The shocking story of the disappearance of a less than wonderful stepdad.
| In the Garden
By Lynne Logan
© Lynne Logan 2006
I was 12 when my stepfather disappeared. Edward, short, pudgy with a big ugly mole on the side of his nose, but a fat bank account, which is why Mom married him. I never liked him, but she didn’t care. My dad died when I was eight, and I still miss him every day—even now, ten years after watching him deflate and turn bluish pale as the cancer usurped his life.
So anyway, the day that Edward went AWOL was a beautiful spring day, and I found Mom in her and Edward’s bedroom on her hands and knees digging around in shoeboxes on “his” side. Edward had nailed an old sheet in the middle of the closet from the ceiling to designate his and her side, measured it even—to be exact. So neurotic.
“Mom, what are you doing?” My palms were sweaty, but I knew she wouldn’t find what she wanted. She wasn’t looking in the right place.
“Did you hear Edward’s car leave last night, Tally?” she asked looking up at me, her face flushed, eyes red. She’d been crying, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup. Mom didn’t even go to the mailbox without makeup.
I shook my head. “No.”
“He never showed up at work today.”
“That’s weird,” I said looking out the window down at the daffodils blooming in the garden below.
“His cell phone went straight to voicemail, and then I realized he didn’t take it with him,” she said nodding toward his phone on the dresser.
I glanced at his phone. “He never goes anywhere without his cell phone,” I said, biting my lip.
“I know. I’m really worried. When I woke up this morning, I realized he hadn’t come to bed. His pajamas were on the hook in the bathroom, and he always puts them in the hamper in the morning.”
I nodded. Yeah, Edward said wearing anything twice—just made him feel dirty, especially PJs. I felt nauseous thinking about Edward in his PJs, but Mom didn’t seem to notice.
“Didn’t leave a note or anything, so unlike him. Did he say anything to you after I went to bed?”
I shook my head again. “No.”
She nodded. “I called the police—”
“You did?” I asked, eyes snapping in her direction.
“Of course, but they won’t do anything until it’s been 24 hours.”
I nodded. “Oh,” I said as she stood up. “Who knows, Mom, he probably had a breakfast meeting with some client and just forgot to tell everyone.”
Mom nodded. “You know, that would be just like him.” Mom said, her lips pressed into a very straight line. I nodded again.
I saw Edward once in his Wall Street office, making deals while tossing a tennis ball in the air, laughing, as he bought and sold million-dollar companies like trading little plastic hotels in some Monopoly version of real life and rarely broke a sweat. Life was all good for Edward.
I went to my room, sat down on my bed and glanced down at the crooked slash of scars on my arm and sighed. Last year, Mom had taken me to a psychiatrist because I made cuts on my arm, then drew pictures of red devils, monsters, and demons with the blood on notebook paper. I usually hid the pictures in my underwear drawer, but one day I forgot. Mom found one on my desk and let horror movie kind of scream, made my skin crawl. I should feel something looking at these jagged reminders of days gone past, but I didn’t.
Dr. Vinton, the psychiatrist was a very short, squat man, at least a hundred years old, with almost florescent white hair, and he smelled like Vic’s VapoRub. I would sit and stare at him and not say anything, staring at the Van Gogh rendition of Starry Night on the wall behind his head until he cleared his throat and said, “Our time is up,” with the same flat smile.
I couldn’t tell him what really happened. He’d be just like Mom. He wouldn’t believe me. After three weeks of staring at Starry Night, Mom stopped taking me to see Dr. Vinton, and I stopped drawing pictures with my blood.
I took my antique locket from beneath my school uniform blouse where I always wore it and snuck a peak at Great Aunt Clair with her high spun dark bun of hair with soft yarns of gray set neatly on her head. Her beautiful face with those passionate eyes looking straight at you as if from the grave.
Clair was my favorite relative though I’d never actually met her. I just know the stories about her, and her sister, Margaret, let me read some of her journals now and then when we go visit them at Christmas in Chicago. Clair’s husband, Frederick, never returned from World War II, and she never married again even though four different men confessed their undying love for her and practically begged her to marry them, and one was a very wealthy railroad man named Irwin that she really seemed to have the hots for—but still didn’t marry him. That’s the way it should be, ya know? True love, one for each of us.
