Chapter 5

“Sister Phyllis, is there somewhere in the school we can all go and sit?” Maribeth Hartley was allowing herself an optimistic moment. Four people. Well, one child and three adults…and two of them were …nuns! Surely this case will be a simple, Accidental Death by Screwin’ Around with still Plugged-in Computers.

“Well, there is my office, I suppose I could get a few chairs from the library, I don’t have many visitors, just the occasional child who gets sent to my office, and oh my how they’re so scared it’s as if they thought,” the Mother Superior and Principal of St Emily’s School was clearly trying to cope with the un-expected death of the Parish Priest, (in her office, no less) and her responsibilities to her guest and now, the police.

“Library! Perfect! Perfect! Take us to the library, right now, ok?”

“I said I needed to talk to everyone. You, you’re the little girl’s father?” Maribeth was not smiling as she looked at Ed Willoughby, who, holding his daughter’s hand, was walking away from the school entrance.

Ed managed to repress the impulse to say, “No, I’m not. I’m just borrowing her, because I lost my ATM Card and I needed some quick cash.” Always confident around strangers, especially women, there was something about this woman, besides the badge and the gun, that made it clear any attempt at humor would not be appreciated. He abruptly turned to face the police detective. His daughter Alice, like a dinghy towed behind a cabin cruiser, was almost yanked off her feet by the sudden change of course,

“I’m Ed Willoughby, this is my daughter Alice. I don’t believe I caught your name.”

“That’s because I didn’t toss it.” Without waiting for a response, Maribeth turned and walked to the double glass doors, where the principal of the school and the other, much younger nun stood waiting. At least one of them was standing and waiting. The young nun who had tried to protect the little girl from the unpleasantness of the body of the parish priest being wheeled out of the school. The principal, Sister Phyllis, was walking down the corridor, presumably to the library.

“But can’t I wait in the car?” As much as she enjoyed school, Alice Willoughby had a child’s instinctive distrust of a school building after the school day ended. Empty of children, only the inflexible demands of the adult world remained, emanating from the bulletin boards, (FLU SHOTS FRIDAY! PEP RALLY 5th PERIOD!). The smell of green deodorizing saw dust, hiding all traces of children, all now safely at home, except, of course, for Alice.

“No, honey, the nice detective lady here said that we all had to stay and answer some questions, isn’t that right, Detective?”

Standing in the open library door, Maribeth held out a card to Ed. “Hartley, Detective Hartley. No, this won’t take too long, Alice. Your father says that you help out at the library after school some days?”

“Yes, I help Sister Caterina, mostly I put the returned books on the shelves. I didn’t finish putting away everything I was supposed to today; do you think it would be alright for me to do that while you talk to my daddy?”

“Yeah, sure, this won’t take long. I just have to talk to him and to your Principal and the other nun, the one you were with earlier?”

“Sister Margaret Ryan, how quickly they forget!” Smiling, Sister Margaret got up from one of the two conference tables that flanked the circulation desk.

“I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, Detective Hartley, but if you want to interview Alice’s father, she and I can work on putting those books back on the shelf. Sister Phyllis is on the phone to the Bishop’s office, so she’ll be preoccupied for a while.”

Maribeth stared at the young nun, in her ‘dress blacks’ and smiled, “I don’t see why not, Margaret. As soon as I get the information I want, everyone can go home.”

Ed Willoughby was already sitting at the other conference table, his 6′ 3″ frame making the furniture look exactly like what it was, furniture for children. He was holding out a business card. Maribeth took the card and, without looking at it, put it under the last page of her steno pad. Looking at the open front page, Maribeth said,

“Do you come here to pick up your daughter every day after school?”

“No. Well, Tuesdays …most weeks. That’s usually the day Alice stays after school to help the librarian, Sister Caterina. I’m fortunate to be in a position to be available weekday afternoons, my wife doesn’t get home until quite late.”

Maribeth was beginning to feel that maybe, just maybe, this case might turn out to be cut and dried, he continued, “…being the Executive Chef at the Omni Corp allows me those kinds of perks, the hours with my family, or at least my kids.”

‘My god!’ thought Maribeth, staring at Ed Willoughby, ‘he can’t be hitting on me.’ Something in what he just said was triggering an association in her mind. Nothing overt or concrete, just a slight echo of another fact.

“Omni Corp? Downtown? That new, totally over-done, giant glass building?”

