I hate Mondays. After the freedom and do-nothing feeling of the weekend, it’s back to work, and the sight of the next weekend is too far off in the distance to make a difference. Worse, my assistant Annie is off on Mondays, so I’m stuck in the office doing the crap she’s supposed to be doing. This Monday, it was going through bills deciding which ones should be paid.
I was sitting at my desk getting through the bills pretty quickly, separating them into stacks of which had to be paid and which could wait, when there was a small, quiet, knock on my door. I turned and saw a man standing in my doorway, his hand up to the door ready to knock again in case I hadn’t heard him the first time. He looked to be in his fifties, with male pattern baldness that left gray hair just around the sides of his head, with a few strands combed over the bald spot on top. His beard was also gray, with a little bit of black from his younger days mixed in. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and a navy pinstriped business suit with a red and blue striped tie over a white shirt.
“Did you just knock?” I asked him. The knock was so quiet I wasn’t sure I’d actually heard it.
“Um, yes I did. Are you Jeffrey Sparks?”
“Yep. Who are you?”
He walked in and stood by my guest chair, apparently waiting for permission to sit down. I motioned to the chair and he took a seat. “I’m Frank Shapiro. I hope you can help me.”
I put down the stack of bills and leaned back in my chair. “Help you with what?” I asked.
“It’s my wife. She’s been missing since Saturday afternoon and I don’t know where she could be. I was hoping you could find her.”
Just what I needed, another missing person’s case. “How do you know she wants to be found?” I asked him.
He looked up at me, his blue-gray eyes piercing through his glasses. “Excuse me?” he said.
“I just mean that sometimes people aren’t missing, they just left. How do you know your wife didn’t just leave you?”
“Janet wouldn’t do that. We have a very happy marriage.”
“If I had a nickel for every time someone said they had a happy marriage….”
Shapiro leaned forward in his chair, towards the front of my desk. “We do have a happy marriage, Mr. Sparks. I’m sorry, but I didn’t come here to argue that point with you. If I should go somewhere else—“
“Nah, you’re already here. So, when’s the last time you saw her?”
“It was Saturday morning, when she left for work. She never came home that day.”
“Did you check to see if she ever made it to work?”
“No, I didn’t know who to call there on a Saturday.”
“Did you call the police?”
He waved me off with his hand. “Yes, yes. I called them but they can’t do anything about an adult until they’re missing for seventy-two hours. I can’t wait that long. What if she’s in trouble?”
He took a handkerchief out of his inside coat pocket and dabbed his eyes under his glasses. I sat there for a minute, considering him and his missing wife. It is true, I don’t find missing person’s cases particularly interesting, and I only take interesting cases, but I didn’t have anything going on at the moment and I could use the money. Plus, there was something about the way that Shapiro talked about his wife that told me that this guy needed help. He was definitely in a desperate situation.
I said, “Here’s the deal. I charge one twenty-five per hour, plus expenses. I ask for three hours retainer up front. If you’re agreeable to that, I can start work on this right away.”
“Will you be able to find her, Mr. Sparks?”
“I can’t guarantee results. It depends on what I have to work with, and what happened to her. I can guarantee, though, that I will do my best, and my best is the best around.”
“You sound rather self-confident.”
“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this for a living.”
Shapiro agreed to the terms and amount, and I filled out a standard contract and had him sign. He told me he was leaving work early that day and would be home by 5:00. I said I would meet him there. Home was in Arlington Heights.
Arlington Heights is an upper-middle class town about twenty-five miles northwest of the Loop, right up I-90. I-90 is the Kennedy Expressway, but turns into the Jane Addams Expressway once you’re past O’Hare Airport, for those of you that are following along at home. I took I-90 to Route 53 north and got off on Euclid going east. In a few more miles, and a couple of turns later, I was in the heart of downtown Arlington Heights. The downtown area is quaint, with little shops and restaurants lining the five-block area. Above the restaurants and shops, there are apartments and condos, which make the downtown area a bustling one, even during the workday and on the weekends. I’d been there before, and I have to admit, I like the small town charm that the downtown area provides.