Clair wrote in her journal that she believed everyone had one true love, and when that person is gone, there is no other. I wanted to be just like Great Aunt Clair, not like my mother, who’s on husband number four. Yeah, she was married twice before my dad, short-lived romances she never speaks of even when she cashes her alimony checks that still arrive every month.
According to my Aunt Margaret, Mom has the best divorce attorney in the country, and now there’s Edward who doesn’t dare step out of line, Mom says, for fear of Jacob Ottman, her attorney. Little did she know, but anyway.
The day after Edward’s disappearance, I walked in from school, and Mom was sitting on the $5,000 divan she bought in Greece on her honeymoon with Edward. She was crying to a policeman. My dog, Bruno, a dark-haired terrier mix, was sitting on the divan until I walked in.
Bruno came rushing toward me, and I leaned over and picked him up. He licked my face, and I winced. I hate dog saliva. It’s almost as nasty as baby throw up, but I digress. The cop gave me half a smile looking at the dog. I’d never actually met a policeman, and this guy with his freckles and moon-colored skin, could’ve passed for 16.
I glanced at the gun on his belt. I had little experience with guns though Edward had a pistol, locked in a small metal box in his closet, but he never let me see it. Mom told me about it and gave me the combination to the box in case anyone ever broke in, which had never happened. Which never made sense to me. They wouldn’t show me how to use or let me touch it, so why tell me about it?
Mom’s tears milled through her mascara, making black smudges under her eyes. She blew her nose and dabbed at her eyes like a good wife, wiping off the carefully applied Mac Cosmetics or some other top of the line brand from Macy’s.
“Tally, this is Officer Jenkins,” Mom said glancing up at me, then gesturing to the cop sitting in one of the black leather wing chairs.
“Hello,” I said softly.
The cop nodded. “Can I ask you a few questions, Tally?” He asked, a definite Southern sway to his voice. It was soft and sweet like you might imagine a country singer would sound on TV when he wasn’t singing. Mom didn’t like any music except Sinatra and Connie Francis, same albums her mother listened to. And she barely tolerated my Pearl Jam and Nickleback albums at “low volume”, so I’d never really heard country music, really except when occasionally stopping on the country music station on cable, which she only tolerated for a minute. And Southerners were rare in Maine, so hearing his silvery twang was an oddity.
“Okay,” I replied sitting down slowly by Mom on the divan, still holding Bruno.
“When did you see your stepfather last?”
“Last night before I went to sleep.”
“What was he doin’ then?” Officer Jenkins asked, that southern cadence dipping down at the end of the last syllable.
I looked up like I was thinking. “He was watching baseball when I went to bed.”
The cop nodded and took notes with a black pen on a tiny notepad.
“Did you hear anythin’, Edward’s car or a door slammin’, anythin’ at all?” He asked with a serious look, blue eyes darkening, that Southern song in his voice was definitely mesmerizing my mother. She stared at him through the same intense eyes that sought out pictures of Brad Pitt in every magazine she could find.
“No—except a car backfiring.”
“Are you sure it was a car backfirin’ and not a gun?”
“Sounded like a car. It sputtered, near the river. Did you hear it, Mom?”
Mom shook her head. The cop nodded, furiously recording his notes. That little tidbit seemed to get his mind cranking into high gear.
“Has Edward argued with anyone, a neighbor, anyone?”
“No. Edward didn’t like to argue.”
The cop stared at me hard. “What do you mean exactly?” he asked.
“He emailed people.”
“About what?” asked the cop, watching my face, watching my eyes.
“When he got mad at me for not rinsing the dishes good enough before I put ‘em in the dishwasher, he emailed me,” I said plain as that.
“Isn’t that odd since you live in the same house?” Jenkins asked staring me down, a wanna-be Sherlock, this guy.
“I guess,” I said. “Can I go now? I have a lot of homework.”
The blue eyes met mine again, even darker, and more curious now. I wasn’t giving him the impression he expected, but not shedding tears over Edward isn’t a crime. Edward was an asshole of the worst kind, but I’ll get to that later.
“Sure. Thanks,” he replied nodding. “If you do think of anythin’, let me know,” he said handing me a business card.
I took the card, nodded and stood up.
“Now, Officer Jenkins,” Mom said putting her manicured hand on the man’s knee. He blinked but didn’t flinch. Oh, man, he likes her. Ugh. Disgusting—I thought ambling past the cop toward my room upstairs.
