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All the little pieces, p.20
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       All the Little Pieces, p.20

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  She finally went back to her apartment Sunday morning and they’d been together ever since. She and Jarrod were the exact opposite of how it should happen. They were the poster children for how not to start a successful relationship. She had stayed that day to prove she wasn’t a drunken slut – that, in fact, she was in control of the situation. A Sex in the City chick, who could have wild sex with a stranger without regret, although she never had before. He likely had not forced her out the door because he’d wanted to prove he wasn’t a jerk. Last month marked nine years that they had been together. Seven years ago, on a freezing cold beach in Key West three days after Christmas, with a breathtaking sunset behind them, she’d promised him forever – for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, through good times and through bad, to love and to cherish, till death do they part. He’d done the same. And when the notary pronounced them man and wife and his soft, warm lips met hers, the sky erupted like it was the Fourth of July.

  The bar at the Royal Pig was packed, every table was taken, waiters and waitresses hurried out of the kitchen with platters of food. Dinner hour was in full swing. When had that happened? She craned her neck to look past the bartender – it was dark out. The sun had long since set. She couldn’t remember how many vodka cranberries she’d had and she didn’t want to. She pushed the last drink back, which was still half-full. She felt proud of herself for doing that – leaving before she had finished.

  Then she grabbed her iPhone off the bar and slipped it in her purse.

  It was time to head home.

  45

  ‘Mr Saunders? It’s Irma Wackett over at St Andrew’s. Um, no one has come to pick up Maggie and it’s now six o’clock …’

  Jarrod stared at the clock on his computer. It said 6:03. Outside his office window it was dark. It felt as if someone had sucked all the oxygen from the room and he took an extra breath before responding. ‘OK,’ he replied slowly, while simultaneously texting Faith: Where are you? Are you OK?? ‘I’m on my way right now, Mrs Wackett. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. My wife must have lost track of time.’ He slammed his laptop shut, grabbed his briefcase and hurried out of the office, ignoring the wave of a partner he passed in the hall.

  That was it, he told himself. Or he tried to, initially. Faith had probably gone back to the bakery and gotten caught up with paperwork or personnel issues or chatting with Vivian. Or her sister. The three of them were like teenagers: they could stay up all night chatting and still have something new to say to each other in the morning. The reason she wasn’t answering her phone was because it was dead. She had forgotten to charge it. No big deal.

  But then he’d called the bakery and the girl working the counter said Faith wasn’t there. Then he got ahold of Charity who told him that Faith hadn’t been in the store all day and that she’d been trying to reach her since lunch, but Faith hadn’t picked up or texted back. By the time he reached Vivian on her cell, as he was walking into Mrs Wackett’s room, and she told him the same thing, panic had set in.

  Maggie was sitting by herself at a table in the classroom clutching a My Little Pony. Her backpack was on the tiny table in front of her, all packed up and ready to go. Her bottom lip was quivering, her blue eyes wet with tears. She ran to him as soon as she saw him. When an annoyed Mrs Wackett, with her purse on her shoulder and her hand on the light switch, started to lecture him about the time without even inquiring if everything was all right he ignored her, scooping Maggie up in his arms. When she suggested that Maggie might feel emotionally abandoned because her parents were ten minutes late for preschool pick-up for the first time he still ignored her as he headed for the door. But when she flat out told him that she was concerned that it was really a continued lack of discipline and structure like this that was causing Maggie’s behavioral problems, he asked her when and where she had received her degree in psychology. Then he angrily told her that Maggie would no longer be her problem to worry about, because she wouldn’t be coming back.

  He raced home, hoping to find Faith cooking in the kitchen with some weird excuse as to why she had forgotten to pick up their daughter. Or lying on the bed, sleeping off a terrible migraine. But the house was empty; she hadn’t been there all day. His mind raced with horrible possibilities. He called Detective Nill and left a message that he couldn’t get in touch with Faith and that he was concerned and to please call him. Despite Mrs Wackett’s snippy, judgmental observations about Maggie’s fear of abandonment, he had the neighborhood babysitter come over to feed her dinner. Then he got in the car and went out looking for his wife.