The Shapiros lived in an old Victorian home two blocks south of the downtown area. I pulled up, parked my Saab convertible at the curb, and got out. The February evening was cold, with the wind whipping around the trees and houses, causing a swirling effect. I put the collar on my overcoat up and started up the walk to the house. I noticed a silver BMW in the driveway and figured Shapiro must be home. The house was typical Victorian, complete with a multiple-color paint scheme of green, red, and brown, and a large wrap-around porch in the front. The house looked like it had seen better days, with paint peeling from the exterior and some shutters missing from the windows. As I got to the porch, I saw an orange building permit placard taped to the sidelight of the front door. Sawhorses and ladders were folded up and stacked on the front porch.
I rang the bell and Shapiro answered about a minute later. He was still dressed in his shirt and tie, but the suit coat had been replaced by a cardigan sweater. His tie was loosened and the top button on his shirt was unbuttoned.
“Mr. Sparks, thank you for coming,” he said, holding the door open so I could walk through.
“Sure thing,” I said. “Looks like you’re having some work done on your house.”
“My wife and I are actually doing it. We buy fixer upper houses and spend a couple years renovating on the nights and weekends, then sell them for a profit and move on to the next house. It’s quite satisfying work.”
“I guess,” I said, looking around the disaster area that was the foyer and living room. Lumber of various sorts, power tools, sawhorses and workbenches littered the room. It looked like Norm Abrams’ New Yankee Workshop had blown up and landed in this guy’s house. “What kind of work do you do, like for real work?” I asked.
“I’m in sales for an insurance company in the city. Janet is an English professor at Harper College in Palatine.”
“And this,” I said, pointing to all the crap around the house, “you do this in your spare time? Must have some hell of a commitment.”
“It’s very rewarding. We’ve been doing this since we got married twenty years ago.”
“And you never get tired of moving around, and living in a constant state of chaos?”
Shapiro looked around the room, surveying the crap I was referring to. “I’ll admit, Janet has talked about just keeping a house and settling down, but I enjoy the work and rewards.”
“Uh huh,” I said. “Well, let’s just take a look around, shall we? Show me where you and the missus sleep.”
He led me upstairs, where more of the same chaos reigned. Paint cans, power tools, workbenches, and sawhorses dominated the upstairs hallway, and every room I could see into. Shapiro stopped at the first door on the left and pointed.
“This is our bedroom right now,” he said. “We’re currently working on the master bedroom.”
I entered the bedroom and saw a queen sized bed, without headboard, against the left wall. A large window dominated the far wall, and plastic storage crates were stacked on the right wall. To the left of the door was a small closet, filled with what looked to be Shapiro’s suits, most of which were enclosed in plastic clothes storage bags. A few suits were hanging outside of bags, though, apparently the ones he wore most often. The room had that just painted smell that was giving me a headache.
I said, “Where does your wife keep her clothes?”
“We set up a makeshift closet for her in the bedroom across the hall. We’re building a walk-in closet in the master bedroom.”
I walked across the hall and, lo and behold, there was a small bedroom with rolling clothes racks filled with women’s clothes. They were arranged by category and color, with not a single article of clothing or loose hanger out of place. In a house of disorder, Mrs. Shapiro kept her little corner of the world in complete order.
I walked down the hall, with Shapiro following, until I reached the master bedroom at the end of the hall. The room was much larger than the other bedrooms, with windows looking out to both the front and rear of the house. A large stack of drywall sheets was against the wall to the left of the door, with a large workbench set up in the middle of the room. A dust encrusted drywall saw was sitting on the workbench, along with a power drill and a nail gun. Contrary to the rest of the tools seen around the house, the nail gun looked to be a new purchase–there weren’t any paint marks or dust on it.
I walked straight through the bedroom to a doorway on the other side, which led into a master bathroom under construction. The toilet and large bathtub had been installed, as well as the shower enclosure, but the sinks had yet to be installed in the vanity, and the glass shower doors were leaning against the far wall. The drywall in the room must have just been hung, as the joint compound was still a dark gray and wet in spots.
