Martin's phone rings. He looks at it, expecting an unknown number he will ignore and let go to voicemail. It is an old number, one that hasn't called him in a long time. It is Victoria.
“Well I haven't seen that number on my phone in awhile.”
“I know, right?” Victoria says. Martin can hear her voice. There is a tone he has heard before. “Brought back some weird memories dialing it.”
“So what's up? The girls alright?” he asks.
“Oh yeah, they're fine, they're great, actually. That's kind of why I'm calling.”
“Because the girls are great?”
“To thank you,” Victoria says, “they had a great time on their day out with you. They couldn't stop talking about it, even Jules. Her teen anger melted away and she seemed... like, happy. Is that the right word, happy?”
“Are you allowed to call a teenage girl happy?” Martin laughs.
“I think so.”
“It's been awhile since I would have called her happy. That's great.”
Martin smiles into the silent phone. It has been a long time since Victoria called him, and a lot longer since she called him to praise him or congratulate him in some way. He imagines Victoria smiling back.
“Thank you,” he says.
“It's a big deal. I'm sure you've noticed her attitude lately. I know it's a normal part of growing up and maturing and all of that, but lately it just seems... different.”
“Yeah, I noticed. On my birthday she couldn't stop raging against my never-ending stupidity. I knew she would be upset about the divorce but I wasn't... ready for it. I wasn't ready for the intensity of it.”
Martin looks at the bandage on his hand. He knows he needs to change it. The blood has soaked through again, and a dark cloud is emerging beneath the gauze. It is throbbing again.
“Well, it's good to know I'm not the only one she pretends to hate,” Victoria says.
“She finds every opportunity to blame me for our break-up.”
“Don't feel bad, she does the same thing to me. Your word, intensity, that's it. Does it, the intensity of it, does it seem like it's been getting... worse, to you?”
Martin gets the pack of gauze and the medical tape and anti-bacterial cream down from the fridge. He pinches the phone between his shoulder and cheek and slowly peels the tape in circles around his hand.
“Well, it did seem like that,” he says, letting the tape and old gauze fall to the counter top, “until our fishing trip. That was the first time she was a little nice to me in awhile. I'd like to think it was because I was so awesome that day, but something tells me her attitude change had more to do with a certain Portland trip and some money I gave her.”
“Well, it's still an attitude change, so that's something. It's a start.”
Martin turns the sink faucet to warm water. He waits to see steam.
“She didn't give me a lot of details about the trip, can you fill me in a little bit? What are they going to be doing?”
Martin hears Victoria talking to someone else. He imagines her pressing the phone against her chest, against her right collarbone, and turning her head to the left, the way she always did. She apologizes when she comes back to him.
“Well, the main mission of the trip is the hospital tour and the surgical theater. They will get to talk to a few doctors and surgeons, ask them questions, it's actually an amazing opportunity.”
“Pretty expensive opportunity.”
“Well that is the main event, but there is transportation, food, the hotel, and I'm sure they'll hit some parks and shops. For a three-day and two-night trip I think they got a great deal.”
“Yeah, I guess that is pretty good. Four-fifty just seems a little steep for three days.”
Victoria is silent. Martin isn't sure if she is gone talking to someone else again, or if she is thinking of something to say. The silence sounds like the silence she used to have before challenging something he'd said, or before easing into bad news.
“You mean three-fifty?”
“No, she said it was four-fifty,” Martin says, “are you sure it wasn't four-fifty?”
“Positive. Did you give her four hundred and fifty dollars?”
“I thought it was four hundred, originally, but she said the price went up last minute. She said a few kids dropped out and so they had to raise the price for everyone else.”
“God dammit!” Victoria hisses, away from the phone.
“You don't seem that surprised,” Martin says.
“Well, not to burst your bubble, but I think I know why she was finally being nice to you.”
“Well, I have a very easy solution. She is not going now. No crying, no excuses, her trip is off.”
