Bartlett House by Patricia J. McLean and Duane Poncy ©2004, 2010

“Who’s calling?” A man’s voice. In Emmy’s apartment. At eleven o’clock in the morning. Maybe he had dialed the wrong number.
     “To whom am I speaking?”
     “Sergeant Bliss, Portland Police Department. I think you’d better tell me who you are.”
     “I must have the wrong number. I was calling Emmy D’Angelo.”
     “You have the right number. Please identify yourself.”
     Will felt weak. His voice shook, “Will Adelhardt. I’m Emmy’s boyfriend.” He always stumbled over that. At his age boy was ridiculous.
     “Well, Mr. Adelhardt, just give me your address so we can send someone over to talk to you. I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news.”
     Panic. “What do you mean?”
     “Mr. Adelhardt, your address?”
     “I’m sorry, Sergeant Bliss is it? What do you mean, bad news?”
     “Mr. Adelhardt, Emmy D’Angelo is dead.”
     Ice on the crown of his head running down his skull in frigid rivers of nerves.
     “Please give us your address, sir.”
     A rushing in his ears. Address?
     “Sir?”
     Will responded reflexively. Before the sergeant could ask him another question, Will put his index finger on the button of the phone.
     He sank to the couch and sat staring at the phone, rocking a little. It was so cold for June. The light was still blinking on his answering machine. The second message. His thoughts rolled over each other. Did I erase the first message? What will I do? Maybe Emmy’s here, in the bedroom, sleeping. Mistaken identity. Will almost got up to look, but he couldn’t face the possibility of an empty bedroom. He leaned forward with his hands dangling off his knees, tired and aching. The little red light continued to blink.
     Will pressed the play button. “Will, it’s Lucy. Please call me right away.” Lucy. Emmy’s friend. Minutes passed while he analyzed the tone of her voice. Was it urgent? Anguished? Too much. He was reading too much into her voice. She was fine. It was nothing. Lucy would know that Emmy was safe.
     The phone rang only once. As soon as she picked up, Will said, “Hi, Lucy. The weirdest thing happened. I called Emmy’s and some guy said he was a cop and tried to tell me Emmy was dead.”
     “Oh God, Will, I wanted to talk to you before you heard it from someone else.”
     The little hope he had reached for disappeared.
     Lucy’s voice was hoarse. “There was a fire at Bartlett House last night. Emmy was there.”
     “A fire? Lucy, what was Emmy doing there?”
     “I don’t know. No one seems to know. I’ve talked to Marta and Colin. The police wouldn’t give me any details, even Morris. Let me come over, Will. You must be a wreck. You shouldn’t be alone,” Lucy said.
     “No, Lucy, you don’t need to”¦What am I going to do?”
There were three sharp raps on the door.
     “Somebody’s here. Probably the police. I’ll call you back, Lucy.” Will hung up.
“Police, Mr. Adelhardt, open the door please.”
     “It’s open.”
     The knob turned, the door opened gently. The muzzle of a gun preceded the cautious face of a policeman peeking around the door jamb. Will closed his eyes, an image of Emmy’s body, charred, rose in his imagination. He opened his eyes. There were four of them. Two uniforms and two plainclothes. The police were looking around the room, at the travel bag on the floor where he’d dropped it, his briefcase on the table. Emmy’s beret on his coffee table. Will leaned over and picked it up. He stroked the black velvet.
     “I’m Detective Morris. Are you Will Adelhardt?” All business, leaning forward with his hand extended to Will.
     Morris. Wasn’t that Lucy’s police source? Will shook the detective’s hand without answering.
     “You planning on taking a trip, Professor?” The other plainclothes asked.
     When Will still did not speak, Detective Morris said, “We need to ask you some questions about where you were last night.”
     Will was stupefied. Emmy died in a burning house in Portland and they want to know about Eugene? He stared at them. “What?”
     “Probably be best if you come with us. Let’s see your identification, then we’ll go on down to the station and get this all sorted out.”
     Just like that, they could sort it out and then maybe he and Emmy could go out to dinner at that great Italian place in Irvington. Who the fuck did they think they were, miracle workers? They could sort this out? It wouldn’t ever be sorted out. You couldn’t sort this kind of thing out. And then it occurred to him. They thought he killed Emmy.
     There was a station a couple of blocks from Will’s apartment, but they didn’t take him there. Instead, they invited him to sit in the back of the unmarked car. There was no protective barrier between the seats. They didn’t seem to be worried about him jumping them, but Detective Morris, on the passenger’s side, turned sideways and watched him while they drove to the central precinct. It was a short ride. They could have walked it in less than fifteen minutes.