I walked out of the master bath and saw the aforementioned walk-in closet to my right. It was empty, and hanger bars had not yet been installed, and the drywall also looked to have just been hung. There were a few joints that still needed joint compound. For all the clothes I saw in Janet Shapiro’s bedroom/makeshift closet, this walk-in was smaller than I thought it would be. I wasn’t sure how her clothes and Shapiro’s were going to fit in there.
It took me about half an hour to look through the house. Afterwards, Shapiro led me back downstairs and we ended up sitting at the kitchen table–the only place in the house that seemed clean enough to sit down.
“So, what do you think, Mr. Sparks?” Shapiro asked me when we were sitting down and he had poured us each a cup of coffee.
I looked around the kitchen, and through the pass-through out to the dining room and living room beyond. “I think I don’t know how you people can live like this,” I said.
He gave a look of disapproval, then said, “I mean about my wife. Will you be able to find her?”
“I have no idea, it depends on what happened to her. I will need to know where you bank, and what credit cards you have. I want to see if I can find any activity yesterday or today that may give me an idea of where she might be. Also, a recent photo of her would be helpful.”
Shapiro walked out of the kitchen for a few minutes, then came back with his banking information. He also handed me a photograph of him and his wife on a golf course. From the palm trees in the background, it looked like a resort someplace warm. “Please let me know the minute you have any ideas,” he said.
I promised him he would be the first person I talked to the minute I found out anything, and I showed myself to the front door. It was 6:30 by the time I left his house. Just in time for rush hour back to the city.
The next morning, I set my alarm to get up early at 9:00. Okay, that’s not really early for most people, but it is for me. I showered, forgot to shave, and dressed in blue jeans, a t-shirt with a wrinkled dress shirt over it that I left untucked, a gray sport coat, and gray Converse sneakers. I took my dog Aretha out for a quick walk around the block, left a note for Mrs. Roberts down the hall to let Aretha out around noon, and I headed down to my car in the garage to head off to Palatine. Starting with Janet Shapiro’s co-workers seemed like a good a place as any to start.
While I was stuck in traffic on the Kennedy, I put in a call to Dana, my ex-wife. She’s a Chicago cop assigned to desk duty in the Robbery Division. I asked her if she would run a check on Shapiro’s bank accounts and credit cards for any activity in the past week. I knew Janet just disappeared two days ago, but I figured as long as I had Dana looking up information, I may as well get as much as I can. She gave me the usual lecture about her not being my personal information source, then said she would call me if she found anything out. It always goes like that–she yells at me then agrees to do what I ask. It’s obvious she still has a thing for me.
I got to Harper College around 11:00. I didn’t look much like a college student, so I thought the nice thing would be to first stop by the dean’s office and let him know why I was walking around his college. Not that I cared much, but it would be nice to not get harassed by some rent-a-cop college security guy while I was wandering around looking for Janet Shapiro’s co-workers. I found the administration building and went to the reception desk, which was manned by a cute blond co-ed. The name tag on her Harper College sweatshirt said her name was Amanda.
I handed Amanda my business card and asked her if the dean was in. She asked me to hold on one minute and she picked up the phone to call someone. While she talked in whispered tones, I studied the artwork on the walls–an eclectic mix of art clearly done by students, and aerial photos of the college campus. Mixed in were plaques and framed awards highlighting the accomplishments of the school. While I was perusing the walls, a man walked out from the office area behind the reception desk and headed towards me. He was a large man, taller than my six feet, and probably twenty pounds overweight. He looked to be in his fifties, with a thick head of gray hair and bright green eyes. He was wearing a tan business suit with a white shirt and brown striped tie. When he got to me, he held out his hand.
“Mr. Sparks, how are you today? I’m Dr. Bartlet”
I shook his hand, a firm grip, and said, “Fine. I was hoping I could talk to you for a few minutes. It’s about a member of your faculty.”
“Sure, why don’t you come on back?” He started walking towards the office area and motioned for me to follow. I did.
We entered his large office, which was dominated by a dark oak desk in the middle of the room, in front of windows looking out to a courtyard area. To the right was a sitting area made up of a couch and two chairs; to the left was a wall of built-in bookshelves filled with important looking books.
