Fallenby Kathleen George
It happened in the night, when no one was around to see it. A Pittsburgh doctor, who dedicated himself to helping others, was shot through the heart. Now days have passed, and Dan Ross’s wife, Elizabeth, has entered a twilight zone of grief, flooded with memories, voices, and regrets. And while a determined police investigator is feverishly following a trail… See more details below
It happened in the night, when no one was around to see it. A Pittsburgh doctor, who dedicated himself to helping others, was shot through the heart. Now days have passed, and Dan Ross’s wife, Elizabeth, has entered a twilight zone of grief, flooded with memories, voices, and regrets. And while a determined police investigator is feverishly following a trail of mystery back into her husband’s squeaky-clean past, a new neighbor suddenly moves in to the house next door and begins watching every move Elizabeth makes…watching her children come to visit…watching her acts of private grief and public dignity. This man, this stranger to the city, is fascinated by Elizabeth’s sorrow. And he knows exactly who killed her husband and why.
But he isn’t in the business of telling truths. He simply wants to know her. He wants to take her in his arms. He wants to know she has fallen just for him.
- Random House Publishing Group
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- 4.20(w) x 6.95(h) x 0.80(d)
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To say it was all grief, all along, was stretching it maybe, but not by much, Richard Christie thought. Evil, mistakes of the heart, cold-bloodedness were only the disguises, the inky shapes and cloaks. Sketching itself at the back of his mind, when the case drew to a close, were snatches of "Nowhere Man," the sweet young voices of the Beatles conjuring his own boyhood. The song would have been playing on the radio as he raced into the house and out, hopped into his mother's car and dashed out moments later, eager for the next game or distraction. He tried to remember who he was then, what he felt, what sadnesses tugged at him. He supposed, in retrospect, he was lucky to be so ordinary.
Inside the house on beechwood boulevard, Elizabeth is waiting for the detective. Eight times, eight visits, one week. She watches and waits. He's told her he won't be bothering her so regularly anymore.
The person who killed her husband has not been found, that's the bare-rock truth.
Seven days, eight meetings ago, Commander Christie said the usual tough things about finding the killerhis sentences might have been spoken by any detective in any filmbut his eyes were soft, full of feeling, and she never doubted his sincerity. He knew her husband a little, that was part of it, and anybody who knew Daniel loved him.
And here she is, a week later, the funeral over by several days, the children back at collegea difficult decision but if her work has taught her anything it's that people need to take up their lives againhere she is, alone. Yesterday brought a glimpse of what real desolation is and today she got the whole blank canvas as she wandered through the house, almost dizzy with the space and silence. People called, of course, but less frequently now that the funeral was over. They'd expended their store of philosophy in those first three days of mourning. There was nothing left to say but "Anything new? Have they found anything?" She turned the machine off because it was hard to keep saying, "No, no, nothing."
The house is empty, the larder bare. The funeral meats are gone, unthriftily given to anyone who would accept cold cuts, pastries, roasts, hams, salads. Even the children took some of the surfeit. Elizabeth wanted the food and flowers out of the house. She wanted to throw awaysame as when she was spring cleaning or tackling the basementanything, everything.
Now there is nothing. She wonders, should she fill a pitcher of water, put out two glasses? The detective never takes anything. She walks back and forth inside her own house as if it belongs to a stranger.
Outside the house and across the street, at the en-trance to Frick Park, a man in navy jogging clothes stretches and appears to look nowhere in particular except possibly at his well-clad ankles; yet, between this reach and thatdone awkwardly, he is not an athletehe manages to watch Elizabeth's house. He wonders if she is alone in there. Runners run by. Children chase one another with shrill ecstatic threats while their mothers attempt to herd them to the playground section, yelling, "Don't run, watch where you're going." The man is only a shadow in their peripheral vision, not noticeable or memorable.
There's a reason for everything; something good will come of it, a composite invisible someone murmurs to Elizabeth. She identifies the composite: minister and neighbor and wife of colleague.
Reason? she answers. What about just desserts? Dan didn't deserve to be cut off so young.
His short good life was better than many long lives, the little chorus offers, trying to help.
Elizabeth opens the refrigerator. A quart of milk, a chunk of cheese.
At least the detective doesn't sermonize. In his silences are simple meanings: This is tragic, this is sad.
There is a tap at the door. Elizabeth hurries to it and lets in her guest, her almost-friend, the homicide commander with the sympathetic eyes.
