Disconnect by Bill Capron

I was on the finish of the long downhill from Crescent Park, listening to the radio, when the news girl reported on a survey of the different views of sex held by men and women. Based on an importance rating of one to a hundred, men on the average rated sex a 62, and women a 46. The announcer called it a disconnect. Talk about a disconnect, they asked one question too few. If they had done it right, the study would have pointed up that, yes, men rate the importance of sex at 62, but think their wives rate it a 2; and women do rate it a 46, but think their husbands rate it a 98. Now that’s a disconnect. Being profoundly color-blind, I’m a man who knows about being different, but it’s nothing compared to the differences between men and women. It’s not like different planets, it’s different galaxies. And we don’t merely have different views, we have different ways of viewing …

Desi Lewis died in the kitchen, which seemed only fitting. Desi was famous, in a local scene, public television cooking show kind of way. Desi was tall, thin, very pretty with her Irish coloring, I’m told that’s code for red hair and freckles. She was an organization wizard with six restaurants, a financial whirlwind who used to be a stockbroker, an expert in the science of household living with her own interior design company, and of course she could cook. She was a girl a man might lust for, but more in a mother-of-my-children kind of way. Or so I’ve read. My son’s a New York lawyer, so I don’t lust like that.

Desi was married two years to an editor at the newspaper, Bob Wooding, a man with liberal journalistic credentials up the ying-yang. He was tall, dark, handsome, an athletic three hour marathoner, and ex-college basketball star. I imagined Desi wasn’t the only one being lusted after in the family. Friends called it a match made in heaven. Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe any celebrity coupling qualifies for made in heaven. After five years, then maybe.

Me, though I’m not much for the local glitterati, I’d know who Desi and Bob were if they showed up at my door. But this isn’t a story about me, it’s one of those ‘as told to’ stories, from Dennis Doyle, who got it from Maureen McMartin, who got it from the source. I’m a private investigator, so my sources are pretty much rated … and this group of cops had a good pedigree. So, where to start. Desi’s dead …

The detectives on the scene were Dan Deevers and Doug Douglas. Deevers was called Mutt because he was six-three, one-sixty, and Douglas was called Jeff, because he was five-five, one-sixty. I know, they got it backwards, but that’s cop humor, they can’t do it straight up. Even in the media they were known as Mutt & Jeff, the celebrity detectives, and they milked their reputation to lobby for the really high profile cases. It was more hype than ability, but that’s how the world works sometimes. But this time they didn’t have to chase the case, it dropped in their laps because they had a stakeout on a house two blocks over. They heard it on the intercom, knew the address, and beat it to Desi’s house. Douglas placed the anonymous call to one of the local television stations. I mean, it’s tough being a celebrity cop if no one knows you’re involved. I’m not knocking, them. Well, maybe a little. Being a cop is a tough job, and to my eyes Mutt & Jeff are unneeded comic relief. But back to the story.

It was nine when the maid returned from her date. The lady of the house had been dead about three hours, one of her expensive carbon steel paring knives sticking in her chest with the black handle showing. She’d been in the middle of making lemon meringue pies. The cookbook was held open by another knife spreading the pages flat. The mixed eggs on the counter were starting to separate into whites, and amorphous yellow yokes, and they didn’t smell so good, what mixed with the odors of death.

According to the maid, a fat Hispanic girl with bad skin, Desi was going to start the pies at six so one would be ready when her husband got home from his meeting. Desi’s jewelry was missing from her body, and her purse’s contents had been spilled on the floor. The jewelry she had on her dresser in the bedroom was also gone. It was worth twenty thousand, tops. I recall feeling sad when I read about the crime in the newspaper, that her life should be given for so little, but I didn’t know the half of it.

Anyway, Bob Wooding arrived home a half-hour later, where he had his own subdued hysterics. He was taken to the hospital for evaluation, given a sedative, and driven to a hotel room for the night. The cops were on him right away, since it’s usually the husband, but his alibi was rock solid. He’d been downtown, about three miles from his house, all day in meetings, the last of which ran to nine planning an investigative hit piece due out two days later. Pretty much everyone there vouched for his attendance, though there wasn’t anyone watching him specifically. It was an all male meeting, so I would have discounted the alibi from the git go. I mean, guys don’t see squat, unlike women, who don’t miss much. Mutt & Jeff didn’t know this, of course.

