“Yes, though it wasn’t a complete surprise to him. Abe did have a history of depression.”
“Really. But depression is one thing, and suicide is another.”
“Well, confidentially, Abe tried to end his life once before.” Dr. McElroy lowered her voice as she labored to walk uphill with the cumbersome boot. “We kept it hush-hush at school and we thought he had recovered. Abe wasn’t even in therapy anymore. It’s just awful that this time, he succeeded.”
Chris mulled it over. The previous attempt did make it more likely that it was suicide, but still. “I heard that he hung himself. Where did he do that? And was it Jamie who found him? I’d like to get the story before we go in, so I don’t say the wrong thing.”
“Of course. Jamie called me after it happened so we could figure out how to deal with it at school. Jamie is very responsible that way, and very caring.”
“Good for him,” Chris said, keeping her talking.
“Anyway Jamie told me that he came home late Friday night. He was showing some homes then met with the PR man from the Chamber of Commerce, out past Sawyertown. He didn’t get home until one o’clock in the morning and the house was empty, so he assumed that Abe was out late. They have a great circle of friends and they love to socialize.” Dr. McElroy sighed. “Anyway, when it got to be about three in the morning, Jamie started to worry. He knew Abe wouldn’t be out that late, and also Abe wasn’t answering any of his texts or calls. By the way, Abe’s car was in the driveway but Jamie didn’t think that was unusual because when Abe thought he might be drinking, he never drove. Jamie assumed he had a designated driver.”
“Of course.” Chris nodded, guiding her along.
“So Jamie called their friends, and Abe wasn’t out with any of them. Then Jamie checked the cottage and that’s when he found Abe, hanging from the rafter.” Dr. McElroy shook her head. “He had hung himself with the power cord from his computer. Isn’t that so horrible?”
“Yes, awful.” Chris paused. “But what cottage are you talking about? I thought you said Jamie found him at home.”
“They have a cottage out back, behind the house.” Dr. McElroy motioned to the A-frame, as they drew closer. “Abe called it his writing cottage. You know he loved literature and he wrote short stories and poems. I think he might have entertained the notion of writing a novel.”
“Really,” Chris said, as they were approaching the front door. “So where is the writing cottage?”
“It’s in the backyard. I’m terrible at measuring distances. That was where Abe did his writing, he used it as his own private retreat. Other writers do that, he told me once even Philip Roth did that.”
Chris tried to visualize it. “If the writing cottage is in the backyard, I’m surprised that Jamie didn’t see the lights on and know that Abe was there.”
“The lights weren’t on. Jamie told me he thinks Abe left the lights off on purpose, so he wouldn’t see him and stop him.”
“Oh, I understand.” Chris still had his suspicions. “So I assume there wasn’t a suicide note?”
“No, there wasn’t a note.” Dr. McElroy shuddered. “It’s so sad to think of the pain that Abe must’ve been in. I’m glad he didn’t leave a note, and the police told me that it’s not uncommon for there not to be a note.”
“Oh, you spoke with the police?”
“Yes, they came to the school yesterday and talked to me about Abe. I told him about the previous attempt, but Jamie had told them already, too.” Dr. McElroy sighed heavily. “So tomorrow morning we’ll have an assembly, and grief counselors will be there, and Jamie told me that there will be a proper memorial service later this month.”
“When is the funeral?” Chris had read the online obituary, but it hadn’t given any details about scheduling.
“There’s no burial. Abe wanted to be cremated, so Jamie honored that request.”
“Of course.” Chris masked his dismay. If Abe’s body had since been cremated, it couldn’t yield any further evidence about whether he had been murdered. Under state law, there had to be an autopsy, but it must have been routine, since suicide was suspected. A toxicology screen wasn’t done routinely, but it would’ve showed if there was alcohol, tranquilizers, or another drug in his system, which could have incapacitated Abe and facilitated someone’s hanging him. Now that evidence would be gone. It wasn’t a mistake that a big-city medical examiner would’ve made, but Central Valley was a small town.
“I’m sorry this happened, so early in your time with us. We’re usually a quieter town than this.”
“After you.” Chris opened the front door for Dr. McElroy, who stepped inside, and he followed her into a house brimming with guests.
Dr. McElroy got swept up with some students, and Chris got the lay of the land. The living room was of dramatic design, with glass on the front and back walls, and a ceiling that extended to the floor in an immense triangle. To the right was a living area furnished with tan sectional furniture around a rustic coffee table, and on the left was a glistening stainless-steel kitchen. A few casseroles, a sandwich tray, and soft drinks sat on a table, and a handful of guests talked in small, subdued groups. Jamie was in the kitchen, surrounded by an inner circle of friends that included Courtney and her husband and Rick and his wife.
Chris headed for the back of the house, so he could get a better look at the writing cottage. The backyard was lush grass, with a pool covered by a green tarp, and behind that was a smaller version of the A-frame main house, the writing cottage. He sized up the distance, and if the lights had been off inside the cottage at night, there would have been no way to see Abe inside. Ambient light would have been nonexistent, and there had been a cloud cover Friday night.
He eyed the cottage with more questions than answers, the obvious one being who was the last person or persons to talk to Abe before he died? What had been his state of mind? Why now? Had he given any indication that he was about to commit suicide? Where was his phone? His computer?
Chris turned from the window, scanning the crowd. He didn’t know any of the couple’s friends, but he knew Courtney and Rick, and they seemed the best place to start, so he went over. “Hey, everyone, how are you all?” he asked, when he reached them.