“Where the hell have you been?!” shouted Marilyn as I stalked into the house.
“What?” I muttered grumpily, patting Ben’s head as I shook off my boots. “Hiking, like I told you.”
“Hiking?! You’ve been gone all day! It’s been dark for two hours now!” she shouted even louder, balled fists on her hips. “I was worried sick! Do you know how many times I tried to call you?!”
“I don’t think so,” I said, pulling my cell phone from my pocket. Sure enough, there were almost 10 missed calls from the house. I had not heard it ring even though it was not set to silent mode. “Oh!” I exclaimed contritely. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t hear it. Honest.”
“I was just about to call Sherriff Jacobs and report you missing!” she said, lowering her voice slightly as she could see that I was confused and genuinely apologetic. “What were you doing out there? It’s dangerous out there!”
“I got a little bit lost,” I lied. “But then I found ‘The Chattering Teeth’ and made my way home. It took so much longer because it had gotten dark.”
“And you didn’t call me?!” she asked, slapping her thighs with the palms of her hands in exasperation. “You know what? Just forget it. I’m going to bed. Come on, Ben.”
Ben followed her up the stairs obediently, clearly also displeased with my disappearance. Left alone, dripping with sweat on the couch, I contemplated the madness that was taking an ever firmer grip upon my mind. I had impotently watched, incapable of intervening even though I was armed, as an innocent baby, horribly disfigured by my own incompetence, was ruthlessly murdered by its own parents. Afterwards, I had lacked the moral compass to call 911 and report witnessing the crime and confessing my own role in Claudia and Brody’s motivation in committing it. Far worse than this though, I had the dead child, frozen solid with an appalling expression of shock and horror on its mutilated face, stuffed in my back pack. With a heavy sigh, I lifted my exhausted body from the couch and, trance-like, headed down to the basement where I vacuum packed the little copse and buried it at the bottom of the deep freeze, for what reason I did not know.
Over the following days, the national spotlight on Herring’s Jaw intensified as news of the baby’s disappearance intertwined with the reporting on the ice storm and train wreck. I watched in rapt fascination as Claudia pleaded into the television cameras for the safe return of her “beautiful boy”. Brody squirmed beside her, grim-faced and silent. Their story was that they had run out of food and, after having stepping out briefly to get some groceries, returned to find the child missing. Day after day, the townspeople fanned out through the woods searching with the police authorities, many of whom had been dispatched from the city. I joined them on a couple of occasions to keep up appearances, once walking right beside the spot where the drowning had occurred, the ice on the mangled trees melting slowly under the sun as if weeping.
In time, the search was called off and everyone just quietly went back to their own business and recovering from the storm. I did receive, one afternoon towards the end of January, a most unwelcome visit at the clinic from a federal agent. Without knocking, he marched into my office, flashed his badge, sat down in front of me and stared at me searchingly over the frames of his glasses as if I was the one who had just barged in on him. He crossed his legs and stroked out the creases lining the front of his expensive suit. He had the face of an ill-tempered bulldog and smelt like he had spent the night in a brothel.
“Um, can I help you, detective?” I asked.
“I’ve been having a little chat with your girlfriend,” he said in a gruff, baritone voice.
“Excuse me? Girlfriend?”
“Yeah, Marilyn Johansson from the post office.”
“She isn’t exactly my girlfriend.”
“Whatever,” he said, examining his nails nonchalantly. “Maeve Wheeler tells me you’ve had a thing for her ever since she greased her husband and that you’ve been tapping her pretty much ever since your wife killed herself.”
“What does my relationship with Marilyn have to do with anything, anyway?” I asked furiously.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “You’re the one who took exception to me referring to her as your girlfriend. The nature of your relationship with her is of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever.”
“May I ask what is of interest to you then?”
“Well, I find it somewhat interesting that you disappeared on the same day the baby went missing.”
“I hardly disappeared,” I snapped. “I was hiking in the woods.”
“Your ‘friend’,” he said, making sarcastic parentheses in the air with his fingers, “Ms. Johansson, says you were gone all day. Didn’t get back until after dark. Said you seemed kind of dazed when you got back too. Kind of out of it…. She also mentioned you had a gun on you.”
“Detective”, I said through gritted teeth. “If I am a suspect in your investigation, would you be so kind as to just come out and say so?”
He stared at me stonily for a few seconds and then laughed mirthlessly. “Don’t worry doctor,” he said rubbing his thick mustache with his thumb and forefinger. “I don’t think you had anything to do with it.”
“Well then, what do you think? I certainly hope you aren’t relying on Maeve Wheeler as a reliable source of information.”
He laughed again and said: “I don’t have a shred of evidence but it’s clear to me that these kids, Claudia and Brody, are as guilty as sin. Baby freakishly deformed and unwanted. Got rid of it somewhere in the forest knowing that everyone else in town would be digging out and clearing up after the storm. And that’s pretty much what everyone else in town was doing. Except for you, doctor,” he said lowering his voice conspiratorially and winking at me malevolently. “Except for you. So, my question to you is this: did you see anything unusual out in the woods that day. Something that kept you out so long? Freaked you out and made you all jittery?”
I met his steady gaze with my eyes and held it. “No, detective,” I said in as neutral a tone as I could muster. “I didn’t see anything unusual.” He looked at me with a bemused expression on his face and, when I wiped a droplet of perspiration from my forehead, his eyebrow raised ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly. He knew I was lying and he knew I knew he knew.
“Okay”, he said getting to his feet, a large firearm dangling from his shoulder holster as he shrugged back into his blazer. He plucked a business card from his pocket and dropped it in the middle of my desk. “If anything happens to come to mind, give me a shout.”
“Sure,” I grumbled as he swaggered from my office arrogantly, leaving the door open.
A few minutes later, Marilyn startled me by showing up at the office. “Hi,” she said sitting down and folding her hands in her lap.
“Hi,” I said glumly.
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing,” I said, shaking my head and clearing my thoughts. I would tell her about the agent’s visit some other time. “What are you doing here?”
“Well,” she said, fluttering her eyelids prettily. “I need to see you as your patient… I need you to examine me.”
“What’s the problem?” I said, suddenly worried.
“No problem,” she laughed nervously and averted her eyes to the window. “It’s just that I’m more than 3 weeks late on my period and, as I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, my breasts have become the size of oranges… Wow, you look like I just hit you across the back of the head with a frying pan!”
I am certain that was quite accurate as I felt like I had just been hit across the back of the head with a frying pan.
To be continued…
Part I is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/06/30/deep-freeze-part-i/
Part II is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/11/deep-freeze-part-ii/
Part III is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/21/deep-freeze-part-iii/
Part IV is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/23/deep-freeze-part-iv/
Part V is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/06/deep-freeze-part-v/
Part VI is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/14/deep-freeze-part-vi/
Part VII is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/26/deep-freeze-part-vii/
Part VIII is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/30/deep-freeze-part-viii/
Part IX is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/09/11/deep-freeze-part-iv-2/
Part X is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/09/19/deep-freeze-part-x/