He asks, "How are you holding up?"
"People have been very good to me."
The detective, Commander Christie, nods seriously. "I would hope so."
She leans forward to close the door.
Outside, the man in the park stretches, trying to imagine the conversation in the house. What do they say? He tells himself, I should go, but he doesn't. How strange that life has handed him circumstances that put him here, now.
Commander Christie refuses Elizabeth's offer of water.
"Ice cream?" she tries with just the smallest hint of self-mockery. "I gave just about everything else away. I couldn't deal with real food."
"I'm fine." He sits down across from her and says, "Nothing, really."
When she's seated, he says, "I thought maybe you could help me think. Just possibly there's something we're not understanding in the way of motive. A twist. A surprise."
But she has already thought of every cross word her husband ever reported, every cross word sent in her direction, every patient her husband found troublesome, every client she couldn't make a connection with, and she has not come up with reason, motive.
"Daniel had a way better than average life. It didn't have many ugly spots. He never hurt anyone." Wonderful marriage, good kids doing well in school, respect of the community, a great benefactor . . . said the minister.
"Jealousy, then?" It's almost a statement.
"If people felt it, I don't think it lasted all that long," she says tartly. "Not if they got to know him."
"Then my mind goes back to the Pocusset Safe House."
Her husband had just founded a home for troubled teens, and one of Christie's earliest ideas, his second idea, actually, was that people in the neighborhood weren't happy about it. "The kids might be rough kids, drugs, crime. Had your husband heard any flap like that?" he asked eagerly. No, she told him. The neighbors were amazingly accepting and everywhere else her husband was being thanked and honored for this community service.
"I have one of my men nosing around still," he says now.
This does not strike her as a productive line of inquiry. Even though some of the residents might not like the idea of the house, it was a stretch to imagine one of them shooting her husband over it. And why take his wallet?
It seems to her his first idea was righta drunk, a criminal, an addict probably, shot him in his car in his parking lot for his wallet. Nobody saw, nobody knew. A strange freak randomness took Daniel from her. Senselessness is the only thing that makes any sense. That's her theory.
Across the street, the man starts toward his car, which is parked several blocks away, but changes his mind when, about fifty feet away from where he exercised, he turns back for a last look and sees a large moving truck has pulled up, nearly obscuring his view of Elizabeth's house.
the detective is patient. he is able to sit for a long time. Elizabeth feels as if she's at workshe's a therapist, a detective of sortsbut that the roles are reversed. She's the struggling one. He sits calmly holding the large basket of woes. He says, "I'm worried about you. Are you going to be all right?"
She thinks the word terrible, the phrase I feel terrible. Life is precious. She must find a way to feel kindness, generosity again soon.
The detective nods as if she's spoken.
She does not have to tell him how there's an echo in her thoughts, the living room seems cavernous, the high ceilings oppressive rather than splendid. Or that she's embarrassed to practice in the field of mental health when she's afraid she's losing her precious marbles.
She will miss him when he's not "bothering her so regularly anymore." That simple. He's decent. He's company. He has the trick of waiting before speaking, good trick, not to fill every silence with nonsense. There will be an erasure mark where he once was. Each time he comes, he sits across from her in the chair with the big arms, she sits in the middle of the sofa. He leans back and then forward over his knees. She offers food, or as today, water and ice cream, he refuses. Already they have their little dance. Wonderful, the way this happens between people, routine beginning.
She allows herself to say, "What I feel is pretty frightening."
"Violent crime makes people scared and bitter," he says.
She turns the word around, considering it. Bitter. Most people say angry. "I feel dangerous. Furious."
"Of course," he says. "You had a life with him. That alone. And then he was . . . everybody says he was exceptional."
"He was." Between them on the table is the newspaper clipping with Dan's picture, the one she chose, a snapshot of him standing in the yardtall, angular, even a little awkward in his largeness, his head canted slightly to the left. A big man with a shock of hair that didn't always stay calm, simple clothes, not flashy. Wonderful eyes. He wore glasses, which couldn't disguise or hide those eyes that held so much thought, compassion. She loves that photo. He was real, he was human.
Christie takes it up and looks at it, then puts it down carefully, shaking his head.
She says, "Daniel had faults, everyone does, but his were minor."
"What were they? His faults?" Christie asks, alert.
"The hairs that come with selfless dogs."
