Tuesday, April 17, 2012
“That family is so weird.” Elissa’s fork moved her limp salad around the plate. It looked good in the picture on the menu with its crisp greens, perfectly grilled chicken, crunchy tortilla strips and other lovely colors to entice the eyes. She jabbed the gray tasteless chicken with seared grilled lines and stared at it for a moment before looking over at Hector. “That little girl could run the family much better than the alcoholic mother and that son!” She rolled her eyes.
Hector snorted with a grin, “So the boy hit on you…” He laughed at her surprised look. “I thought I was joking. You’re kidding me, right?” When Elissa shook her head, Hector laughed louder. “Sorry, Lis, that’s just too funny.” He leaned forward and peered at her across the table. “So what are you wearing to the prom?”
She pointed at him with the gray-ish looking strip of chicken by-product dangling off her fork. “Six months and the kid is legal.” She stared at the limp cooked flesh on her fork. “Not that I need a boy complicating my already complicated life”
Setting his fork down, Hector sat forward. “What’s going on? You’ve been acting weird since…” He shrugged a shoulder, “Well, since this morning.”
Elissa shrugged off his concern, “It’s nothing.” She winced when her cell phone rang recognizing the designated ring tone immediately. She pulled her phone from her pocket and silenced the ringer sending the caller directly to voice mail earning her a puzzled look from Hector. Setting the phone on the table, she stared at the offending cellphone as if it bit her. “I just can’t talk to him right now.”
Having recognized Jenson’s ring tone, Hector tried and failed to hide his smile, wisely ignoring the phone call and steering the conversation to neutral ground. “Okay, so back to business.” He flipped open his ever present notepad. “This morning at 4 am: Zania Hamilton was passed out in bed, Kingston Riley, Tiana Hamilton, Dennis Hamilton and Cecil Jonahs were all tucked in their respective beds. Only one with an alibi is Kingston Riley, all others claimed to be alone.”
“Peter Hamilton had a visitor the evening before his accident…” Elissa had given up on her salad and pushed it aside giving her full attention to Hector.
His eyebrow quirked in surprise, “Oh?”
“Cecil?” The man in question stood at the counter sniffling, using the back of his hand to dab at his eyes. Elissa watched his actions with growing curiosity. “Are you okay?”
Cecil cleared his throat and nodded, “Of course I am.” Cecil stepped over to the sink immediately to his right and rinsed his hands. He looked over his shoulder at her with a quirked eyebrow. His usually expressive eyes were red rimmed and slightly swollen. “Is there something more I can help you with, Detective Putnam?”
Elissa fully entered the room and as she approached the counter the reason for his tears was evident as the aroma of the diced onions assaulted her, stinging her eyes immediately. “Whew,” She paused blinking rapidly and waving her hand in front of her. Cecil simply watched her for a moment more waiting for her to continue. When she didn’t, he moved to the stove with the onions, scrapped them into the saute pan. Once Elissa caught her breath she tried again. “I want to follow up on a response you gave me earlier.”
Using the saute pan, Cecil rolled the diced onions around the pan, flipped them occasionally with a flick of his wrist. “And that would be?”
She sighed then, “Jenson McMillan. You said he was here speak-”
“Did I?” Cecil cast a knowing look before attending his onions. He tossed in sliced peppers and mushrooms before continuing his work.
“No, I don’t suppose you did.” Elissa frowned then and leaned against the counter. “You have a way of not saying quite a bit yet we both know you are more informed than you let on.” Cecil didn’t even bother to look at her at this comment, nor did he disagree. “Right, so what was Jenson doing here the night before Hamilton’s death?”
“I wouldn’t know for certain, since I was not in attendance of said meeting.” The saute pan moved vigorously over the flame.
“He’s had previous meetings with Mr. Hamilton. What do you know of these meetings?” Elissa found her hands clutching the kitchen counter and loosened her grip staring blankly at her hands.
“Mr. McMillan exacts payment from Mr. Hamilton. He has done so monthly since I started working here in November 2007.” Cecil squeezed fresh lemon juice over the mixture in the saute pan.
“What?” Elissa’s mind reeled with dates and questions. “Exact payment? How, for what?” She didn’t realize the words were spoken out loud and snapped back to reality when Cecil answered.
“That doesn’t prove anything. That is all hearsay. Still, Jenson didn’t mention his other meetings with Hamilton, especially the last one.” Hector combed his fingers through his hair. “Omission is the same as lying. What has he been doing with the money?” He looked at Elissa and leaned forward. “And you had no idea. That’s… well, I guess… damn, Elissa, I’m sorry. Now what?”
“I don’t know…” She leaned to her left slightly, propping her head on her hand, “Right now, I’m just glad I didn’t say yes. Does this change who he is? I just don’t know.”
Hector searched her left hand, noticing the ring for the first time. No, second but it didn’t quite register this morning. His stomach clenched. “He asked you to marry him and you didn’t say yes, but you’re wearing his ring.”
Elissa set her hand down on the table and stared at the ring. “He asked me to think about it, to wear it and let the idea sit for a while.”
“And now that you know he’s-”
“He’s not! He loves me.” Elissa’s eyes filled with confusion, tears and desperation. The same familiar pangs gripped her stomach and she closed her eyes. “Plus he has an alibi for last night.” A tear slipped from her closed eyes, blazing a warm trail down her blushing cheek.
“No, I don’t want to talk about this. Please just…” Elissa grabbed her wallet and threw some bills on the table. “I can’t do this, I need air.”
Somehow Elissa made it outside the diner. She had kept her head down and let her feet move her. The soft warmth of the day was burning off slowly. The sun was hazy and giving way to the moon. Closing her eyes, she wrapped her arms around her body just as panic threatened to overwhelm her. Her heart was racing with questions, her head was spinning with doubts and she lifted her head crying out in frustration.
Hector pulled her into his embrace and patted her back gently yet firmly. Elissa didn’t fight him when he held her; she simply buried her face in his chest, clinging to him and sobbing. “What is wrong with the world we live in? People think it’s okay to just fuck anyone? There are no consequences? Our whole relationship, he’s been cheating on me… with a man. What does that say about me?”
“Nothing, that stuff isn’t about you. It is him. He’s wrong. He’s the one that cheated. You’re the victim here. Don’t let him get away with thinking it’s okay or he’s going to continue to do it.” Hector sighed heavily. “I am probably the last person to tell you how to deal with relationships but, Lis, you can’t ignore this and think everything is okay. Besides, he’s a suspect in our investigation and really you shouldn’t be alone with him.”
Silently she nodded and sniffled. She swiped at her eyes and pulled away. “I know you’re right, but it hurts.”
“Maybe some distance can help you think clearly.” Using the pad of his thumb, Hector wiped her tears. “Do you want to give this case to someone else? We can go right now to the Captain.”
“No, we can do this.” Elissa looked up at Hector and frowned. “We are missing something. What did we miss?”
“Tell her I’m sorry.” When Elissa tilts her head at him Hector shrugged. “That is what has been bugging the shit out of me. Who is she? Why is he sorry?”
“His wife because he cheated? His daughter because he can’t be there to watch her grow up?” Elissa’s mind was still spinning with doubts so she threw herself back into the case to stop the anxiety from taking hold. “Evangeline because he isn’t going to make it to the vacation?”
“Not Evangeline and not Zania. I don’t see him wasting his last breath on either of them.” Hector plunged his hands into his pockets. “So Tiana is ‘her’?”
“Unless he has another woman we don’t know about.” They walked slowly coming to a stop at the curb. “He’s known for having multitudes of women…” Elissa painfully swallowed past the lump in her throat, her voice choked to barely a whisper, “and men.”