A breath. It's the exasperated breath Martin came to know as the idiot's dismissal.
“Well of course Martin, that sounds great. That will teach her a lesson about lying and about responsibility. Only, she already left on the trip. They left this morning.”
“What? She said it was next week.”
“This isn't the first time she's lied like this. Apparently she's been lying to a lot of people.”
“It's the first time she's lied like this to me!” Martin says.
“Actually, it's probably not.”
They were finally making progress. Juliette was finally coming around, finally beginning to respect and appreciate him, Martin thought.
“Well I don't care if they left already, I'll drive into Portland myself and drag her out of a live surgery if I have to.”
“How long have you known about this, about her lying?”
“That doesn't matter now. We'll wait for her to get back and we'll sit her down and have a little chat.”
“We'll make her pay you back.”
“She can find a job. We'll make her get a job. Then maybe having to earn her own money will help her see how wrong it is to steal from people.”
“Christ! How long, Victoria?”
Martin waits. He hears a sigh from the line. This is the sound she always made when she had to admit something or had to apologize.
“A few months.”
“A few months? Jesus!”
“Again, were you ever planning on telling me?”
“We had her see a school counselor. She has a lot of anger issues...”
“She was probably acting out because of her anger at us.”
“About the divorce...”
“Stop, Victoria. Just stop for a second. Juliette has been acting out, stealing money, and you had her see a shrink, and you didn't think to tell me about any of this?”
“Not a shrink, just a school counselor, she is someone the kids can talk to when they need it.”
“And you said we... we had her see a school counselor. Who is 'we,' Victoria?”
Another sigh from her line.
“You and Hillary? You and your imaginary friends?”
“Who? Who is we?”
“I, misspoke, I had her see a counselor. It was my idea.”
“Was it Saxon? You and Saxon decided to have her see a counselor, without telling her father?”
Martin lets the name slide out of his mouth, long A, long held N sound. He doesn't know anything about Saxon, but he regurgitates it slowly like a cat puking on his owner's shoes.
“Martin, it's not...”
“You and Saxon talked about it and decided for my daughter, and you didn't bother asking me.”
“Martin, he is a colleague, he gave me his professional opinion...”
“No, you don't have to say anything else, it is all starting to make sense. Please tell me why you are surprised that your daughter has a little problem being honest. When her grades slip, you don't tell me, when she lies and steals, you don't tell me, and when you put her in counseling you don't tell me?”
“Whoa, that is not...”
“It sounds like she isn't acting out so much as acting like you.”
“Martin Bell, you have no right to...”
“I'm done talking to you. I will talk to her when she gets back. Until then, don't call me. I forgot how nice it is to not see your number pop up on my phone. Now I remember why.”
Victoria starts to say something else, tries to stop him, but he hangs up. He shoves the phone in his pocket and tries to control his breathing, tries to remain calm. The rage is building again. Being lied to by everyone in his life brings him back to feeling out of control, sends his thoughts spinning, spiraling. They are lying to you and about you, Martin. He pulls his phone back out. He opens his contact list, scrolls down to Juliette. They don't care what you think. You can barely pay your electric bill, why should they include you in the conversation?
He clicks on her name. His phone offers to option to dial or to send her a text message. He stops. He cancels out and the phone goes back in his pocket. He gets in the truck and fires it up. He screeches into the street.
Uniformed officers speed walk in and out of the various rooms of the apartment. They carry evidence bags, boxes, and make their way carefully around Nate's dead body. Homicide detective Clinton Wright is squatting near Nate's head, analyzing the gunshot wounds, piecing the puzzle together: who did this and why?
A uniformed officer approaches. He is holding an evidence bag with what appears to be a woman's underwear.
“Sir, we found these in the back.”
Detective Wright looks at the bag. A puzzle piece. Maybe Nate didn't live here alone.
“Is that all you found? Any other women's clothes, dresses, shoes?”
