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Marriage is murder, p.1
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       Marriage Is Murder, p.1

           Nancy Pickard
 
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Marriage Is Murder


  PRAISE FOR NANCY PICKARD’S

  MARRIAGE IS MURDER

  “MARRIAGE IS MURDER is a nice mix of caring, wit and sleuthing.”

  —Charleston Evening Post

  “MARRIAGE IS MURDER is bright and breezy, and the problems and patter of the main characters are very much part of today’s world. What we have here is another Nick and Nora Charles. . . .”

  —The Hartford Courant

  “Pickard is a bright, lively author with a terrific sense of humor.”

  —Anniston Star

  “Well researched and thought-provoking. . . . probably the best in the Jenny Cain series to date.”

  —Kate’s Mystery Books Newsletter

  “The plot is fast-moving, the issues raised thought-provoking. ... a crackling mystery . . . well worth your time.”

  —The Drood Review

  * * *

  Look for Nancy Pickard’s

  Generous Death • Say No to Murder • No Body

  Jenny Cain Mysteries Available from

  POCKET BOOKS

  Books by Nancy Pickard

  Generous Death

  Marriage Is Murder

  No Body

  Say No to Murder

  Published by POCKET BOOKS

  For details write the office of the Vice President of Special Markets, Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  Copyright © 1987 by Nancy Pickard

  Cover art copyright © 1988 Richard Bober

  Published by arrangement with Charles Scribner’s Sons

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 87-4911

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce

  this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  For information address Charles Scribner’s Sons,

  Macmillan Publishing Company,

  866 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10002

  ISBN 978-1-4165-8686-9

  ISBN 1-4165-8686-5

  eISBN 978-1-4516-5681-7

  First Pocket Books printing October 1988

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

  POCKET and colophon are trademarks of

  Simon & Schuster Inc.

  Printed in the U.S.A.

  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  For

  Tracy and Andy

  Acknowledgments

  The author thanks Detective Herb Shuey, Retired Police Officer Robert Clave, Jacqui Bradley, and Karen O’Brien, Service Coordinator, Johnson County Association for Battered Persons. They generously and patiently supplied many of the facts to which I applied my dramatic license. Thanks, as always, to Barbara Bartocci.

  MARRIAGE

  IS MURDER

  Prologue

  OF COURSE, I WASN’T THERE THAT NIGHT.

  Nobody else was, only the two of them, so we’ll never know exactly what happened in that small frame house on the corner. But here is how I once imagined it might have been. ...

  Around eight o’clock that Friday night, Eleanor Hanks pulled into the attached garage. She turned off the engine but did not get out of the car immediately to go inside her house.

  It was her night out, the one night a month they sent the two older children to visit friends and Dick stayed home with the baby, allowing her to get together with her girlfriends. Tonight, it was going to be at Lizbeth’s house, and they would order pizza, and play bridge, and drink diet cola, and laugh their behinds off, free of husbands for a night, free of children, free, real liberated women for a night. “Not that I don’t love them dearly,” as Lizbeth always said. “I mean, my family are the dearest things in the world to me, you all know they are, but I don’t think it hurts to be away from them just a little while now and then, do you? They say it probably makes us better mothers, you know?” Eleanor knew.

  But first she wanted to change clothes. She’d spilled barbecue sauce all over her uniform at work. It was an awful stain to get out; she’d never really got the knack of it, so all her uniforms had faint pink splotches, like old bloodstains, that she always prayed the district manager wouldn’t notice. Of course, Dick noticed. “You’re so messy,” he said at least once a day, with the same look of distaste he wore before making love to her, if that’s what you’d call it, love. “Why do you have to be so messy, Eleanor? And you’re unorganized. You’re unorganized and you’re messy. The outward appearance is symbolic of the inner woman. You’re a mess, Eleanor, inside and out.” He thought her brain was messy, too. And “unorganized.” She wanted to tell him the more correct word was “disorganized,” but Dick wasn’t one to be edited by a woman, particularly one with only three years of college to his twenty-two.

  Or maybe he really did think her brain was unorganized, totally and chaotically without any discernible organization to it. Maybe he believed her thoughts were popping around up there like corn, wildly, erratically. In the car, Eleanor smiled briefly as she thought: but light, fluffy popcorn evolves from a hard kernel of truth. To which Dick would have said, “You’re talking nonsense again, Eleanor. Thought disorganization is a clinically demonstrable symptom of emotional and psychological pathology. You might try now and then to string two coherent, related sentences together, do you think that would be possible?”

  She wasn’t especially afraid to go into the house. He hadn’t been really drunk for some time now. He was sulky, but not outright mean about her Friday nights. And he was pretty good about not hitting her when any of the children were around. God, if he’d hit her very often when they were around, she’d have left him. Wouldn’t she have left him? Oh, Lord, she wasn’t that stupid, was she? She’d have left him then, wouldn’t she? But she’d put in twenty years getting that man through college, was she going to quit now, when he was nearly through that damn thesis, when he was finally going to make them some money and she could finally quit flipping hamburgers? Was she going to leave him now and join the millions of mothers and children in poverty?

