All the Little Pieces, p.11Jilliane Hoffman
‘I have to talk to Mommy,’ he repeated.
Maggie shook her head defiantly. ‘No!’
‘Yes. I have to find out what happened.’ He stood, picking Maggie up in his arms. She buried her face in his neck. ‘Faith?’ he called out, walking over to the living room. ‘Faith, I gotta talk to you about something.’ He rounded the corner, stepping over the blue jeans and towels that lay on the floor.
And there she was. Sitting on the second landing, leaning her head back against the wall. Like Maggie, she, too, was crying. They faced each other for what seemed an eternity and he knew for sure that this was gonna be bad. Really, really bad.
‘Jarrod,’ she said in a weak, small voice. ‘We have to talk …’
‘You think that if I got an artist to come in here, Maggie, you could tell him what the man looked like?’ asked the super-sized homicide detective. Slumped shoulders, listless blue eyes, and a drawn, intense face betrayed his cheery inflection and contradicted the widely held belief that fat people were supposed to be jolly. Detective Bryan Nill looked like a man who had been on the job for a long time, even though he didn’t look that old – late forties, if Faith had to guess. He looked like a man who had seen a lot of unpleasant things as a detective – and then had the frustrating bureaucracies of a police department to deal with at the end of a shift, which probably caused him more grief than the dead bodies he found and the killers he hunted.
Maggie looked at Jarrod, not Faith, as they sat around a conference table in an interview room at the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, where they’d been for over an hour. It was the three of them and two homicide detectives: Nill, who was obviously the lead, and Tatiana Maldonado, a Latino in her early thirties with an exotically pretty face. Soft brown eyes betrayed the tough persona she tried to work.
‘Do you think you can help the detectives draw a picture of the man, honey?’ Jarrod asked.
Maggie nodded shyly, clutching her Eeyore.
‘How well did you see the man? Because we don’t want the police to draw the wrong picture,’ Jarrod added.
‘Excuse me, Mr Saunders,’ broke in Nill, ‘I know you used to be a defense attorney, but that’s not your job here.’
‘Sorry, Detective,’ replied Jarrod tetchily. ‘But she’s my daughter and today my job is to make sure I protect her from being even more traumatized about this than she already is.’
Nill shook his head. ‘No one wants to upset your daughter, Mr Saunders.’ He looked over at Faith. ‘Or your wife. They’ve both been through a traumatizing event, it sounds like. But, see, we don’t even know what role this man played in what happened to Ms Santri – we just would like to find him and talk to him.’
‘I can draw him, Daddy,’ Maggie offered, picking up a notepad and a pen. She started to scribble something so intensely the pen tore into the paper.
Detective Nill chuckled. ‘Why don’t we leave the drawing to Officer Cuddy? He’s pretty good at what he does. And if you don’t remember something, like your daddy says, then that’s OK. You tell Officer Cuddy you don’t know.’
‘He was skinny. And he had girl hair.’ Her nose scrunched and her lip curled in distaste. ‘And he was mean.’
Detective Nill nodded. ‘Well, it looks like you’re ready for Officer Cuddy. You’ll like him. I’ll get him in here so you two can become friends.’ He looked over at Faith. ‘And your mom, too. She’s gonna help us with this drawing. It’s gonna be a joint effort so we can get the best picture possible. Who’s that on your dress now? Donner? Blitzen? Big Foot?’
‘No! Rudolph!’ Maggie squealed, delighted to have stumped an adult.
Nill smacked the side of his head. ‘I should’ve known by the red nose. ’Course that’s the exact color and shape of my pop’s noggin. Could be him.’
‘I’m kidding, kiddo. A little bad humor. You must be getting excited for Christmas; you’re sure into the spirit with that dress.’
But Maggie was off and running to try out the other chairs at the table, which had toys and games on it that Faith had brought from home. ‘I want an American Girl doll,’ Maggie said.
‘And I want a Porsche,’ Nill shot back as he lumbered over to the door. ‘Hope Santa gives us both what we want. You are a ball of energy and the holidays ain’t even here yet. Don’t nobody give that kid sugar, Maldonado,’ he called out to his partner as Maggie spun herself around on a chair, using the table to push off on. He stopped at the door and looked over at Faith again. ‘You certainly got your hands full, Mrs Saunders. You’ll be OK with this, right? You said you got a pretty good look at the guy yourself?’
‘I’ll have your daughter work with Cuddy first, then you. That way whatever you saw, you saw, and we don’t taint what she saw. I’m sure you’ll be able to give a better description than your four-year-old, but then again, your daughter seems pretty smart. We’ll try and maybe find a mug shot off the sketch. Because Maggie’s so young, I don’t want to give her pictures of other men to look at before she works with the artist – that might influence her memory. Or at least, that’s what the argument’s gonna be, if and when we do find this guy. Nowadays ya gotta wear a lot of hats,’ he said, pointing to his head. ‘Ya gotta think like a lawyer. Those defense attorneys love it when we give them an opportunity for confusion later on. They jump all over that and mess up a perfectly good case – right, Mr Saunders?’ He smiled before cracking his gum and walking out into the noise and bustle of a police station at midday.