     It was a small, windowless, naked room with a table and two chairs. The walls were an indefinite color of green. Fluorescent lights trembled overhead. Will was momentarily diverted by the mundanity. It was as if he had walked into a stereotype. The only thing missing was a bare incandescent light hanging by a wire, but, he thought, if you have malfunctioning fluorescents, bare bulbs are superfluous.
     Morris introduced himself again, “I’m Detective Tom Morris and this is Detective Louis DeChris. Let’s be informal; you can call us Tom and Lou. What shall we call you, Professor?”
     He didn’t answer. He tried to get himself interested in the men, in his surroundings. It seemed like there was something in his head that wouldn’t move. It made him want to sleep and clouded his vision. He tried to distinguish these men, one from the other. It should have been easy. Tom was tall, thin, sandy-haired. His skin was yellow and his hands were bony. Lou was not as tall, not as thin, was black- haired, had a deeper yellow tone to his skin. It must be the lights Will thought, looking at his own skin, which had taken on a yellowish patina as well.
     Morris gave up on the niceties. “State your full name, age, and occupation, for our records.”
     “William David Adelhardt. 51. Professor of History.”
     “DOB?” asked De Chris.
     SOB, thought Will. I hate acronyms. “Ten fourteen, forty-nine.”
     Morris, “You’re what, about twenty years older than Emmy D’Angelo? That must have made you feel a little out of it. Old guy like you. What did you have to do to keep her interested?”
     “I don’t know what you mean.”
     “You like leather, Professor?” DeChris, again.
     “Leather?”
     “Let’s start at the beginning. That way we can clear this up and you can go home. Where were you last night?” Detective Morris sat with hands folded. Quiet, patient, earnest.
     “I was asleep in a motel in Eugene.”
     “Were you alone?”
     “Yes.”
     “Now Eugene is about 110 miles away, isn’t it? Freeway all the way, too. Wouldn’t take more than two hours to get to Portland and two to get back,” Morris appeared to be thinking out loud.
     DeChris went back to his theme, “So you’re kind of into that kinky stuff. You and that girl had a little S&M going on.”
     “No. It wasn’t like that,” Why is this cop saying this about Emmy?
     “How was it then? Did she hurt you?” Morris’ voice was soft as if he understood everything. “Why were you in Eugene?”
     “I was doing research. What does that have to do with Emmy? I think you’d better tell me what happened to her.”
     “We’d better tell you? Listen you smartass fuckhead”¦”
     Morris gave DeChris a sharp look, “Shut up, Lou. The man wants to know what we know.” He focused back on Will. “You probably loved her. You wouldn’t be the first man to kill the woman he loves. Detective DeChris here, he thinks you had some sex game that got out of hand. I think it was the love that got out of hand. What do you think, Will? What was it?”
     “You’re saying that it wasn’t the fire that killed Emmy,” Will said. A part of him was relieved. He’d been imagining smoke and flames and unendurable pain.
     “Did we say that? I don’t remember saying that,” DeChris said.
     The interview went on. Back and forth. Little by little, Will got an idea of what the firemen had found. Emmy had been dressed for bondage in leather, which was so far out of what Will knew about Emmy that he couldn’t get a picture of it in his head.
     “I guess you didn’t factor in that stone isn’t the best fuel for a fire,” DeChris said. “That turret’s stone walls and heavy old door kept the fire away from her. And if it hadn’t, all that leather she was wearing would have protected her body to some extent. Probably still would have been able to identify her and establish a reliable cause of death.”
     “How did she die?” He didn’t want to know, but he didn’t want to be shut out. He had more right to the intimate details than these strangers. Emmy meant nothing to them. Another body. He owed her this much, could give her nothing else besides this pathetic courage to bear the knowledge of her murder.
     Both policemen ignored his question. They had cause of death, but weren’t going to reveal it to him just yet. They held that information to the last and when they did give it to him, they gave him something else that shattered what was left of his heart.
     “Like I said before, I think the relationship was getting out of control. How could you be a father, at your age? Maybe you’ve been married before. Maybe you have other kids. You were thinking about them when you were playing the game. It was easier to squeeze the breath out of her than to break her heart. Or maybe you knew it was some other guy’s baby.”
     Will lost the blood in his face, his head went light, the room careened wildly around him.

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