“Why yes, World Headquarters! I’m Executive Chef. If the truth be known, they rely on me to oversee the entire food services operation,” Ed leaned forward across the table, Maribeth’s card still in his right hand. “There can’t be too many female Detectives on the force and certainly not many as young and attractive as you.” Ed made a show of looking at the card, as if he were comparing what was printed with the young woman sitting across the blond oak table.

“Does your job include overseeing events like the Symposium that your company hosted at the Hilton Indian Lakes?” (If anything convinced the Chief of Detectives that Maribeth Hartley had what it takes to be a Detective, it was her statement, ‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’ Well, that and the near palpable ferocity that clearly lurked, barely under control, behind the young woman’s calm demeanor.)

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I signed off on the menu for that, it was an Internet thing, right?” Now it was Ed’s turn to feel something was slightly off…. nothing big or obvious, more like a single book put back upside down, a vague sense of something not right.

“There was a death, the afternoon of the final day of the event. A young woman fell to her death, nothing to do with you, I’m sure. I mention it because, on the surface it seems like a simple, unfortunate accident, but there’s something not right.” Maribeth had confidence in her intuition. Her first training supervisor, an old beat cop, who lacked an advanced degree in criminology, would write in his reports, ‘she has the killer instinct’. Though not exactly acceptable terminology, it was accurate nevertheless. At the moment, it was very clear that the self-confidence of the large man in the undersized chair was evaporating for no obvious reason.

“Yeah, a computer expert, guest speaker and all. Funny coincidence, her name was Emily.” Seeing the blank look on his face, Maribeth changed her tone, more like close friends confiding in each other, “You know! This school, St. Emily’s? I’ll bet you didn’t know that St. Emily is the patron saint of single women?” Ed’s unease increased, and Maribeth found herself thinking how much she enjoyed some parts of her job, “Emily…. Emily Friend. Yeah! that’s her name. The woman who died at the Symposium at the Hilton Indian Lakes Resort, her name was Emily Friend.”

Just as Ed sensed that making a wisecrack about being Alice’s father would be un-wise, he was certain that he mustn’t give any indication that he knew Emily Friend. He succeeded, at least he thought so, sitting there and watching as this fairly hot police detective changed into something not so hot… well, to be honest, (and Ed thought of himself as always being honest, even when people got upset at him), she was still kinda hot, but more in a, ‘be careful or you might not like what happens next‘ way. His wife, Diane, had that quality when they first met in grad school. Emily was there too. Emily Friend, the first person in what became the Hermes Consortium, dead! And, now Father Noonan. He hadn’t let on that he had any connection to Father Noonan, other than being a parishioner. ‘Just a harmless and charming suburban dad, that’s me!’ Ed was beginning to think that he needed to get clear of this woman and her odd coincidences.

Maribeth could see the wheels turning. This suburban dad, part-time ladykiller knew something and was hiding whatever it was that the name Emily Friend, seemed to shake loose. There couldn’t be a connection, but his reaction to the name was not letting her believe that….

“Well, Mr. Willoughby?”

“Ed… please”

“Ed, I’ll keep your card. It doesn’t look like I’ll need any further information from you regarding Father Noonan’s death. But, if you don’t mind, I might call you about the death at the Symposium. No, nothing about the death, unless there’s something you can tell me that I don’t already know. Seeing how you’re at the executive level at Omni, it might help if I can call you, rather than flash my badge at the receptionist in the lobby.” Maribeth sensed the self-confidence return, as he convinced himself that she needed his help, because he’s such a good Executive Chef.

“Sure, that’d be great, any time.”

Maribeth got up and smiled at him, leaning and touching his arm, “I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble with your bosses and I’m nearly 100% sure I won’t need to call, but it would be a big help to me.”

Maribeth kept her smile aimed at Ed Willoughby, thinking, ‘Jeez, he’s totally convinced that I’m all impressed and charmed… god, how big is their delusional system?’

Over at the Circulation Desk, Sister Margaret and Alice were talking quietly,

“No! I really did! well, I wasn’t a nun then, and my friends all dared me too and so, of course I…” their laughter made the remainder of the sentence unintelligible.

“Sorry to break this up ladies, but I’m done with your father and I need to borrow Sister Margaret,” Alice sighed, picked up her jacket and headed towards the door. “How long will you be here, Sister Margaret?”

Sister Margaret got up and walked with her to the door, “I’m not sure, but I won’t leave without letting you know! And, Alice, don’t forget what we talked about.” she crouched and hugged the young girl.

Ed Willoughby, his daughter again in tow, walked to his car in the gathering dusk.