“Nothing else yet.”
Wright looks at Nate's body then looks to the kitchen and stands up. He mumbles to himself, “You live here alone, Nate, or did you need a woman's touch?”
“Sir?” the officer asks.
Wright's eyes rise from Nate to the officer. He stares and his mouth opens, ready to say something more. Then it closes with a barely perceptible shaking of the head.
“Nothing. Thanks, keep looking. Let me know if you find something else.”
The officer turns to do as he is told, and Wright walks into the kitchen. He opens the fridge, looking for signs of someone besides Nate living here. Nothing obvious. He looks in the freezer. A bag of frozen veggies, a bottle of vodka, chicken wings. He reaches his arm in and feels around, pressing into the sides, the ceiling, and the back wall. There is extra space, a big empty space, in the back.
He closes the freezer and moves to the cabinets: cereal and canned food; plates and cups. Not enough. He moves to the garbage.
After glancing into the garbage can, Wright takes out his phone. He searches for a bit, then hits send and waits.
“Agent Reynolds? This is detective Clinton Wright. From the Ashton case, that's right. I'm working a case out of Gresham and I'm thinking you might be able to help me. I'm here with a body, a Nate Collins, white male, 22.”
“Nate Collins, meth dealer?” Agent Reynolds asks.
“Well, that was going to be my next question.”
“Yeah, I know him. He had a bit of a sheet on him, growing longer every day. He was a low-level runner for the greater Portland area, mostly a meth-head who occasionally shared his product for money.”
“Well 'was' is the correct word because someone blew a hole in his face and two holes in his chest. He made someone mad because it looks like they went to work on him before they killed him.”
“How unfortunate for him. Well, for him and for you, unfortunately for you there is a pretty long list of people who would have loved the opportunity. Did they toss the place?”
Wright looks over his shoulder, quickly re-scans the living room and kitchen. He considers the empty space in the back of the freezer, the preferred storage space for a dealer's stash bag.
“Doesn't seem so, seems like the normal day-in-the-life meth den.”
“What are you thinking? Deal gone wrong?”
“Looks that way.”
“I can send you a list of his known associates if you think that would help. Might be a longer list than you were hoping for.”
Wright scratches the spot on his neck that won't stop itching in the dirt and grime of the apartment. He can feel the filth rising through his shoes, soaking into his feet and traveling, up his legs, into his abdomen, everywhere.
“No,” he sighs, “you've given me plenty.”
“Well, offer is out there. Let me know if you need anything.”
“Will do, thanks.”
Wright hangs up and considers another call, but pockets the phone. His gloved hand pulls the lid off of the garbage can. The smell hits him hard and he quickly gulps a fresh breath and hold it. He picks through the top layer looking for something, a sign.
He finds it.
He is pulling off his gloves as he makes his way out into the fresh air. There in the garbage can, under a brown paper bag, soaked in some mystery fluid, one of his questions has been answer. There is a box of baby formula.
Detective Wright knows Nate Collins wasn't living alone, and his roommate has a baby.
After hanging up his call with Detective Wright, Agent Reynolds pockets the phone and pulls out another. His thumb quickly clicks in a new number.
“It's me. Nate is dead. Someone hit the house, shot him in the head. It sounds like the money was gone when the police got there.”
He listens to the voice on the other end. He checks over his shoulder to be sure his is standing in the yard alone.
“Wright, you know him? No, didn't sound like he'd taken it. What do you want me to do?... What about the girl? No, they didn't find her there, she was gone... no, let me take care of that... You, you're going to find her?”
“I know someone who might know,” the voice says.
“Alright. Alright, do it... yeah do it. Let me know when you find her.”
Reynolds hangs up. His backhand sends a coffee cup through the air and against his office wall with a crunch. There is another crunch when the cracked mug hits the floor. Another agent looks in through the office's window. Reynolds' look sends him quickly away.