The Second Suspect (Heather Lewis)

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  The crowded noise of the Manhattan sidewalk disoriented Ingrid all the more, and the crisp November air did nothing to clear her head. She relied on the steady grip of the policewoman to guide her through the Monday lunch-hour bustle, guide her to a waiting car. None of these police people wore uniforms, and the car, too, was plain, unremarkable.

The woman got into the backseat with her. She sat beside Ingrid silently. Her hand had released Ingrid's arm and, without thinking, Ingrid turned her head to the hotel doors, saw her husband coming out through the near one, the one to the right of the revolving door.

They'd handcuffed him. An unfamiliar overcoat hid this, but it was obvious nonetheless. Two men walked on either side of him. The other two followed behind carrying the luggage--one with the misshapen burgundy case, the other with her husband's travel bag.

She craned her neck, saw her husband put into a second car. The open trunk obscured the rest. Blocked her view so she couldn't see them hoisting the girl, dropping her in there. Even unseen this seemed terribly cruel to her.

And separating her from Gabriel. This too felt cruel and off-kilter. All of this did. Why had they listened to her? She struggled to remember the phone call. What she had said for them to have taken her so seriously. To have taken her at her word. A thing she hadn't experienced in so long that it now made her nauseous.

She turned her head again, sighting the metal grate, the back of a driver's neck. Her head pitched forward, lifeless. Her chin sank to her chest, her eyes closed. When the ignition key turned, the noise was deafening. The motion of the car pulling from the curb caused a small cry to escape her.

She felt the policewoman's hand again. Then an arm around her shoulders. She let herself rest against the woman, and in this moment she thought of Nina. She tried not to, believing she shouldn't bring Nina into this, not even in this way, in her mind. But she couldn't help herself.

They arrived at the station house. Ingrid climbed stairs and stairs with the woman at her side and the driver leading the way. She wondered if she'd ever be able to find her way out of here. Twists and turns confused her--the bumps and knocks of people passing by.

At last she found herself in the stillness of a room, sitting at a table, sipping tasteless coffee from a paper cup. The coffee, too, reminded her of Nina. The mornings they'd spent together. The comfort of them.

She tried to focus, to let her eyes fully open, to hear what these same two people were saying. But what she heard instead was her own voice saying insistently and anxiously, "Where have you taken my husband? What have you done with him?"

"Ma'am, ma'am."

That word she detested kept filtering through. She couldn't acknowledge it, especially not when spoken by this strange and thick young man before her. The simple sight of his huge hands pressed flat against the table, his bulky forearms, had rendered her speechless. Then there was the woman's hand coming into Ingrid's field of vision, touching one of those forearms.

The man stepped away from the table. Ingrid's gaze didn't shift. She saw the woman's waist first, a thin belt cinched her pants. Ingrid measured it, deciphering what it could accomplish if employed in her husband's manner. But then it dipped below the edge of the table as the woman sat down.

"Mrs. Santerre," she said, "Mrs. Santerre, listen to me a minute. You placed the call."

Ingrid raised her eyes to meet this woman. She became briefly lost in the policewoman's hair--long, soft curls flowing a little past her shoulders. Her gaze followed them. She let her head dip and then come up again to find the woman's eyes, deep gentle eyes, brown. So like Nina's that Ingrid found her head dipping down again, and so when the woman said, "Yes, that's right," Ingrid realized she appeared to be nodding.

"No, no it isn't," she said quickly.

"You didn't make the call?" the policewoman said, clearly not believing, coaxing.

"You don't understand. You couldn't possibly understand."

"Ma'am, I think we've got a pretty good idea what's happened here."

This was the man again. His voice intruded, breaking the moment in halves, pulling Ingrid's eyes to him in a way that hurt, so she put them back to the woman and there it was again, the illusion that she was shaking her head.

"Gus, why don't you leave us alone a minute." The woman said this without looking at him. Her eyes stayed with Ingrid's, held her.

When Ingrid heard the door open and then close, she said, "Can you understand?"

"I'm trying to, Mrs. Santerre. I'm Detective Reese. We want to help you, but first you need to help us."

Gabriel Santerre had been taken to an adjacent room. He sat at a table surrounded by four detectives, the same four who'd brought him in. Glorified bellhop, he thought as one of them lifted the burgundy bag, plunked it before him on the table.

"You want to tell us what's inside," another of them said. This one stood directly across from Santerre. He was leaning, hands near but not touching the case, his torso on a slant, suspended above it, and his face so red and determined Santerre smiled.

"Am I being arrested?" he asked plainly.

"We'll get to that. For now just tell us what's inside."