That was mostly it for the facts. Mutt & Jeff worked the scene with the evidence guys until two a.m. They took measurements and pictures, swabs of blood, fingerprints, fluids. Then they were gone. They stopped at Wooding’s hotel and told him that, unless he was accompanied by a cop, he couldn’t go home for forty-eight hours, until the investigators cleared the scene. That’s where Diane Simpson came in.

Diane’s one of those girls who’s meant to be a cop. She’s five-eight, thin as a rail, no boobs to speak of, and model beautiful, but she did her best to hide it. She wasn’t so good at it, covering up the beauty that is, but then she’d come to it later in life and had never learned to live with it. Still, she’s as much a cop as any man, and not. She has a special talent that gets a lot of use. Cops, maybe more than anything else, hate to be the one to break it to the next of kin that someone’s been killed or died in an accident. They don’t do it so well for a hundred reasons, but mostly because, after seeing enough pain, they can’t feel the personal empathy the family needs. That was Diane’s skill. She was like a customer service representative, and she had a way with people, of telling them something painful, and becoming part of their pain, so they could use her to absorb their emotion. It was a hard job, but she did it for the victims. Like me, she loves cops, but she doesn’t think so much of their interpersonal skills. It’s her burden.

Well, it wasn’t twenty-four hours yet, and Wooding was giving the detectives grief for not having caught the killer already. When he said he needed clothes for the next two days, they sent Diane to honcho him. They were hoping she would staunch his pain, or shut him up, or that maybe he’d find it hard to yell at such a pretty woman. To be fair, the captain told this to Diane. It wasn’t her first time as foil.

Before heading out, Diane read the file, and reviewed the layout of the house. She’s a thorough girl. She stayed with Wooding. Her first impression was she didn’t like the man, but she kept it under control. She didn’t feel his pain, and she thought he might be making a pass at her, but, like her looks that came late to her, she wasn’t so certain. Anyway, when he said he wanted to use the bathroom, she said he’d have to wait until he got back to the hotel. He got insistent, so did she. She was adamant about protecting the crime scene. And she found it funny that he’d waited until he got there to need the facilities. But that was a normal police mind at work, wondering at the illogical.

At the door, Wooding said he needed his fountain pen from the kitchen. Diane lifted the yellow tape and retrieved the pen, holding her breath from the rotting eggs. She made a mental not to ask Deevers to get someone to okay removing the eggs. Then, and I’m not exaggerating here, as only a woman can do, she scanned the room, taking it in, making judgments, about cleanliness, orderliness, girl stuff, like how the island in the center made the owner detour around it to get to the refrigerator. “Not the way I’d have done it,” she’d think. The cook book was still open. Another thought, “Hey, I’ve got that book.”

Diane took Wooding back to his hotel. She called Deevers. She never used the Mutt & Jeff moniker. It was too familiar for her, and she didn’t much care for the men.

“Detective Deavers, it’s Officer Simpson.” She waited for his acknowledgment, then, “I think you should get someone watching Wooding’s house. He was acting a little suspicious.” She listened; “No, I didn’t leave him at any time!” She held the phone away from ear, frowned. “Look, do it for a couple of days. I got this feeling …” She blushed and then hung up the phone.

Diane’s not the kind of girl to get on the wrong side of. When Deevers told her to ‘leave the thinking to the men in the suits’, that’s what she did, not. I’d guess she was being contrary, but I know her pretty well, and she’s not really made that way.

Diane knew there was something wrong in the kitchen, the kind of thing a woman can feel, even if she can’t put her finger on it. When she got home, she opened the same cookbook to the page with Desi Lewis’s recipe. She wasn’t much of a cook, but one of her mother’s favorite dishes was lemon meringue pie, so she’d seen it being made a hundred times, even though she’d never attempted it herself. She started reading, but she didn’t have to go too far. No, the eggs were already broken, coming to room temperature. They shouldn’t have been broken yet, and once they were, the mixing bowl should have been in an ice bath to keep them cold. Something about getting the swirls at the top to crisp up. She went in to the station, looked at the photos. No ice bath.

Diane isn’t one to go off half-cocked, even when she’s dead certain. She called her friend in homicide, Detective Maureen McMartin. They shared a long past, even though it was only two years. They’d fallen in love with the same man; McMartin married him. But they were friends at a deeper level than any man can ever be anyone’s friend. It’s one of those differences things.

