[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 084
Chapter 16 (10 of 10): Investigation
Phoebe was ambling off into a distant territory of her own. No parent should ever have to deal with the death of a child. Her thoughts drifted back to the fall of 1986 and Melinda’s sudden death. A vast emptiness had opened up inside her, and there had been moments when Phoebe thought she would never get over this loss. How could such a lean and lanky beauty, then on the verge of womanhood, ever come from a person like herself – short, chunky, certainly not a looker? Phoebe had been inconsolable, and that first year after Melinda’s death she would find herself spontaneously bursting into tears, sometimes triggered by a fleeting memory, sometimes because she saw someone or something that hooked into her memories, sometimes for no reason at all. She and Samuel would lie in bed, holding each other, weeping in the dark, looking at each other through the tears. They would whisper reminiscences to each other of their lost child: things she had said, things she had done, vacations they had taken, her loving way with her younger brother, Noah.
Melinda had recently begun her period and her breasts were no longer those of a child. Phoebe recalled the deep, almost primitive pride she had felt in talking to Melinda about menstruation and going to the store with her to buy pads and her first brassiere. Mother and daughter. But Melinda would never find her prince and never have children in her turn. How could a mother or a father endure such a loss? One heals. Melinda had continued to live vividly in Phoebe’s heart and still did, and the intensity of the pain had gradually loosened its paralyzing grip. But not entirely. You get on with life. It won’t wait for you.
But she felt a strong kinship with the Caos’ pain and wished somehow that she could help them through what her own sad experience assured her would be a very bad year or two for them. But she knew she couldn’t. It was a lonely horror they would have to face by themselves. Never again to hug your child, talk to her, hear her voice. Intolerable.
As they came in sight of the downtown skyline Ulla turned to Phoebe and said, “What do you make of all that?”
Phoebe mulled over the question. “Do you mean the parents or the case?”
“Unspeakable. Just unspeakable. What else can you say?”
“Yes,” she said softly. “Yes, I see what you mean.”
A few minutes later she asked, “And what about the case?”
“Well, we did get some threads we’re going pull hard on and see what unravels. I’m especially curious about this Darling character. The name rings a bell with me but I can’t put my finger on it. We’ll see.”
“Right,” Ulla said, still subdued. “We’ll see. I’d sure like to find the guy who did this!”
“Or the woman,” Phoebe reminded her.
“Or the woman.” She nodded her head in affirmation. “Yes, of course.”
As they approached headquarters, Phoebe suddenly said, “I wasn’t fully honest with you earlier tonight, Ulla.”
“Oh? How do you mean?”
“When you asked me if I had any children?”
“Yes?” She drew out the interrogative tone.
“I did have another child. Her name was Melinda. But she died in 1986. In a stupid accident, coming home from school. She would have been thirty now. Just about your age, if I recall correctly.”
“Yes, twenty-nine.” Demurely.
They had come to a stop next to Phoebe’s car in the underground garage, and Ulla killed the ignition. They sat in the car without speaking.
“I had no idea, Phoebe. I had no idea at all.” She shook her head slowly. “Life has … has dealt you some harsh … circumstances.”
Phoebe said nothing, but gave Ulla’s hand a squeeze.
“So this case … this Trinh Cao is … sort of personal?”
“Not really. The duty is a personal thing, as I said to Mr. Cao. I can’t allow myself as a professional to let it seep over into my private life. But I do know what those parents are going through and will be going through. I’m determined that we solve this one. They deserve that much, at the least.”
Ulla bobbed her head emphatically. “Phoebe, I agree totally. And I thank you that you told me things about yourself. I respect what you’ve said and I won’t gossip about any of this. I promise you.”
“You’re a kind person, Ulla. And generous. I’m glad we met. I’ll miss you when you return to Sweden.” She leaned over and fleetingly touched her cheek to Ulla’s.
“Good night, Phoebe.”
The beautiful Mercedes pulled away smoothly, the tires squealing lightly on the floor of the desolate garage.
Before inserting the ignition key in her own car, Phoebe gave herself a few minutes of silence in the front seat. She idly watched two maintenance men rolling a large cart and dumping garbage into it from the cans placed strategically throughout the garage, each under a large yellow sign that said, NO LITTERING, PLEASE – USE THIS GARBAGE CAN. Is that all Ulla and I are, she asked herself? Garbage collectors? For the Hsiens and the Caos of the world?
She reflected on her casual hypotheticals last Tuesday evening as she and Samuel had been ‘doing the garbage’ in the house (and refrigerator!), sorting and packing it, and carting it out in big plastic bags to the curb to await pickup Wednesday morning.
“What if the garbage people don’t come tomorrow? or next week? or the week after that? The dry garbage like cardboard and paper would, I suppose, just pile up until there was no more room in the garage. Ditto for glass, metal cans, and plastics. But what about perishable items like banana skins or uneaten carrots or orange peels, fish bones and grease drippings from such cooking as she and Samuel did, old oil paints and acrylics? Stench and growing fire hazard aside, how could she store all that? They’d have to haul it weekly to the local garbage dump, where they would have to duke it out with hundreds of thousands other irate householders bent on the same unpleasant but necessary mission.
“And if they didn’t get rid of it, how long before the rats invaded their home and, hitching a ride, the fleas and, still lower down the food chain, the plague bacilli?”
This really was not an unimaginable scenario but a nightmare of possibilities. But as things thankfully were, all she had to do was lug a few bags a few feet from her garage door to the curb.
And who would do her kind of garbage collecting if she and Ulla and the other police didn’t? Social chaos and anarchy would be the rats and bacilli in that case. Not too flattering, she realized, to imagine herself as a kind of garbage collector, was it?
Suddenly the long day caught up with her and she felt an infinite weariness.
And then the same old thought came to her again: still, she thought, after all these years. Still. The faces of Melinda and Trinh seemed to merge in her mind’s eye. Her shoulders quivered quietly as two rivulets of tears for dead and distressed daughters ran down her cheeks.
TO BE CONTINUED