By the time we got to the parlor everyone was snickering. I should have known why but I was preoccupied with introducing the Abernathy’s to Mary. I ushered them over to her and began the process but as soon as I got to Crystal’s name, Mary burst out laughing.
“You’re the one that has our Jack all flustered!” she managed to gasp as she caught Crystal’s hand and shook it warmly.
If looks could kill Mary would have been gone. I was half considering helping the process along by strangling her. My face was a bright crimson and now my entire family, the entire Jenkins family and about half the rest of the neighborhood was laughing at my total ineptitude. I couldn’t see Crystal’s face with Mary hogging her but no doubt any chance I had was ruined and I was well aware her father was right beside me. Well, at least he’d kill me before much longer – that was my only comfort.
One of my brothers slapped me on the back and Mr Abernathy began to laugh. Well, there went my one hope of getting out of this. My sister Donna came to my rescue, grabbing my arm and assuring me it was alright. I thought she’d lost her mind at first but gradually it dawned on me that they weren’t making fun of me but laughing with me. Crystal finally looked my way, her blue eyes twinkling. She smiled reassuringly. That made it finally okay.
I still don’t get what was so funny about the thing. Ever have one of those things where you just had to be there to get it? Well, that was what this was but I’d managed to miss it even though I was there.
I forced myself to chuckle, still having no idea why the heck this was so funny. But it put everyone else at ease so I did it for Momma’s sake and to get this over with. I was still pretty raw from the embarrassment.
Things began to settle down. I dunno, maybe the silliness was good for us. The mood changed from grim to what Momma calls ‘joyful sadness’. People were sharing stories about Mr J – the good ones. It was like we had all been holding our breath then suddenly we could breathe again and life continued.
An hour later, I excused myself and jogged to my own apartment. I had one thing I had to do before tonight while I was clear headed enough to do it. I wanted to see Mr J’s apartment again. I’d already cleared it with John. I grabbed my notebook and pen and went back into the hall.
A voice interrupted me as I locked my door, “Want some company?” Crystal asked.
I looked around, surprised to see her, “I, uh, I don’t mind, I don’t suppose.” I took a deep breath and tried again, “I mean it’s okay with me but I’m just going up to Mr. J’s apartment for a look.”
Crystal nodded and joined me. “I’ll come then.”
I sighed, “Must sound silly but I just need to see it again.”
She took my arm, “Not silly at all.” she assured me.
Once we reached the door, I let us in with Poppa’s passkey. The living room looked the same as it always had. I noticed that the door to the boy’s bedroom was open. John and his family had been staying in the apartment so that was no surprise. His wife Melissa was one of those people who can’t abide anything out of place so the apartment looked untouched.
Crystal just stayed beside me as I looked around. Nothing in this room seemed out of place. Don’t know why I thought it would be – a herd of detectives, crime scene analysts and family had been through here in the last four days so even if anything had been awry, it wouldn’t mean anything. But still, I needed to look.
I went into the kitchen and closed my eyes for a moment, remembering exactly what it had looked like that night. I opened them and noticed that the fruit bowl had been righted and the fruit discarded. Melissa, no doubt. I looked at the window sill and something caught my eye. Both times that night I’d swung my leg through the window without touching the sill yet there were scrapes on the sill. Tiny ones in the otherwise perfect paint job.
Crystal knelt beside the window sill, noticing the same thing, “Did you?”
I shook my head emphatically, “No, wasn’t me.”
She ran a finger over the marks. “They’re deeper than they look.”
I touched them and came to the same conclusion. “Yeah”
Touching them gave me an eerie feeling similar to the one I’d had when I saw that shadow. Not nearly so strong but definitely there.
I retraced my steps, even pretending to pick up Pepe again. I noticed the scuff mark from my shoes as I’d stumbled. A few feet in front of them was another mark. I knelt and looked closely.
The crime scene guys had scraped it, for a sample, I guess. They had taken the clothes I’d been wearing that night including my shoes so they’d have them to compare but this wasn’t going to match. I hadn’t dug in my heel as whoever or whatever killed Mr J had done.
Crystal was kneeling beside me. “Not the same – not yours?” she asked.
I shook my head, too intent on the mark to note how astute she was. “No, couldn’t be – I ran in, not out.”
She touched the mark and I swear she shivered a bit but said nothing.
We moved on into the bedroom. Melissa had straightened up after the mess the EMT’s had left. The room looked just like it had, except that Mr J wasn’t here. Crystal pointed to his chair, “That one, wasn’t it?”
Now I looked at her, “How did you?”
“The arm – the upholstery has been removed.”
She was right; the crime scene guys had cut a huge chunk of the pale blue upholstery material out of the armrest. I walked over, considering. “I don’t remember seeing any blood on it…”
“Was his arm on it?” Crystal asked.
I thought for a second then nodded, “Yeah, it was. Strange, it was just laying there like…” I knelt to look at the front of the armrest. The cloth had a definite nap and it was going in the wrong direction in three little areas like Mr J had dug his fingers in.
“He gripped it.” Crystal offered.
I nodded, “Yeah…” I got up and looked closely at the headrest. I distinctly remembered seeing blood on Mr. J’s collar but there was no sign on the headrest and the crime scene guys hadn’t cut it up. “Weird, they didn’t find…”
“Blood?” Crystal asked.
I nodded. “He had a little on his collar. Guess it was from earlier…”
“Did he normally shave at night?”
I shook my head, realizing she was right. That didn’t make sense. But if it happened during the murder, shouldn’t it be on the chair by his head instead of his arm?
Crystal touched the armrest and stared at the chair. Then she said what I was already thinking, “How do you kill someone and leave blood on his collar but not the headrest yet get it under his arm? Defensive wounds might explain the arm but not the collar.”
“Mr J was huge and strong as an ox but there was no sign of a fight and none of us heard anything. Mr Elmore downstairs can usually hear everything going on in this place but he said he never heard a thing.” I told her.
We went over the whole place and found nothing else. Of course, the cops had seen everything we had and they were better detectives than I’d ever be but I had still needed to see for myself. I wanted that thing caught and still had the creepiest feeling that it wasn’t a normal killer. Well, maybe I wasn’t a detective but I was about to learn.