I watched the tail lights on his van disappear down the long, tree-lined lane, then turned to join the others in the house. I was too tired for another long night. I needed to get this done.
Interviewing Joseph Oberhauser seemed straight forward. He looked to be shattered by his wife’s demise. He was her senior by almost fifteen years, but by his account, they were devoted to each other. He pulled out photos of happy times; black tie and evening gown affairs that showcased how perfect they were for each other. They had no children although he had two from a previous marriage. One lived in Ocean County, the other all the way across the country in California. Where it was warm.
Officer Knight had finished his coffee and left after I’d come in. He was going to knock on the doors of the other homes on the lane just in case anyone had seen anything. We doubted it, but it was protocol. We needed to locate our tipster if we could. And the tow truck still had to pick up Mrs. Oberhauser’s car.
“When can I have Daphne back?” the husband asked quietly.
“The coroner will call you to make arrangements as soon as the autopsy is done, Joseph. He tries to be quick about it. Usually twenty-four to forty-eight hours if he’s not worried about toxicology or anything.”
“I still can’t believe she’s dead. How do I go on without her?” He asked me as tears streamed down his face.
I never have an answer to that question, and it’s been asked of me dozens of times in all the years I’ve been a cop. I shook my head. “Have faith that time will heal, Mr. Oberhauser. That may sound empty at this point in time, but it’s my experience that it is true.”
He looked me in the eye. “Has time healed your pain, Detective?”
I didn’t answer him and he waved the question aside. I let it slide by me like a smelly dog that wasn’t mine.
“Can your daughter stay with you tonight? You probably shouldn’t be alone. I can call her for you if you’d like.”
“We are not on speaking terms. She disagreed with my marriage to Daphne. Some nonsense about being unfaithful to her mother.”
“And her mother is where?” I asked, taking notes as fast as I could.
“She’s been dead for fifteen years. You’d think Jenny would get on with life, wouldn’t you?”
I shrugged. “Kids handle things in their own way, I guess. At least you’d hope she’d want to see you happy again.”
“She doesn’t. She believes I should be miserable my entire life. And now I will be.”
“How does your son feel about it all?”
“David’s in the Navy. San Diego almost ten years now. He felt he should devote himself to one career and he didn’t chose a family. I gave my children horrible legacies, Detective.”
“How so, sir?” I asked.
“My daughter thinks I killed my first wife. Not literally of course, but by not being around enough. I was fighting to keep the family business alive, amassing the money it would take to care for them in style. It required a lot of hours and travel. Jenny feels Mandy died of loneliness.”
What the hell could I say to that? After all, my marriage had been a victim of too many hours and days absent, too. Not for money maybe, but I was responsible none the less. I stood quietly and concentrated on not shuffling my feet. “When did you become a minister?”
“Ten years ago. After a certain point, the money lost its sparkle. After Mandy died, I took a good look at my life. The company is strong, and I made sure that the family would be taken care of in the sale. I can do the Lord’s work, now.”
“No vow of poverty, huh?” I asked, realizing why I’d recognized the man when I saw him at the kitchen table. He traded salvation for personal checks three nights a week on the local cable stations.
“It isn’t money that’s the sin, Detective. The sin is what we are willing to do for it.” I was usually wishing I had more, so I couldn’t relate to a man who collected millions from blue-collar people like me every week.
“Is there anyone who can stay with you, Joseph? You shouldn’t be alone right now.”
He shook his head, his hand on the gleaming brass door handle. “I’ll be all right, Detective. The Lord is with me. And with you. Thank you for your time and your compassion. You’ve made this somehow bearable.”
I shook his hand, pulled on my gloves and shoved through the heavy door into the blistering wind. My head down, I forged through the snow toward my car. I turned the key and let the engine idle for a few minutes. When I looked at the house, I could feel sorrow reaching out to me through the arched Tudor windows. Secrets. The fireplace flickered in the parlor, the only light in a house of many windows.
“No Elise, I’m not giving you any more money. I’m paying you what the judge ordered and I’m paying you on time. That’s it. Get a job if that’s not enough.” I was having this conversation at seven fifteen in the morning, after four hours sleep and no coffee. If I hadn’t been sound asleep when the thing rang, I wouldn’t have answered it. Even after eleven months apart, my ex-wife could still push my buttons.
I listened for another minute and swung my legs out of bed. “I’m not angry with you. I’m just tired of this whole thing. I’ve moved on. It’s not my fault your boyfriend did too. Don’t call me again.” I closed the phone and turned it off. If the station needed me, they would call the unlisted house phone.
After a trip to the bathroom, I crawled back into bed. The dawn was not bright and glorious, so my bedroom was still dark. When I woke next, it was eleven o’clock.
I started the coffee, took a hot shower and dressed for doing nothing. Coffee mug in hand, I put down tuna and whitefish dinner for my three-legged feline housemate, collected a soggy paper from the front porch, and settled in at the kitchen nook to read what was dry enough to decipher.
The kitchen phone rang at one o’clock. “Mickey Holmes.”
“I finished the autopsy on Mrs. Oberhauser,” said Bill. “You might want to see some of this.”
“Fair enough. I’ll be there in forty minutes.”
We signed off; I changed into jeans and a sweater, my partially dried boots and my parka. “’Bye Cat,” I called to my independent but pretty housemate.
I strode into the coroner investigator’s office and tapped on the door before entering. Bill was pounding his keyboard at a feverish pitch. I peeled off my coat and gloves and dropped into the worn, black swivel chair on the other side of his desk. By the look of him, I’d had much more rest than he had.
“You sounded like you found something that surprised you, Bill. What’s up?”
He handed me a clear plastic bag with my current business card in it. On the back of the card, in neatly printed letters was a warning. “SHE’S NUMBER 5.”
“So we’re right, huh? He’s back.” I dropped my head in my hands. “Why is he back?” I asked Bill who knew exactly who I was talking about.
He patted my shoulder. “I don’t know, but we have to catch him this time. You know how bad this will get.”
To be continued…November 9
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