Bartlet sat down behind his desk and motioned me to one of the large guest chairs in front of his desk. I sat down and he offered me coffee or water. I declined. I’m much more of a get-to-the-point kind of person than suffering through a bunch of small talk.
“So, what can I do for you?” he asked, picking up a large coffee mug emblazoned with the college seal and taking a sip.
“I’m here about Janet Shapiro. She’s a professor in your English department.”
Bartlet glanced up at the ceiling for a few seconds, as if trying to place the name.”
Shapiro. Yes, I think I’m familiar with her. Sorry, but we have a large faculty and I’m not sure I know everyone personally, but I think I have met her once or twice.”
“Great. Her husband hired me to find her. Apparently, she never made it home from work Saturday afternoon.”
His eyes turned large for a second, then returned to their normal shape and size. “That’s terrible,” he said. “He must be out of his mind with worry.”
“He is concerned. Concerned enough to ask me to find her. I’d like to talk to some of her co-workers, see if they have any idea where she may have went. If you can just point me to the English department, I’ll be on my way.”
“Of course, we’ll do anything we can here to help locate her. I just have reservations about you wandering around frightening people.”
“Who, me? How am I going to scare anyone?”
“I just trust that you will conduct yourself discreetly, so as to not cause too much concern around here. Today is a school day, and we still have students to teach. I wouldn’t want my instructors distracted by any worry about their own safety.”
I leaned back in the chair, looking at Bartlet for a second. “I don’t think Janet Shapiro’s disappearance has anything to do with her teaching at this school, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Bartlet’s face seemed to relax a bit, then he said, “That’s good to know. I was concerned when you said she never made it home from here.”
He stood up from his desk and walked towards the office door. Apparently our conversation was over. I followed him as he ushered me out. When he opened the door he said, “Amanda, please make sure Mr. Sparks gets good directions to Building L.”
I walked over to Amanda’s desk while Bartlet shut the door to his office. Sure enough, she gave me a good map of the campus, circling Building L with a red marker. “The English department has offices on the second floor of the building,” she explained. “If there’s anything else I can do to help you, please just give me a call. The phone number is on the back of the map.”
She was cute enough that I could think of a few ways she could help me out.
I found Building L with no problems and walked up to the second floor. A directory at the top of the stairs said the English Department was to the left, so I started left down the hall. I wasn’t sure who I was looking for, but I figured I would stop into the first office I saw occupied. Half way down the hall, there was a door open and a light on. I looked in and saw a woman sitting at a desk that was pushed up against the wall in one of the smallest, closet sized offices I have ever seen. The name on the door was Susan Wilson. She had a stack of papers in the middle of her desk, surrounded by more stacks of papers, files, and books everywhere. With all the clutter, I wasn’t sure how she found a way to walk into the room. I knocked on the door and she spun around in her chair, looking at me with wide eyes. “You scared me!” she said.
“Sorry about that. You’re Susan Wilson?”
“Yes I am. Can I help you?”
I handed her one of my cards. “Hope so. Did you work on Saturday?”
She looked at my card, then back to me. “Yes I did. I have two classes Saturday morning. Why?”
“Janet Shapiro also was supposed to work that morning. Did you see her?”
“Sure, we talk over coffee before our classes every Saturday. What is this about?”
“She never made it home from work on Saturday. Her husband hired me to find out what happened to her.”
Her eyes got wider and her mouth dropped. “That’s terrible! I talked to her after class Saturday, too, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. This is terrible. What could have happened to her?”
“I have no idea, but that’s what I need to find out. Anything you can tell me about her? Has she been acting differently recently, anything like that?”
She looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds, considering my question. “Now that you mention it, she has been a little distant lately. We used to talk about all kinds of things. Our husbands, families, all that. These past couple of months, though, she hasn’t really talked to me about any of that, just strictly work related things.”
I said, “Interesting. Sounds like you’ve known her for a while. Any ideas on what may have caused the change recently?”
She shook her head. “No, nothing I can think of. I haven’t really given it much thought, to be honest. I just figured it was none of my business if she didn’t want to talk about it. Although….”
“Sorry, just thinking aloud for a second. I wouldn’t want to be a gossip.”