“OK, Detective Hartley? It’s been a terribly long day for me, and for you too, I’ll bet. I wrote down all the information I could think you would need: my cell phone, and my Mother Superior’s contact information. Sister Phyllis has a room for me at the Convent, here at St Emily’s, and I’d really like to get some rest. Is there anything that you have to ask me tonight?”

“Yeah, sure. You’re not going anywhere, right? Not like you’re gonna go out for a night on the town or anything,” Maribeth had already decided that she had gathered as much information as possible, at least for today. “I’ll want to talk to you some more about your trip here. The only reason you’re here was to meet with Father Noonan, right?”

“Am I a suspect?” Sister Margaret smiled, never taking her eyes off the detective’s face.

“No. I don’t think there’s been a crime committed. At least, I’m fairly certain there’s no foul play in how the priest died, but declaring a death accidental or a homicide has a standard of proof and I’m not there yet.”

“Well, as I said, I’ll be staying here at the Convent. Feel free to call me.” Turning to the older nun who was putting the phone down, Sister Margaret Ryan said, “Come Mother Superior, it’s been a long and terrible day. Why don’t you take me to where I’ll be staying tonight, or I may just have to camp out here in the library!”

Sister Margaret watched as the detective walked out to her un-marked car and drove off.

 

Thirty minutes later, Detective Maribeth Hartley pulled into her garage, turned off the engine and sat and thought about how she needed to resolve these two recent cases and move on. Well, that and learn to cope with the stress of her work, as she felt the muscles in her shoulders knotting up.

Maribeth spent her childhood in the house her parents built. They both died in a plane crash, less than five years before. She thought about selling the house, because not only was it way more house than she needed, it was also the house she grew up in. Large and luxurious, it was an appropriate home for the couple that built it. Her mother, a successful attorney and Chicago Circuit Court judge, and her father, Captain of the 12th Precinct, Homicide Division, they were at home in this place. It really was not the house best suited to a single female cop, just starting her career.

Most of the house, such as the formal dining room, music room, and basement workshop remained unused, undisturbed and pretty much the way her parents had left it. Maribeth did not use 85% of the living space, instead living primarily in the master bedroom suite, specifically the master bath. The bath included both a Jacuzzi and a walk-in shower. Marble and glass it had shower heads everywhere, a control panel allowing for total immersion, (the label actually said, ‘warm tropical downpour’), or a gentle steam, if a less drastic approach to showering was needed. Adjoining the bath, the Dressing room was as lavish in its functionality as was the bath, with its built-in wardrobes and wall-length mirror. Maribeth did not sleep in the master bedroom, preferring instead the bed she slept in most of her life.

Coming in from the garage, she put her keys in a ceramic bowl on the center island in the kitchen, walked through the formal living room and up the stairs to her bedroom. As she did every night, Maribeth turned on every light in the rooms that she passed through. She put her gun, still in its holster, on the nightstand next to her bed and walked down the hall to the master bedroom, where she took off her clothes and walked into the dressing room. In a section of built-in chests of drawers that her mother used to keep her lingerie in, she found a running suit: yellow pants (with a blue reflective stripe down the right leg) and a hooded sweatshirt. She picked up her Beretta Tomcat .32 (with the pocket holster) and tucked it in the front pouch of the sweatshirt. After a few stretches in front of the mirrored end of the dressing room, Maribeth plugged in her iPhone’s earbuds, walked down the stairs and out the side door.

Jogging out to West Foster Ave, (the traffic was fairly light for the time of day), she took a left down North Pulaski and, after about a mile, she came to W Bryn Mawr Ave. This took her past the cemetery to the old abandoned road-turned-unofficial bike path that cut through LaBagh Woods. Once she crossed over the North Branch Chicago River, the dirt road turned into concrete and light posts and benches appeared along the walking paths that wound throughout this section of LaBagh Woods. North Cicero marked the end of the path and from there it was only two blocks back to the house. Her run lasted less than an hour. It felt like two.

The tightness and ache of muscles after this particularly stressful day had not been relieved by the strenuous running. If anything, the 27-year-old woman felt slightly hyped up, which was not an improvement. She recalled her last session with her former therapist,

“Maribeth, I know we’re here to talk about anger, but I think what would help you the most would be learning how to relax. You have a natural gift for police work and the potential to become a very, very good detective, which is part of the reason your Chief recommended that you come to see me.”

“I thought it was because of the excessive force Complaint.” Looking up from her hands, carefully folded on her lap, Maribeth smiled.