  Over and over and over his mind returned to the PBSO parking lot. To the question she’d asked him, her eyes filled with tears: Are they going to arrest him now? He had given her the legal reasons why Poole wouldn’t be, hoping that they would explain away her anxiety: the law dictated that he couldn’t be arrested, that there was not enough probable cause. And it was going to be OK, because the law was there to protect everyone, defendants and citizens alike. To reassure her, he had put his lawyer hat on, as though he were calmly arguing in front of a judge that one of his clients was not a danger to society when, as the man’s defense attorney, he clearly knew he was.

  Derrick Poole was as dangerous as any of the murdering clients he had argued for freedom for in the past. But in this instance he had no control over whether the man stayed behind bars or not, because the decision to charge him was not in his hands. When he secured a client’s release from jail – on bond, or through an acquittal, or dismissal of the charges – he knew the last person in the world that client would come hunting for was the man who had gotten him out. As a defense attorney, he had nothing to fear personally when a murderer was set free.

  Now he had everything to lose.

  To assuage Faith’s fears, and reassure himself that all would be fine when Poole walked out those station doors, he’d mistakenly placed his trust in a system he personally knew was fucked up and broken. Instead of barricading her inside the house with Maggie and manning the windows with a shotgun, he had let her go to a meeting with a realtor while he’d taken Maggie to preschool and he’d headed off to a meeting, as if nothing was wrong. As if there wasn’t a distinct possibility that a suspected serial killer might come to hunt down the only two witnesses that could directly connect him to a murder victim. He’d been in denial himself. And now he hated himself for it. He was supposed to protect his family. And he’d done nothing of the sort. Now Faith was missing. And the first person he thought would know something about that was the last person he hoped she would be with: Derrick Poole.

  As he raced north on 441 toward Boca, his cell rang.

  ‘Detective?’

  ‘Mr Saunders. I just got your message.’

  ‘Where is Poole?’ He tried hard to sound calm.

  ‘Mr Saunders? What’s going on here?’

  ‘Do you know where he is? I haven’t heard from Faith; I can’t find her. And I’m, I’m going a little crazy here. I called you to see if Poole was under surveillance, because I’m thinking bad thoughts here.’ He punched the console.

  ‘Whoa, Mr Saunders – Jarrod – listen to me. Calm down. Your wife, she left a message on my voicemail this afternoon. Said she needed to talk to me about the case, but when I called her back, I got her voicemail. I’ve been trying, but I think her phone’s off. I haven’t been able to reach her.’

  ‘Where’s Poole?’ Jarrod demanded. The detective sounded way too normal. Way too calm, in light of what he’d just told him. ‘Do you people have any idea where he is?’

  ‘He’s at home. We’re watching him, Jarrod.’

  ‘I’ll see about that.’

  ‘Wait – where are you?’ Now the detective didn’t sound so calm.

  ‘I’m pulling down his block right fucking now.’

  ‘You’re at his house? Jesus Christ, are you kidding me? Jarrod, drive away. Your wife is not there. She’s not. Poole’s been with his attorney all day. He just
pulled into his house with a pizza a half-hour ago. You need to keep driving.’

  ‘Where is she, Detective? Why is he out? Why haven’t you arrested him? And why can’t I find her?’

  ‘Jarrod, I can hear the worry, but I assure you she’s not with Derrick Poole. It’s only eight thirty. You can’t even file a missing persons report yet. Give it a few more hours, call some friends and see if she’s with them. Maybe she went for a drive. Maybe …’ he hesitated. ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘What is it? I can hear it in your voice, Detective.’

  ‘Are things OK at home?’

  ‘Excuse me?’