“Look, whatever you tell me is just between you and me. I just want to know anything you can tell me that may help me find her and make sure she’s okay.”
Susan looked down at the floor, and focused on rereading my business card in her hand. “It’s just that I have seen her car parked at this little motel on Algonquin Road. It’s right next door to where I pick up lunch sometimes, and I’ve seen her car parked there in the middle of the day. I thought maybe she was having an affair.”
The rest of my conversation with Susan yielded no more juicy gossip, so I left her with my card and asked her to call me if she thought of anything else, or if Janet contacted her. I thought I should check out this motel that she mentioned, so I hoofed it back to my car and drove the half mile east on Algonquin to the Harper View Motel. The motel was a two-story L shaped building with rooms that opened right to the parking lot outside. The old sign in the parking lot advertised air conditioning and cable TV and the neon sign below it was set to VACANCY.
I pulled up to the office and walked inside where a man that looked to be Indian or Pakistani was sitting behind the counter watching a small TV set tuned to Jerry Springer. As I walked in, two women on the TV were going at it, fists and arms flying around, while Springer’s “security” tried to break them up. Wholesome TV at its finest. The doorbell binged when I opened it, and the man behind the counter looked over in my direction.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a strong accent, looking partially at me while keeping one eye on the frivolity going on on the TV.
I showed him my business card and the picture of Janet Shapiro. “I’m looking for a woman that may have been a guest here in the past couple of weeks. I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me out.”
“Are you police?”
“I’m a private detective. This woman has gone missing and her husband hired me to find her. Does she look familiar?”
“I run good clean business here. No problems here.” The look on his face was annoyance mixed with fear, an interesting combination.
“Like I said, I’m a private detective, not the police. I really don’t care what kind of business you run, I just care if this woman looks familiar.”
He held his hands up, palms facing me, waving them slightly. “No problems here,” he said again.
I realized getting anything out of this guy wasn’t going to be easy. Luckily, I have a job that gets reimbursed for expenses incurred and money always talks. I took a twenty out of my pocket and slid it over to him on the counter. “Maybe you can just look at the picture and tell me if she looks familiar.”
He took the twenty and put it in his pants pocket, then looked at Janet’s picture. “I know her,” he said. “She come in with husband once a week or so.”
This was a new one on me. Shapiro hadn’t said anything about staying at this motel with his wife. “Can you describe her husband?” I asked.
He gave me a pretty good description. Tall, big guy with gray hair. Problem was, it didn’t fit Shapiro, but it sure sounded a hell of a lot like Bartlet.
I left the desk clerk to what was left of Jerry Springer and got back in my car, heading back to the college. By then, the lot was pretty full, and I couldn’t find a spot near the administration building, so I pulled into a handicapped spot, found an old handicapped placard I keep in the car for just an occasion, and hung it on my rearview mirror. Instant parking, and close too.
Amanda was gone from the reception desk when I reached the administration office, sorry to say, and a short, skinny guy was sitting in her place. His name tag said his name was Steven. I asked Steven if Dr. Bartlet was in.
“And you are…?” Steven asked, with that singsongy voice people use when they see themselves as a gatekeeper.
“David Berkowitz,” I said. I hate when people screen visitors.
“And this is regarding…?”
“Just tell Bartlet this is about him and Janet Shapiro, and I need to talk to him about it.”
Steven made the call and a couple seconds later Bartlet appeared in the doorway to his office. “Sparks,” he said, “I thought it must be you.”
I walked over to his office and went inside, walking around him. “You seem to have missed some important information when I talked to you earlier.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I just talked to the guy at the Harper View Motel and he tells me you and Janet go there about once a week. Sounds like some important information.”
Bartlet quickly closed the door to his office and made his way around his desk. “That’s preposterous. He must be mistaken.”
“His description matches you pretty exactly. Of course, if there’s a doubt, we could always go over there together and ask him.”
Bartlet lowered himself in his chair and turned to look out the window, so his left side was facing me. He sat there looking for about a minute, then said, “Look, it’s not what it looks like.”
“It looks to me like you and Janet were having an affair. If it’s not that, then what is it?”
“I’m married, you know. Have two kids, a son and daughter. My son just went off to college this past fall.”
