“I just had the gun for safekeeping, Mom. I wasn’t going to do anything with it.”
“I’m afraid you were,” Susan said, her heart speaking out of turn.
“No, I would never hurt anybody.”
“I know that.” Susan kept her tone quiet, even grave, which wasn’t hard to do because it was exactly how she felt. Deep inside, she knew the answer to the question she was about to ask him, as if her very soul housed the two of them, mother and child, the way her body once had, long ago, back at their very beginning. “I know you’d never hurt anyone else. I’m worried you would’ve hurt yourself. Did you ever think about that, honey? Did you ever pick up that gun and think about that? About hurting yourself?”
Raz nodded, then his lips began to tremble, and tears came to his eyes. Susan reached for him again, hugging him closer while he began to cry, and they sank to the floor together, surrounded by the debris of their lives. She cradled him against her chest while she told him that she loved him more than she had ever loved anybody in her life, that he was her special and spirited son, and that she would always be there for him and that they were going to sort this out together, the three of them.
As a family.
Chris made his way to the kitchen and shook Jamie’s hand. “Jamie, thanks for having me today. I really am so sorry about Abe. He really was such a nice guy.”
“Thanks.” Jamie met Chris’s eye, his gaze sad, but strong. “I’m glad you could come. It was so kind of everyone to bring the food, and they won’t leave me alone, which is fine with me. And Abe would have loved that you came and got the pictures. I know you two would’ve been great friends. The Wyoming thing and all.”
“I think you’re right.” Chris felt guilty. He realized that, unlike his typical operation, he was undercover among a wonderful group of people, a true community. It affected him in a way he’d never experienced, conflicting him. But he reminded himself to stay on track.
“It’s just so hard to imagine that we’re here, but he’s not. I mean, I know he was depressed and I guess you heard he tried once before, everybody knows, he was open about that. He even volunteered at a suicide hotline.
“He didn’t give any sign or anything, this time?”
“No, I knew the rejections were starting to mount up. He counted them and there were twenty-one.” Jamie shook his head. “I think the number just got too high. He felt hopeless, like it would never happen for him.”
“Did you talk to him Friday night?”
“Yes. He called me around eight o’clock, asking me how long I’d be, and we spoke for about five minutes. I couldn’t talk longer, I had people. He sounded bummed about the latest rejection, he told me about how there were twenty-one. He said he wanted to talk to me when I got home.”
“Did he say what about?”
“I assumed it was about the rejections.”
“That’s what Courtney and Rick said, too. I wonder if he talked to anybody else.”
“No, he didn’t. I asked everybody. So when I came home, that’s why I figured he wasn’t here, that he went out to forget about it and have a drink. But otherwise he was looking forward to summer.” Jamie paused. “And those pictures he pulled for you, he couldn’t wait for you to see them. I’d love to show them to you but,” Jamie hesitated. “They’re in the cottage. I guess you heard that’s where he…”
“Yes, I did. That must be so difficult for you.”
“It was, it is, finding him was the most horrific thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.” Tears came to Jamie’s eyes, but he tilted his chin up. “We designed this house together, and the cottage is where he loved to go. It was his man cave, only with books instead of a TV. I just ran out when I saw him and called 911. I left everything in there.”
“What do you mean by everything? His phone?”
“No, his laptop. He probably had his phone on him when they took him away, and I assume the police or the funeral home have it. I know the Wyoming pictures are in the cottage because I saw them Thursday night, on his desk. He printed them out for you.”
“If you want, I can go in there and get that stuff for you. I can see if his phone is there, too.” Chris kept his tone low-key, but he was asking for legal reasons. A consent search was lawful, and if any evidence of foul play turned up, it would be admissible.
“Would you do that?” Jamie asked, hopeful. “I mean, I just don’t want to do it myself. Our friends are already talking about me moving, but I would never do that. This was our house.”
“Of course, you have memories here. I’ll go look for his phone and get the pictures.”
“Thank you, I’d love that. Don’t forget about his laptop. He had a passcode that I don’t even know, but I’d feel better if the laptop was in the house.” Jamie gestured to a glass door at the end of the kitchen. “You can take the back door and go across the lawn to the cottage.”
“Is there a key or is it open?”
“It’s open. We never lock anything.”
Chris didn’t bother to correct him. Once again, the illusion of safety rendered people unsafe. “Be right back.”
Chris headed for the back door, left the house, and walked across the lawn, then reached the cottage and opened the door, stepping inside and throwing the deadbolt behind him so he wouldn’t be interrupted.
Chris looked around, sizing it up. It was an A-frame with one large great room, which was undisturbed, with no signs of a struggle or a forced entry. A cherrywood table dominated the room, cluttered with papers and a MacBook Pro. Books lined both sides of the room on matching bookshelves, and the tall triangle of the ceiling was constructed of the same rustic wood as the house, with three thick oak rafters.
Chris crossed the room and stood underneath the middle rafter. Sadly, it was easy to see that it was the one Abe had hung himself from—or had been hung from. A stain soiled the beige rug, and Chris surmised that it was from bodily fluids, postmortem.
Chris gazed at the stain, and it struck him as obscene that such a kind soul had died on this very spot, now flooded with sunlight. The back wall was also entirely of glass, offering a view of a flagstone backyard, two green Adirondack chairs, and the woods beyond. There was a back door, and Chris opened it and went outside, trying to understand how Abe could have been murdered.