  Hah. She didn’t smile, but only thought the bitter laughter. What did she mean, join them? She was already with them, they could qualify for food stamps or some other government program if he’d agree to it. But, oh, no, not the good professor. A professor’s wife, in line for food stamps? An almost-professor’s wife. A would-be professor’s wife. A failed boy wonder’s wife. A fast-food manager’s husband. Now, that was funny.

  When she heard him pull open the door that led to the garage from the kitchen, Eleanor realized nervously how long she’d been sitting in the front seat of their car. Maybe be wouldn’t yell at her, not with the baby in the house.

  Dick didn’t yell at her.

  She
watched with trepidation as he walked down the two steps into the garage and then pulled open the door on the passenger’s side and leaned in.

  “You didn’t get my beer,” he said in his cold, accusing voice. “I told you to put it on your list, and you forgot, didn’t you? You’re so unorganized, Eleanor. I tell you to make lists, but you can’t even do that. As if you could depend on your feeble brain to remind you of anything! I see you got your frozen cherry cheesecake, which is just exactly what you need on those thighs, but you can’t remember a simple thing like my beer. Is it too much to ask that you think of me for once? Can’t you think of anybody but yourself? What do you expect me to drink while you booze with those flea-brained friends of yours? Apple juice? Go get me some good beer.”

  “We don’t get drunk,” she said quietly in her most careful, neutral voice. “And they’re very smart women. And I don’t have enough time tonight, Dick. Why can’t you get your own beer?” She said it appeasingly, trying to keep the whine, the note of self-pitying complaint that he hated, out of her voice. “You could go get it while I change clothes, and I’ll stay with Steven, and you’d be back here by the time I have to go.”

  “My God, you’re selfish.”

  “Please.” She felt desperately tired and gritty, and acutely aware of the fresh steins on her uniform, and she wanted to take a shower and change clothes, and hold the baby for a few minutes, and leave. “It’ll only take you fifteen minutes, and I never ask you to do the grocery shopping, I always do it, and I’m just so tired, Dick.”

  He slammed the door and, absurdly, yelled at her through it, “You think you’re the only one who ever gets tired around here, you don’t know what tired is! I’m the one with all the stress on me, I’ve got my thesis to work on and papers to grade and three books to review, and all you do is stand around eating French fries and getting fat at mat joint, and I work my fingers to the bone for you, and you cant even do one little thing for me, you’re so damn selfish!”

  Eleanor stared at him from inside the car, feeling oddly detached from him and from everything happening to her. She thought how easily he fell into cliches in his writing and speaking. He thought he was so original, so brilliant, but nobody’d called him that for the last ten years; he was the boy wonder who turned out to be mostly boy and no wonder. He even looked a little like a cliché standing there, the archetypal perennial student: too tall, too thin, cheeks too smooth, skin too unlined for his age, eyes too fervent and feverish for a forty-year-old man, wearing a pullover sweater and slacks and socks and loafers. Twice a year he read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, intoning paragraphs to her proudly, as if it were about him. Once, years before, she’d told him she glimpsed a startling similarity between him and the young James Joyce, but she’d been lying even then, because it was only a similarity of hopes that she had seen. Her hopes. Maybe she was selfish, she didn’t know anymore, but she was beginning to think he might be right about that. There was a lot she wanted, maybe selfishly. Was it right to want so much? Was it even realistic? She wanted not to be tired, she wanted not to be afraid, she wanted not to feel pain ever again, she wanted not to have acid in her stomach, she wanted not to eat any more French fries, she wanted her kids not to have to tiptoe around the house when their father was writing, she wanted not to lie to her mother about how everything was all right, she wanted not to be embarrassed that her so-called brilliant husband who had five degrees still hadn’t decided what he wanted to be when he grew up, she wanted not to fry another fish sandwich, she wanted not to wash another uniform, she wanted not to pick up any more dirty napkins that people had blown their noses in—she wanted, she wanted, she wanted, she wanted him to get his own damn beer and leave her alone.

  “Leave me alone,” she mouthed at him. “Get your own damn beer.”

  “What’d you say?” he shouted at her, and she felt a sudden panic.

  Why had she said that? It was the wrong thing to say. Oh, Lord, she knew better then to attack back, she knew the only way to fight him was to go limp like those peace marchers, in mind and body and voice, so he’d finally get frustrated at trying to fight with someone who was no more resistant than a pillow, and he’d slam angrily out of the house, away from her. But dammit, he wasn’t going to run out tonight and leave her holding the bag and the baby again. Again! No, not tonight, this was her night, her night, dammit, her one night!

  “What’d you say to me?” His voice was louder now, more insistent.

  She knew he’d keep after her until she repeated it.