“Great. I’m sure you’re proud.”
He turned and looked at me. “I am, Sparks. I love my family.”
“I don’t care. Look, I don’t care what you think about your family, and I don’t care if you and Janet Shapiro had an affair, or even if you call hookers on your lunch break. I just want to know where Janet is.”
“I wish I knew.”
“Were you and her having an affair?”
“Okay, yes, but it ended last week. She broke it off, said she couldn’t do that to her husband anymore. She told me she was going to come clean with him and work to save their marriage.”
“That must have pissed you off pretty bad,” I said.
“Not at all. I understood. Truth be told, I was feeling guilty about it myself, and would have broken it off too, if she hadn’t beat me to it.”
“Sure you would have. That’s what they all say. So, where is she now?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her or spoken to her since last week.”
“Last week when?”
He looked down at his desk, intent on wiping some dust that had accumulated. Anything to not look at me, I guess. “Last week Thursday. That’s when she broke it off.”
“So, she breaks it off with you, then goes missing a few days later. Do you see how that may look bad for you, Bartlet?”
“I didn’t do anything to her, Sparks. I love her.”
“You love her, you love your wife, you love your family. You got a lotta love to go around.”
He shot me a look. “I didn’t do anything to her, Sparks!”
“Okay, fine. We’ll leave it at that for now. Still have my card? Give me a call if you happen to remember anything else that may be helpful, like what you did with her, for example.”
He stood up with a real severe pissed off look in his eyes, but I was already up and walking to the door. He started to say something, but by then I had already slammed the door in his face.
I got back to my car and placed a call to Shapiro at work. I thought it was time to update him on the case and break the bad news to him about the affair. His secretary answered the phone, though, and told me he was at an off-site meeting all day and couldn’t be disturbed. I left a message with her to have him call me back as soon as possible and I headed out towards the Harper View Motel again. I saw a McDonald’s next door when I was there and I was starving, so I got a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large order of fries with a Diet Coke. I sat in the McDonald’s parking lot eating and making some case notes on the notepad in my iPhone. About half way through my meal, and in the middle of typing a sentence, the phone rang. The caller ID said it was Dana.
“Dana, a voice of reason in the craziness of the day I’m having,” I said.
“I only have a few minutes, Jeff, so enough with the small talk.”
“Ah, a woman after my own heart–right to the point. See? We’re like soul mates.”
“Should have thought of that before shacking up for the night with that model.”
“I told you, I was hired to protect her. I was working.”
“Whatever, I’m not going through this again.”
I let it drop for the moment. “So, what do you got?” I asked.
“I checked on the Shapiros’ bank accounts and credit cards. Nothing really unusual, just normal everyday expenses, with two exceptions: First, there was a check written for two thousand dollars to an apartment complex in Schaumburg. Second, there was a credit card charge to a travel agency in Arlington Heights. Both of those were done on Friday afternoon.”
I thanked Dana for the information and invited her over for dinner, which she declined of course. Then, I put a call into a detective I know at the Arlington Heights PD. Detective Peterson and I had worked on a case a couple of years ago, and he seemed like a good guy, a rare smart cop. I asked him if he could pull up any information about a missing person’s report that Shapiro might have called in. He checked his database and found a call Saturday evening at 5:30. I told him thanks and that I would call him back a little later, and hung up. It was all beginning to make sense.
Shapiro called me back at 4:20, apologizing for not being able to call me back earlier. I told him I was still in the suburbs and I would meet him at his house that evening. At 6:00, I was sitting in my car at the curb in front of his house when he pulled up. I started walking towards the front door as he got out of his car.
“I got home as fast as I could. Traffic was bad tonight,” he said when he got to the front porch.
“No problem, I have time,” I replied.
He opened the door and we walked in, the chaos and mess still the way I saw it when I was there the night before. He walked around the living room and kitchen, turning on lights.
“Have you found her?” he asked.
“Not quite yet,” I said, “but I am making progress. I’m confident I’ll have this wrapped up soon.”
He looked at me, his look a mixture of surprise and relief. “That’s great to hear! What have you found out?”
