Home > Little Lies(6)

Little Lies(6)
Heather Gudenkauf

“Please sit down.” I indicate the two battered chairs that I managed to fit into my narrow office. “How can I help you?” I ask once they are seated.

“Ms. Newkirk called the police department this morning saying that she hasn’t spoken to her daughter Marissa Newkirk and her grandson Mason since Monday afternoon around one o’clock.” My mouth goes dry and I look to Joe for help. Joe clears his throat, “Ms. Newkirk confirmed that Marissa was the woman found at Singer.” A strangled moan comes from Judith.

“I’m so sorry,” I say, instinctively reaching for her hand. Two large tears fall from her lowered face and plop wetly onto my knuckles.

After a few moments, Judith is able to compose herself and fumbles in her purse, pulling out a battered wallet. With shaking fingers she retrieves a photograph from within a protective plastic sleeve and hands it to me. “Can you take me to him?” she asks hoarsely. I look down at the picture. It’s Mason and his mother. Marissa. She finally has a name. They are both grinning happily into the camera. Again, I look to Joe, seeking confirmation that he is sure this woman is Marissa’s mother, Mason’s grandmother. Almost imperceptibly he nods in the affirmative.

“Of course,” I tell her. “Of course, we’ll bring him to you right away.” I escort Judith to a private conference room and explain that after filling out some paperwork we will reunite her with her grandson.

Joe and I return to my office and I shut the door. “I can’t believe you found next of kin so quickly.”

Joe rubs a large hand over his face. “Actually, she found us. We had no luck in searching the county database for birth records for a male child named Mason born four years ago. Originally, Marissa is from Sioux City—that’s where her mother still lives.”

“Sioux City?” I ask in surprise. “That’s about a five-hour drive from here. How did she get here so quickly?” I check my watch; it’s only nine-thirty.

“When she couldn’t contact Marissa, she started driving. Said she got to the apartment and no one answered, so she came right over to the police station.”

“She identified Marissa then?” Joe nods grimly. “I don’t think I can fathom anything more horrible for a mother to have to do.” I think of my own children and quickly sweep the thought aside. “What about Mason’s father? Is he in the picture?”

Joe wriggles out of his winter coat and folds it over the back of his chair before sitting down. “Once Ms. Newkirk identified her daughter’s body, we were able to locate a copy of Mason’s birth certificate. No father is listed.”

“So Judith is the next of kin.” I think of Jonah Sharpe and his winding road through the foster care system. Waiting, hoping for a family to adopt him. It never happened. “Thank God she came forward. At least Mason will have his grandmother to take care of him.”

I dial Martha Renner, explain the situation and ask her if she is able to bring Mason to the office.

“And now that we know who Marissa is, hopefully we’ll be able to get a better idea of who could have done this to her,” Joe says after I hang up the phone. “We’ve got Forensics over at her apartment and some guys canvassing the neighborhood asking questions.” Joe stands, stretches his arms over his head and yawns.

“Have you gotten any sleep at all?” I scold.

“I’ll go home in a while.” He pauses before opening my office door. “We need to try and talk to Mason again about what he might have seen or heard the other night. Right now he’s the only witness we have to the murder of his mother.”

“He’s only four,” I remind him. “And traumatized. He may not be able to tell you anything helpful.”

“We’ve got to try.” Joe hesitates. “Mason really seems to trust you. Do you think you could be the one to interview him?”

“I can try,” I agree.

We make our way through the narrow hallway toward the conference room where Mrs. Newkirk is waiting. “Yesterday, when you dropped me off at the park to get my van, I saw someone.”

Joe whirls around, his eyebrows raised in concern. “What did you see? What did he look like?”

“I s-saw him just for a second,” I stammer. “I’m almost positive he was male. He was standing under some trees. We saw each other and we both started running.”

“Running?” Joe asks. “When I left, you were sitting in your van.”

“I got out just for a second,” I say in a small voice. “I wanted to look at the statue.” Joe is quiet; his stormy expression says it all. “I just can’t get past the thought that two mothers with small children were found dead beneath the same statue that happens to be a statue of a mother with two children sitting at her feet.”

“You got out of your van, all by yourself, at the scene where a woman who was brutally murdered was found?” Joe stuffs his hands in his pockets and paces the hallway angrily. “Are you crazy? There’s a murderer out there.”

“I was perfectly safe,” I protest. “Whoever it was was just as afraid of me as I was of him.”

“Exactly.” Joe’s voice raises an octave and he forces it down to a low undertone. “Now the possible killer knows what you look like, what kind of car you drive. Worst of all, he knows that you saw him at the scene of the crime and could identify him.”

I don’t know how to respond. Joe is absolutely right—it was a stupid thing to do. I should apologize, but instead I raise my chin in false confidence and open the door to the conference room where Judith is waiting. “Mason will be here shortly, Judith. Can I get you anything while you wait?”

* * *

An hour later Martha and a dazed Mason, holding Joe’s repurposed hat under his arm, step into the conference room. His eyes scan the unfamiliar room and then land on his grandmother, who is waiting with hands clenched together in expectation. “Grandma!” he shouts joyfully as he shakes his hand free from Martha’s and runs to Judith’s now open arms.

“Mason, Mason,” she cries and with great effort pulls him up into her thin arms. “Thank God you’re okay,” she whispers tearfully as she buries her face in his dark hair.

“We’ll give you two a minute,” I say and lead Joe and Martha from the room.

“Happy ending,” Martha says once we are in the hallway.

“Yes,” I agree. “We’ll take those whenever we can.”

We are all silent with our own thoughts for a moment until Joe says abruptly, “Martha, tell me about Jonah Sharpe.” I look at Joe nonplussed, but he continues. “When’s the last time you saw him?”

“Let me think,” she says, tapping her chin trying to remember. “It was two weeks ago. He stopped by the house for dinner. He does that once in a while.” Now her brow furrows in concern, “Why, is he in some kind of trouble? Both you and Ellen have asked me about Jonah. Do you think the murder of Jonah’s mother and Mason’s are connected?”

I’m about to explain the similarities between the murder case involving Jonah’s mother’s murder and the current one, but Joe gives me a warning look. “Just wondering,” he says casually. “His name comes up once in a while. Where’s he living now?”

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