A week later, the cops had a search warrant and turned the house upside down, which threw Mom into a psychotic meltdown. All the kitchen drawers were dumped onto the floor. All Mom and Edward’s dresser drawers were dumped here and there, on the floor, on their bed. Pictures, postcards, old Christmas cards, bank statements, old grocery lists, receipts and papers strewn across every flat surface in the house and on the floor.
Mom just looked at it all with wavy lines wobbling on her forehead for two days, mumbling to herself, until our cleaning lady, Edith, came and restored the house to order.
They didn’t find much except Edward’s gun box was empty. So, they tested me and Mom both for gunshot residue.
“I would never do anything to hurt my husband,” Mom said to the cop with bad acne who smelled like bubble gum while he swabbed Q-tips over both our hands.
“Sorry, it’s routine, Ma’am.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re just doing you’re job,” Mom said in a dull voice.
Neither of us had fired a gun recently. No big surprise there.
Edward’s disappearance was a big mystery. No trail to even get cold. It all stopped and started in our house. His car was missing, wasn’t at the Amtrak station where he commuted from our house in Maine to New York. Credit cards hadn’t been used. His wallet and keys were gone. Nothing fishy at work. Into thin air were the words sprinkled about the society pages and such.
And then nothing until two months later when Jenkins stopped by again.
“Is your mom home, Tally?” Jenkins asked, taking off his shiny cop’s hat when I opened the door.
“She’s getting her nails done, but you can come in and wait if you want,” I said, and he strolled on in smiling in the familiarity of what was becoming a routine. Bruno barked at him.
“Bruno, stop that,” I said. I sat down on the divan, and he sat in the leather chair again, his usual seat.
“He don’t like the gun powder smell.”
“Oh my God! Did you have to shoot someone?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “No, target practice this mornin’.”
“Oh,” I said smiling.
I heard the front door open, and Mom walked in carrying two bags of groceries.
“Oh, let me help you with that, Lila,” Jenkins said—he always called her Mrs. Tomlinson before. I watched him fumble toward her not able to get the groceries fast enough. It was embarrassing!
I grabbed a bag of frozen peas and frozen fish and took them out to the garage to the freezer. Jenkins took another bag. When I returned, a few hushed words and giggles in the kitchen made my stomach go sour, so I went into the living room.
“Need any help, Mom?” I called out loudly, and the hushed tones stopped.
“No, we’re fine,” Mom said, and I knew she was smiling at him. Ugh.
A moment later they were sitting beside each other on the divan. I sat in the antique rocker across from them.
“Do you have news about Edward?” Mom asked in that high-pitched dramatic tone of hers, those porcelain eyes of hers popping wide. God, she should’ve been a soap opera actress. We’d be millionaires.
“A fisherman found Edward’s car, ran right up on it with his boat,” he said chewing on his lip, his eyes then on Mom, “in the river, and—”
Mom started sniveling, and the tears manufactured the usual black smudges under her eyes before he even got the words out.
“And a suicide note, but he wasn’t actually in the car.”
“What? Then where is he?”
The cop shook his head. “His blood was found in the car and pieces of his clothin’—he probably floated down river. The windows were open—hard to say after bein’ in the Androscoggin for a month.”
“Oh, my God!” Mom shrieked, burying her face in her hands. Jenkins put his arm around her as she sobbed. I wanted to throw up.
“Where’s the note?” Mom started.
“It wasn’t in the car,” he said softly.
Mom looked at him expectantly, wiping her eyes.
“It was in an encrypted email on his laptop, the one here. You never got it because he missed your email address by one letter, and it bounced back to his account after he died, most likely.”
“Oh, God,” Mom wailed.
“They’re goin’ to dredge the river.”
The image of Edward water-logged and putrid made me wince, which Jenkins definitely noticed. I didn’t know what to say, so I just got up and went to my room. I felt sure that Jenkins knew more, just wasn’t tellin’. Unasked questions ready to trip off his tongue if he ever stopped kissing my mother long enough.
I sat on my bed for a few minutes. My scars started itching. I took a deep breath, ignoring the overwhelming desire to scratch, staring at the tiny picture of Clair in my locket. “This would never have happened to you,” I said in a low voice to the empty room. “Because you knew better than to marry again,” I said with a sigh.