I took a seat on the top rung of a stepladder that was open in the living room, the only thing close by that I could find to sit on. “Well, for one, it appears your wife was having an affair.”
That stopped him in his tracks, on the way into the living room from the kitchen. He had removed his overcoat and suit coat, and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt, loosening his tie. “She was what?” he asked.
“Having an affair,” I repeated.
“You must be wrong. Janet would never do that to me.”
“I’m not wrong, and you know it.”
Shapiro walked into the living room and leaned against the wall. His eyes turned narrow and the temperature in the room dropped ten degrees by the look he shot me. “My wife would not have an affair, Sparks,” he said. “She loves me.”
“Well, I met the guy she was having the affair with, so I know it’s true. Apparently pretty steamy, too. Now, how about you just cut the crap and level with me? You knew she was having an affair. I found out about a check she wrote to an apartment complex, and a vacation she charged at a travel agent. She was leaving you, wasn’t she?”
Shapiro stood there, leaning against the wall, taking in what I had just said. I got up from the stepladder and headed towards the stairs. “The only question now is, what happened to Janet?” I said.
Shapiro was right behind me as I walked upstairs, going into the bedroom they were using as a walk-in closet.
I said, “See, here’s what bothers me. Nothing is gone. I mentioned this the other day, the closet it full. No empty hangers or anything. Wherever Janet is, she didn’t take any clothes with her.”
Shapiro stood in the hallway. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” he said. “Are you suggesting that she’s close by?”
“I think she’s closer than I even realized at first.”
I walked into the master bedroom with Shapiro following close behind. The condition of the room was the same as I saw the day before, except that the drywall in the walk-in closet had been completed and was drying. The smell of joint compound hung in the air. I walked into the master bath and looked at the layout, then walked back out to the closet, doing a mental measurement of its dimensions.
“Something was bothering me yesterday when I was here, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now, I think I understand,” I said.
Shapiro stood in the middle of the bedroom, his eyes wide with a look of concern. “Please, tell me you have found out where Janet is,” he said.
I looked at the back wall of the closet–the wall that had just been taped and mudded. I said, “I think we both know where she is, don’t we?”
Shapiro stood his ground in the middle of the room. “Where is she, Sparks?” he said quietly, like he was daring me to answer.
I saw a drywall saw lying on the workbench in the middle of the room, next to the new nail gun. I walked over, picked it up, and walked back to the closet. Shapiro followed me. I walked into the closet and held the saw up to the back wall. Shapiro moved into the closet with me and grabbed my hand. “Please don’t do that,” he said.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?” I said.
“It was her fault you know. She was going to leave me. Me! Can you believe it? Twenty years of marriage and she just decided one day she was done. I can’t have that, Sparks. I just can’t.”
“So, you had an argument right here in this bedroom. Things got out of hand, you were holding the nail gun, and before you knew it pop, you drove a nail right into her. That’s why the gun looks so new–it had blood on it and you cleaned it up. Then, you hired me to ‘find her’ to make it look good, after you hid her in the wall.”
I lowered my hand and let the saw drop to the floor when he let go of my hand and collapsed, a ball of emotion and regret. He started crying freely and I knelt down to be at his level.
He said, “It was an accident. I didn’t mean to, but I lost control. I don’t know what happened to me, to us. We were so happy, I thought. How could she just leave me after all these years?” He looked up at me, his glasses fogging up with moisture and tears rolling down his cheeks. “What will happen to me now?” he asked.
“That’s not for me to decide,” I said.
“Please don’t tell the police. I can’t go to jail; I’ll die.”
I took my iPhone out of my sport coat pocket and held it up for him to see. The phone showed a call was active for the past fifteen minutes to Detective Peterson’s cell phone number. “Luckily, I don’t have to tell anyone anything,” I said.
Downstairs, the doorbell rang.
C.E. Newsom decided he wanted to be a writer at the age of fifteen, then spent the next couple of decades trying to find what people considered to be a “real job.” Now, he has returned to writing, his dream job that he couldn’t stay away from. Newsom lives in Illinois with his wife, son, and dog Maggie. A Cheesehead behind enemy lines, he’s an avid Packer fan, and shareholder, which takes up much of his non-writing time.