The Clean Slate
Squaring off with the Chief Medical Examiner, Murch politely asked, “I don’t suppose I could have the place to myself for a few minutes?”
The Inspector had yet to indicate he knew the body of his ex-wife lay lifeless inside the house, and this made the Chief M.E. wonder herself if she’d gotten the message wrong. Murch had this effect on people, the ability to stir self doubt from the deepest recesses of your mind, then turn it to his advantage. Eunice mentally jerked herself up by the collar and stood her ground.
“No, you may not, sir,” she replied with renewed confidence. “I believe we have about another twenty minutes of work here, give or take, then we’ll clear out and you may have the scene to yourself. But, if you want to see her, um… the body in place, you’d better come in now,” she softened.
Murch narrowed his eyes and swiped at his cheek with the back of his hand and was startled by the roughness he found there. He’d not only forgotten his wallet, but he’d neglected to shave. Absently, he doubted the M.E. had even noticed as he pushed past her into the sparse living room. Over his shoulder he asked, “Has anything been collected or disturbed, anything at all, from any room?”
“You’ve got time, Inspector, the lab is still doing photographs, they won’t be collecting any evidence for another ten minutes,” Doctor Morehouse solemnly replied.
On the mantle over the fireplace there was a small 3x5 gold framed picture of a man who seemed vaguely familiar to him. He looked carefree as he cast a friendly smile out to the world from behind the glass. Murch stepped closer to inspect it and was scalded by recognition. The photograph was of him, caught in a rare moment of utter bliss from another time, a time when he’d loved with his whole heart.
Murch exhaled the breath he was not aware he’d been holding, and it came out in ragged spurts. His shoulders slumped and his legs felt like wooden stilts.
Percy hadn’t seen or heard from Melanie in over three years. After the divorce she’d asked him not to contact her for “awhile” so she could reboot her life, learn to live without him, which he pragmatically thought should have been easy since she correctly pointed out that he was never home.
Percy honored her request and since they’d had no children together it was somewhat easier to do, though he grieved the loss of her deeply and privately. Murch never once betrayed his broken heart to her, or begged her to stay, as he decided his parting gift to Melanie would be to free her from a lonely marriage to a self-absorbed man unable to find a way to balance his professional career with his private life. He was convince he did not deserve her.
And so, he had let her go without a fight, and now she was dead.
Starting with the living room, the Inspector planned to stand in each room and scan every detail for several minutes before working his way toward the master bedroom where her body lay. That room, that scene would be last, though is took otherworldly strength not to run to her, blundering into the room as the aggrieved lover, a right Percy felt was no longer his.
There was that tickle trailing down his cheek again. This time he swiped at the opposite side and the back of his hand returned to him wet.
He needed air.
Spinning round on his scuffed wingtips he was again thwarted by the Chief Medical Examiner. Eunice registered the abject misery contorting Murch’s features and firmly took his arm. She guided him back to the front porch where he promptly ejected the contents of his stomach, mostly coffee, over the railing and into the juniper bushes.
“Listen Percy, she risked, I’ve known you a long time, right?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “But I’ve never seen you quite so, so undone,” she said with finality. “Perhaps, you’d better turn this case over to one of your colleagues, Detectives Hemphill or Diamond. Those boys are good, they’ll do right by her and you, sir, with all due respect.” She finished speaking and studied his profile.
“I didn’t even know she had moved,” Murch mumbled, head still hanging over the railing, eyes squeezed shut as though he were weathering a searing pain.
In her lab coat pocket, sealed in a tamper-proof evidence bag was a letter, also sealed, and addressed to P. Murch. Eunice fingered the cool plastic trying to divine the proper course of action. Should she give the letter to the Inspector, or wait for Murch to sensibly recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation?
The letter felt both light and heavy with weighty truths. The doctor fidgeted and shuffled her feet. She wished she were anywhere else other than standing on this porch next to Chief Inspector Percival Murch holding the letter that would change him forever. This was not an omen for a happy new year, this was a recipe for disaster.
Like a bloodhound catching a fresh scent, Murch’s head flew upright and a penetrating gaze raked over the doctor like an enemy search light.
“There’s something you’re not telling me, Eunice,” Murch said in a voice so low and hard he almost sounded like a common street thug.
The examiner hadn’t even known he knew her first name, and it unnerved her to hear him speak it so intensely. So much so, she immediately withdrew the bagged letter from her pocket and handed it over.
“You didn’t get this from me,” she said, before leaving him alone on the cold porch.