper.  More than one person told me that he has a tendency to violence when thwarted.”

“Well we knew that, but while that may help convict him for Mike’s death, it doesn’t solve John Robert’s. “  I yawn as a wave of sleepiness washed over me.  Damn.  All that sleeping I’ve done and I am still wore out.  Zeke looks at me and then turns to Paul.

“I have to get her home now while she can still walk or I’ll have to carry her up the stairs.  Do you need us to stay?”

“Something wrong?  You’re not sick, are you?”  Paul’s concern is genuine and I can hardly wait until we are finished with murder and can be friends for real.

Zeke answers him.  “No, she’s not sick.  She did a healing for Josh, Rob’s partner.”

“Ahhhh.  That would explain Rob singing in the lab today.”  Paul stands and we rise as well.  We shake hands and then my beloved and I head home.

He does not have to carry me up the stairs but I don’t remember getting into bed.  We don’t do much on Saturday as I’m still dragging ass…

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