“Mom, I’m home!” I shouted when I came home early from band practice a couple months later after the initial turbulence of Edward’s disappearance had started to wane. I heard a giggle echoing from her bedroom, then scrambling of feet overhead, and acidic bubbles slithered in my stomach. I swallowed hard to keep from tossing up my lunch. I glared at her closed bedroom door at the top of the stairs. I heard freckled face cop’s muffled voice.
I went out back with Bruno. I didn’t want to see him in the afterglow. I heard the front door slam shortly after.
So, Mom dropped Jenkins for a nice guy, Morrie, a dentist who laughed a lot. He was actually close to her age and was nice to me. I thought he and Mom might get married, but everything went to shit again about a year later.
I had gone to the movies with my friend, Brenda, one Saturday and came home to find Mom covered in an avalanche of dirt, in the kitchen, looking completely deranged. She was drinking Scotch, and she rarely drank, much less in the afternoon. I’d never seen Mom dirty before.
She looked at me with wild eyes and said, “What did you do?”
I stared at her, open-mouthed. “What’re you talking about?” I said trying to look blank-faced.
“Come with me,” she said in this gravely voice, her thin body a column of rattling bones as she hobbled outside.
I followed her to the garden, and Edward’s body, sheathed in dirt and dried blood was lying beside a very large hole, and Bruno was stiff beside him in a box. The shovel sat idly up against the house.
“Bruno!” I cried, kneeling beside my beloved dog. “What happened?” I wailed, staring at my dog.
“Hit by a car. And Edward?! What happened to him?!” Mom screamed, falling to her knees sobbing. “You lied to me! You lied to everyone! Tell me what you’ve done!” She screamed, the veins on her neck bumping at a toxic rate, ready to explode and spray blood all over the two of us.
I glared at her, heating stroking my face, the anger clenched in my hands. But my mind wandered, glad that we lived two acres from the nearest neighbor who couldn’t hear her histrionics.
“It’s all your fault! I had to!”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?” she shrieked.
“I told you he was hurting me, and you didn’t believe me, so I stabbed the son-of-a-bitch six times. What’d you think I was going to do? Let him put his filthy hands all over me the rest of my life?” I screamed, my voice snapping and crackling, relieved to finally say the words. A sob broke through the hardened surface with a painful wrenching in my throat and trailed off into the air. Then tears followed, soaking my hot face.
“Oh, God,” she wailed, eyelids closed, dirt drooling down her face through the tears fleeing toward her chin.
Later that night, she finally heard the words that changed our lives forever.
“...Hymen is broken...Vaginal scarring, consistent with…” the doctor said to Mom just outside the hospital room where I sat waiting in a paper dress on an examining table wondering if I would be tried as an adult since I was almost 14 by then, tears stinging my eyes. I dug little bloody moons into the palms of my hand right hand, and it didn't even hurt. And wondered where Edward was now...
I never thought he would be found, and after Mom found him, I just left her there in the garden with him and went to my room. But he wasn't there in the morning when I looked out the window. I had planned a murder, not the aftermath.
She took a shower, then said we were going to the E.R. I didn’t ask why.
“How about McDonald’s?” Mom asked in the car on the way home from the hospital after a painfully long, thick silence. We’d never had McDonald’s for dinner before. Mom didn’t believe in eating fast food, thought it gave you cancer.
We ate our cheeseburgers in the living room in front of the TV, which we had also never done. I liked watching TV while we ate. Gave us an excuse not to talk.
After dinner, she knocked on my door. I was sitting at my desk staring out into the darkness hovering over the garden, my books open, my pencil poised, in the guise of doing my homework, of course. But I was held hostage by a silence that choked me that night, wrapped around my brain and stayed there for years, a cold, heavy fog.
She sat on my bed, red-eyed. “How’d you do it?”
“Brenda helped me.”
“What about his car?”
“He taught me how to drive when you were at that Spa with Aunt Margaret. I drove it to the river, put it in neutral, and then we pushed it into the water. Brenda knew all about Edward.”
“Why’d he teach you to drive?”
I looked down. “Blackmail,” I replied.
She nodded. “I’m sorry, Tally,” she said weeping. “I thought you made it up because you just didn’t like him.” She wrapped her arms around me, hugging me for the first time since my dad died. I didn’t move.