The door closed behind him and all went quiet again. Maggie spun at the table, Detective Maldonado worked on paperwork and Jarrod stared straight ahead at nothing and no one, his fists clenched in front of him. Faith put her head in her hands. It was as unnervingly quiet as the hour-long car ride to the police station had been this morning …
Jarrod tried to wrap his mind around what Faith was saying. She was sobbing and it was hard to understand what she was telling him. Or perhaps it was because the story she was telling him was hard to understand.
‘So you fall asleep in this town that you’re not sure is really a town while you wait for this tropical storm to pass. The storm that closed airports for two days?’
‘I was waiting for this rain band to pass, not the whole tropical storm, Jarrod. I fell asleep. Not for long, forty-five minutes, an hour … I don’t know. When I woke up, she was standing there.’ She ran her hands through her hair. ‘You’re treating me like one of your witnesses again. You’re cross-examining me!’
‘In the rain?’ he asked.
‘It had stopped raining.’
‘What did she look like?’
‘She had black hair and was all wet,’ said Maggie.
‘And tattoos,’ Faith added. ‘And piercings. In her nose and eyebrows. She was … I was scared. She looked crazed.’
Jarrod shook his head.
‘It was one o’clock in the morning. I had my child in the car. I had Maggie in the car. I had no idea where I was. What would you have done?’
‘I like to think I would’ve opened the door.’
‘Yeah, well, you’re a man. You’re not a woman, lost in some deserted, weird town in the middle of nowhere.’
He nodded. ‘Exactly,’ he said quietly.
‘That’s not fair,’ she sobbed. ‘It happened so fast, I didn’t know what to think. Then that guy was there and I thought, I don’t know, they were going to rob me or something. The girl, I’m just saying, and forgive me if it sounds mean, but she didn’t look like Cinderella.’
Jarrod nodded. Faith was right – that jab wasn’t fair. If she had opened the door and had let that girl in, it could have been a whole different tragedy. It might’ve been his family on the news today. The thought was too overwhelming to imagine, which was why he was being sardonic.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, reaching over to stroke her leg. ‘You’re right. You’re right. I’m glad you didn’t ope
‘I didn’t have my cell. And by the time I got home, it was hours later. There was no point … I didn’t see any point. They would be long gone. I mean, what were the police gonna do then?’
‘Where was your cell?’
‘I left it at Charity’s.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘What about the girl, Faith? She was still out there.’
‘I didn’t think she was going to be killed, Jarrod!’
‘A four-year-old knew enough to say something.’
‘After that girl’s face made the news, not before. Maggie never mentioned anything to anyone about her before this morning.’
He patted Maggie on the back. ‘Go upstairs and play in your room while Mommy and Daddy talk, please.’
He waited until she was gone and he’d heard her bedroom door shut before he starting talking again, his voice low. ‘Wait a second … don’t go blaming a four-year-old for not stepping up to the plate. She said she was scared that you were gonna get mad at her.’
‘Well then, why didn’t she tell you without me there?’
‘Now who’s not being fair?’
She nodded fretfully. ‘What I’m saying, Jarrod, is that until this girl’s face showed up on the TV – until anyone knew she was dead, no one thought anything was wrong. And you’re right: I shouldn’t put this on Maggie. She’s a kid. I didn’t think something was wrong – wrong enough to call the police when I got home two hours later. Nobody knew this girl was even missing. There was nothing on the news about her before today. Have you heard of her? Did you see anything about a missing girl from Palm Beach? No.’ She swallowed hard. ‘There was no reason to think something bad had happened to her out there …’
He blew out a measured breath, tapping a finger against his temple, trying to think. The puzzle was still missing a few critical pieces, but he thought he knew what they were and why they were missing. He thought about last night and the empty wine bottle he’d found buried deep in the trash when he got home. He’d taken it out and put it in the recycle bin, along with the six or seven other bottles he’d found since the recyclables were picked up last week. Then he’d carried Faith upstairs off the couch in the family room and he’d put her to bed. Ever since his mistake with Sandra, her drinking had gotten worse. She’d always had a sturdy liver and a high tolerance, but she was much worse since last Christmas – and he was the one to blame, so how could he say anything? He was the one who’d strayed for some reason he himself still couldn’t explain, much less justify. He’d broken her heart. He’d devastated her. And he’d almost broken up the family that he would sooner die for. She had every right to find a way to cope until he could prove to her that he’d changed – that Sandra was a stupid fling who meant nothing to him. That she could trust him again and that their marriage could be exactly as good as it was before the affair. So he didn’t say anything and he didn’t judge her – he just came home a little later than he otherwise would so that he didn’t have to see it, so that he didn’t have to say anything. Because Faith was a good woman – she was a kind, loving, generous person. She was a great wife and an amazing mother to a little girl who could drive the patience from a saint and make any parent second-guess their parenting skills. And he had fucked it all up. He’d fucked it all up. So the reason for his silence was not because he was willing to accept her excessive drinking, but rather it was a decision based in logic: if their marriage improved and he was a better husband and everything went back to the way it was before his stupid mistake, then Faith would be happy again and she would stop drinking. If P then Q logic. He knew what she wasn’t telling him about that night; to even ask her if she’d been drinking would be insulting. Because if she was, he was the reason. In a way, he was the one responsible for … this. So he didn’t ask. He knew the answer anyway.