  When she didn’t answer, he kicked the car, lightly.

  Calm down, she commanded herself, but for him as well.

  “Tell me.” He kicked the car again, harder.

  She huddled in the driver’s seat, drawing into herself, staring obstinately at the Chevy cross in the center of the steering wheel, trying frantically to retreat to a small, cool, quiet, rational corner in her brain. But she felt the exhaustion, the resentment, bubbling uncontrollably in her like acid, eating its way through her restraints, threatening to spill all over them both—burning, disfiguring, destroying everything. Help me. Help me. Don’t fight him, don’t fight him, urged the still, quiet, detached voice that sounded as if it were moving away from her down some distant tunnel.

  He marched around the front of the car to her side and glared at her through the closed window.

  “Tell me what you said, Eleanor!” he demanded furiously, bending down, placing his face close to the glass. Why didn’t he just pull open the door? she wondered. Maybe he thought she had it locked, and he was afraid of making a fool of himself by tugging absurdly at it. He hated to look foolish. He was foolish. She hated him.

  “Tell me what you said, Eleanor!”

  The acid bubbled in her. She clamped a lid on it. A stream seeped through and trickled down her arms, charging them with an overpowering heat and energy that demanded outlet. If he beats me, I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him. The baby, the baby. I’ll call the police. I’ll leave him. My babies, my babies. Help me. Help me.

  Eleanor tightened her grip on the car keys in her right hand. She could start the car and back out. No, she couldn’t do that, because she’d already closed the garage door, so if she did that, she’d drive through the door and then he’d kill her for sure. She heard herself make a whimpering noise, and then she felt her lips move. “And then I won’t get to play bridge ... but look, he has his hand on the door handle, and he’s jerking it open, and I can’t leave the baby, I can’t leave the baby. . . .”

  She screamed lightly when he grabbed her upper arm.

  “What did you say to me, Eleanor?”

  “Get your own damn beer!” she heard herself, to her horror, screaming at him. “Leave me alone, damn you!”

  “Get in the house.” He grabbed viciously at her hair.

  Eleanor screamed at the pain, following it out of the car, stumbling blindly after the pain as he jerked her around the hood of the car, toward the steps, up the two steps, through the door of the house.

  * * *

  That’s how I imagined it after I heard about it.

  Oddly, that’s nearly as far as it went in my mind. Though I lay in bed, or sat at my desk, or drove my car and replayed the beginning over and over, my mind skidded away from imagining the very end. That, I only visualized in lightning flashes, only heard in snatches. I saw him release the handful of her hair, and I saw her falling to a worn brown carpet. But then the rest of the argument failed to form words in my mind, maybe because I instinctively knew it didn’t matter what the real words were that night. Or maybe because touching the pinpoint of the moment of murder is as dangerous as touching the point of a sharpened, swinging sword, as dangerous as entering a dark and holy contaminated place. Sure, I could imagine cursing, pleading, yelling, but only in bursts of sound, as if someone were rolling the dial on a radio. “Damn you!” Static. “Oh, please!” Static. “No!” Static. And then, at some point, at the end of the radio dial, I hear her ru
nning into their bedroom, opening the drawer in the table on his side of the bed. I hear a rustle as she withdraws the gun, and I can feel the tremble of her hands. And then he’s running—no, walking-into the bedroom, and she says something, and he says something, and maybe he laughs, or maybe he doesn’t, and her hands are trembling, and nearly liquid with weakness, and then I feel his moment of dumbfounded, startled precognition. And then there is the sound of a gun going off, and this time it is Dick falling to the worn brown carpet. And at this point in my imagining, I always hear a baby crying.

  As I said, that’s how I once imagined it.

  Now, of course, I know as much as anyone can about how it really happened, how it really ended. Or do these things ever really end? Or do they keep playing themselves out in a thousand strangers’ minds, finding places on the pages of the emotional albums of strangers’ lives: “Here, this one is a murder I remember, a fellow named Dick Hanks, lived a couple blocks over, boy, I’ll never forget that.” Not to mention the way a murder lives on in the cycling lives of its children, its intimate friends and implacable enemies.

  Now, later, I see it differently, metaphorically. I see them, the two of them, as atomic particles of opposite charge, electron and positron, propelled toward each other at unimaginable speeds until they collided, destroying each other, but in the process creating new and unnamed particles that spun wildly, forcefully, into neighboring lives . . . mine, Geof’s, our families, other families.

  1

  IT MAY SEEM SUSPICIOUSLY COINCIDENTAL THAT WE—THE police detective I lived with and I, and the new man on the force and his wife—were trading tales of domestic disturbances at the exact moment the beeper sounded, calling the two policemen to the scene of the Hanks homicide. But it wasn’t really much of a coincidence. It was just two cops and their ladies, talking about what cops always talk about: cop work, which often boils down to “Domestic Disturbances I Have Known and Survived.

 
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