“I’m so sorry,” she said softly into my shoulder.
I nodded, still not able to look at her. “I know.”
“I shot it once into the water and then tossed it in the car.”
“How’d you learn how to shoot?” Mom asked.
I leaned down and opened the bottom drawer of my desk and brought out a library book called of all things, Guns for Dummies. “With this,” I said. “It gives you all the basics, how to clean a gun, about the safety, loading the most common guns, stuff like that.”
Mom shook her head with a sigh. “The gun powder residue?”
“I wore gloves, threw them and the knife in the river.”
“Along with your clothes?”
I nodded. “Burned ‘em, then tossed them in too.”
“I changed in that public restroom by the picnic tables on the south end of the river while Brenda was the lookout.”
“And the blood?”
“Washed off in that bathroom, poured a little bleach on my hands, then washed the walls and everything in my room with bleach too, even my pillow case.”
“How did you know that bleach would work?”
“From that show on the Discovery Channel that Edward liked True Crime Tonight.”
Mom nodded, tears shining on her opulent eyes. “No one saw you at the river?”
I shook my head. “It was late. No one was there,” I replied feeling no emotion, feeling gutted, shucked of my insides. I should’ve cared, I guess, but after what Edward did to me, I felt nothing for him but hatred.
“The encrypted email?”
“Found instructions on the Internet.”
Mom nodded. “How’d you move his body?”
“I put a sheet on top of my bedspread, and then I wrapped him up in it, and we drug him outside. Brenda helped me bury him.”
“So, Brenda was here when you killed him?”
I shook my head. “No, after. I told her I was going to bed at 10:30—”
“And you knew he’d be in your room?”
I nodded. “Every time you took Valium, he showed up.”
Mom nodded. Tears gushed from her eyes. “I am so sorry, and you won’t go to jail for this. I promise. I love you, Tally,” she said hugging me again.
I hugged her back, which felt strange, but I guess we forgave each other that night. She seemed to understand completely for the first time in my whole life. I couldn’t sleep that night worrying about what would happen to me. I knew Mom said I wouldn’t go to jail, but she’s not a jury, and she couldn’t very well not tell the police. It was too big a secret to try to keep. I figured she’d call some comrade of Mr. Ottman’s to defend me, some high-priced legal gun, but what did she do with the body?
But then, Jenkins showed up at my school the next day, still looking 16, asking for me, just another day at the office. Sitting in his police car, he turned to me with watery eyes.
“I have bad news,” Jenkins said, staring out the windshield at the waves of spring heat dancing across his hood.
“Your mother killed Edward.”
“What?” I asked, turning to his sad face in horror.
“Explained it all in this note,” he said handing me a neatly typed page with all the details of the murder I committed that she signed in her very neat, proper signature, like she was just writing a check. She had buried Edward again, just where I had put him.
“I thought you should know. I always thought maybe you knew what she’d done, did you?”
“I never thought she would do this,” I said.
“I’m sorry about what happened to you,” he said.
“She told you?” I asked, shocked that Mom dared letting that snake out of the grass.
He nodded. “I guess she wanted me to know why she did it,” he said, tears glazing those bedroom eyes of his. “Before, she—“
“Before she what?” I asked, staring at Jenkins.
“She’s gone, Tally. I’m sorry,” he said, his voice thickened and choppy.
“What do you mean? She just gave you that and left?”
“No, that’s a suicide note, Tally,” Jenkins said, the tears now gushing out of his eyes.
And he didn’t have to tell me that she shot herself with Edward’s gun in my bed, of all places, but I made him tell me anyway.
The night Mom died, I moved in with Mom’s sister, my Aunt Margaret, a thick-waisted kind woman. Soon after, Jenkins found me by the garden with my locket in one hand and a shoebox full of ashes in the other. He walked up just as I dumped the ashes into the garden, next to where I had buried Edward.
“I thought you put Lila’s ashes in the river?” He asked.
“I did, but I saved some for here because of Edward. She did love him, after all. How’d you know I was here?”
“Saw you walking.”
I never told anyone the truth though. I wanted her to feel separated, half good, half bad, the same way I’ve always felt. The bad half in the river for the murder she could’ve prevented, and the good half in the garden for the murder she covered up to save me from myself and everyone else.