"I'd like to call my attorney."

They, of course, attempted to convince him this wasn't necessary, or even desirable. They employed every insipid trick and argument in their armory. One after another they did, each taking a turn, to which Gabriel Santerre said absolutely nothing.

He wondered at their not just opening the case. To have brought him here, to have taken things this far--he didn't believe they couldn't open it. He kept himself abreast when it came to this type of law. Sitting, watching them, he began to believe this was not simply a strategy, another pathetic game on their part. No, he surmised they were squeamish.

Once he'd determined this he observed them in a different manner. He noticed how they avoided touching the case, recoiled if they did so accidentally. He marveled at this. He found himself invigorated by his contempt. And from this sensation emerged the desire to put them in their place.

Initially he stilled this. He did not give into it. He calculated parameters. Ascertained the exact distance he could go without losing his advantage. What he could do before the act of enjoying his desire would give them something they might want, something they could use--satisfy them.

He decided upon stroking the case, fondling it really. He did this with one lazy hand. His fingertips tickled across the vinyl. A gentle repetitive motion, and through it he was thinking, wishing, actually, that he'd purchased a leather case and not this piece of trash. But he forgave himself this. He couldn't have known he'd be in the position of touching more than the handle.

This brought his thoughts to his wife. That she'd accomplished this. That she'd put him in this position. It was another thing to marvel at. It gave him a sense of future, of promise even. An admiration for her, though this he would only reveal by the retribution he'd exact.

That same smile came again to his face. And he continued the stroking. Never for a moment did he let up and he never varied the motion. His actions had a curious effect on the policemen. All but one exited the room. Not together, but one after another. And so he believed he'd assessed things correctly.

Reese had remained with Ingrid. The detective still sat across from her, gently working. Ingrid now rested her arms on the table. She had her hands clasped together and Reese mimicked her movements. They leaned toward each other intently, intensely.

Reese said, "Why don't you tell me what happened."

Ingrid drew back, though there was no visible sign of this. Her body stayed the same, but maybe this woman had seen the change in her eyes because she let one hand touch Ingrid's hands. Stroked them in a way that loosened their grip.

The sensation left Ingrid giddy, dangerously so. This woman might loosen other things in her. Everything, the years of it, might pour out. Spill onto this table and how could this woman ever hope to mop it all up? No, she would drown in it.

Ingrid tried to shore herself again, but it was already much too late for this. Despite her efforts not to, she began talking.

"There was another girl," she said, meaning Nina. "Years ago." She paused, calculating in her head--the exact number mattered to her. About this she would be precise. "Seven years ago. You remind me of her."

"Mrs. Santerre, I need you to tell me about this girl. How this happened."

But Ingrid continued as if not having heard. She counted the years that had passed since Nina. "She'd be twenty-one now," she said at last, proud for having done the sum. "Much younger than you, of course, but . . ."

"Is she dead, too?" Reese asked bluntly.

"No," Ingrid said, drawing her hands away quickly, nearly getting to her feet before collapsing inside. She'd wondered this countless times. But not in the conventional way this detective meant. Her indulgence of herself, her failure; she'd no idea what it might've cost. And she'd begun telling this from that same place. Believing incorrectly, but nonetheless believing, that what she had to say might kill this woman who now sat before her.

But her own need had become too large to contain. It kept slipping and seeping. Her patchwork could no longer dam it. She'd been warring with it too long. Warring and losing since Nina. Nothing but feuds and floods, and blood, Nina's blood. So many nights and days awash in it because this she knew--he'd had her cut. He'd proved that much to her. Sent men to do it because he would not engage in something so base and untidy. And he still always wore that awful necklace--a constant reminder.

"Mrs. Santerre. Mrs. Santerre?"

It was Reese again. "Tell me your name," Ingrid said because it was all she wanted now. To know this woman's given name, to have this woman tell her her name, something Nina had never done. She'd learned by accident, or necessity really, that Nina was merely her working name, not the one she called herself. And stubbornly Ingrid clung to it, never using the real name, not even in dreams about her.

"Tell me your name," Ingrid said again.

"Mrs. Santerre, I'm Detective Reese."

"No, no, Sweetheart. I'm not so . . . Your given name." And with this request Ingrid met the detective's eyes.

"Mrs. Santerre," Reese said again.

The sound of her husband's name hurt too much. "Please stop saying that. I'm Ingrid. Please call me Ingrid."

"All right, then, Ingrid. You need to tell me what happened."
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Excerpted from The Second Suspect by Heather Lewis. Copyright © 1998 by Heather Lewis. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.