The police station is a one-story concrete block building with no basement and no attic, which leaves only the dimly lit hallway between the offices and the morgue for the storage of unwanted furniture. Mixed in with those empty desks and broken chairs are the file cabinets and dusty boxes of casework from years long past. Nothing, apparently, is ever thrown away. As Sergeant Deppiesse has often said, “Too many secrets to be left blowing in the wind at the local dump.”
I had never paid much attention to that hallway until I followed Roberta through the clutter from the past. It seemed a fitting path to the dead, especially for me, a policeman in disgrace. But, it was more than that. Each step brought me closer to something too difficult to imagine. I shook my head and forced myself to think of Daniel, of his warm weight in my arms this morning. Thoughts of him in my arms led inevitably to thoughts of his mother in my arms, and the exotic scent of her perfume as I kissed her in the dark. Was that two nights ago? I almost smiled as I thought back to her visit with me in the hospital, the proud sway of her hips, and the lift of her chin. She was so confident of her appeal to all men. She had come wrapped in a cloud of that same perfume, bringing a brief and welcome relief from the horrible smells of the hospital. Christy and Tina had been at the hospital, too, just a day before the innocent routine of their lives was lost for all time. As was mine. I would never have another winter in my stone house, listening night after night to the hiss of the falling snow, the soft sound that had always reminded me of the snow on the windows of the house where I grew up, and where Cavell had lived for a little while.
Cavell, I thought angrily, you miserable son-of-a-bitch! So many times I wished you dead. I wanted to be free of you. And now I am, forever.
The images raced through my head, the images of my life and his, and I was surprised at the sadness and regret that tightened in my chest. I had expected to feel relief. I did not. Not yet. But I would.
The hall ended at a door into a small waiting room. Across from us, another door led to the outside world, since the families of victims in the morgue were not expected to walk through the cluttered hallway. Roberta pushed on a door in the left wall and we entered another small hallway, this one without clutter.
She led me to a second door and showed me into a tiny room with two men in it. One of them lay stretched out under a thin sheet on a long, steel tray. The man under the sheet didn’t move. He should have. The sheet was thin and the room was icy cold.
The other man moved, however. He was upright, wrapped snuggly in a starched white coat, shirt and tie, and he nodded to us as, without a word, he pulled the sheet away from the head of the man in the tray. I wanted to say, “Don’t you have any blankets for him? It‘s freezing in here.” But I swallowed the idiotic words unsaid.
Then the man in the white coat, followed by Roberta, left me alone in the room with the man who didn’t move.
I hardly noticed what they did. As much as I had tried to be ready for this moment, it was still a shock and I was having some trouble breathing. I moved closer to the quiet form in the steel tray.
His head, his shoulder, an arm and his hand lay exposed above the sheet. I reached out slowly and gripped his cold right hand. Even if the sunken cheeks and gaping mouth had not convinced me he was dead, the feel of his hand did. It was all I needed. It was over. I turned around and walked out into the passage where I spent no more than 5 minutes discussing burial arrangements with Dr. Cox and Roberta.
If the funeral director would let me know when he planned to put Cavell in the ground I’d be there and pay the bill, but otherwise, there would be no service. Cavell had been an evil man, and his untimely end in the act of robbing a bank could not have been a surprise to anyone who knew him. There was no point in pretending that anyone cared what happened to his soul.Next chapter