  ‘I sense things maybe aren’t so good at home. I’m sorry if I’m being too forward with that observation. I’m in the middle of a divorce, so maybe I’m feeling things that aren’t there.’

  Jarrod said nothing. He nodded at the phone.

  ‘I know you’re both under a lot of stress, especially your wife.’ There was a long, deliberate pause. ‘I’m gonna be honest: I think Faith was drinking when she called me. I think maybe she’s out somewhere, maybe at a bar with some friends, maybe blowing off some steam. Could that be it, Jarrod? Has she done that before?’

  ‘Oh,’ was all Jarrod could manage. He looked out the window. The lights were on at 2330 Nightingale Lane. So was the TV. A man stood by the window looking out, half his body obscured by drapes. Jarrod drove past.

  He promised the detective he would keep him advised of the situation. Then he headed back toward 441. When he got down to Fort Lauderdale he cruised the streets looking for her Explorer on Las Olas, or in one the many parking lots that shot off it. He couldn’t find her car, although it could be in a parking garage, he thought, as he passed by the downtown hotspots of Timpanos, The Royal Pig, Yolo, Vibe and Grille 401. People spilled from the restaurants and bars onto the sidewalks. The area was jumping for a Tuesday.

  He found the space that she’d looked at with the realtor. Then decided to retrace what likely was her route home. Maybe the detective was right and she had stopped off at one of the dozens of bars and restaurants that lined Las Olas. Maybe she’d had a drink with lunch because it had been a bad day. Maybe she’d had an accident on the way home.

  Impending disappointment replaced abject fear. He had pulled off the Sawgrass Expressway onto Coral Ridge Drive in Parkland, and having found no sight of her, was preparing to turn around at the light and try a different route when the call came. He didn’t recognize the number, but he knew who it was before he even heard her voice.

  ‘Jarrod?’ she asked in a small voice as soon as he picked up.

  ‘Faith! Thank God! Where have you been? I’ve been so worried!’

  She started to cry hysterically.

  He pulled over to the side of the road and caught his breath, even though he knew what she was about to say was going to take it away again. ‘Honey, what’s the matter? Faith, where are you?’

  ‘I’m … I’m in jail. I’ve been arrested, Jarrod, for DUI. They took me to jail …’

  46

  Thanksgiving used to be Bryan’s favorite holiday. He’d get up early, put on a pot of coffee, and clean out the turkey while he watched the Today show and lead-up to the parade. Then he’d fry a slab of bacon and start sautéing the celery, onions and mushrooms for the stuffing, while he popped the pumpkin pie – that he always added his secret shot of Baileys to – into the oven. The house would fill with the best smells. Audrey always vowed to sleep late on Thanksgiving, but the aroma of everything that was The Holidays would waft upstairs and get under her nose and lead her to the kitchen. He’d already have her cup of coffee waiting and the parade on the TV. Everyone was happy: the whole gang at Today, Fudge the beagle, Audrey, and the girls – who would both start shrieking as their favorite balloons crossed the screen. And then Santa … well, he was The Bomb. He’d finish it up in front of Macy’s and it was official: Christmas was coming. The family and friends would start to arrive around three, the bird was devoured to the bone by eight, Christmas carols on the piano started at nine and no one left before midnight. When the twins turned twelve, the four of them had even gotten into the Black Friday madness – leaving the huge mess for the morning and hitting the malls when the last guest left.

  This year Audrey had the girls, Fudge, and a boyfriend the girls referred to as ‘John Something’. Bryan had made a small turkey, but it was only to get the smell in the apartment. He’d watched half the parade before putting on a Batman movie. Tatiana had asked him to her aunt’s house, and his brother had asked him to come up to Jersey. But he’d said no to both, thinking the day wouldn’t be so bad. He was wrong.

