“Am I going to be charged with murder?”
The detective sighed, and did not answer. His eyes were tired, haunted.
“Just help us get to the bottom of this,” he said.
“Okay,” I answered. “I’ll do my best.”
I could hear the tremor in my voice. I hadn’t stopped shaking since it happened. I’d had a strong drink to settle my nerves. It hadn’t worked.
“Let’s start at the beginning,” said the detective. “You were having a Halloween party.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. “We do it every year. We take turns hosting, and the whole block participates. This year it was our turn.”
“So you’re the one who set up the decorations?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Oh God, that sounds bad. But it wasn’t just me, it was lots of people. I was mostly just supervising.”
“Can you give me a list of who was involved?”
“Uh, yeah, it was–ah… I’m sorry, I’m all over the place. Just give me a moment to calm down, I can give you the list.”
“That’s okay, we can come back to that.”
“So who was it that set up the scarecrow?”
“It was me,” I said. “But I didn’t–fuck–I mean, I didn’t do that. I set it up the night before. Someone must have come in during the night and… Oh god…”
The room swayed, and my breath came sharp and fast. My heart ratcheted up its pace to breakneck speed, and darkness began to close in around my vision.
“Hey,” the detective said, “Just calm down. You’re hyperventilating. Take long, calm breaths.”
I did as he said. My heart slowed, but the panic remained.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Do you think you can keep going?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “Just give me a moment.”
My body convulsed with tremors, but in a few minutes, they had settled down to a mild shaking in my hands. I gulped down a hard knot in my throat.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready.”
“So, the scarecrow…” the detective prompted.
The word filled me with dread.
“The scarecrow,” I repeated numbly. “It’s a Halloween tradition.”
“The neighbors said as much. You destroy it every year?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Usually it’s filled with candy and straw. Like a pinata. The kids beat it with sticks, and…Everyone has a good time. I just don’t understand–god–why would someone do that?”
“It’s too early to speculate,” said the detective. “Right now we are just gathering the facts. When did you notice that something was wrong?”
“Well, right away I noticed that the scarecrow wasn’t coming apart as easily as it should have been. But I just thought that I had put it together too well, so I…I grabbed a stick and…”
“I took a swing.”
The detective leaned forward.
“And then what happened?”
My shoulders slumped. My mouth was cottony and dry.
“And then,” I said, “the scarecrow began to bleed. And…”
There was a pregnant pause. The detective’s eyes bored into mine, willing me to continue. He said nothing, and I had to fill the silence.
“It fell over,” I said. “The hat came off, and we saw that it was a body.”
“What happened then?”
“The kids started screaming. One girl started it, the Oakley girl I think, and then they all went off. We, the other parents and I, we pulled them all away. We called the police and well, that’s it. You know the rest.”
The detective scribbled his last note, and closed the fold-top notebook he’d been writing in. His eyes were hard, dull gray stone, impossible to read. When he spoke again his words were measured, careful. His voice was soft.
“What interests me, Mr. Johnson,” he said, “is that you haven’t asked about your wife.”
The question caught me completely off-guard.
“My wife?” I said. “She’s out of town. Oh god, she’s going to freak when she finds out what happened. She hates the block Halloween party enough as is.”
“Your wife is out of town?” prodded the detective.
The question poked a fresh wound.
“Yes,” I said, forgetting my fear in a moment of irritation, “She and my son are spending the holiday with her parents in Virginia.”
“That seems strange,” the detective said. “A family spending a holiday apart.”
I got the feeling he knew something more than he was letting on.
“Have you talked to her?” I said.
“I’d like to hear your side.”
“My wife and I are going through a rough patch right now,” I said. “But I don’t see why this is relevant.”
“It’s our job to gather all the information,” he said. “Then we can decide what is and is not relevant. Why was your wife not spending the holiday with you?”
I sighed. I wasn’t proud of it, but I was getting flustered. I could feel hot blood rising to my face.
“We’re separated,” I said.
“Why is that?”
“Your wife said that it was related to infidelity.”
“So you have talked to her.”
“Fine,” I said. “You know. I cheated on my wife. I destroyed our family. It’s all my fault. Now I’ve had a hell of a day, so if you don’t mind can you please tell me what the fuck this has to do with anything?”
The detective paused. He spoke softly.
“Your wife is in police custody, Mr. Johnson.”
“I am sorry to have to tell you this,” he said. “But she has rendered a full confession.”
“A full confession for what? What the hell are you talking about?”
“It happens occasionally in cases of separation,” he said. “One party feels the need to punish the other. Unfortunately, the children are sometimes used as a tool to that end.”
The realization hit me like a punch to the gut. The room swam. Bile rose in my throat.
“Oh god,” I gasped. “Oh god, no.”
“I am afraid we have positively identified the remains as belonging to your son, Ben,” he said.
The scream died in my throat. I blacked out.
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