‘OK,’ he’d said, resigned. ‘We have to go to the police now.’
‘Yes, yes, of course,’ she replied quickly.
‘You’d better get dressed. I’ll call the Sheriff’s Office and find out who’s handling this. I have to let my office know I won’t be in today.’
Faith headed slowly up the stairs and he headed down. He wanted to grab her and hug her and hold her tight, tell her everything was going to be OK. But he didn’t. For some reason he couldn’t. When he got to the bottom of the staircase, he carefully stepped over the laundry that lay scattered on the wood floor. Upstairs, he heard the door to their bedroom close behind her.
He waited a minute, staring hard at the floor. Then he picked the dirty laundry up, stuffed it back into the basket, and got rid of it all.
A comedy of stupid errors. A succession of stupid lies. Like dominoes, one set off the other until they couldn’t be stopped.
Faith couldn’t tell Jarrod about the second man.
He was a litigator. He was board-certified in both criminal and civil trial practice, was ranked in the top tier of trial lawyers by Chambers Global, and last year had been named as one of Broward County’s best trial attorneys in Think magazine. Faith’s father had been a lawyer, too – a general practitioner who was never afraid to go to court. She’d lived with lawyers her whole life and they all shared certain character traits. First, they were quick to react – forming opinions as the facts came in, constantly crafting and revising a closing argument in their heads. Unlike a doctor who’d listen to all of a patient’s symptoms then run some tests, and then run some more before delivering a diagnosis, a lawyer was always ready to make a closing. Second, they could think on their feet, already forming their next three questions before the witness had finished answering one. And third, lawyers don’t back down. Even if you showed them documentation that water was wet, they would successfully argue it’s not, burning your hand with a slab of dry ice to prove their point. But it was the criminal defense attorneys who held a particularly dangerous skill: they could focus in on some weird, seemingly innocuous fact and somehow spin a whole argument around it – changing the paint color to match the speck of dirt they’d managed to spot on the wall. They could turn a character witness into a prime suspect in the minds of jurors just so they could create reasonable doubt.
Faith knew Jarrod was forming those opinions, phrasing his questions, crafting that closing as she was telling him what had happened while they sat on the stairs – he couldn’t help himself. She could feel the anger in him swell and saw his body tense when she related certain parts. Because he already knew the ending: the girl was dead. What he didn’t know was how she got that way. He didn’t know the story, so he wasn’t sure where the plot points were. She’d proceeded carefully and delicately, navigating through his sighs and comments and emotional interjections like she was driving through a field dotted with landmines. There were things he did not need to know – namely, that she’d been drinking that night, that she’d had an accident, and that she’d had the car fixed. She had to describe the landscape without blowing herself up.
He was mad at himself: mad that he hadn’t gone with her to Charity’s; mad that he hadn’t insisted she stay at a hotel and not on her sister’s couch; mad he hadn’t bought her a new car with GPS. Then his mad had moved to others: Nick, for having a party during a tropical storm; Charity, for letting her drive home in it. Anger then turned to relief that nothing had happened to his family, that it wasn’t their bodies being carried out of a cane field this morning.
Finally, the anger and indignation and relief subsided and the ginormous wave of shock was pulled back out to sea, exposing those landmines embedded in all the muck. Then came the questions. It was what he did best, after all.
‘Why did you leave? Why didn’t you stay at a hotel? You say this girl looked dangerous – did she have a weapon? Could you hear with the windows up? Why didn’t you try to run this guy over? Did he h
The questions came like rocket fire – often he didn’t wait for a full answer before moving to the next one. He wasn’t trying to discredit her, rather, he seemed to blurt out questions as they came to him, like a stream of consciousness, and because they were coming from a lawyer, thoughts came out in the form of questions. Her story was being dismantled before it was even finished being told. Her every action or inaction was being called into question. He hadn’t found it yet, but he would – that damning speck of dirt on the wall.
That was when Faith decided at the last second to avoid another landmine, turning right before she ran over it.
‘So this guy,’ Jarrod had said, his hands clasped before him as he sat on the stairs, ‘when he tried to open the car door, what did the girl do? Was she just standing there?’
Maggie was the first to respond: she nodded.
‘She didn’t run away?’ he asked.
Maggie shook her head.
Faith shook her head, too.
‘And when he pointed and told you to shush, where was the girl? Still standing there alone?’
Maggie thought for a moment, then nodded again.
As it turned out, from her limited vantage point in her car seat coupled with the fogged windows, Maggie could not see across the street. She never mentioned the creepy Deliverance guy. She never spoke about how he’d taken the girl back into the wooded lot with him. And that was because, Faith realized, Maggie didn’t know he was there. She’d never seen him.
Faith had looked at Jarrod at that moment and a sickening thought had come to her: if he was looking at her this way now, barely masking his disdain for her silence and inaction, if he was doubting her claim that she did not think this Santri girl was in danger when he believed only one man was involved, what would he think of her if he knew there was another?
All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes