Read Grave Situation Online

Authors: Alex MacLean

Tags: #crime, #murder, #mystery, #addiction, #police procedural, #serial killer, #forensics, #detective, #csi, #twist ending, #traumatic stress

Grave Situation (31 page)

Snowplows, he found, hadn’t reached
most of the side streets, only the main ones. Across lawns and
parking lots, the white powder had drifted in undulating dunes.
Here and there, gusts of wind whipped up snow devils.

The storm was keeping people in.
Only a handful of vehicles crawled back and forth. For Allan, that
was a good thing. Stay indoors and enjoy the spirit of the season
with loved ones.

Like I should
be
, he thought.

There was no sense going over to
Melissa’s parents. She would have taken Brian home by now. Allan
knew she would not hazard driving in such weather.

A gust of powder swept over the
windshield. Slowing down, Allan took his time. The drive home felt
like an eternity.

Pulling into his driveway, he saw
the blinking lights of the Christmas tree through the living room
window. Melissa’s car was there, buried in snow.

Tomorrow, he decided. He would
shovel tomorrow.

He found Melissa in the living
room, leaned back in the sofa with her arms crossed. In profile,
she seemed sad, troubled somehow. Allan stared at an empty wine
glass on the coffee table in front of her.

Muted, the television flickered in
the corner. On the screen, Peanuts characters skated around a
frozen pond. The only sound came from the wind and snow buffeting
the window.

Walking to the fireplace, Allan
held out his hands to the warmth of the hearth.

“Some miserable weather out
there,” he said.

Behind him, Melissa was
unresponsive.

Turning to her, he said, “You seem
tired.”

“Just a hectic day,” she
mumbled.

In his wife’s voice, Allan detected
the pinch of melancholy. For the first time, he noticed the red
flush in her face. Once more, he glanced at the empty wine
glass.

“Everything all right?”

“Fine.”

Discomfited, Allan looked into
Melissa’s eyes. From across the room, her return stare was level
and silent. There was something as yet unsaid and he knew what it
was.

“I tried to make it for supper,”
he said. “I left a message on the answering machine. You know it’s
hard to keep a timetable with this job.”

Melissa said nothing. Then
something changed in her eyes. When she spoke again, her voice
carried a hint of strained patience. “I know how it is. I listened
to your message when I got home.”

Allan puffed his cheeks, exhaling
softly. “The case took a lot longer than I had
anticipated.”

Melissa seemed to wince. “You
missed a good dinner. Everyone asked where you were. We decided to
have it early because of the snow. There’s a plate wrapped up in
the fridge for you. You can nuke it if you’re hungry. Dad gave us a
bottle of his home-made merlot.” Pointing to the wine glass, she
added. “As you can see I already dipped into it. There’s still a
lot left. It’s chilling in the fridge.”

“Maybe later,” Allan said. “What
time did you get home?”

“Four-thirty or five. Just when
the snow was starting to get bad.”

Allan glanced at his watch.
10:05.

Quite softly, he asked, “How was
everyone?”

“Great. Mom and Dad are the same.
Kevin and Mary are doing fine.”

“The kids?”

“They’re great too. Growing like
weeds. Kevin wants to stop over tomorrow before they head back.
They’re flying out tomorrow night if the flights aren’t
cancelled.”

“The snow is supposed to clear up
overnight.” Allan looked around. “Where’s Brian?”

“In bed. All the day’s activities
wore him out, I think. He waited up for you as long as he could. He
wanted you to help him put his train set together. He actually fell
asleep down here.”

For a moment, Allan paused. Under
the tree lay an open box. Neatly piled beside that were tracks,
boxcars, a steam engine, a caboose. Staring at them, Allan felt
suspended between guilt and shame. It was difficult, he found, to
look at Melissa now.

Stiffly, he moved to the sofa and
sat. He resisted the urge to reach for her.

“I’m sorry, honey,” he whispered.
“I’ll try to make it up to him tomorrow.”

“Try?”

“I have to some more canvassing to
do in the morning. Hopefully, I won’t be too long.”

Quiet, Melissa gazed off into some
middle distance.

“I heard the same thing earlier
today,” she said at last. “You should really make an effort to
spend more time with your son. Things were so much better when you
were in Patrol.”

“Did you want me to spend the rest
of my career confined to a radio car?”

She turned to him, her face angry.
“At least Brian got to see you. And I got to see you. I’d hate to
think your son is beginning to feel like he’s losing his
father.”

Unspoken was the sense that she was
losing her husband as well. Without more, she stood up and left.
Hurt by the sting of her cutting remark, Allan watched her retreat
up the stairs. Then he slouched back in the sofa.

On the television, Snoopy was
tacking decorations to his doghouse. Allan stared until the image
blurred.

 

* * *

 

Allan’s thoughts returned to the
present.

I failed them
both
.

It was soon after that night, he
realized, that the chasm began to widen between him and
Melissa.

Heartsick, he put the picture back
on the mantle and went to the kitchen. He removed a bottle of rum
from the cabinet above the refrigerator, unscrewed the cap and
tipped the bottle to his lips. The rum burned his throat going down
and settled in his stomach like a hot coal. Within minutes, he
could feel the warmth radiate out to the rest of his
body.

Allan reached inside his jacket and
fished out his badge case from an inside pocket. Then he went back
to the living room.

Buddy, he saw, lay asleep on the
chair. Allan set the bottle on the coffee table and lowered himself
onto the sofa. Hands shaking, he opened the case and stared at his
badge and identification card.

“You have your job, Dad. Mom told
me that before…”

Slowly, Allan shut his
eyes.

“You have to catch the bad
guys.”