“Well, yes, that too. And I trust that you now appreciate why dating co-workers is not condoned. However, your relationship decisions are not what I wanted to talk about today. I was starting to say that you need to learn to leave the work at the office and find ways to relax.”

“…and stop getting hit with professional conduct complaints?” Maribeth laughed

“Yeah, that too.”

One of things that Maribeth liked about the police psychologist was that he had a sense of humor.

“Take me…

“Please!”

“No, I’m being serious, Ms. Hartley.” The department shrink struggled to restore the proper focus to the session. “Personally, I find running an excellent way to relieve the tensions of a tough day at work. It’s good to leave the work cues, the computer, the notes, the crime scenes and just run, by yourself. Do it properly and you’ll find the relaxed good feelings of endorphins, the body’s natural reward for good effort.”

He really was sincere about the benefits of jogging as a way to relieve stress and, in the months since their last session, Maribeth took his advice to heart. She tried, but most evenings were like this evening, home after running for an hour and instead of the pleasure of endorphins and pleasantly exhausted body, she felt only the ache of her muscles. Not working the way it does for most people, she thought.

Back in the house, Maribeth climbed the stairs to the second floor, walked to the master suite and stepped into the marble and glass shower. Turning on the shower control to ‘Full Immersion’ she was engulfed in hot water from the side and overhead sprays, soaking her clothing. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply and began to pull the wet cotton sweatshirt over her head. She felt a hint of anxiety begin to rise, as she pulled at the heavy fabric. Panic nearly completely possessed of her mind, when she remembered the relaxation mantra, the single-word thought, ‘rhythm’. Her breathing slowed and became less labored and frantic, the muscles in her legs and shoulders stopped pulling against each other. Maribeth pulled the sweatshirt over her head, increasingly more relaxed and felt the tension flow down throughout her body and to the floor of the shower.

Sitting at her desk in the living room of the too-large house sipping tea, Maribeth ignored the mail neatly stacked to the right, her Kindle waiting patiently on the left, the widescreen tv silent on the wall. She flipped open the laptop and pulls up an application. It was a Venn Diagram-based organizer that she devised after watching an animated Tag Cloud on a new website that a friend insisted that she look visit. The Tag Cloud showed keywords in a font sized to the frequency of its use, the more often used, the bigger the font. Maribeth modified the underlying code and was able to plug in case information: the people, places and other relevant facts. Tonight she combined the case file on the death at Indian Lake and the death at St Emily’s. She wasn’t expecting much, as there was still very little information on either one, but looking at the screen she noticed that the name ‘Edward Willoughby’ was orbiting within the Cloud, only a little, but still noticeably larger than the other words. ‘Huh’, she thought. Deciding there was nothing more to do, Maribeth Hartley picked up the Kindle and walked up the stairs to her bedroom, leaving all of the lights, both downstairs and up, burning. Electric nannies, standing a silent guard as she slept.

***

Later that Thursday in November, the following communications became part of the digital world that interconnected the ‘real’ world:

“Hello? No, I was awake. I was waiting for your call, Sister. Now, tell me everything that happened and don’t leave anything out.”

“Tom Fearing? This is Ed Willoughby. Yeah, that Ed Willoughby. No, I’m not going to discuss my blogging success story on the phone and I’m definitely not going to discuss it by email. You want to ask me questions, you’re going to have to come here. Yeah, I know St Joseph… hell, I grew up there. This weekend? Done.”

“Honey? Hey, I got this thing, might possibly be an opportunity… no, don’t want to jinx myself. Anyway, you mind if I take a trip out to the Midwest this weekend? No, just a couple of days, talk to some people. You’re sure? Well, yeah we’ll keep trying.”

“Yeah…your boss! I don’t know what I was thinking when we were on the phone the other day, lost track of time…getting old, I guess, but the invitation to dinner stands. Theresa loves to cook for guests and, when I told her you were from Chicago, well she went through the roof. Hope you like Italian food. Heck I can’t pronounce half the dishes she’ll have planned… so yeah, make it 2:00. Oh, one more thing, Stephen, that report you did on the power surge? Forget what I said and bring it along with you. See you then”

***

Unit 17 did not utilize sound as a primary communication medium. Spoken language, was as insufficient to its function and tasks, as a sailing ship in the effort to send a man to the Moon. Unit 17 did, however, recognize analog vocal communications, and flagged those streams carrying it. Doing this helped Unit 17 not feel so isolated, or, like a blog without views, …alone.

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