The face of the digital clock was turned away from me, but by the light outside the window, I knew it couldn’t be much later than 5 o’clock in the morning. I reached over and unplugged the wire from the telephone. I still could hear the phone in the kitchen, but the rings were muffled enough to ignore.
I lived alone. I was divorced. No kids. No Significant Other. My parents had died several years earlier, a year apart from each other. My sister had died of lymphoma in 1995. The call couldn’t possibly be from someone who was my responsibility. Whatever anyone wanted to say to me at 5 a.m. could wait.
Besides, I assumed the caller was either my ex-wife Sandy or her boyfriend Derek. Sandy and I had divorced 5 years earlier, but remained on speaking terms. For the past several months, after years of relative sobriety, she once again had sunk into substance abuse and was apt to call at any time of the day or night. There was nothing I wanted to discuss with her at 5 a.m. Derek, a musician who was equally insensible of the clock, liked to bemoan his hopeless love affair to anyone he thought might listen, including, sometimes, me. I didn’t want to hear any more about this either. I put my head on my pillow and dozed off again.
My next conscious moment was when Maxi tapped my face with a paw. I opened an eye. The room was brighter. Black with a white spot on his chest, Maxi always wanted out in the morning. I got up and followed him to the back door. The kitchen clock read 7:30. As the door shut after the Maxi, I heard a squeak behind me. Mini didn’t want out. As usual, she wanted to be fed.
While I dumped a can of 9-Lives tuna into the cat dish, the kitchen phone rang. I picked it up on the fifth ring.
“Hey, this is Ellis!” the caller shouted.
“What emergency?” I asked skeptically. I was sure the word didn’t apply. Neither Sandy nor Derek was my problem.
I remembered Ellis, though. I had met him briefly in early August after
“It’s Sandy, man! They set the place on fire!” Ellis shouted over the phone.
“Who? What place?”
“Is she OK?” I asked.
“She’s dead, man!”
“You gotta get down here. She’s probably at the university hospital.”
“I thought you said she was dead.”
“I don’t know for sure. The house was on fire. I ran over and asked a fireman if a white woman was in there. He said no, but maybe he just didn’t know. Her truck is parked on the street and she doesn’t answer her phone."
“OK, I’ll go the hospital”
“Pick me up. I’m at Derek’s.”
“OK, I’ll pick up you and Derek.”
“Just me. Derek’s in jail.”
“Beats me. Lucky for him, though. He probably would have been in the fire, too.”
“Yeah. I’ll be there in an hour.”
I decided that if I was headed toward a crime scene, it would be wise to bring company. I dialed my friend Ken. Ken answered groggily.
“Ken, I just got a call.
“Damn. Sorry, Rich. Would you like some company?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling. I would appreciate it.”
“Pick me up on the way.”
A large part of me rejected the possibility that anything catastrophic had happened to
Ken met me in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived in Parsippany. We headed to Derek’s house.
Derek’s father opened the door of his homey Cape on a suburban street in
“Why is Derek in jail?” I asked.
“He missed a court date,” his father said.
Ellis, Ken, and I got into my Jeep Cherokee and headed to the hospital. I parked on the street and we walked to a corner entrance.
The woman at the reception desk had no information about Sandra. Instead, another woman in a security guard uniform told us to go to the police station next to the Essex County Courthouse.
The police station in
“Speak to a Detective Muhammad,” he said.
As the elevator doors opened onto the third floor, Ken smiled at the traffic signs in the hallway. One large arrow said “Robberies” and another pointing the opposite way said “Homicides.”
I asked a passing officer where to find Detective Muhammad. He pointed in the “Homicides” direction. This wasn’t looking good.
**** **** **** **** ****
A few days after the unwelcome wake-up call, I walked down the dark aisle of yet another horse barn. The clapping of my shoes on the concrete floor echoed inside. In the fourth stall on the right stood a 15 hand bay facing away from me.
“Hey Buddy!” I called to him.
The horse huffed in recognition and came to the door to have his nose petted. Buddy Love was
There were two barns on this property. I left Buddy and checked the other barn, hoping to find the owner or manager. I encountered a young woman who was neither, but who gave me the owner’s number.
“Buddy Love belonged to my ex, Sandra. She was killed the other day,” I explained.
“I know. We read about it in the papers,” she said. “Actually, Buddy is the barn owner’s horse, because Sandra hasn’t paid her board in months.”
“I see. Well, I’ll still talk to her.”
As it turned out, the barn owner was willing to sell Buddy to him for the amount of the back expenses. Buddy Love, at least, found contentment and green pastures.
Excerpt New York Times 9/17/2006: “Authorities in
, piecing together
the events that led to a triple homicide in the Vailsburg neighborhood over
Labor Day weekend, have arrested one of the three suspects.” Newark