In one angry motion, Allan threw
the badge case across the room. It skittered across the top of the
television and struck the wall behind it, dropping to the floor.
Buddy’s head snapped up, eyes wide, ears twitching.

Allan reached for the bottle of
rum.

For the next hour, he sat in a
slump. Through an inebriated fog, he watched the twilight diminish
to darkness. He let the rum numb his body and his mind.

What’s this all for? How long can I
continue like this?

He turned on a tableside lamp,
gripped the arm of the sofa to prevent from falling, and heaved
himself to his feet. His coordination was gone. The room swayed
around him.

Weaving, he moved to the chair by
the fireplace. Buddy lifted his head, looking up at him with eyes
like saucers. He let out a soft mew, as Allan reached down and
stroked the cat’s head.

“Don’t mind me,” he
muttered.

Allan stretched his hand past Buddy
and carefully lifted his shoulder holster over him. He pulled out
his 9mm and dropped the holster to the floor. In his hand the gun
looked slick; it was cleaned and oiled from a recent
requalification. The magazine was full. But for this Allan would
need only the round in the chamber.

With the gun in hand, he moved to
the sofa, and sat down. He thumbed off the safety and shut his
eyes.

There were things much worse than
dying.

Like loneliness for one.

Or a life that has lost its
hope.

When he opened his eyes again, ten
minutes had passed. He held up the gun in front of him. Under the
lamp, an asterisk of light rolled along the barrel. Transfixed,
Allan stared at it and then he raised the gun to his head. As the
cold muzzle touched his skin, he shivered.

Inhaling a long breath, Allan
closed his finger around the trigger. At that instant, his tearful
eyes were involuntarily drawn back to the picture on the mantle.
Through a blurry vision, he stared at Melissa and Brian’s faces,
frozen in time.

“Good-bye
,” he
whispered.

All at once, Allan found himself
wondering what his son would think of him after he learned of his
father’s fate. Would Brian be angry? Would he grow up hating Allan
for abandoning him? Would he spend his life wondering why his
father had done this? Or would he grow up thinking his father was
weak, a failure, a man who couldn’t handle the tragedies of life?
Would Brian eventually forget him?

Hand trembling, Allan lowered the
gun from his head and put it on the coffee table.

What the hell am I doing? What has
become of me? Have I gone crazy? Goddamnit man, you’re falling
apart.

This grief, he knew, had grown too
heavy to carry. The months of repressing it now broke loose. He
crumpled back into the sofa and wept.

34

Halifax, May 19

10:48 a.m.

 

Allan felt weak, shaky, not quite
himself. His head throbbed; his stomach was raw. Last night seemed
surreal to him, the residue of a bad dream. He still felt a
crushing guilt about Brian.

He sat surrounded by a throng of
mourners inside the Immaculate Conception Church in Dartmouth,
listening to a gray-haired pastor talk about Cathy Ambré, of life
and death, and of God.

“Our lives are not like the flame
of a candle, which is snuffed out, but they belong to God, came
from Him and return to Him. Cathy is now in the presence of the
Lord…”

Allan had never been a man of
faith, but sitting here amidst the pleasant colors, the
stained-glass windows depicting the Stations of the Cross, and the
religious statuaries, he was filled with a serenity that he
couldn’t explain.

Cathy’s casket was painted ivory
with pink highlights. Embroidered in the head panel was a set of
praying hands. A colorful spray of carnations, chrysanthemums and
ivies adorned the lower part of the casket.

With a sad expression, Allan looked
at Cathy lying inside with her hands folded over her
chest.

Such a
tragedy
, he thought.
She died never knowing how many people actually cared about
her.

As the pastor wrapped up his
sermon, Allan stared at the shimmering flame of the Paschal candle
near the coffin.

“This morning we gather to bid
farewell to you Cathy, a beloved daughter, sister and friend, and
we bid you go in peace with the prince of peace, Jesus Christ. Walk
with him until we all meet again, face to face at the breaking of
the dawn of the new creation.

“This is the promise of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.”

A choir broke into hymn and many in
the church began singing along. When it finished, Philip Ambré
carried himself to the pulpit with a grim composure. A hush came
over the church as the people looked on, their faces furrowed with
sympathy.

To Allan, Philip looked weary and
haggard, even worse than he had two days ago. He adjusted the
microphone and then cleared his throat.

“To quote Henry Van Dyke,” Philip
said in a parched voice. “Time is too slow for those who wait, too
swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short
for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is
eternity.”

Philip paused to drink a mouthful
of water from a glass. “Those we love don’t go away. They walk
beside us everyday. Unseen, unheard, but always near. Still loved,
still missed and very dear.

“My heart is under a pall of
darkness and will be for some time. There’s no greater misfortune
than losing a child, and no greater sorrow.

“I haven’t slept much since
Cathy’s death, as you can all see. I went into her room last night,
laid down on her bed and closed my eyes. I waited. I prayed. I felt
nothing but emptiness, an ache in the pit of my soul.”

Allan saw tears forming in the eyes
around him. Philip’s words, he found, stirred emotions deep within
himself; he could feel just how devastated the man, the father
was.

What a horror to lose one daughter.
But two?

Allan lowered his head, feeling a
hole in his heart. He wondered where Philip would find the strength
to return here again to eulogize Trixy.

“Carol and I couldn’t have asked
for a more wonderful daughter,” Philip continued. “Everything Cathy
did made us proud. From the time she was born, she brought joy and
laughter, not only into our lives, but the lives of
others.

“Carol and I used to read a lot of
bedtime stories to Cathy when she was little. By the time she was
three she was reading small books on her own and it was soon after
that she would sit on my knee in our living room and read to us.”
Philip glanced around the quiet church with a smile. “Imagine that.
A three-year-old reading to you. Carol and I would look at one
another and shake our heads in amazement.”

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