Diane told Maureen what she’d found, and what she guessed. But she wasn’t angling on solving the case, nor was she up to making Mutt & Jeff look bad. Diane expected to make detective some day, soon, and she wasn’t about to get anyone in the department mad at her. She knew what it would be like if she were an uppity female cop. It might not hurt her promotion ability, but it wouldn’t make her a more respected cop, and that was important to her. She’s one of those girls who sees all sides of a thing, immediately, like it’s an inborn trait. I’m trying to be like her, but it’s not going to happen in this lifetime. Yes, right, another one of those differences.

Maureen said she’d seen Lewis make the pie on her show, so Diane called the station, then went there to pick up a tape of the program. At the police station, she and McMartin played the tape, right up to the warning, “Never, never let the eggs come to room temperature. Thirty-five or forty degrees is the max, so keep the mixing dish in an ice bath. And for best results, don’t crack them until you’re ready to mix the meringue and put it on the pie.”

Maureen said, “You were right, she didn’t set up that kitchen. So what’s it prove?”

“Premeditated murder, not a burglary gone bad.”

“Yes. Murder one. So?”

Diane chewed her thumb, thought about it; “I want them to come to me, ask me what I saw.”

“It doesn’t mean they’ll solve it.”

“Maybe by the time they get to me, I’ll know a little more. Maybe give me a couple hours.”

Diane went to the evidence people who said she could wrap the eggs and bring them in. Back in the house, she headed for the bathroom. What did Wooding want? She thought back to the police report. There was no safe in the house. Twenty grand in jewelry, and no safe. But these were celebrities, people with money, so of course there was a safe. Why not the bathroom? She checked around, knocked on walls. She noted the long flexible piping from the floor to the tank. She tried to turn the toilet. Nothing. She pulled up on the back, and there was a click. Then the toilet turned. The jewelry was there, even the diamond earrings he said she’d been wearing, and the private things like wills and bank account information. He should have thrown the jewelry away, but some people can’t take the step to part with assets. Then common sense must have gotten the better of him, and he figured he should get it out of his house, but for a rules-following cop.

Diane had gone from suspicion to proof. Now to get Mutt & Jeff to find it, to make it their own. Like I said, Diane’s a what-goes-around-comes-around kind of girl. She’s not looking to jump ahead by stepping over other people; she wants to be the best choice when the time comes. You do this by being good at your job, not by being celebrated by the press, especially for your femaleness. That would be the wrong way to climb, especially, if like her, you were planning on going all the way to the top. And when she went by Deevers and Douglas, she wanted them on her side. So, back to the conundrum, getting them turned the right way.

Diane called Deevers with a lie; “Hey, detective, I saw the husband sneaking around the back of his house. When he saw me, he took off.”

She left a vacuum over the line. She heard a muffled, “Yo, Doug, that cute flatfoot says she saw Lewis’s husband trying to get into the house.” There was a lower level of chatter, and Diane picked up Maureen’s alto; “Okay, Simpson, we’ll be right over.”

She was sitting on the front stoop when the unmarked car pulled to a stop.

Remembering Deevers’ dismissal of Diane’s original call, Doug Douglas took the fore. “So what’s going on, officer.” He was real deferential, kind.

Diane explained about how Wooding wanted to use the bathroom. “I think there’s something in there?”

Douglas again, “Such as?”

She shook her head. “I’ve got this feeling.”

Douglas was no idiot. Neither was Deevers. By this time they knew it was more than a feeling. “Let’s go check.” Who knows, maybe they even knew what she was doing. No, scratch that, they’re men, and like the stereotype.

It took them a while to find the safe, but they never acted like maybe she’d got it wrong.

Douglas smiled. He liked it when the bad guys got theirs. To the patrolwoman, “We’ll say something good in our report, officer.”

Diane held up her hands, palms forward. “Hey, I saw something I didn’t understand.” She could of said, ‘Remember me when the time comes,’ but that wasn’t necessary.

Deevers scratched his chin, spoke at the floor, shy like, “Maybe Wooding set the whole scene up, in the kitchen. Why don’t we take a look.”

They were going through the recipe when Deevers said, “Hey, Doug, were those eggs we found iced?”

Women and men! We are constantly told we’re the same, have the same capabilities, can learn the same things. It’s only women who say that, because men know better, but then, so do the women. That’s what’s wrong with this world. We can’t admit the obvious, that we’re different, that we can’t even be the same. The disconnect is not admitting what anyone with a brain already knows. I’m a lot like Diane Simpson, that is, if outcomes are all that matters. Getting there, well there’s not that much we share. Hers is a fine brain. So is mine. Viva la difference.


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