“It doesn’t have to be you. You know there are lots of people who want your job, and there are other jobs you can get with your skills.”
“You want me to go back to working a beat? Or maybe I could just write parking tickets.”
“Don’t do that, Wall. You’re trying to make me feel bad about this, but it’s just not going to work. I want you to be a good husband, a good father. I work too, and look at the time I still have for family. I hate the thought that I might have to keep a student waiting, but that’s the way it has to be.”
Wendy taught criminology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She had learned from a friend that keeping strict office hours is a necessity for college instructors. Constant interruptions would have made it impossible to get any work done, so early on she had created a workspace in the only room available — their attic. Teaching summer sessions was the worst, because even with a window air conditioning unit, the hot attic was a tough place to grade papers.
She said she understood that with the nature of Wall’s work, he could not set up shop at home. Nor could he just write out a schedule and stick to it. Suspects didn’t wait until the start of the next business day to skip town.
It was the job itself. It just wasn’t designed for a married man, and she wanted him to quit.
Staring at the floor, Wall unfolded his arms and started finger-drumming on the oven door behind him. It was a habit he had picked up as a kid, from the first time he realized he had rhythm. The index and middle fingers of each hand were like tiny drumsticks, quickly and nervously tapping even when he was in deep thought.
Many times at the scene of a crime, he tapped his fingers on whatever was closest to him. It didn’t matter what it was — a car, a street curb. Once he caught himself finger drumming on a body bag, and was sure the coroner’s lackies had seen it before they lifted the bag and placed it in their van.
Back in his own kitchen, he stopped his fingers and looked up at Wendy, visibly upset by her words. “Look, babe, maybe I can work out something with the Chief. That upstart Wilson has been aching for a promotion. Maybe he’ll take some of the load off me.”
She had always been a little squeamish about his being a cop, from busting bad guys in the middle of the action to following their trails after the fact. At least now he didn’t have a uniform to make him a live moving target. Unfortunately, as his promotions gradually took him farther from harm’s way, his unpredictable schedule had taken him away from the family.
“I don’t know if that’s good enough, Wall. I need to know you’ll be here, and when you’ll be here.”
“I know. It’s just that it took me so long to get started on a career, I’d hate to have to find something else.”
“You could if you wanted to. We kind of rushed you into a job because I was still a student. Now that I have tenure and everything’s going well, we can afford for you to look for something else.”
Wall failed three times to get into law school, but his undergraduate courses in criminology had intrigued him enough to sign up for the police academy. It didn’t take a college degree to get into that particular area, but once he started he had been glad he was more educated than his classmates. At almost every point in the coursework, Wall seemed to have an edge over them. He knew a lot of what was being taught, so he used his time for additional studies.
This supplemental knowledge had proved vital in getting him promoted to detective when he had far fewer arrests than most of his fellow officers. “I make quality arrests,” he had told the review board. “Look at the percentage of the people I book who end up getting convicted. Some of these cops haul people in for sneezing wrong.” He knew as well as everyone on the board that this “hunch” type of decision making was not what made a great detective, but there was something to his conviction percentage remark. Whether or not that point impressed the board, he got the job and quickly moved up to the top post.
Diddidy-diddidyy-diddidy-diddidy-diddy-diddy-d-d-d-diddidy-diddy, his fingers tapped on the heat-tempered glass.
“Okay. I’ll think about it, but I gotta finish this case. Just this one. There was something funny about the story out there, but I don’t know if somebody else would pick up on it, and I’m the only one who will act on my hunches. Chief hates it.”
Wendy ripped a paper towel from underneath the cabinet and dabbed at her tears. In her usual fashion, she brought up another point as she regained her composure. The strength in her voice worked effectively as a sign of victory. “I feel like I’m alone sometimes, you know?” she asked.
He didn’t like to admit she was right, but only because he hated being wrong. “Yes, I know. It’s my fault. I get too wrapped up in it. So will you be okay with it if I go ahead and finish this case?”
“I don’t know, Wall, it’s just…”
“There aren’t any special family days coming up. So if you can just miss me a little longer, I can crack this one.”
“And you won’t spend any more time than you have to? And you won’t do anything risky?”
“Like they say in the movies, ‘If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’ .’ ” He knew before he finished that it was a bad choice of words, but he let it come out, anyway.
Wall left home angry with himself. He knew he was wrong to take things out on Wendy, and that he had created this trap. A few years ago he realized that his job was taking over his life, but he had just chalked it up to fate. If that was right, Wall thought he and fate might have to butt heads, and his latest talk with Wendy had convinced him.
“Hey, this is Detective Wallace Stephens at the 3rd precinct. I’m working the Timex murder case. Whatcha got on that body?”
“You’re on this case?” asked Rob Maxwell, the county coroner.
“I have seen so much of Detective Wilson lately, I just assumed that he had taken your place.”
“Funny stuff, Doc. Now, what do we know?” Wall switched the phone receiver to the opposite ear and leaned forward to put his pen to paper.
(continue to Part 3)