  So he went for a two-hour walk that nearly killed him, ate his turkey with a salad and watched another Batman movie. Then he’d dragged out the old photo albums that Audrey used to keep – before pictures were on SD cards and cellphones and computers. She didn’t want any of them when they split. After defiling a few of them with a Sharpie and scissors, he’d taken out his anger on a boring white wall in his boring, rented apartment with his fist. That hurt. When the joy of blacking out Audrey’s eyes in vacation photos fizzled like a dying firecracker and the excruciating pain in his hand subsided to an annoying throb, he decided steps had to be taken before he found himself sitting on the floor in the dark flicking a light switch on and off, fantasizing about boiling Fudge on the stove. He was that close to the edge of going crazy. He wanted his life back – the life he and Audrey used to have – and short of barging into his old living room and plopping himself down at that Thanksgiving table that he’d fucking paid for, grabbing a knife and going at that turkey and Audrey’s new boyfriend, he couldn’t make it happen. Of course, forcefully reclaiming his seat at the dinner table wasn’t going to give him back his life – it was going to land him in the slammer. He’d been trying to get a grip on his feelings since Audrey had asked him to get out, trying to figure out – like the detective he was – a solution to their problems, trying to figure out why things went wrong and a way he could get back into his house. And he just had to come to terms with the fact that wasn’t gonna happen. In fact, with a new boyfriend at the holiday table, the idea of reconciliation was looking more and more remote. It was time to stop crying in the shower and blaming the water for why he was all wet. He had to face what was happening, accept that he couldn’t stop it and plot his revenge.

  So he took out all the old photos of himself from those photo albums, back from years ago when he looked good – tan and muscular and somehow taller. Then he cut Audrey out of all of them and covered the fridge in pictures of the self he wanted to be again, and vowed to make a comeback. It was an early New Year’s resolution, and it might take him a year to lose that hundred pounds, but by the time Audrey called to tell him that she was going to be the next ‘Mrs John Something’ he’d be back and she’d be sorry she ever told him to leave. And he would be happy to tell her to go fuck herself, snidely commenting as he closed the door on her once-pretty face that she needed a booster shot of Botox and some rejuvenation down south because both her mug and her vagina were starting to sag.

  The lonely house stunk of turkey and the pumpkin pie that he’d actually chucked in the garbage so he wouldn’t break his new resolution. Since he would no longer allow himself to find comfort in the company of a meatball hero or a six-pack of Heineken, he decided to get out and do something constructive.

  Strip clubs were like hospitals and 7-Elevens – they never closed. Not on Christmas and not on Thanksgiving. Animal Instincts had opened at noon and wouldn’t shut its doors till four in the morning. They even served free turkey dinners and pumpkin pie with a paid admission. Bryan still wasn’t expecting to see fifteen cars in the parking lot, though – it was Thanksgiving, after all. And it was … well, the Animal. While he was no connoisseur of strip joints, the Animal could best be compared to a Rodeway Inn: convenient, cheap, and sometimes clean – adjectives that also applied to its dancers.

  Bryan was confident that the pickups an
d SUVs in the parking lot were all locals. No one was throwing bachelor parties on a major holiday, and at nine at night the tourists should all still be sitting around their in-laws’ tables, finishing pie and coffee with the family, maybe even planning out their strategy for how to attack the malls come midnight. He knew that’s where he’d’ve been if it was up to him. On that annoying thought, he pulled his taped hand, which was probably fractured, out of the gallon-sized Ziploc bag of ice. Argh. Not only was he probably gonna have to sit in the ER on a major holiday weekend with all the food-poisoning victims and morons who almost blew themselves up when they attempted to deep-fry a frozen bird, but he was probably gonna have to pay some outrageous amount in co-pay fees, and probably spend six weeks in a cast. And he was definitely gonna have to fix the fucking hole in the wall. He popped two more Advil, dried off his hand and thought of the line from the movie Animal House: ‘Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.’ And he wasn’t even drunk when he’d challenged his apartment to a duel.

 
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