Hard Boiled




Prologue


So, you're married?" The words from her mother whirled themselves into Susan's ear almost strangling her. Someone—something had leaked the news. No mention had been made in the paper. No call had been made by her. And now...
"Well, yes, I'm married. He's a good man..."
"That cop."
"His name is Henry."
Susan could hear talking in the distance.
"We need to see you. Something has happened to your...Bob."
Henry was leaning over her and kissing her neck. The attention was soothing; it almost made her forget that her mother was talking about Bob. Something had happened to him?
"So, how many hours will it take you to get here?"
"Hours? We decided to get a hotel nearby before returning home. We're only a few minutes from you." The kissing continued. She was melting.
"You're staying at a hotel? Why didn't you ask to stay here? Anyway, what's that noise?" her mother finally asked.
She might have asked the same thing of her mother. She was not alone—either.
"Nothing, Mother. Bob?"
"Oh yes. He...he. I can't even say it."
A pause, far longer than Susan would have wished to make it, pushed itself between the lines. What would her mother say now? That her ex had somehow found someone else to marry? That he was ill, in the hospital? Susan was not prepared for what came next, but how could anyone be prepared to hear such disturbing news?
"What is it, Mom? What's happened?"
She could hear talking again in the distance and then silence.
"Bob, your...Bob has killed himself," her mother said.

***

"When did you get the couch cleaned?" Susan asked. It looked suddenly whiter than she remembered it, though the fabric seemed to be the same. Henry sat next to her on the stark white sofa and tried to look interested. Perhaps he was interested, his eyes opening wide, looking around the room of relatives.
Her older sister, Kate, wore sparkling red shoes to complement her tight jeans and red top, and mother's new husband, William, sat nearby, brushing at some imagined hair on his almost bald head. His hair might have once been black or brown...and he didn't resemble in the slightest her father, he was definitely a different man, in every way, shape and form.
"Just last week, though I had to clean it again when..." Her words stopped like they'd hit against a wall. Everyone was silent. "He died...there." She pointed her thin and wrinkled finger.
"Here? Where I'm sitting?" Susan stood and looked down at the couch. Henry followed suit. They must have looked like a couple of stooges. Her mother, Hope, whose own hair was now a woven gray on muted red, smiled over at her husband. "You're right. Susan, sit. It's okay, the spill has been cleaned up."
So that's what blood was. A spill.
Susan's heart pounded. How had her ex-husband died? Even now, she was sitting on the spot where he'd been stabbed or shot. Blood was hard to get out of upholstery no matter the elegance of the material. She could hardly stand it. In that brief second, she was glad no one could see into her mind. They would think her shallow at best. Shouldn't she be sad that her ex-husband had a...passed? But crazy enough she did feel something. No matter how Bob had died it was as if her own blood ran chill.
"When?" she asked. "When did Bob die?"
Her mother paled. She wiped a thin hand across her hair, almost matching the movement her new husband had offered moments previous. How long had the two been married? Long enough, it seemed.
"A week and a half ago we tried to reach you, but you were still on that cruise and going through some wrapping up, I guess. The funeral was last week."
Susan remembered the last few days before leaving the Aloha and finally returning home. Henry had turned off her cell phone; a real honeymoon was in order, he'd said. And though Susan had seen the calls she hadn't listened to the voice messages or made any attempts to return them. Not even after returning home. She would have never known what had happened to Bob if her mother hadn't continued to hound her.
"We were all in the back room, all except Bob. 'Television was in order' he'd said and we'd all left him—alone—and spoke with each other in another room where we wouldn't disturb him. We weren't gone but half an hour when we heard a sound from down the hall.
"Your...Bob was so depressed. He kept talking about how much he missed you and that when you returned home he was going to make it work. And then, that funny call came, telling us that you'd just gotten married. We thought Bob could handle it.
"And that night, he said, 'Let me watch a show, I need to be alone.' And that was it. Next we knew William was coming into the room...and..."
Susan sat. Finally.
Henry reached for her hand.
"That's where we found him. He had been complaining for hours about his sick stomach, throwing up. We thought he had a terrible flu. He said he was tired and had a headache. We even wondered if he'd gotten himself drunk. He'd been talking as if he was. He was on the couch and the mixture in his cup was all over everything."
"The mixture?" Henry asked, for Susan was silent. Her throat had closed off.
"The police are calling it poisoning," Kate offered, her long nails hovering over her jeans. "He'd evidently mixed Gatorade with antifreeze and..."
"Seriously?" Susan was in shock.
"Dead...serious," William said, catching himself. "Sorry," he added lamely, brushing his head of baldness.
Hope lifted a piece of paper from the end table. The note was in a sheet protector. "This is for you," she said, peering into Susan's eyes. "He left it for everyone, perhaps, but mostly for you. We wouldn't have been able to get this at all if police hadn't already discounted suicide as the cause of death." She revealed a piece of paper, folded over—once.

Dear family,
You will Think me weak but I don't care. life is meaningless. I Haven't anyone to love, not really. I sit for days on end hoping she'll Come back to me, but she won't. I know That now. I hope she is Happy. I hope I will be—where I'm going.
Please Understand. I love my family. Even Though you are really not my family anymore. Thank you for taking me In, but I have to leave you now.
bob

The note was handwritten in Bob's scrambled scrawl; capitals where lower case letters should have been and vise versa. She couldn't stand it.
"This is—it?"
Her mother reached for her hand. Susan pulled it back. "Bob wouldn't do this, any of this!" A tear formed now, in her left eye and she was surprised. "Bob might have been depressed, but he would NEVER kill himself. NEVER!"
Henry jumped at her side but he was as silent as death.
"It says here..."
"I know what is says, Mother. What did Bob know about poisoning, huh? And like he said, he'd been waiting for me, wait-ing" the words choked in her throat, "Why would he suddenly give up...NOW?"
"Because, daughter, you were married."
She stood, yanking Henry's arm from around her shoulder though she hadn't noticed it there until now. "He DIDN'T kill himself and I'll prove it."
"PROVE IT?" Now Kate was in an uproar. "HOW for heaven's sake."
"I don't know HOW, but I'll do it, like before." She shouldn't have said the words, but there, they were out. Henry sat on the couch solemnly as she raved, her sister's face burned a red hot fire engine color matching her shirt. Her mother?
She was standing there her face like a hot iron skillet. "You don't know anything—Susan. You haven't been here. You don't know anything about what's been going on—"
"So then, tell me, TELL ME, Mother. I'm waiting."
"Henry wasn't the same after you left. I was worried about him. You should have been worried about him."
Susan rolled her eyes. "He's a grown man, Mother. Why should I be worried?"
Tears glistened in Hope's eyes. "Because..."
"Well?"
"I'm just too fired up right now. Maybe later." A tear rolled down her mother's cheek as she turned from her and retreated into the kitchen.
Susan gaped at her. She stood in the same position for at least two minutes before she sat down again. No matter. She was going to solve this murder, no matter what.

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