Dying to Remember by Bill Capron
I’m a journalist. I report the news when I have it, the next best thing when I don’t. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as honest as the next guy, but, when all else fails, I make up unnamed sources and take my chances with what I believe to be the truth. It’s not uncommon. You listen to the media, the New York Times, that ilk, and they all say it’s rare, but that would make them stupid rather than see-no-evil complicit. I’ve never met a stupid editor. Then, every so often they get caught — more these days than ever before, what with the fifth column of watchdogs on the internet — and they go back into the chant of ‘how awful it is’ while they publicly lynch the offender, more for getting caught than the crime itself. So, lo and behold, while the editors live in see-no-evil land, the audience knows our belief systems support what we write, and have taken appropriate action to inoculate themselves. Now here’s a surprise, the readers are smarter than the writers. Anyway, I’m a card carrying member of the journalism community, and that’s how I work, otherwise I’d be a reporter; and in this business, no one wants to be a reporter.
That said, for some stories even unnamed sources are a step up. That’s what happened to me three months ago, when the source was unknown, but only to himself, sort of. The mechanics weren’t so unusual, your standard mystery plot, where the end is known, the middle is researched, and the beginning is deduced; and all figured out by a man who wasn’t there most of the time. It changed my life, putting a moral floor beneath what I did for a living. I went to the law before I went to my paper, and they’ll never forgive me.
Seventeen months ago Bob Herman was found in bed asleep with his cold dead wife. He was the spouse, he had her blood on his hands and his prints on the knife, and he was at the scene. There was means and opportunity, but no motive; yetthe evidence supported the obvious. It’s called being in ‘cop heaven’.
The police broke into the house after a tip from the ubiquitous Mr. Anonymous, a man with whom I am very familiar, they found Bob. He didn’t have his hearing aids on, so they had to shake him awake. Even then, when he awoke, he was barely cognizant of where he was, or who. In fact, in a way you could say they caught him when he wasn’t there. But the cops already knew that about him.
At his confinement hearing, his daughter, Mary, said he could sleep through anything, especially since he’d lost his hearing, and then, of course, his condition. Still, the evidence guys should have tested his blood, seen if he was drugged, but such is the power of the obvious that it didn’t occur to them; but then the police gravitate to the obvious. I’m not knocking them for it; it saves time and usually produces the right results, when the crime, like most crimes, is simple and straightforward. When it’s not, well, Katy bar the door.
From the DA’s files that I learned Bob Herman was recently retired from the police force where he was a beat cop for thirty-five years. He liked the job and never put in for promotion. His wife, Mona, had her friends and a good life, so she never minded his lack of ambition. They’d built up a good retirement, had a home that was paid for, put two kids through college and shared a wide circle of friends. They were living the good life.
But life has a way at getting back at good people – dare I say it – for being happy. So life struck Bob with early onset Alzheimer’s. He was fifty-nine, not retired a week, when he was diagnosed. That was six months earlier. Mona was his care giver, with help from her daughter Mary; but he didn’t yet require that much care, more a watchful eye, like a little kid. The real Bob was there half the time; Mona enjoyed that half, and put up with the rest, but it was tough.
You might ask, where’s the rest of it? But that was all there was. The evidence ran downhill like water, fast and clear and straight, so the topic of motive never came up. The outcome of the hearing was that Bob killed his wife, for reasons unknown and unknowable; and he probably did not know he’d killed his wife, that is, he was insane by at least one of the current definitions. He was committed for life, such as it was, in a long-term low-security facility with the unlikely name of Long Day’s Journey.
But Bob was a cop, and when he entered the facility, he was lucid maybe four hours a day. Not the old Bob, you understand, but a shadow version who remembered the old Bob real well. That Bob knew he hadn’t killed anyone.
So Bob did what good cops do? He and Mary collected evidence from himself in a series of question and answer dialogues. She kept a notebook, wrote down everything, and each day, after he faded away, she put it on the top shelf of his closet. On the cover was written ‘Call Mary – 555-3456′ as a reminder to her dad to restart the investigation. Later, when he had returned to the corporeal form, he’d call her, scan the notes, and the two of them would continue from there. They kept a chart of how long he’d been away each time. As they learned more, Bob’s time out of body increased; it was a race against that time that the shadow Bob was up against.
Bob never made detective, because he didn’t want it, but the skills had accumulated as if by osmosis. He started with the assumption it had to do with his past, because he had no present, and the future was even darker. But he was a beat cop! So what about Mona’s past, especially the last year where he was away half the time? He and Mary discussed it, parsed though Mona’s calendar, made assignments for Mary to follow up on. And when she found nothing, they’d start again. But it wasn’t Mona.
Bob’s calls to Mary were now two and three days between, and though the lucidity was more focused, there wasn’t much time left; but he’d found a last line of inquiry. He called Mary, but when she got there, Bob, the lucid Bob, was gone. She picked the notebook off his bed and a sheet of paper fell out. He’d written it like the Bob who came out of the fuzz of his condition was a different guy:
You have discarded most of what was, Bob, because it had nothing to do with Mona’s death. It wasn’t something she did. It wasn’t something you did. It had to be something you knew, and only you knew. And it had to be dangerous about the time Mona was murdered. So, you ask, why didn’t they kill you? Good question. In fact, it’s been niggling at you a long time, but you’ve discarded the obvious, so this has to be it. It was because in the investigation of your death, the police would have found the connection, whatever it was, and, maybe Mona would back you up. SO: Read the papers from a month before and after Mona’s death.
That’s what Mary did. And she visited every day, waiting for Bob to reappear. And when he did, they read intensively as Bob fought to hold onto his consciousness. But it was at best an hour, and he was gone. Mary read, front to back, day after day, the first two sections of the paper. It was where she saw my name, and why they chose me.
Mary was making notes when Bob came back.
Like he hadn’t been away at all, “Got it solved yet, Mary?”
“Maybe, Dad.” She flattened out the article on the second page. The headline was ‘Cop Provides Alibi to Murder Suspect’.
Bob read through it slowly, fatefully. His partner, Jimmy Jones, testified to the DA, that he’d seen the suspect, a rich plastic surgeon, at a diner on the other side of town when the murder happened. Bob scanned until he found the date and time of the murder, then he stopped reading. At first Mary thought she’d lost him again, but when his eyes opened, they were clear and direct.
“He lied. We played hooky for the afternoon and went downtown. Jimmy helped me pick out a present for Mona’s birthday.”
“Are you sure, Dad?”
“I used my charge card. It should be in the receipt drawer.”
After Bob was gone, Mary went to the house and rummaged through the files. She found the receipt, with the time and date right under the credit card number.
She waited for Bob to come back, and when he didn’t, she called me. We met in Bob’s room. He sat in the corner, listening to us, but uninterested, like he had no idea who we were talking about. She wanted to know what she should do. I took her to the DA, instead of my editor, and the wheels of justice were set in motion, belatedly.
The cops re-investigated Mona’s murder, from the new perspective. They found enough to squeeze a confession out of Jimmy Jones. For them, it was like two murderous birds with one stone. And i’ve stopped using unnamed sources; they bring back too many bad memories. Oh, and my editor doesn’t trust me, which is a good thing.
Bob, well, he never did return. Once he’d figured it out, he didn’t have a reason. I like to think he’d cleared his name, and that was enough.