"He worked too hard, put strangers first."
"Rough on you, then."
"Sometimes." Petty complaints, weren't they? That Dan didn't always hear when she said she wanted something, needed somethinga vacation, time with him. Time at their cottage, only an hour and a half away. "Why do we keep it," she would ask, "if we never get there and other people use it most of the time?"
"His fault was not being able to clone himself so that everyone could have a piece of him."
Christie nods, watching her. "You're letting things go forward with the . . . the opening, the dinner, all that?"
"Yes. All that. Official opening in ten days."
"I want to ask a favor. Could you find a way to include me in the dinner?" Christie asks. "Believe me, I hope something breaks by then, and if it does, I won't intrude. But if not, it could be helpful to see some of the people he worked with, in that setting. Just in case."
She nods. "That's easy. Consider it done." The Pocusset Safe House was founded in cooperation with the police, so why not have one of them there? But, how strange to think of Daniel's colleagues and associates and other pillars of the community being scrutinized. "At the beginningat the beginning, you said it was a bum, an addict you were looking for."
"We're not dropping any possibility. It's just . . ."
"Nothing's surfaced yet," she supplies.
"Right. And someone was very direct. No witnesses. It looks purposeful."
Everything freezes up in her at the thought of that kind of anger directed at anyone in her family.
Christie waits until she looks at him. "If you're keeping something from me, the slimmest idea, all I can say is, don't." The trail is getting cold and they have nothing, nothing. "It's been a week already, people forget things," he presses. "So even if it's something we need to keep more or less quiet . . ."
It's the wrong tree by far. She answers levelly, "Nothing like that. Honestly."
"I'm not here to torture you. I'm trying to solve it, understand? It's puzzling and so we have to look at everything."
He's restless and yet he sits in silence for a while longer with only the telltale jiggling of his leg to betray him.
October, gorgeous weather, the air is clear and dry. The sun streams into her house in low slanting shafts. Late-afternoon sun makes for longing in her, always has, a physical feeling of loss, the dropping of the heart and stomach. Add autumn to that. Add grief to that.
"You're back to work?"
"I saw two clients this morning. I skipped a meeting this afternoon. After today, I'm back full-time."
"It can help."
"I know. I believe in work. Dan did, too. He loved work. He . . ." Something happens before she can stop it, a flash, a series of images. Suddenly she's crying. "I'm sorry," she says to Christie. "I can't get control of the crying yet."
"No need to."
"Oh, but there is. I'm seeing patients tomorrow."
"Your work is 'other-directed.' "
The detective's phrases sometimes surprise her. "Well . . . yes." Her task is to compartmentalizebe with her grief at home; be objective, selfless, at work.
Commander Christie is twitching his leg again. Wanting to wrap this up. A police detective, after all. To him, a decent clue would be: another woman in her husband's life, financial difficulties, chemical habits not under control. She knows what things would make the case easier. In a quick move, Christie stands to go and fumbles to give her another cardfunny, since she already has three from him. One at work, one on the kitchen counter, one in the bedroom. She will put this one in her purse. "Call me if you have even the slightest urge to say something. It may seem very small, insignificant. That's okay. Call me."
If only detective work could bring a man back. If knowing a thing could undo it.
The detective leaves, looking back once over his shoulder. She nods and watches him make his way to the car. She does not notice the people across the street in the park, not a one of them.
Frank Razzi's life was all surprise these days. turn a page, turn around, bam, bam. He had the feeling of being catapulted onto and off one of those dizzying disks children ride at amusement parks. Blood pressure was surely off the charts. His head throbbed, he could feel blood pumping to his neck, his eyes; he was all raw nerve endings, alert; his mind whizzed like a planet in a cartoonsizzling firecracker circles of light. He had never felt more alive.
The last thing he expected four months ago was to lose his job in the entertainment industry. Funny phrase, that. The last thing he expected two months later was to leave L.A. or to patch together a temporary life as a peripatetic academic, teaching scriptwriting in two placesa little town, Athens, Ohio, and a city, Pittsburgh. Never in all those years had he thought he would come back to Pittsburgh. Yet here he was, again, having taught his one shorter Tuesday course in Athens, ready to do his seminar at the university tonight.
Meet the Author
Kathleen George, a director and theater professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is also the author of Taken (currently a Dell paperback) and The Man in the Buick, a collection of stories. She lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, PA.
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